Not My Answer

Our new executive office has proposed budget cuts that will limit or remove various social and educational programs. Don’t worry, though, it’s just the unimportant stuff like feeding people, providing safe learning environments, and supporting scientific research. I could write a long post about why that is a step backward and an inappropriate distribution of our funds, but other people have done that more thoughtfully, in a more carefully researched manner, than I can do right now. I’m going to just talk about one little part of this conversation.

When asked by the press how the administration came to these decisions, the White House budget director said each change was rooted in the answer to the question, “Can we ask the taxpayer to pay for this?”

The question is reasonable. I can respect a reflection on whether government spending answers the needs of the populous. The problem is the answer. This office decided no. No to food assistance programs. No to public television. No to arts education. No to scientific research programs. No to public transportation support. No to early-childhood education.

I wish they would have asked this taxpayer whether I would pay for these programs, because my answer is a resounding yes. Yes, I am happy to pay to feed people who are hungry. Yes, I’d be glad to fund an after-school arts program for kids. Yes, I want to my money to support the education of low-income and special needs toddlers. Yes, I am very ok with paying to heat homes for people who would otherwise be cold.

I don’t need a stranger to speak for me, to claim to know what I think is best—distorting my thoughts to match their agenda. I have a perfectly functional voice, and I plan to use it.

Found Girls

In 1979, China instituted a one-child policy, meaning that every family was allowed to have just one kid. Because of deeply-rooted stereotypes and traditions, a lot of families wanted a boy instead of a girl. This was terrible for a bunch of reasons, like gender-based abortions and infanticide, and it also created a crazy gender imbalance in society.

Social scientists have long asserted that tens of millions of girls had gone “missing”—as in, disappeared from the population—between 1980 and 2010. They compared the expected number of girls and women against those currently registered. And, it’s true, millions of girls that would naturally have existed do not.

However, some other scientists from Cambridge started studying this phenomenon, and they discovered that huge numbers of these “missing girls,” especially those in rural regions, actually just went unreported. They suspect that between 1990 and 2010 around 11 million girls were hidden from the government. Now, I’m not particularly well-versed in Chinese politics, but I’m pretty sure these Cambridge scientists didn’t really discover this situation. I’d guess there were communities around the country who supported families hiding these girls. I can’t image that 11 million girls were hiding in plain sight without anyone knowing about it. But let’s set that false notion of discovery aside for a moment.

The best part of this story is that there are millions of girls who have hidden under the government’s radar but are now out and about, doing things. Probably awesome things. Maybe also just regular things like reading books or riding bicycles, but those are great too.

Now imagine that these girls, these young women, have taken note of the system that claimed they were lesser than their brothers. With a quiet rebellion in their blood, they might become leaders and teachers and mothers and scientists, set to prove the world wrong. Maybe they’ll start a tiny movement of “found girls” just to spread the truth—the truth that they are worth just as much as anyone else.

Really, though, they could do none of that and still be amazing. For these girls, just living is an act of defiance and revolt. The rest of us have some catching up to do.

 

 

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Someone out there is trying to tell us the press is our enemy. He’s been spreading lies about how they’re our greatest threat and how we must defend ourselves against these horrendous, conniving nerds with notepads and laptops. This person has clearly lived a life of privilege, because there are a whole bunch of things I’m way more afraid of than the New York Times.

Here’s a short list:

  1. long lines
  2. peeling potatoes
  3. tight pants and buffets
  4. commercials where babies talk
  5. trying to close a pocket knife
  6. earwigs
  7. leaning on a railing
  8. over-plucking my eyebrows
  9. making uncomfortable small talk
  10. invisible mold

I could keep going, but I’ve worked myself into a frenzy of fear just thinking about this list. I’m going to go read a trustworthy news site to calm myself. I suggest you do the same.

Walk > Talk

I know most of us don’t want to listen to our current president’s statements. I don’t click on the videos that pop up on my feed because his voice makes me cringe. I’m not accustomed to finding any space in my life for people that serve only to make it worse. Plus, when I hear one of his interviews, a tiny tornado starts to whirl inside me. After that, I can’t be responsible for what happens. Tornados are hard to control.

To keep from going into a wild fury or collapsing into a little heap on the floor, I avoid it entirely. It’s not the most socially or politically responsible act, but it’s the arrangement I’ve made for myself right now.

The bright side of this disaster is that terrible people make great examples for what not to do in life. Today’s lesson: what you say means nothing if you do the opposite. For example, side-stepping into a near-repudiation of recent hate crimes means even less when you’re being coached by the founder of a media group that spreads and supports hate, misogyny, and neo-Nazi politics.

The need for an actual, substantial response against these crimes is real and urgent. Anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the United States. Or, at least, outright and reported acts of hate and violence have been on the rise. Incidents on college campuses nearly doubled in 2015, hate-mongers and neo-Nazis have found strongholds online and are stepping out from behind their computer screens, and there have been 69 bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in the past two months.

This isn’t a new problem. Hating Jews is old hat. They keep on coming and we keep on surviving. And then celebrating that survival by eating a lot of carbs. It’s not a perfect cycle, but it’s got us where we are today. Today, though, is turning out to be not so great. What had been forced to quiet down for a bit is screaming again, and it’s making those of us getting yelled at a little comfortable. In times like this, it’s nice to have a leader who says, “Lock it up, haters. Chill out on the conspiracy theories and calls for mass murder.”

We don’t have that, but he did once utter that anti-Semitism is horrible, so let’s—for just a moment—pretend our fearful leader is consistently saying those things. It would still mean pretty much nothing. If you tell me you’re a vegetarian while chomping down on a cheeseburger, I won’t believe you. If you say you can read Mandarin, but you won’t translate anything for me, I’m going to be skeptical. And if you tell me you condemn hate and violence while bolstering and endorsing people who promote hate and violence, I won’t believe you either.

Basically, talk is cheap. Cheap like a bad toupee or a gold-plated toilet seat.

 

Code Red

I’m convinced the Earth is revolting against us. Last week, China issued a environmental red alert in a bunch of regions because of the terrible fog, which really means smog in this case. Red is apparently the highest level they use and, right now, many areas that aren’t at red level are at orange.

Orange is obviously just below red. That makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is why their lowest level in this environmental rating system is blue and not green. Silly Chinese government officials. Don’t they know green means go and go means get in your car for a drive and that’s certainly the beginning of this pollution ladder? I suppose we all have the right to choose whatever color scale we want. I’m drawn to grey and black, so my preferred scale might get a little confusing. Reporters would be like, “It’s code black on hostile rodents in the city today.” That sounds threatening, but it would really mean rat levels are way down. People would eventually get the hang of it. Still though, I think my grey scale makes more sense than the blue-yellow-orange-red system. Blue could maybe be used as the standard for tracking water pollutants, but it’d have to go blue-purple-pink-red. A red river is extra dangerous and plague-like, so people would take notice. Though in my experience when a river has reached maximum danger levels, it’s really a code murky brown. No one wants to say that on the news.

Well, that’s not where I planned to take this. Let’s get back to business.

The important thing here isn’t the color choices of the Chinese government. It’s the fact that we are filling our atmosphere with dangerous compounds that hurt our lungs and kill our plants. I don’t think anyone in China is reading this blog, and I’m not a climate scientist, but I feel like it’s unlikely my taking public transportation is going to help clear the smog over Hefei. That said, we should probably all care and do our best. Otherwise, we have to just admit we’re ok with kickstarting some kind of post-apocalyptic universe where we can’t see what’s right in front of our faces and giant smog monsters come out of the sky to attack us. Because that’s the next step in this story.

The Mannequin Challenge

I just read a story about a few police officers in New York who smashed a car window to save an old woman. She looked about 80 or 90, with a head full of grey hair and skin covered in liver spots. It was freezing outside, and she wasn’t wearing a jacket—just a beige and tan patterned sweater over a light pink blouse and an oxygen mask strapped to her face. Most significantly, she was completely unresponsive.

Because she was a mannequin.

Apparently the person who had buckled this mannequin into his car sells medical supplies, and Fran was meant to be used for CPR training. (Note: I named her Fran, not the guy. Though I really have no idea. He might call her Fran. She looks like a Fran.) Dave thinks the guy actually buckled her in so he could use the carpool lane. That’s probably true, because who would buckle a mannequin into the front seat of their car? Was he trying to keep it in good shape? Why not use the back seat then? Maybe just lay her gently in the trunk? Either he was using poor Fran to sneak into the carpool lane or he’s going through some kind of existential crisis and was looking for the support of a kind, grandmotherly figure.

I like to imagine that Frank—what I’ve now named the medical salesman—just wanted someone to chat with on his long drives to and from various hospitals and doctor’s offices. Fran was probably a great listener—never judging, giving him a lot of space to really get out his thoughts and feelings. Of which he apparently had a lot. When he found out the police officers had smashed his window to rescue Fran, he was super mad. Apparently he yelled at them a bunch and got a little aggressive.

The police chief, however, adamantly supported his officer. He said that any time they find a life-like mannequin in someone’s car during a bout of freezing temperatures, they’ll break the windows. So everyone be warned. If it’s cold, just bring your mannequins inside. You could set them up in front of the fire and listen to the crackling wood together. You could read a good book (you’d have to read out loud, obviously). You could watch a Turner Classic movie. Probably skip Psycho though, just so no one gets the wrong idea.

Yesterday and Tomorrow

People

We know what hate, fear, and anger breed. We knew it before yesterday night. We know because to really battle against something, you have to see it. Look it in the face. Today it’s in our path, but we’ll keep pushing up against it until it cracks and crumbles.
 
To the women I love: We will do what we’ve always done—day after day, year after year. Recognize the threat and try our best to step around it. Get up every morning, wade through the horrors, and rebuild the world around us.
 
To my friends, all you beautifully unique, diverse, wonderful humans: We will not let a stranger, no matter how powerful, or a mass, no matter how large, tell us our value. We know who we are. We hold our worth and we will support one another as we clasp tightly to our hard-won rights.
 
To all my fellow fighters: We know this struggle. We will keep moving. Let the mantra of one of us echo in our minds when we begin to falter: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
 
Let’s not forget that before us, there were others who were denied. We stand on their shoulders and someone will stand on ours. Let’s rise tall and be strong, so she can get a good foothold.

It’s Here

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It’s finally here. It’s time to vote. Today is the day. We aren’t going to get too busy or forget where our polling locations are. We won’t walk into the polls without researching all the candidates and measures. We’re prepared. Because we’re awesome and awesome people care about important things. We’re also going to encourage all our friends to vote, because peer pressure is a great tool for both good and evil.

Every time an election comes around, I get super excited to exercise my civic duty. It doesn’t matter if it’s a presidential nomination or a local neighborhood board member. I’m into it all. It’s a hard-earned honor. I know many of you have voted already, and bravo to you. I respect your overachieving nature, but I like to wait. And it’s not just because I’m a procrastinator. Walking up to the polls on that particular day helps me feel like part of a group effort to improve our world. I try to carry the spirit of the suffragettes and civil rights activists who sacrificed so much for that little ballot when I walk into the gym of my local public school. I can’t help it. This pull to action was ingrained in me as a tantrum-throwing infant, and I took my first joyful stab at presidential election voting as an elementary student. It’s even more fun when it counts.

By now, we’ve all decided how we’re going to vote. We’ve talked about how we’re cracking away at the ultimate glass ceiling and how hard that struggle has been. We’ve discussed how this election will shape the supreme court, what it means for climate change policy, and how it will impact healthcare in our country. We’ve talked about how important it is to pay attention to your local and state representatives, since they’re going to (hopefully) push forward effective social welfare policies in your communities. We’ve waded through the sexist nonsense that has been this campaign. We’ve told ourselves that despite veiled threats to disrupt our democratic process, we’ll make the right choice. We know what this election means for us all—young and old. But all that talk won’t mean much if we don’t actually show up and do something about it.

These two candidates couldn’t be more different, and there’s no convincing anyone which way to vote now. Tomorrow we’ll find out whether we’ll be led by an experienced civil servant and former cabinet member or an exploitative, ego-centric failed businessman turned reality television star. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but that’s not all. I’ll be proudly casting my vote for the first female president. I might cry. I might dance. I’ll probably do what is bound to become the world’s most popular new dance move: the cry and shimmy.

To make sure you fall on the right side of history and to get a chance to invent your own celebratory dance move, go take a long walk to your polling station and get your sticker.

 

Science for the Win

wholeworld

Today we’re going to talk about science and how it’s real. That should be the end of the post, but apparently some people had an even worse education than I did, so we have to keep going.

Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page and start with the scientific method. To understand why we should trust scientists, we should understand how they come to their conclusions. The method is a series of steps used to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and it’s pretty tried and true. You probably use it when you’re trying to figure out who ate your last yogurt or why you can’t keep your houseplants alive.

First, you look around and think about what you already know. You make some observations about the world around you. Next, you figure out what you don’t know yet and come up with a few good questions to which you’d like answers. This is like the interrogation portion of a buddy-cop movie, but the suspect is keeping real quiet. Then, based on what you know already, you develop with a hypothesis. After that, you make some predictions. These are not Ms. Cleo style predictions; they’ve got to be legit. You think carefully about what you might see during your tests and how that information will help you determine the answers to your questions. Then you get to the testing. You do a whole bunch of studying and collect a lot of data. You might do this part—the predicting and data collecting—a bunch of times. Science can be a little complicated. Finally, you develop a theory. Hopefully. Maybe you never do and you just work and work and work for the scientists that come after you.

In the world of science, theory doesn’t mean conjecture the way it does in other circles. To scientists, a theory is a principle developed through extensive testing. It’s very nearly a fact, but scientists are super open to being proven wrong, so they leave room for change.

So, now that we’ve got those basics down, we can turn to one scientific finding that’s particularly relevant to our decision in the coming election—climate change.

Most of us agree our climate is changing. We know this both because it’s about to be 80 degrees in November here and because polar bears are now forced further and further south due to melting ice. Or like a million other things. Just ask the people who live in Kiribati, a small island being drowned by the Pacific Ocean. You’d be hard-pressed to find people who don’t think it’s getting warmer, but it’s not hard to find ones who say we have nothing to do with it. This is where science becomes super useful.

There are people who have made it their life’s work to study the shifts in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and the consequences of those levels. That’s what they do every day. Well, not Sunday. We all know Sunday is for loungewear and pancakes. But on all those other days, when we’re running to the bank to deposit the paycheck we get for running meetings, they’re running calculations on the destruction of our planet.

We may not be able to do these experiments ourselves, but we can all read. I read every single day. You’re doing it right now. And we can think critically about who we trust and who we don’t. I trust the intelligent professionals, experts in their field, who have determined that the choices we’re making are contributing drastically to the rise in our atmosphere’s carbon dioxide. Groups like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Australian Academy of Science, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If those names sound fancy and important, it’s because they are. These are organizations comprised of leading scientists from around the world, and all of them say humans are changing our atmosphere in a negative way.

Any reasonable person would look to these experts, read these albeit complicated scientific papers, and fall on the side of the facts. Any reasonable person. Not Trump. He thinks it’s all a conspiracy invented by the Chinese government to gain a greater hold on manufacturing. He sent that lovely tidbit out into the internet world in 2012 and it’s been following him around ever since. But he’s not the only one. We hear Republican candidates say over and over again that they aren’t scientists, hinting at the fact that they just can’t understand scientific facts and therefore cannot create policies based on them. Sometimes we hear them declare that climate change isn’t influenced by human activity. Sometimes they deny its very existence.

Here’s why this is a problem. When people hear over and over again that something isn’t their fault—something they really want not to be their fault, because they like eating hamburgers and driving big cars and buying a lot of plastic toys—they believe it. When they believe it, they don’t ask their politicians to change it. And if politicians aren’t forced to act in unpopular ways, they won’t. So climate and energy scientists have to spend a lot of time trying to prove to the public that climate change exists and that we’re the cause. It’s a waste. It’s a waste of their mental capabilities and its a waste of our resources. We have the answer. We know the truth. We need to spend that time, energy, and money on solving the problem that exists, not on convincing people that it’s real.

When Hillary Clinton accepted the presidential nomination, she declared, “I believe in science.” What she meant was she believes what nearly all scientists have determined and she will root her policies in that truth. It was a tiny little phrase that she shouldn’t have had to utter. It should be like someone saying, “I believe in tables.” Ridiculous. But if we’ve got to choose a starting point for this effort, I’m standing on the side of reality, and I’m standing with her.