On ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ by Sarah Kendzior

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah Kendzior

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sarah Kendzior is a writer and journalist I admire, for her ability to cut through the noise and get to the point. For her ability to pinpoint larger, more systemic issues which remain largely ignored by far too many. The View From Flyover Country is necessary reading. And, so is this.

Despite buying this book shortly after its release, I put off reading it for some time because I knew it would be too enraging and I was too fragile. I knew, in part, it would break me just a little bit more.

That’s quite something given where we have collectively been these last five years, how we got here and where we are headed.

However, finishing this book the morning after Trump was impeached for the second time, after a mere 10 of 207 House Republicans voted for that impeachment, has left me shattered.

Why?

Because many of those remaining 197 Representatives, all of whom swore an Oath to uphold and protect the US Constitution, despite having survived that horrid event and admitting during the debate that the President was directly responsible for inviting the siege and encouraging the attempt to overthrow the Legislative branch of the government, still voted against impeachment.

Because, yet, another smoking gun from the President himself was ignored. And, whilst individuals in positions to hold him accountable, individuals who feel he is not fit to lead or occupy the Oval Office, watched him hold that smouldering gun and refused to use the very tools in place to preserve the rule of law and those precious checks and balances they claim to hold up as so sacred.

They did nothing. One hundred and ninety seven of them did nothing.

As enraging and tragic and heart-breaking it is to read, Kendzior’s writing is so, so beautiful. Sadly, it is also necessary, primarily to preserve this tale of American tragedy for future historians. Perhaps they can better describe and disentangle how the US ended up here, and ultimately how half of us cheered this madness on.

View all my reviews

Words matter

As an academic editor and instructor for those seeking to communicate the results of their research as well as their ultimate ambitions as researchers and scientists, I obsess about words, primarily the words of others. I understand that words can and do carry incredible meaning and a power we often forget or neglect. Particularly, when they matter most. Particularly, when emotions run high. Particularly, when we most need to use and wield them carefully.

As an American, I absolutely and unequivocally support an individual’s freedom to express themselves. So long as it does not incite violence. So long as they accept when speaking what they say and to whom and how may carry consequences, and before speaking they be ready to accept those consequences.

First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.

I use this space to express my own beliefs. My own ideology. My own random musings on current events and odd occurrences in the world around me and further afield. But, I do so accepting fully that I will offend some and alienate others at times. I write and share here in the hope that it also inspires some, primarily to use their own voices and their own words, to allow others a glimpse into divergent world and views or to simply think about the world in a slightly different way. But, I also understand that what I have said elsewhere and written here about my own beliefs carries consequences for me. And, I accept those consequences. Because I understand the responsibility that speaking out carries.

As debates once again rage about the First Amendment and the Freedom of Expression as the US President is banned from social media platforms perhaps permanently and a social media platform loses its hosting services given the violence that was fomented and organised via it, it seems like we all need to re-examine what the right and freedom to express ourselves means.

It seems to me when someone uses a platform to plan and/or organise an assault on a body of government, where individuals are running around that chamber actively searching for the Vice President as well as the Speak of the House, the Senate Majority Leader and various other elected officials, so that they can kidnap or kill them, we might want to question what constitutes ‘speech’. When such actions are encouraged by a sitting President, who continues to lie after making nearly 30 000 false or misleading claims through the election in 2020, allowing him to continue to do so whilst he also encourages violence against members of a body of government might carry some consequences.

It seems to me when a sitting President encourages his devotees to march to the Capitol, when his personal attorney argues for ‘trial by combat‘ and another elected official quotes Hitler, we might want to limit their access to megaphones. At the very least, perhaps we can let them know that their words have consequences.

Furthermore, if a private business owner can refuse providing their service to an individual for no other reason than they object to that potential client being gay, another private business can also decide that they do not want to do business with a company or group or individual that fosters and foments violence in any form (Think: No shirt. No shoes. No service.).

Individuals can say what they want. But, they also need to accept that actions have consequences, particularly when dealing with private businesses and companies. (Isn’t that what many said in response to Colin Kaepernick not being signed after he took a knee?)

The Freedom of Expression also demands we use that right and freedom responsibly.

Words matter. And, the words of the President (and others) this particular week as well as for quite some time have been inflammatory, intentionally spread misinformation and outright lies, incited violence and fomented hatred. He can say whatever he wants. But, he must also accept that those words may carry consequences.

At the very least, the rest of us need to reflect upon what we are willing to say and do, and the responsibilities afforded and put upon each of us when we do so, as well as what consequences we are willing to face given our choices.

And, if nothing else, we must remember: words matter.

Do Something

Before he died, John Lewis stated, ‘Democracy is not a state. It is an act.’

This week, the world watched events unfold in the Capitol, encouraged by a madman and fuelled by falsehoods and misinformation pushed by fellow elected officials.

Yes, we must only endure another 11-12 days of an administration that has taken us to the brink. However, given the pace at which events appear to escalate within this administration, I am terrified by what could occur and unfold further. Thus, I’ve written to my own representatives in the Congress, along with the leadership, to demand action. The President must not be allowed to sit in the Oval Office one minute longer. He is not just a threat to other nations, he is a threat to our own. And, no one is above the law.

Furthermore, if a Justice can be seated to SCOTUS in days, surely something that is clearly a threat to our own national security can also be pushed through swiftly.

If you, like me, feel like you need to do something, feel free to use the text in the file below. I sent letters to my own Representative and Senators, and adjusted the text and sent it to Speaker Pelosi, as well as the Minority and Majority Leaders in the Senate. As much as I loathe Mitch McConnell, I was moved by his speech in the Senate this week. (Don’t get me wrong, I think he needs to be voted out. But, credit where credit is due, if only to further my own interests.) Once drafted, it took just a few minutes to fill out the online email forms for each Representatives office and send it. Even if you only contact your specific Representative and Senators, it’s something. And, every little bit helps.

I’ll also be writing to Republican Congressional members who have already voiced their support for the President’s removal. They need to know that they are supported as well, perhaps more so at this particular moment given the threats they are undoubtedly receiving.

If one of your elected Representatives or Senators falls within the category of individuals who objected to the Electoral College, you can also write to them demanding their resignations for a dereliction of duty and violating their sworn Oaths of Office to uphold the Constitution. At the very least, let them know that you’ll be working to support whomever runs against them in their next election. (The list of those seditious conspirators are here.)

I’ve long been an adherent to the principle that ‘decisions are made by those who show up’ (thank you, Aaron Sorkin). Voting is one way we let those running for office know our wishes and hopes and desires. But, we can also exercise our voices by contacting those who are elected from time to time and engaging with them through various public fora. They represent us. To do so effectively, they need to hear from us to know what we want them to do. You don’t need to obsess over it like I do. [I do not advocate or wish that on anyone — I haven’t slept well in years, in all honesty!] But, if those who hold office hear only our silence, we can’t really complain when they do not act in ways we support or like. This is one of those moments in which a few minutes of your time may just make a huge difference longer term.

Thank you for reading this. And, thank you for sending any letters to your elected officials. Please encourage those within your own networks to do the same.

Chickpea Enchiladas a la Vanessita

I’m not going to go into a very long complicated story about the brilliance of the chickpea or it’s meaning to The Cuban and mine’s relationship. Suffice it to say that they are important and this particular dish is something that has become my signature meal for friends, and for us when we just want something a little more special and delicious. This dish, over the last 10 years or so, has become our comfort food and celebratory dish. And, we love it.

After many requests for the recipe, I’ve put this together. I must warn you that I am rubbish at measuring out ingredients, and much of this is highly dependent upon my mood when I’m cooking it. So, feel free to freeform it. You’ll want to taste elements throughout so that you get the right combination of flavours to suit your tastebuds.

Ingredients for the enchiladas & filling
1 packet (8 to 10 tortillas) corn or flour tortillas (I typically use flour because The Cuban prefers them)
2 tins of cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 to 3 gloves chopped garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 to 1.5 tsp ground cumin
1 to 1.5 tsp dried oregano
1 to 2 tsp ancho chili powder
1 to 2 tsp chipotle chili powder
salt to taste
[NB: You can also use a packet of your favourite taco seasoning to cook the chickpeas. You can also add more or less spices as you wish and to your taste.]
Generous dollop of sour cream, crème fraîche or vegan equivalent (I’ve been using Oatly’s vegan version recently)
1/2 to 1 c shredded cheddar, pepper jack or hard goats cheese (or other cheese to your liking).

For the enchilada filling, drain and rinse the chickpeas. In a medium skillet and over medium-high heat, heat the oil and add the chopped garlic. Cook for a minute or two until soft, then add the spices and mix it well until it becomes aromatic. Add the chickpeas and then just cover the chickpeas with water and mix well. Turn the heat down, and simmer until most of the liquid evaporates. About halfway through cooking, I taste a chickpea or two to see if the flavour works. If you want to thicken the mixture a bit, add about a 1/2 tsp flour or corn starch and mix well. Remove from the heat and then mix in the cheese and sour cream.

Ingredients for the enchilada sauce:
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp corn starch
2 c vegetable broth
1 c sour cream, crème fraîche or vegan equivalent (I’ve been using Oatly’s vegan version recently)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 to 1 tsp jalapeño powder (to taste)
1/2 to 1 tsp chipotle powder (to taste)
Juice of 1 lime (to taste)

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the corn starch and cook until thickened, about a minute or two. Add the broth and whisk until smooth. Simmer until it bubbles and thickens. Turn off the heat. Stir in the sour cream and spices, and whisk until smooth and completely combined. Then, add the lime juice and mix in well. At this point, I taste the sauce using a corn chip, and adjust the spices as necessary. I have also added chopped jalapeño or jalapeño relish or more of the chili powders. But, add a little at a time so that the sauce doesn’t become too spicy.

Assembling the enchiladas:
Ladle a bit of sauce in the bottom of your baking dish to just cover it completely. Add about 1/4 to 1/3 c of the chickpea mixture to each tortilla and roll them up, placing each seam down in the baking dish. Repeat until you run out of tortillas or filling. (I find about 1/3 c of filling typically yields 8 generous enchiladas.)

Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce making sure that you cover each completely. Add another 1/2 to 1 c of shredded cheese to the top of the dish. [NB: I typically use 1/2 c cheese for the filling and 1/2 c of cheese for the top of the enchiladas and they are plenty cheesy.]

Bake until golden brown and bubbly for about 25 to 30 min at 180 C / 350 F.

Let cool slightly before serving.

I also typically serve these with a simple mango salsa (1 diced mango, 2 diced avocado, and as much diced tomato as you like tossed gently with lime juice and a bit of chipotle powder and a bit of chopped garlic).

Enjoy!

On ‘Dear Martin’ by Nic Stone

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t expecting to plough through a book this morning before sitting down to work, but that’s precisely what I did.

What an incredibly important, thought-provoking, emotional, heart-breaking and yet hope-filled gem of a novel.

I cannot imagine what it is like to be a young, black man in today’s world. But, this book certainly does much to help me to understand the unreal expectations and choices, the absurd stereotypes they must respond to and attempt to dispel, and the unending pain and confusion and frustration and anger as well as joys tempered by bullshit that they face every minute of every single day.

Damn…. What a profoundly important and beautiful book. I need to sit with this for a while.

View all my reviews

‘I am a refugee’

Far too many Americans have forgotten what it means to seek refuge in a land far from home, with nothing but hope and whatever they were fortunate enough to travel with and carry. Far too many have demonised those who simply want a better life for themselves and their children.

Why?

Whilst thankfully I’ve not (yet) had to flee violence nor war nor a government persecuting me or my people, as a migrant I did find myself in the position of needing refuge in a land not my own. And, for nearly a year, my husband and I were what you could consider undocumented — we were neither illegally staying in Finland nor did we hold valid residents permits or travel documents. We could neither travel, nor really feel as if we were safe from deportation. It was the most unsettling and precarious time of my life. And, one I’d not wish on anyone.

After much paperwork, worry and many meetings, things eventually worked out fine for us — and we’ve been granted permanent residence and a place to call home in Finland. At one point during that year, we were asked and offered the possibility of seeking asylum given the circumstances of our specific case. Neither one of us considered ourselves refugees or asylum seekers. Our life was relatively stable and we understood our position of privilege compared to the millions of refugees seeking shelter across the globe.

As an American from the land of plenty, that moment and possibility was a very odd and surreal moment and a rather gut-wrenching realisation for me. It also allowed me to understand that a refugee can be literally anyone and they can be anywhere — there is no one type of individual who seeks refuge. Lives can and do change in the oddest and most tragic of ways and for a variety of reasons.

Refugees embark on journeys that are heartbreaking and unique, varied and often dangerous; and their entry into any country is not without a mountain of paperwork and enduring patience. They need not be demonised nor feared; they should be welcomed and heard and seen.

In the land of plenty, there is room for those who are tired, poor and yearning to breathe free. Most of us who were fortunate enough to born there more than likely have refugees of one sort or another amongst our ancestors.

At the very least, we can extend a hand of friendship and offer kindness. We can offer a seat at our table, the chance to break bread and share a plate with others less fortunate than us, and a warm blanket and safe haven from which to escape the horrors other have faced on their journeys to safety.

When we faced our own immigration woes, the kindness of friends and strangers alike helped us as we navigated incredibly uncertain waters. On some days, those kindnesses were the only things which made us feel human and worthy.

Protest Postcard #11 of 50

Continuing the fight for Civil Rights

In the past few years, I’ve been rereading much of the writings from the  civil rights era in the US. Familiar names like Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis along with the works of  James Baldwin, Angela Davis and Malcom X and histories detailing the lives of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers have featured amongst my reading lists.

It’s crazy how relevant those works are today despite being 50 or more years old. Many of these writings could have just as easily been written today. We still need to make further progress vis-à-vis racial equality, basic rights and justice, particularly in making right generations and centuries of oppression and injustice along with a fair amount of racial violence.

Granting further for others does not intimidate me nor leave me fearful that my own rights will be somehow diminished or limited. More rights for you means I will not enjoy a benefit or privilege based simply on my race or class or standing granted by birth within a particular category. Understanding my own privileges helps me understand what systemic changes are necessary in order to achieve equity and in order to right historical wrongs, whether perpetrated by myself or my ancestors. Generational pain is real and persistent. Understanding that helps me do better and helps my communities become more inclusive and more just.

I’m thankful for a new generation of writers like Ta-nehisi Coates
and Ibram X Kendi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m enormously grateful to the many writers and activists who share their histories and their guidance on how we can be better allies and antiracists.

But, I’d be even happier if such works highlighting our need to continually work towards a more just society were unnecessary.

Protest postcard #10 of 50

We should all be feminists

We should all be feminists.

There’s a brilliant little book by the same name by one of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She’s far more eloquent than I, and I agree with her every word. We should all be feminists.

Indeed. There’s nothing more that I really need to say about this, is there?

If I do, here’s what I have to say: More rights for you does not mean fewer for me. It means we all benefit and enjoy equal rights and protections for and of those rights. And, it might just mean that women will not receive less pay for equal amounts of work, not needing to pull double duty by caring for all things related to the home and childcare whilst also excelling in our careers. And, it might just mean that we are finally be seen as belonging in positions of leadership. That we are capable.

Because, we are more than capable. And, we do it wearing heals and whilst also taking on the primary household management responsibilities.

I’m not sure why ‘feminism’ as a word conjures up man-hating women with no tolerance for men. But, it does. And, that fundamentally speaks to the primary reason why we need feminism.

And, why we should all be feminists.

Protest postcard #9 of 50

On ‘Steering the Craft’ by Ursula K Le Guin

Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I clearly need to read more from Ursula K Le Guin.

I picked this book up based on the review a friend and colleague posted about it several months ago. As an instructor for PhD students and postdocs who seek to improve their writing skills, this seemed like an interesting read and possible source for new ideas and tips to share.

I’m delighted to say this book proved more than useful and highly insightful, and already appears to have influenced my own teaching as well as revising for various clients. (I’m not kidding: I caught myself yesterday hearing Ursula’s guidance as I proofread a manuscript for a client, finding several highly ambiguous and awkwardly phrased sentences that desperately required reshuffling.)

Filled with insight, tips, and useful examples from masters of prose, as well as exercises for both writing and critiquing, this is a highly useful book, both for those writing fiction or memoirs as well as for those like my own students attempting to tell the story of their research. As time (and energy levels) permits, I plan to work through the exercises. At the very least, I’ll be incorporating them into my own courses and gladly share them with colleagues.

This is a gem of a resources for those who seek to write as well as for those working with writers regardless of genre, style, length or topic. It’s also a bloody good read.



View all my reviews

In this house…

I’m a bit behind — work and rest both kept me from posting a daily protest postcard here. [In my defence, I’ve done so elsewhere!]

In our house, we live by each of these phrases, particularly the phrase in the middle.

We are not threatened by equality; we embrace and work towards it. And, those individuals who strive towards equality are truly quality folks we’d like in our circle.

We seek to ensure that all human rights are honoured, particularly amongst and for women and girls.

Black lives matter. Full fucking stop.

Love is love, and it is a thing to behold and celebrate. The day marriage equality became a reality for all in the US was an incredibly happy day for us.

And humans can never be illegal. Their reasons for being undocumented are varied and complex, and largely depend on bureaucracies just as difficult to navigate as their journeys and attempts to escape unnamed or unknown horrors.

Standing up for any one of these principles doesn’t negate us or any of our own struggles nor does it diminish our own worth. In fact, standing up for the rights of others strengthens rights for all and helps to enshrine these principles into our society and community. And, that renders each of us more valuable and our communities more just and inclusive.

Protest Postcard #8 of 50