Review of A Firehose of Falsehood, by Teri Kanefield, art by Pat Dorian

A Firehose of Falsehood

The Story of Disinformation

by Teri Kanefield
art by Pat Dorian

World Citizen Comics, First Second, 2023. 236 pages.
Review written March 15, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

Hooray! My favorite internet legal scholar has joined forces with World Citizen Comics, the makers of Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy, by Daniel G. Newman — another graphic novel laying out in clear, accessible language what’s going on behind the scenes in our political system. (I like both these books so much, I’m going to place a hold on the other books from this series that our library has.)

In A Firehose of Falsehood, Teri Kanefield gives us the long history of disinformation, going back to Darius I of Persia and Chandragupta Maurya of ancient India. And she shows us how disinformation — deliberate use of incorrect information — has been used in politics ever since.

Of course Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler are given as examples and how they deliberately used falsehoods to gain power. But we also have examples in America of how disinformation was used to support enslaving people. I had no idea about the “Great Moon Hoax” of 1935, where an influential American newspaper reported that reputable scientists had found unicorns and humanlike flying creatures living on the moon.

Then we get to Max Weber, an early twentieth century German philosopher, and his ideas about government. There was “traditional” (monarchies and feudalism), “rule of law” (what democracies were going for), and “charismatic leadership” (fascism). Teri Kanefield explains, helped by Pat Dorian’s art, how they all work, and the way a charismatic leader can use false information in his favor to gain power.

In discussing Hitler, she talks about his embrace of “The Big Lie.” Since normal folks may tell small lies, it’s hard for them to believe that a leader would tell an enormous lie. So the “masses” believe it. Hitler’s main Big Lie was that all Germany’s problems came from the Jews.

Next she talks about the Soviet Union’s “Active Measures” against Americans during the Cold War. The Soviets were better at disinformation than we were, and she tells about some conspiracy theories they actually got the majority of Americans to believe, using planted (fake) news stories.

An important goal of active measures is to get people in western democracies to lose confidence in their democratic systems and their democratically elected officials.

And the book continues on to modern times, yes, using examples from people such as Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. She also talks about Russian continued efforts to disrupt United States politics, which is now much simpler than planting newspaper articles, as they can reach Americans with fake accounts on Facebook and other social media.

In talking about Putin, she explains the principle of the Firehose of Falsehoods:

The Firehose of Falsehood is a rapid and continuous stream of lies that overwhelms the listener. The liar exhibits a shameless willingness to tell contradictory and outrageous lies. It’s a way of undermining truth by making it impossible for anyone to focus on facts.

Liars have an advantage. The truth is often mundane, boring, nuanced, and too complex to fit into a sound bite. The liar, on the other hand, is free to invent. Invented stories can be designed to suit the needs of the moment, and can be catchy and easy to grasp.

But I appreciate that Teri Kanefield never leaves us in despair. She finishes up with a chapter about how to put on raincoats against the Firehose of Falsehood. Lots of ways to protect yourself from falling for the lies, as well as ideas to strengthen our democracy to stand against them.

After all, she reminds us that democracy will always be a challenge.

There will always be antidemocratic forces working to undermine truth, rule of law, and democracy. The fight for democracy and the corresponding fight for truth must be fought in each generation.

May we fight on!

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Review of Across That Bridge, by John Lewis

Across That Bridge

Life Lessons and a Vision for Change

by John Lewis

Hyperion, 2012. 180 pages.
Review written May 14, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

I checked out this book after my pastor referred to it in a sermon. Racial issues are still front and center – maybe even more so than when the book was written in 2012, and John Lewis talks about dealing with them in a compassionate, nonviolent, and inspirational way.

The chapter titles give you a clue that this book is taking the high road: “Faith,” “Patience,” “Study,” “Truth,” “Peace,” “Love,” “Reconciliation.”

He starts the Introduction by telling who this book is for:

I have written these lessons on freedom and meditations on change for the generations who will take us into the future, for the dreamers young and ever young who should never get lost in a sea of despair, but are faithfully readying themselves for the next push for change. It is for the parents who want to inspire their sons and daughters to build a more just society. And, it’s for the sons and daughters who hear the call of a new age.

This book is for the people. It is for the grassroots leaders who will emerge not for the sake of fame or fortune, but with a burning desire to do good. It is for all those willing to join in the human spirit’s age-old struggle to break free from the bondage of concepts and structures that have lost their use. It is for the masses of people who with each new day have the chance to peel the scales from their eyes and remember it is they alone who are the most powerful agents of change. It is for anyone who wants to reform his or her existence or to fashion a better life for the children. It’s for those who want to improve their community or make their mark in history. This book is a collection of a few of the truths that I have learned as one who dreamed, worked, and struggled in America’s last revolution.

Most of this book is about the work Congressman Lewis did during the Civil Rights Movement. They were committed to nonviolent protest, even though their lives were very much at risk. And because of that commitment, he learned about lofty principles reflected in the chapter titles. Here’s a paragraph from the “Truth” chapter:

Even though we had been rejected by society, we believed that all people had the capacity to be good. We believed not only we, but the perpetrators of violence, were victims as well, who began their lives in innocence but were taught to hate, abuse, and draw distinctions between themselves and others. We held no malice toward them and believed in the power of the truth to penetrate that negative conditioning and remind people of their innocence once again. We focused on the end we hoped to see and kept our eyes on that prize. We could not waste time harboring bitterness or resentment. We knew that our focus had to be on what we hoped to create, not the indignities we were pressing to leave behind. Hating our aggressors was like looking back when we wanted to move forward. We had to use our energy to manifest our dreams, and entertaining animosity would have given more power to the status quo.

Although the issues were different in 2012 – He mentions the Occupy movement frequently – his words apply well to any social change that we want to bring about. Here is his encouragement to any protestor from any time period, in the final paragraph of the final chapter, called “Reconciliation”:

You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen, dim, or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Know that the truth always leads to love and the perpetuation of peace. Its products are never bitterness and strife. Clothe yourself in the work of love, in the revolutionary work of nonviolent resistance against evil. Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with its goodness. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.

May those who work for justice and freedom heed these words for years to come.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books!

Review of Money Out Loud, by Berna Anat

Money Out Loud

All the Financial Stuff No One Taught Us

by Berna Anat

Quill Tree Books, 2023. 258 pages.
Review written January 13, 2024, from a book sent to me by the publisher.
Starred Review
2024 Mathical Book Prize Honor Book, Grades 9 through 12

What a valuable and practical book this is! I wish I’d read something like this as a young adult.

It’s a book about managing money. She covers so much, from budgeting to bank accounts to investing to donating ethically.

She talks to the reader like a cool big sister. It works for me and I hope would work for teens. For something about money, there aren’t many numbers here, but she explains compound interest and the difference between different kinds of accounts in ways that are easy to understand and will stick in your head.

This book is for young adults, but old adults like me can learn from it, too. But like compound interest, I suspect that learning about managing money when you’re younger will yield many more benefits.

Some things I like: She talks a lot about the emotional side of money and encourages you to actually think about it and talk about it (hence the title). I’m planning to adapt one idea right away — besides my spreadsheets keeping track of my finances, I will start a money journal talking about my feelings about what’s going on with my money. I like how she encourages you to save by describing savings as “Freedom.” And she encourages you to envision Future You when you think about retirement savings.

So she’s got lots of tips and strategies, but especially encouragement to be good to yourself and your future self.

I was sent this book to consider for the Morris Award (young adult debut book), and it wasn’t really what we were looking for, but it exactly filled the bill for a Mathical Book Prize Honor Book, so I was excited to revisit it.

Here’s how the author introduces herself:

So, question: Have you ever heard of a Financial Hype Woman? Probably not, because I friggin’ made it up.

I’m Berna — I’m a financial educator, but more than that, I am a Financial Hype Woman. The whole point of a Hype Woman is to scream encouragement while you, the star, are doing your thing onstage.

So that’s what I do, but money. You follow?

A Financial Hype Woman’s job — which, again, I totally made up — is to remind you of your financial power. To keep your energy up so that you can stay center stage in your money life. To turn up the volume when you feel a little voiceless. A Hype Woman is also part of your support team — like, metaphorically, I’d help clean up when fans throw their bra at you, y’know? I got you.

Get this Financial Hype Woman on your side! There’s lots to learn here, and it’s all taught in a non-threatening, encouraging way.

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Review of Prequel, by Rachel Maddow


An American Fight Against Fascism

by Rachel Maddow
read by the author

Books on Tape, 2023. 13 hours, 10 minutes.
Review written February 29, 2024, from a library eaudiobook

Wow. This book was eye-opening. Prequel is a history of Fascism in America in the decade leading up to World War II. And I’d had no idea how deeply entrenched, how scripted by Nazi Germany, and how nearly successful it was. I do not recommend that any of my Jewish friends read this book. You probably already know how horrible anti-Semitism is in America, but I needed my eyes opened, and I was honestly shocked. Rachel Maddow quotes Americans who wanted to go further than Hitler against the Jews. And they say so in descriptive and hate-filled language.

They had detailed plans, with thousands of followers on board. Plans to kill Jews and stockpile weapons and bombs and overthrow the government. Of course, they claimed Roosevelt was a Jew, all Jews were Communists, and all Communists were Jews.

A few turns of luck helped foil their plans, though I feel a little guilty saying that, because one of those turns of “luck” was an assassination of a key figure. Another bit of “luck” was that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, taking the wind out of the sails of isolationists.

Rachel Maddow has dug through the abundant documentation and gives us a grim story. Yes, private and government investigators got to the truth — but most of the Fascists were never brought to justice, mainly because of politics — and because many of them were Senators and members of Congress. In fact, one major plot successfully carried out was that the German government was able to distribute propaganda postage-free by using members of Congress and their free postage for official mailings.

The whole thing is well-researched and well-documented, thoroughly shocking (at least to people who don’t believe in white supremacy), and eerily resonant with events of today.

And that’s why she gave the book the name Prequel — these events were a prequel of the rise of white nationalism in our own time. Sadly, the results of the tireless investigators who uncovered the fascist plots were not widely known in the time the work was done. But now, more than eighty years later, we have access to all the details and can take note.

Something that struck me was that actual Senators and others who called themselves American patriots were literally giving speeches and sending out mailings quoting verbatim from scripts and talking points written in Nazi Germany. The Nazis had to use an elaborate scheme to get free postage from Congressmembers. But today — sending information over the internet is already free. Do we think for a moment that foreign propagandists won’t use that power?

This wasn’t a particularly happy book to listen to. But it was certainly eye-opening. And extremely educational.

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Review of I Swear, by Katie Porter

I Swear

Politics Is Messier Than My Minivan

by Katie Porter

Crown, 2023. 284 pages.
Review written August 8, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

Okay, reading Katie Porter’s book made me a Katie Porter fan, similar to the way reading Elizabeth Warren’s book years ago made me an Elizabeth Warren fan. What both women have in common? They have both studied bankruptcy and fully understand that financial trouble does not imply moral failing.

One of her early stories is of studying mortgage law — and learning that banks were breaking laws, to the detriment of consumers, when they foreclosed, time and time again.

As a mortgage holder, you do what the banks tell you. You assume they’re following the law. Well, Katie Porter checked. And they weren’t. She began to get attention on that as a professor.

While I had started to change minds and get people in power to see that mortgage companies made mistakes and misbehaved, I did not want to be right. I wanted things to be right. Banks used the law to try to collect every penny; we should expect them to follow every rule.

And she decided to run for office to try to make things right.

This book has plenty about running for office and the challenges of being a single mom in Congress and commuting to the other side of the country. (She and her kids tried living in Virginia, but it didn’t work out.) It tells about her background growing up on a farm and the difficult end of her marriage. But my favorite part was where she describes her work in Congress.

As I see it, the real work of Congress is civic education. Democracy only functions if voters know what’s going on in their government and elected representatives know what’s going on in their communities. As a congressmember, that means teaching and learning, respectively.

The American people set the nation’s agenda every two years with House elections, and every four years with presidential elections. They cannot decide if they support a government policy without first knowing what the government is doing (or not doing). Representatives should be teachers, with constituents as our students.

At the same time, we should also be students, learning from our constituents. Without knowing the challenges and ideas of the people we represent, congressmembers can only substitute their own views for voters’ views. While that may happen, it is not how representative democracy is supposed to work. Getting the facts, doing the research, and gaining experience are moments of learning that help me make the best votes for my community.

Teaching and learning are the exact work I did as a law professor, before I ran for Congress. I loved that, and so not surprisingly, I love Congress work.

And yes, using a white board is a fundamental approach to teaching. Visual aids always help!

This concern for people — trying to make government better for actual people — can’t be faked. May Katie Porter continue to serve in this way for many years to come.

Oh and Hooray! When I checked her Twitter account (@katieporteroc), I see that she’s running for Senate in 2024. And she’s got a tagline on her profile: “I did not go to Washington to learn how to play by the rules. I went to Washington to rewrite them.” This book goes into the reasons why she cares about people and wants to make lives better by making government better.

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Review of Cultish, by Amanda Montell


The Language of Fanaticism

by Amanda Montell

Harper Wave, 2021. 310 pages.
Review written August 8, 2023, from my own copy, signed by the author.
Starred Review

Last September, I was asked to speak at the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University on a panel about book banning. After my panel, I went to hear Amanda Montell and another author speak about cults. The talk was fascinating, and I purchased both books and got them signed. I didn’t mean to take so lomg to read it, but I had lots of library books checked out, too, and have been reading for award committees, and, well, I finally finished reading it. This is not a reflection on the book — I’d often intend to read just one chapter and instead read two or three. This is just a reflection on how I read nonfiction and don’t give enough priority to books I own. The book was amazing, and got me thinking about so many things.

Amanda Montell has a background in linguistics, and she takes a look at cults from this angle — looking at the language cults use to bring in followers, which she calls “Cultish.”

Before I go any further, let me talk about what constitutes a cult. I thought I knew all about them, because I studied them for a semester at my Christian high school. We defined them as any group that doesn’t acknowledge that Jesus is God. Hmmm. Maybe that definition isn’t adequate? Especially in view of what I learned watching the “Shiny Happy People” documentary series (I blogged about my reactions to that series with “Shiny Happy Childhood” posts.), realizing that Bill Gothard’s “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts” that I attended many times as a child ended up having more and more cult-like characteristics.

Amanda Montell’s intro tells stories of two people each heavily involved in a different kind of group. She asks, “What do Alyssa’s and Tasha’s stories have in common?”

The answer: They were both under cultish influence. If you’re skeptical of applying the same charged “cult” label to both 3HO and CrossFit, good. You should be. For now, let’s agree on this: Even though one of our protagonists ended up broke, friendless, and riddled with PTSD, and the other got herself a strained hamstring, a codependent friend with benefits, and a few too many pairs of overpriced leggings, what Tasha Samar and Alyssa Clarke irrefutably share is that one day, they woke up on different sides of Los Angeles and realized they were in so deep, they weren’t even speaking recognizable English anymore. Though the stakes and consequences of their respective affiliations differed considerably, the methods used to assert such power — to create community and solidarity, to establish an “us” and a “them,” to align collective values, to justify questionable behavior, to instill ideology and inspire fear — were uncannily, cultishly similar. And the most compelling techniques had little to do with drugs, sex, shaved heads, remote communes, drapey kaftans, or “Kool-Aid” . . . instead, they had everything to do with language.

You might think that a book on cultish language would have a definition of cults. The author indeed went looking for one, but it turned out that different people think of different things when they use the term. Academics don’t like to use the word because of the pejorative context. I like what the author ended up with — a sense that there’s a continuum of cultish behavior. All humans crave belonging, being part of a community. On the benign end of the cultish spectrum is simple community, being part of a close-knit group. And it’s not tremendously difficult to leave (though of course there are always emotions involved).

On the opposite end of the spectrum are groups like Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate where people can’t leave even if they want to and follow the cult leader to their deaths. But most groups are somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

I can’t stress enough how fascinating this book is. Amanda Montell covers religious cults, yes, but also multilevel marketing companies, fitness movements, political groups (yes, QAnon is mentioned), and so much more. It went so far beyond “groups who don’t agree with us about Jesus” and is just amazing to see how much these disparate groups have in common — particularly in their use of language.

One of the early chapters lays out the language tactics. Making people feel special and understood, often with love-bombing and inspirational buzzwords is how they begin. Conditioning follows, working over time, and the end result is coercion, convincing people to “act in ways that are completely in conflict with their former reality, ethics, and sense of self.”

She breaks down some of the techniques:

The first key element of cultish language? Creating an us-versus-them dichotomy…. The goal is to make your people feel like they have all the answers, while the rest of the world is not just foolish, but inferior. when you convince someone that they’re above everyone else, it helps you both distance them from outsiders and also abuse them, because you can paint anything from physical assault to unpaid labor to verbal attacks as “special treatment” reserved only for them.

This is part of why cults have their own jargon in the first place: elusive acronyms, insider-y mantras, even simple labels like “fiber-lab.” It all inspires a sense of intrigue, so potential recruits will want to know more; then, once they’re in, it creates camaraderie, such that they start to look down on people who aren’t privy to this exclusive code. The language can also highlight any potential troublemakers, who resist the new terms — a hint that they might not be fully on board with the ideology and should be watched.

Another technique came up over and over again:

There’s a companion tool to loaded language that can be found in every cultish leader’s repertoire: It’s called the thought-terminating cliché. Coined in 1961 by the psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton, this term refers to catchphrases aimed at halting an argument from moving forward by discouraging critical thought. Ever since I learned of the concept, I now hear it everywhere — in political debates, in the hashtag wisdom that clogs my Instagram feed. Cultish leaders often call on thought-terminating clichés, also known as sematic stop signs, to hastily dismiss dissent or rationalize flawed reasoning…. While loaded language is a cue to intensify emotions, semantic stop signs are a cue to discontinue thought. To put it most simply, when used in conjunction, a follower’s body screams “Do whatever the leader says,” while their brain whispers “Don’t think about what might happen next” — and that’s a deadly coercive combination.

But as when I learned to identify verbal abuse by reading Patricial Evans’ writing, identifying cultish language is more for yourself than it is for warning others:

Thought-terminating clichés are by no means exclusive to “cults.” Ironically, calling someone “brainwashed” can even serve as a semantic stop sign. You can’t engage in a dialogue with someone who says, “That person is brainwashed” or “You’re in a cult.” It’s just not effective. I know this because every time I witness it happen on social media, the argument comes to a standstill. Once these phrases are invoked, they choke the conversation, leaving no hope of figuring out what’s behind the drastic rift in belief.

So, this all gives you an idea of what you’ll find in this book. Along with this conversation about things cultish groups have in common, there are many, many case studies, examples from everywhere on the spectrum from innocent to harmful. Some extra time is given to Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate, but there are plenty of more everyday examples. She even talks about how social media is designed to “generate ideological sects, to pack people’s feeds with suggested content that only exaggerates what they already believe.”

After looking at so many types and degrees of cultish behavior and language, the author reminds us that we are made for community. We won’t avoid cult-like spaces altogether, nor do we want to.

Above all else, it’s important to maintain a vigilant twinkle in your eye — that tingle in your brain that tells you there’s some degree of metaphor and make-believe here, and that your identity comes not from one swami or single-minded ideology but from the vast amalgam of influences, experiences, and language that make up who you are. As long as you hang on to that, I think it’s possible to engage with certain cultish groups, knowing that at the end of the day, when you come home or close the app, strip off the group’s linguistic uniform, and start speaking like yourself again, you’re not all in.

So, yes, this is a valuable book. It gives perspective on how people get pulled into cultish groups and ways to check where the groups you’re part of (and we are all part of groups) fall on the health spectrum. But it can also give us compassion for those who find themselves in a difficult place. it’s not stupidity that gets them there, it’s design.

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X + Y, by Eugenia Cheng

X + Y

A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender

by Eugenia Cheng

Basic Books, 2020. 272 pages.
Review written May 9, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

I love this book so very much! And I’m so glad I finally got it read — had meant to ever since it came out. I’m going on vacation this week and decided to finish it before I left — and Wow! — it’s full of transformative concepts.

Now, if you’re not a math-lover like me, please don’t be put off by the fact that this book is written by a mathematician. She works with Category Theory, a branch of mathematics that doesn’t necessarily deal with numbers, but about relationships and how things interact with other things.

In this book, she uses category theory to take on gender. And wow! What a lovely job she does.

Now, she starts with something I related to completely — the lack of women in higher mathematics. I started a PhD program in math at UCLA immediately after college. I was one of only 5 women out of 120 new math graduate students that year. Three of the other women were in master’s programs, not doctoral — and I ended up dropping out a year and a quarter later with my Master’s. So I am very aware that there’s a gender disparity in mathematics.

The first part of the book looks at difficulties with even talking about gender disparities. She looks at problematic arguments about nature or nurture.

And then she takes us to another dimension. She takes the gendered dimension out of the discussion and defines some new terms.

We need new, ungendered language in order to separate character traits from gender and have less divisive conversations in which people don’t have to get defensive about “not all men” or “not all women” being a certain way. Because indeed men are not the same, and neither are women. Not all men are aggressive, competitive, risk-taking, and unempathetic. And even those who do behave in those ways might only do so because of social pressure and the idea, perpetuated by social norms, that this is how to be successful in society. When certain behavior is rewarded by society many people will strive to behave in those ways even if at some deeper level it makes them unhappy.

The ungendered language she comes up with are the terms “ingressive” and “congressive.” Ingressive behavior focuses on the individual, and congressive behavior focuses on the group. Here are her definitions:

ingressive: focusing on oneself over society and community, imposing on people more than taking others into account, emphasizing independence and individualism, more competitive and adversarial than collaborative, tending toward selective or single-track thought processes

congressive: focusing on society and community over self, taking others into account more than imposing on them, emphasizing interdependence and interconnectedness, more collaborative and cooperative than competitive, tending toward circumspect thought processes.

This is not a clean dichotomy even though some aspects sound like exact opposites of each other. It’s not a classification of people into two camps. It’s a way to evaluate behavior in a flexible and dynamic way to reflect the fact that people are flexible and dynamic day by day and also over the course of their lives, not fixed and rigid.

She goes on to talk about spaces that are more ingressive and spaces that are more congressive. Interesting to me, she left her position at a university and began a career teaching math at an art school. Yes, she found many more women at the art school, but she can go beyond gender and talk about how it’s much more set up as an ingressive space. And she’s happier working in that space.

She describes examples of other people, both women and men, who gave up more ingressive careers (after achieving success) for more congressive roles.

And she talks about how math education is set up to reward ingressive behavior, with lots of testing and competition. This was interesting to me, because at first I thought, oh, I must be mostly ingressive because I love competition, and really enjoyed math competitions when I was a student.

But then I think about my happy switch from teaching college math to becoming a librarian. I’ve said many times, “In the library, I still get to help people learn, but now I’m on their side! As an instructor, I had to test them, and I felt like their adversary. Now I get to show kids the fun side of math.” So I have to stand as another example of someone who turned out to be much, much happier in a more ingressive career path.

I was also fascinated by her ideas to make education – yes, even mathematics education — more congressive. She suspects that could attract more people to the field who might be turned off by the current more ingressive way it tends to be taught. I loved when she started elaborating on that idea:

Congressive math is what I have been teaching to art students for several years. I think it’s also what is introduced to children at the very beginning of school, when it’s all about play and exploration with blocks and toys and other things they can touch and feel. It comes back around to being like this at a research level, but by that time I think we’ve already put off far too many congressive people with the phase in between.

I think math should be congressive all the way through. We really don’t need to train people to be human calculators anymore, now that we have actual calculators with us more or less all the time (for example, on our phones). So math could be more congressive by being about exploration and processes. It could be more about ways of thinking than about knowledge.

I would like to see a non-cumulative curriculum so that each stage doesn’t depend on the previous stage. The traditional model is more like a series of hurdles that get higher and higher and are specially designed to weed people out at each level. Not only is this ingressive, it’s also counterproductive, as we are not weeding out the right people.

But I shouldn’t go on so much about math, because that was a side point. The really beautiful thing about this book was how it took gendered language out of discussions about our society. I suspect you could also use these ideas in discussions about race.

I believe that the new dimension of ingressive and congressive traits can help us overcome bias that can’t be addressed on the dimension of gender alone. I think this is how we can deal with implicit bias in the system that comes from our association of character with gender, and how we can deal with indirect bias that comes from favoring ingressive behavior. But I think it will also have an effect on explicit bias, as it is a way for everyone to escape one-dimensional gendered thinking in their heads and think more clearly about what contributions to society we want to see. With every individual who escapes that thinking, the hold of both implicit and explicit gender bias will be lessened.

And the book finishes up with a vision of what things could be like in a society that encourages congressive behavior — and offers tips on ways to be more congressive in your personal life and perhaps in your personal environment (such as her math classrooms in art school). There’s even a helpful appendix at the back that demonstrates how you can respond to personal attacks with congressive statements instead of ingressively attacking back.

Now I’ll admit, I was predisposed to love this book having been a woman working in the field of mathematics, even if it was at a lower level than Dr. Cheng. But I’m also delighted with and impressed by her ideas. May we work together, in our lives and in our communities, to make the world a more congressive place. I highly recommend this book, and would love to discuss it with others who have read it.

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Review of Washed Ashore, by Kelly Crull

Washed Ashore

Making Art from Ocean Plastic

by Kelly Crull

Millbrook Press, 2022. 40 pages.
Review written October 8, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is the kind I can’t resist showing to my coworkers on the spot. The art is stunning. The subject is convicting. And the overall presentation is mind-blowing.

Yes, I knew that there’s lots of plastic trash in the ocean. But this book makes you feel the magnitude.

This book documents the work of Angela Haseltine Pozzi and her organization called Washed Ashore. They make animal sculptures out of trash found in the ocean.

Washed Ashore shows large photographs of fourteen of these sculptures. They give facts about the ocean animals portrayed and how they’re affected by plastic trash. They also list tips for reducing plastic trash in the ocean. And across the bottom of each spread, there are objects for you to find in the sculptures.

It’s finding those objects that makes you look closely and get your mind blown with all the junk. It also helps you realize just how big these sculptures are. Some of the objects to look for include a cigarette lighter, sunglasses, an inhaler, a steering wheel, toothbrushes, multiple toys, shoe parts, and even the front of a stereo.

And the art itself is stunning. Looking closely and realizing what it’s made of makes the achievement all the more remarkable.

Take a look at this book. I don’t believe that you can fail to be moved.

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Review of If You’re a Kid Like Gavin, by Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff, illustrations by J Yang

If You’re a Kid Like Gavin

The True Story of a Young Trans Activist

by Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff
illustrations by J Yang

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2022. 36 pages.
Review written October 25, 2022, from a library book.
Starred Review

This colorful and informative picture book tells the story of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy who went to court to be able to use the boys’ restroom at his high school.

The book is framed in a way kids can understand, talking about choices you can make and choices you can’t make.

Here’s how they explain that Gavin is transgender:

And if you’re a kid like Gavin Grimm,
you don’t choose if you’re a boy or a girl.

But if you’re transgender like Gavin Grimm,
you might choose to talk about it.

To tell your family, “I know you thought I was a girl,
but I’m really a boy on the inside.”

To say, “I can’t keep the name you gave me. We have to pick a new one.”

To be honest about who you are.

But then Gavin faced another choice: What to do about the bathrooms at school. He went to school as a boy, and no one bothered him. But they had him use a restroom in the nurse’s office. After a while, he started using the boys’ bathroom.

The principal said it was okay, and that should have been the end.

But the book portrays that there were some who didn’t like it, starting with a teacher, who told people that he was really a girl. That started everyone talking about him. Other kids bullied and laughed at him. And they made him a topic of a school board meeting. Gavin then had another choice.

Gavin chose to speak up for himself. He went to the meeting at his school and told them where he belonged. He tried to make them see that he was just a kid, not a problem to be solved.

It didn’t work.

But he still had a choice. He could have used the girls’ bathroom, which didn’t feel right. Or he could have used the bathroom his school put into a closet, one that no other kid was forced to use.

And he could have chosen to stay quiet.

The spread with his choice has a wonderful sky at sunset behind Gavin — with the colors of the transgender flag.

But when you’re a kid like Gavin Grimm, you know the only choice you have is to fight back.

To stand up for yourself.
And your right to use the bathroom as yourself.
And your right to be in school as yourself.

Then it talks about how Gavin worked with the ACLU to continue to fight his own case and to try to help other transgender kids, too.

I wish that this book were only of historical interest! It helps kids understand why transgender kids want to be who they know themselves to be. And it encourages kids to make the choice to stand for what’s right. Even while acknowledging they shouldn’t have to.

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Review of In Search of Safety, by Susan Kuklin

In Search of Safety

Voices of Refugees

written and photographed by Susan Kuklin

Candlewick Press, 2020. 246 pages.
Review written July 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Like the author’s book Beyond Magenta, which featured the stories of transgender teens, this book takes an in-depth look at individual refugees stories, with photographs. This paragraph at the front of the book explains it well:

Refugees are people who are forced to leave their country because they are being persecuted. From 1980 to 2018, the number of refugees resettled in the United States each year was between 50,000 and 100,000 people. In 2019, that number dropped to 30,000 people, and in 2020 it dropped again to 18,000. Many of them are from Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, Bosnia, the Middle East, and Africa. Some have resettled in the Midwest because housing there is reasonably priced and jobs are relatively plentiful. The five refugees featured in In Search of Safety are from Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Iraq, and Burundi. One refugee had been a translator for the U. S. military. Another recently escaped the horrors of captivity by fundamentalist militants. And three spent years in refugee camps, growing up in countries other than their homeland. They all survived wars. They all were carefully screened by several security organizations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United States State Department, and the United States Department of Homeland Security. They have all been resettled in the state of Nebraska, where they have been warmly welcomed. This book tells their stories

Some of the stories here are indeed horrific. But hearing detailed stories puts a face on a desperate situation and helps the reader understand that refugees are by no means just looking for a hand-out.

The five stories are told with multiple chapters each, with many photographs, and in the refugees own words. The group that sponsored them to come to Nebraska, Lutheran Family Services, is also featured, and we see what good work they do.

These stories will tear at your heart, but also make you rejoice that people in need were welcomed to a new home.

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Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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