A letter to the editor, No. 2

Just submitted this to my local paper. They did post my letter from last week; I didn’t check to see if it was in the printed edition, but there were only 3 new letters posted online, so I’m assuming yes. Pretty sad that I had enough material for a completely new letter just one week later…

(edit: I previously accidentally posted an earlier draft instead of the final piece I sent to the paper. This is the final piece.)

Last week I wrote about several strange and disturbing occurrences that took place in the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency. Unfortunately, this week has brought several more such events to add to the list:

Four senior State Department officials were relieved of duty before successors were confirmed, leaving a gaping hole in the department’s senior management team.

President Trump signed an executive order adding Steve Bannon to the principals committee of the National Security Council. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national security were informed that they need no longer attend meetings that are not directly related to their areas of responsibility.

President Trump signed a rash and confusing executive order imposing a temporary limitation on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. This order was worded in such a manner as to include legal permanent residents (“green card holders”) in those barred from entering the country. It was enacted so quickly that there was no time to plan for its implementation or to make sure those tasked with implantation fully understood the order. The administration later said that the order did not include permanent residents, but the jury is still out on whether the order was simply misunderstood, or deliberately unclear.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates instructed Department of Justice lawyers not to defend President Trump’s executive order on immigration, citing it as unconstitutional. She was then fired, just days before the Senate was set to confirm her replacement.

This is definitely not normal.

Advertisements

Introvert Activism… again

I haven’t written in quite a long time. Things have been busy. More on that later. For now, I am practicing introvert activism. Here is a letter I just wrote to Donald Trump:

***

Dear Mr. Trump:

Despite your instructions on 60 Minutes last week to those who would commit hate crimes in your name to “Stop it!” incidents are still on the rise. Recently, a white supremacist rally in Washington D.C. ‘hailed’ you as the president they’ve been waiting for. At Standing Rock, police used a water cannon in freezing conditions in an attempt to disperse crowds protesting a pipeline being built through their land without proper permission by a company in which you have substantial investment. All over our country, the demons of our worse nature are emboldened, and claim your victory as the reason.

In your victory speech, you said:

To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.

If you truly wish to be president for all Americans, you must seek to fairly represent the interests of Muslim-Americans, members of the LGBTQ community, disabled people, women, and Mexican-Americans. You must seek to represent the Muslim man who was not a citizen last week, but got his citizenship this week, whose friends and family members may not yet be citizens. You must seek to represent the children of undocumented immigrants, who were born here, who are US citizens, and who should not be separated from their families. You must seek to represent the woman who chose to undergo a late-term abortion because her baby was deemed “incompatible with life,” who does not deserve to be demonized and criminalized for making likely the most heartbreaking decision she ever had to make. You must seek to represent people like me, who believe that ALL are created equal and deserve the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

In your victory speech, you also said:

For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people… I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.

If you truly seek the guidance of people (like me) who did not support your bid for president, you need only listen: we offer it freely. Here is what you can do to begin to earn our trust:

  • Publicly and forcefully denounce racism: Your transition team has released a statement indicating you oppose racism, but this is apparently also not enough to end the deplorable acts I mentioned at the beginning of this letter. Sound bites filtered through a press your supporters do not trust will not convince them. If you truly oppose these acts, it is time for you to make your position undeniably clear in an unfiltered speech directly to the American people.
  • Fire Steve Bannon. He is a known racist and anti-Semite, and people of color, Jewish people, liberals, and progressives will never truly support or trust you as long as you keep his counsel.
  • Mitigate your conflicts of interest; prove to us that you are willing to make true sacrifices in terms of your businesses in order to lead this nation.
  • Urge your supporters in Congress to confirm President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
  • Accept responsibility for, and apologize for, your inappropriate comments towards and about women. Pledge to do better.

I implore you to please, take the advice you say you seek, and do your utmost to live up to the promise you made to be a president for all Americans.

Most sincerely,

[me]

***

There have been a lot of calls for people to call their elected officials and other politicians. I can’t call. So I’ve been writing letters and emails and donating money and signing petitions. Today, I sent a thank you note to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi for charging the officer who killed Philando Castile. I also sent a note of thanks and encouragement to Governor Mark Dayton, who, with the state house and senate both going to Republican control in January, is going to have a hard job over the next two years (at least). I also wrote a letter to the chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee urging him to investigate Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest.

Why I Love Star Trek

I watch Star Trek pretty much every day. That probably sounds totally weird, and maybe it is. But Star Trek and I have a long history together. We’ve been through a lot.

My earliest memories of watching Star Trek were watching The Next Generation in the basement of my childhood home. We’d watch it while eating pizza and playing board games on family game night. I don’t know if I had strong feelings either way about it back then, but I have very fond memories of those moments, now. And I always held onto a love for the series and the values it espoused. Indeed, I attribute much of my commitment to equity and diversity to things I learned from Star Trek: coexistence, tolerance, not imposing your own values on other cultures, and appreciation of difference.

After college when I landed my first real job, I moved to the city, and discovered a nearby video rental establishment that had ALL of the complete Star Trek series on DVD. Heaven! I started watching them in order, starting with The Next Generation, then Deep Space Nine, and then Voyager (I’ve never been able to get into the Original Series). At the same time, I was struggling with a lot of anxiety: my beloved grandma was sick with cancer, which just happens to be one of my mortal fears. That fear is pretty well controlled with medication now, but at the time, I was having pretty regular panic attacks. Because I had/have panic attacks almost exclusively at night, I was also having a lot of trouble sleeping. So I took to just leaving Star Trek on until I fell asleep. I would often start the next episode on the disk when I was already dozing, and many times I drifted off to sleep to the opening them. The opening theme I associate most with those times is that of Deep Space Nine; to this day, that lovely, calm horn intro, followed by the same theme in the solo trumpet, played so mellowly and soothingly, it is very comforting.

I don’t have panic attacks very often anymore, thankfully. When I do, I now have Xanax for breakthrough anxiety, in addition to the Zoloft I take daily. But even when I take a Xanax, it often takes it awhile to kick in before I feel calm; in the meantime, the only things that can help calm me are lying on the cold bathroom tile floor and watching Star Trek. The latter is much more pleasant, and the soothing lullaby of DS9’s opening and closing themes never fails.

Undocumented Immigration, Human Rights and White Privilege

I spent this week at a seminar entitled Exploring the Cultures of the Twin Cities, which focused on the Somali, Hmong, and Latino communities. In addition to learning a lot about the Somali and Hmong communities and the particular challenges they face in the US and in Minnesota, this seminar served to rekindle my strong feelings about immigration issues and hard borders. It’s something I used to think about quite a bit, but haven’t thought or talked about as much recently. I don’t know why, exactly. Anyway, in light of the seminar and also the immigration bill that just passed in the Senate, I thought I would share a bit about my feelings on immigration.

I’m not thrilled about the bill. A path to citizenship for those undocumented already here is great, and the provisions for low-skilled workers I think are a good start. But in my mind, though it’s a good start, it’s not enough, and of course the piece adding border control agents and extending the fence along the border definitely takes us in the wrong direction, in my opinion. Obviously I know that something more radical has no chance of passing, but my fear is that if this current bill was passed (which sounds unlikely), people would consider it “enough.” I don’t. In the interest of expediency and not reinventing the wheel when I wrote a perfectly good academic paper on this very issue just a few years ago, I’m including another paper I wrote in graduate school to explain my feelings on immigration. I will warn you that it’s pretty radical left-wing stuff, so this is probably going to rise some hackles, but it’s how I feel. Readers, of course, are free to take it or leave it.

Here’s the paper:

What Our Borders Really Protect:

Undocumented Immigration, Human Rights and White Privilege

Persons exist separately from any particular state;

persons, as such, are prior to states, and therefore human rights,

because they rest on humanness, exist prior to any rights afforded by states.

~Martha Scarpellino,

“‘Corriendo’: Hard Boundaries, Human Rights and the Undocumented Immigrant.”

International borders, as they stand in most of the world today, can be classified as hard boundaries. As defined by Loren Lomansky, hard boundaries are “demarcation[s] not easily traversable at will which function to confer substantial benefits or impose substantial costs on individuals by virtue of which side of the line they happen to find themselves on” (Scarpellino 332; emphasis mine). The division of the world’s landmasses according to hard boundaries, then, creates a situation where some people are born into poverty and others into wealth. Those born into poverty have very little chance of overcoming this system to make a good life for themselves and their families. Hard international boundaries are maintained for political and economic reasons that fail to address the inequality created by such boundaries. Soft boundaries, on the other hand, are “characterized by the lack of impediment to the flow of goods, capital and people” (Scarpellino 332). It is the end of this definition that renders soft boundaries much more desirable, from a human rights standpoint, than hard boundaries. According to the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, goods and capital are already allowed to move freely across the border between Mexico and the US, but people are not. This has created a situation where the “free movement” of cheap US food and products into Mexico and other Latin American countries has destroyed local farms and businesses, forcing large numbers of Latinos to cross the US-Mexico border illegally in order to find work in the United States. Using the US-Mexico border as a case study, I argue that such hard boundaries violate human rights and perpetuate white privilege.

Star Trek as a Modern Day Myth: The Shifting Interpretation of the Prime Directive

So randomly recently I’ve had several people ask to read this paper that I wrote for a class back in 2008. I’m posting it here for general consumption.

WARNING! Super nerdy content ahead!

34874466

Star Trek as a Modern Day Myth:

The Shifting Interpretation of the Prime Directive

As any Trekker knows, Star Trek began as the brainchild of the visionary Gene Roddenberry. Not only did Roddenberry conceive the idea of the Star Trek universe, he also wrote or co-wrote many episodes of The Original Series and of The Next Generation.  In the United Federation of Planets and its exploration-focused military force, Starfleet, Roddenberry created a utopian society based on humanism, friendship, tolerance, freedom, and mankind’s ability to overcome its basest instincts in favor of its inherent potential for goodness.

Although Roddenberry can accurately be called the father of Star Trek, the franchise’s development, like that of any child, was not influenced by its parent alone. As Jon Wagner puts it in his book Deep Space and Sacred Time: Star Trek in the American Mythos, “popular entertainment is always influenced, through a variety of direct and indirect avenues, by public taste and shared cultural assumptions” (8). Thus, the proverbial village had a hand in Trek’s rearing. Trek’s status as a shared cultural experience allowed the franchise to grow into one of the most enduring and popular myths in modern day America. Trek also makes exceptionally good mythic material due to the fact that it is set in the future. This may seem somewhat counterintuitive since traditionally, myths are set in the past, but in today’s science-focused society, we have the tendency to dismiss anything that is not factual and verifiable as “just a story.” That is not to say that myth is dead in modern day America – we have simply found different ways to frame our myths in order to make them plausible. One such way to accomplish this is to do precisely what Trek does: set the story in the future. Wagner writes, “both the future and the primordial time-before-time stand apart from concrete history, but with a big difference: the past either happened or it didn’t; but the future might happen” (7). The future is a blank canvas through which our logos-driven minds can be free to imagine a state of existence to which we can aspire.

Like all utopias, however, Starfleet is not without its problems. As mentioned above, Roddenberry’s vision of the Trek cosmos places particular emphasis on freedom and tolerance—ideals that often conflict with one another. Starfleet’s General Order No. 1, which prohibits Starfleet members from interfering with the development of other societies, is often a casualty of this conflict. This order, known as the Prime Directive, places tolerance of cultural difference in a position of utmost importance in Starfleet’s credo. Interference can range from revealing the presence of life on other planets to societies that are not yet aware of this reality to exposing a culture to a technology they have not yet developed themselves to aiding one side over another in a war or conflict. Clearly, the latter situation presents a moral dilemma when one party is oppressing or exploiting another. Which is more important: the oppressed or exploited society’s right to liberty, or Starfleet’s non-interference policy? Trek’s answer to this question varies depending on the social climate in the US and in the world at the time of the series in question: The Original Series tends to value freedom over diversity; The Next Generation places respect for cultural difference over the pursuit of liberty; Deep Space 9, in the postmodern spirit of the 1990s, attempts to mediate the two perspectives; and Enterprise represents a return to innocence of sorts, backing away from postmodernism and reaffirming respect for diversity as the pinnacle of enlightenment.

Boudoir Photo Shoot

I had Saturday off of Fest, for my boudoir photo session. It was interesting and pretty fun. The day transpired thusly:

I arrived at the studio around 10am, and two stylists were there to do my hair and make-up while the photographer set up her equipment. The studio was in an old warehouse, in a fairly small room outfitted with a few props (a bit orange couch, a couple of wingtip chairs, a mirror, etc, and a little dressing room area. It had nice natural light, white-painted brick, and hardwood floors.

The stylists worked on my hair and make-up simultaneously, which was interesting. I also couldn’t see the mirror, so I didn’t know what they were doing until they were done, which was a bit strange. I liked my hair– just long and curled with some backcombing and hairspray to add body. The make-up was okay– she used a lot of black eyeliner, which I don’t usually do and would have preferred a more smoky-eyed look, but I decided to go with the professional’s discretion– perhaps the makeup needs to be more dramatic for the camera, I don’t know.

After they were done, I put on my first outfit (an off-white and pink babydoll chemise with my wedding shoes and jewelry, a more sweet/romantic kind of look) and we shot some pictures just with the white brick, hardwood floors and natural light. She kept asking me to “smile with my eyes” and breathe through my mouth, which normally I have no problem doing (smiling with my eyes, that is), but for some reason I feel like that day I had two expressions– laughing and serious. I guess I just felt a little awkward trying to fake certain expressions for the camera.

I think I want to become a Quaker


I’m serious.

My spouse and I have been talking about finding a spiritual community, but I’ve been having a really hard time with it, because I’m currently agnostic and I have major problems with some basic tenants of (most) Christian churches. My spouse is a little bit more “traditionally” Christian than I’ve become, in that he believes in God and Jesus and Heaven (I think), but doesn’t take the Bible literally and also disagrees with a lot of the discrimination that many religions promote.

We were looking at going to a “church” that meets at the local high school, called Bloom Church, whose slogan is “No judging. No politics. Just Jesus.” They claim that “We’re not sure how you feel about God, how much you know about the Bible or whether we agree on everything spiritual. And that’s fine with us.” But then their beliefs statement sounds remarkably like most other Protestant churches:

In a nutshell, we believe that there is a God, one God, who created everything. He created us as humans in his image, which means we are like him in many ways, yet entirely different. The cool thing is, he longs for a relationship with us – the perfect joined with the imperfect – and to be present with us today.

That is remarkable love.

We believe humanity was separated from God by sin. But that didn’t stop God. He still longs to be with us. God sent his son Jesus to die a brutal death in our place to ultimately cancel our debt in full to God. Jesus said, “It is finished.” And we believe he meant it.

That is intense love.

God simply asks that we accept his love for us through his sacrifice in Jesus as a generous gift that we could do nothing to deserve. And that act of recognition, we believe, changes everything for eternity. It consummates the love story and makes it our own.