Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 365- The last letter

Dear Mr. President,

After 365 letters I suppose I should be running out of things to say. Is a year enough distance to gain any perspective on all that has changed and all that still waits to? Tonight I hoped to make sense of it all; the personal and the political, the minutiae, the mundane, the profound, all of the things I've written about this year. As I look back through this year of letters, of one-sided conversations about issues and actions that defined 2010, I don't have any clue what it all means. I am still tired, still frustrated, still impatient with the progress we've made and the way you govern. But I'm still more like the girl I was in November 2008- stone sober and still too drunk off of election night euphoria- than I ever thought I could be. For all of the disappointments and frustration I have been so proud this year to call you my President. I don't imagine your job is easy, nor do I think I could do it better myself. I am often wrong. I am often too emotional. I use far too many commas.

For all of my shortcomings, I am still a voter and still a citizen and still, I believe, entitled to tell you what I think. Personally, I feel that the great tragedy of the disconnect between the people and our government in this country is not the disparity of money or even power but the way we converse. You do not speak or listen to people like me. When you do talk to me it is in form letters and speeches and talking points- language so polished as to be devoid of any real meaning. We do not have frank conversations. We do not hear one another. I listen to your Sunday addresses, your press conferences and your speeches and all I can say I know for sure is what you want me to think or feel, not what you actually think or feel. Perhaps the most important domestic issue is what you called the deficit of trust. This year has shown me, more clearly than I ever might have seen otherwise, how little trust our government has in the people or we have in it and how damaging this deficit is to all involved.

Deep down I still think that you are well-intentioned. If your caution and moderation do not always sit well with my hot head or bleeding heart, I can accept that you at least believe you are doing the right thing. That is what prompted me to vote for you, to phone bank for you, to write you 365 letters and to hope that I might cast my ballot in 2012 for you, again. Beyond your good intentions, I believe that you are capable of great things, that, should you overcome your fear and find the courage to make really the necessary, difficult decisions that will save this country from some of our worst tendencies, you will be re-elected and likely remembered well. I would not say that I'm a person with any tremendous amount of faith in anything, but I do have faith in you. 2010 didn't change that, and I hope to say the same about 2011.

Happy New Year, Mr. President. Good Luck.

Respectfully yours,


To all of my awesome readers:

Thank you so much for all of your support this year. I will have a much more articulate and coherent reflective piece in the coming days, as well as some suggestions for reading, a bonus letter to President Obama from a guest blogger and information about the Espresso book I'll be making. I hope you all have a fun and safe New Year's Eve! See you in 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 364- The things you miss from the motorcade

Dear Mr. President,

Tonight when I got on the bus to go home the driver saw the book in my hand and said "The two highest compliments I get from any one who rides my bus is falling asleep and reading." He said he'd try to drive smoothly so I'd have an easier time with it. I've never seen this bus driver before (or, maybe I have and, like so many bus riders let my eyes slide past him without committing anything to memory) so I don't know if he enjoys his job or hates it, if he's gay or straight, republican, democrat or anarchist. The only thing I know about him is that he is kind and approves of my two favorite activities (sleeping and reading) and seemed to approve of me, as well. This remark buoyed my work-weary and cold little spirit, a small kindness that made my whole night a little brighter.

Lately my friend's trip home for the holidays has made me the temporary owner of a car. The freedom that comes with this is incredible; I can drive where I want to go without concern for route or schedules or fare or transfers, I can play music and sing (badly) as loud as I like, I can transport really amazing amounts of groceries. But I usually wind up angry at the rest of the drivers on the road, drivers who go too slowly or break rules or don't use turn signals. While riding King County Metro doesn't always give me hope for humanity- smelly drunks, screaming children, twitchy addicts and the general impoliteness of high school kids in large numbers are just a few of mankind's shortcomings I've been known to complain about- I do at least have to keep my anger to myself, as we're not all insulated by our little glass and metal vehicular bubbles. Reluctantly, often grudgingly, I connect with people on the bus; from the young aspiring DJ asking for my number (and mistaking my right-hand ring for a wedding band when I said no) to the tiny girl playing peek-a-boo with pink plastic beads in her fuzzy braids, to the old man who wanted to discuss international humanitarian law after seeing my textbooks, I find myself having conversations, interactions or observations of strangers every time I ride the bus. I think that, even at its most tedious, riding the bus leaves me feeling a little more connected to my community.

While I will continue to take advantage of Eric's car as long as he lets me, I think I will forever be a bus rider rather than a car owner. This isn't just because I can't imagine attaining the financial security necessary for car ownership in a city, or even because of my environmental objections to frequent driving, but because I think relying upon the bus keeps me from isolating myself behind my ideas of other people and forces me to observe and interact with individuals of ages and backgrounds I might never otherwise encounter. I'm surely romanticizing the entire experience (and will laugh at this, the next time I'm crammed into a standing-room only commuter route through the tunnel with eight teenagers blaring music through their headphones or a crazy crackhead lighting up in the aisle) but for now I'm smiling to myself at the kind words of an old man who approves of me, even if he doesn't know a thing about me, not even my name, except that I read on busses.

Mr. President, I know this seems like a strange thing to tell you on the second to the last night of my year of letters to you, but I started this project for a number of reasons and among them was this; I wanted to share with you the only thing I can offer that no one else can, and that is the small experiences of my average existence. You will probably never ride a public bus again, especially not as a stranger, and so I like to imagine that you might find some value in the story of a girl, feet aching from work and caught in a surprise cold front without a coat, boarding a city bus and being thanked just for doing the thing she loves most. That you might understand why such an experience matters. Maybe it's just the optimistic holiday spirit sweeping me up, but tonight I think the world is not so bad. I hope you think so, too.

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 363- "On the brink of genocide"

Dear Mr. President,

The Cote d'Ivoire is, according to UN ambassador Youssoufou Bamba, on the brink of genocide. Ideally, I would think that the impending social implosion of an African nation a good reason to use US military power to protect civilians caught up in the violence. Of course, as we've overextended ourselves in Afghanistan, Iraq and our forays into Yemen and Pakistan, we simply don't have the military assistance to offer. We can hope that the UN or the African Union are able to keep peace and protect the innocent, but there is little, practically, that the US can do.

Perhaps it is naive of me to think that we should only use our troops to protect civillians, avoid genocide and keep peace. Perhaps chasing Bin Laden & the Taliban through caves is, in fact, a more effective use of our might, but I don't think our current military strategy has made us safer- indeed the number and complexity of our military engagements abroad seem to have left us in a strategically weakened position.

I'll admit that the proximity of The Cote d'Ivoire to Burkina Faso is heightening my anxiety about the crumbling political situation. I might not be so afraid if my best friend wasn't right next door. Still, I think that military force is best used to protect the weak preyed upon by the strong, to prevent the innocent from suffering whenever possible. I would rather see our troops in Cote d'Ivoire and Haiti than in Afghanistan and Iraq, where more stability could be achieved through education and infrastructure investment than any amount of troops and bombs.

I will hope that the Ambassador Bamba is incorrect in his assessment of the outlook for The Cote d'Ivoire, but should he prove correct it will be all the more frustrating to watch, helplessly, while my country is able to do nothing to stop it.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 362- Two years later

Dear Mr. President,

It's been two years since Operation Cast Lead, since the Gaza war, since the brutal asymmetrical violence that left thousands dead, injured or homeless. This will likely be my last letter to you about Gaza, at least for 2010. I haven't heard any practical solutions for the people of Gaza from your administration, nor have I heard much in the way of insistence that Israel find an alternative to the utterly unlivable status quo. The peace talks that have now fallen apart, at their most ambitious, their most hopeful, did not include a framework for Gaza. The people of Gaza cannot continue living as they have been, they cannot be expected to raise yet another generation to call a prison camp home. Two years of endless stalemate haven't made Israel safer and they haven't made Gaza any more livable.

I wonder if you have asked yourself how this ends. How it will look when the war is finally over and the lines on the map are final. When every one has a flag and a seat at the UN. What will that entail? What will it look like, how will it be fair, what role will we play? Most importantly- how do we get there? If we already know these things, why aren't we doing it? It will be hard. People will be upset, compromise will not be easy. Friends and allies will be offended and alienated and you will be called any number of nasty names for your trouble. But it has to be done. Progress has to be made. The situation cannot stand.

Looking into 2011 and 2012, I know that re-election will overshadow any foreign policy goals that might not play well on FOX news. I wonder what you would do if no one were watching, if what they said didn't matter, if all the voices were silenced and you had only your own conscience to answer to. At some point, it isn't about the past, it isn't about politics, it isn't even about racism, it's just people; people killing, hurting, starving, oppressing other people and the people who look the other way and let it happen.

I don't want to be one of those people. I don't believe that you do, either.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 361- You've been randomly selected for additional screening at the back of the bus.

Dear Mr. President,

A few months ago, in the rapid decline of my optimism about internet dating, I agreed to go on one last date with a man from the dating site I'd been using. One last chance, I told myself, and then I could safely give up this endless series of awkward, uncomfortable encounters and sulk, self-satisfied, assured of the hopelessness of dating and single men in general. When I arrived at the coffee shop at the appointed time I was already convinced that this encounter would be no different than the last, preparing already the excuses I would make after an hour or, if I could manage, even less. Ten minutes later, I might have been laughing at the irony of this, had I not been too busy attempting to scrape my jaw off of the floor and work the dumbstruck expression off of my face. My date was not only black americano-drinking, charming and easy to talk to, he was clearly intelligent, compassionate, adventurous and funny. (It didn't hurt that he was heart-breakingly, out-of-my-league-by-miles good-looking either.) We talked for hours. Nothing romantic may have come from this date, but we stayed friends, passing e-mails and brief comments on the latest news. He suggested a number of topics for my letters to you, and helped me better understand a few stories I didn't fully grasp. Our friendship since has been casual, but it certainly helped convince me not to completely give up on the idea of meeting men online.

Today my friend, returning from a trip abroad to visit family, was unreasonably held up in an American airport by security. I don't know the details of this, what it entailed or how he finally managed to get on a connection to come back home. Unfortunately, because my friend is also Arab, I know that this would not have happened to him if he had a different last name or a different skin color. The whole situation makes me sickeningly, blindingly angry. When I expressed this to others I heard more stories of friends or relatives or coworkers or friends of friends being held up in the absurd, racist so-called security system in American airports. I remembered walking through Israeli checkpoints, the separate lines for me and for my Palestinian friends and being so naively grateful that such a thing would never happen in MY country. All day I've been thinking about airports, how standing in line to get through security with my white face, American passport and generically WASP-y name while my Arab and Muslim (or, really just sufficiently brown-skinned) friends will be "randomly" given additional screening and I keep thinking of the same metaphor. I'm sitting on a bus in Alabama watching silently as they are made to file past me to the back.

You've experienced first-hand what it is to be thought of as Muslim and/or Arab in this country. Even as President you've seen the ugly, racist way some in this country still view some one with your skin color, your name, or the religion falsely ascribed to be your own. You've heard the crazy woman screeching at John McCain "he's an Arab!", the state representatives demanding to see your birth certificate, the 20% of Americans who think you practice Islam. If any privileged outsider is able to understand the treatment Arab-Americans and American Muslims have experienced in airports since 9/11 I would think that you might be. And while the TSA monopoly on air travel and the necessity of covering great distances quickly may prevent a Montgomery bus-style boycott of airplanes, I suspect that eventually the American people will not stand to see our friends and neighbors and loved ones treated this way in the name of our own safety.

Life isn't safe. I don't feel safer knowing that my friend is being profiled, harassed, or even inconvenienced solely because of his race. I feel sick about it. My patriotism is not a brittle, small thing, but it is based on the principles this country is supposed to stand for even in the face of fear. How am I supposed to love my country, to feel pride in it, knowing that these principles can be so easily betrayed by those sworn to defend them?

My friend, who has, in the course of our political conversations, proven himself to be calmer and more even-tempered than me on many issues, said to me today that "being Arabic and in a US airport may as well be a crime." I don't know what he's feeling or how he'll respond to this incident but I am outraged that he has to feel it, respond to it at all. And it isn't just my friend, it isn't just this airport or this incident. This is happening right now, it has been happening for too long and it will continue to happen until enough people with enough power are brave enough to stand up and say it isn't right, it isn't American and it isn't keeping us safe.

Until we stop boarding the bus and say we'll be walking to work for the foreseeable future, thank you very much.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 360- Betsie Gallardo

Dear Mr. President,

When I read about a woman dying in a Florida prison, refused release on humanitarian grounds and facing a slow death by starvation, I wanted to navigate away from the page, to forget the story and to write about something else tonight. But I can't. Betsie Gallardo, born HIV+ and impoverished in Haiti, was sentenced in 2008 to 5 years in prison for assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon, a charge based on the fallacious premise that she could spread HIV to a police officer by spitting on him. Gallardo had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by a police officer in Haiti and had an intense, emotional reaction to the arrival of an officer at the scene of a car accident. She had no previous criminal record. She has since been diagnosed with terminal cancer and is no longer able to digest food. The state has refused requests from her family for release on humanitarian grounds and also refused to allow them to be with her when she dies.

Mr. President there are rapists and drug dealers and no shortage of white-collar criminals who serve far less than 5 years in prison for far worse crimes. The outrageous nature of this charge, which was certainly exacerbated by Gallardo's HIV status, is compounded with the truly cruel treatment of a dying woman and her family. How is this justice? How is a system that can look so dispassionately at the suffering of a human being the best that we can do in America? I don't approve of what she did, but this sentence (especially in light of her cancer) is stark evidence of the racism and irrationality that infect our criminal justice system. How am I supposed to feel good about sending the shoplifters I catch to a system so obviously broken? How are we supposed to criticize Iran or China for human rights abuses when we allow things like this?

You might throw up your hands and say it's a state issue, but you probably have a more direct means of reaching Governor Crist than Gallardo's family. Pick up the phone and ask him to pardon her, allow her to die at home with her family and her freedom. No reasonable human being believes she deserved a death sentence, but that is exactly what her punishment has become. The entire system needs reform, and that will take time, but right now one woman deserves a different fate. Please do the right thing.

Respectfully yours,


If I have readers in Florida, I urge you to contact Governor Crist and the rest of the Executive Clemency Board:

Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida
(850) 488-4441

Bill McCollum, Attorney General
(850) 414-3300
Click here to e-mail Mr. McCollum

Charles Bronson, Commissioner Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
(850) 488-3022

Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer Florida Department of Financial Services
(850) 413-3100

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 359- Christmas in Beit Lahm

Dear Mr. President,

Your faith teaches that today's celebration is marking the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Christians from around the world will be making pilgrimages to the tiny church of the Nativity, lighting candles and saying prayers, passing through the apartheid wall that confines Palestinians in the West Bank. When I visited this church in the shimmering heat of high summer, we walked past walls still scarred by bullet holes from 2002 gun battles between Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters. Perhaps, not being Christian myself, I failed to experience the reverence I was meant to feel for the site of Jesus' birth, but I could not separate my horror at the grotesque oppression (and it's violent legacy) of the residents of Bethlehem from my respect for the teachings of Christianity's central figure.

For all of those American Christians who are today sitting in churches, saying their prayers or singing carols, I hope that the harsh restrictions on the freedoms and opportunities of those, like Jesus, guilty of the unforgivable crime of having been born in Bethlehem are not forgotten. It seems so unjust that Christ's disciples are happily celebrating his birth when the citizens of his birthplace, Muslim and Christian alike, live under occupation in fear and confinement. Christmas may be a time of celebration, but I would hope that remembering the reason for this holiday and the ongoing (and overlong) fight for basic human rights for Palestinians might not be so easily disentangled.

I hope that you have had a good and peaceful holiday, despite the burdens of your office. As an individual with rather more control over the fate of those living in Bethlehem, I hope you, at least, have not forgotten them today.

Respectfully yours,


Two well-written pieces on this can be found at Ma'an news and at Al-Jazeera. I urge all of you to read them.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 358- Ancestry

Dear Mr. President,

Tonight my family had our Christmas celebration a bit early to accommodate our various work schedules. Around a non-traditional (and largely gluten-free, out of respect to my mother and sister's new dietary guidelines) assortment of gourmet foods we kept up the family tradition of being, to a man, loud and incredibly opinionated. Asher, my 2-year old nephew and the only child in our immediate family, seemed to sense that this day was mostly for his benefit, and ran around happily watching cartoons and playing with toys while the grown-ups mulled over boring assessments of roast chicken, maple-glazed squash, mushroom quinoa pilaf and scalloped corn. Gifts came after dinner (but long before the dishes) and we gushed over beautiful new sweaters, intriguing new books and appliances that had the adults even more excited even than Asher at the sight of his giant stuffed dragon.

Spoiled by generous siblings and our mother who never fails to make Christmas just as magical as it was when we were Asher's age, I got a poker chip heart;

Beautiful new scarves and shawls and sweaters:

The tools to marry my two great loves:

even my macbook got a little something:

but the most unexpected gift was a simple family tree from my older sister, and photos of ancestors I'd never even heard of before tonight.

The men and women in these photos are strangers to me. If there are traces of my own features in eyes or noses or cheeks I see no evidence of it. My ancestors came from Germany, Bohemia and England. They married and bore children and died in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Some settled the west, some owned slaves, some arrived with the Puritans in Massachusetts. My sisters and I kept remarking in surprise at how shockingly American the whole story is. To know that these formally-attired, stiffly-posed subjects of photographs are connected to us is strange for me, especially in my urban tribe of familial bonds forged by forces stronger than blood. What significance, if any, do these lives have on my own? Staring at so much small-scale history makes me feel dizzy with the implications, so much more personal than the characters from my textbooks.

I hope that Christmases to come will feel this way, bright and warm and full to bursting with affection for the people near me. In a few generations, when my sisters, brothers and mother and I are all just tiny branches on some one else's family tree, I know they won't understand nights like this one. They won't know about the way we teased and laughed and talked too loudly as we passed around plates of food. They won't know that three cats and two dogs tread happily around our feet, or sulked angrily under beds. They won't know that my mother's Christmas tree had one string of lights in off-white instead of snow-white and why, exactly, that would bother her. They might see photos of me in my strange clothes and find nothing to connect them to me besides the sharing of some significant amount of genes. I think this gift, more than any of the others, reminded me to pay attention, to take in the details before they were lost in whatever next century's black and white photos will be. To look around at my family and feel connected to them, for all of our differences and for all of our faults. My ancestors' Christmas celebrations looked and sounded very different than my own and certainly meant something very different than this night means to our family now, but I hope that they felt a similarly overwhelmed by the love of those around them.

I hope that you have a good Christmas, Mr. President, and that even your job allows you a few hours of beautifully mundane moments like this to remind you of the sustaining love for and from your family.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 357- Busses and bulldozers

Dear Mr. President,

I wrote a few days ago about the upcoming ad campaign in protest of the Israeli occupation of Palestine on buses here in Seattle. Even as I expressed my trepidation at the prospect of seeing my opinion represented I was hesitant about, I was, in a small way, a bit thrilled to see the campaign taking up the tools of our opposition to spread awareness. Since then, however, several things have happened. First, the David Horowitz Freedom Center (the name likely offers all the necessary explanation as to the group's purpose, but for my readers unfamiliar with David Horowitz, he's the despicable mind behind such classics as "The 101 most dangerous academics in America" and other twists on the idea of freedom.) proposed matching the 12 pro-Palestine buses and raising it to 25 busses bearing signs that say "Palestinian War Crimes: your tax dollars at work." Then King County Metro decided maybe the whole thing was a terrible idea and banned all non-commercial ads.

Ok. I have to get my head around the fact that David Horowitz is a bigoted, racist scumbag. I need a minute. All right, I'm mostly over that. His disciples, in inverting the message of the original ad, have not only created something that doesn't make even a little sense, they've demonstrated exactly why I don't like this form of outreach. One of my coworkers put it quite well tonight, saying that the venue didn't allow for the nuanced discussion necessary to change any one's mind. Beyond that, while I'm disappointed to see the city caving to backlash, I understand why public transit might not be the best battleground for the Israel/Palestine debate in America.

My frustration is mainly with the feeling that support for the Palestinian cause, something that can't be found in the White House, the State Department, congress or on any ballot, that has been stigmatized to be tantamount to anti-semitism, terrorism, extremism, is so inflammatory it can't even be presented to the public without causing a controversy. The Israeli occupation is bolstered when we go shopping, when we pay our taxes when we cast our votes. Israel is the 16th wealthiest country on the planet, the largest recipient of US foreign aid (more than the rest of the world combined) protected by US veto power at the UN, and still a sign on the side of a bus (or 12) in Seattle is too much of a threat for the occupation's fiercest advocates to permit.

So the busses will keep selling us movies or clothes or hamburgers. The bulldozers will keep demolishing houses. The settlements will sprawl. Maybe an ad campaign can't change that, either, but I don't believe that silencing discussion and dissent is going to help solve a situation that cannot continue for long. As President, you probably don't care what's happening on local transit advertisement, but I think that this incident speaks to a larger, national fear of approaching this issue. So long as our White House continues to stifle frank conversations and to lead with the example of avoidance, impotence and spineless complicity in the human rights abuses carried out by our ally, I don't see how individuals or grass roots organizations will ever find the an appropriate forum to say what needs to be said.

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 356- The narrative of the moment

Dear Mr. President,

Yay! You're officially a comeback kid! Did you wake up this week feeling suddenly more powerful than ever before? I ask because the media is abuzz with the story of your late legislative victories, and I can't get rid of this wry smile at the sudden change in narrative. Last week you were ineffective, stymied, your Presidency basically over. Now you're leading congress to more legislative accomplishments, repealing DADT, getting health care benefits for 9/11 first responders, saving the world from the threat of nuclear war with START. You're such a badass. How did things change so quickly?

Thing have not, of course, changed, but the way they are discussed on TV had to change. I'm not sure if this is a reflection of the American public's attention span or just the way the media feels about it, but it can't be a coincidence that every one changed their stories at once. It rings falsely to my ears, anyway. One of my favorite local writers, Paul Constant, agrees, asking that the media "let Bill Clinton's tired "comeback kid" trope molder in the 90s, where it belongs. Things are more complicated now. Don't we deserve a more nuanced media, too?"

Mr. Constant is right when he says "anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that you don't measure a presidency in inches, but these little victories and defeats are what keeps all these unworthy jackasses employed." . His media criticism reminds me of Jon Stewart, who has perfected the art of splicing news clips to show the absurd way one story can be discussed in identical terms. I don't think that you're a different President, that you're working any harder or that you've made any dramatic changes to your approach in the last week. I won't be even a little surprised when, a few weeks or months from now, the narrative changes again and every op-ed writer and pundit is lamenting your stalled/failed/vague/poorly articulated/tone-deaf agenda. As some one with a really unhealthy obsession with political news, I probably find this more annoying than a person who doesn't live and die with these narratives, but I think this practice contributes to our national discourse in an overwhelmingly negative way, encouraging reactionary, short-sighted emotional responses to decisions and events that require more context and perspective.

Just so you know, Mr. President, I'm not buying in to the idea of you being suddenly effective as a leader. For all of my angry, disappointed or nagging letters I've sent this year, I've never stopped appreciating your deliberate, measured approach to things (even when it frustrates the hell out of my hot-headed impulsive side.) I think you're great, but I thought you were great last week, too. I'm proud of what you've achieved and I recognize the magnitude of the work still to be done. This is no time for a victory lap or for complacency. So I hope that you soak up the good press while you've got it, because you know it won't last long.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 355- Bubble Tea and cannibalism

Dear Mr. President,

As a small child there were a number of foods I convinced myself I didn't like. Broccoli. Pizza. Tomatoes. Really it would be faster to list the foods I did eat than those I didn't. It took me years of insisting I didn't care for a variety of foods I'd actually never tried before I finally began to question this mindset and experiment. While I gradually grew to like many of the kinds of food I'd convinced myself never to try, I've held out on certain things. Tonight I finally tried bubble tea, a drink that most people in this city love and that I've long insisted not to like. It was absolutely delicious. (If my best friend is reading this I am in so much trouble.) Every time this happens to me I have the disconcerting experience of questioning my other long-held beliefs. My friend who changed my mind on bubble tea is also married. What if this means I might like that, too?

So while I've been thinking most of the night about all of the things I've convinced myself I don't like or that I can't do, changing my party affiliation would have to top the list. I could no sooner identify as a Republican than I could wake up tomorrow with normal sized hands. When I read Arlen Specter's farewell speech I chuckled at his characterization of the tea party insurgency as "sophisticated cannibalism" but I couldn't get my head around the idea of an ideology that could sway so easily from Republican to Democrat. I'm so fiercely and consistently liberal that I just can't conceive of such contradictory ideas being contained in the same mind. But, if I can't identify as a Republican, must that also mean I could never compromise with one, work together with one, or even hold a rational conversation with one? I don't think it must, but I do see how the labels make this difficult. I've certainly heard (and parroted) the comparison of primary politics to cannibalism before today. I'm not sure if I'm more sympathetic to the party-purist cannibals calling for more partisanship or the centrists like Mr. Specter decrying it. Centrism and caution certainly have a role to play, but with voters increasingly frustrated with congress' inability to get anything done, I'm not surprised that more liberal Democrats and more conservative Republicans are gnawing at the bones of their compromising incumbents. But who is to say what is liberal or conservative enough? Who is to say if this enthusiasm for either extreme is actually a hinderance to progress and change in the way it polarizes those who govern us together?

As you can tell, the revelation that I like bubble tea has really shaken me up. I'm not sure I'm really sure about anything any more. Perhaps this state, this rejection of certainty and reexamination of opinions based on new information is really what we should look for in candidates. The more I learn about our political system, the more I wish we could do away with political parties all together. I think that the party system engenders laziness in the electorate, who no longer have to discover for themselves where a candidate stands, but can decide votes based on the parenthetical letter after a candidate's name. I think it also creates a falsely combative state, implying that the Senate and House have 2 (or, generously, 3) competing opinions rather than 535. That an allegiance to party is more important for funding and re-election than an allegiance to voters or even to a politician's personal views. For example, the Republicans holding up health care funding for 9/11 first responders aren't answering questions about why, and I think that's probably because "the party leadership told us to" doesn't spin well as justification. The party system encourages this, and each side's talking-point explanations sound more and more like my own childish insistence that I hated things I'd never even tried.

Maybe getting rid of political parties wouldn't rid us of extremists, but I think it would encourage honesty (and courage) in a system sorely lacking it. What do you think? How could our system be improved to ensure that public servants (most of whom I believe to be well-intentioned) are better able to serve the people? You've been accused of extreme centrism and unforgivable liberalism (often for the same position.) Does your identity as a Democrat compel you to support or oppose issue you might not personally? Would you rather be seen as an ineffective centrist or an authoritarian extremist?

Respectfully yours,


Thanks to Jessi for the Bubble Tea :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 354- Lunacy

Dear Mr. President,

On my way to work this morning I read a New York Times report on an increase in serious mental illnesses on college campuses and corresponding budget cuts which limit the amount of help students can receive. While my own college experience certainly corroborates this, at least anecdotally, my thoughts went first to a mentally ill man we'd recently caught shoplifting at work. When my coworkers and I stopped him he seemed docile enough (if completely delusional) but once in custody he apparently became quite agitated and made threats against the lives of the arresting officers. A man with a similar illness recently committed a murder in my neighborhood, and so the idea of this shoplifter being released worries me for the safety of those who might cross his path once he's released.

There is an old police superstition about the increase in crime and craziness around the full moon. I've heard it from my parents, from other cops, and from the family of law enforcement. I don't know if I believe this. There is a certain amount of mystery to law enforcement I suppose; there have been times when just looking at a person has told me that they're going to steal. I know my coworkers have experienced this, too. I like to think our brains are perceiving something-the aggressive gait, or the furtive looks- that our conscious minds can't identify. But, absent proof of this, I have to at least consider the possibility that maybe there is some small supernatural aspect to understanding when people are ill-intentioned or dangerous. Maybe the full moon means something. (If so, tonight's lunar eclipse is going to make the whole city nuts.)

I don't think that crazy people can be dismissed as solely a celestial phenomena. Our city (and our state, and our country) need to do more to treat the mentally ill-both to ensure public safety and to help individuals function in society. That this area seems to be the quickest to be cut during budget battles is unsettling. Reading this article about the struggle to keep students in crisis alive, I couldn't help but wonder what could possibly be more important than treating those who pose a risk to themselves or others. As I talk to my peers and appreciate how many of us are frustrated at living life constantly struggling just to get by, I can't help but sympathize with those seriously ill I encounter who aren't even doing that well. Because if it's the economy or stress or the full moon, if it's college kids or homeless schizophrenic shoplifters, we all have an interest in understanding, treating and minimizing the harm of mental illness.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 353- Spring Break!

Dear Mr. President,

This week I'll be applying to join the US Boat to Gaza, (the ship you probably recall is named after your book.) It may not be the most conventional way to spend spring break, but I think that it's exactly as self-indulgent as I'm willing to be. I have no idea what the odds are of me being selected to actually go, but I suspect that I'll always regret it if I don't at least apply.

Even if I don't make it to Gaza in 2011, the discussion of the gaza blockade has taken to the sides of city buses right here in Seattle. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. While I wholeheartedly agree with the message and support the intentions of those running the ads, I don't know how effective this is as a strategy. Is $1794 better spent on an ad campaign that might not change any minds, or would it have been better used to send help to the people affected by the policies being protested? The awareness created might be considerable, but I'm not sure it will lead to the public outcry necessary for any substantive policy change.

When I lived in DC, the metro tunnels were routinely home to issue ads. One was the picture of a baby (presumably Palestinian( wearing a pro-hamas headband, and said "This child could grow up to be a: ( ) Doctor ( ) Lawyer (x) Terrorist" (The ad can be seen here thanks to flickr user louko.) The ad made my blood boil. I have visceral reactions every time I passed by it. Targeting the blameless children of this conflict seemed especially sickening, and to have it shouting at me from every wall every day of my commute ensured that I began and ended each work day so angry I could barely speak. The very nature of advertising made discussion or argument or dissent with the people placing the ads impossible. I think my intense reaction to these ads has made me hesitant to feel any joy at seeing ads supporting my views. I understand that the very effective (and well-financed) tactics of the Israeli lobby and PR organizations need to be balanced somehow, but I don't feel great about sinking to their methods.

The most I can hope for is conversation. If it gets people talking, thinking, questioning the policies supported by their taxes (often without their knowledge) I will swallow my objections and applaud the efforts of the organization purchasing the ads. The argument that a controversial, thought-provoking ad like this one is at least better than another Macy's ad is not lost on me, either. Do you think this is a helpful or appropriate forum for foreign policy conversations?

I should probably go work on my application. I know you don't agree with the mission of the US boat to Gaza and you could certainly never support it publicly, but I hope that, even if it is only in private, you find a moment to consider your own responsibility for the people who end up on this ship and for the policies that have made such an organization necessary.

Respectfully yours,


I encourage all of my readers interested (and fully aware of and prepared for the risks) to apply to the US Boat to Gaza. If you don't want to go yourself, a financial donation will help purchase supplies to deliver to the people of Gaza, as well. Other great gift ideas for those concerned with social justice can be found in Nicholas Kristof's latest New York Times column, or on

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 352- The next battle

I just want to take a moment, before I start praising the efforts of those who have been fighting for the civil rights of men and women in the armed forces, to call out those who voted against those rights today, or who decided not to vote at all.

The following Senators:

Alexander (R-TN), Nay
Barrasso (R-WY), Nay
Bennett (R-UT), Nay
Bond (R-MO), Nay
Brownback (R-KS), Nay
Bunning (R-KY), Not Voting
Burr (R-NC), Nay
Chambliss (R-GA), Nay
Coburn (R-OK), Nay
Cochran (R-MS), Nay
Corker (R-TN), Nay
Cornyn (R-TX), Nay
Crapo (R-ID), Nay
DeMint (R-SC), Nay
Ensign (R-NV), Nay
Enzi (R-WY), Nay
Graham (R-SC), Nay
Grassley (R-IA), Nay
Gregg (R-NH), Not Voting
Hatch (R-UT), Not Voting
Hutchison (R-TX), Nay
Inhofe (R-OK), Nay
Isakson (R-GA), Nay
Johanns (R-NE), Nay
Kyl (R-AZ), Nay
LeMieux (R-FL), Nay
Lugar (R-IN), Nay
Manchin (D-WV), Not Voting
McCain (R-AZ), Nay
McConnell (R-KY), Nay
Risch (R-ID), Nay
Roberts (R-KS), Nay
Sessions (R-AL), Nay
Shelby (R-AL), Nay
Thune (R-SD), Nay
Vitter (R-LA), Nay
Wicker (R-MS), Nay

are all cowards. The men and women on this list ought to be ashamed of themselves and their votes today. If any of my readers hail from the states represented by these Senators, I encourage you to e-mail them to express your displeasure at the way they have represented you and the other citizens of your state. It doesn't matter that the motion passed, that history has passed by these aging bigots and their old world views. These men and women, at least today, did not support American troops the way they deserve to be supported.

Dear Mr. President,

I was at work today when my phone alerted me to a new e-mail from you. It began:
Moments ago, the Senate voted to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

When that bill reaches my desk, I will sign it, and this discriminatory law will be repealed.

Gay and lesbian service members -- brave Americans who enable our freedoms -- will no longer have to hide who they are.

The fight for civil rights, a struggle that continues, will no longer include this one.

I think this is my favorite way to receive such good news. Not to live up to your accusation of the left being totally impossible to please or anything, but I can't help fixating on the idea that troops who are risking their lives to serve our country can't marry the people they love. We'll let them serve- now even openly- but we won't let them marry their partners. I know, I know, you and congress need a minute to breathe, to recover from this long-overdue fight, but this is too important to rest. It is unfathomable to ask gay and lesbian Americans to serve a country that still legally treats them as second-class citizens.

So while you're celebrating this hard-fought victory, I hope that you are looking ahead to the next battle. I want to feel proud of my country today, hearing news like this, but I can't help lamenting the distance we have before us, the long way we have yet to go.

Anyway, thanks for the e-mail. Keep up the good work.

Respectfully yours,


Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 351- Celery

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Dear Mr. President,

Watching The Daily Show last night, I felt like cheering when Mike Huckabee suggested that Democrats were making health benefits for 9/11 first responders a political battle and Jon Stewart retorted "honestly, to their discredit, they haven't." Stewart goes on to compare the situation to the Democrats being handed a feast of a political win on a silver platter and refusing it in order to sit in a corner and eat celery. His entire show seemed to beg the question "hey, where's your outrage now?" of every 9/11-invoking Republican, FOX news pundit and mosque-protesting bigot. Because honoring those who died on (and continue to die from) 9/11 is about more than keeping Islamic community centers outside of a 10-block radius of ground zero. Mr. Stewart, after the rally to restore sanity, forcefully reminded Rachel Maddow that unlike pundits representing real news networks, he doesn't have any skin in the game, he doesn't play so much as shout drunkenly from the stands. I think yesterday's show demonstrated rather clearly why that isn't always true. It must be frustrating to watch a comedian out-articulate you with a message that Democrats ought to have been owning since the Republican filibuster began.

Another silver platter story arrived in the form of the Republican opposition to the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010. House Republicans voted against the bill (even some who co-sponsored it) citing fiscal concerns and bizarre fears that such legislation could increase abortions. I just want to tear my hair out at the horrifying logic being used to justify this. Where is the family-values outrage now?

(See that Cat? See the Cradle? )

I understand the desire to live in merry bipartisan bliss, especially now that every one is in the spirit of the holidays. But Jon Stewart is right. Enough celery! Democrats ought to be finding every TV camera they can and repeating some version of the same line about honoring 9/11's heroes and protecting vulnerable children from exploitation in the name of marriage. The race for 2012 starts any day now (if not yesterday) and voters across the country need to know that voting Republican is tantamount to saying it's OK to let 9/11 first responders suffer and struggle and die, that it's OK to quibble about the global gag rule while 12-year old girls are forced to marry men old enough to be their grandfathers.

Put down the celery Mr. President, it's time for a more satisfying entree.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 350- Old photographs

Dear Mr. President,

Today I brought in one of my Senior portraits to show one of my coworkers who'd asked to see what I looked like with dreadlocks. A trip down memory lane always is good for a laugh, (especially when recalling my 18-year-old self's somewhat eccentric fashion sense.) This week, reflecting as I have been on the very different paths so many of my friends from those days have taken, I can't help but wonder if the girl with the purple dreads and the pink satin thrift-store dress over bell-bottom jeans would be happy with the way she's turned out. My wardrobe is certainly more subdued, my hair less exciting, but would she be ok knowing what I've become? What I've failed to become? I may not miss much about being 18, but she had a faith in herself and in her own ability to achieve that's been lost in the years since this picture was taken, and today I miss that faith tremendously.

I've been struggling lately to remind myself that lives and accomplishments can't (and shouldn't) be held up for comparison. The decisions that have led me to my current state may haunt me in the evident joy of those who chose the alternate path, but I cannot evaluate my life against those of my peers. Our circumstances and struggles and goals are very different. It is ultimately the ways I've disappointed my own hopes, and not the ways the my life and accomplishments fail to measure up to those of my friends, that really bother me.

Do you feel like you've lived up to the goals you set for your Presidency? While it may be just as unfair to compare your own achievements to those of previous Presidents, this context is used by media pundits and fellow politicians alike to lend context to your achievements and shortcomings. This may be even more unfair than judging my own life against other 24-year-olds, as
we've come of age in the same era while your predecessors had very different social, congressional and economic situations. I reject the comparisons to Presidents Clinton, Carter and Bush (I & II) but I do wonder about the ways you've disappointed your own hopes and expectations. Today's tax compromise cannot feel like you'd imagined running the country would feel when you were campaigning.

I'm probably just projecting my own soul-searching onto you, but I think that such an ugly political defeat would have to make you reflect on the things you said you'd do once you got to the White House. I wish I had something cheerful or comforting to say, but I can only hope that both of us find the strength to face our reflections tomorrow morning. Our accomplishments, past and to come, mean nothing without it. And, be it because of the judgement of old photographs or the way we suffer in comparison to others, I think that there is some good, some hope, so long as we maintain the honesty necessary to feel our disappointment in ourselves.

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 349- Undergraduate Woes

Dear Mr. President,

I really have to admire the students in the UK demonstrating against rising University fees. I don't support acts of violence and I do hope that no one is hurt, but these youth have a right to be upset by their government's decision. While petty and spiteful individuals with experience in the American system of higher education might get some satisfaction seeing our British counterparts forced to face the unreasonable burden of educational expenses that we've been struggling with for a generation, I don't think gloating is particularly productive for either nation. The fact is that American students should have been protesting tuition hikes decades ago. The British students taking to the streets now may not get their way, but at least they won't look back and wonder why they capitulated without a fight. Here, the system has failed us, continues to fail us, but we remain largely silent.

I'm lucky, this year. I qualified for excellent financial aid- not because of a drastic change in my financial circumstances, but because I finally became old enough for the government to stop expecting my parents to support me. A system such as this-one which willfully disregards the economic realities faced by most students and their families- cannot stand for long. A society is stronger and healthier when its people are educated. I don't think that making it more difficult for many and outright impossible for some to access higher education is a socially, fiscally or morally responsible policy.

I appreciate that under your administration paying for college has gotten easier for American students, especially those from low-income backgrounds. Unfortunately, economic conditions and the poor priorities of those who write the Federal and State budgets have led to decreases in funding for public Universities across the country, forcing staff and spending cuts that decrease the value of the education provided at these institutions even as tuition steadily rises. Britain is joining the US in our struggle to balance the desire to offer the best educational institutions in the world and the inability of individuals (or, increasingly, governments) to pay for it. A British friend and I were discussing this today and he pointed out that the money raised by the increase in University fees might help British Universities hire better educators and provide more resources for those attending. Some good might possibly come of this, but it will inevitably be at the expense of the poorest students who will no longer be able to access these resources at all. In the end we both sympathized with the angry, rioting students who'd just seen their educational hopes and dreams lost to the recession.

As I glimpse the light at the end of the dark tunnel that is finals week, I have to say I'm more grateful than ever for the assistance I'm receiving this year. I know I could not be in school without it. I can't say for sure that our country will benefit in equal measure once I get my degree, but I do know that without it I would feel stuck, lost, unable to live up to my full potential.

So as I watch the news from the UK and hope against hope that students there don't end up struggling the way I did as a younger undergraduate student to pay their expenses, I can't help but wonder if those of us who aren't struggling to pay our tuition ought to be doing more to help advocate for those at home and abroad who are.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 348- Secrets and Lies

Dear Mr. President,

I've never been a particularly good secret-keeper. My face gives away every emotion, every lie I try to tell. This might be why I've never had the stomach for any significant subterfuge. I've been another person's secret too many times and seen it end too badly for them and for me to have any illusion about the nobility of secrecy. If a decision cannot bear the scrutiny of others it is probably not a particularly good choice. Michael Moore recently posted bail for Julian Assange, and in his letter explaining his motivation for this decision he says
Openness, transparency — these are among the few weapons the citizenry has to protect itself from the powerful and the corrupt. What if within days of August 4th, 1964 — after the Pentagon had made up the lie that our ship was attacked by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin — there had been a WikiLeaks to tell the American people that the whole thing was made up? I guess 58,000 of our soldiers (and 2 million Vietnamese) might be alive today.

Instead, secrets killed them.

I think that what you once called the "deficit of trust" Americans have in our leaders is brought about by these lies we've been told throughout history. Wikileaks is not the answer to this; a government that doesn't hide behind lies is the answer. Instead of joining the chorus of voices from the right and left calling Wikileaks a terrorist organization, I think that you should take this opportunity to change some of the behaviors you've been so embarrassed to have the rest of the world discover. I think an important (though, for obvious reasons, unsavory) step toward this is to relinquish some of the sweeping expansions made under President Bush to executive powers. Aspects of the PATRIOT ACT, the power to assassinate suspected terrorists without a trial, even the new standards for screening by the TSA all contribute to the sense that the government does not trust the people. It can hardly be a surprise, then, that the people have developed our own system for dealing with a similar mistrust for our leaders. Some one has to blink first. Demonstrating a commitment to responsible, trustworthy leadership is the only way the government can regain our trust.

A friend, while commenting on a previous letter about Wikileaks, pointed out
most of the people whining are old politicians. Our generation has already seen these document releases happen with corporate and personal communication. We have an entire generation (the boomers) that have relied on "security through obscurity", and that doesn't fly in the technological world. This is a rude wake-up call for them.
Perhaps the endearing anecdotes about your addiction to your Blackberry deceived me into thinking you'd be on our side of a generational conflict. Surely the age issue is as false a dichotomy as race or religion or any other of the teams we're told to fight for in life, but I think that my friend is right in identifying an old world view of security and the conflict between those who cling to it and those of us willing to view security in a modern light. Secrets and lies may have worked (at least for a little while) for previous administrations, the unprecedented level of individual access to information simply will not allow it to continue. Secrets and lies have created the current state of international affairs, the mistrust of Americans for actions our government has taken on our behalf and often without our knowledge.

Michael Moore and Julian Assange certainly have their share of faults. They also don't have the complicated, difficult job of running a country or trying to keep the free world safe. But the burdens of your position don't justify the lying and they don't justify defending a system that is based on mistrust of Americans. Even if you can't publicly defend Wikileaks or Assange, you can take steps to change the way our government keeps its secrets and the way it spies on the American people. We can't trust a government that doesn't trust us, and it's up to you to change that.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 347-Richard Holbrooke

Dear Mr. President,

Richard Holbrooke's death is a loss for his family and for the international community he spent his life serving. Reports of his final words "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan" left me wondering who he'd intended them for. Were those words for you, the one person who might be able to do it alone? Or were they for all of us, each person with our own, considerably reduced, ability to bring the conflict to an end. I had to consider the wisdom of this man, his life spent experiencing first hand the international drama I study in classrooms. Was he speaking to me, then? Did he believe that the war even could be stopped?

I may not always trust my own naive beliefs about war, but I don't think that Mr. Holbrooke suffered from naiveté. His call for an end to this war joins a chorus of other well-informed voices demanding that we end this senseless, counter-productive and expensive conflict. I don't imagine that any last words, even those of such a distinguished diplomatic heavyweight, will change your position on the war so dramatically.

If there is one thing that I am saddest about after all of these letters is that I no longer believe you're capable of listening to the anti-war voices in your rush to please the right. Even when those voices come from true American heroes, you seem to have accepted the argument that being anti-war is being anti-American. In the cacophony of discussion about strategic values, public perception and geopolitics I think the simple statement that this war is just wrong will inevitably be lost.

As we mourn the passing of a great man who served his country well, I know that I, at least, won't be mourning just his death but also the sad knowledge his dying words have fallen on deaf ears.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 346- "Bigotry disguised as prudence"

It still seems an unwritten rule in establishment Washington that homophobia is at most a misdemeanor. By this code, the Smithsonian’s surrender is no big deal; let the art world do its little protests. This attitude explains why the ever more absurd excuses concocted by John McCain for almost single-handedly thwarting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are rarely called out for what they are — “bigotry disguised as prudence,” in the apt phrase of Slate’s military affairs columnist, Fred Kaplan.

-Frank Rich "Gay Bashing at the Smithsonian"

Dear Mr. President,

Frank Rich's column in the New York Times is worth reading, and not just for the brilliant and characteristically eloquent way he takes down the hypocrites crying "hate speech" about the Smithsonian's exhibit including "A Fire in My Belly." Beyond the cold political outrage, Rich draws a parallel between the deaths of bullied gay teens and the deaths of so many artists and the ones they loved to AIDS. His words convey a palpable helplessness, the frustration of watching from a distance as so many suffer and die needlessly as those in power condemn them, of listening as the hateful bullying from the right once is once again allowed to marginalize the gay community without objection.

I can relate to the way Rich feels. It's appalling to see the Smithsonian capitulate to the homophobic bullies on the right offended by art. And while Republicans in congress pile on their own objections, they continue to hold up repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, and, as Rich notes, have yet to participate in the anti-bullying it gets better project. I think that common sense tells us a piece of art that some find offensive is far less deserving of the condemnation of members of congress than a national epidemic of homophobia and its attending death and suffering. I don't understand. I know I am removed from it, living in the privilege of a white-skinned heterosexual body. But I couldn't help but see the faces of my friends in the stories of the young artists dying of and losing loved ones to AIDS, of the boys giving up on life because they fear they will never live and be accepted for who they are. I see them in these stories and I ache for losing them and seeing their losses. Most of all, I feel angry. Angry that I cannot protect them from people like this, people with the power to help them who do nothing but make it worse and then have the audacity to get angry about their expressions of frustration. It is unsurprising that a religion wielded as a tool of oppression will become the target of criticism and frustration by those it oppresses.

Heterosexual Christians wrote the laws of this country. They have determined who can vote, who can marry, whose lives are worth funding research to save and who gets to serve in the military. It is long past time for it to be ok to make and display and honor art that expresses the pain at the damage that their system has caused. The Smithsonian made a mistake, backing down in the face of this manufactured controversy. I think it is time that you (and more of those with the power to change our cultural acceptance of homophobia) stood up and said so.

Mr. President you campaigned on the promise that life for gay and lesbian Americans would be better under your administration than under President Bush's. While there may be a limit on how many minds you can legislate into acceptance, there are unjust laws that are within your power to change. The alteration of this exhibit at the Smithsonian may seem like a small thing, but it is the latest in a long series of capitulations to the idea that not only is being gay unacceptable, being angry at the way the rest of the country treats you isn't either.

Please read Mr. Rich's column, Mr. President, and ask yourself if you are still fine doing nothing on this issue.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 345- Family, Finals, and Tolstoy

Dear Mr. President,

I've been thinking a lot about family dynamics today. My aunt is visiting, and, especially with the holidays approaching, I'm observing the complicated way that my family and the families of those around me interact. This afternoon, as I returned from my final (by the way, can you issue an executive order forbidding Saturday morning finals? More on this later.) I was discussing college with a coworker and mentioned that as a younger person I'd dreamed of attending NYU. I lamented that, had I gone, my life would be different, I wouldn't be struggling as a 24 year old to finish my undergraduate degree and subjected to the indignities of Saturday morning final exams. It wasn't ultimately grades or distance or even money that kept me out of NYU- it was my father. And, while the wisdom of the intervening 6 years may have taught me that I likely would have made plenty of my own mistakes, or encountered obstacles and tragedies no matter what he decided about my college possibilities, I still resent him as the reason my life is what it is. It is a resentment that is wholly unproductive, of course, and no excuse for my own faults, but his discouragement mattered so much more at that stage in my life because he was family. I think of him more around the holidays, inevitably, but this year, at least when I'm not having my entire day thrown off by inexplicably scheduled exams, I'm not as troubled as I usually am. I have the love of those people who have supported and encouraged me, and that is so much easier to hold on to and so much easier to think of as family.

No life is simple enough to blame all struggles and problems and Saturday finals on one person or once choice. Mine certainly isn't. Surely one of the essential things that we gain from these experiences are the skills necessary to interact with other humans once we're old enough to be more selective about who we spend our time with. I think the news story that brought all of this rambling about families on is probably pretty obviously the tragedy of Mark Madoff's suicide on the anniversary of his father's arrest, but I sort of lost the nerve to write about it. For one thing, I don't want to read any more, it feels like a private tragedy for a family, the kind that shouldn't be headline news. For another, I can't judge any one in this story. Families are complicated and messy and maybe the one thing that unites all of humanity. I'm sure fathers are screwing up their kids in Afghanistan and Portugal and Senegal and every other country on this planet, and the fierce love and protectiveness I feel for my own current family (blood and otherwise) is reflected in every human in every culture. We're all differently damaged by our families, of course, but I don't believe Tolstoy for a second that this is only true for the damage. Happy families are not all alike. Our happiness, the way we love one another, is surely as varied as our humanity. So I will not speak about the Madoff family, or any family, when it is only mine that I can begin to understand.

My family is simultaneously small and sprawling, the product of choice and circumstance and happy coincidence. They put up with me when I grumble too much about finals on Saturdays. I am grateful for them and for all of their quirks and complexity. And while I challenge myself to put aside my resentful feelings towards the people in my past, it is the people in my life presently that make me appreciative of where I have been and what I have experienced. Perhaps it has more to do with the inevitable reflection caused by the end of this year drawing closer, but I am certain that, however different you and I may be and however differently we may feel about the events that brought us to our current lives, we're both experiencing our own gratitude for the presence of those we love right now in a perfectly un-Tolstoy-like way. So I hope that in the coming weeks you, too, have time to enjoy (and, more than likely at times, suffer through) the presence of family without worrying about anything bigger than that.

Respectfully yours,



Please think about that Executive Order.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 344- Approval ratings are overrated

Dear Mr. President,

I should probably preface this letter with a warning; I haven't slept much at all this week, finals are making me crazy, and I'm currently getting my kicks by deliberately misleading the rude customers who keep approaching me in the cafe and treating me like I work here. (Ok, I do work here. But they don't know that. I'm just trying to study and drink coffee in peace. I am not a directory.) I'm a little off today, and more than a little sick of most of the human race. Perhaps it is this black humor that has me so enjoying the latest Daily Show segment on your approval rating of the American people.

That's right. Your rating of us. Right now it has to be pretty low. We're capricious, apathetic, lazy (physically and intellectually) we want you to do everything and we don't want to have to pay for any of it. Also, we're all right, all of the time. Even when we disagree with each other (and ours past or future selves.) While Jon Stewart & crew's point seems to be about public whims over health care and taxes, I read an op-ed today from Roger Cohen that says basically the same thing about foreign policy. "President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency for his attempt to denounce the continued growth of settlements as unacceptable and as undermining a two-state peace at its core: land."

While I do think that some of the blame belongs to you and probably even more belongs to congress, I'm a big fan of the blame-the-voters-for-being-idiots strategy, too. And not just because they keep confusing the cafe counter with the information desk and being rude about it to boot. Because our economy couldn't possibly be this bad, our military this extended into wars this ridiculous, our jails this full and our reality TV shows this popular if a significant part of the population wasn't quite so dumb. (Before my libertarian friends get all upset, I know there are "good liberals" in the stupid category as well. I've met them. One of them called me a fucking zionist whore in comments on this blog.) So, yes, it's our fault, too. You probably shouldn't take our opinions or our approval too seriously, since clearly we don't know what the hell we're doing. We can't even distinguish a counter full of people eating and drinking coffee from a staffed information desk.

Ok, this letter has clearly veered far enough outside of seriousness for me to go back to studying. I guess what I mean to say is don't let the stupidity, the caprice, the apathy and the ignorance get you down. It could be worse; you could be working retail.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 343- Tax cuts, bandwagons and war drums

Dear Mr. President,

OK, I get it already. Lots of prominent leaders across the political spectrum have come out in support of your tax cut compromise with the Republicans. I mean lots. And releasing their endorsements one at a time in separate press releases was pretty funny. Gail Collins pointed out that liberal Democrats have been asking you to get mad for a while, and now we're complaining that you finally got mad- at us. And you have every right to be mad, I suppose, as none of us were mad enough to show up on election day and give you a congress that might have your back (though, to be entirely fair, you might have found better ways to spend the primary season than propping up every tired blue-dog with a pulse.) For all of my suggestions that you either refuse tax cuts for the rich or refuse tax cuts for all of us, I wasn't the one responsible for negotiating the compromise (and I won't be the one responsible for negotiating the next 2 years worth of legislation through congress.) You made a call and now you're standing by it.

Collins, in her opinion piece, laments those on the left still landing hard from their fall off of the Obama bandwagon, while smugly declaring her own fall is off of the "line in the sand bandwagon". I suppose I might also be accused of letting my loyalty to you as a person & my membership in the cult of personality surrounding you conflict with my true bleeding-heart liberalism. As many who supported you in 2008 walk away, disappointed, decrying the whole bandwagon mentality, I wish I could join them. Maybe it's a mark of an inferior mind to need a higher authority to place my faith in, but I haven't still haven't heard a better alternative. Should the anti-bandwagon crowd offer me another leader, or convince me that we don't need one, maybe that will change. For now, while I often think that you're wrong, but I'd never trust myself to do your job better.

In all of the outrage about tax rates and the inexplicable failing of the cloture motion to repeal DADT, I was getting more fed up with congress than with you. To add to all of this, the House has passed legislation preventing any Guantanamo Bay detainees from being brought to domestic prisons. Today has not done much for my rapidly dwindling faith in the American people and those we elect to represent us.

My own time has been selfishly consumed with a struggle to finish my final papers for class, study for my exams, and maintain something that resembles sanity closely enough to keep my boss from worrying about me. I can't fix the economy, I can't get basic equality for gay and lesbian Americans and I can't close down Guantanamo bay. I jumped on your bandwagon in the first place because you said that you could. And while my frustration might be more deserved by several members of congress and those who didn't find the time to vote in the midterm elections, unfortunately you're the one I picked for a pen pal. We can't possibly be losing the fight on this many fronts at once.

Respectfully yours,



The only thing that's bolstered my spirits today is the news that Suheir Hammad, one of my favorite poets, will be speaking at a TED conference soon. They published the text of her poem "What I will" and I thought I'd send it along to you.

What I Will
by Suheir Hammad

I will not
dance to your war
drum. I will
not lend my soul nor
my bones to your war
drum. I will
not dance to your
beating. I know that beat.
It is lifeless. I know
intimately that skin
you are hitting. It
was alive once
hunted stolen
stretched. I will
not dance to your drummed
up war. I will not pop
spin beak for you. I
will not hate for you or
even hate you. I will
not kill for you. Especially
I will not die
for you. I will not mourn
the dead with murder nor
suicide. I will not side
with you nor dance to bombs
because everyone else is
dancing. Everyone can be
wrong. Life is a right not
collateral or casual. I
will not forget where
I come from. I
will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved
near and our chanting
will be dancing. Our
humming will be drumming. I
will not be played. I
will not lend my name
nor my rhythm to your
beat. I will dance
and resist and dance and
persist and dance. This heartbeat is louder than
death. Your war drum ain’t
louder than this breath.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 342- Oklahoma makes me hopeless

Dear Mr. President,

One of my final papers is on State Question 755. I would not normally write to you about issues of state government unless it was my own state, but the broader implications of this issue and it's popular support are really getting me down today. As I'm sure you know, State Question 755 would amend Oklahoma's state constitution to prevent courts from considering Shariah or International law when deciding cases. While I have confidence that wiser heads in Federal courts will prevail, it isn't this law, or the effects it would have that bothers me the most.

State Question 755 passed with almost 71% of the vote. Not just a majority but an overwhelming majority of Oklahoma voters were convinced that the threat of Shariah law is dire enough to warrant a constitutional amendment. I believe that many issues have perfectly reasonable people on both sides, that intelligent, rational thinkers exist as both conservatives and liberals. I don't believe that SQ 755 is one of those issues. I will say now (and I don't particularly care if it is disrespectful) that any one who voted for this is either stupid, uneducated, racist or easily manipulated. It really depresses me to know that 70% of Oklahoma's voters fall into that category. It makes me think that maybe public education is even worse off than I'd realized.

Researching this issue has led to reading a number of comments from supporters wearing the modern-day white sheets of internet anonymity. CAIR is a trojan horse, they say, Muslims are evil, they say, Islamic law demands that you beat your wife, force her into a burqa and mutilate your daughter, they say. I wish I was exaggerating but these are all comments I see repeated again and again. I think this must have been what it felt like to be a white American during the era of Jim Crow. I see this pointless, hateful, twisted logic written in to law and supported by the majority and hidden behind fear-mongering and I can't do anything about it. No one wants to listen to reason, no one wants to even hear information that might contradict their beliefs. It's like banging my head against a wall.

I guess I should take comfort in the fact that Jim Crow laws were overturned, the civil rights movement did change a lot of minds and that things did, slowly, get better. Muslims in this country may be the convenient scapegoat of our irrational fear at the moment, but in a few decades or centuries it will get better. What really bothers me is that, even if things have progressively improved for minority groups in America, it seems as though the ignorance and fear that caused the oppression and wrote it into our laws (and even our founding documents) hasn't gone anywhere. We stumble from enemy to enemy without questioning the real problem- our ignorance and our fear.

I don't have anything constructive to offer. The courts will strike down SQ 755 and it will materialize in another form on another ballot in 2012. I want to be cheered by the inevitable triumph of judicial wisdom over popular ignorance, but I'm having a hard time seeing the good in a system that pits one judge against 70% of a state's voters and hopes that the right thing will be done. How do you maintain your own faith in the voters, especially after this year's midterm elections? How do you explain an initiative like 755 passing with such a wide margin of victory?

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 341- Christmas spirit

Dear Mr. President,

I've never read Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory. I'm not sure if this would earn me quite the same horrified look as referring to a picture of what was apparently the terminator as "some scary robot", but I'm sure it's some level of cultural failing. Tonight I went to listen as my very talented coworker read the story aloud at our bookstore. It was one of those perspective-changing experiences that reminds me how very not alone I am, no matter how often I'm convinced otherwise. Sitting in a small crowd that all laughed and cried at the same time, a group of people so different and yet so similarly moved, was exactly what I needed tonight. Maybe it's just the stress of finals week or the cold weather or the fact that every politician in the country (including you) seems to have gone Republican since November.

If you're not familiar with Capote's story, it describes the friendship between a young Capote and his much older relative, their adventures baking fruit cakes for beloved strangers and generally being misunderstood by the other members of their household. It's funny and sad and (having nothing else to compare it to, I can only assume) best when read by some one capable of doing all the character voices. Perhaps this, the Christmas tree on the Space Needle, and my roommate deciding to put the Christmas lights up in our apartment are nothing more than a happy confluence of holiday cheer, but the last few days have me actually looking forward to the holidays in a way I usually don't. The story made me remember my grandmother and appreciate both my strange family and my family of strangers. It made me miss my best friend more than ever. I think there's a reason why the joy of the holidays is so closely linked to lonely, nostalgic feelings. As we give ourselves time to feel the love we have for the people in our lives it's impossible not to also feel the loss of those loved ones who, for whatever reason, aren't with us.

I think this is why I don't want to talk about the tax cut deal you're making with Republicans. I know that not wanting to talk about it doesn't make it any less real (or any less of a terrible idea) but I just don't have the heart to criticize you for bad economics, bad politics and bad foreign policy every single day. As stressed out as I've been, I'm sure it's much worse for you. So I'm just going to enjoy my newfound (and likely short-lived) Christmas spirit, which is somehow both happily warm and terribly sad, and save criticizing you for tomorrow. Merry Christmas.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 340- A bad compromise

Dear Mr. President,

I'm sure you'll be getting no small amount of hell from the left over the tax-cuts-for-unemployment deal you made today with Republican leadership. I won't add to it. Not because I don't think this was a show of weakness, a terrible decision given the economic climate and a bad political move to boot, but because I wasn't in the room.

I actually wasn't in any number of rooms, as I'm sure this negotiation took place over many days on many levels in many, many rooms. I don't know what was said, what was offered and what was threatened. I can say I'd have done it differently, but I don't know, for sure, that my solution would have worked any better than yours.

I won't add to the criticism, I will say only this; I am disappointed. I feel let down, I feel ignored, I feel as though you caved in to demands you might have stood up to. I, and other liberals who voted for you, are owed an explanation. Who are we to hold accountable? What blue-dog democrats backed down? What possible justification do so-called fiscally responsible Republicans have for this massive increase to the deficit? Where were we beaten and where were we just too afraid to fight back?

It's been a long week for me, already, and it's only just Monday. Taking a break from finals week madness, I tried to follow some of the reactions to this deal. The usual name calling is all around, as is plenty of voter's remorse and more than one "I told you so" from fellow liberals. One comment came from a man whose unemployment insurance is going to be extended because of this deal, and all he had to offer was gratitude.

Maybe it's because I'm tired, maybe it's because I can accept the limits of my own knowledge, or maybe it was the gratitude of this man, but I just can't share in the fury on the left tonight. It was a bad deal, a bad day. All I can do is tell myself that tomorrow will be better.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 339-All in

Dear Mr. President,

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has stated that he will dissolve the Palestinian government and force Israel to take responsibility for the West Bank. Abbas is clearly a much better poker player than I would have given him credit for.

If Israel does not stop settlement construction, Abbas would be wise to follow through on this threat. Abbas is correct when he says that he cannot be expected to lead, to be responsible for a territory he has no real control over. Israel bears little of the financial or regulatory responsibility for its occupation, and forcing the government to pay (literally and figuratively) for its policies is the only way to compel change. The threat may frighten Israeli leadership enough to get an actual settlement freeze or could pave the way to a more just single-state solution, should the Palestinians begin lobbying not for statehood but suffrage.

I certainly don't envy the headache Prime Minister Netanyahu must be suffering as a result of this announcement.

With Israeli and Palestinian firefighters working together to battle a forest fire, I hope that government officials on both sides recognize the potential for all of the people in this region to live side by side, to work together, in peace. It can happen, but such an outcome is absolutely contingent upon civil rights, economic stability and personal security for all people, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. It cannot happen under occupation, and I am glad that Abbas, at least, recognizes this. I hope that peace talks resume in a manner that is fair and respectful of both sides, but, should the intractable commitment of the Israeli right to continue the construction of the settlements prove to be insurmountable for Netanyahu, I fully support the return of administrative responsibilities for the West Bank to the Israelis. Palestinians have long been punished (often violently) for the actions of extremists within their midst while Israel has empowered, protected and elected their own fundamentalists. The price of this hypocrisy ought to be the social, financial and political burden of the occupation and oppression supported by those fundamentalists and spearheaded by settlers in the face of international law, the interest of peace and basic common sense.

Abbas has slid his chips across the table. Netanyahu must go all-in with him, or fold and face the consequences. As Israel's ally and an advocate for peace, (not to mention a leader familiar with the costs of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan,) I'm sure you can appreciate just how difficult Netanyahu's decision will be. Netanyahu should learn from history, freeze the settlement construction and return to the table for peace talks more willing than ever to compromise for the sake of peace. Call your friend, Mr. President, and tell him it's time to fold.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Day 338-The Moral Lie

Dear Mr. President,

While I am generally opposed to lying, and do not tell many lies, there are certain lies I tell all the time. I don't think this makes me much different from most people, and I usually carry on with little notice of this hypocrisy. The polite constraints we expect of one another in most casual conversations compel a certain amount of dishonesty. I think that most of the lies I tell are for the sake of politeness. But, today at least, dishonesty weighs heavily on my conscience.

I have been staring at this page for hours now, wondering if I have the courage to finish this story. I have written before about stigmas surrounding mental illness, the way a frank admission of depression and its effects can change the way people look at you, the way they treat you and the esteem they hold for you. I have experienced both sides of this disdain and am loathe to subject myself to it. To be honest about my struggle, to be honest about my history would be uncomfortable for me and for those who think they want to know about it. And so I lie, for every one's comfort. Or so I tell myself.

When I was very young, and for years after I was old enough to know better I was troubled with compulsive self-injury. It may ring falsely to those who do not understand this, those who see only the stigma, the cliché, to describe myself as passively affected, the direct object of such acts rather than their perpetrator. And I am theirs to judge, I suppose. My history with it is long and complicated and over. I have shut the book on that struggle, on that part of my life and, most importantly, on that behavior. But the evidence of it remains, and will likely remain on my skin for the rest of my life. I don't think it is fair that I should be judged by the mistakes of my younger self, that I should be defined by this aspect of my past, no matter how far it is behind me. When questioned about these old scars, I tell myself that those who ask really do not want to know the story behind them, and it gives my conscience no trouble lying to them. It is, after all, for their own good.

Today I was asked by some one I have slowly come to trust and I lied anyway, almost without realizing I was doing it. I don't imagine he is the type of person to ask questions he does not actually want the answer to. Because I look for his approval the same way I would look for that of a role model or mentor or even a brother, I realized even as I was in the process of lying that I was doing it for my own protection and not for his. I was lying because it is important to me not to be seen as weak or emotionally disturbed. I was lying because of my own ego, my own fear, and I could not pretend that there was any nobility, any honor, in this fiction.

Which brings me, once again, (and rather oddly,) to Wikileaks. As I hear each new story, as each new lie is revealed, I find myself wondering not at the government's dishonesty but at its justification for this dishonesty. The gossipy diplomatic cables I understand. I don't care if a US diplomat thinks Vladimir Putin is Batman and doesn't want the world to know. (Honestly, I'd be more surprised at this point if Vladimir Putin wasn't Batman, but I can see how it might cause some discomfort.) These are polite obfuscations that help every one save face. The body counts in Iraq, the corruption in Afghanistan, the 22 dead children in Yemen, however, are not lied about because they are impolite topics of conversation. These are lies of ego, lies of fear, lies born of the greater self-delusion that they are kept from the American people for our own good. Even the idea that bringing these crimes to light will put American troops in greater danger is, I believe, misguided. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Yemen. And Palestine. And God knows how many other places.) know who is killing their children and empowering their corrupt leaders. This information is only secret to the American people, and it is kept secret from us not to protect us but to protect our government from our reaction to this knowledge. And there is no nobility, no honor, in these fictions.

My past is full of dark things and terrible stories and many people will not want to hear them. But I cannot pretend I hide the past for the protection of others. I hide because I am ashamed and I hide because I am afraid. And so do you. So does this government. Our greatest lie is not when we hide the truth from others but when we tell ourselves that we lie for a greater good.

I did not write this letter to call you out for these lies. Clearly, I have no moral high ground to claim. We are both liars and we are both deceived by our own lies. I wrote this letter because I have been quick to condemn your dishonesty while slow to notice the same tendency in my own life. I understand why you lie, and why you convince yourself it is the moral thing to do. I just don't think that you really believe it any more than I do.

Respectfully yours,