Thursday, June 30, 2005

30 Days as a Muslim In America

I’ll admit it, I’ll watch pretty much any reality show at least once—and most of the time I end up mildly entertained or fervently obsessed (e.g. Project Runway, Kept). Last night I caught the latest episode of 30 Days on FX. This is show created by Morgan Spurlock who brought us Super Size Me about his 30 days eating nothing but McDonald’s food. The TV show concept is similar; people take on the challenge of steppping into another way of life for 30 days. In the first episode Morgan and his wife tried to survive for 30 days working minimum wage jobs.

Last night’s episode was about a conservative Christian from West Virginia who went to live with a Muslim family in Dearborn, Michigan for 30 days. The guy from WV, Dave, was a typical average American who thinks Islam is a religion based on violence and hate and opposed to Judeo-Christian values.

“As he befriends his Muslim host family and adopts their customs, he struggles deeply with his bias against a belief system that does not recognize Christ as the Son of God and his even stronger prejudice against a religion that is closely associated in many American’s minds with Osama Bin Laden and the terrorist activity of 9/11.”

This was fantastic television.

As part of the rules Dave must dress as a Muslim and observe all customs including attending services at the mosque. He experiences prejudice for the first time when he arrives at his local West Virginia airport wearing Islamic dress. He is pulled out of line, frisked, stared at and shunned. He was clearly shaken having gone through life as a white male in Americaand never, ever feeling like a minority or unwelcome. As Dave learned about Islam he was surprised not to confirm his preconceived notions but rather shatter them. He came away with a new appreciation for the peacefulness, beauty and discipline of Islam. And fully understood that the actions of a handful should not be allowed to define and decimate the character of billions of Muslims.

Perhaps the best and worst parts of the show were the short “basics of Islam” sections narrated by Morgan. He explained the 5 pillars of Islam (allegiance to one God, daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca), Islamic dietary restrictions and recognition of Jesus and Abraham as prophets in Islam. These were fantastic, simple explanations that every American should be required to see, but the cheesy cartoon illustrations were disrespectful. For a quick, easy to understand primers on Islam check out this.

I think what struck me the most about this program was that it on a basic cable channel, during prime-time. This wasn’t some elite PBS documentary but a genuine effort to explore what it is like to live differently from what you know. I think I’m pretty enlightened; I have spent the last two years learning about the tenets of Islam, its history, political Islam, the Muslim world, Islamic movements, etc. but seeing someone confront their own prejudice and seeing Muslims explain and practice their beliefs so intimately gave me a new perspective.

I urge you to check this out when it replays and next week’s episode Wednesday night at 10pm about a “God-fearing conservative homophobe from Red State America” who lives in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood with a gay roommate for 30 days.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Jekyll & Hyde

I had a great weekend with Angel babe. The zoo was fantastic and we saw the new cheetah cubs. They were running around the yards and wrestling with each other, it so adorable. Easily one of my all-time best visits to the zoo. I'll try to post some pictures later this week. While at the zoo we ran into a family that goes to Angel's preschool and hung out with them for the rest of the time at the zoo and then met them and another little boy and his mom at the park later and then over to the family’s house to cool off on the slip and slide and eat pizza. We never do stuff like this. None of our friends have kids and I am a good 5-10 years younger than all of the other parents at Angel’s preschool, so I haven’t really bonded with other parents. Darling fiancé and I have talked about this a lot and are going to make a huge effort once we move to Buffalo to change this. I think it will be fairly easy since I have already connected with some fellow law students that are parents, so we’ll be in the same situation together.

We had a good time, but there were a few rough moments—see one of the other boys is pretty aggressive. I know that the parents are trying hard to cope but feel very badly that their son is the “bad kid,” they are always getting bad reports from school, he was kicked out of a previous day care and they are always having conferences with the teachers. He really isn’t that bad, just a bit hyper and aggressive. I think that the teachers have labeled him in their minds as a “problem,” so they tend to over-react to his behavior. I try to reassure them that he isn’t that bad and that Angel is just as rambunctious some of the time. But the weird thing was as soon as we started hanging out with this other family my son turned into the perfect child. All day we were with these two other boys and he listened to everything I said, didn’t hit back when he was pushed, used his best manners and didn’t melt into a puddle of tears when I responded “no” to one of his requests. It was wonderful; the other boys had multiple time-outs but not my perfect child. Unbelievable. But it was short-lived. As soon as we were alone again the whining came back. I know this is my own fault. As a child I was wonderfully behaved in public and at school but a terror at home. All in all, I prefer it this way rather than the reverse.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Who is the true judge of reform?

The run-off election in Iran is tomorrow and I’m sorting out what is going on. But this article from my favorite columnist in Asia Times did help explain it. The most striking thing is how it mirrors our 2004 presidential election. The less educated, more rural, more religious voters are going for the conservative candidate as a rejection of the elite intellectuals, loose morals, and engagement with the rest of the world. The more educated, urban, secular leaning voters are supporting a reform (if only by comparison) candidate who wants to open up more exchanges with the US and the West, and continue to move towards less restrictions on society—including the treatment of women. The really interesting thing: the conservative candidate, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, is quite young --late 40's, a former Revolutionary Guard commander and the former mayor of Tehran and is seen as the spokesman for the poor. The moderate candidate, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is in his 70's, amassed a huge fortune following the 1979 revolution, and served as Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997—hardly the face of change and reform one would expect.

It is coming down to a choice similar to ours in 2004. The choice between increased conservatism, fundamentalism, isolation, militarism, building nuclear weapons and government controls (Bush/ Ahmadinejad) or the at least the hope of maintaining the status quo of freedom and role of religion in government, engaging the rest of the world, using diplomacy along with military might and decreasing nuclear proliferation (Kerry/ Rafsanjani). Is the US supporting the moderate candidate? Nope. Bush called the election a “sham” motivating throngs of conservatives to go to the polls to support Ahmadinejad who opposes any dialogue with the “Great Satan” and will likely resume Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Now, I’m not saying the election was without major flaws as discussed here and here. But I firmly believe the transitioning to democracy is a very difficult process. We should applaud all moves in the right direction, no matter how small or weak those steps may be. There is no way an election in Iran—even for a largely powerless position—is going to be free and fair to the same standard as an election in the US, or even as an election in Ukraine or Georgia. But it is a start. The US needs to temper its criticism and dismissal of these tenuous steps towards change. This New York Times editorial certainly isn’t helping by dismissing any hope of reform before the election is even over.

I know there are serious problems with corruption, oppression and human rights violations in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries; I know many leaders and political groups are guilty of acts of terrorism. But the region is on the precipice of change and the US should engage a wide variety of political leaders and groups in these countries to influence the outcome of this massive transition to a conclusion that includes productive relationships with the US and the West. What is the alternative? The US can continue to criticize and denounce political movements as terrorists and not engage, and someone else will step in to encourage change, support leaders and invest in countries ensuring the outcome favors their nation and their values. This has already begun. Read this about China and Russia spreading their influence and then consider today’s news of China’s bid to takeover US oil giant Unocal.

Random Bits

I'm a little scattered today, so here are some random thoughts and things:

My thumb on my left hand has been tingling on and off for four days. At first I thought it was numb from a getting a burn while I was cooking, but now I'm beginning to launch into full hypochondriac mode and think that it is a sign of a brain tumor or impending stroke. But of course I'm not going to do anything about it just yet.

Darling fiancé leaves today for a business trip and will be back late Sunday night. I'm going to miss him. The upside: four whole days with Angel baby to myself to nurture his softer side and do activities I enjoy. That means no video games, no wrestling, no baseball watching, but lots of art projects, lazy museum trips and reading lessons. The downside: four whole days with Angel baby by myself.

Terrance over at The Republic of T brought this job predictor to my attention. Enter your name and it will tell you your ideal job. I put in my first name and it said my ideal job was "funeral director", first and last yielded "mermaid", my soon-to-be-married name (yes I'm planning to change it, that's a whole separate post) got the best answer "heavyweight boxer." I'm going to take mermaid.

Monday, June 20, 2005


For those of you wondering, the cake turned out great and pictures are forthcoming. The whole day actually went as planned and was wonderful. (I'm looking around to make sure fate isn't watching and getting ready to hand me a really shitty week to keep the cosmos in balance.)

Get 4yr old to write "Daddy" on his card--Check
Manage to make hollandaise sauce for eggs benedict--Check
Hide massive golf cake construction from fiance--Check
Play 18 holes of mini-golf during which everyone smiles and no one pouts--Check
Keep sanity while cutting Fruit Roll-ups into trees with 4yr old (you may only eat ONE!!)-- Check
Keep promise to not complain while washing dishes for the fifth time in one day-- Check
Collapse on couch after bath, teeth-brushing and reading 3 stories to watch remaing half-hour of The Next Food Network Star--Check

It was a good day.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Hole In One

I am attempting two firsts this week--first time posting a picture on my blog and first time making this cake.
I am tackling it for Father's Day. I promised Angel baby boy that I would make it and Father's day seems like a good occasion, since darling “GA's” dream is for us to golf as a family. I'm trying and I like it, but I'm just, as he would say, “not very good with space.”

When I was young the only sports that I "excelled" at (if you could even call it that) don't involve hitting a ball with another object-- swimming, gymnastics, soccer (sort of)--sports that don’t suit my aptitudes include: softball, tennis, golf--you get the idea. A game involving a ball and any kind of stick is not the game for me. Come to think of it I suck at basketball too—I think it’s the spatial skills problem again. I was bad at mazes as a child too. Wow, now that I think about it it’s a damn good thing I went to a high school that let everyone join the varsity soccer team and the student body valued academic prowess as well as, if not more than, athletic talents. The funny thing is my son is fantastic at sports and has great hand-eye coordination, certainly not from my genes. He can hit a baseball better than I ever could, but I’m going to bake best golf-themed cake ever!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

It's Official

Today I am sending in my "Intent to Enroll" form for law school. So it is now official. I will be student as of late August and on my way to racking up some serious debt. But at least it won't be as bad as if I went to school in DC. UB law school (ranked number 77 in the country--not too shabby, right?) is $18,270 /year for non- NY state residents and $12,170 for NY residents (which I will be for next year.) In contrast American University Washington College of Law (#47) is $32,452/ year. George Mason University School of Law (#41) costs $12,936/year for Virginia residents—but alas, they had over 5,000 applicants for 209 spaces last year and didn’t think I was stellar enough for one of the slots.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Do Facts Matter?

I spend much of my work life talking about messaging and "talking to people where they are" and "framing the issues." Part of that means accepting that once a person chooses a side they tend ignore or disbelieve facts that don't support their position--the consultant speak for this is "facts don't fit the frame." After many years of advocating for policy change, I tend to believe this. The more someone has hardened their opinion on a subject or feels they have picked a side, the more difficult it is to persuade them to change their mind with more facts.

Despite all of that, I think the following facts should give everyone pause, regardless of what side of the Iraq war debate you're on:


Approximate number of U.S. troops currently in Iraq: 139,000

Percent of coalition forces contributed by the U.S.: 85.7

Weeks since the Pentagon announced a plan to draw

down U.S. forces to roughly 100,000: 83

Approximate amount appropriated by

Congress for Iraq operations so far: $218 billion

Approximate amount spent in Iraq

by the U.S. last week: $1.03 billion

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) found: 0

Number of U.S. service members killed in Iraq: 1,697

Number killed since the President

announced the end of major combat: 1,558

Number wounded: 12,861

Number of Iraqi military and police killed

since training began (June 2003): 2,231

Estimated number of insurgents in Iraq (November 2003): 5,000

Estimated number of insurgents in Iraq (May 2005): 16,000

Estimated number of 107 Iraqi military and special police

battalions that are capable of operating independently: 3

This is from the Weekly National Security Index from the Democratic Policy Committee of the Senate. You can find the complete document with footnotes and more on US military personnel and recruiting issues, the war on terrorism, North Korea and homeland security here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Good and bad...

Back at work after a good weekend, we braved the near 90 degree heat and humidity and went to the National Zoo. I love the Zoo, it's free and since we're members parking is free too!! There are so many exhibits that we can always switch it up and see something new. The highlights on Sunday were the bald eagles and the octopus in the invertebrate house--this is an often missed exhibit that I highly recommend, it is located slightly behind the Ape House and the path to it is next to the Think Tank.

After we got home I dove into my preparation of the "home cooked Sunday dinner." I am so desperate for us to make this a family tradition, so far I'm doing it about 75% of the time. Hopefully that will change once we move to Buffalo and there is more family around to invite. Anyway, yesterday I made paella. Since I had already done this once with my sister-in-law a few weeks ago when we were visiting my dad in Florida, it turned out pretty well. Darling fiancé "GA" said it looked restaurant quality and asked did I want to take a picture.

But of course work today has already dampened my happy vibes. Don't you just hate when you think someone is on top of something that is their job and that really, really effects your job and then they just drop the ball. I found this morning that the domain name for my work blog had expired because no one was checking the email mailbox that was listed as the contact information for the registration. And I'm not the only one, other project's domains expired in the last week or so, and all the sites have been down for 2 days or more. I'm glad everyone’s really on top of things. At least I was able to get my site back up and running.

In other news, there is a presidential election in Iran on Friday and the moderate reformist candidates are doing well in the polls. After Friday there will be a run-off election with the top two candidates, according to Iranian law the president must receive more than 50% of the vote to win. Of course it remains to be seen if the new president can be anymore effective at instituting actual reforms than the current president Mohammad Khatami because of the tight control of the hard-line Guardian Council, dominated by six unelected clerics and six judges. This article about women protesting gender discrimination made me very proud of these courageous women and feel incredibly blessed to have been born in the US, where I am free to rail against my government, vote, and protest (at least for now.) I realize most people in the US aren’t paying any attention to this, even if they know it is going on, but this election is very important and how the US and Guardian Council react to the results is even more important. Will the new president continue the pledge to not produce highly-enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons? What will the US do if he doesn’t? If the winner is Rafsanjani, who has made overtures to the West and the US in the past, continue to reach out? What will the US do if he does? For my money the best way to help stabilize the region is to work towards some sort of positive engagement with the strongest guy on the block-Iran. But I’m not in charge.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Tiny Treasure

Last night after his "graduation" we took Angel to dinner at his place of choice--Red Lobster. How ghetto fabulous is it that we celebrated this semi-momentous occasion with a trip to the neighborhood chain restaurant?

Anyway, he has been talking about eating lobster for months so we indulged him. I ordered the Lobster Lover's Feast (more food than 3 people should eat in one meal) and shared with him. He liked it for the most part, but was much more interested in which pieces of shell he could take home. We allowed him to take one small claw home, which I was ever so happy to discover this morning when I opened my purse. Ewww. It is now in “a special place so I won’t lose it.”

He has collected so many of these kinds of treasures—interesting rocks, twigs and leaves, broken hair clips, wrappers, labels—that the top of his toy box looks like the bottom of a garbage can. I know this is all part of being a kid and it is really quite charming, like the butterfly wings (the body had been picked out and eaten by a bird) that we found and he keeps carefully nestled in small box with cotton batting. But the piles of disintegrating debris will be furtively tossed without a word. I’ve learned from my past mistakes. Once I tried to reason with him and explain that some of his treasures were getting ratty and had become “trash.” The resulting scream would have made you think he was undergoing some sort of anesthesia free dental surgery. “That is NOT TRASH!! I want to keep that leaf forever!!” Okay, okay, you can keep the leaf ---for now. The leaf was trashed a few days later while he was playing with Play-Doh in another room and hasn’t been mentioned since.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


So here I go, starting my blog. I've been lurking for a while so I think it is time for me to put myself out there as well. I'm trying to decide whether or not to give a bunch of background or just dive right in. I'll split the difference.

I am about to go through some big changes in my life, after working as an advocate/activist/researcher for various foreign policy causes and issues for the last 8 years in Washington, DC, I am moving home to go to law school. And I'm getting married next year, to the father of my 4 and a half year old son who I'll refer to on here as "GA" (he's from Georgia) and "Angel babe" or just "Angel" respectively. So basically I'm packing up the family and we're going to try something new. I can't wait.

In the meantime, Angel's preschool graduation is today although last night he kept saying "gradulation" until I made him sound it out about 15 times. Lyric sheets were sent home so parents could help the kids learn the short song excerpts the kids are going to sing. The school's director said she could tell which parents had actually heard the R. Kelly song before by how the kids sang it the first day--and it wasn't a lot of them. Ahh the joys of being the youngest parents at the school.

That went pretty well, I think I'll do this again. If you happen to randomly find this blog please leave me a comment. I know it is only a matter of time before I become a comment whore as described in this very interesting and accuarte description of the blogger lifecycle--courtesy of my "blog mentor" Terrance of Republic of T.