Saturday, February 27, 2016

Where to Invade Next?


Michael Moore's latest movie, Where to Invade Next is instructive, disturbing and infuriating, but Moore ends it on a note of hope. He "invades" several countries, supposedly stealing their great ideas about education, women's rights, treatment of prisoners and other topics, but he ties it together in the end with the observation that the rest of the world is simply living by our ideals better than we are. The U.S. needs to re-invent our institutions so that they more closely reflect our true goals and values, as expressed, for instance, in our Constitution.

Moore starts out by comparing how many weeks of vacation the Italian, French and German governments require all businesses to give their employees (it's several weeks a year for all three countries). You have to see the face of the Italian man when he hears that the amount of  vacation time the U.S. government mandates by law that all businesses give their employees is...zero. It's very funny and very sad for us.

This movie taught me so much, from what French school children eat for lunch (unbelievable) to what Tunisians look like. Yes, one thing this movie is good for is showing Americans different cultures, what their people look like and where these countries are on the map. If for nothing else, you might watch Moore's movie just for some global social studies. 

Moore shocked me with:
  • What Norwegian prisons look like.
  • How Portugal ended its war on drugs.
  • The story of the Tunisian conservative party stepping down from power when it realized its vision sharply differed from what the people wanted.
  • How Germany teaches its children about its role in World War II because it's important to never let such events happen again (while the U.S. tries to forget and/or whitewash our history of slavery, genocide and inhumane treatment of immigrants). 

I marveled at:
  • Iceland's prosecution of the bankers who ruined their economy (we bailed ours out)
  • Finland's free college for everyone (including Americans!)
  • Tunisia's free women's health clinics that include abortion services because abortion is legal throughout that country.


Now that I'm a American culture coach, I've been reading Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind by Geert Hofstede and Gert Jan Hofstede (father and son). The Hofstedes say that all cultures can be plotted along certain polarities: individualist vs. collectivist, comfortable with the powers that be being close to your life vs. far away, uncomfortable with uncertainty vs. comfortable with uncertainty, etc. For instance, the U.S. is more individualist. Japan is more collectivist. Most Americans prefer that our government keep its distance from our personal lives.  Italy is more comfortable with government being more involved in personal life (vacation policies, maternity leave, free college, etc.). 

As I watched Where to Invade Next, I considered how we Americans tend to believe that collectivist societies are backwards, but that when they evolve they'll become more individualist like us. We think northern Europe's tendency to be in the personal lives of its citizens is too much like a "nanny state." But those opinions are just American arrogance. Most countries in the world are centuries, if not millennia, older than the U.S. and they've developed just fine without the U.S. around to serve as a model nation. Collectivist cultures don't evolve into individualist cultures. It might even be the opposite. American individualism resembles the self-centered behavior of children who haven't yet learned awareness of the needs of others. (This is an especially easy argument to make after the extended tantrum that was the Republican debate this past Thursday night.)

At 240 years old, the United States is an infant country compared to almost every other. We're still discovering our values and common ground. We're trying to reach agreement on the definitions of words like "marriage," "American" and "family." We created a ground-breaking document called The Constitution and we're still figuring out how to live by it. Considering how mature other countries are, maybe it's not surprising that they've taken our best, most idealistic notions and implemented them so much better than we have. But we can still get there. We have a long way to go, but we're evolving.

I wish I'd seen this movie sooner when there was more time to urge everyone to see it in the theater. As Edward James Olmos once said, seeing a movie while it's still in the theater is like casting a vote. So go! But if you miss it in the theater, at least see it on Netflix or On Demand. I predict that when you do, you'll want all Americans to see it. Let me know if you don't feel that way.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Yes, Trump. Of course.


It's time to stop saying we can't believe how anyone can support Donald Trump, or as I call him, El Idiota. It's time to stop pointing out his inconsistencies, his rough character, his racist attitudes and how little policy he's actually explained. It's the backlash, people! The prospect of a majority of people of color by 2040 has a lot of Americans terrified, so they're more than ready for anyone who agrees that we've got to kick them out (Mexicans) or lock them out (Muslims). I explain this better here, so please go there for an explanation you can share with others.

If you're clinging to the hope that El Idiota won't be the Republican nominee, you're denying reality. If you're clinging to the hope that even if El Idiota is the Republican nominee, he won't be president, you're being more rational. There's definitely hope that we won't have a Trump administration, but it depends on Democrats getting out the vote. Disappointingly, neither Clinton nor Sanders has mobilized impressive numbers of primary voters. Shame on them, but once primary season is over, it'll be shame on us Democrats if we can't outnumber Republicans at the polls in November.

Getting Democrats registered and to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th is how we avoid a Trump presidency and all the scary consequences that would mean. Would you vote Republican on that day? If so, then stop reading this. Would you vote Democrat? If so, then make sure you're registered and then make sure every Democrat you know is registered and planning to vote. Send emails, texts, snail mail postcards of Chicago, whatever it takes, but it's time for action. LET'S GET OUT THE DEMOCRATIC VOTE and let's start now with voter registration.

Yeah, we thought because the United States had elected a Black president that meant we'd turned a corner. Sure, we expected that from now on the American people would move ever closer to plurality and inclusion. Not so! It's because of all the social progress of the past eight years that the backlash is so strong. To invoke Public Enemy's album title from 1989, the fear of a Black planet has large parts of the conservative, English-dominant, white, mainstream American population totally ready to back a guy like Trump (note: many people of color support him, too). So what if he's a bully? The frightened part of white, mainstream America thinks it needs a bully to protect it from violent black and brown people. So what if he offers little solid or coherent policy recommendations? Who cares if Trump himself has employed undocumented workers? What difference does it make if he shows little respect for anyone, throwing insults and dismissive smirks wherever he goes? He's going to save the U.S. from the colored folk, and that's the most important thing to a disturbing amount of people!

So stop trying to rationally understand him. Stop arguing against his candidacy. Stop saying, "I just don't get it. How can anyone support him?" Just stop it! All that crap is just spinning your wheels in a mud pit of denial. Get registered. Get other Democrats registered. If you are legally unable to register to vote, make sure every damn Democrat in your Gmail contacts is registered to vote. Do it now while there's plenty of time for your friends to say, "Oh, yeah! I never registered since my last move. Yeah, I'll get to it." Then you follow up a week later. And a week after that. And a week after that, until they do it. Let's ALL do that.

This is what we do. This is how we defeat El Idiota's demagoguery and fear-baiting: with the power of the vote.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Walking Dead makes less and less sense


I'm caught up on all the episodes of The Walking Dead and here's my main question: if more humans turn into walkers every day and the remaining humans are increasingly unpleasant -- as one must be to survive in such an environment -- what's the point of trying to create a decent community/society? There are only going to be more and more walkers and fewer and fewer humans and a dwindling amount of decent humans that you'd want to survive with. So why bother?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Clear your clutter

http://stepbystepbysandy.com/
http://stepbystepbysandy.com/

I have friends who won't invite anyone over because their place is a mess. As a big party hostess, I know the joy they're missing out on by never having people over, plus living with the anxiety that someone might just stop by unannounced (horror). No one should let messiness limit their social life.

Also, today NPR ran a story called A Cluttered Kitchen Can Nudge Us to Overeat, Study Finds. So, for my friends and others:
  • Do you still have boxes you've never unpacked from your last move?
  • Do you have corners or closets with crap in them that you keep telling yourself you've GOT to clear out?
  • Are you planning to move, but can't handle the idea of all the sorting and throwing away and packing ahead of you?
  • Does your place (or storage unit) just feel too cluttered and you've reached your limit?

My friend, Sandy Spatz, is a professional organizer in the Chicagoland area. She not only helps with the nuts and bolts of clearing and organizing, she helps with any emotional attachments you need to work through, whether they're the result of death, divorce, other loss or just feeling like your life is out of control. She gives a free consultation to see if she's a good fit for you.

Step By Step By Sandy. Check out her website and tell her I sent you!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Walking Dead

Melissa McBride as Carol.
This woman is my true peer.
In November I began watching The Walking Dead. I plowed through all the seasons available on Netflix and then downloaded part of season six from iTunes. Season six resumes tonight. Here's what I think so far.

1. What insanity/stupidity leads women (Lori, Maggie) to want to carry a baby to term with increasing numbers of monsters everywhere and no safe places or steady food sources? Asinine.

2. I totally disagree with Morgan's "all life is precious" philosophy. Carol should have killed him.

3. Carol must go down in television history as one of the most fully realized, intriguing and well-evolved characters who is also a MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN. How long have we waited for such an action figure? Melissa McBride, who plays her, turned 50 years old last year. I love this character. And on top of that, she's got the right idea. I totally agree that it's kill or be killed, and no soft-heartedness. I seriously wanted her to kill Morgan at the end of the last episode. One of my favorite scenes is her confrontation with Pete, where she bullies a bully who outweighs her by about 50 pounds. OH, yeah. 

4. My favorite episodes are the ones that feature Carol.

5. So, have Carol and Daryl ever gotten it on?

6. The priest (Gabriel) should have died a long time ago (*ahem* Sasha!). Come, on. He's worse than worthless.

7. I was fine with Andrea dying after she was such an idiot about "Governor" Phillip.

8. Favorite lines are Maggie to Glenn: "So I hear you're fast on your feet. Good at getting in and out." And: "Spencer, why don't you go make sure the gate's closed?"

9. I laughed hardest at the end of "Try" when, in the middle of one of Rick's sanctimonious speeches, Michonne conked him on the head and knocked him out cold. That was GREAT.

10. My philosophical question: if the numbers of walkers are increasing exponentially every damn day and the remaining humans are bigger and bigger assholes/sadists, what IS the point of surviving?

And now I have to leave my apartment because I don't have a TV, so I'm watching tonight's first original Walking Dead episode since last year at R Public House bar!

UPDATE at 9:45 p.m. Just watched tonight's episode (2/14/16). OH, yeah. That was good! 

Valentine's Day irony

When I filed for divorce, my then-husband signed papers that released him from having to appear in court. I appeared before the judge by myself and she finalized the divorce.

It turns out that I can divorce my husband that way, but to separate our AT&T cell phone accounts, we both have to be present in the AT&T store. Hahahahahaha!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Interesting, cool, funny

Have you noticed that underneath each post there's a field labeled "Reactions?" You can indicate whether you found the post interesting, cool or funny. Hardly anyone uses those on my blog, but I'd love it if you would!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Second blog!

As of today, I'm the proud owner of two blogs. Some say blogs are over, but I think people have just changed the way they consume them. It used to be that people subscribed to a blog and read everything posted on it. Now apps or newsletters deliver links to various articles from various places, so people still read blogs, but they read them article by individual article, not as a whole.

So take a look at my brand new blog that's on the website of my business, Welcome Dialogue. That blog will focus on life in the U.S. and the challenges of adjusting to American language and culture. It will include the challenges foreign-born employees face in the workplace when they lack confidence in English and the frustrations of American-born staff who can't understand the accents of their colleagues. My business, Welcome Dialogue, works with those on all sides of any given cultural divide because as important as it is for people to learn English, it's just as important for Americans to cultivate patience and compassion for those who are struggling to adapt to this country. We Americans greatly need more patience and compassion for people who aren't exactly like us! (The degree to which Americans need more patience and compassion makes me want to hit people.)

So I hope you pop over to the Welcome Dialogue blog every once in a while. It won't be easy to maintain two blogs, but I think I've got the brainpower. My head is full of words, words, words...

Feeling the Bern


REUTERS/Rick Wilking TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Yes, I'm glad Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary. I plan to vote for him in the Illinois primary on March 15th because I'm a leftist hot-head and I tend to back the candidate who is the farthest left. What Bernie has said about universal health care coverage, regulating Wall Street, making the minimum wage a true living wage and providing free higher education all make him farther left than Clinton, so he has my vote.

I admit that I don't expect him to win the Democratic nomination. That will almost certainly be Clinton. And when Clinton gives her acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, I'll willingly change my support to her against whatever nutjob the Republican party throws up as its candidate. I'm a Democrat by birth and a far-left-radical from experience. When the election comes down to Hillary Clinton against a Republican, she'll be the candidate who's farthest left and I'll happily go with her.

But it would be fascinating to see a national election with Sanders and Trump. They definitely have their similarities: outsiders with little or no decision-making experience, playing the angry old man trope and appealing to people's frustration with D.C. and big-business-as-usual. They also pronounce the word "huge" the same way. In fact, some Trump supporters say their second choice is Sanders and some Sanders supporters say Trump is theirs. Ideologically, that seems completely crazy, but if you evaluate the two candidates using only your heart and your gut (and turn your brain off), they can feel similar.

Or maybe it's spite voting. Maybe those Sanders supporters oppose Clinton so strongly that they'd rather support Trump than her. And maybe some Trump supporters would simply rather back another angry man outsider than one of the conventional Republican candidates. There was a lot of spite in the 2008 election when disappointed Clinton volunteers changed to John McCain's campaign rather than work for Barack Obama's. When Americans vote against someone they dislike instead of for someone they like, things get weird. And stupid.

I know many people are voting for Clinton in the primaries strategically: they want to support someone who has a good chance of winning a national election and they don't think Sanders does. That's a valid strategy. But I've never voted in a primary in that strategic way. In primaries, I vote for the person I want as president, regardless of their chances. That's why I voted for Dennis Kucinich in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. And it's why I'll vote for Bernie Sanders on March 15th. I'd just prefer him to be president more than anyone else running. That's how I vote.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

I'm 49 1/2

Next July 24th will be my 50th birthday. It falls on a Sunday, which is actually the day I was born back in 1966. I considerately arrived in the daytime, so my birth didn't wake anyone up or keep anyone awake into the night. I admit that I made my parents miss church that day, but that now seems appropriate (I'm an atheist).

Every year I throw myself a big birthday party in my home. I invite everyone I can think of and we have lots of food, drink, conversation and hilarity. People are starting to ask me what special thing I'm going to do for my 50th birthday. My favorite thing in the world is having people come over to my place for a big party. Why would I do anything different this year?

I'm not an outdoor person or someone who likes staying up past 11:00 p.m. I have no desire to jump out of a plane or get a tattoo. Yesterday someone told me I should push past my comfort zone. So far my life has been a process of trying to find my comfort zone and establish it to the world. The age of 50 feels premature for me to try to push past it. Three years ago I was married, walking a dog, living in a different place and working a job I'd outgrown. Today none of that is true, so what other comfort zones do I need to challenge on my 50th birthday?

The big difference for this year's celebration might be that this time I don't threaten people with banishment if they bring me a birthday present. I'm usually a "no gifts" person, but maybe for the 50th I'll start practicing the art of receiving with grace. I think that will take me enough out of my comfort zone, eh?

Friday, February 05, 2016

Welcome Dialogue Dinner

Welcome Dialogue had a very nice dinner event on Wednesday night. We had a guest who had recently come to the U.S. from Bulgaria and a guest who had come to the U.S. fifteen years ago from Lithuania. They got along very well. One supported the other and reassured her that things will get easier, including speaking English. The evening was all about connection and friendship.

My next Welcome Dialogue dinner will be Wednesday, March 2nd from 7:00 to 9:00 in Rogers Park, Chicago. Would you like to come? Anyone who speaks another language besides English as their first language and who came to the U.S. at the age of 18 or older is welcome! To RSVP email me at regina@welcomedialogue.com.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Eating dinner on Wednesday?



Did you speak a language other than English as your first language and did you come to the U.S. at the age of 16 or older? Are you planning to eat dinner on Wednesday? Do it at my place! Please come and meet new people while we enjoy a home cooked meal (yes, I'm a good cook) at the Welcome Dialogue Dinner. RSVP to regina@welcomedialogue.com. This is in Chicago.