Wednesday, November 5, 2008

America’s first black president? America's first president who happens to be black

Obama's someone who wanted to be president (God only knows why!) who happens to be black. Hillary Clinton was someone who wanted to be president who happens to be female. It's really not so surprising. Just look at those demographics. I'm a multi-ethnic female who grew up in a stable, middle class family. So I've usually viewed the world as a place of opportunity rather than a mine field of constraint. And I've always felt that I was not alone.

Obama is my generation, my story, and I've always felt this moment was just around the corner. I'm pleased that it's finally here, but not especially surprised. My 13-year old daughter's very casual attitude toward race, ethnicity, gender and other traditionally "touchy" subjects just reinforces my perception that this is a moment, really, long overdue. Let's see if Obama really can give voice and leadership to an inclusiveness that already exists in spirit and practice, but which has yet to be publicly acknowledged and embraced. I'm a whole person, not a category. Sorry, CNN.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"Joe the Plumber" needs a reality check

The thing about people like "Joe the Plumber" is that they don't understand or appreciate what they've got. A staunch Republican friend of mine was the first to complain when they started fiddling with childcare subsidies in our area. Her logic was that if taxes were lower, she could buy childcare herself - a legitimate argument - although she probably wouldn't have been able to afford it. People like "Joe" think good schools, public safety, and clean air magically happen by themselves and are not shy about complaining when things go wrong. Sure, there is room for discussion and improvement about the best way to provide public services, but it appears that Joe the Plumber, who doesn't even pay his taxes, thinks the only good taxes are no taxes.

Someone, somehow, somewhere needs to remind Joe Q. Citizen that government funds services that individuals usually can’t pay for or provide for themselves. No amount of money is going to protect a gated community from groundwater contamination without sufficient protection of water resources, which requires collective action which costs money which is acquired through progressive taxation.

There’s a line in the 1936 film My Man Godfrey where the wealthy head of the household says that he doesn’t mind paying taxes but that he can’t afford to pay the government when his family spends so much, or something to that effect. The amazing thing about this line is that it would never be uttered in any movie today. Cynicism about taxes has become so commonplace and so strong that hardly anyone condemned “Joe the Plumber” for not even paying what he owes now. For “Joe,” there is complete disjuncture between taxes and public services. The “Joes” of the world ought to spend a week in a place where things don't work to understand and appreciate what they have. Or better yet, have visited post-Katrina New Orleans or have crossed the Mississippi over a bridge in downtown Minneapolis.

Taxes may be a necessary evil, but note the importance of that one word, necessary.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dream on...

If Sarah Palin has managed to “have it all,” then bully for her. But this mom doesn't think mothers should have to work that hard. (Palin in People magazine: "What I've had to do, though, is in the middle of the night, put down the BlackBerries and pick up the breast pump. Do a couple of things different and still get it all done.") When it was 2:00 a.m. and I wasn't nursing my daughter, I just wanted to sleep! I thought Super Moms went out with the 80s!

Mommy Wars and the Super Mom debate just distract from the real issue: Parental care of young children is a full-time job like any other, and it's time that society recognizes that. A single or married parent who chooses “in-home employment" should receive a livable wage with full benefits (health insurance, pension, etc.) until the last child reaches age ten or so.

Real choice begins with financial independence. When a person has children, they should also have a realistic option of full-time in-home, part-time in-home, or full-time out-of-home employment, depending on their interests and skills, without risk of financial dependence on a spouse or partner. Parental care of young children is a job like any other and should be treated as such with parent-friendly policies that make real choice possible.

In an age when more than 5-8 years in the same job is considered a long time, job market reentry after care of young children is not necessarily the employment handicap it once was. Consider it a mid-life career change and help parents plan accordingly as most of us voluntarily or involuntarily do already, with mixed success. Parenting is hard work. Why not make it a little easier with job pay for stay-at-home parents? It can be done if we as a society have the will to do it.

I know…not in my lifetime. But perhaps in my daughter’s.

Wake up, America!

Normally during an election, I have fairly strong opinions about the candidates I like and the ones I don’t, but resign myself to accept the ones I don’t if they win the election. That’s just the “downside” of democracy.

But this election, I’m very worried. I feel we have a chance to turn things around so I’m positive about that. But I truly wonder if we, as a country, can afford an Obama loss. There are so many pressing problems…national debt, trade imbalance, inadequate or no health care, poor quality schools, a never-ending war…you know the list…that can no longer be ignored or mismanaged. If we get another Republican president, especially a narcissistic opportunist like McCain or a hard-line ideologue like Palin, for another 4-8 years, I really don’t know how we can survive it. At best, we’d have an executive-congressional stalemate, and, at worst, more of the same if Republicans win back the House and Senate.

Our international standing in this era of globalization is shot: the rest of the world (even non-terrorists!) hates us and our national economy is such a mess that other countries will soon refuse to finance our debt any longer. I know it’s political heresy to say so, but the U.S. is neither the world’s moral compass nor economic powerhouse it once was. I’m not saying that all is lost and that we’re “nothing,” but we’ve just got to start looking sharp, demanding more of our leaders, and getting our house in order, or everything will be lost. I feel such despair when people don’t seem to understand or care about the big picture and just vote for an entrenched icon who promises more of the same and a former beauty queen who looks and sounds good on TV. It makes me weep.

Wake up, America!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Is Palin a feminist?

Depends on your definition of feminism, I guess. If you define it as "working for a wonderful world for women," Palin is a disastrous specimen. If you define it as "equal opportunities for women," do I dare say we've entered a post-feminist world where I as a feminist and "vagina American" (to quote Samantha Bee) and Obama supporter have the opportunity to reject a female presidential candidate and vice presidential nominee, guilt-free of gender considerations? Not bad, I guess.

Who is John McCain?

First he bashes the Republican Party. Then he peddles warmed-over Bush. Now he’s fanning conservative fanaticism.

With apologies to Shrek, I suggest he’s an onion. His POW story may make you cry, but as you peel back the layers, there’s nothing at the core. All his campaign has given us are desperate acts of a determined cynic who will do anything to be president.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Refreshing"?! Try "Irresponsible!"

My Swedish husband made the mistake of asking me what I thought about John McCain’s vice presidential choice Alaska governor Sarah Palin. As a Democrat, I certainly wasn’t happy with the choice, but since I don’t plan to vote for McCain I didn’t care too much…at first.

But then I started thinking about the possible consequences if McCain does get elected and becomes disabled or dies in office, and I did a slow burn. I’m angry. In fact, I’m furious about his choice. While some observers call it “refreshing,” it’s just pandering of the lowest, basest sort. I’m insulted by the choice and furious with McCain for putting the country at risk if Palin were to assume the presidency.

Assumedly, the purpose of the choice is to solidify his base with the right wing of the Republican Party. But there is also speculation that Palin’s selection is an attempt to win over disgruntled Clinton supporters.

I’m angry with those former Clinton supporters who, in a fit of sour grapes, refuse to support Obama. My message to them: Don’t you understand that this election is about more than a single person? When you chose to participate in Democratic Party caucuses and primaries, you identified yourselves as Democrats first, Clinton supporters second. The presidency is about much more than a single individual. It’s about setting policy, appointing cabinet officials and judges, and shaping the tone and texture of the United States. You want to give this responsibility to a conservative (yes, don’t be deceived; he is conservative) like McCain and a backwater novice like Palin because you’re angry that Clinton didn’t get the Democratic nomination? Are you crazy?!

That some conservatives hope women will choose McCain because his running mate is female is such a shallow and patronizing take on female voters – it’s downright insulting. I didn’t support Clinton because I don’t like her style and approach. And I’m certainly not enticed by Palin who supports the opposite of almost everything I stand for, even if she is a woman.

But, mostly, I’m fed up with this country being hijacked by the political right. I’m sick to death of having my patriotism questioned because I don’t wear an American flag pin, support prayer in public schools, or walk around carrying a gun. Patriotism has nothing to do the symbols and trappings of the political right. It’s about using your head and your heart to preserve the freedoms and values identified by those port-sipping, intellectual elites otherwise known as our Founding Fathers who signed newspaper letters to the editor in Latin!

McCain’s choice puts base politics before the welfare and safety of the United States. To put an inexperienced, ultra-conservative - and in McCain’s case - a not inconsiderable heartbeat away from the presidency shows only disrespect for the office and contempt for American voters.

I love the United States. Too bad John McCain doesn't.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My New York Thanksgiving

While on the subject of food and culture…

In the early 1980s, a friend and I spent Thanksgiving weekend in New York City with another friend, Nitza, who is Puerto Rican. We were going to have Thanksgiving dinner with Nitza’s family in Queens and I didn’t want to go empty-handed so I decided to make pumpkin bread. My mother says that specialty breads – cranberry, rhubarb, zucchini, and, of course, pumpkin – are typically Midwestern, my geographic roots.

Early Thursday morning, we scoured every mom-and-pop grocery (bodega in New York parlance) in Brooklyn for canned pumpkin, without success. We did find fresh pumpkin, but this farm belt kid had only used canned and was mystified by pumpkin in the flesh. But my East Coast urban friends showed me how to cut and boil it into the prettiest purée I had ever seen.

We arrived at Nitza’s aunt’s house, which was packed with people, and stuffed ourselves on chicken and rice, of course. After the meal, Nitza tracked me down and said, “My grandma wants to meet you.” An elderly woman came up to me and in a flurry of Spanish, grasped my hands and kissed them. Nitza burst out laughing and said, “She likes the bread! She just blessed your hands!”

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cultural tastes

I was making dinner the other night and started chuckling to myself. I was making my own version of stir-fried Thai noodles with chicken and vegetables when I remembered making the same meal a couple months ago for two Italian teenage boys who were staying with us as part of a student exchange with my daughter’s school.

I placed a big bowl of my concoction on the table and said, “Help yourselves.” The boys kind of stared at it and didn’t know what to do. When we all helped ourselves, they followed suit and put a small helping on their plates. The each took a forkful, nibbled it suspiciously, and didn’t say much. In the end, they ate very little and I was left with a huge bowl of food because, after all, I was making dinner for the family plus two teenage boys.

I’m not sure what the problem was. Although I’m not an elegant cook, the food was edible, and I thought surely they’ve eaten stir-fried noodles before, even in Italy. You can hardly walk down the street of any city of any size anywhere in the world these days without seeing a Chinese, Thai, or “Asian” restaurant. Even if it’s not someone’s food of choice, I think most people have at least tried it.

I think they were perhaps waiting for a starter and then an entrée, Italian style. I think they were shocked that this bowl of mixed glop was all there was for dinner! (And you should have seen their reaction the night I made tacos! I served meat sauce in a soft tortilla. I left the tortilla open on their plates so they could add tomatoes, lettuce, etc. as they pleased. They literally looked the tortillas and asked, “What do we do?” Once again, they ate very little.)

I think this affirms my long-held contention that food culture is one of the last bastions of national identity. You can put people in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt so they all look the same, but when it comes to food, cultural roots are long and deep.

This reminds me of a story an Estonian acquaintance once told me. She was working at a restaurant in Estonia during Soviet times and the restaurant was hosting a group of dignitaries from Africa. Everyone in Estonia loved bananas, which were hard to come by. That night they made several elaborate Estonian specialties garnished with bananas. The staff drooled in anticipation of the uneaten bananas that would be returned to the kitchen after the meal. But when the platters came back, all the bananas were gone and the rest of the food barely touched.

Cultural identity leaves a strong aftertaste!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Here we go!

Greetings from Kvicksund and Kvick Thoughts, a blog about life by an American in Sweden.

Tomorrow is a big adventure. My daughter and I are taking the train, SJ, to Stockholm. When you take SJ you never know if and when you will arrive at your destination. On Tuesday on my way home from Stockholm, the train was more than a half hour late. Those of you who know me will know how much I hate SJ, a company that can do no right.

Any business pet peeves you want to share?