A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

I Got 99 Problems, But...

Recently, I have been watching a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies while working on a craft project. For those not familiar with these movies, they are "made for TV" movies that generally involve (1) Christmas and (2) a predictable romance with a happy ending. During November and December, the Hallmark channel is pretty much wall to wall Christmas movies.

Prior to this year, I think I may have seen one or two Hallmark Christmas movies, but I hadn't been exposed to them in any depth. Watching at least 10 of these movies over the past few weeks has been an eye-opening experience, and has lead me to ponder why I dislike these movies, and why I keep watching them anyway.

A Story about the Top 10 Problems with Hallmark Christmas Movies
To begin at the beginning, all of these flicks contain (10) Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Acting. Even if they contain actors or actresses you've heard of or liked in other contexts, the people in these films seemed to be trapped in a maze of...(9) Dialogue worse than the acting. I realize that it costs money to hire quality writers. Unfortunately, it appears Hallmark is not willing or able to pay what it costs to hire people who know how to craft dialogue that sounds like humans talking instead of Christmas bots. Instead these "writers" rely on...(8) Tropes, Tropes, and More Tropes! There is the Too-Ambitious-Career-Woman who is too caught up in big city life (or The-Small-Town-Girl-Who-Loves-Christmas-At-All-Costs). There is the Big-City-Dude-Who-Hates-Christmas (or there is the Small-Town-Guy-Who-Knows-The-True-Meaning-of-Christmas). In most movies, someone is trying to get The Big Promotion. Someone is also usually trapped in...(7) Predictable Occupations. We've got Lawyers! Lots of Them! With "Fancy" Offices! We've got Doctors! The most common occupation seems to be "Christmas Tree Farm/Shop/Bakery owner." And they all seem to live in or travel to... (6) Small Towns ©. In the Bible, nothing good can come out of Nazareth. In Hallmark Movies, nothing good can come from the Babylon of the Big City. I've yet to see one of these movies that finds anything positive about life outside of a Norman Rockwell Small Town where Everyone Knows Everyone. Usually the Big City Person sees the errors of their ways at the end of the movie and moves to a small town, all the while they are...(5) living in an HGTV dream home, whether in Alaska or Ohio. Each kitchen has granite counter tops and each home is always tastefully decorated with matching Christmas ornaments on the Christmas tree. The houses are almost as perfect as the people - (4) everyone is having a flawless hair/make-up day, every day. These people look plastic - their hair is always perfectly coiffed, their make-up is always without a smudge, whether they are carrying in Christmas trees from the forest or ice skating or cookie decorating or any other "normal middle class" Christmas Activity. Which brings us to yet more egregiousness: (3) WHITE (like REALLY WHITE) Christmas. All, and I'm talking ALL of the main characters in these stories are Caucasian. I don't really know how to explain this, other than it's a deliberate choice. I know that Hallmark can find actors and actresses of color because actors and actresses of color are allowed to play "Sidekick" characters, but never the main character. This is simply awful, but in my mind that's not the even the worst message of these movies. (2) All of these movies have that element of predictable romance. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good predictable romance as much as the next Jane Austen girl, but these have a special element of craziness: these people are falling in love and getting married within WEEKS. That is nutso-crazy-pants. These romances are built on obviously unrealistic expectations and I feel like this just increases the divorce rate in the real world. Unfortunately all of the things I've mentioned aren't the worst of it. That honor goes to (1) asymmetric sacrifice by women characters. If there is a character who is Giving Up the Big Promotion, or Leaving the Big City Job, it is INVARIABLY the woman. This BUGS me. Why does the woman always have to be the one who gives in? Why does she have to bow to the whims of the man who wants to live in the town with terrible cell service? Or why does she give up the opportunity to work in Paris when the man is eminently employable there and could move there to support her? This is gender dynamics at their worst, and I could go on and on about this, but I just don't want to, it's too depressing. The message to little girls of (1) and (2) above is that she shouldn't follow her dreams, instead she should find a MAN and give everything up for him. How about him giving up anything for her? The male characters never have to sacrifice a thing. 

Hey, I'm not the first to document the problems with Hallmark movies, nor will I be the last. I got 99 problems (and more) with Hallmark Christmas movies, BUT I'll probably keep watching them, sadly. It's a good mindless activity that I can do while crafting because I won't miss anything when the sewing machine is loud.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

It's Possible

Recently I re-read this classic devotional by Bruce Hafen about dealing with ambiguity, and this quote stood out:

Experiences...can produce confusion and uncertainty—in a word, ambiguity—and one may yearn with nostalgia for simpler, easier times when things seemed not only more clear but more under our control. Such experiences may bring about the beginnings of skepticism, of criticism, of unwillingness to respond to authority or to invitations to reach for ideals that now truly seem beyond one’s grasp. Not everybody will encounter what I have been describing, and I do not mean to suggest that everyone must encounter such experiences. 

Ambiguity has the potential to make our lives a lot harder. It forces us to acknowledge the limits of our certainty. It destroys the carefully crafted fortress of our own prejudices and preconceptions. I think ambiguity also gives us sympathy for those who disagree with us. It also gives us the ability to criticize those causes and people close to our heart.

Lately I've been thinking about how a lot of what I read or watch is devoid of ambiguity. People seem pretty certain they are right, and those who disagree with them are wrong (and in some cases, sub-human). A dose of ambiguity can help us sense what is possible. For example:

It's possible to acknowledge that not all Trump voters are motivated by racial animus, yet still be concerned about the racial subtext of some political speech by and surrounding Trump.

It's possible to look at the 2016 campaign and see many blatant examples of sexism's double standard, yet acknowledge that Hillary had flaws as a candidate and politician.

It's possible to be annoyed by James Comey's handling of the Clinton emails, yet also be appalled that he was fired for investigating the Trump team's ties to Russia.

It's possible to be upset by Trump's rhetoric on the press, yet acknowledge that there are errors and biases present in all media (indeed, in all endeavors created by humans).

It's possible to be a big fan of President Obama, yet see that he did not do the best job of reaching out and compromising with Republicans.

It's possible to see the flaws in Obamacare and the process that created it, yet wholeheartedly condemn the mockery that seeks to replace it by cutting funds for healthcare of the poor while giving the rich a huge tax cut (all the while not holding a single public hearing).

It's possible to be staunchly pro-choice, yet acknowledge that other Democrats have valid reasons for being pro-life.

It's possible to see the importance of national government involvement in education and social policy, yet accept that regional needs may require involvement at the state and local level.

It's possible to recognize the need for a strong national defense, but think that we spend far too much money on weapons of war.

It's possible to disagree strongly with someone, yet note that their life experiences and outlook are different than yours, and they come by their opinions honestly and without intent to do harm.

What other ambiguities do you see in today's world? We should talk about this more - I feel like if we did, we would have more space for common ground. With this acknowledgement of ambiguity can come space for criticism and growth.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Despairing, Despondent, and Distraught

Okay, I just posted about hope, so naturally, this post is about despair. A few years ago, after a bad breakup, a friend of mine expressed, through tears, that she just didn't have any hope - no hope that the future would be something she wanted. Her pain was real and excruciating. At the time, I didn't know what to do, other than hug her and tell her she was amazing (spoiler: she was and is one of the kindest and loveliest people I've ever met, and luckily, she was married a year or two after this conversation to the love of her life).

While I do have a default Pollyanna optimism setting, I also struggle with bouts of the blues* - times where I just feel like I ain't no good. Like life doesn't hold the promise that I thought it did. I think it's okay to feel that, and sit with that feeling for a while, trying to understand it. Happiness is a long term proposition to me, and that means it's okay (and normal!) to not be happy sometimes.

I've been an adult long enough now to know that I'm not very confident about myself and my abilities. I don't really have a lot of faith in my ability to do things right, or change things about myself that I don't like. Please don't misunderstand that as a lack of ego - I can be as selfish and blind to my faults as the next person, but with the added bonus of also dealing myself short on my (few) good qualities. Couple that with natural introversion, and it's very easy for me to get in a spiral of "people don't want to hang out with me, so I'm just going to stay home."

For me, this despair or despondency is something I actively have to fight against to get it to go away. It's important for me in those times to remember the people and things and food and jokes that bring light to my life, and make life so, so good. That's why I've really liked the song below by Amos Lee, ever since I heard it a week ago. There are storms, and times where I feel defeated, but there is also a light - sometimes it's in the distance and hard to see, but it's there. I have to hold on, keep moving, and fight through the waves.

"One Lonely Light," Amos Lee

*I'm distinguishing here between the blues and Depression. It's one thing to have times where you feel despair, but if it becomes a debilitating cloud of ever-present despondency, that is Depression, and I firmly believe in seeking professional help in such times. I've struggled with depression too, but that's for another post.

Hope and Politics

Sigh. I really don't want to begin every blog post for the next three and a half years bemoaning the current state of politics, but right now it seems like that is a real possibility. My consolation (if you can call it that) is that right now President Trump's ineptitude is trumping his malevolence (see what I did there?). He hasn't really been able to accomplish a whole lot, but that doesn't mean that he won't accomplish some bad things in the next few years. He certainly wants to limit immigration, give tax cuts to the rich, and capitulate to Russia, but...maybe he won't be able to figure out how.

That's not to say there aren't bad things happening: re-igniting the war on drugs (which hasn't worked), rolling back environmental protections that ensure our air & water are clean, continuing efforts to roll back health care progress, etc. All of that is taking place in an environment of toxic partisanship that seems to suck the oxygen out of any healthy debate based on facts.

So it seems strange to be composing a blog post about Hope in light of the fact that our politics are pretty terrible right now. But I see signs that our system is fighting back against the worst excesses of Trumpism.* Murkowski, Collins, and McCain were able to stop a truly heinous health care bill, hopefully giving us an opportunity to reflect, consider, and fix the very real problems with Obamacare. Congress passed (and the President reluctantly signed) sanctions on Russia that send a signal we won't roll over when our democracy is attacked. The courts are a mixed bag, but they did strike down the first Muslim ban, and I'm hopeful the Supreme Court will ultimately strike down the second, more limited ban. Even the Defense Department has pushed back against the President's ban on transgender service members. Robert Mueller seems to be conducting a thorough investigation of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Journalists are working hard to ferret out truth, despite an administration determined to fame flames of falsehood.

It's probably just some default setting of my personality, but I feel like there are reasons for hope. Even if it's just hope that Trump's ignorance and ineptitude will continue to triumph over bad intentions, it's still hope. There are still good people in both parties, and currently only about a third of Americans approve of Trump's job performance, giving me hope that people are starting to see through the sham of Donald Trump. A weak and ineffective President can still do damage, but I'm hoping that the continued and sustained pressure of Americans will constrain the damage as much as possible.

The history of America is filled with terrible things happening, but I'm hopeful that it's an arc that bends towards justice and goodness, as long as WE bend it that way. HOPEfully, progress is still possible. I recently saw the Groundhog Day musical, and I liked one of the choruses, which is about how the sun will eventually come up, and spring will arrive:



* I refuse to conflate Trumpism with the Republican party. I may disagree with conservatives, but some principled conservatives spoke out and are speaking out about Trumpism. See Mitt Romney, Jeff Flake, Bill Kristol, and so many others. I strongly disagree with conservatives on many points, but it's sad that the Republican party has been taken over by spineless hacks of Trumpism. I hope their reign may be brief, and the right regains its sanity.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Real Life

Apparently Instagram is the worst social media platform for your mental health. Who knows if that's true, but on a personal level, I do think social media exacerbates some of my worst impulses. Namely, the ability to present a picture-perfect version of my life. It also allows me to compare myself to others, who have the perfect boyfriend/husband, lovely children, cute pets, exciting jobs, etc. Underneath the surface of both my life and my friend's lives, however, the reality is less clear cut - health challenges, despair, and general messiness.

Friday night I "carpe-diem"-ed and drove several hours to my favorite theater to see the play "Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet" by Ann-Marie MacDonald. It was a mashup of Othello and Romeo & Juliet, but thankfully with more comedy. A professor, Constance Ledbelly, gets sucked into the world of those plays and tries to prevent tragedy from occurring. One of the themes of the play is summed up in Constance's closing monologue.

Life, real life, is a big mess. And thank goodness!
Every answer spawns another question.
And every answer blossoms with a hundred different questions.
If you're lucky, you'll always feel somewhat confused.
Life is a harmony of polar opposites, with gorgeous mixed up places in between.
Where inspiration steams up from an odd Sargasso stew 
That's odd and flawed and full of gems and worn-out boots and sunken ships. 

I liked that soliloquy, because I feel like it expresses the messiness and gorgeousness of real life. Things aren't always tied up in a neat, pretty, and perfect bow. Unfortunately, it takes our willingness to be vulnerable to share that craziness with others. I don't know if social media is the right venue for that. Is there a way to do it that doesn't descend into self-pity and wallowing? Plus, there are all kinds of people that I'm friends with on social media who I don't really want to bear my soul to.

Ultimately, the play also teaches that our worst demons (along with the means of defeating them) are within us - I think that's true of social media too. If you don't already have a complex about comparison, social media probably won't create one. The mind is full of "alchemy" as the play's closing lines put it. It can turn the grey matter in our heads to gold, or to junk.

The alchemy of ancient hieroglyphs has permeated the unconscious mind of Constance L.
And manifested form where there was once subconscious dreamy thought. 
The best of friends and foes exist within, where archetypal shadows come to light.
And doff their monster masks when we say "Boo." 
Where mingling and unmingling opposites performs a wondrous feat of alchemy. 
And spins grey matter into precious gold.

So, as usual, no solutions to an insoluble problem, just my random thoughts. Politics is unbearable to blog about, so I'll try to do some posts on recent travels to NYC, Iceland, and Seattle.

(Note: All quotes based on a middle school version of the play on YouTube)


Sunday, January 29, 2017

WWJD? When Prioritizing Christians Isn't Christian

Note: I'm aware that this post falls into the category of conflating my personal views with the gospel, something I don't like when my Republican Mormon friends do it with other issues. As always, I speak for myself and my own personal interpretation of the scriptures. If you have a different view, I welcome a rational and reasoned debate about it.

So, unless you've been on a social media/news media blackout, you know that President Donald Trump (ugh, sorry. First time I've typed those words. Give me a minute...).

Ahem, as I was saying: President Trump recently signed an executive order temporarily banning people from 7 Muslim-majority countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) from entering the United States and prioritizing minority religious groups in future admissions to the U.S. President Trump has made clear that his reasons for doing this are to limit the number of Muslim immigrants to the country and increase the number of persecuted Christians who can enter the U.S.

Now, can helping Christians ever be un-Christian? In my view, yes, this currently policy is against the tenants of the Bible, Book of Mormon, and my personal religious views as Christian.

Let's start out by taking it as a given that there are many persecuted Christians whose plight is frightful. I don't in any way diminish the very real (and very horrible) suffering of my Christian brothers and sisters. They deserve our assistance and aid. However, I think in saying that they have suffered more and are more deserving than our Muslim brothers and sisters, we risk our American belief that "all men are created equal" and our Christian belief in the equality of all before God. Just because someone is Christian doesn't mean that they have suffered more than a Muslim refugee fleeing the terrors of ISIS in Syria or Al-queda in Iraq.

The Bible has numerous calls to care for the stranger among us. These calls don't excuse us from this responsibility if the stranger has a different religious view than us. In fact, Jesus explicitly taught that Jews and Samaritans, heirs to a bitter religious conflict, were neighbors and should help each other (see Luke 10:25-37).

I'd like to discuss some of the pro- and anti- immigration ban arguments and why I find them problematic, below.

Pro-immigration ban argument #1: This is temporary, and necessary for our safety while we put additional screening measures in place to ensure immigrants are not terrorists in disguise.
My Response: Refugees already undergo a rigorous screening process. In can take 2-3 years for someone to get to the U.S. as a refugee, and we can choose who we accept and reject. Further, I would argue that we can never remove all risk from the equation. Yes, we may inadvertently let in someone who may be dangerous, but this is not sufficient reason to turn away from many millions of innocent people who are suffering. A free multi-cultural society will always have risks, but the benefits of loving and helping others outweigh these risks. I would also argue that this ban is likely to play into terrorists' hands by giving them propaganda that the U.S. does hate Muslims - thus, this ban is likely to make America less safe.

Pro-immigration ban argument #2: We have already admitted too many immigrants/refugees, and we can't be a dumping ground for the world - even if I admit that we have a responsibility to help, there are limits and we can't help everyone.
My Response: Last year we admitted only 82,000 refugees (12,000 of them from Syria). This is in a population of over 300 million in the U.S., which works out to a very small percentage of our society. Germany has accepted over 1 million refugees out of a population of 80 million. Yes, there are limits to what we can do, but I would argue that we have not yet exhausted our resources of compassion and kindness by admitting only 80,000 refugees.

Anti-immigration ban argument #1: This ban does not target countries whose citizens have actually committed terror attacks against U.S. citizens (Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.).
My Response: Even if it did target those countries instead of the countries Trump has banned, it would still be wrong. Unilaterally saying that all citizens of a certain nation are banned because of the actions of a few is morally repugnant. We cannot blame innocent people for the actions of people who kill them as often as they kill us (for that matter, "us vs. them" is not a good construct).

Anti-immigration ban argument #2: This ban is un-American and not consistent with our history.
My Response: Actually, this ban *is* consistent with our history - we limited Chinese immigration during the railroad expansion of the 19th century, interned Japanese during WWII, and turned away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. This argument doesn't acknowledge that, at various times in our past, we have not been true to the inscription on Lady Liberty to give us your poor, tired, hungry masses yearning to breathe free. We must acknowledge that our current call to open our doors to refugees *is* different than our history - we are hopefully progressing and becoming a more open and compassionate society.

Ultimately this ban will keep out translators who assisted U.S. forces in Iraq. It will keep out Syrians who fled Isis. It will keep out Yazidis who fled persecution and torture. This ban is immoral and wrong, and against what I believe this country should stand for. If Jesus were here, I can't believe he would turn away from the suffering refugees. He was one, who fled to Egypt to escape Harrod's slaughter of children.

I couldn't cover every argument, but here are some more well-written posts on this topic:
On Moral Issues and Trump and This is Not Us - By Common Consent Blog
Interfaith Letter to President Trump - Interfaith Immigration Coalition
Trump's Refugee Ban Clashes with Faith-Based Groups' Religious Mission - NPR

If you're wondering what you can do, here are my suggestions:
- Speak to your friends about this. Listen to them, and try to convince them that this ban is wrong.
- Write and call your congressman, Senators, and other representatives. Let your voice be heard in standing up to this policy. Hold them accountable if they don't act against it.
- Volunteer your time (and contribute your money if you can) to a local organization helping refugees in your community.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thanks, Obama


At Obama's final rally before the election in 2008.
For the people reading this in the year 2050 (assuming America still exists), "Thanks, Obama" was a sarcastic meme that people used to blame Obama for everything wrong in the world. But I'd like to reclaim it and offer a sincere Thank You to the man who led us for 8 years.



I'd be the first to recognize that Obama failed on a lot of fronts. He did not succeed in uniting us, and left us in many senses divided. He was not able to get a lot of his policy ideas through Congress, due partly to Republican obstructionism but also I think partly to a lack of relationships and ability to work with others. He also presided over the loss of over 7,000 state/local level Democratic seats over the past 8 years, which means the Democratic Party has some rebuilding to do. Syria is one of the worst vacuums of foreign policy in recent years and is a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. Obama may have excelled at the poetry and vision of campaigning, but he was not always great at the prose of governing.
Me, voting live for the first time, for Obama in 2008
Despite this, I honor his accomplishments and dignity. He never descended to personal insults with those who disagreed with him. He did work hard to make this country better, and was able to accomplish much. The Affordable Care Act expanded access healthcare to millions and likely saved lives. He worked with other countries to address the global challenges of climate change. The Obama administration was also able to reach a historic deal with Iran to dismantle their nuclear weapons program. We repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," allowing all to serve with honor in our military, regardless of sexual orientation. He appointed two able Supreme Court justices, both women. He worked to keep our country safe from terrorist attacks. Ultimately he spoke eloquently of the need for racial justice and gun control, despite not being able to accomplish much in the way of legislation to address these issues.
It's easy to forget how historic Obama's win in 2008 was!

Obama was far from perfect, but I think he was a good and decent man and a faithful public servant. So, for all this, Thanks Obama. Even though I know you were constitutionally prohibited from staying, I will miss you.