“Solving” the Poverty and “Secret Millionare”

I’m sitting around enjoying my Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed some quality (ahem) reality show America’s Next Top Model: Cycle 2.0 (with boyz!!), but I was all caught up, so there was only one episode. And I had a sleeping roommate on me, so I was too limited in my movement* to read articles, so I began exploring Hulu in search of other great shows (previous contenders have included House Hunters, but also Holidate, whose contract with Hulu has sadly expired). I had heard of Shark Tank and was sort of curious about it, since I’m getting to be a bit more interested in start ups, start up culture and the mechanics behind investment in them. Perhaps this show is a good way to explore that, even though it’s still reality. It was interesting, and I discovered that I MUST FIND THESE SWEET BALLZ, but there was also only one episode. Hulu recommended to me a show I had not heard of, ABC’s Secret Millionaire. So I watched the first episode.

I’m so conflicted. Continue reading

Magical, Mystical Graz

Apparently, I’ve only been posting photos of food, so everyone thinks all I’m doing is eating. Which isn’t terribly far from the truth…

The whole Viennese gang drove to a Buschenschank in Styria, where they can only sell things that they make on site. Nikki’s mom, step dad and brother met up with us, and we had a feast of amazing food (highlights included meat, cheese, radish, bread, pâté, salad, massive black beans, and a dessert of fried dough with cinnamon & sugar and whipped cream with raspberry sauce).

Then we went and hung out at Nikki’s parents’ place and just chatted and chilled out. We then went and dropped our stuff off at the place Cayley found us to crash for the night. We took a little tour around Graz and I absolutely fell in love with the funky window shops, cobble stone streets and futuristic design of the city. I really rarely feel so madly in love with a new place. It’s very artsy and lively, with a large student population. Pretty awesome.

This morning we returned to Nikki’s parents’ place and had a really awesome breakfast (again, meat, cheese, bread and fruits), and Cayley & I did some silly yoga photography in the garden. And now we’re on our way back to Vienna, then bussing back to Budapest. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the awesome people I get to hang out with, and looking forward to hanging out in Budapest!

Helsinki Holiday

I made it to Helsinki and was greeted at the airport by my friend, Nicole, who I know through improv classes in NYC. We chatted (me, grilling poor Nicole about Finland’s history, culture and politics), walked around central Helsinki, and ate some delicious pizza. I got to call my dad and wish him a happy birthday and sing the Swedish birthday song (yay!) to him, and then I sleeeept. And now I am going for a run to explore the islands here in Helsinki of Kulosaari and Mustikkamaa (yeah…I have pretty little idea how to pronounce those). Then I’ll be heading into the city to meet Nicole after work and go to the labor day festivities–tomorrow is Vappu, which is the Finnish/Swedish holiday to celebrate laborers. Apparently this is what we’re seeing:

So that should be fun. And then tomorrow, we picnic and celebrate. So I will be pretty immersed I think in Finnish culture/celebration, which will probably be overwhelming and fascinating.

I am struck, being here and thinking about past travels, by how many things are similar everywhere else except the US. There’s obvious things, like using different measurement systems (kilometers/kilograms instead of miles and pounds), but also less obvious things, like yogurt/milk combinations that I found also ubiquitous in Mexico (though I didn’t see that in DR; I didn’t even see much of dairy products particularly). Additionally, even credit cards here have PINs, which was the thorn in the side of a help desk lady yesterday at the counter of the bus I took to the airport in Stockholm. “Why doesn’t the US have PINs,” she exasperatedly asked. Uh, I don’t know, lady. Let me just go ask my banker friends who make those decisions….oh, not friends with them? Whoops. Forgot. Anyway, I’m off for run #2 in country #2, which should be about 5km (3.1 miles for all you Americans).

Track Running Happiness

I haven’t written too much about this, I think only one post last year, but I love me some track running. I haven’t been running a lot over the past year, but I’m getting back into it, and it is so refreshing. So. refreshing.

Yesterday, someone bombed the Boston Marathon, and it kind of hit me, but also I feel sort of numb. I just want to double down my insistence that security and safety are somewhat of an illusion. I am feeling fairly over feeling upset about something like this, because I just feel so helpless. And I just want to be happy. I’m exhausted. And I don’t feel bad really, just like this shit is apparently going to keep happening. I don’t really understand why. But I refuse to be terrorized. I feel awful for the people involved, especially those who were also involved in Newtown. But for real, marathon runners are the wrong people to try to terrorize. Runners are people who know that you have to just keep going. And there isn’t really a goal. I mean, there’s an end. But the goal is to keep going. Running taught me to keep going. It taught me that the next mile could be better, and that you get through the one that’s tough. I think that was all exacerbated because I had always seen myself as someone who really couldn’t do those things. I thought I was weak, and probably lazy. And then I trained for and ran a half marathon. So whenever I have those thoughts, I remember that even if in a given moment, I’m particularly lazy, that that isn’t some sort of essential part of who I am. Because I have the ability to not be that way. I can finish a half marathon.

So when I heard what happened in Boston, I immediately thought about my experience running in Nashville, and how incredible that was. What an amazing rush it is, and how spiritual and connected to humanity and nature and the world if feels to run in a race like that. And I think (hopefully?) what made me feel undefeated in this particular instance is that I know that that’s what everyone involved in the Boston marathon feels. That some bullshit like this is seen for what it is–an attempt to terrorize. And hell if runners are gonna let you terrorize them. That will only add fuel to their fire to keep going, to be happy, to push through the pain. From the response I’ve seen, I’m not alone in feeling this way. When Newtown happened, I felt like my spirit was momentarily broken. But this? This made me just want to laugh in the face of anyone who could even think for a moment that they could terrorize runners. Hah!


I went to see Emily Bazelon speak yesterday with Dave Cullen (who wrote Columbine) at the New America Foundation about her new book, Sticks and Stoneswhich I have been listening to on Audible (<3!).

I never really thought I’d be particularly interested in bullying, but I really really appreciate Emily’s nuanced take on the issue, as Dave pointed out last night. She focuses primarily on the case of Phoebe Prince, a girl who committed suicide after suffering from depression for years and dealing with some harassment from classmates, who were then charged with crimes basically claiming that they had led to her suicide. Emily focuses mostly on the importance of teaching kids empathy, and how bullying primarily comes out of kids just not being empathetic to the particular kid they’re bullying. Which is really interesting, and while I’ve not been terribly interested in understanding bullying, I’ve always been fascinated by empathy, especially because I have been obnoxiously highly empathetic (one of the most extreme stories about this is coming home crying to my mom in first grade that another kid was being picked on by the teacher). I’ve sometimes wondered if I’m too empathetic, if it’s a way to escape what I personally am feeling. Regardless, I guess it’s made me not a bully. And interested in class and oppression, which are things I’m so so very happy to be interested in. My emotional investment in social justice is certainly rooted in my empathy. And though it can be exhausting and overwhelming at times, I wouldn’t give that up.

I’d definitely recommend the book–Emily is a great writer (you can also find her on MY FAVORITE THING EVER, the Slate Political Gabfest), and as I say, really treats the subject incredibly eloquently. I really can’t express enough love for the Gabfest–they are so so so awesome. And I definitely make it a point to see, hear or read Emily, David Plotz, or John Dickerson whenever I can.

Also, got my hair cut tonight. Yay!

Photo Apr 04, 8 32 51 PM

On Security, Safety and Trust

As promised, I am taking a moment to discuss the issue of safety, security, trust and race/socio-economic class. I think this is sort of an intersection of sorts for a lot of things, and thus, it is very complex and I won’t really be able to address a lot. But the confluence of visiting a foreign “developing” country by myself as a women who is white and able-bodied and the Newtown/Sandy Hook shooting, with follow-up writings about white masculinity, definitely got me thinking. I was upset that I didn’t get to plan this trip as being by myself, but once it was, I knew that as long as I trusted my gut and listened, asked questions, etc, I’d be as safe as I normally am. Which is, to say, none of us is ever truly “safe.” Safety is an illusion. What does that mean? What does it mean to be safe? It means you have control over your circumstances. At its core, it means people do not violate you, physically, mentally, financially, emotionally, right? The reality is, we are more vulnerable than we’d like to be. But our awareness of this is particularly heightened when we are in an unusual circumstance, because we look for patterns, and if everything looks “normal,” we don’t worry. Even though something could happen in my everyday life. Someone I trust could violate that trust, and any of those levels. But in a place where we’re not familiar, we don’t have those patterns to fall back on. I was a bit surprised by some of my family/friends’ reactions to my going to DR by myself–they were more worried than I necessarily expected. And I can’t say for certain that it’s because Dominican Republic is a developing country, with a different culture, etc, but I’m sure that plays into it, because we all are more comfortable with what we’re familiar with. The thing is, I am familiar with Dominican culture (some of my best friends are Dominican….jk, but really). I lived in a neighborhood in NYC that was primarily Dominican and I guarantee you far more dangerous than any place I was in DR based on my statistical chance of getting caught in the middle of some kind of drug-related violence, because the area is a massive area for drug trafficking. And yet, while I’m sure some people were somewhat concerned when I lived in that area, they didn’t necessarily know that. Where I live now, I could get hit by a car. Or fall down the stairs, or on the subway tracks. There is no end to the random things that could happen.

A lot of my thought on this subject actually I think comes from my learning about statistics and reading things like The Black Swan–recognizing that our brains and emotions were optimized to look for danger in ways that are hardly useful today, because the most dangerous things are things we can’t possibly even be aware of, and therefore things we can’t possibly prevent, no matter what we do. I made a decision while in college that I just wouldn’t live in fear. That it wasn’t worth it. I try to implement that in my daily life, not being anxious, etc, which is in some ways much more difficult, but I think it’s important to take calculated risks, realizing that everything we do has some risk associated with it, and that, as I say, much of that risk is something that we don’t even know about. When Eve Carson was murdered in March, 2008, I realized that you can ask why, but sometimes that doesn’t help, and often there isn’t really an answer. Life if not fair, and horrific things happen all the time. My being paranoid about them, and in a sense, trying to take responsibility for preventing them, will not, in fact, prevent them from happening. And so while I was moving to NYC, I became much more aware of this idea, and recognized how much I didn’t want fear to inform my decisions. For a long time I’ve qualified that by saying, “that doesn’t mean I’m going to be stupid,” but I’ve realized over the years through thinking about, reading about, etc, rape culture and victim-shaming that is often involved in that that I think maintaining that way of thinking is, in a sense, accepting and okaying that. And that for me, doing what the fuck I want is a way to be subversive, both personally and in my culture and society, and that I want to do that, that that is a part of my intent. I will pay attention to my gut in the moment. But I will trust that I can handle any situation I’m in, and that I will create the world I want to live in because I want a world where we can trust each other. I absolutely refuse to fit into the world’s idea of what a woman is. And if someone chooses to violate me? Well, they have chosen to violate me. And no matter what I’m doing, if someone else violates me, whatever that looks like, then I am not at fault. I’m done with shouldn’t this or shouldn’t that because it would put me at risk of being violated in some way. Their choice to commit that violation is their own, I refuse to own it, or take any sort of responsibility for it.

I am not saying that I will do things I have some sort of belief are “dangerous”–precisely not that. I am working to get rid of my sense of danger as anything other than an in-the-moment part of my decision-making process. Because if I feel uncomfortable, then something is affecting me and it makes sense to consider another choice. But when considering the future, or what kind of “risk” I’m putting myself in when I do something that I want to do, I will intend to remove the risk framework about that situation in my decision-making thought process because it is false. It is created, and not real, because in the end, we could be dragged out of our apartment randomly and murdered. There is no safety. And that can be freeing.

Learn from every single being, experience and moment. What joy it is to search for lessons and goodness and enthusiasm in others.
–Eve Carson

The Momtastic DNC Convention 2012 and Religion

I, as many others did, loved Michelle Obama’s speech. It was, as others have mentioned, amazing and brilliant. But I noticed something else–she is all about being mom-in-chief. Now, there’s nothing wrong with motherhood. I, myself, hope to someday be a mother. But I’m not, and more importantly, even when I am a mother, it will not be all I am, and it is certainly not all Michelle O. is.  Slate had a wonderful post, written by Katherine Lanpher about how single, childless women are, quite frankly, forgotten. I don’t fault Michelle for this; rather, I consider it a problem of our society that we can’t talk about people who are not parents, and especially women who are not mothers. What bothers me about this is that it, like calling reproductive health issues “women’s issues,” limits women to our uteruses, to our reproductive capacity. It limits us to being simply a vessel for brining new life into the world. Which, while it is miraculous when women are heroic enough to bring babies into the world, is not fully representative of all the amazing things we can bring into the world, nor all the amazing things we can do in the world. Michelle has worked as a lawyer, successful in her own rite, and she made more money than her husband; she is part of a new breed of women, one where women are more educated and more successful than their male counterparts (which I am so psyched to read more about in Hanna Rosin’s forthcoming book, The End of Men, and was initially discussed in her Atlantic article in the summer of 2010). Yet, when she mentioned in her speech that for dates with her husband, she could see only a dinner OR a movie, because she was an “exhausted mom,” she left out a word–working. Because part of the reason she was tired was because she was working, not just because she was a mom. It is frustrating to know that she really can’t mention that, because the demographic she’s going for isn’t that, but people who still see an ideal world as one where women and men have their clear and very different places, and women’s “place” is in the home. I find it restrictive, and not very representative of what I see around me. But what do I know, I’m just a progressive, urban heathen.

The other issue is religion. Originally, the democratic platform didn’t have anything mentioned about God. But after criticism and accusations that the Democrats were taking God out of the government (what? We’re not a Christian nation???!), they had to put it back in. I am still frustrated as ever regarding religion and its place in society. I do see that it seems to have helped (and continue to help) a whole lot of people through and out of difficult times. I think that’s a good thing. But we do not live in a theocracy, and the rallying cries about how the Democrats are ruining the world with their birth control that somehow (seriously?) thwarts and limits religious freedom is just ludicrous. Your religious freedom does not cover you pushing your religion on others. Because that infringes on their religious freedom. Get it? No? Well, I guess we’ll just have to keep fighting for our freedom from religion.

I’m pretty tired, so my apologies if my thoughts aren’t entirely coherent. That’s all for now. More later. Or sooner!

Social Running

I took a little break from running after completing a half-marathon in Nashville a few weeks ago. And then I had oral surgery (dental implant), and during a recovery period, couldn’t run. So I ended up going a little over 2 weeks between running 13.1 miles and my next run, of 4 miles. It’s been beautiful–high time for running. Warm but not too warm. Sunny.

I realized something when in Nashville for the half about my running. First, I should note that I rarely have motivations that are not in some way social. Not necessarily directly and in a micro kind of a way, but more about being in a community, being part of something that is social. And I had thought of running as a way to maintain some of my friendships and relationships, a connection of that sort. But I hadn’t realized how much my running habits had, somewhat by nature of the city and community I live in, been social. I trained all on my own. I didn’t have anyone to go on runs with, and the only runs I went on while training were when I was visiting someone.

But I run at a track. And I realized I had been studying the people at this track, and the culture there. The middle of the track has a soccer field, and there is a Polish population north of the park where the track is, and a Mexican population nearby, as well as I believe Dominican/Puerto Rican (really, you can’t go far in New York without there being a Dominican or Puerto Rican population…).

So the Poles and Mexicans often are out in what seem to be pretty organized soccer games, and then there are the runners. The soccer players are regularly accompanied by their wives/girlfriends/children. So there are lots of kids playing around, acting as though the track is no different than any other piece of land. And the soccer balls come flying onto the track with some regularity. It is kind of beautiful, though I have been hit (really hard) by a wild soccer ball, which was somewhat annoying. But I realize that I actually sort of relish the mix of populations. Awesome. It’s what I love about New York. So my running is social. Just in a cultural exploration kind of a way.

Understanding the Other Side

I religiously listen to Planet Money, an NPR podcast that is amazing, and I highly recommend. The podcast has great music, is short and sweet and the folks who host it are great–funny, entertaining and best of all, it is a really accessible view of economics.  The folks that host the show also write other things occasionally, and I’m usually quite satisfied with the outcome.  Adam Davidson, one of the main Planet Money folks, wrote the cover story for the NY Times Magazine this past weekend, and it is seriously worth a read, though it’s a bit long.  The story is really a profile of a past co-worker of Mitt Romney’s, Edward Conrad.  He worked with Romney at Bain Capitol, and has recently released a book, Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong, explaining his theory that income inequality is actually a good thing for all of society.   There are a lot of reasons why this upsets me.  Conrad’s theory is well thought-out, and as far as I can tell, logically sound.  Davidson agrees.  The problem is that Conrad describes a world that I do not want to live in.

This constant calculation — even of the incalculable — can be both fascinating and absurd. The world Conard describes too often feels grim and soulless, one in which art and romance and the nonremunerative satisfactions of a simpler life are invisible. And that, I realized, really is Conard’s world. “God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said. “It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”

This seems like a stale, sad, sad world.  I want no part of it.  Conrad basically argues that we need really intense, strong incentives for people to work hard and take risks, and that therefore, we need inequality so that the top is worth striving for, and the bottom worth striving not to be in.  And this is problematic for me because the world he is talking about is pretty entirely work-focused and really all about money.  But we made money up!  It is a metaphor and conduit for resources and power.  The world I would like to live in is more equal because I don’t like the idea of living in a world whose sole purpose is about amassing wealth.  That seems crazy to me, and icky.  I don’t have a great logical argument other than ick.  But that’s it.  Davidson does argue that part of the problem with inequality is that those with money (ie, power and resources) will use that money to influence society to help them maintain their status, money etc, and inevitably the system will reward those who initially obtain money, not those who actually work hard and take risks. Much better argument than mine.  But ICK!  Really, who wants to live in a world that is all about money??!!  No, thank you.

My dad’s girlfriend also posted a great post from a friend of hers who is an anthropologist. The post aims to explain how Evangelical Christians hold the political beliefs they do, while secular liberals are so flummoxed by  Evangelicals seemingly voting “against their own self-interest.”  I definitely agree with her main thesis, that Evangelicals see the world how they wish people would be, and that they see government programs “[step] in when people fall short.”    In my arguments with my Facebook friend, Peter, I have definitely seen this.  His arguments are based upon (it seems to me) legislating as if all Americans are the most ideal Christians, and that any law falling short of that is condoning a relatively evil way of living and being.  His arguments, as much as he tries to avoid it, are based upon his very Christian (Catholic, even) ideal world, and one where values held by Catholics are not just held but also attempted to be attained by all citizens in the US.  I know he is a caring and generous person one-on-one, and that his intention is not to hurt people, but I also believe the policies he supports do just that.

Anyway, a few articles worth their salt and time, courtesy of the New York Times.  What can I say–I’m a liberal New Yorker!!