Category Archives: Politics

The inauguration according to e

The kids and I attended the local celebration and it was great. There were three speeches by local school children, a dance performed by children in the local Hmong community and a step dance performed by members of the local Black Youth United group. Plus seeing the inauguration live in such a crowd was overwhelming; an entire auditorium full of people cheering, shouting, expressing great joy at this new beginning.

As a brief aside, about a tenth as big as my happiness was a wave of relief whenever I would see Bush’s face. It. Is. Finally. Over.

My favorite part of Obama’s speech was when he said, “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West -know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.” What a statement, one we might all take to heart: focus on constructing a better world, focus on creating, stop with the destructive hatred. I do not oppose criticizing the West, I have a couple of choice comments myself, that’s what freedom of speech is all about. But expressing your criticism through violence is wrong.

Another wonderful part: “The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.” Altruism is not entirely selfless, charity is not a one-way gift; when we help out those around us, we make our community stronger, and that is good for the giver as well.

I feel quite drained (in a satisfied way) and not able to be very articulate, but I couldn’t wait to add my tired voice to the hopeful throng that spent today in celebration, and now seems poised and ready to take on the future.

I set myself the task of deciding what my part in this great beginning is, how I intend to contribute in concrete ways in whatever areas are within my reach. I will post on this when I have my thoughts together.

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Slacker gone hopeful

It really feels odd.  I’m not one to drone endlessly on the same topic, but as the days go by I can’t help but continue to meditate and marvel on the transformation… and figure out how to keep it going.

Growing up I was told I was part of the slacker generation.  We didn’t care about anything.  Apathetic little brats.  At the time I knew that this was a load of crap, but didn’t have the perspective to pinpoint exactly why.

Over the years I have been able to see how it was trained into us: living with the constant fear of nuclear war.  Learning about politics in the wake of Nixon’s criminal activity.  Learning about world affairs so soon after the raw-wound fiasco of Vietnam.  Growing socially aware in the self-absorbed 70’s and materialistic 80’s.  Traditional gender roles being overcome by brave men and women but with nothing healthy put in their place, our only choice to be “supermom-careerwoman-totally independent- I’ll do it all myself-sexy but it shouldn’t matter if I am or not” for the girls and “Fine I’ll let you do it all yourself-see I’m not controlling you but neither am I helping- this is awesome that you have to bring home the bacon AND serve it to me” for the guys.  Hearing about how the earth is being polluted, over-populated, raped and pillaged while everyone just continues about their business refusing to alter their ways to remedy it.  And finally, not because this is all there is but because I can’t think of the rest of it right now, film and literature evolving beyond postmodern nihilistic existentialism, which had already taken “What the hell is the point?” to the most extreme.

But my generation isn’t motivated.  We’re a bunch of lay-abouts.

And which part of this ridiculous mess were we supposed to be inspired to participate in, exactly?

I felt my first wave of political hope when Clinton was voted in, but that faded quickly as he came up against multiple forces that held his administration back from what they had intended to achieve.  Instead of resounding affirmation of gay rights the country got the military policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Etc.

Then eight years of W.  I have never felt like such a slacker as I did in 2004 when he was re-elected.  Honestly, why am I going to get out of bed?  Having kids made it easier to remember why I wanted to live, but also made it more depressing to realize that we were going to have the awful leadership continue and cause more damage to our nation and our nation’s reputation.

I was steeling myself for a McCain win.  To me this would confirm what I’d known all along: the fat cats control everything.  The corporations own not only almost all of the capital, they own our government, they own us.  And worst of all, that people didn’t care a whit about informing themselves and refused to reprimand ignorance.  If regular people had bought the whole “Obama is going to make us SHARE!!!” whining, thus falsely identifying themselves with the super-rich and reaffirming the trickle down theory rubbish that we are content to live off the scraps of the well-off, then I would have figured that all was lost.  I think my cynicism would have reached new depths, and I don’t know how I would have dealt with it.

I wish there were a way to share this feeling with those who are apparently as devastated by this election as I was in 2000 and 2004.  Does it make them feel any better to know that they had their two turns in a row, and, just like on the playground, it’s nice to give someone else a chance on the swing, especially when the last swinger was throwing rocks and creating general chaos?  Doesn’t it make them feel better to see so much of the American population so happy and hopeful, not because we are scared and want to hide behind our leader who will shake a stick at the big scary things in the world, but because we feel inspired to roll up our sleeves and finally get to work under the leadership of someone who isn’t going to be conspiring against our best interests behind our backs with his pals in big oil, Haliburton, etc.?  Does it make them feel any better to realize that this president was actually elected not only by the electoral college but also by a majority of Americans of all flavors who turned out in huge numbers, and this president-elect didn’t even need his governor-brother to help him win a key state?

I keep coming back to Obama’s slogan, “Yes, we can.”  The “we” includes everyone, I believe, no matter who or of what opinion.  It is open-ended.  It doesn’t prescribe a goal or an outcome, or even the method to achieve it, it simply speaks to the needs and desires that we all have, affirming them and encouraging individuals to come together and embark on whatever projects call to their hearts.

Can’t everyone see how long we, as a nation, have had to live without this positive spirit?  Since before I was born, as far as I can tell.  Doesn’t everyone wonder how far we can take it, how many wrongs we might right, how many dreams we might fulfill, how many new ideas we might produce?

The slackers. along with the rest of the population, might emerge from our depressed lethargy and embrace our lives in this world as never before.  

I’m ready.  Let’s do it.  What have we got to lose?

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Welcome…

To the first day of the rest of our lives.

I want so badly to believe in President-elect Obama that it is a bit frightening.  My M.O. is to be cooly cynical, looking always for ulterior motive and reading greed and self-interest into everything that just about everyone says.

But try as I might, I could hear nothing but sincerity and hope in his acceptance speech last night.  I felt like a naive little schoolgirl, enamored by the handsome young principal promising a new school year filled with exciting projects, new library books and better cafeteria food.

It brought me back to my naive excitement the night Bill Clinton was first elected.  I had such high expectations for what he would be able to accomplish.  This time my enthusiasm is definitely tempered by experience, by my instinctual tendency to guard a heart broken too many times.

But I want so badly to believe.  The way he embraced not only his fans, but those who hadn’t voted for him, foreign dignitaries in their palaces and third-world viewers crowded around the tv.  He stood up and spoke for unity in the most powerful way I’ve ever seen.  I may have heard more poetic and profound words spoken by others in the past, but never such amazing words spoken to a global audience, never words addressed to each and every individual in that audience.

I have to say I gained an enormous amount of respect for McCain last night as well.  His speech was truly impressive for the way he too called for us all to come together and support Obama and each other as we move into this new phase of history.

Perhaps soon all my hopes and excitement will be crushed, maybe Obama will end up a conniving, lying politician like all the others, maybe my disillusionment hovers around the next corner, waiting in ambush to reopen old wounds.  But for today, and hopefully for a while to come, and maybe for the next four years, I can feel the amazing energy of this new direction and I want to continue to be inspired to participate in the vital work of reconstructing a society that has strayed so far from justice, stability and the security of a healthy interdependent community.

“Yes, we can!”

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Folly in Polly-ticking

The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.
  – Paul Valery

I thought this quote was appropriate for the present climate of election frenzy which threatens to choke the life out of any hope of rationality.  I think my brain is getting a bit mushy from trying to keep up with the verbal gymnastics that is policy debate, which inevitably just dumps me on my head right where I started.

I need to go dig my hands into the dirt, touch something real.

I need to go sit out beneath the moon and just watch her be round.

I need to sit atop a cliff and feel the Pacific ocean pound the hell out of the rocks below.

I want silence, just honest, straightforward nothing, so we can all look around us and remember what the point was.

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m just coming off closing statements by Presidential candidates.  It’s enough to drive anyone to drivel.  Or dribble.  Not the basketball kind, the lobotomy kind.

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Pitfalls of Democracy

According to American propaganda, democracy is the cure for the world’s ills.

While I would also rank democracy as among the most valuable developments of humanity, it seems we might want to work out some of the kinks before we thrust it upon everyone else.

With alarming frequency we hear of violence in countries where elections have just been held. The current protest in Kenya centers around the fairness of the elections. A perfectly reasonable concern. Brings to mind our own elections, the 2000 Presidential election in particular being an instance in which the validity of the announced results does not hold the confidence of the constituency. If we, in our “advanced” state of civilization, continue to suffer from hanging-chad-itis, how do we expect countries with a bit less technology to fare?

And speaking of trusting the government, Americans with their Watergate-inspired wariness do not realize the profound level of mistrust that a citizenry can suffer after being tortured, disappeared and/or killed for participation in the political process.

Assuming a fair election, there is another sticky point that we fail to advertise to prospective users of democracy: somebody has to lose… and live with it. There is no problem convincing people who have been silenced and oppressed for decades that a better system would be one in which they have a voice and a choice, namely, democracy. However, there is also the distinct possibility that one’s favorite candidate, law, measure or proposal will be voted down, and you are just going to have to deal with it until the next election.

For us Americans, we are sophisticated enough, we take it in stride. Four more years of W? No problem. What else is on tv?

But imagine how it is for people for whom democracy is still a new and fresh idea: being able to have a say and make decisions that will impact their world. But, oh, too bad, you lose. Maybe next time?

After coming so close to realizing a heartfelt dream, whether it is for freedom of press, economic justice, or perhaps trustworthy, responsible leadership, now they must sit quietly with an unfulfilled hope of change. And without hundreds of satellite channels to distract them.

It may be that all these election-related issues are a better kettle of fish than whatever the citizens were faced with before their imperfect democracy. In any event, I hope we figure out a way to make the brilliant plan of democracy actually functional in the real world.

Meanwhile, do let’s stop ramming it down people’s throats.

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Honoring a great man

In June of this year Sembène Ousmane, my favorite director, who is also one of my favorite writers, passed away. He made it to age 84, so it is not too much of a surprise at that point, but I am very sad nevertheless, in a selfish way, because he was so brilliant that I was hoping he would put out more films before the world was deprived of his genius. He was making films up to the end, his last being “Moolaadé” in 2004.


I am so convinced of his importance to the world that I showed as many of his movies as I could get away with when I taught French at the UO. He wasn’t part of the official program, but since his characters often spoke French (although he also used Woolof, a language indigenous to his native Senegal) I decided to take any lull in the given curriculum to expose my students to his important works. Plus, since part of the curriculum was “French culture and history,” I felt it was essential to expose some of the effects of French colonialism in Africa.



He is generally referred to as the father of African cinema. This is vital, when you think of how much culture is transmitted through film. In fact, this is why he originally decided to focus on directing, after he had taught himself to be a novelist and had written many popular and important books — because so many Africans were illiterate, or at least could not read French, that he realized how many more people could access his ideas on the big screen. 



And his ideas are powerful. You could watch his movies purely for entertainment value, since the characters are so intriguing, his storylines so engaging, and the visual details so simple but profoundly important. But if you start to look deeper, you will find serious political critique of colonial and postcolonial power and situations that apply to much of Africa and its relations with the colonial authorities as well as progressive commentary on social conditions and cultural developments. He does it without preaching or finger-pointing, just a laying out of the situation through the medium of story, scene, symbol and character.



If I could recommend only one film (and once you see it, you will want more) I recommend “La Noire de…” (known as “Black Girl” in English), his first feature-length film which also won him awards and recognition. It is a simple and entertaining story but one which I am still reflecting on to realize all the nuances of meaning he might have included. (I have asked a lot of people what they think the mask represents, and they all answer something that is distinct from but equally insightful to all the other answers I have received or thought of myself. It is magic!) 



I think my second favorite is “Camp de Thiaroye,” which I have seen in several classes but cannot find a copy of anywhere, but hopefully someone will put it out on DVD and distribute it soon. It is based on history as well as his personal experience as a “Tirailleur Senegalais,” being the story of a group of soldiers from Senegal who fight in WW2 for France, who then proceeds to screw them over. Extremely powerful and important movie.



I could go on but I think I’ve made my point; he was a brilliant artist and a major contributor to African literature and cinema. Anyone who hopes to have any clue to African postcolonialism needs to study his work. Any small part I can play in spreading the word of his amazing legacy would make me feel like I had helped honor him for his revolutionary contribution to the world.

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