Month: January 2017

A new millennium?

After playing with the idea for about twenty minutes to explain my response to the 2017 Presidential Inauguration using Sherlock memes, I gave it up. There’s maybe one meme, but it’s a bit dramatic and doesn’t face the issues head-on. I’ll save it for the end.

I was lucky enough to follow the inauguration on the big screen at work Friday. You know you come from a powerful country when the German colleagues at work are more concerned about hearing the inauguration speech than you are. I guess I take being American for granted a lot of the time. And can you blame other people wanting to have that kind of freedom? Also, I had to be grateful again that I have that kind of access to events in the US real time through today’s technology and globalized value of covering the news of other countries.

A few  things that impressed upon me watching the Inauguration with Germans was their response to the prayers and use of God in the ceremony and speeches. The separation of religion and state is, I guess, much stronger in Germany, perhaps because their democracy is much younger. Also, our song “America the Beautiful” as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was related to a Disney performance. That actualy hurt my feelings a bit, and I’m not that sensitive a person when it comes to patriotism. Still, I love that song and the awe of US landscapes, brotherhood, and beauty it inspires.

Standing there, though, staring at the screen usually reserved for conferences, I was reminded of “The Situation Room,” Pete Souza’s famous photo of the national security team awaiting updates about the death of Bin Laden.

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_Laden.jpg

Yesterday was a reenactment of the Situation Room all over the globe, I imagine. However, yesterday in the office where I work, there were a lot more women in the room.

I’m not comparing Trump in power to the death of a terrorist cell leader, but the image belies the tension  and concern I felt about what to expect based on Trump’s speech. I listened attentively for the most part, rolled my eyes at a few moments, and was surprised by a few others. It’s these moments that I want to respond to for a chance to think about what they mean. .

“[…]we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.”

Yes. Yes they have. And gracious is a great word to describe the Obamas throughout this whole presidency. That and decent. And intelligent. And thoughtful. These adjectives are all ones I find difficult to ascribe to President Trump, but he was gracious in that moment near the beginning of his speech, and so there is a spark of decency in him. But I wonder if that’s just a trait reserved for practiced speeches. It also did not last very long.

I think what bothered me immediately about the speech was its simplistic language and its caustic tone. I can deal with simplicity, but not in a speech that is meant to inspire, promise, and prophesize.

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

Some of the words struck the right note, and I won’t fail to acknowledge the poetic potential in the simile of US factories to tombstones, but “carnage”? And “beautiful students”? A lot of words come to mind when I think of students, but beautiful is not congruous with the promise Trump intends to make here. Also, there seems to be a lack of logical clarity. It’s not knowledge the students are missing; they are missing an effective teaching system based on getting students to think, not just know.

And I don’t know, but the whole “carnage” and “America first” is something I had a problem with. It verbally imagines the US as a country that has been bullied, abused, and had its lands and people laid to waste by other countries. If there’s carnage in the US, it comes from within. If there are bullying countries in the world, I think many would agree that the US tops the list.

I understand and support US business holders and workers being able to provide and take jobs, but I don’t see what a nation can (or should) do to make items that can be made abroad for less money economically feasible in the US. Why not move forward in finding solutions for the globalized economic streams, rather than reverting to an old isolationist mentality that certainly did not help in the late 1800s and definitely does not even seem possible now?

We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and most importantly, we will be protected by God.

Um, did he just ignore the past few years of violence by and against police? Where a large portion of US society spoke out about how they don’t feel protected?  And why does he assume that God cares about what happens to the US more than the people of other nations? That aside, let’s get to the ringing phrase of his Address.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and, through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

At first, I was struck by the line “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” It actually sounds like a great line. It sounds like something that could unite all US Americans. After all, yes, we do all pledge allegiance to the same ideas that the US flag represents.  However, what about prejudice against “non-Americans?” And those not seen as “US Americans”? What happens when a person of foreign heritage is in question? And  one can interpret the line to mean that patriotism means we don’t have the grounds to prejudice other people, other nations. But we do, and according to Trump, we will. “America first,” after all.

“From this day forward,” Trump said at one point, “it’s going to be only America first. America first.”

I understand the point he makes about the US staking its claim to put its interests first. What surprises me, though, is that this line implies that it hasn’t been this way for the past 8 years or for most of the US’s history. The US has always puts its interests first. All the notes about investing in other militaries and other economies, it was never to the detriment of the US. And I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t mean it like this, but “America first” sounds an awful lot like “only America.” Unfortunately, that’s a stance that’s hard to take for me.

We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again. We stand at the birth of a lewl [sic] millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space…” (Speech as transcribed on The Gaurdian 

What did he actually try to say? I thought the new millennium started in 2000? And if he meant little millennium, that surprises me. I would not think it’s part of his vocabulary. Everything must be “yuge.” In general, this rounds up a general announcement of a lot of promises, often repeated from his campaigning speeches, that are “all talk.” Now is the time for action, and I guess the executive orders are a start: the first steps to dismantle the ACA and make mortgages more difficult to attain.

In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.

This is actually one great line that I will give him, but only for the sake of the line. It was like a pearl thrown before swine. I also worry about what is striven towards. While I hold faith that democrats and republicans do strive towards the same things: security for ourselves, our families, our jobs, or livelihoods, our values, we will disagree on the practices.

In stark contrast to Trump’s Address stands Barack Obama’s Address in 2009. It’s not just the language used (thought the diction is clearly more sophisticated). It’s also how words from the bible are used, how no particular entity (congress, capitol hill, etc.) is antagonized, but weaknesses are acknowledged. It’s also, perhaps, a promise that all people can hold onto, not just US Americans (those who are recognized as such, since I know of many people who usually consider themselves American who were excluded from Trump’s private party), but especially US Americans, given the context.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.  On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.  We remain a young nation.  But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.  The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. – from Barack Obama’s 2009 Inaugural Address

Oh well. It’s time to face the future, though with a little more critical thinking than Trump showed. Here are a few images to move on with.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPf65CqBk24/?taken-by=petesouza&hl=en

Another Souza photo, his caption: “Another view of President Obama leaving the Oval Office for the last time this morning.” Have a good vacation, Mr. Obama! God knows, you deserve some real time off.

Meet the new boss, not quite the same as the old boss.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/gallery/donald-trump-inauguration/index.html

I’m going to miss the president signing with his left hand. Image as found on the CNN politics page Jan. 21st

It is a new millennium, but I am not sure if I want to be privy to seeing how it continues to play out.

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Via GIPHY

I’m sorry. I had to get these thoughts out there. I’ll try to write more about other things again, soon… but just know that those other things won’t be “America first.” Given the title of my blog, I assume that’s a given. Given the fact that you follow this blog, I assume you’re okay with that.

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Diligence 

Can one still wish others a happy new year? I think one can, especially as long as I’m still writing 2016 for the date. 

So, happy new year. I notice that one usually wishes other things besides happiness for the new year, such as health (a biggie), peace, and strength to meet one’s goals. That’s what I wish for myself and you all as well.

The joke, though, is that while we all wish each other a happy year, there’s a parallel movement to say that January is the worst month of the year. Its winter weather gets a lot of people down (unless you’re in Florida) and unprepared resolutions make life as one knew it a bit miserable (i.e. a new diet, fitness plan, quitting smoking). Add to the list the impending apprehension of a new political leader in the US, and this year seems especially düster –a particularly useful adjective to describe a somber sort of darkness. 

On the other hand, one cannot deny the thrill of a new start. Sitting in a plane, miles above the Atlantic Ocean, I couldn’t deny that the new year marks a possible renewal. The date may be arbitrary (and I’m a fan of making changes at any point they seem necessary, not just the new year), but the period just after holidays filled with celebration, interaction, and lack of routine can bring one to reflect on things one normally does not notice. 

Under such conditions and awarded space and time to reflect on my way back to Berlin after a short stay home in Florida, I thought about what I had done in 2016 and was waiting for in 2017. 

Running was easy to reflect on, since that which was in my control I did pretty well, and I learned a lot. There is perhaps the least room for improvement in this area, but that actually means I need to work on not allowing it to be a priority. That is, I need to be more diligent about being flexible and recognizing that if I don’t do well in my running, it is not as bad as not doing well in other aspects of my life. I tend to procrastinate with the gym, and put more energy into running or weights because the stakes are lower. These are not the years for that. 

Academics for me in 2016 were hills and valleys of accomplishments and disappointments, and I am still waiting to hear about a few applications I submitted in the last year. More than I hope for anything else, I hope for a change in my financial situation that will allow me to focus my energy on PhD work. Furthermore, I have a lot of good habits and ideas for producing good work, but I need to be more diligent about enacting those habits. This includes making the effort again to write something at least everyday, and to do more reading that can be considered in light of my PhD project. This means, unfortunately, that I will likely do less blog reading. I have to; I appologize in advance. 

Health and character wise, diligence is the theme again. I have a lot of knowedge and good habits in regards to nutrition and taking care of my body, but I need to work on enforcing these habits. I have made a few changes in my attitude towards stress eating, which is the biggest road-block to my physical and mental health. I am also working on being a more generous person, and offering my time and resources a little more freely (within reason) without first having the anxious thoughts about how this will ruin my routine and plans. I need to be more flexible. At the same time, this work includes continuing to learn when and how to say “no.”

Finally, I want to be more diligent about taking advantage of the fact I am in Berlin. I can pursue academics in any ivory tower, but I came to Berlin convinced that I would be more inspired by the city’s history, social and literary life. I will make sure to visit at least two events every month. I think that’s a reasonable goal. I am visiting one today: a touring of world famous acrobats. It may not be intellectual, but visiting the MercedesBenz stadium is something I can only do in Berlin, so… 

This will also be the year that I finally make it to England. Date is tentatively set for sometime in the Spring. 

In writing these notes, I don’t share my (potentially boring) goals for the new year with you as much as I suggest that it is the recommitment to old goals that we celebrate in the new year. Time is marked by changes, and I think it’s neat how even small changes can lead to a shift that makes Dec. 2017 different than Dec. 2016. This effect can be dangerous, of course, but also motivating. 

Let me remind you that good things happened in 2016 as well by linking to this surprisingly useful Tumblr post. It wasn’t all bad, and we can still do the work to make 2017 better. 

When I see a lamppost in snow, I think of C.S. Lewis. When I think of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I wonder if Narnia as allegorical space can tell us something about a world doomed to perpetual winter. What needs to change? Can we change it?