Category Archives: Politics / News stories

A Time for Reflection

Like much of those in America, including possibly the winner himself, the results of the 2016 Presidential election came as a huge shock to me. So sure of the result was I, that when questioned why I would take children to an election party given that results don’t finish coming in until after midnight, I rolled my eyes and said “Oh, by 8, maybe 8.30, we’ll know. I mean, we won’t know, but it will be obvious”. I was anticipating the vote for Hillary to be such a landslide that in my wilder dreams I almost saw Texas as a swing state. I nearly made a T-shirt that said “Spoiler alert: Hillary wins”.

In the end, I was half right. By 8-8.30 I did indeed know. I can’t remember the exact time my heart stopped hoping, but at a certain point it was clear that the majority of the swing states were leaning red, and in other states Trump’s margin was greater than expected. Together, it was clearly an indication of what was to come. At 9-ish I said to friends “I don’t want to get in the car and drive home, because I know that when I get out of the car it will be a done deal”. But in the end keeping my children up far too late, and clinging on, and staying up 2 hours’ after we got home was in vain. Trump won.

Trump won. And I am afraid. And after the tears, for me, came the time for quieter introspection. How? I needed to understand two major “hows”:

1. While I respect that there were a multitude of reasons for voting Trump, many of which reflect values that I hold dear (but choose to manifest differently), how did an open misogynist, who mocked disabilities, who acted a racist to an almost caricature level, and who made hatred-inspired division a cornerstone of his campaign, win? I understand how he got some votes e.g the pro-life vote, but how did he win?

2. How did I so totally and utterly not see it coming? How did the Democratic Party and associated media not see it coming?

The answers to these are many layered and complex. They are being debated in the media now, and they will be written about for years to come. I am not Political Science savvy-enough to add to the experts, but for now I am recognizing that the DNP did not listen to their followers who actually echoed the same sentiments as the Trump followers.

I was not a Bernie Sanders fan. I liked his ideals, but I felt they were too extreme for the US at the present time, and his past record in the legislature (or more to the point, his lack of record) told me that he would not work well within the system to compromise and make change happen. I saw stagnation. But it seems I was an outsider in wanting someone more proven, more acceptable to other politicians, more used to working with the other side and deploying their army of machinations to achieve a compromise goal. I think the people overwhelmingly wanted Bernie the outsider and consistently overlooked his negatives – even some of the same negatives theory through at Hillary. And in the end, The DNP looked around at the American public overwhelmingly asking for an outsider, and put in place: the ultimate insider.

That’s just the start of what will surely be characterized in history as a catalogue of mistakes. But it is not even really where my thoughts were; they were more at the grass roots level (albeit how this reflects DNP actions) and with personal guilt. Why did Trump win? The difference this year seems to be because he exploited divisions while mobilizing a group of people that liberals all but ignore: non-college educated (I refuse to say “uneducated” like the divisive media), often rural, whites. He spoke to them, and he spoke for them. But surely, he could only get them to vote for such a heinous character but making the division between him and the other candidate strong. He must have made that wound so deep. And thinking about this, when I did some soul searching I realized that as an enlightened, tolerance-preaching all-loving liberal I was as guilty of contributing to these divisions as anyone.

Did I have any interest in America’s other  whites? No. Did I care about disenfranchised whites? Oh, I read about the African American experience, and the Transgender experience, and the Refugee experience and so on. I lapped it up! I shared articles, I spouted about how enlighten I was because I could never really appreciate what it was like to be one of these minorities, but I could appreciate the environment they were in and how terrible my white straight privilege was! Oh, now I saw the light indeed. Now I was so much a better person indeed. Enlightened. Accepting. So open minded. So liberal. How did even manage to see when my halo was so bright.

But what about others? How could I not read about others who were disenfranchised? Is it that I had no access to such literature? No. Immediately I can think of two occasions where people directly tried to engage me on this issue. I  posted about white privileged and two people directly said to me “I don’t think African Americans do have a disadvantage compared to me”. Of course, we all know my response. It’s the classic white liberal response: You’re wrong! And not only are you wrong, you want to be wrong. You don’t like the changing status quo my pompous ass concluded. Whether here is any veracity to those statements or not, yet problem to me is not what was said or through, but what was not. I cannot remember a single time I engaged with a disenfranchised white and said “tell me about your troubles”. “Tell me about how you feel marginalized”. “Let me listen to you”.

Why? I don’t think I am generally someone who doesn’t try to to see other people’s point of view, or who carries a self-righteous rightness about them. So why now? Why couldn’t I listen to family members and friends, of all people. Thinking long and hard about why I have changed to be like this, I have drawn the conclusion that a large part of it stems from living on Facebook for me. At the time of the election, I got almost 100% of my “news” from Facebook recommendations and click fests, and lived in that Facebook bubble where (and I forget what the name of it is), FaceBook shows you posts and media articles that reflect your previous interests and likes. How could this not entrench my views further? Everyday I logged on to have my views reaffirmed and deepened. Every day others logged on to have the same to their different views. How could this not create a chasm? Clearly this is only a problem when you get your information exclusively in this manner, but I am ashamed to say that I did. And now I think about it: that’s incredibly dangerous. Surely, it has to be incredibly dangerous to encourage oneself to narrow your world view? And to keep reaffirming your underlying opinions rather than evolving and challenging them. And often, let’s face it: doing all this with sound bites and memes. I nearly started a running series on this blog about liberal memes that annoyed me because so they so entirely missed the non-liberal point of view. Yet I still willingly exposed myself to them day after day.

Against this background of realizing that Facebook was not doing my world view any good, things started to get heated in my feed. I watched comment after comment get leaped on, and yelled at, even though the original intent was not to incite. The divisions deepened and became personal.

I am honest and true to my beliefs, but I express them differently depending on the views of the audience. I talk about them in person subtly and with nuance (I hope). I take care not to hurt people if they disagree with me. I try to listen. But it is very difficult to do this on Facebook. It tends to be quick status updates, memes and headlines. You speak to everyone at once, and in the same way. You can’t gauge  those non verbal cues as to how someone is being affected by your words. But you do get all those self affirming likes and shares! It just wasn’t good for me.

I don’t know when much of my interpersonal discourse moved from real life to Facebook, but embarrassingly, it did. Some months ago I stopped making political posts and stuck to baby pictures and selfies. But it creeps in. A picture of Caroline in a (bi-partisan) election hat started flurry of passionate debate – by accident it seems (although I did tag it #imwithher). (#imstillwithher). That wans’t the only example. Being careful with what I posted on my own page probably deepened my resentment of the so-perceived “others”, rather than leading to discourse and learning.

So, it’s time for a break. I had thought about it before, but never managed to pull the trigger on deactivating my account. It makes me quite sad – there are so many people I am only in touch with through Facebook and I have enjoyed my friendships there. I have been to a wedding and had a marvelous friend come and stay with me because of it. I have reconnected with an old “sister” (“” because she is not family buy blood, just by love and experience). But I need a break. I seem unable to control my usage and use it only positively so Facebook is gone.

I’m sad that I have lost messenger as I deactivated Facebook, and I worry about lost friendships. But I am hoping that I can still connect with people here, and through emails and text messages. I’m not quite a hermit / dinosaur yet.

*********************************************************

The above is just a snapshot of what is going through my mind. It’s worth saying that I recognize:

*There were many reasons for voting for Trump other than “white disenfranchisement” to include for example, his pro-life stance, and his business acumen.

*I don’t hate Trump supporters. I don’t just “tolerate” them. I love many of them, and I recognize and understand their reasons for voting Trump where I have heard them. In the same breath, I don’t dismiss articles which say, for example, that racism can be just about actions as about beliefs and voting for an open racist with racist policies can be seen as a racist act. I have trouble reconciling a lot of this in my head.

*A lot of my decision just reflect a need to hide away from the ugliness in the world for a while. It’s not helpful, but I need to be able to distance myself.

*Many felt Hillary was just a truly non optional alternative. I loved her, but they saw entitlement, dishonesty, murder and warmongering. She lost a lot of her vote because of this.

*Many (the majority?) of people are able to use Facebook in an entirely constructive way. I am not one of them at their moment. You would probably be horrified if you knew quite how much time I spent on there. This is a personal decision that does not reflect what I think of Facebook and its users in general.

*The extreme right seem to be gaining traction all over the world (including Europe and Australia). This is a world patterns right now which probably has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with the fallout of several wars and economic depressions.

*At times I sounds like I am really beating myself up. I am very sad at the moment. It is hard to put into words what watching a man who was vocal racist, who said women should be punished for abortions, who promised to enact racist policies and undo some of the greatest social progress this country has seen in decades, and who has no political experience to temper his actions, what it has done to me to see this man be put in power. What it has done to me to see literal hate spewed forth and not only be legitimized but supported. If I played any part in this, if I even contributed to underlying movements that in some allowed this to gain momentum, if I was even prepresentative of the problem rather than part of it, I take that very seriously and will demand dramatic changes of myself. Change must happen. A man such as Trump much not be allowed to be the face of a Nation.

*Coming off Facebook is not the most helpful thing I can do. I know this. I have already been researching organizations and making lists of what I can feasibly contribute to, both financially and by giving my time or expertise, to counteract racism, and promote gender equality. Good will come of this.

Why I love the (hashtag) Royal Baby & a special milestone for me and Sam

I am so excited Prince George has made a safe and healthy entrance into the world. I read some of my American friends criticizing the news (and one British) and having ‘mixed emotions’ about what the monarchy stood for. Although I may be a noisy political advocate for many causes, this was not a political cause for me.

ens_0726123_princeGeorge-500x379

I guess at the heart of everything, I do not have an intrinsic problem with the monarchy. They return more money to Britain than they cost, they don’t interfere with everyday life, but they do try to do some decent charity work without too many bells and whistles (LOVE Prince Charles quiet support of organic farming, and much as I did not like Diana, she did amazing work to remove a lot of stigma from HIV patients). And, all countries need their identity; the monarchy is part of ours and if not something to be proud of, to me, not something to be particularly ashamed of.

So, for me, as my heckles do not get raised by the mention of the monarchy, the Royal Baby story was just a story about a young couple, who fell in love, and had a baby. All the criticisms: they didn’t swaddle properly! She came out after only 12 hours! She has a manicure! She can’t nurse in that dress! She showed her belly! All those bitchy little comments just reminded me so vividly of my first few days (months?) as a parent.

Swaddle fail

Swaddle fail

I failed utterly, utterly, at swaddling, despite great instruction from my Bradley Method teacher, AND getting the nurses to show us how to do it several times in hospital AND having step-by-step diagrams in ‘The Happiest Baby on The Block’. I just said: Thank goodness for ‘swaddleme’s [and for the friend who bought me three].

Also failing at using a Swaddleme. Oh well.

Also failing at using a Swaddleme. Oh well.

I was utterly confident I could see people immediately, even though I was clearly very sick, and visitors were not allowed in ICU anyway. But I was on a great high – I was utterly in love with a new little human. I was convinced her was the cutest / most well-behaved / smartest baby ever, and I just wanted the world d to meet him.

What do you mean I am not ready for visitors? But I invited my colleagues over for cupcake (no... I really did...).

What do you mean I am not ready for visitors? But I invited my colleagues over for cupcakes (no… I really did…).

OK, I didn’t have a manicure, but as soon as I was able to unhook myself from my IV I scuttled off to bathroom and put make-up on (which in retrospect, because I was deathly pale and swollen from blood loss, just looked vaguely clown-like). Had I been able to have a full shower, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have had a blow-out (I got the straighteners out as soon as I got home).

Yes Lekki, you look awesome. Not deathly pale with clownlike levels of blusher at all. AT. ALL.

Yes Lekki, you look awesome. Not deathly pale with clown-like levels of blusher at all. AT. ALL.

Nursing clothes? Messed that up. I found my clothes were totally inappropriate for nursing, especially in those first few days when you haven’t got your technique down. Even when Wes went and bought me special nursing tops I got lanolin and milk all over them. C’est la vie.

Hoodies: Not awesome for nursing. Also: terrible swaddle (again).

Hoodies: Not awesome for nursing. Also: terrible swaddle (again).

And as for that belly? And the ‘Did Kate decide to show she was normal?’, “Did Kate purposely show her belly?’ question. While I applaud Kate for not getting into a girdle, I suspect she, like me, had no idea what people meant when they said ‘you’ll still look 6 months pregnant when you leave’. Seeing that I barely put on 4 lbs of non-baby weight, while I heard people say ‘take maternity clothes’, and I heard them tell me my belly would take weeks to go down, I was used to stories of Alex Curran leaving hospital in her skinny jeans, and I didn’t really think the ‘6 months pregnant belly’ would apply to me. Boy-oh-boy did it 🙂

When am I due? Oh, 7 days ago actually...

When am I due? Oh, 7 days ago actually…

They were not mistakes, they were just ‘learning to be a parent’ moves. They were just a reflection that nothing can really prepare you for EVERYTHING it is to suddenly have a brand new newborn. You can read books, you can visit friends, you can watch videos, but as soon as you have that little thing in your arms you realize you had NO IDEA what it is going to take.

And that is why I love the Royal Baby news: I guarantee that at this moment, Kate & Wills are not marveling over the heir to the throne, or thinking about the press, or planning their every move. They are completely and utterly absorbed in their new one, wondering how to be come parents, and blown away by how clever they are to have bought the cutest / most well-behaved / smartest baby ever [apart from mine] into the world.

Reliving that special time through them is wonderful. Tomorrow marks the exact number of days, since Sam’s birth, that reflect the time he was inside me (i.e. from ovulation to birth). I am fairly emotional about that, and hearing about wee Prince George just warms my heart and reminds me this is the best thing I have ever done.

Best. Baby. Ever. Fact.

Best. Baby. Ever. Fact.

 

Oh, and I am not proud of this, but we also didn’t get the car seat right:

Not a good way to strap the wee one in

Not a good way to strap the wee one in

Chest strap too low, head not properly supported, and in fact, should have had side impact protection (Sam was very small!). We’ll do better next time.

Precious

Earlier today, I started to write a post on my 6-month anniversary at UTSPH, and paused to attend to talk at a conference. Before I came back to finish the post, the news broke of the tragedy in Connecticut. I think I was numb when I first heard, and just pushed it out. Then I got home, home to my Sam, and I fed him, watching him sink with need into my breast. I went to work in my room, laid him to play next to my desk and sat him across my lap when he fussed. He had our usual bath together and then I nursed him, but not to sleep. So he came downstairs while we had dinner and sat on my lap after. When I nurse, I am absorbed in Grey’s Anatomy, stopping only occasionally to check that he has a good latch, and half heartedly balance the burping / sleeping ratio. Today, as he was downstairs, I just gazed at his soft skin, his little baby curls of blonde hair and how children sleep differently to adults; how even their sleep is so carefree, so unhindered, so innocent.

Now I don’t want to write about grants, and papers and useless academic ambition. I don’t want to think about how I am going to keep my job, how I am going to beat other academics and spend so much of my time in these pursuits. I just want to write how grateful I am for every moment with Sam. How yesterday – even before I heard of today’s events – I was telling a dear friend that I had been wrong: Sam is enough. I thought a child would be part of the tapestry that made me happy, but he is every thread in the tapestry. Everything else: my job, my home, my hobbies… they contribute, I am grateful for having them in my life, but they are not necessary. Sam is all that necessary and sufficient for me to feel complete.

I will hug my baby tighter tonight. And tomorrow morning when he wakes up with tummy ache and, as every morning, I bring him into bed to soothe him. I will appreciate his innocence and grace a little more. I will appreciate the unique beauty that belongs to all children.

I used to think that if anything happened to my child I would be so angry I would do something I would regret. I now think I would be so broken, so empty, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I am finding it desperately hard to pray tonight… but if I could, I think I would leave the prayers for the parents in CT to other voices, and just give thanks for every child the Lord blesses us with.

Americans: Doesn’t your media just depress you? And 10 things I LOVE about the US

Ugh. So, I was quite excited to move to America (even though I thought it would be a little more temporary than it turned out to be). But, now I find myself complaining about it, more than anything. Which, yes, does make me feel guilty because I don’t think that is very nice when I have been welcomed to this country, and many Americans have been very wonderful to me (and taught me wonderful things!). So, it baffled me. Especially as: my life is pretty good here. Yeah – Europe / Canada might suit me better. But, I do have a great time here. So why did I spend two days crying at being stuck here? Why such a strong and passionate view? I think it is y’alls media! I think the net effect of following news sites and social networking sites has just been to make me hate this country – and probably quite unfairly.

It hit home today. So, anyone who knows Wes & I know that, certainly for this election, we fall on opposite sides of the political line. Me: Obama all the way. I love the guy, and think Romney is a tool to a worrying extent. Wes quite likes Romney, and in the whole world, only hates Nancy Pelosi more than Obama. How do we figure it out? Eh… there is more common ground than you think (I am probably a fiscal conservative, but a social liberal; Wes is socially libertarian [let people have access to gay marriage / abortion etc and make up their own minds what is right with their conscience – my version of social liberal] but fiscally identifies more with the Romney campaign than the Obama one), but the day to day working of two passionate hard-heads in one house is really the topic for another post 😉 Anyway, the power of the media to depress hit me today when I discussed with him the following reports:

Romney did not cancel his campaign tour in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but turned them into ‘relief’ tours where he collected food and goods donations for the Red Cross. Panicking that people would not turn up with donations, he gave $5,000 to his campaign, who went to Walmart and bought things. Romney then posed with ‘members of the public’ handed them over to him. Unfortunately the Red Cross can’t use a lot of what was bought, but hey ho.

Now… I didn’t actually think that was a particularly bad thing. I think it would be unreasonable for the leader of the Republican Party to cancel his tour less than a week before the election – come on, he has a job to do. Yeah, what he bought was not ideal, but he didn’t take money from the Red Cross… it is just a waste of his own money really (and I am sure it will all get used somehow). Yeah, it might be a bit dishonest… but didn’t Obama get accused of similarly staging photo ops? Is it really a big deal? Is it any different to kissing babies who these guys really don’t care about? Eh… I was left cold.

But, I mentioned it to Wes. He said ‘well, if it is true, it is a big deal to me, but don’t believe everything you read’. When I said to him that it did seem fairly true, he just shrugged and said ‘I am so sick of this election’. I felt horrible. I could see the defeatism in him: he hates Obama, but the media (+ a Democrat wife… ooooopps) have kind of killed the Republican party for him. Sure, he will vote Romney. But he doesn’t seem overjoyed by it.

I don’t know Wes’ deep feelings on this. But, like many Americans, he does just seem defeated. And I don’t know if this is why, but I feel defeated because the media have convinced me that America is a terrible place. It convinced me that America is trying to put homophobic anti-feminists in charge of the free world. The bitching from both sides has left me with a negative impression of both sides: the right are evil, the left are complaining, whining, mud-slinging people bent on unfair smear campaigns. That’s because I generally follow left media, I am sure if I followed the right-wing media, I would be left with the exact same position, but switched.

I don’t think I have ever been submersed in so much bitching and negativity before 😦 It is really hard to stay positive.
What can you do about it? Well… I would say “Don’t watch Fox News”. While I think this is excellent general advice if you want to (1) not be horribly misinformed about the world and (2) have decent female role models – I am not sure it will solve this problem as the left wing media is just as depressing (it even kills me). Ugh.

Other options? No media? But you want to be informed. The BBC? But you want an American opinion. Holing up in a cave deep in the forest? Probably the best idea yet 😉

For my part, I think I should just apologize for being ratty, stop reading all this bs, and list 10 things I love about America:

(1) How welcoming so many people are. You WILL have a baby shower, and a birthday party and a bachelorette – even if you are new. And you won’t have to contribute anything. It’s really sweet how much Americans celebrate life events.

(2) Along those lines: vacations. It’s party city throughout the year: 4th July, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas. And they come complete with special food and special decorations, and so many cool baby (and adult) clothes. Love it!

(3) Oreos, Chex Mix, Pretzel Flipz. Get with the program Britain.

(4) A very open and welcoming attitude to Christians. Plus, more Christians (I think?). As I believe in the power of prayer, I am mightily pleased to have so many people praying for me.

(5) Big houses. So much room for activities.

(6) Ridiculously luxurious hospitals.

(7) Willingness to drive huge distances = lots of fun day trips.

(8) The Cheesecake Factory.

(9) Lots of fun places to go here: hiking, boating, the coast, big cities. It is a fun country.

(10) Many, many dear and awesome people.

What do you love about America?

How this right-wing Christian Tory girl ended up supporting Obama

… Or [alternative title]:

“I am sorry I was an ass-hat for the last 6 months”.

But it takes me a while to get to that part in this post. Patience if you will, please.

So, back in good old Blighty, I was actually noticeably right-wing. I was a Young Conservative. I dated a former Young Conservative. I was devastated when he broke my tax-reducing, spending-cutting heart. I cried when “New Labour” got in. I rejoiced when they were out (although not at the coalition replacement). I… OK, OK, you get the picture. So, it seemed clear to me that when I moved to the US, although I liked Obama as a person, I would support the Tory-party allies: The Republicans.  Right? Right?

No. I don’t so much hate them, as actively fear Romney becoming President. I cry at the thought of it. That’s one helluva turnaround in less than three years. So, I began to ask myself: why? How the heck did this happen? How did it happen living in Alabama (although, living in Alabama was probably causal, but that’s not the point of this post). While vaguely pondering it, I did notice other people making the same switch. Fellow displaced Brits looking confused and perplexed and going “hang on, when did I become a leftie?”. Indeed even the Tory party in the UK is struggling to love the Republicans: Cameron is trying to repair relations with his ‘sister’ party, but keeps making clear statements against Romney-Ryan.

How did this happen? I was genuinely curious. After much thinking and mulling and chatting and yelling and crying, I believe it came down to this: in the UK a lot of the ‘social’ policies are pretty done – yeah we tweak them, yeah there are groups asking for more, yes there is inequality It’s no wonderland). But it not on the same scale as the US. The decision, when voting, comes largely down to economics. Even ‘social’ policies: education, welfare etc are largely discussed in purely economic terms. I tend to be right wing economically (a fiscal conservative?), and so to vote right was an easy decision.

In the US many, many mainstream (by which I mean large) groups are fighting for basic civil rights, which I believe should be extended to them: I am socially liberal. So, with my broad sense economic views not changing, I had to choose: Right vs Left: Economics vs. Society. I chose civil rights. Here is why:

I looked at the economy, and the economic policies offered by the two candidates. I do buy the argument that Obama maybe could have done better economically. I don’t know this, I am sort of 55% on that side, 45% on the side that he couldn’t. I don’t know if Romney would do better, because he won’t lay out a damn plan, nor stick to a stated policy. (I did go and read his 8-page plan on his website. About 3 pages was criticizing Obama, about 3 were saying right wing in general is wonderful. ~2 concerned his actual plan, which was vague and non-specific).

Romney changes all the time, many people say Obama could have done better. So, while I may not be confident handing the economy over to Romney, I am not confident handing it over to Obama either. Kind of a dead heat. My history is to think of more fiscally conservative policies as better in times of strife, so I might actually just tip in favor of the Republican party. But. And it is a big but:

If Obama could have done better (and we don’t know that he could have), I don’t think it is significantly better. That is: the world is in a huge economic recession. The Western world is collapsing under financial distress. I doubt anyone could have done more than Obama, such that enough people’s lives were hugely significantly changed. We don’t know if traditionally left- or right- wing policies really work better. Historians and top economists argue about it. But it does seem pretty clear to me that no one in the current world situation could have made a giant leap of difference to the lives of most every day Americans (sure… ‘tell that to someone unemployed’ you say… but I am talking here on a grand scale). Sadly we do vote for ourselves, and our friends, and our situation and looking around, on an economic level I don’t see anyone changing the lives and happiness of those Americans I see by ‘fixing the economy’ on such a scale that it out-weighs the difference social change could make.

This point was first brought home to me when I was hiking with a girl (let’s call her Hot-Stuff A) living in Colorado. She was given great job offers at my Alabama institution and I said to her “Come on, you have to be tempted to take one up, right?”. She looked at me and said: “I can’t. I simply can’t. I am married to a woman, and she would have no rights. No protection.” I was floored, because I suddenly realized it was true. Hot-Stuff A is indeed married to Hot-Stuff B. If they moved to Alabama, both could legally be fired for being gay. Unlikely, but LIKELY s that Hot-stuff B could be denied healthcare, because Healthcare policies are allowed to only be extended to spouses ‘as recognized by the state of X’. Alabama does not recognize gay marriage. So Hot-Stuff B could, and would, be denied it. Furthermore if either got sick, their life long partner could be denied hospital visitation rights: because they are not recognized as family. Their wills could not be recognized, or legally contested by family, because in the eyes of Alabama these girls are not married, and so not family.

That’s bad. That causes actually misery and pain. Britain may wrangle about whether gay people are ‘married’ or in a ‘civil partnership’ but they do not wrangle over basic civil rights. I was horrified, horrified, that two law-abiding people were prisoners in their own state, because they happen to love someone of the same sex.

It was, really shocking to me. And I think it was the turning point. I opened my eyes to the media portraying real, and horrendous stories of people in these situations and saw the misery it caused.

Then I met a girl, a single-Mom at my new job. She works hard. She is what the rightest-of right would call a maker, not a taker. Her 13 year old girl has a genetic condition. The 13 year old (not that it should matter) is a very smart, very functioning girl – I think I last saw her reading an adult book. A very smart, very functioning, very happy and productive 13 year old, who happens to have expensive physical needs. That’s crummy enough, but the Mum was offered another job, and couldn’t take it, because the insurance offered with the job did not cover pre-existing conditions.

So… she could not advance her career, she could not make more money (be more of a ‘maker’), because she could not guarantee her daughter adequate healthcare (she would earn too much for Medicaid in that State). As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Mum told me that she had sat down and worked out that the daughter would exceed her lifetime maximum by the time she was 17. What is this lifetime maximum of which you speak? I hear you Brits say. Oh… well, that is the maximum U.T.’s health insurance will pay out, over a lifetime, for any one person. I.e. at 17 this girl will have no medical coverage. No guarantee of such. I can’t even imagine what it is like to be facing that, at her mother.

Another case: when signing up for health benefits I met a lady from CA who had moved because her cancer treatment exceeded the cost her insurance company would pay. U.T. did accept pre-existing conditions, so she moved here to get it covered. Let me spell it out: the woman had breast cancer. She was afraid of dying. She had to move across the country, away from her friends and family, support and medical doctors to be able to afford treatment.

I looked around and really saw that some social change could make a whole lot of difference to people’s lives. I may not think ObamaCare is the best solution. But it is, at least, a solution. ‘Repeal and Replace’ with some unclear (and frankly untrustworthy) hazy guidelines is not a solution. ObamaCare will at least improve the lives of these individuals. Immeasurably. More than I think an upswing in the economy – or at least, more than I think an upswing in the economy attributable to just one person / one party – could do.

I don’t have time to write about all the cases I have met / discovered. People unable to get safe abortions (do I ‘agree’ with abortion? No. Would I ever deny anyone their right to follow their own ethical code and chose? No.). Kids committing suicide because many politicians in the US want to send out the message ‘being gay is wrong’ (according to who? YOUR God? That is not MY God? What if I don’t believe in God?). Ryan who signed a bill trying to make IVF and IUDs illegal. Endless examples of people’s lives getting worse that Obama would make better.

And lest you think I support Obama because I am a do-gooder only looking out for others, let me assure you, this is not the case. Because then, then, it got personal.

First I went to get birth control for my impending marriage. My insurance company didn’t cover the IUS / IUD (‘tiz abortion, doncha know. Sigh.). I couldn’t afford it. Instead, I got a prescription for valium and some hormones that sent me insane. I gave up on those (it was either that or give up on my marriage… which nearly happened as I went so loopy) and failed to find an affordable solution. By January I was still saving up for the cost of an IUD. By February I was pregnant. Nuff said.

I moved to Texas in June. 4 months pregnant. Not sure why, but I suffered pre-term labor. Sadly, Texas doesn’t cover individuals healthcare when they first move. I had only a ‘help hotline’ to call. I spent many night in tears, scared I was losing my baby, until my coverage kicked in. It worked out well, but for the first time I was forced to face the consequence of putting healthcare in the hands of money-makers with minimal regulations: the loss of people’s children.

Then I was denied maternity leave. FMLA doesn’t kick in as I have not been at U.T. long enough, and anyway, I am the only earner. I can’t go unpaid for 3 months. Luckily, I have a very flexible job, which I can do from home, and very kind and understanding mentors and bosses. We have figured it out. But there was no guarantee of that. The suggestion of healthcare companies I called trying to find short term insurance coverage for pregnancy (which is, of course, a pre-existing condition)? “Don’t change jobs”. Ah, so stay at a lower status, lower paid job and lose the opportunity to do well (academic jobs are scarce) because I am a woman? I see.

Oh, and I find out that C-sections are considered by some insurance companies to be a pre-existing condition. So, should I have one, I may have to make the decision: change jobs and not have children (because their birth would not be covered, and I am not sure I’ll ever have a spare $30,000 lying around), or stay where I am and have the possibility of more children. So, essentially: my career will be held back, because I am a woman. Because – I don’t see men having to make this choice… I suppose they may have to make it on their wife’s behalf. But, overall, I still see this as a woman’s rights issue.

I also have written about this before. I am sick of being told how to live out my religion. Yes, I am Christian. Yes, in my eyes I am a practicing Christian. But no, in my eyes, this does not mean gay marriage should be illegal (if Christians are harping on about the term ‘marriage’ know it was around before the Bible. So just get another term. Let gay people be married, and straight Christians be ‘Bible-married’ or whatever, just don’t base rights on that). I am used to being in a country where I am able to choose how I live my religion (no, I won’t have an abortion, yes, I will attend a gay friend’s wedding) and not told that my interpretation is wrong. I have never lost so much religious freedom as a Christian as when I came to the US.

So, I guess I looked at the options. And, no, I don’t think Obama is perfect. No, I don’t think he has done the perfect job. Nor necessarily the very best. But he has done something, and he will reach in and improve the lives of many – far more than Romney will. Romney will not make changes that affect so many people’s lives this profoundly – is my belief.

So why do I write all this? Well, thinking it through made me realize two things, that made me happier.

(1) I don’t have to hate all Republican supporters.

This is my “sorry I was an ass-hat for 6 months” moment.

I always realized that there were many Democrats I did not agree with, and did not respect. But, I found it hard to see the flip side with Republican-supporters. That there are some I realy can respect and love. There are still many Republican supporters I do not agree with, and pray hard not to judge (no… I really do). But there are also many who would like to see the problems above ‘fixed’, they just don’t have the ‘at any cost’ stance that I do. Or, they don’t think Obama can fix them. Or they think Romney can. Or they just prioritize differently.

I  fully admit there are many worthy and good causes I just don’t feel passionately enough to be swayed by: saving the environment is one of them. It is not a good thing, but it is true. I try to recycle, I try to minimize waste, I am happy to do my part. But I am not going to seriously put myself out, and  don’t really care about it (sorry 😦 ). It is what it is. People can have different priorities and can be just as compassionate. Who is to say which priorities are ‘right’ or ‘more worthy’. Not me guv’nor.

So, thinking through calmly and logically helped me remove my animosity to some people I dearly love. And I am sorry if I seemed mean or judgmental of you before – truly. That is indeed not how I live out my faith.

(2) It helped me navigate the insane media circus that is the US at election time.

Seriously Brits, think of the mud-slinging we do to our celebs. The US is actually nicer to its celebs than we are, but seems to treat its politicians as we treat Jordan. The US media at election time is an ugly, ugly place. And I used to read all the left media and get so outraged and angry at the right. Furious. Upset to tears. Almost beyond reconciling. The right does it too… and then I would get mad at how misrepresented the left was.

Then, I realised that 1/2 of what the media was up in a furor about, I didn’t care about. Do I care that Tagg Romney said he wanted to punch Obama? No. Looking above, that has nothing to do with why I support Obama.

Do I care that Mitt Romney said the humorous comment that he was brought “binders full of women”? No. He mispoke, but it was a debate and I don’t think the hysterical interpretation was what was in his heart. But I do care that when asked the question of what he would do to help women’s equality, he basically said “I’ll create more jobs in general and women can then have access to them” because that does not even touch on what bothers me so much about women’s rights (or lack of) as laid out above.

So, that is how I became an Obama supporter. But that is also how thinking through why that happened helped me be a little happier.

Oh, and to all those who want to say ‘If America is so tough for you: GO HOME’ I do understand your viewpoint. And I don’t mean to whale on America. There are a lot of great things here, and this country has been good to me. And, much as I appreciate a lot about this country, I would like to go home, very much. Indeed, I got married under the supposition that that would likely happen. But my husband examined it some more, and if I did go, I could have to choose between him and my country, and I couldn’t legally take my child. So, while I may have annoyed you, please have some sympathy too. I am not sure I wouldn’t live my life a little differently if I had known this is how it would end up.

On a more positive note, here is the top Google image for the search ‘cutest kitten ever”:


Image credits

http://egbertowillies.com/2012/10/10/jon-stewart-deconstructs-mitt-romneys-promisesliesjournalists-no-longer-serve-their-purpose-video/

http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/05/11/stephen-colbert-slams-anti-gay-christians/
http://cutestkittenever.tumblr.com/ <— check this website out.

What really disturbs me about Romney’s 47% comment

And no, this is not about hating on the right. This is about some disturbing attitudes I have seen in America, from people very dear to me.

So, for the unenlightened (British?) reader, presidential candidate Romney – what Brits might call ‘The Leader of the Opposition’ – has got himself into hot water. A secret video camera taped Romney at a Republican fundraiser saying to those who could afford the $50,000 per plate entry fee (which I am OK with – but it just gives you a sense of who he was talking to):

“There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. But that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax…. My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

It hasn’t gone down brilliantly with some of America. And there are people who can dissect it way better than me, which is not the main purpose of this post (nor is it to whale on the right, so be patient, Republicans!). But suffice to say (for Brits again) that this 47% refers to people who don’t pay Federal income tax, but they may pay other forms of tax – sales tax, social security (which is like British National Insurance) etc. Now, if Rommers (as I randomly like to call him) wants to say “people who don’t pay income tax won’t vote for me, so I am going after everyone else’s votes” – well… alright then. It’s a bit exclusive, and probably wrong, but it’s his campaign and his prerogative. I guess. The problem is that he explicitly states that people who do not pay income tax:

“who believe that they are victims…[and don’t] take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Now much of the press has focused on what makes up this 47% – highlighting that it is mostly the disabled, the veterans, the elderly and the ‘working poor’ – those who earn money, but not enough for their family size to qualify to pay income tax. See below for my gallery of such press images. I am not sure that is the real issue – I suspect Romney knew this. I used to think that I didn’t agree with his social policies but that he was quite smart, and if he supported freedom of choice for the individual (abortion, contraception), universal civil rights not based on a personal interpretation of one religion (e.g. equality for homosexuals!) and decent changes to the healthcare system (pre-existing conditions covered, and some more), I might quite like him. Now, after watching him on the campaign trail, I think that I don’t agree with his social policies, and he is a total tool. What Brits might call a spanner.

I also am convinced that, to an astonishing his degree, he utterly changes his stated policies to fit who he think might vote for him. I know a lot of politicians do it – some would argue Obama did it with allowing gay marriage – but my personal opinion is that Rommers does it more than most.

So, the concern to me is less that he may think that those who do not pay income tax do not have any ‘personal responsibility for their lives’, as I don’t know that he actually thinks that, it is more that he knows that saying that will win him votes. Because I have seen this view in Americans more than I am personally comfortable with. So yes, the press are correct:

(1) To jump on the fact that many people (e.g. vets) do take personal responsibility for their lives, yet not pay income tax.

(2) People on welfare, or not earning enough to pay income tax, do get out of the welfare cycle. There are personal stories , including that of Romney’s father and more statistical analysis, that show this is not always true – for this past point look up how many single parents end their TANF before their maximum time is up, due to earning enough.

(3) Just because some (likely less than 7%) of Americans may abuse the system, the system should still be there to help those genuinely motivated to improve their situation do so. He does not say the opposite of this, but perhaps there is an implication. (And please think on this America: do you want people to enter the low income / welfare cycle to have a chance at getting out, or not?

This is all out there in the commentaries, so I’ll leave it. I just kinda had to say it coz it was bubbling inside me. What breaks my heart, is that it speaks to an attitude I have seen all too much.

I have heard the view expressed (more than once) that people with extremely low paying jobs (e.g. hotel valets) are just not doing their best and trying hard enough – iften said with a tone of disgust. I am used to that view being thrown at the homeless. But, I am not used to that view being thrown at the gainfully employed – and I can’t sit with it (I can’t really dit with it with the homeless, but there we go). You know – I know someone who ‘cannot stand’ sign holders, valets at hotels, people with with these low-skill low-pay jobs. And the reasoning I get is:

“They are not even trying, they could do better”.

Really. REALLY??? You know their IQ? You know for sure it is high enough to ‘do better’? You know their mental health status? You know they are not cognitively crippled by extreme ADHD (with very low executive functioning skills) or some other? You know they didn’t experience some kind of horrendous deprivation / abuse in their life and it is damn amazing they face the world as they do. You know all this? You know their home-life, the neighborhood they grew up in, their school experiences and their personal skills to overcome any disadvantage. Because, you know what? We all have disadvantages, and we all have ones we can’t overcome. Some of us have health related issues that to others are ‘just another choice’. Is obesity ‘just another choice?” and if not, is having a ‘better’ job ‘just another choice’? Coz you know: society pays big for both.

Who are you to define what someone’s choice was? These are people who get up every day and do a job I would find soul destroying and drop out of. These are people employed by others who feel their job is useful. You hate sign holders?? They are apparently supporting the business growth I’ll bet you are mega in favour of encouraging. You hate hotel valets? Maybe they are helping the tourist industry your country needs. There is always a spectrum of wealth and earning. People will fall on both ends.

I’ll admit: before this trip, my attitude towards valets was ‘they are kind of irritating, because I hate saying no, but at least they hold down a job’. Then I traveled, alone, 8 months pregnant. And I changed my view. As I parked at the hotel I was like ‘holy heck, what would I do without a valet? I am high risk due to the excess amniotic fluid, it would be a terrible idea for me to carry my own (over packed) bags, and I would HATE to have to ask someone… I totally NEED this guy’. Heck, some people just want guys like this (and fair play to them) but I needed a valet. I felt bad I had been annoyed by valets in the past.
And then I began to think: if you are for trickle down economics – isn’t this the essence of it? If you take the traditional right-wing – what fits with your views? If hotels need valets, and it is a job that doesn’t pay enough to really make a life out of what can you do? (1) Demand businesses pay their valets A LOT more – but you don’t like that, right? You don’t want to add more financial burden to companies; (2) Allow them to be paid little, and people to choose to use the service and then make sure that it is a viable job option by providing welfare / tax breaks for these 47 %ers. Right? Because businesses deem these jobs as good for business. So you want (heck, I needed) the existence of low-skilled, low-paid jobs. But surely you don’t want to cripple people who have such jobs? Make it impossible to have a decent life, educate their kids, take care if their health, eat.

So please, stop looking at those who hold low-skilled, low-paid jobs as the scourge of society. Recognise their worth, don’t judge their choices ask you may ask that people don’t judge yours, and respect them. And, consider supporting someone who is holding a job and earning a honest $$ by using them – if you can.

Really, this post may seem pointless to some who are like “what is this rambling about respecting people we respect anyway”: let me say again, I have met more than one person who is disgusted by people holding such jobs. I hope that these people realise some people may actually be doing their best, and are providing a service that at least some people think is needed.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: little more love people, little more love.

Gallery of 47 %-ers.

What I miss most about Britain

or… how America turned me into an activist.


I am often asked what I miss most about Britain, and have been since I first landed in the good old US of A. I knew I missed something big, but I could not put my finger on it. So, I often answered very flippantly: ‘Marmite‘,

or ‘Ribena

or, perhaps if I was talking to someone older and wiser: ‘my friends and family’.

I do of course miss those. Especially my friends and family, but that never quite summed up the ache in my heart. I wondered if it was bigger: public transport?

Again, I do miss that, but the answer isn’t satisfactory. Again, while I applaud and support the development of a wider public transport system I can be happy without it. There is something I find it difficult to be happy and content without, and that I have yet to find here in America:

Being trusted, protected and respected. And because of that, we are to some extent: humble.

Hmmm… let me elaborate with some examples:

In the UK, believe it or not, people do have a fairly strong personal moral codes, that encompass all the current political ‘hot topics’ from abortion, to homosexuality, to healthcare, to contraception. But that is the key: they are personal moral codes. That is: yes, contraception is as easy to get as candy – for everyone. The young, straight, gay, unmarried, old, married, male, female, rich, poor and all alike. That isn’t to say that everyone is encouraged to be ‘at it’ all the time: some people are indeed so, and some people are not. We are trusted to make my own decisions about our sexual relationships, and protected as much as possible from any consequences.

My personal story is that I decided sex before marriage was not the course for me. Then I decided to have sex before marriage, then I later changed my mind and stopped, after deciding through personal conversations with God, that it hadn’t been the best choice for me, and as my husband put it, He had ‘kicked my tail’ for it :). In England was respected for all these decisions (even though at very step of the way someone didn’t agree with them), and I was protected from any consequences. By the law, and by society (including by my parents). People are humble enough to accept that they do not know the right answer for individuals, or for society, or certainly for God, and so individuals are given all the tools they can be provided with make their own decisions, with minimal negative consequences.

I findthe moralizing and judging that goes on in America very difficult. When I expressed the view that contraception should be freely available to all, one outraged response was “Why should *I* pay for *you* to have sex??” – the implication being that sex before marriage (or sex at all – who knows) was not this person’s choice, so why should they financially support my choice if it was different? Because, here is the thing: we all make choices, and we all make choices that others disagree with and have to pay for. Whether it is the food we eat, the dangerous sports we play, the people we sleep with, the lack of exercise we undertake, the lack of sleep we get, the speed of our car, the stress of our job, our plans to travel, our decision to be married (or not): all of these are decisions that likely will affect our health and in the UK there is no moral judgement about which choices you make. Again, you are trusted to make your own decisions, and protected from them. I was so saddened today to read of doctors in America turning away patients over 200lbs: how can that be acceptable? How can you judge that you won’t help these people, but those with stressful jobs you will? Were any ‘decisions’ really made?? And if they were, who made the worse decisions? And can’t we be humble in recognizing our own mistakes and helping protect people from theirs?

This is how I arrived at my stance on abortion. Yes, personally I think it is wrong. I am: anti-abortion. But, I would never take away someone’s right to make that decision themselves: I am pro-choice. And I would never judge someone who had suffered through an abortion. Were you a friend who came t me in need, I would support, and respect you and care for you. I am anti-abortion for me. I am pro-choice for everyone. When does life ‘start’ – how should I know? How should anyone, except God, know? If you don’t believe in God then look to Scientists, or feelings, or some other deities. Either way: there is no answer. Be humble enough to know that you do not know, and trust yourself to follow your own moral / personal code, and respect other people enough to decide theirs.

I guess I miss this trust, respect, protection and humility and how it reflects on my faith as well. To me: faith is very personal decision. The cornerstone of my Christianity is a deeply personal relationship with God. I don’t think I have got it ‘right’ (other than that I love Him above all others, and am forever grateful He sent His only Son to die for my sins), but I don’t like (1) being told how to live my faith and life and (2) being judged and punished by anyone but God when it doesn’t conform to their perceptions of what my faith / life should be. My reading of the Bible is that it is outside the law: so the law should extend complete equality and a basic code of rights to all law abiding citizens, and one’s relationship to God is what decides how you choose live within that. Isn’t that ultimate freedom?

You know – I don’t agree that God asks for no contraception and no masturbation. But, I respect that some Christians do, and I will protect their right to execute these choices. I am humble enough to think: maybe they are right, but I trust myself to be guided in my own moral code (it of course, doesn’t have to be a religious code). I also *do* personally think that God asks us not to look at pornographic images, but I acknowledge I could be wrong, and respect people who do such, and certainly am humble enough NOT to judge them. Hence, much as I don’t really like the porn industry, I would not seek to punish people for accessing it. I might seek to educate and protect but as maybe I am wrong, and pornography is the healthiest thing for mankind: I would not deny others access.

I guess a good exemplary of this, is how the UK taught me about the whole creationism / evolution debate. We learned about evolution in Science. We learned about the support for evolution, and we learned about the phenomena evolution perhaps could not explain, and the criticisms leveled at evolution science. We were told that evolution was studied in Science because it was a Scientifically testable theory, but the completing theory was not, and so the alternative was mentioned in Science, but we would learn about that in Religion. Almost simultaneously, in Religious Studies, we were were taught about creationism and the arguments for / against, including again, the criticisms  leveled at evolution. (We were also taught some non-Christian but religious creation arguments). We were supplied with the facts, told that no one knows the answer, and trusted to make up our own mind. My ‘mind’ and opinion evolved (pardon the pun) over time, but it never caused me much distress. When we covered this topic in Bible group we listened to people defend and criticize the Biblical view of creation, and to people try to synthesize the two. All views were respected as potentially correct.

And through all this, I have friends who have made utterly different decisions to me: health wise, sex wise, religion wise. I love and respect them all: I don’t think either one of us is ‘better’ than the other. I do think those who do not believe that Jesus died for our sins are not going to heaven – and while this is sad, this does make me think I am better person, or that I have any right to tell them how to live their life (incidentally, much as they love me, many of them think I am gullible at best and a crazy ‘magical thinker’ at worst 🙂 ). We just all live our lives, respecting each other’s choices, and trying to protect our loved ones from any potential consequences of their decisions.

The upshot of this is that Christians are not really hated in England. I was shocked when people in America seemed to get angry or passionately against Christians. How can you be so against peaceful (now… history is a bit different, tiz true) people, who are told to – above all else – love each other. Then I totally saw why: some Christians are trying to force a life on people, based on a belief system these people don’t have! Good grief! I would hate Catholics if they took my contraception away! I would equally have hated atheists if they had insisted I had sex before marriage (returned to. Ahem.). And, I think some Christians are trying to impinge on my personal relationship to God, by telling me how to live out that relationship, when the only voice I want to hear about that comes from God Himself. Not saying I will get it right… but I have no reason to think you will do a better job, either.

A more succinct summary of my views.

So, that is what I miss in the UK. I miss freedom to practice my faith in my way. I miss respect for my religious choices. I miss respect for my non religious choices. I miss a law system in which I am afforded equality and power and protection from the consequences of choices – be they mistakes or not – and a society that trusts me to make my own decisions within that.

I think my most passionate wish at the moment is that my child be bought up to respect and trust other people’s decisions, and to never judge law-abiding others as ‘wrong’, or deny them equality for these decisions. And to feel free to make his own decisions about his life, and his body and his views as he feels is right for him.

Image credits:

http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/gb.html

http://nannyknowsbest.blogspot.com/2011/05/dangers-of-marmite.html

http://offriendsfoodandfun.blogspot.com/2010/08/homemade-snake-bite-d.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-decker_bus