Category Archives: Other Opinions

Kimberly Kalaja’s Night Moths on the Wing

I keep thinking about a play I saw performed nearly a month ago, at the OC-Centric New Play Festival. It is called Night Moths on the Wing, and it was written by Kimberly Kalaja, a playwright originally from California but now based in New York.

The plot revolves around a prisoner of war and his guards and interrogators, and it does contain surprise twists, and funny moments as well as frightening ones, but it’s not the plot that I keep thinking about. It’s the way the play explores questions of loyalty and trust, and of deceit and manipulation.

Maybe it’s because those are the themes being so relentlessly thrust upon us during this election season. Every day there are new articles written and discussed concerning whether or not the candidates are worthy of voters’ trust, and what they may or may not have lied about and why.

Through dialogue that is by turns amusing and arresting, Kalaja demonstrates how easily and how thoroughly people can mislead each other, and how vehemently they can hold on to beliefs they’ve been fooled into having. The play is a compact and compelling examination of two fundamental questions: who is trustworthy, and what is true.

They are questions that we all could stand to examine a bit more closely, and works of art such as this play can aid in that process. It has certainly had that effect on me.

Wherever you are, if you have the opportunity to see Night Moths on the Wing, or anything by the eloquent and thought-provoking Kimberly Kalaja, I recommend you take advantage of it.

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Full Transcript of Michelle Obama’s Amazing Speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention

I won’t say Michelle Obama’s speech last night was the best speech ever, because there were many great ones that happened before I was born, and a few when I was a very small child, that I have seen or heard on recordings, but it was the best one I have ever seen live, as it originally happened. It was dignified and passionate, full of love but brooking no self-indulgent nonsense, and it painted a picture of the United States of America I know and love, the one I feel lucky to have been born in. We have definitely done a lot of things wrong, as a country, but we were founded on a great ideal of equality and fairness, and despite struggle and setbacks and various kinds of hypocrisy we have progressed closer and closer to that ideal, and the majority of us want to continue to do so. The First Lady’s speech expressed perfectly why and how we keep going in that direction.

I am posting the full transcript here mostly for myself, because I want to be able to reread it anytime I want, but it will also be here for anyone else who might be interested. I will also post a link to the video at the bottom, because if you haven’t seen Mrs. Obama deliver it, you really should treat yourself to that experience. Enjoy.

Michelle Obama’s speech:

You know, it’s hard to believe that it has been eight years since I first came to this convention to talk with you about why I thought my husband should be President. Remember how I told you about his character and conviction, his decency and his grace, the traits that we’ve seen every day that he’s served our country in the White House.

I also told you about our daughters, how they are the heart of our hearts, the center of our world, and during our time in the White House, we’ve had the joy of watching them grow from bubbly little girls into poised young women, a journey that started soon after we arrived in Washington, when they set off for their first day at their new school.

I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just seven and ten years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns. And I saw their little faces pressed up against the window, and the only thing I could think was, “What have we done?” See, because at that moment, I realized that our time in the White House would form the foundation for who they would become, and how well we managed this experience could truly make or break them.

That is what Barack and I think about every day as we try to guide and protect our girls through the challenges of this unusual life in the spotlight. How we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel, or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.

With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models. And let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as President and First Lady, because we know that our words and actions matter not just to our girls, but to children across this country, kids who tell us, “I saw you on TV, I wrote a report on you for school.” Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered, “Is my hair like yours?”

And make no mistake about it, this November, when we go to the polls, that is what we’re deciding, not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. No, this election, and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives. And I am here tonight because in this election, there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility, only one person who I believe is truly qualified to be President of the United States, and that is our friend, Hillary Clinton.

See, I trust Hillary to lead this country because I’ve seen her lifelong devotion to our nation’s children, not just her own daughter, who she has raised to perfection, but every child who needs a champion: Kids who take the long way to school to avoid the gangs. Kids who wonder how they’ll ever afford college. Kids whose parents don’t speak a word of English but dream of a better life. Kids who look to us to determine who and what they can be.

You see, Hillary has spent decades doing the relentless, thankless work to actually make a difference in their lives, advocating for kids with disabilities as a young lawyer, fighting for children’s health care as First Lady and for quality child care in the Senate. And when she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home. Because as a true public servant, Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own desires and disappointments. So she proudly stepped up to serve our country once again as Secretary of State, traveling the globe to keep our kids safe. 

And look, there were plenty of moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being picked apart for how she looks or how she talks or even how she laughs. But here’s the thing: what I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life.

And when I think about the kind of President that I want for my girls and all our children, that’s what I want. I want someone with the proven strength to persevere. Someone who knows this job and takes it seriously. Someone who understands that the issues a President faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters. Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady, and measured, and well-informed.

I want a President with a record of public service, someone whose life’s work shows our children that we don’t chase fame and fortune for ourselves, we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed, and we give back, even when we’re struggling ourselves, because we know that there is always someone worse off, and there but for the grace of God go I.

I want a president who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters, a president who truly believes in the vision that our founders put forth all those years ago: That we are all created equal, each a beloved part of the great American story. And when crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other. No, we listen to each other. We lean on each other. Because we are always stronger together. And I am here tonight because I know that that is the kind of president that Hillary Clinton will be. And that’s why, in this election, I’m with her.

You see, Hillary understands that the President is about one thing and one thing only. It’s about leaving something better for our kids. That’s how we’ve always moved this country forward – by all of us coming together on behalf of our children, folks who volunteer to coach that team, to teach that Sunday school class because they know it takes a village. Heroes of every color and creed who wear the uniform and risk their lives to keep passing down those blessings of liberty. 

Police officers and protestors in Dallas who all desperately want to keep our children safe. People who lined up in Orlando to donate blood because it could have been their son, their daughter in that club. Leaders like Tim Kaine, who show our kids what decency and devotion look like. Leaders like Hillary Clinton, who has the guts and the grace to keep coming back and putting those cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling until she finally breaks through, lifting all of us along with her.

That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters, and all our sons and daughters, now take for granted that a woman can be President of the United States.

So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth. And as my daughters prepare to set out into the world, I want a leader who is worthy of that truth, a leader who is worthy of my girls’ promise and all our kids’ promise, a leader who will be guided every day by the love and hope and impossibly big dreams that we all have for our children. 

So in this election, we cannot sit back and hope that everything works out for the best. We cannot afford to be tired, or frustrated, or cynical. No, hear me. Between now and November, we need to do what we did eight years ago and four years ago. We need to knock on every door. We need to get out every vote. We need to pour every last ounce of our passion and our strength and our love for this country into electing Hillary Clinton as President of the United States of America.

So let’s get to work.

Here is a link to the video and the official text the White House released to CNN.

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Scottish Tweets to Trump Demonstrate Wordsmithing to Rival Shakespeare

There are so many insane and important things happening in the world this year, and I haven’t yet been able to distill any of them down to something I can say articulately in a blogpost. There is one small piece of it all, though, that I find so delightful that I feel I must share it.

If you haven’t yet seen the fine array of creative and hilarious insults people in Scotland have been tweeting to Donald Trump since his would-be-inconceivable-if-he-didn’t-always-do-things-like-this appearance at one of his golf courses there on Friday, treat yourself and check them out here, and here, and especially here. Some are NSFW, but all are not to be missed.

The creativity ranges from the adding of colorful endings such as “nugget”, “womble” and “splat” to choice four letter words, to long form expressions such as, “you couldn’t be more out of touch with reality if Nessie bit you on the arse”, to wonderful words I’ve never heard of, such as “numpty” and “twonk”. The best ones, though, combine simple, ordinary words in innovative ways.

I have narrowed down the ones I’ve seen to three favorites. #3 is “you mangled apricot hellbeast”. #2 is “you bankrupt traffic cone”. #1, for its originality and vividness, has to be “you weapons-grade plum”.

Normally I wouldn’t promote insults. I believe very strongly in civility and decorum and taking the high road. Two things have combined in this case to cause me to make an exception. The first is that the things Trump said were so egregiously ignorant, insensitive and irresponsible that they would end any diplomat’s career, especially combined with all the other egregiously ignorant, insensitive and irresponsible things he has said. It is unfathomable that such a person could possibly become the President of the United States of America, and it is very difficult to continue attempting to treat with any vestige of respect someone who affords no one else that courtesy. The second is my love for the English language, and the pure joy I feel in seeing anyone use it so brilliantly. I just can’t resist!

Thank you, Scottish tweeters, for making my day week!

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Life in Three Languages

While going through old files, I came across this little poem I wrote for the annual Thanksgiving celebration when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia. It’s no great literary work, but it means something to me and I kind of like it, so I thought I’d post it. The three languages are English, Macedonian, and Albanian. I needed to use all three every day. The Macedonian is written in more or less phonetic transliteration from the Macedonian alphabet, which uses Cyrillic letters. The Albanian is in the actual Albanian alphabet, which, obviously, uses Latin letters. People really did call me Erika od Amerika/Erikë nga Amerikë (Erika from America).

Life in Three Languages/Zhivot vo Tri Jazetsi/Jeta në Tre Gjuhë

Erika from America
Is what they call me here.
Ludjeto tuka dobri se.
Jeta ime është shumë mirë.

Erika od Amerika
Jas se vikam ovde.
Njerezit janë mirë ketu.
Life is good this way.

Erikë nga Amerikë
Është emri im tani.
I mi se dopadja.
Now, it sounds like me.

Sometimes, if I’ve had a difficult day,
I miss my family, my friends, and my beach,
No naskoro podobro e,
Dhe mund të qesh sërish.

Ponekogash, malku teshko e.
Ndonjëherë, është pak vështirë,
But no matter how much I sometimes complain,
The truth is I really like it here.

Mnogu blagodaram
For this life I’m living.
Jam mirënjose shumë.
This is my Thanksgiving.

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Watch Longmire!

Everyone who appreciates good storytelling should watch Longmire, now on Netflix. It is a magnificent show, one of my absolute favorites. I was devastated when A&E cancelled it after three seasons, and thrilled when Netflix picked it up. The fourth season is currently available on Netflix, along with the first three, and fans are having an event tomorrow to encourage them to renew it for a fifth. I intend to participate.

I am not sure whom to credit with the great writing on the show. It is based on books by Craig Johnson, which I have not yet read, but intend to, and Johnson is given writing credit along with show creators Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny and a number of other writers on individual episodes. I imagine it is a collaborative effort. However it is done, the result is spectacular.

The actors are, without exception, excellent. Robert Taylor so completely inhabits Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming that I had no idea he was Australian until long after I became addicted to the show. I would have guessed he was from no farther from Wyoming than maybe Montana. He also has the great actor’s ability to make clear what the character thinks and feels with minimal dialogue (Walt is a man of extremely few words) and to make me care deeply about what happens to him. Lou Diamond Phillips is equally believable as Walt’s more socially adept best friend, Henry Standing Bear, and Katee Sackhoff makes full use of the potential of perhaps the most layered, complex and unusual female character on television, Deputy Vic Moretti. I almost hate to single anyone out though, because the whole cast is wonderful.

Although there are funny moments, Longmire is by no means a lighthearted show. It is emotionally intense, but one of the things I love about it is that it has very little of the graphic violence and general grossness that permeate so much of modern entertainment. I seem to be less able than most people to become desensitized to that sort of thing. I admit there have been a few moments in a few episodes when I had to look away, but very few. The intensity comes from the realistic human drama and the powerful performances.

Even if you think you have no interest in the life of a Wyoming sheriff, I urge you to give this show a try. Start from Season 1, Episode 1, because the plot is complex, and there are many layers of subtext. I defy you not to want to see the next episode, and the next, and the next…

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It’s Way Too Early to Choose a Candidate

I keep getting emails asking me to support various presidential candidates. It seems insane to me that campaigns are already in full force more than a year before the election. I refuse to choose a candidate this far in advance. The reason they are already campaigning is that they have to raise so much money. Billionaires and banks and big corporations keep outspending each other on lobbyists and candidates, and the amounts have gotten ridiculous. The level of corruption that creates is just disgusting.

I have given money to one candidate. I gave $25 to Lawrence Lessig to help get him to his $1,000,000 by Labor Day goal, so he will launch his campaign. It’s not because I plan to vote for him. As I said, I refuse to choose a candidate more than a year before the election. I gave it to him because I think he is right that until we contain this money problem we won’t be able to fix our other pressing problems. I want him to run to bring attention to the issue. I want as many Americans as possible to realize that we have to own our democracy. None of our big problems will get solved until the people who want them solved have more power than the people who don’t.

I might vote for him, in the end. It depends on what happens between now and then. A lot can happen in a year. I’m glad, though, that I am part of the reason he is officially announcing his campaign tomorrow. I hope he gets enough attention and enough support that whoever is elected is forced to do something about campaign finance reform.

That’s my rant for the day.

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Back to the Blog

It has been a long time since I have posted anything here, but I am about to start again, because I am finding I have a lot I want to say, mostly about public education. I like to take the time to think before I write, and to edit before I post, so I won’t be posting every day, maybe not even every week, but I will be posting. I hope you find these topics as interesting as I do.

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A Better Way to Fight Poverty

I recently read this: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/14/out-of-poverty-family-style/?scp=1&sq=poverty&st=cse about an organization called the Family Independence Initiative (F.I.I.) which assists people in finding their way out of poverty. F.I.I. turns on its head the usual social services model, which is very similar to the foreign assistance model frequently used in developing countries. These models offer material goods and services to people deemed in need of them, whereas F.I.I. encourages people to use their strengths and those of their communities to find and develop resources to solve their own problems.

This approach is something in between the idea that money and people with good intentions are the best way to make things better, and the idea that people should be required to lift themselves up by their bootstraps with no help at all. Small amounts of money and very limited advice are offered by the organization, but essentially the community is required to find its own path forward. So far the results have been impressive. You can find the details at fiinet.org or just by searching online.

I was delighted to see this, because my biggest frustration during my time in the world of international development was seeing large amounts of money being thrown around by the big agencies on projects that were nearly useless but which provided a huge incentive for people with initiative to orient their energies toward participating in these lucrative projects rather than finding more creative, and in the long run more effective, ways to solve the problems their countries faced. I will be thrilled if the F.I.I. model becomes the standard one.

This is not to say that impoverished people, no matter what country they live in, shouldn’t be able to receive direct benefits, particularly very basic things such as food and essential medical care, but people with more material advantages tend to discount the skills of those with fewer, no matter how good their intentions might be. We would all do better to encourage each person, each family, each community, to find and capitalize on their strengths. I hope the work of F.I.I. is replicated all over the world, because the whole world could benefit.

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The Unexamined Text is Not Worth Sending

How many times have you been the sender or recipient of texts or instant messages or other communications like this one:

will b at jwdda giusw

followed by one like this:

sorry meant jeffs house

and how often do you see blog posts, comments, emails, etc. that are so full of errors you can barely comprehend their authors’ meaning? Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that those very same communications are often the ones most filled with nonsensical vitriol or other statements for which the authors later feel compelled to apologize?

What if we all took a little more care with what we write? What if we all took just a few seconds to read what we have written before we share it, to make sure we really want to say what we are about to say, the way we are about to say it?

You have probably heard of the slow food movement, based on the idea that it is important to think about what you eat, to prepare it with care, and to enjoy the full experience of eating it. I think the same principles apply to communication, particularly written communication. I haven’t come up with a catchy name for the movement yet. “Slow writing” and “slow communication” just don’t do it. Does anyone have a suggestion?

Of course some kinds of communication require a certain amount of spontaneity, but there is no form of expression before which there is no time even to take a moment, just a moment, to consider what you are about to say, or text, or tweet. With any written form of communication, it is possible to take the time to read it over before you send or submit or post it. The world can wait an extra second while you fix your typos or change a word to make your meaning clearer.

We all make mistakes on occasion, no matter how careful we are, (please let me know if you catch mistakes in my writing!) and I am not suggesting that people should be castigated for typographical errors. I just think we would all enjoy our communications more and be a healthier global community if we took the time to be fully aware of what we are saying and especially what we are writing, rather than speeding through it as if we were stopping at the fast food drive-through.

Do you think my idea is crazy? Do you agree with me? I would love to know. I will post any comments that do not contain inappropriate language or ad hominem attacks. I will not edit your writing. I leave that up to you.

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