Freedom of the Press

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – Constitution of United States of America

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Can anyone guess what today’s topic is? That’s right- the media! Firstly, I wanted to define a couple terms:

  • News: newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events
  • Fake news: deliberately published hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news

Fake news is not a label to be thrown around lightly. Discrediting journalists and the media without a cause is dangerous (and, historically, has preceded dangerous times in our world, i.e. the Holocaust). Attacking the media because you don’t think they are treating you fairly is stupid, petulant, and insane. The President of the United States (especially when that President is a white male billionaire) doesn’t get to play the victim card. Remember when Trump was campaigning, and he said once he was in power he would act presidential?  LOL.

Part of the job of the President is to be held accountable by the media (and by extension, by the people). I get that the media is a super convenient target for someone like Trump- someone who is so egotistical, narcissistic and completely insecure. It feels like a SNL skit, considering how many blatant lies the Trump administration has told, and yet claims fake news is rampant and only being perpetuated by the media (the whole birther nonsense, the Bowling Green Massacre, the size of the inauguration crowds, Trump lying about how he supported the Iraq war, his fake standing ovation at the CIA HQ, VOTER FRAUD, his relationship with Russia, claiming the cancellation of the meeting with Mexican President Nieto was a mutual decision, honestly there are so many- I suggest you read more here).

It’s beyond hypocritical and completely unethical for Trump (and his team) to be perpetuating lies, and then attacking journalists for reporting the truth. When Fox and CNN are aligned, you know there is something seriously wrong in the world. Banning news outlets like CNN and the NY Times from press briefings is unacceptable, and it’s un-American. You don’t get to pick and choose who reports on you, especially when you are involved in some shady shit. It’s even more insane when you consider that Trump himself is one of the biggest bullies and trolls around.  It’s surreal that this is the state of the United States of America. It’s hard to reconcile the ‘greatest nation on earth’ with the fact that we are moving further and further from the Utopian democratic union we all pretend to be. We’ve literally been downgraded on the democracy scale to a ‘flawed democracy’. Is that what making America great again looks like? Flawed? Angry? Divided?

It’s easy for me to sit here and blame Trump for all of this (and trust me, I do), but this is bigger than just one man. We allowed this to happen. The media played a massive role in getting Trump elected, in fact, his presidential bid really only started after the media attacked him at the Media Correspondents Dinner years ago.  Sarah wrote about her issues with current state of the media a few months back- and it’s truer than ever. Yes, we need to demand accountability from the media and our elected officials, but we need to hold ourselves accountable too. We need to become a more active and engaged citizenry. We need to avoid letting anyone tell us ‘facts’ and we need to seek them out for ourselves. We the people, need to be an engaged populous. We need to be able to cut through the bullshit and rhetoric to find the truth. No matter what side of the spectrum you fall on (misleading the American people happens on the right and the left), informing yourself is a universal step in actually making America great. If we want to be a strong nation, we need to be a strong people. We need to be educated and informed on issues and the state of the world. We need to demand our government make information not only accessible, but digestible. You shouldn’t need an advanced degree to make sense of our legislature. We need to be better, our journalists need to be better, and our President needs to be better. However, we only have direct control over ourselves, so I am pledging to keep myself as engaged and aware as possible in regards to our government and place in the world.

Stay woke.

-Kate

 

 

 

 

Travel Diaries: Iceland

Góðan dag!

I just got back from a short 3 day trip to Iceland. It was my first time to Iceland, and yes- I chose to go in the dead of winter. As I wrote a while back, seeing the Northern Lights was a bucket list item of mine. Beyond that though, I have been having a really strong urge to visit Nordic/Scandinavian countries. This happens to me fairly frequently- I’ll become hyper-focused on a place after some inspiration strikes, and I try to make it happen. I’d been thinking about Iceland for a while, and asked a lot of friends if they wanted to go. Everyone was interested, but no one could commit. So what did I do? Booked it anyways and took off on my own.

I flew over on IcelandAir on a red eye. I have to say- I was astounded by how great this airline is. Both flights got in early, the planes were nice, and they actually treated passengers like humans and not cargo. I also liked their upgrade option- a few days before your flight, you get to bid on an upgrade, as much or as little as you’d like. I ended up getting both legs of my journey upgraded which was so worth it. Lounge access alone made it worthwhile.

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Really making the most of the lounge.

Anyways, we landed before 6 AM, and I was dropped at my hotel. Obviously I couldn’t check in yet, so I decided to go exploring. I bundled up and headed up a hill, through the woods, in the dark, to Perlan.Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 9.58.50 PM.png

Perlan is an architectural landmark in Reykjavik- it’s a dome topped building with 360 degree views of the city. I didn’t go in at that point since I looked like a creature after traveling all night, and I was rounding 24 hours of being awake. I did, however, get treated to some pretty incredible views.

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I spent a few hours wandering around the building, and the hill it is located on (Öskjuhlíð). During WWII it was actually used by the US as a place to build bunkers, so there are a lot of markers/remains of that time.  I watched the sunrise through the trees, and eventually, I headed back to my hotel, checked in, and (as lame as it is) napped for a few hours.

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Post nap, I took off for Reykjavik. Honestly, not my favorite city. Reykjavik didn’t feel like it had as much character as other cities in Europe, but even so, there were a lot of parts I did like.

I spent the rest of the evening hanging out in a geothermal spa. Iceland is basically run on geothermal energy, someone told me 90% of the country’s heat comes from geothermal energy (which is crazy). Beyond that, Icelandic culture is also heavily focused on spas; Icelandic people spend a lot of time relaxing in thermal baths and saunas. I ended up in geothermal spas every day I was in Iceland. The most unique was on my Golden Circle tour (the Golden Circle is a driving route in the south of Iceland that takes you through a National Park, the geysers, and to some serious waterfalls- It’s an insanely popular tourist spot). We stopped at Laugarvatn Fontana, which is on the bank of the Laugarvatn Lake (largest in Iceland) and is a hot bed of hot springs. In fact, Fontana Spa literally bakes bread by digging a hole in the sand and leaving dough in the hot sand for 24 hours. The bread is delicious and definitely worth trying if you go.

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It didn’t look quite like this while we were there, as it was snowing, and the winds were insane. However, it was really cool to be in a naturally heated pool in a snow storm. I also am a big sauna person- dry heat is right up my alley. The whole visit to the spa was invigorating and relaxing all at the same time!

Speaking of the Golden Circle, we hit up Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geyser geothermal region in Haukadalur. It was heavily snowing when we were in the National Park, so visibility was minimal. They did film scenes from Game of Thrones (those Beyond the Wall) and it was very easy to picture.

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Really getting a Game of Thrones vibe

Our visit to Strokkur (a geyser) was also very cool. There is a slight smell of sulfur in the air as the entire area is basically bubbling with geothermal energy. I watched Strokkur shoot like 40 feet into the air twice, and it was pretty spectacular.

The crowning moment of the Golden Circle, for me, was Gulfoss. The weather had cleared, and the view of the falls was spectacular. I would love to come back in the summer when you can get way closer to the falls themselves.

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As it had been snowing all day, and the aurora forecast was low- not to mention that the tour the previous night had been cancelled due to poor conditions, I was not optimistic that I was going to get to see the Northern Lights. However, the forecast called for the skies to clear so I decided to take a shot and see what there was to see.

I stood in the freezing blackness for an hour and a half with like 100 other people (all getting more and more anxious- the shouts of ‘please turn off your flash’ turned into ‘if you don’t turn off that motherfucking flash- I SWEAR TO GOD’). If we hadn’t seen a super vibrant shooting star about 45 minutes in, I’m fairly certain the crowd would have turned on one another. Staring at the insanely bright stars was nice, but it wasn’t what I hoped for. I started to lose steam, and once I couldn’t feel my feet or hands, I went back to the bus to warm up. Within (I kid you not) 30 seconds, the entire sky lit up. I ran off the bus without my gloves or purse (I did grab my camera). Standing under those lights with 100 people cheering, and at one point there was singing, was mind blowing. I felt so connected, to strangers and to the universe. It is awe-inspiring and every bit as magical as I had hoped. I have caught myself staring up at the sky anytime it is dark just trying to catch a glimpse of those lights again. You know that feeling when you finally hook up with someone you’ve been into for a long time, and you catch yourself smiling for no reason for days afterwards? That is exactly what this was like for me. I’d just be maniacally smiling, and acting giddy because of the lights. I am so thrilled I got to cap off my trip by knocking this off my bucket list. Although, I already want to see them again. This time though, I want to be in an isolated spot, maybe in a hot tub with some prosecco to really top the moment off.

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The lights were actually dancing. So worth it.

All in all, Iceland gave me everything I was looking for. I came back feeling refreshed and satisfied, and I can’t wait to go back. I am hoping to make a summer trip and hit up the Blue Lagoon and go trekking on Icelandic horses. If you’re thinking about going- go. It was spectacular.

Skál!

Kate

Can You Feel the Love?

Happy Valentine’s Day! I used to absolutely hate Valentine’s Day (especially when I was in a relationship). I’d wear black in protest, roll my eyes at the flowers and hearts, and scoff at ‘romantic plans’.

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I was very JGL in 500 Days of Summer with my Valentine’s feelings

The pressure to make the day special made me feel like I couldn’t live up to that expectation, so I wouldn’t even try. It was easier to say ‘I hate Valentine’s Day’ than to try and put in effort and have it backfire. Low expectations= high chance of getting what you expect. Now that I’ve been single for awhile (and gotten older), I find myself enjoying Valentine’s Day more.  I’ve re-framed my view, and think of it less as a spectacle-required holiday, and more a chance to indulge free from guilt. And, boy oh boy, do I love to indulge! I like having a day to reach out to people I care about, and let them know they matter to me. It’s all too easy to overlook the people in your life. So, I plan to text and call my friends and family, and finish my evening by popping some bubbly, eating chocolate, taking a bath and watching one of my favorite romantic movies (currently deciding between Shakespeare in Love, 10 Things I Hate About You, Romeo + Juliet, or Pride & Prejudice).

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So why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day? Where did the roots of this day even come from?

THE LEGEND, THE MYTH, THE SAINT

St. Valentine is a bit of a mystery. There have been 3 different people named Valentine who have been considered Saints by the Catholic Church (all were martyred). Some think the St. Valentine was a priest who defied his Emperor, and married people in secret after the Roman Emperor banned marriage because he thought single men were better soldiers. He was killed for his trouble. Others contend Valentine rescued Christians from Roman prisons, and was arrested. While under arrest he fell in love with his jailers daughter, and wrote her a note signed ‘From Your Valentine’.

Basically, we have no idea who Valentine was, but we do know that similar to other major holidays, the Catholic Church aligned the date with an existing pagan festival.

THE PAGANS KNOW HOW TO PARTY

Lupercalia was a pagan festival held in mid-February. Lupercalia was a fertility festival honoring the Roman God of Agriculture, and the founding of Rome. The basics of the festival involved sacrificing a goat and a dog, then running through the streets lightly slapping women and fields with rags soaked in blood. The blood slapping would naturally result in fertile women and fertile fields. The festival would conclude with the young women putting their names in an urn, and young men choosing a name. Often this lead to marriage. Sounds like a typical day…

As these things go, Catholicism started taking over, and Lupercalia was outlawed and replaced, in the 5th century, with  St. Valentines Day.

ROMANCE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

Over time, the day became more an more associated with romance. The Middle Ages solidified St. Valentines Day with love as the giving of Valentine’s became standard practice. You needed something to distract you from the dismal living conditions, short life spans, and rampant disease after all…

And that brings us to today! I hope you enjoyed that history lesson, and I hope you enjoy your Valentine’s Day, in whatever way you chose to celebrate it.

XOXO,

K

Rage: The New Political Currency

It’s been 3 weeks since Donald Trump took office, and I confess myself exhausted. It seems like every day on the news there is some new ridiculous and horrible thing he and his administration have done to be outraged about. I, like a lot of people right now, am torn between the urge to be informed and the urge to bury my head in the sand for the next four years. In a previous post I touched on the dangers of the 24-hour news cycle, and how addicting it can be. I think the last few weeks have underscored the argument that this addiction to news is not healthy. But more than that, what has been made abundantly clear is that anger is dominating the political scene, on both sides of the spectrum. It is almost impossible to be politically well-informed and not be angry. It seems we are in a time when one must take sides. There is no gray area in many of the political issues we have been debating, and most people feel passionately one way or the other.

There has been a lot of speculation about how a man like Donald Trump rose to power. Most people acknowledge that he tapped in to the rage of the overlooked white working class, and harnessed that rage and turned it into a movement. It didn’t matter that he said little about policy and had no experience in the political realm. He manipulated and played into the fears of the masses, and his strategy was successful. Now he is our president and he is still playing into the irrational fears of the masses in villainizing immigrants and Democrats and anyone who opposes him or threatens his family wealth.

However, the difference now is the Democrats are beginning to play on the rage that has surfaced in opposition to Donald Trump. It’s no longer accurate to say that anger only characterizes Republicans and Trump supporters. Anger now characterizes almost everyone, regardless of party. Some of this anger is justified and productive. For example, the outrage sparked by the Muslim ban arguably played a large role in the temporary dismantling of it. This rage was useful. We were angry; we were defending human rights; and there was an end goal to our outrage. There is however, outrage that is not useful. There is outrage that will consume your life if you let it and does not actually achieve anything productive. Liberals have made a big stink about how Donald Trump supporters have allowed themselves to be pawns in Trump’s political agenda, but perhaps we need to consider the ways in which we ourselves have become pawns. There are plenty of Democrats who have dramatized and stoked our anger, and for us to pretend that they do so only for the greater good of what we are accomplishing is naïve. There are future elections to think about, and arguably there are plenty of politicians attempting to become the angry voice of the progressive left in efforts to bolster their own political aims.

I’m not presuming to know anyone’s motives in stoking outrage, but I am suggesting we not allow ourselves to be manipulated. If you are going to take up arms over every single ridiculous tweet that Donald sends out, you are only going to affect your own quality of life. If you allow yourself to be baited by every politically incorrect thing he says, you’re in for a long four years. I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting we allow his outrageous actions to pass unnoticed or unopposed. I am just saying we should choose our battles. And we should keep in mind that this chaos and outrage is exactly what he wants. Yes, it is absolutely ridiculous and even unethical that the President of the United States is tweeting at Nordstrom, saying they are mean for no longer buying his daughter’s product. But is it really worth your outrage? At some point you have to decide that some of his actions are too stupid to even respond to. If we choose to respond to every provocation, it allows him to paint the progressive left as angry and irrational, the same way that the left has often painted the tea party and the far right. Fair or not, our anger can sometimes undermine us and strip us of credibility. We go from being well-informed rational people who can carefully and articulately defend our beliefs, to raging crazy people who are not to be taken seriously.  I think outrage can be useful when it has a clear end goal. We need to take a step back and realize that this outrage that follows the 24-hour news cycle is not accomplishing anything. If we allow ourselves to be consumed by anger, we not only will fail to achieve anything in the political sphere, but we most likely will make our own lives pretty miserable in the process. I physically can’t walk around being angry about Donald all the time. It’s not sustainable. So, I choose to save my anger and my strength for the outrages that really matter to me. You are no less informed or passionate about your causes because you chose not to think about them 24/7. It’s quality, not quantity, of your resistance that matters.

-S

Goals, Goals, Goals

There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the air these days, and most of my posts have been focused on that (I’m a real masochistic). It’s easy to get sucked into the black hole of the state of the world (and while it’s important to pay attention and get involved, it can lead to a pessimistic attitude, and I refuse to let this political situation take anything else from me). So, I want to re-focus on the future and my goals.

I’m a big fan of lists. I have random lists all over my apartment: grocery lists, to do lists, lists of clothes I want, travel lists, lists of books to read, and shows to watch… you get the idea. It’s lisztomania!  Anyways, while I’m not the best at following through with all my lists, there is one list I tend to focus on the most. One list to rule them all, you might say.

When I turned 22, I made a list. I called it my 27 by 27 list. That gave me 5 years to accomplish (or at least try to accomplish) goals in a variety of different segments of my life. Some were career focused, some were financial, some were personal, and a whole lot were based on travel.

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I think having goals/a bucket list/whatever you want to call it is important. I think it’s valuable to have a written record around what you want and what you’re interested in. Life moves incredibly quickly, and you can lose sight of lofty goals (or even basic goals) throughout the doldrums of everyday life. It’s good to have something to strive to, and to check in with. I keep my list framed in my closet so I see it at least once a day, staring at me, reminding me to get my ass in gear. I also find it amusing that more than half the items on my 27 by 27 list were travel based, clearly I had my priorities in order when I wrote it!

I know this is super different content than what I normally write about, but this is a large glimpse into what motivates me, and since this blog is about sharing our interests, concerns, and inspirations, I feel like it works.

So below is my 27 by 27 list, and the current standing of where I am.  I have around 2 years left to successfully complete this sucker, and it’s unlikely that I will knock them all off, but I’m having a lot of fun regardless.

Completed Goals:

  • Be promoted twice
  • Go to a foreign country completely alone
  • Celebrate Hogmanay in Edinburgh
  • See Stonehenge
  • Live alone
  • Learn to like whisky
  • Own Christian Louboutins

In-Progress Goals (Highly Likely to Complete by 27):

  • Go on 1 trip somewhere new each year (I have been super successful with this goal so far)
  • See the Northern Lights (I am going to Iceland in a week, and am planning on hunting the Aurora’s every night- who needs sleep?!)
  • Go on Safari  (This is booked for July of this year)
  • Go to 3 Major World Events (I’m at 2/3 currently)
  • Read Shakespeare’s complete works ( 16/37 left to read)
  • Savings Goal (I am 80% to my set goal, if you include investments, 401K, and Roth IRA accounts- and since this is my goal, it counts)
  • Read the top 100 books (67/140* left to read)
    • I ended up adding some to this list based on my interests, so my list is more like 140 books

There are 14/27 items I am confident I will be able to check off my list in the next year and a half. That leaves 13 items not covered above. Those items basically fall into the ‘stretch goal’ category or the ‘no longer interested category’. There are also a few travel goals scattered in there (Isle of Skye, New Zealand, Egypt, filling up my passport) which may be possible, but are currently not planned due to scheduling and financial constraints.

Stretch Goals:

  • Go on a trip to another country with a significant other
    • This is only a stretch goal since I am currently single, and in no real rush/don’t have a ton of interest in relationships right now.
  • I have a fairly aggressive salary goal that I would like to be making by 27, and I’m pretty sure I’m not reaching it (unless I achieve the goal under this one, and it ends up getting published…)
  • Write a book- I have been working on this since I was 22 and I’m only like 6 chapters in.
  • Learn the basics of another language- I took Spanish in school and was decent at it, but have forgotten most of it, and I haven’t made any moves in remedying that.
  • Take a class for a hobby – I want to take a photography or wine appreciation course, but just haven’t gotten there yet

I’m not going to bother writing about the goals I’m no longer interested in, but I will share the three new goals I have replaced them with.

  • Get certified in Barre
  • Be able to do the splits
  • Cook my way through the two cookbooks in my house (excluding anything I really don’t like)
So that’s my list. That’s what I am trying to get out of my life in the immediate term. Fun, right? I’m excited to see where I end up with this list, and what the next iteration looks like. Maybe it will be a complete 180, and my next list will be completely focused on my career or starting a family or building a home, or maybe it will be a list of new places to go and things to experience. As I’ve noted before, freedom can be paralyzing because you have so many options, but I find that by having a list, my future is framed just a little bit more. It works for me at least!

Waiting for the Barbarians…or the Islamic Terrorists

The Muslim ban executive order signed into law by Donald Trump on Saturday has alarmed and enraged people all over the country over the past few days, myself included. Trump and his cronies of course have a problem with people calling this what it is and what it was intended to be: a Muslim ban. Of course we have plenty of reason to believe that a Muslim ban is exactly what this is, since a large part of Trump’s presidential platform was a ban on ALL Muslims entering the United States. And on Sunday he tweeted that we should be concerned about the Christians being killed in the Middle East, even though Muslims have been killed in far greater numbers. His order also gives preferential treatment to Christians attempting to enter the U.S. from these countries. There is also good reason to believe that the Muslim countries not included in the ban were excluded because of Trum’s business ties there. So let’s not beat around the bush: this is a Muslim ban.

Now that we have established that, the question is why is this happening? Why has Trump continually emphasized the danger that “radical Islamic terrorists” pose to this great free Christian nation? In thinking about this issue over the last year or so, I find myself drawing parallels to one of my favorite books, Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee. The book is about a great unnamed Empire threatened by an indigineous group of barbarians who are plotting to overthrow it. The barbarians are frequently painted as less than human, and though as a whole they demonstrate no ill-will towards the Empire, they are singled out as the enemy and the potential downfall of civilization. Of course, the Empire has actually invaded the natives’ land and attempted to force their culture and civilization on them. The Empire labels the natives as barbarians in order to justify their imperialism and to give its people a feeling of purpose and a common enemy.

It’s not hard to see the parallels here to the United State’s relationship to the Middle East. For decades we have invaded its lands, stripped these countries of their natural resources, overthrown their governments from the inside out, and attempted to force Western democracy on them. In doing so we have created terrorist organizations within the region whose main purpose is rebelling against Western influence and seizing power in instable countries that are vulnerable. Their aims have little to do with Islam, and much to do with the human instinct to seek and retain power. Make an entire region feel powerless and ruled by an alien external force for years and you are bound to create people whose sole aim is to take that power back and wield it with cruel intentions. Of course, I am oversimplifying the problems that have created so much instability within the Middle East. I couldn’t possibly write a post long enough to detail all the factors that have contributed to the instability in the region, and I don’t claim to be knowledgeable enough to do so. But, my point is that the U.S. has played a decisive hand in this instability and bears the responsibility for much of the chaos that is driving people to seek refugee status in more stable Western countries. Coincidentally the other day Trump said we should have kept the oil from Iraq after we withdrew our troops, because the oil was the only reason ISIS was able to financially support itself. He also suggested that the next time we invade a sovereign country, we will be sure to take all their resources so there is no wealth left to prop up any kind of a successful government or terrorist organization.

Now we have people fleeing from the terrorists that we created (and in some cases armed), and we will deny them access to our great free country because they pose a threat to it. And to top it off, rather than acknowledging the nuances of terrorism and its relationship to Islam, we now have a president and a large group of Americans who claim that the problem is Islam, not the terrorists who have corrupted it and twisted it to justify their actions. Muslims are being painted with a broad brush, as an enemy of Christian America, as people who seek to do us great harm. It seems to me to be no coincidence that after a particularly disastrous first week in the presidency, Trump attempted to draw our attention back to our common enemy: Muslims. In claiming that Muslims from this region pose a great threat to the safety of our country, Trump creates an atmosphere of fear, chaos and mistrust, primed for the consolidation of power and wide-spread approval of his actions that seek to “protect” America.

As in Waiting for the Barbarians, America is awaiting the barbarians that we believe to be Muslims to strike, only to find out that the barbarians are here, within our midst, masquerading as saviors. Make no mistake: turning our back on refugees fleeing the terrorism and instability that we helped to create, is barbaric. What we should have learned from ISIS and from the recent executive orders and from the entire history of war and persecution, is that cruelty and the seeking of power has nothing to do with religion. The dark side of human nature can flourish wherever there is suffering and chaos. Attrocities and injustice can be commited falsely under any God’s name, in the haze of fear and instability. Many attrocities have also been commited in the name of Christianity. The actions of few do not justify the condemnation and persecution of an entire group of people. Just as I hope that the rest of the world does not condemn all Americans for the actions of the ignorant, hateful demogauge that is currently running our country, I refuse to condemn all Muslims for the actions of a few. The act of pitting Americans against Muslims is nothing more than the desperate attempt to unite a fractured country and distract us from the real problems that we face such as poverty, climate change, gender inequality, racial ineqaulity, and the high cost and low coverage of our health care system. These are problems which this administration is unlikely to find solutions to, or to even address in any meaningful way, and they know this. So their solution is to distract us with fear and mistrust of foreigners and the rest of the world. It is important to note, that this tactic is not only manifested in this administration’s policies towards Muslims from the Middle East, but also in their policies towards Mexican immigrants. While we are waiting for the barbarians, our country is crumbling. How long will it take this country to realize that our threats come from the inside, not the outside?

-S

Is This What Great Looks Like?

Donald Trump has only been in power for 9 days, and I am already shaken to my core about his legacy. This goes so far beyond party lines and politics. Trump is attempting to change the very fabric of this nation. Do you feel great yet?

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If this is what ‘great’ looks like, I want no part of it. I am ashamed of this leader (it feels wrong to even call him a leader), and I am terrified about what the next 4 years are going to look like. I can’t quite process what I’m watching unfold, between the blatant lies (alternative facts are LIES), and the executive orders being passed, based purely on fear and hate (except the ones that benefit Trump’s business). The fact that his ban doesn’t include places where he has business ties should TERRIFY everyone. Clearly he is not using the Constitution of the United States as his key decision-making faculty, but rather his own self-interest. That’s also clear in his orders around the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipelines.

How dare he think he can stop 500,000 LEGAL residents from coming to this country. How dare the GOP not publicly condemn this. How can we be so scared, that we would position ourselves to repeat some of the worst human rights violations (take a look how Nazi- Germany came into power) of the western world? How can we, a country of immigrants, feel so removed from our roots and the world, that we think banning a religion is something to campaign on? How can we sleep at night? I want to make it clear that I do not share this view. In the fight against terrorism, we are far more powerful as a unit.

Trump tweeted, ‘Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!’… No, you numpty-headed, egotistical monster – people are being executed and suffering in large numbers. The second we start categorizing people into these groups we naturally start pitting ourselves against one another. We naturally start ranking groups in our ‘us vs. them’ mentality.  It’s why George Washington warned us against political parties, and it’s why we need to focus on the fact that we are all humans who value the same things (saftey, a strong future, the right to live free of discrimination) before we get lost in our differences, and allow them to divide us.

I have been slightly calmed by seeing the ‘resistance efforts’ spreading across the world. I am proud of the Americans who protested at airports, and the lawyers who fought through the night to protect legal residents of this country, I’m proud of the judges who are refusing to allow this executive order to stand as it is in direct opposition to what this country stands for, I’m proud of the men, women, and children who are marching. I’m proud of those with different beliefs than me, who are engaging in civil discourse to try and bridge the gap in this country. I’m proud of the foreign leaders who are taking a stand against Trump. Bullies only respond to strength, and we are getting a hell of a lot stronger each day.  Even as I find myself exausted by the state of the world, I know the only way to change it is to keep the fire in my eyes, and my heart as strong as possible. This knot in my stomach is more manageable when I’m taking action.  I know who I am, and I know what is right. I am prepared to do what I can to be on the right side of history. I want to be on the side of decency and support. I want to be on the side of love, not hate- the side of strength, not fear.

In the last few months, I’ve donated to the ACLU, PP, and the resistance at Standing Rock. I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m writing to my senators and representatives on a weekly basis. I’m trying to do as much as I can as a private citizen to make it clear that America is more than this vitrolic mess.

Trump has made it clear he thinks Lincoln was the pinnacle of presidental, so may I remind Trump what Lincoln said, ‘America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.’ 

I, for one, am not ready for that time to be now.

Framing Your Way to Happiness

I listened to a great podcast the other day on TED Radio Hour called “Simply Happy” which got me thinking about the nature of happiness. The premise of the combined TED Talks was that happiness is actually not as complicated as we make it out to be and that the human brain is actually wired to be happy. Happiness in the human brain is kind of a homeostatic state; regardless of our varying moods, our minds eventually settle into happiness, or at least into contentment. The podcast referenced a study which showed that even people who suffered very traumatic experiences returned to their previous baseline state of happiness within 2-3 months. They started diving into why this is the case, and it all boils down to our brain’s ability to frame things in different lights. So when we experience negative things, our brains attempt to frame them in positive lights, or at least to not dwell on them. This is more a survival instinct than anything; our brain wants us to be happy and so it allows us to frame things in a perspective that allows us to be happy. So in part, your brain does the work for you in creating and returning to happiness. But we also are responsible for this process, and this is the part that really got me thinking about what we can do to affect our own happiness. Though I used to groan at the cliche of “you create your own happiness” as I get older I find myself buying into this theory more and more.

Part of the reason I am more convinced by the day that we can control and create our own happiness is because I have seen the ways that it has worked in my own life. After I graduated college I had, as most people do, a very rude awakening. I had to get a job and support myself. I had to enter the “real” world which seemed like an onslaught of responsibility, chores, and just generally things I didn’t want to do or deal with. And for a while there I was really in a slump. I felt drained by the responsibilities of adulthood and I couldn’t fathom how anyone could be happy while having to pay a utility bill. (I fully recognize now the extent of my privilege that this felt so inconceivable to me). I dragged myself to work and then home and then to work again. I dragged myself to the gym, and to clean the house and to go out and do fun things. I had this mentality of “everything is hard.” And then it became too much effort to keep up this charade of misery. I realized that I was the reason that I was unhappy, and that it had nothing to do with my environment or with external circumstances. It all came down to the way I was thinking about and framing my life. And it was actually really hard work to constantly think about things in such a negative light. Since that difficult year after college I have made a point to be very careful about how I think about things. If I find myself wandering through the darker corners of my mind, I pull myself back out. I don’t sit around thinking about mistakes I made in the past, and I don’t dwell on negative things that I can’t control. I’m not trying to make this sound easy, or like I have all the answers, because it’s not and I don’t. But I do think that learning to train your mind to think in certain ways can make a world of difference in your outlook on life and your day-to-day happiness. And I think that when you start learning to control your mind, you realize it’s not really an uphill battle. Your mind doesn’t actually want to think about your ex-boyfriend, or that time the other day when a stranger waved to someone behind you and you thought they were waving to you, so you waved, and then realized their wave wasn’t meant for you and you wanted to die a little. Our minds really don’t want to dwell on the negative things in our lives, we just force them to.

So though it makes me sound like a crazy hippie yogi, I’m going to say it: When you control your thoughts, you control your life.

 

-S

 

Disclaimer: When I talk about happiness and our control over it, I recognize that for some people with clinical depression or other mental health issues, this is not the case. My theories on happiness only relate to people under relatively normal circumstances, without any kind of mental health issue.

One Nation Under…

Today is the day, people. Donald J. Trump is officially the 45th President of the United States of America. I obviously had a lot of feelings throughout the inauguration ceremony and Trump’s speech (wtf was that about discovering the ‘secrets of space’ and eradicating all disease in four years — good luck with that).  I was also taken back by the new White House website (which has some pretty interesting omissions – there is currently no mention of climate change, technology, or LGBTQ rights). BUT, what I want to write about doesn’t actually have anything to do with President Trump.

I want to talk about the role of Christianity in our government. Before I jump into my discussion, I want to lay a foundation about the make-up of this country. Despite shifting demographics, America is still home to more Christians than any other country in the world. According to Pew Research in 2014, 7/10 Americans identify themselves as some form of Christian (I’m including Catholics here, fyi).  Approximately 23% of American’s are not religiously affiliated (agnostic or atheist). The remainder identify with non-Christian faiths.

The founding of America  had a lot of roots in the Judeo-Christian faith. Well before the Revolution, the pilgrims colonized here to practice their Protestant faith free of persecution in 1620. The Spanish built missions and preached Catholicism up and down the West Coat, while the French established Catholic institutions in Louisiana.  The vast majority of our founding fathers were very active in their respective Churches.

However, many key founding fathers (Jefferson & Washington) tended towards Deism (basically God exists, but doesn’t get involved with humankind, with a big emphasis on  the importance of reason and logic). The Declaration of Independence uses religious references to justify the colonies right to self-govern free of Britain. The iconic ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ portion of the Declaration claims those rights are ours because they were ‘endowed [upon us] by the Creator’. While the  majority of that document was used to tear into King George, and list all the grievances of the colonies, Jefferson ties it back to be grounded in Christian roots.

The Declaration is obviously important in establishing America, but it is not a legal document, and the Constitution is. The only mention of religion in our Constitution (1778) is the ‘No Religious Test Clause’- ‘but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States’. Basically, you can’t be excluded from holding office in our government on the basis of religion. Three years after the original Constitution was ratified (1791), we amended it to include the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment states, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’  The first two pieces of the First Amendment prohibit the establishment of an official church, and protect citizen’s abilities to hold whatever faith they’d like. Additionally, in 1797, President Adams signed a treaty into law which contained the following, ‘As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion’. 

So why am I going on and on about the historic significance of religion in America? Maybe it’s because I classify myself in the 23% of non-religiously affiliated citizens, but it seems to me religious symbols are rampant in our Government. Obama’s farewell address ending with the following, ‘God bless you.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America,‘ while Trump said the following in his Inauguration Address, ‘The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.‘ The very nature of these statements promote exclusivity to anyone who doesn’t share belief in God or the Bible. These statements are meant in a positive way, I’m sure, but the role of the President and of the United States Government is not religious. The role of our government is ‘To form a more perfect Union; To establish Justice; To insure domestic Tranquility; To provide for the common defense; To promote the general Welfare, and To secure the Blessings of Liberty.’

Our Presidents are sworn into office on a Bible. This seems a little misleading to me. Why are we placing a religious text in this position in our government? Don’t get me wrong, I am not attacking religion or any private citizens right to practice their faith, and uphold those principles how they see fit. I am questioning why a public servant to the United States of America swears to uphold the principles of a secular country on a religious text. The oath of office states, ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ Why is that oath not being conducted with the Constitution or at least the American flag? Those are the symbols that matter in that moment, for that role, on that stage.

As the President (not as a private citizen), you are beholden to the Constitution of the United States above all else. It seems to me, that swearing to protect the Constitution on the Bible sends a mixed message. It seems to suggest Christianity is more important than the Constitution, and certainly more important that all other faiths. Which is not the most unifying message. That message is also at odds with the very fabric of what this country was set up to be. Symbols matter, and it’s my belief that we should use symbols in our most important ceremonial moments to reflect the role of Government.

So while we may not be one nation under God, we are one nation. We may not all be Christians, but we are all Americans.

-K

Put It On Pause

Yesterday, I texted Sarah that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about this week. I have a lot of ammunition in the political arena, but I wanted to step away from talking about our soon to be President and his petulant and dangerous behavior for a minute.  Sarah asked me what I had been up to recently, and the honest answer is not very much. I had my life on hold for the past few weeks while I recovered from surgery.

I essentially spent an entire week in bed at my parents house, not being able to speak, not really being able to eat, and sleeping an average of 3 hours a night. I wasn’t reading or watching anything for the first few days. I literally was just staring at the ceiling, and to be honest, my ceiling isn’t that exciting. The second week was slightly better, especially towards the end as I started to be more active, and my voice and appetite started to return. It’s kind of like looking back at a dream now that I’m back at my regular life, albeit an insanely painful horrible dream.

It’s a little discombobulating to fully drop out of your normal life for weeks, and then to re-enter it seamlessly. It’s not like I was embarking on some life changing adventure during my recovery and expected things to be different. But, it is odd to go from being in so much pain and being a totally useless person, to being able to go right back to your normal life and job without any real struggle.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful my recovery went well, and that my job was able to accommodate me, and that my friends were super supportive, and that my parents put their lives on hold to take care of me, but it does kind of make you wonder what kind of a real impact you are making on the world around you. Would anything really be different if I stayed on pause? Don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t a depressed rant bitching that I don’t think I matter or that people don’t care about me. I know that isn’t true- I have a great life and I’m content with it. My point is more about questioning where that life is heading and what do I want from it. Would I leave an impact or any kind of a lasting legacy on the world? Honestly, the current answer is no.Capture.JPGAnd that’s fine. I think I still feel a little lost when it comes to what I want from my life, and what kind of life I want to lead. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. I’m conflicted when I think about the different paths that I could take. There is no one future that really calls to me. While I love feeling that the world is laid out at my feet and I could run in any direction I want, there is also something paralyzing about that kind of freedom. When you have numerous choices in the world, it’s difficult to commit to one. Opening one door usually goes hand-in-hand with closing a different one. That’s not to say that you can’t have it all, but life is full of choices that act like puzzle pieces, bringing you closer to the completed picture of what your life is and who you are really are. As I’m writing this, I keep ruminating on the lyrics from ‘Wait For It’ from the incomparable Hamilton.

‘I’m not falling behind or running late. I’m not standing still, I am lying in wait.’ 

I wish I felt that comfortable in my convictions. I wouldn’t say that I’m dissatisfied with the frame of my life currently, but I would like to feel like I am working towards something. I think I’m feeling a little listless and restless all at the same time. I’m scared to make the wrong choice, but I’m also terrified of standing still. I want to be free to fail- I want to be open to opportunity- I want to be focused on the future while maintaining a presence in the present.

There’s no real conclusion here as this is simply a snippet of what has been running through my mind recently. I’m not convinced I have a solid plan of action to institute a change in the way I live my life, but I’m excited about the prospect of that change. So, with that being said, I’m going to quote another song far more poetic and poignant than I am, and ‘keep your head up, and keep your heart strong.’  (Oh Ben Howard, how I adore you!)

-K

P.S. I really do want to thank my parents for being so incredible while I was so out of it the past few weeks. They were amazing while I was… less than amazing.