Category Archives: Other Opinions

2016: Disaster and Hope

Last year at this time I was in Thailand. I celebrated the New Year with people I had met there when we were all teenagers, exchange students from many different countries who spent a year immersed in a culture that, for most of us, was radically different from our own. We orchestrated a reunion for ourselves, I hope the first of many.

I was nervous about going. I couldn’t really afford the trip, and I would be staying only a few days, and it had been many, many years since I had seen these people, but it felt like an important thing to do, so I went. I was very glad I did, and I am even more glad now.

The trip was brief and marred by jet lag, but it was filled with such warmth, and ease of communication, and real joy, that it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. I am not sure if I was just lucky enough to meet an amazing group of people all those years ago, or if our shared experience bonded us in some unbreakable way, or if it was something else entirely.

I do know one thing. The greatest lesson I learned as a high school exchange student in Thailand is that all cultures, all civilizations, have been created by human beings, and they can therefore be changed by human beings. “That’s just the way it is” is a ridiculous statement. Things are the way they are because we, the people, keep them that way. They change because we change them.

Maybe the reason that reunion with my fellow exchange students was so filled with positive feelings is that we are all people who know viscerally, experientially, that anything is possible. We learned to understand words, customs, and people that seemed incomprehensible, and that made our faith in the unexpected, and our capacity for hope, nearly indestructible.

The events of this year have sent many people veering toward despair, and I understand that, but I haven’t quite gotten there myself, because I know, deep in my core, that nothing has to be the way it is, and that we, as human beings, have to power to make things better. If we work together, and we are smart about it, and we don’t give up, 2017 may be a better year than any of us can imagine.

Don’t think I am saying things aren’t that bad. Electing this despicable con man was one of the worst things my beloved country has ever done, and the potential, even the likelihood, of disaster is enormous. I am just saying that IF we keep our priorities in order, and IF we channel all that near despair into inspired action, then we, the people who believe there is room for all of us if we just manage ourselves and our resources well, can outmaneuver the people who believe everything is a competition and privilege is necessary for survival. After all, there are more of us than there are of them, and we are a lot less afraid.

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There Is No Justification for Having Voted for Donald Trump

Hate me if you want. Troll me if you must. History has its eyes on you (thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda), and future generations will not accept your feeble excuses. I would like to tell you some reasons why.

You claim you are not misogynist*, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, or xenophobic, and you don’t approve of lots of things he has said, but:

1. You actually believed he would bring back manufacturing jobs.

He wouldn’t even if he could, and he can’t. Democrats and immigrants didn’t take your jobs. Technology and globalization did, and they will continue to. Also, look at his business record. He is no friend to the worker or the small business owner. He doesn’t care about you. If you did not know these things, you allowed yourself to be uninformed to a degree unacceptable in a citizen of a democracy. This falls into the category of Things You Knew Or Should Have Known, hereafter abbreviated as TYKOSHK.

2. You feel very strongly about a particular issue, such as abortion, and you voted purely based on the candidates’ current professed stances on that issue.

I sympathize. I probably don’t agree with you on that issue, but I respect your position. Nevertheless, you have chosen to prioritize that issue over the lives of your fellow citizens in the USA and civilians in other countries. If you really believe that whatever Hillary Clinton might have allowed to happen is worse than hate crimes and war crimes, both of which Donald Trump has implicitly and often explicitly supported, then I suppose you can still be proud of yourself, but history won’t be.

3. Hillary Clinton is corrupt.

Hillary Clinton is no more corrupt than the average politician, and less corrupt than many you find perfectly acceptable. You have fallen for hysterical propaganda. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is extremely corrupt, certainly more than anyone else who has ever been elected President of the United States. You did not bother to find that out, and/or did not believe it when people, including Republicans, even conservative Republicans, told you so. Again, TYKOSHK.

4. You didn’t believe he really meant those things, or you “just don’t like” Hillary Clinton.

These are just stupid. How old are you?

To my fellow liberals who are wringing their hands about our failure of empathy for the white blue-collar worker, stop it. I certainly care about them, as do the vast majority of us, but I care about other people too. I am sorry it is getting harder and harder to find decent paying jobs, and I believe we can and should do more about that than we have been doing, but their jobs are not more important than other people’s lives. President Obama has tried to help them. Hillary Clinton would have tried to help them. The fact that they do not believe that does not justify their putting this abomination into the White House. Just stop.

*I intentionally put “misogynist” first, because it is so often put last, or not included at all. Misogynists hate more people than any of the others on the list do, with the possible exception of the most extreme xenophobes. I think they deserve to be acknowledged first.

I wrote this while furious, as a stream of consciousness rant, but I have just reread it, and I stand by every word. I am posting it.

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Best History Book Ever: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari

Everyone should read this book. Its full title is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and it is exactly that, but it also somehow manages to be both a work of philosophy and a very entertaining read.

Harari writes with a clarity and wit rarely seen in academic writing, or any kind of non-fiction. Reading it is a delight, but that is not the main reason why you should do so.

Even if it were a struggle to wade through, it would be worth it for the content. In this book, millions of years of evolution and thousands of years of human history are analyzed, organized, and woven into a fully comprehensible tapestry, enhanced by an original perspective.

Multiple times, during the course of reading Sapiens, I found myself thinking, or even saying to someone nearby, “I guess I knew that, but I never looked at it quite that way.”

If you, like me, are a devoted fan of history, this book won’t provide you with much new information, but it will give you a new perspective on what you know. If you think history is boring and history books are unbearably dry, this one will very likely change your mind.

In any case, every human should have some idea of what the history of humanity has been, and this is by far the best overview I have ever seen. If you read every new history book, or if you have never read even one, read this one!

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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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