On a nuclear North Korea

I woke up this morning to feed our five month old son and saw the news of North Korea’s hydrogen bomb test. While we have known for some time of North Korea’s nuclear plans, and watched their increase in rhetoric and testing, today’s news will solicit a stronger reaction than before. Today North Korea’s nuclear threat got much more deadly.

My initial response is to think about my family. I am angry I live in a world where I have to consider my family’s safety from the power plays of a far away dictator. My gut reaction is to raise my voice to encourage a harsh, swift, and violent end to the Kim regime in North Korea, and return the country’s technology to an earlier state of human existence. A big part of me wants to see the North Korean nuclear threat eliminated at any cost, turning a blind eye to any consequences but my own family’s safety.

It’s easy to have such a response. We are engineered for survival, and eliminating things which threaten our survival is what we do by nature. The gutteral response to strike first when under imminent danger is a survival mechanism unto itself.

However, this is more than just about me or my family. Across South Korea and Japan are fathers and mothers with similar fears as me today. Maybe they are all having the same response, I don’t know. However, the threat to those in closer proximity has to have a dual edge. It’s easy to think about lobbing nuclear bombs back across an ocean, it’s another to consider the possibility of nuclear war on your own continent. There is no scenario for them where a nuclear first strike against North Korea is a safe bet.

I then think about the other set of mothers, fathers, and children we don’t see — the people of North Korea who have been ground under the heel of the Kim family for decades. They’ve been told we want them dead, that pursuing nuclear enablement was for their own survival against an unfriendly world. Maybe they are being told that if they don’t launch a first strike against their enemies, their children will not be safe. If we (the US) strike first, maybe that just reinforces what they’ve been told all their lives.

So my gut response this morning isn’t the right solution. Yes, it could keep my family safe, but at an ultimate cost to other innocent families. We need something that works for the people of South Korea, Japan, and yes, even North Korea. One despot has endangered millions. We need to be the voices of reason.

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About the “N word”.

I’m going to talk about the “N word” a moment.
 
It’s a word of hate. A word of oppression. A word of separation. It has peers — words used to describe other races, nationalities, ethnic groups, sexualities, and gender identities which should never be used to describe others, yet the word and its ilk live on, and will likely continue to in some form for the duration of language and the differentiation of one person to another.
 
Here’s the thing:
 
Sometimes, among the descendants of its victims, the word is a form of bonding, and a part of the culture resulting from enslavement and segregation. From generations of being told they are lesser. From being told what they can and cannot do. From being told what things are supposed to mean.
 
Many of the comments I’ve read resulting from this video, and a sentiment I’ve seen and heard expressed in some form all of my life, is that the word should never be spoken by anyone. That the word would have died out long ago if black people stopped saying it. That it’s ok for others to say it because black people say it to each other.
 
The irony of this sentiment is: if only for a brief moment, in having the roles switched, in being told there is something non-blacks cannot do that black people can, they are experiencing the smallest slight upon their own self-expression and rights which black people experienced hundred-fold for centuries. The anger in their comments, the sense of injustice felt, should give them a sense of the strain and powerlessness blacks have felt in having their destinies dictated to them.
 
So if you are upset about one word you are told not to say, one word which means something different when you say it than when others do, and you’re demanding to be treated with equality — maybe that’s the lesson. These were people who were ascribed that word and meaning to them by others. Black people had no control over what it meant. Taking back that word is taking back the means to define themselves, or at least dull the memory of its original intent.
 
As I said earlier, the n-word is not alone. It has brethren used to describe anyone different — white, black, man, woman, gay, straight, etc. Socially, the rules are different on what can be said without insult depending on your own group identification. Personally, I acknowledge there are some words which would have a worse meaning coming from me than from others. That’s the nature of these words. For me to try to force the victim of one of these words to never say it is adding insult to the injury.
 
It is best to leave the words which don’t apply to you alone. There are plenty of better words in life to think about.

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Inauguration Day

My How Time Flies

It feels like we just went through Election Day. The day after, I wrote a post congratulating our new President Elect, and moved on with life as usual the last couple of months. I have watched news and social media erupt as our President Elect has stormed through the transition process. I have watched with disappointment the confirmation hearings of his appointees. I have listened to friends express fear, anger, and sorrow at the upcoming change in the leadership of our country and our world.

Mostly, I’ve seen many people react to Trump’s election the same way I saw Republicans react to Obama’s in 2008 and 2012. Here we are, eight years later, and the fears Republicans held have proven to be false. Obama was their boogeyman, the personification of a world no longer theirs, yet after eight years of holding the Presidency, Obama has not taken their guns, their homes, their right to vote, their freedom, or their pride of being Americans.

The more things change…

Many would point out to me how this election is different. Trump and the Congressional GOP, rather than inspiring to give us better healthcare, social equality, and a bigger voice in our own futures, seem to be more interested in undoing anything Obama has done the last eight years and reversing social policy established over the last seventy years, back to the New Deal. Making America Great Again, to many of us, is a battle cry to reverse US policy to times when many of us were disenfranchised, when we didn’t have a voice in our destiny, when some of us had to hide the deepest aspects of our humanity.

While I hesitate to compare the fears today we express to the fears expressed by Republicans over the last eight years, I believe, whether founded or unfounded, these fears come from a common place in our minds. What many of us now have in common with Obama detracters is a fear that the world is shifting under our feet, that the fundamental rights and privileges we currently enjoy are about to change. Do you remember how irrational the fears of others seemed if you were an Obama supporter eight years ago? Do you recall how we responded to the obstructionist posture they have taken on every policy direction Obama has taken the last eight years, whether they would have agreed with someone else having the same position?

We need to be careful in our response to fear. We should not fall to the lesser parts of our nature to lash in anger, but respond in ways consistent to our values.

How should we respond to fear?

I think we have reason to fear. I think we have reason to be watchful, to be protective of the hard fought social progress we have achieved over the course of the last century. While the President is one of those who endanger that progress, he is not a lone person at the heart of the battle. To focus on one man is to give more credit than any one person is due, no matter their exhuberance.

Our true battle is one against values of inequality, the irrational fears we hold against others not like ourselves. To have equality is to have empathy, to look at someone different than ourselves and see commonality, to see the ways we are alike, and not allow the ways we are different to drive a wedge between us. To respond in the same manner to Trump as those who responded to Obama is to continue to focus on the differences. The last eight years hasn’t brought us any closer together. The people who blame Obama for that are as wrong as we would be for blaming Trump if we’re no closer together in another eight years.

Our responsibility of hope

Over the last 15 years, I changed both religion and political party affiliation. A big reason for both was fear. I looked at my world view, I looked at the people around me, and I saw people filled with fear. I saw how fear ruled their lives, how it altered their ability to see the world in a rational way, and how it separated themselves from others who really weren’t that different. I saw people looking at hope as if it were something not acheivable in this world, something to look forward to in the next. This was why I left my former religion, or perhaps why others in my former religion left me.

We rallied behind Barack Obama because he had the “Audacity of Hope”. Trump’s supporters have rallied behind him in their hope that he will “Make America Great Again”. Two different dreams, two different visions of our future, yet still appealing to the same place in the hearts and minds of supporters of either man.

Our hope should not end with the inauguration today. Our hope for a better world doesn’t live or die with the Presidency, or the Congress, or law. Hope needs to shine brighter in times when our potential is the least. When things aren’t going our way. It should be in hope, and not fear, that we act.

The speech which propelled Obama’s political career to national prominence was his keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In it, he said:

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!

Our responsibility is to choose our actions out of hope for the future, out of progress, out of making America a great place to live for our families, our communities, and for all Americans, all people within our borders. So before we take up the tactics and policies of our opponents the last eight years, let’s consider how we stay true to ourselves and act out of our hope rather than our fear.

Congratulations, Mr. Trump

President-Elect Trump,

I did not vote for you.

I had deep concerns about many of your platforms when running for office.

I don’t want to build a wall.

I don’t want to start mass deportations.

I don’t want to regulate immigration on the basis of religion.

I don’t want national stop and frisk.

I don’t want to cut the protection of a free press.

I don’t want more involvement in overseas conflict.

I don’t want women, minorities, and LGBTQ people to lose hard fought civil rights protections.

I don’t want people to lose health care insurance.

I don’t want sexual harassment to be acceptable.

I don’t want you to try to be a moral compass for me or my family.

I don’t think you’ll be able to meet any of the above concerns. This is why I didn’t vote for you.

Although I didn’t vote for you, I will give you the opportunity to win some limited support.

  1. I need a strong economy where I can keep working to support my family.
  2. I need a stable marketplace where I can afford housing, food, clothing, and make sensible investments for my family’s future.
  3. I need a healthy public education system for all children to learn, find opportunities, and become effective adults.
  4. I need affordable health care solutions, so when the unexpected happens, it doesn’t wipe out our finances.
  5. I need equal protection and treatment under law, or else none of what I work for is secure.

These five needs are what it would take for me to say you did a good job for me, but not for everyone. The first four were talking points in your own campaign. While not all encompassing, I think if you hit these five points, you will meet the needs of the vast majority of Americans.

I don’t encourage you to meet the needs of the majority at the expense of the minority.

I expect you to rise to the role of President in more than title.

I expect you to show compassion and help the poor.

I expect you to show respect to all Americans, even those who disagree with you.

I expect you to allow others their dignity.

I expect you to be in this for all the American people, and not just for yourself.

I hope you surprise me.

For the sake of all, I hope you prove me and everyone who did not vote for you wrong. I hope you will be a great President, that you will be a great leader for our country.

Congratulations on your election.

Sincerely,

Alex Cox, San Jose, CA

Election Day Eve

Tomorrow is the election. I will wake up early, get down to the local fire station, and vote.

My family did not always have this right.

My grandfather used to carry me to his polling place in the basement of the courthouse early on Election Day. He would bring me into the voting booth with him, pulling this big lever across the front of the machine to close the curtains behind us. Lifting me up, he would tell me which switches to pull down to vote for his chosen candidates. He would explain his selections before pulling that big lever again to cast his ballot and open the curtains to the machine.

img_7011What happened within those curtains on those voting machines in Virginia was magical. I looked forward to the day when I would be big enough to pull the lever and informed enough to know which switches to pull down for candidates on my own.

California does a paper ballot that seems archaic to even the machines my grandfather voted on when I was a kid. Voting in the primary was an odd, but comforting experience, placing my ballot in a box rather than initiating my vote by pulling a lever on a machine.

However you vote, it is important that all the votes get counted, that all voices get heard. Take your time, complete the form, and make sure your vote counts.

No matter what happens tomorrow, our nation will keep on. We are more than any single elected official. Media overemphasizes the importance of any single individual on the outcome of the whole. It is easy to get out of perspective.

I wrote a few months ago that I won’t fear a Trump presidency. It is as true on the eve of the election as it was months ago. If Trump wins, I will wake up Wednesday morning the same, go about my life and my day the same, and believe the same things as I did the day before.

Regardless of who wins, I hope there is a move toward reconciliation among the American people. Our polarization cannot stand.

Fear and a Trump Presidency

This is a series of tweets I wrote toward the end of Donald Trump’s GOP Convention Nomination Acceptance Speech I wish to share. 

It’s easy to feel fear. It’s natural, it’s human. What you do with that fear helps define you as a person.

You can let fear turn you mean and cruel. Fear can make you close out others in distrust.

I think fear can be used to motivate yourself and inspire others to be better. To help make the world less fearful.

In the face of fear, I like to smile. I own my fear, and don’t let it control me. Smiling breaks fear’s power for me. 

I’m not going to fear a Trump presidency. I’m going to do all I can to help others to rise above their fear, grinning the whole way. 

No matter what happens, no matter the worst, I’m not going to let that son of a bitch take my smile from me. 

On Political Correctness.

Let’s talk about political correctness a moment. 

I’m seeing a lot of posts and comments with the repeat phrase “why do we have to be so politically correct?” My answer to that is without practicing political correctness, people have time and again disregarded the dignity of others. Usually those others are more vulnerable, less fortunate, and have less agency than those making the non-PC statements. 

Granted, being politically correct doesn’t mean the heart underneath is good, just as being politically incorrect doesn’t mean you are a bad person. However, working to improve the experience of others by thinking carefully about the words and phrases we choose is a good thing.

So the next time you think about throwing out political correctness for the sake of expediency, consider your message. Do you want people from other groups to consider your idea with an open mind? Are you trying to convince others of a concept which would require sacrifice or a consideration against their own self-interest? Odds are you would receive a better response thinking critically about how others would respond to the words you choose, and how you would want them to select words wisely for you. 

In the end, taking a moment to treat others with dignity is always a better option.