A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2015, 2016, 2017 and Beyond

Last year I couldn't bring myself to write a New Year's post, because 2015 had seemed like a year of treading water. Nothing in my life had changed in any of the areas I had planned to improve on December 31, 2014. I felt like I wasn't progressing or moving forward. Maybe that's adulthood, because I feel like the next 30 years of my life could conceivably be pretty similar.

That was one year ago. Since then, I've changed a few things in my life, but I don't think I can escape the fact that there is still a lot I don't like about myself. I don't know whether I am more or less confident that the average person, but I do spend a lot of time second guessing myself and my abilities. To put it simply, I don't like myself very much.

But self-loathing doesn't really help in accomplishing goals, at least for me. I don't know how, but if I'm going to accomplish any of the daily, weekly, and monthly goals (in four categories) I set for myself in 2017, I need to be a bit kinder to myself. Being kind to myself doesn't mean I won't push myself to do and be better in 2017, but it does mean I need to be okay with however I turn out at the end of the year (hopefully married to a Hemsworth brother with a vacation home in Hawaii...what? stretch goal?).

One of my favorite quotes about charity, which is from Marvin J. Ashton, is this:

Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.

Forgive yourself for all the things you intended to do in 2016 but didn't. Be kind to others, and yourself, in 2017. Expect the best from yourself, but have patience with yourself too.

2017 is the year when I figure out how be at peace with who I am, because who I am is...pretty okay. I mean I'm not Mother Teresa, but I'm not Donald Trump either. And you know what, if you are reading this ridiculous excuse for a blog, you're pretty okay too. So, here's to giving yourself the benefit of the doubt in 2017. No hard feelings, 2016, but I'm okay to see you go.

"No Hard Feelings," The Avett Brothers

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fear Not

I'm reading some of the old Christmas devotionals on lds.org, and I found this quote from Elder L. Whitney Clayton in his address "Fear Not" from the 2015 Christmas Devotional. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The angel perceived the shepherds’ fear when he appeared to them, telling them to “fear not.” The astonishing glory of God, which radiated from the unexpected heavenly messenger, had indeed struck fear in their hearts. But the news the angel had come to share was nothing to be afraid of. He had come to announce a miracle, to bring the ultimate good news, to tell them that the redemption of mankind literally had commenced. No other messenger before or since has brought happier greetings. The Only Begotten of the Father was beginning His mortal sojourn: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” These were indeed good tidings of great joy.

We each face moments in our lives when the great joy that the angel promised can seem elusive and distant. All of us are subject to the frailties and hardships of life—illness, failure, problems, disappointment, and, in the end, death. While many people are blessed to live in physical safety, others today do not. Many face great difficulty meeting the demands of life and the physical and emotional toll it can bring.

And yet, despite life’s hardships, the message of the Lord to each of us is the same today as it was to the shepherds keeping watch two thousand years ago: “Fear not.” Perhaps the angel’s injunction to fear not has more transcendent relevance to us today than it did in calming the shepherds’ fear that first Christmas night. Could he also have meant for us to understand that because of the Savior, fear will never triumph? to reinforce that ultimate fear is never justified? to remind us that no earthly problem need be lasting, that none of us is beyond redeeming?

The sweetest gift given at Christmas will always be the one our Savior Himself gave us: His perfect peace.

(One of my Favorite Christmas Songs - "When the Baby Grew Up" by Kathy Mattea

Monday, November 14, 2016


So, I'm not "at peace" with Trump's election, but I do see a way...well...forward (my fundamental Pollyanna-ish optimism has apparently re-asserted itself). One thing that helped was a thought experiment. 

Trump won Pennsylvania by less than 80,000 votes, he won Wisconsin by less than 30,000 votes, and he won Michigan by less than 20,000 votes (note that votes are still being counted, but these are margins as of this writing). If the tables were turned, and Clinton had won any two of those three states, she would be President-elect instead of Trump. Think about that - if only 50,000 people had changed their votes (out of 120 million votes cast!), the whole outcome of the election would change. But fundamentally, we would still be a very divided nation. Roughly half the people who voted would have voted for someone other than the President-elect. And some of those people would have been just as disappointed as I am now.

Somehow, that helps me. Despite the fact that I find Trump repugnant, it's incumbent upon me as a citizen to understand the hopes and fears of millions of my fellow citizens, and what motivated them to choose Trump. It's too easy to dismiss all Trump supporters, and I can't fall for the fallacy that they all are racist misogynists. I know good people, rational people, who voted for Trump. If I can't understand why they did that, I'm failing at empathy. That is hard for me.  

Here are a few things that have helped me over the past few days - I share them in the hope they will help you too. Except for the first one, they are in no particular order, and are interspersed with songs about moving forward. None of this changes the fact that I'm bummed out big time by this election, but it does help me move on a little bit.

If you don't read ANYTHING else, read this post at the Mormon blog By Common Consent: "Mystic Chords and Better Angels: Building Zion when we Disagree." Convince your friends at the other end of the political spectrum to read it too (and if you don't have any of those types of friends, make some).

Some wise counsel on being Instruments of the Lord's Peace in the world.

Stephen Colbert's end to his election special (also, check out additional comic takes on the election results by Seth Meyers and another great Stephen Colbert moment):

I don't think I can link to a friend's post on Facebook because it isn't public. But she shared some words of wisdom from a rhetoric teacher friend that touched my soul:

I teach an 8 am first-year rhetoric class. For most of my students, this is the first election they've been able to vote in. Our lesson? Not moving to Canada.

I mean this metaphorically, of course, because I don't think that many people are actually going to raise stakes, but "moving to Canada" is shorthand for disengaging and shutting up. "Moving to Canada" is about surrounding yourself with people who already agree with you and not taking seriously the concerns of people who have very different backgrounds, life experiences, and concerns. "Moving to Canada" is about saying, "Not my problem anymore." Don't move to Canada.

Our class is about civic dialogue, about employing a rhetoric that listens first, and about being unafraid and optimistic about speaking up. I hope my students engage in many conversations, even heated ones, with people who don't agree with them. I hope they open their mouths. I hope they stay here in America. We need them.

This podcast by Krista Tippet (who has one of the most soothing voices in radio). She interviews Eboo Patel, an interfaith activist, and he has some words of wisdom. If you don't have time to listen to the whole thing, here are my two favorite parts:

(Part 1)
So, if you add religion to a diverse democracy, and if you understand religion per Tillich as “ultimate concerns,” you have a society in which people are invited to make their personal convictions on matters of ultimate concern public, knowing that their neighbor has a different definition of “justice” than they do. Justice is another term that we assume everybody has the same definition of. My new line to 20-year-olds who look very chastised when I say this on campuses is, “If everybody in the room that you’re in has the same definition of ‘justice’ that you do — I don’t care how many colors, or genders, or sexual preferences, or religions are in that room — it’s not a diverse room.” Part of the definition of “diversity” is the recognition there are diverse understandings of justice.
So, in that situation, what does healthy look like? And my quick take on that is healthy is a society in which people who orient around religion differently can disagree on some fundamental things and work together on other fundamental things. And in my mind, the most dangerous trend in our society right now is what Andrew Sullivan calls the “scalping” trend, which is if you disagree with me on one fundamental thing — and I’m going to recognize that these things are fundamental — matters of the Middle East, same sex marriage, abortion — they are fundamental — let’s not say that they’re marginal at all — but if you disagree with me on that, I will neutralize our entire relationship, and I will take your scalp and hang it on my wall as a trophy to make sure that everybody else who has that opinion knows that I’m coming for them.
And I just — how do you have a society in which people who disagree on where to draw the line in the Middle East will perform heart surgery together, or serve on the PTA together? Isn’t that what a diverse democracy is? And it feels to me like the central thing that we do is nurture that ethic of a half-full cup of, “I will disagree with you on this set of things and continue to work with you on this other set of things.”
(Part 2)
William Raspberry writes a column in which he says, “The smartest people I know secretly believe both sides of the issue.” And that was so striking to me. Because I was — the way I viewed the world at that point was, “I’m the smart one. You all are the dumb ones. My job is to figure out how to make you smart.” And the definition of “smart” was you thought like me....And this notion of William Raspberry, who was, generally speaking, a progressive columnist was like — look, the smartest people I know choose the pro-life side and understand that there’s something else at stake. The smartest people I know are against the death penalty and understand that people who might be in favor aren’t crazy, that there’s a set of values, something at stake there.
I wanted to say one thing very briefly on this matter of justice. And I actually — my sense is actually justice and empathy, they’re in the Venn diagram. There’s a shaded area. But the more empathy one has and the more diversity one is in, the more one recognizes different definitions of justice. So, here’s my moment to this. Eight or 10 years ago, I’m speaking on a college campus, and I happened to be speaking with a man named Nechervan Barzani, who was introduced to me as an Iraqi leader
And as a good multicultural against the Bush administration progressive, my first instinct was to apologize to him for, quote, “the unjust war in Iraq.” And he looks at me, and he kind of shakes his head. And I think his English isn’t great, and so I repeat what I said. And I said...[laughter] This is a great insight into the mind of the Manichean, right? You don’t understand me because your English isn’t great, not because you disagree with me. I said, “I want to apologize on behalf of the American people.” All 320 million — for the unjust war in Iraq. And he looked at me, and he said, “I’m a Kurd. The only unjust thing about the war in Iraq is you didn’t do it 20 years ago.” And I thought to myself, how ridiculous that I didn’t even imagine that. And I mean, of course, this is over the next several years that I kind of unpacked this in my head. But how narrow a world did I live in that I thought that this was — now, I still believe the Iraq war was unjust, but I do I think that Nechirvan Barzani’s position, after having tens, hundreds of thousands of his people killed by Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare, that his position is not a reasonable definition of justice?
And what strikes me in reflection is, how come I didn’t imagine that? How come I didn’t play with the figure of Nechirvan Barzani in my mind in the dialogue? How is it that I had such a black and white vision of justice in the world? And I find that — I think that that is a problem in the hyper-diverse, 325-million jazz of a nation in which we live.
In my mind, you don’t have a diverse democracy, you don’t have America, unless people are willing to say, “I am able to disagree with you on this set of things, and you will see me on the other side of the picket line on those things. And I will try to defeat your candidate at the polls. And we will find other things to do together.”
If you haven't read or watched Hillary Clinton's concession speech yet, you should - even if you didn't vote for her.

Of course, "Hillary Clinton" (aka comedienne Kate McKinnon) singing Hallelujah on Saturday Night Live:

Don't give up - I won't either!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Road Trip (Part 2)

I'll take refuge from political posts with Part 2 of my October road trip (see Part 1 here).

For part of the trip, my parents joined me. We started our first day at the cemetery where my grandparents are buried in western Massachusetts. I had never been there before when the leaves were changing, but it was a beautiful and peaceful place. Unfortunately I don't remember my grandma, because she died when I was really little, but it is nice to think of an remember her and my grandpa.

While on this road trip, I listened to a book on tape: "Lives Like Loaded Guns," which is about Emily Dickinson and her family. We visited her house in Amherst, Massachusetts which was lovely. While I don't always understand her poetry, I think some of it is profound and moving.

My parents had both lived in Western Massachusetts so they were both excited that the Hartford, Connecticut temple was being dedicated - we made it to the last day of the open house. The temple was simple, but peaceful.

The next day we visited Mark Twain's house (for some reason I didn't take many pictures here). Mark Twain was father of three girls, two of whom died before he did, which I think is so sad.

After another long drive, I spent the next day at Hyde Park, New York. I went to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Presidential Library and home, along with "Top Cottage" (where he planned to retire after his Presidency), and Eleanor Roosevelt's home after his death, Val-kill.

FDR's home, living room
I liked that FDR's home had a room called the "snuggery" - it was his mother's private parlor. I think I need one of those in my house.
View of the front of FDR's house (behind the house are gorgeous views of the Hudson Valley)

Outside the library - statutes of FDR, Churchill, and a sculpture carved from remains of the Berlin Wall. Franklin wrote Winston at one point: "It is fun to be in the same decade as you!"

The FDR Library had a lot of interesting exhibits regarding FDR's presidency - my favorite were some of the campaign buttons for and against Roosevelt's re-election bid in 1940. He was the only President to ever seek a third term and there was some vigourous debate about it. Some of the slogans on buttons:
- "I'm against the Third Term. Washington Wouldn't. Grant Couldn't. Roosevelt Shouldn't."
- "Better a Third Termer than a Third Rater."
- "Third Term Taboo. 23 Skidoo."
- "Two good terms deserve another."

A view of "Top Cottage," which FDR built up on a hill near the main house. He wanted to retire here after his Presidency was over. This cottage was where he hosted the King of England during the King's visit to the U.S. FDR's mom was scandalized when FDR served hot dogs at the picnic (there was plenty of other food too).

Above is the study in Eleanor Roosevelt's home, Val-Kill. She liked to read, can you tell?  She is one of my heroes and I love so much about her. After she was first lady, she worked tirelessly for human rights and helped draft the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This study was where she met with a young senator named John F. Kennedy when he sought her endorsement. She grilled him on civil rights and urged him to do more for this cause, but ultimately did endorse him. The Presidential library also had an exhibit of the contents of her wallet when she passed away in 1962. It had this prayer:

For All Those Who Work or Fight in the Air
Lord have pity upon all men.
To those who are in darkness
Be their light.
To those who are in despair
Be their Hope.
To those who are suffering
Be their Healing.
To those who are fearful
Be their Courage.
To those who are defeated
Be their Victory.
To those who are dying
Be their Life.

After learning a lot about both Roosevelts, I took a walk across the Hudson river. "Walkway Over the Hudson" is an old railroad bridge that has been converted into a public walkway over a mile long. It was a lovely jaunt and very scenic with the changing leaves.

The next day brought art from the Hudson River school of American painting, and lots of it. I stopped first at Cedar Grove, the home of Thomas Cole, who was the father of this school of painting. He spent a lot of time in upstate New York, hiking and sketching, eventually moving here after marrying a local girl.

Painting by Thomas Cole - forget the name of it, but I loved the light of the sun in this painting.

Cedar Grove - they had SO MANY of Cole's paintings, it was amazing.
Next, I crossed the river and visited Olana, a home designed by Cole's fellow painter and artist, Frederic Church. Church had bad arthritis for the last few years of his life, so he spent his time being an artist on a grand scale - designing the house and grounds.

A lot of the windows at Olana have beautiful frames to create "living pictures" from the outdoor scenery.

Loved this pastoral scene, with cows, by Church
 I thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the inside of the house, which was full of Church paintings and artifacts, but the best part was the landscape tour of the grounds that I also did - the fall colors were, quite simply, perfect and it was a beautiful fall day.
View of Olana from the grounds - it's a beautiful house with a lot of Arab design touches.

One of the views on the Olana grounds.
 After a day of art, I headed (where else?) to a cemetery. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, to be exact. It's the final resting place of Washington Irving, writer of the short story "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." A few other famous New Yorkers are also buried there, including Dale Carnegie and Samuel Gompers, along with some Rockerfellers.

My last day was a stop in New York City to see the 9/11 memorial and museum there. It was sobering to reflect on my memories of that day so long ago.

An art exhibit - the artist asked people to recall the color of the sky on 9/11.
 My last stop was the Morgan Library and Museum, which had an exhibit honoring Charlotte Bronte, one of my favorite writers. They had the manuscript to Jane Eyre, which was open to the famous scene between Jane and Mr. Rochester where he proposes. Before realizing that Mr. Rochester intends to marry her, Jane says: "I am no bird, and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will." Jane Eyre is one of my favorite characters because she is so strong willed. Charlotte Bronte took great pride in the fact that contemporary critics couldn't tell if she was a man or a woman, and she wrote that she wanted to be judged as a writer, so it didn't matter whether she was man or woman.

Only professional portrait of Charlotte Bronte done during her lifetime (other than a portrait by her brother)
I really enjoyed the trip (not all the driving, though). It seems somehow appropriate to close with these words from FDR's prayer address on June 6, 1944 (D Day):

And, O Lord, Give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impact of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

Keep the faith, be brave and be bold. There is so much to enjoy in life.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

This Time is Different (Or, Why I Hope I’m Really Really Wrong)

The Presidential Election of 2000 was nothing if not hard fought. George Bush and Al Gore had a vitriolic  campaign (well, as much as Al Gore can be vitriolic…he’s kind of a sleeper). After two Supreme Court decisions, hanging chads, and a mismatch between the popular vote and the electoral college, there was a lot of pain (some of which echoes to this day). When hearing about the ultimate outcome on the radio that fall, many weeks after the election, I was disappointed but not necessarily surprised. I had been pro-Gore, but accepted the outcome and hoped for the best.

Next time around, my first vote in a Presidential election was for a loser. I voted absentee for John Kerry in 2004, while I was in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) preparing to serve my mission. I was super excited, mostly because I was VOTING (*nerd alert*), but also because I didn’t particularly care for then-President Bush. Then, on the day I actually flew from the MTC to my mission, it ended up being Election Day. As we all sat down for a meal with all the missionaries who had trained with me, our Mission President (leader of missionaries in a given area) said that he had “great news” and President Bush had been re-elected.

Don’t get me wrong, that SUCKED. I was disappointed President Bush had been re-elected, and sad that I had to spend that day with a bunch of Republicans, when I would have rather spent it with my family and friends more sympathetic to the Democratic cause. But I didn’t feel an immobilized by it, or terrified, or disheartened for days. I shrugged it off and moved on with my life, knowing we’d live to fight another day. Since then, I’ve been more lucky, having voted for Obama twice.

But on Wednesday night as I drove home from work, I cried. Heaving and gasping sobs. I feel like I need to articulate why this loss mattered (and hurt) so much more than the others. This time is different. This time, my fellow Americans had elected a man so horrifically unqualified that it hurt. It hurt to think that this man would be representing me and representing this country I love so much. It hurt to think that over 50 million Americans either didn’t know or didn’t care what he is, and voted for him anyway. 

I’ve decided to narrow it down to three reasons why this loss hurt so much. It’s not a comprehensive list, but here it is. Mr. Trump is unfit to serve in the presidency due to his (1) blatant dishonesty, (2) mistreatment of women, and (3) xenophobia/Islamophobia. I’ve tried to support these with evidence as much as I’m aware. These issues are the reason I’m so distraught at the outcome of the election.

First, blatant dishonesty. During debates and public speeches Mr. Trump displayed strikingly little knowledge of current events or historical context and little or no willingness to learn, but he also repeatedly lied. He lied about things that were easily disproved, he lied about his opponent’s record, and he lied about his own record. Politifact, the fact checking service, rated 19% of his statements “mostly false,” 34% of his statements “false,” and 17% of his statements as “pants on fire,” the most mendacious rating. How can we trust this man to lead us when he lies so constantly and so blatantly? He does not have any shred of integrity.

Second, his mistreatment of women. We are all aware of his comments on the Access Hollywood tape, where he bragged about assaulting women. He also stated on the Howard Stern show that he liked walking in on naked women participating in his beauty pageant. His Twitter feed provides ample evidence of his views regarding women. He re-tweeted a nasty photo of Ted Cruz’s wife. To me, one of the most terrible example was his Tweet regarding Meagan Kelly, a Fox News journalist who had the audacity to ask him tough questions. His response was to say she was disgusting and must have asked these questions because she was menstruating. In his speeches and actions, Mr. Trump has displayed a disregard for women and made clear that he values them only for their attractiveness.

Third, his xenophobia and Islamophia. Mr. Trump kicked off his campaign by stating that Mexico is deliberately sending us rapists and murderers. He’s called repeatedly for a wall to keep out immigrants (which is cost prohibitive and wouldn’t work anyway). He said that he would ban all Muslims from the country, a blatantly discriminatory practice (which he later amended to “extreme vetting,” whatever that means). He refers to “radical Islamic terrorism,” thus giving the terrorists exactly what they want. Saying the phrase radical Islamic terrorism doesn’t mean you have a plan to actually fight terrorism, it just means that you are willing to let an entire religion practiced by 1.6 billion people be defined by a few thousand extremists.

For these and so many reasons, Donald Trump is not fit to serve as President, and it horrifies me that he will. Some have suggested that his campaign was full of bluster and that he doesn’t really want to deport immigrants or ban Muslims. They suggest that his daughter Ivanka is evidence that he supports women in the workplace and he doesn’t really disrespect women. But that, to me, only makes it worse – it means that he deliberately stoked the flames of racism, misogyny, and hatred in order to win this campaign. Even if he doesn’t believe those things, he didn’t have the decency or integrity to stand up to those horrible forces. Others have suggested that he’ll be checked by our separation of powers and checks on government overreach. I hope and pray that is so, but he can still wield enormous power as President and that depresses me. He has also displayed a striking regard for authoritarian leaders such as Putin, which makes me doubtful that he would accept a Supreme Court decision that goes against him. While I did (and do) disagree with John McCain and Mitt Romney, they were fundamentally decent men trying to serve their country. I can't say the same about Donald Trump with any confidence.

I know there’s a time for coming together. I get that this emotional reaction won’t last – that I can’t let it control me. I understand that we have work to do, to heal this country and bridge the deep divides among us and I need to be a part of that. Something inside me knows that this is not the end of the world and the sun will rise and we will move forward somehow. But for now, I mourn – I mourn that this man will be President for the next four years. I mourn that this behavior didn’t automatically disqualify him from the presidency in the eyes of the voters. For the first time in my life, I hope and pray that I am really really wrong about something. I hope that he won’t govern from a place of fear, that he’ll learn humility and reach out to those in pain. I hope that he isn’t as black as I’m painting him. But nothing that I have seen so far gives me confidence that that outcome will occur or that he actually has compassion for the downtrodden he says he wants to help. Forgive my cynicism while I cry a little bit that America has come to this.

In the words of Tom Hanks in a classic movie I love, here’s what I’m gonna do for now: 
Well, I'm gonna get out of bed every morning... breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out... 

Hugs, anyone?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Here's to hoping that Susan B. Anthony was prophetic when she said this in 1900:

"It is beyond doubt that before long women will be sent to Congress as Representatives by some of the States...and who knows but that within the next century they may be appointed to the Supreme Bench? Indeed, it is not at all beyond the bounds of possibility that a woman may be elected President some day."

It's been marvelous to watch the live feed of people at Susan B. Anthony's grave who are placing their "I Voted" stickers there.  Thank you, Susan Brownell Anthony, and the thousands of other progressive voices who expanded voting rights to all of us!

While it goes without saying I want Hillary Clinton to win the Presidency, I hope we can all be civil and accept the will of the people.

Monday, November 7, 2016


I really liked this Mormon message about listening to others. So often we are very eager to say what we believe while trampling over others' beliefs. So, no matter the outcome of the election tomorrow, listen to those with whom you disagree!


Saturday, November 5, 2016


Faith - is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the scene that We do not -
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side -
It joins - behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.
   - Emily Dickinson, 1864

I'm not sure I fully know what this poem means, but I like the idea of faith as a bridge.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ohhhh Boy

I can't believe Donald Trump is within striking distance of the presidency. This is seriously stressing me out. I guess I just need to watch more videos like this one.

Road Trip!!! (Part 1)

This year my post-busy season road trip took me to Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. I got to visit some amazing historical sites and see some beautiful fall foliage. While you enjoy this visual history of my trip, take a listen to Eleanor Roosevelt's favorite song (we'll get to Eleanor, don't get ahead of yourself):

My first stop was the new LDS church history site in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. The Church has rebuilt Emma Smith's childhood home and the cabin that she and Joseph lived in as newlyweds. I had a tour all to myself, led by two lovely sister missionaries. It was interesting to see some of the historical documents they had on display in the visitor's center, including a handwritten ordination license - written by Oliver Cowdery for Joseph Smith. It reminds me of my missionary authorization card, stating that I was an authorized representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's awesome to think that comes from the same power and authority that was restored by Joseph Smith. (Note 1)
 It was a BEAUTIFUL day, so I walked a bit down by the Susquehanna river to see the leaves. In this river in 1829, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith baptized each other.

After that, it was lots more driving to get up the the Finger Lakes area of New York.  Below is a picture of the lovely leaves. Pictures don't do it justice.

Staying overnight in the Finger Lakes area, I headed to Rochester, NY the next day. I stopped at Rochester cemetery. It was pouring rain and the grave was not well marked, but I did manage to find the final resting place of Frederick Douglass, who was not only an abolitionist  but also a strong supporter of women's suffrage.

Which leads to Susan B. Anthony's humble gravesite. Apparently in her will she designated only $25 for her tombstone, with the rest of her inheritance going to The Cause. Her family are buried nearby, and I liked that her parents' tomb had the following four words (one on each side): Liberty - Humanity - Equality - Justice. That sums up the message of the Anthony family pretty well.

 After the cemetery, I visited Susan's home in Rochester, which has become a museum. I was there right when they opened so I got a tour all to myself with a docent named Susan! Susan B. Anthony was a unique individual who was just in the right place at the right time - she was unbelievably hardworking and dedicated to progressive causes, and I owe her so much. In a letter to her mother in 1848 regarding abolition, she wrote: "Though the good folks call us crazy fanatics now, the day will come when they must acknowledge their stupidity." Susan would go on to lead the women's rights movement, fighting battles for women's rights to their property, and education, and their children. I learned that Susan met Harriet Tubman at one point - wouldn't it have been SO AMAZING to be a fly on that wall? Those are two impressive and impassioned ladies! In 1873, this house was the scene of Susan's arrest for the crime of ... voting. The U.S. Marshal came to arrest her in this parlor. Ever the egalitarian, she demanded the Marshal put handcuffs on her too because he would have done it for a man (he declined). Susan had voted because she wanted to test the theory that the 14th and 15th Amendments gave ALL citizens the right to vote because the amendments didn't mention gender. The presiding Judge asked her: "You presented yourself as a female, claiming you had a right to vote?" She responded: "I presented myself not as a female, sir, but as a citizen of the United States." After a brief trial, she was convicted and sentenced to pay $100, which she never paid.
 A park near her home has a statute of her and Frederick Douglass (which someone had outfitted with cutesy caps and a banner for Hillary Rodham Clinton). Susan wrote in 1900 that "When I am called home, if there exist an immortal spirit, mine will still be with you, watching and inspiring you." She didn't live to see the passage of the amendment (which she had written with Elizabeth Cady Staunton) that finally gave women the right to vote, but I like to think she was cheering them on from the spirit world. In her life history, she wrote "Cautious, careful people...can never bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to...avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas...and bear the consequences." I admire that - be bold, and do what is right!
 Traveling back to the Finger Lakes from Rochester, the weather forecast predicted a short two hour span without rain, so I hurried to take advantage of that and walk through Watkins Glen state park. It was like being in a splendidly beautiful fall fairy tale. Watkins Glen is a gorge with a river running through it - it has a bunch of waterfalls that are magical.

 Next day brought more rain and a visit to Seneca Falls, NY, where the first women's rights convention was held. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Staunton had formed a friendship a few years earlier when both weren't allowed to speak or sit with other delegates at the World Anti-Slavery Convention because they were women. Of the five women responsible for planning the convention, only one thought that a list of the women's demands should include the right to vote. I'm glad Elizabeth Cady Staunton was bold enough to hold on to that demand and include it. She also penned the Declaration of Sentiments, an inspired reworking of the Declaration of Independence boldly declaring that all men AND WOMEN are created equal.
Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, site of the first Women's Rights Convention in 1848

Seneca Falls was where Elizabeth Cady Staunton lived with her family for a while. From everything I've read, she was another inspired individual in the right place at the right time. She was a genius scholar and legal mind (as a teenager she cut out laws she didn't like from her father's law library) and had a wicked sense of humor and great heart. Her kids were holy terrors, though (they nailed their brother's clothes to the roof...with him inside them). She wrote many of the tracts and speeches that Susan B. Anthony was able to go out and deliver because she was single and childless. They were the dream team of women's rights, supported by an army of women who don't get enough credit (someday I'll write blog posts about all of them).

On a fateful day in 1851, a mutual friend of both ladies introduced Elizabeth Cady Staunton  to Susan B. Anthony, which is commemorated with a statute in Seneca Falls. For the next 50 years, they would form the backbone of a movement to transform the status of women in America. When it began, women were discouraged from speaking in public, let alone voting or getting a college education.

 After Seneca Falls, I had another long drive ahead of me, so I stopped in Auburn, NY to visit Harriet Tubman's Home for the Infirm. Harriet Tubman is the ultimate heroine. She was born in slavery and walked to freedom, then returned, risking her life to help others escape. She wrote in 1854, "Tell my brothers to be always watching unto prayer, and when the good old ship of Zion comes along, to be ready to step on board." Harriet was one of those people who seized opportunities to help herself and others. She retired to Auburn after a career as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and nurse/spy for the Union army during the Civil War. She was one tough cookie, and she was also kind - here in Auburn she built a home for poor old people with no place else to go, and provided them food, clothing, and health care.
Harriet Tubman Home for the Infirm

Harriet Tubman's home on the right, her barn on the left.

There is plenty more to my road trip, but the Cubs have won the World Series, all's right with the world, and I'll finish this tomorrow.

Note 1: Mormons believe that the priesthood authority to act in the name of God was restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith by angelic visitations, which occurred at or near this site. Thus, it's called the Priesthood Restoration Site.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Let's Get Mythical

If you're not Mormon or conservative and you don't live in Utah, you may never have heard of Evan McMullin, an independent who is running for President of the United States. He is a Mormon and (former?) Republican with an impressive set of policy proposals. From everything I've read about him, he seems like a decent guy. However, I've noticed a trend among McMullin voters, most of whom have a strong antipathy towards both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Many McMullin voters say that it feels good to cast their vote for "someone of integrity" who they have faith in.

I don't want to disparage that, and I fully support your right to vote however you choose, but there's something of a "this candidate is perfect" flavor to some of the pro-McMullin comments this year (not all). The truth is, it's very easy for Evan McMullin to be a perfect conservative, because he's never held elective office and never had to compromise. He's never been part of the inevitable horse-trading that goes on among those *sordid* politicians with "records." That's not to say that he doesn't believe what he says - it's entirely possible that he is 100% sincere in his beliefs, but the truth is that those beliefs have never been tested by the crucible of actual responsibility.

All of this hoopla reminds me of the satirical news story about the Perfect Republican Candidate. The reason that's a joke: there is no perfect candidate because there are no perfect humans currently on the earth (other than my mom and dad, but they're not currently interested in running). There simply isn't a candidate who perfectly believes everything you believe unless YOU are running. Elections are about choices and they are about viable choices. The simple truth is that we in the U.S. have a winner take all system, and that means that there are only two viable candidates for president this year: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 

One of these people has the experience and temperament to be president, and one clearly does not. Some (and only some) of the antipathy towards Clinton is that she is a typical politician. She changes her policy positions, cozies up to the rich and powerful, and is ambitious. But to suggest that Clinton and Trump are equally bad is to suggest a false equivalence that is staggering in its ignorance. Clinton is a politician, yes, and she has a penchant for secrecy and power (although I personally don't think she's any worse that any other politician in this respect). She was wrong to use a private email server, and has admitted that it was wrong. But she IS a typical politician with respect to the separation of powers and commitment to decency. She's worked to pass bills like the Children's Health Insurance Program and was a decent Senator for New York and worked hard as Secretary of State. 

Is Hillary perfect? No. Is she likely to do things you disagree with? Absolutely (and that's true for everyone). But she is NOT a narcissistic ignoramus who insults anyone who challenges her, which is a whole lot more than I can say for Trump. I can't imagine Trump as President - please please please please please don't let it happen. Don't let the mythical idea of a perfect candidate keep you from voting for flawed candidate who could win.

Here are some articles which make the anti-Trump case stronger than I can:
And of course, John Oliver's epic take-down (definitely PG-13, with lots of language):

Of course, being Anti-Trump isn't enough for some people to vote for Hillary - I respect your right to vote for McMullin if that's the case. But please don't pretend that somehow makes you better than other people for choosing a mythic perfect candidate.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

History. Made.

On Monday, November 3, 2008, I attended a rally with then-candidate Barack Obama. His voice was hoarse - it had been a long campaign, and you could tell he was worn out. It was the night before the presidential election and he had been crisscrossing the country rallying voters and pouring energy into his campaign.

That night, I was thrilled by the words Obama hoarsely shouted, which I could hear even at the end of the huge crowd: "Fired Up? Ready to Go!" It was an historic moment and I was proud to be there. While I had not personally experienced racism, it was marvelous to me that America elected an African-American president just a few decades after desegregation. That experience, coupled with attending the first inauguration in Washington, D.C. reminded me of the joy and optimism of the American story. Those experiences inspired me to start this blog.

It's no secret from the title of this blog that I was probably going to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. I can't stand her opponent, and I probably would have voted for any Democrat running against him. Yet I was unexpectedly touched while in my car on Tuesday night - as I was listening to the radio, Hillary Clinton hit the number of delegates necessary to win the Democratic nomination.

The outcome wasn't a surprise, after all, but I was so moved that I got to see the first woman presidential candidate from a major U.S. political party. I wrote a book report about the book: "Madam President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling" while in high school. The book walked through the possible women who might be President. While I joked with my friends that some day *I* would be President, I don't think I really believed it possible.

Listening to the radio on Tuesday, it got real. To me, it was a wonderful moment, and it's been fantastic to read about 100 year old women who were born before women could vote and get to see this day, about the woman Senator who handed Hillary the sledgehammer to break the class ceiling, and see the momentum that women are building in politics. It's hard to believe that the idea of a woman President was so offensive that Walmart banned a T-shirt with that idea. In 1995.

You may not be wild about Hillary, and I get that. But can we all appreciate that it is awesome to see a woman Presidential candidate? As she herself said tonight in her speech, "when the ceiling is broken, the sky is the limit." Tonight, and this week, I've been reminded of our nation's history of optimism and progress. Truly, the sky is the limit, and we ARE stronger together, standing as Americans first, and Democrats (or Republicans) second.

"What the World Needs Now" performed by Broadway stars at the DNC

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Tale of Two Politicians

Let me introduce you to two politicians, and see who you would choose to represent you. Because this is 2016 and one of the major party candidates is a woman (!), I'm going to use non-gender specific pronouns.

Politician #1 spent their pre-political career participating in non-profit work to aid children and rape victims and establish rural health clinics. They served on hospital boards and non-profits aiding children. They authored numerous scholarly articles about children's issues. Once in politics, Politician #1 pursued educational reforms to ensure teachers had necessary skills to teach and limit class sizes in public schools. They worked to expand children's access to health care with bi-partisan support. Politician #1 also worked to increase funding for immunization programs, asthma research, and cancer screenings. Additionally, they have experience in domestic and foreign affairs, and have developed personal relationships with national and international leaders. They've spoken many times about their faith in God and its influence on their life, and help in getting through tough times.

Politician #2 was an attorney who failed the bar exam the first time. Their first case involved getting a man accused of raping a 12 year old girl off the hook on lesser charges. Through work at their law firm, they mixed business and politics, and they were involved in dubious commercial transactions with people of questionable integrity. They served on corporate boards of companies accused of poor labor practices. Upon entering politics, numerous allegations were made of double-dealing, corruption, and fraud, and although nothing was ever proved, this Politician has been at the edges of numerous scandals throughout the years. They have used personal relationships for political gain.

Now, reading these descriptions, I think most of us would choose Politician #1, and would think that Politician #2 is an nonredeemable scumbag. Some of you may have already guessed this, but both politicians are Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton is the Presidential candidate that everyone knows about and has already decided how they feel about her. Most people have made up their mind that she is a shrewd and savvy advocate or a corrupt and conniving politician. We all then view her through our pre-conceived notions and aren't willing to admit that our view of her may be biased.

I'm just as guilty of this as everyone else - I tend to discount the accusations surrounding Whitewater, Benghazi, and the emails as Republican smear tactics, but there's no doubt that Hillary has been involved in a few questionable things.

Just like most career politicians (and Hillary has been in the public eye for over 35 years, so I think we can unquestionably call her a career politician), Hillary has done good things and bad things. She's a human being with faults and foibles. However, if we look at her career over the years, I think we can point to things that she has done well and faithfully. When I hear her speak, I honestly do believe she does care about our country and its direction.

If you've dismissed her in the past as a criminal or phony, I urge you to take a second look and read up on her. You may not agree with everything she says or has done, but at least do yourself the favor of being informed. Don't let your surface knowledge be a barrier to further investigation.

I'll try to blog in the next few months a few of the reasons "I'm With Her," but I urge you to consider her with fresh eyes, and be open to acknowledging both her faults and her accomplishments.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


This week I got to spend a day in a 2nd grade classroom volunteering with a local financial literacy non-profit. Including this year, I've now participated in this program for 5-6 years, and it's always one of my favorite days in the year. The kids really get excited about learning, and they find it fun because it's a break from the regular school day. I find it fun to take a break from my regular work day, so everyone wins!

Every year there is a quote or two that stays with me. Mostly they are funny, some are sweet, some are weird, and some are all three. This year's most prescient comment came from one young man as were were discussing elections and consequences: "Donald Trump is a Booger!" he exclaimed. However, that one won't be the quote that will change my life (or change anyone's mind on the Great Orange Cheeto Man).

One boy, when introducing himself, would constantly say right after his name: "Hashtag Awesome"! I loved his brash self-confidence and total self-possession. It's something I completely lack. But I think we can all try to have that self-confidence and joy in ourselves. How "awesome" would it be if we all thought we were "Hashtag Awesome" worthy?

Blogging is one of the things that makes me feel "Hashtag Awesome," and while I'm not as confident as a 2nd grader in my abilities, I definitely need to blog more until I achieve awesomeness. What makes you feel "Hashtag Awesome"?

Monday, April 18, 2016


In honor of today's U.S. tax filing deadline, here are some interesting articles about taxes that I read in my free time while not doing taxes. I think a lot of this is inside baseball, so you may not find it interesting unless you are also a tax accountant, but I've put a "*" next to the top three articles if you don't want to read all of them.

Wondering why Tax Day is April 18th this year, when it's normally April 15th?  Click Here.

Procrastinators, rejoice - Everyone Files Their Taxes At the Last Minute

Depressing: IRS Service Dramatically Improves to Mediocre (Related: Abolishing the IRS is Stupid, so don't vote for Cruz: Cruz's Plan to Abolish the IRS Would Reward Cheaters*)

More Depressing: How The U.S. Tax System Disadvantages Racial Minorities*

Perspective: No One Ever Died From a Late Tax Return

Lighter "Tax News" from the Onion: Head of IRS Has a Personal Filing System to keep Track of Nation's Tax Returns

The Importance of Disclosure: Every Presidential Candidate Should Release Full Tax Returns (And some Good and Bad Ideas for Tax Plans from the candidates this year)

Taxes Are Important, and ARE About Fairness (and how we define fairness): A Financial Times Columnist...is Wrong*

Why Tariffs Are Bad (and Important): The Case of the Hidden Import Tax

Near and Dear to my SALT-y heart: A Closer Look At The State and Local Tax Deduction

Happy Tax Day! Go Forth and Spend your tax refund however you choose!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Step Off (Your Own Rameumptom)

Note: this post has been percolating in my mind for a few months, but I haven't yet found the right words to express the concepts I'm trying to convey. So I decided to post anyway, with the hope that you'll understand the spirit of the post, even if I poorly communicate it. 

"School of Rock," starring Jack Black and assorted adorable adolescents, is one of my favorite funny movies. In the movie, Black plays a faux-substitute teacher and out-of-work rock n' roll dreamer who drafts his class into his dream of winning a rock contest.  In one scene, Black and his class compose a song urging everyone to "step off" from bugging them about their lives.

I think of this song when people tell me unpleasant truths. We all have our preconceived notions about ourselves and the world, and when someone shatters those illusions, our first reaction can be to ignore them (both the truths and the person who told them). I can't remember where I first heard of the concept of "white privilege" or "male privilege" or just privilege in general, but I remember being faintly uncomfortable with it. It seemed like people were ascribing my success to something other than my hard work, and somehow blaming me for a system that I didn't control.

A lot of people who benefit from privilege (a) don't realize they benefit, and (b) don't like being told that they benefit from privilege. However, I think there's a good Mormon story that can help people understand privilege, and it's the story of the Zoramites and their Rameumptom (found in The Book of Mormon here). The Zoramites pray a very self righteous prayer, on a platform that they've built to literally put themselves above others, and they cast out the poor from among them. This is a very literal and egregious example of privilege - in this case consciously choosing to reject and think less of others just because of their wealth status.

Reading this, it's obvious to us that the Zoramites are so self-involved they don't even realize they're doing anything wrong. And they are none too happy when Alma and his missionary companions point this out to them. Indeed, "...[the rich Zoramites] were angry because of the word, for it did destroy their craft; therefore they would not harken unto the words" (Alma 35:3). In other words, because the preaching of Alma hurt them financially, the Zoramites were unwilling to change, or even listen to something that would disrupt the status quo.

Privilege is not always so clear cut. Sometimes it is difficult to see that we are standing on a Rameumptom that we did not construct, but that nonetheless gives us a step up on other people. I firmly believe that the antidote to privilege is the empathy and compassion that comes from living the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was reminded of this last week by President Linda Burton's talk, "I Was a Stranger." She shared so many beautiful thoughts, but I was really touched with her call to empathy. She encouraged us to ask ourselves the following question about those in distress: "What if their story were my story?"

I think this empathy is the goal of conversations about privilege. Privilege is not about punishment for those who benefit from the current system, rather it is about helping everyone understand the struggles of those who do not benefit from the current system, in insidious and sometimes very subtle ways. So, I hope that you won't be threatened by discussions of privilege in the future. Instead of telling that person to "step off" and treating this as an accusation about you, consider it an opportunity to step up to listen and learn someone else's story, and understand their challenges.

For a better discussion of privilege, see here.