Monday, September 21, 2009

Being an introvert parent of an extrovert child

Note: It’s been a long while since I wrote in this blog, and it’s time to start again. I’m moving away from political topics and will return to my original intent: writing about life in a Danish-American family. Here’s the first entry.

Sometimes you wonder how your children can turn out so differently from yourself. I’m an introvert, but my children are extroverts. It makes me happy that they don’t have to suffer from the same problems that have plagued me, but it also poses challenges. I’m shy, and I do not like to call attention to myself in a group. My 8-year-old daughter Nathalie is exactly the opposite. She loves nothing more than being the center of attention. That’s great for her, but since I’m her mom, this attention sometimes spills over to me.

Here is an example. In August, I took my three children to Gen Con, a large gaming convention that is held every year in Indianapolis. This is a four-day paradise for anyone who likes fantasy games, role-playing games, board games, trading card games, and everything else related to gaming. The convention attracts a mixed crowd of people; there are mostly gaming nerds, but also families with children. Many are dressed up in role-playing garb, and everyone is having a great time.

We go to Gen Con because of my two sons. Patrick plays StarWars Miniatures and Nicklas plays Yu-Gi-Oh cards. They both love to spend the weekend immersed in their favorite pastimes with fellow gaming enthusiasts. Nathalie and I just tag along to keep them company, and while the boys are busy playing, we spend our time walking around the halls of the Indianapolis conference center, trying to catch some of the activities for non-gaming family members.

This year they had a new activity. In one of the main hallways, a large cage was put up. This was some sort of fund-raising activity. For $5.00, you could accuse someone else of committing a “crime” (such as “ate the last slice of pizza” or “forgot to return my call”). This person would be found and escorted to the cage, where he or she would have to spend five minutes singing and entertaining the audience before being released. Nathalie thought this was marvelous, and she begged me to pay five dollars so she could “go to jail” and be required to sing for a crowd. I was completely mortified by the thought of having my daughter be on public display in a cage, and I simply could not believe that she would want to do this.

While we were watching, several people were “caught” and locked up in the cage. At one point, five or six people were inside, all singing “I’m a Little Teapot” and dancing to entertain the considerable crowd that had now gathered to watch this spectacle. Nathalie continued to beg me to “turn her in” so she could be a prisoner. I continued to say no. Then one of the attendants who overheard her begging decided to be helpful. She asked me if she could announce to the crowds whether anyone wanted to pay five dollars to put this little girl in jail.

Now I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me on the spot. How could I explain to the nice attendant that the issue wasn’t the money, but the utter embarrassment of having my daughter entertaining a crowd from inside a prison cage? Of course, I had no other choice than to cough up the money and “file a charge” against Nathalie. For her offense, I stated that she was “whining too much”.

Promptly, the attendant loudly proclaimed to the crowd that “this little girl has been accused by her mom of whining too much, and she’ll now be put in jail.” Nathalie joyfully entered the cage, which now had only a couple of other occupants. At least she wasn’t the only one in there. So there she was, behind bars, singing and dancing along with the others (mostly teenagers), while I was trying to pretend I had nothing to do with all this and just happened to stand there. It felt like a very long time, but finally the five minutes were up and she came out.

“Can I do it again?” she said.

I firmly grabbed her hand and we left the area.

Nathalie was happy as a clam, but I simply cannot fathom what would make anyone want to do something like this. And it makes me wonder how I could mother someone so different from myself. It must be her father’s genes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama’s Election is a Paradigm Shift in Politics

Today is a proud day for America. The election of Barack Obama as our 44th president represents a paradigm shift in the consciousness of the nation. It demonstrates that we have chosen hope and change over fear and divisiveness. It demonstrates that we are ready to embrace a future where the United States of America will become the first truly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation in the world.

Obama’s election is significant on many levels. He is hailed as the first African-American to be elected president, but it is even more significant that he represents a mixture of ethnic influences. His personal background includes White (through his mother and her family), African American (through his father, as well as his wife) and Asian (through his stepfather and sister, and his years in Indonesia). He has joked that his family gatherings look like a U.N. assembly. As such, he symbolizes a new America, where the fastest growing populations are minority groups such as Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians. By 2025, no ethnic group can claim to be the majority, and the United States will be the first country in the world where a multitude of ethnicities and cultures co-exist peacefully, eventually blending together in the proverbial “salad bowl”. The United States can become an important beacon of cultural diversity for the rest of the world to follow.

But Obama is not just a multi-cultural symbol; even more significantly, he has the ability to become a transformational leader. Throughout his presidential campaign, he has demonstrated that he is intelligent, perceptive, and visionary. He has shown that he is capable of making rational, levelheaded decisions. He is not afraid of seeking out the opinions of people who disagree with him, and he is willing to listen to facts and consider all sides of an issue before making a decision. He knows how to surround himself with the most qualified advisors on every issue from the economy to national security. And he obviously knows how to inspire people and bring out the best in all of us.

It is almost unfathomable that after 8 years of secretive leadership that was driven by the interests of a small group of insiders, a narrow-minded worldview, and George W. Bush’s personal agenda to redeem the legacy of his father, we will now have a president of the people and for the people. A president who truly represents the multifaceted groups of individuals who make up this great nation.

Of course there will be challenges and difficulties ahead. Of course, Obama will make unpopular decisions and mistakes along the way. But ultimately, I truly believe that he is driven by a desire to do what is right for the people, for the country, and for the world, and that he has the intelligence and sound judgment to be successful in his endeavor.

That we have elected Obama as our next president says something about us as a nation. It says that we are able to overcome our differences and embrace the future. It tells the world that we have grown up; that as a people we are capable of making wise, mature decisions. Yes We Can!

Congratulations, America!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Colin Powell's Voice of Wisdom

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama for president was important in many ways, mostly because it was based on wise and thoughtful arguments for Obama as a “transformational” leader. It was also important because, finally, a respected politician spoke up against the bigoted equation of “muslim” with “terrorist” that McCain and Palin have been propagating.

Here are a few quotes from Washington Post's article about Powell’s endorsement:

“Powell also said he was troubled by Republicans who "said such things as 'Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well, the correct answer is 'He is not a Muslim; he is a Christian. He's always been a Christian.' But the really right answer is 'What if he is?' "

"Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" he added. ". . . Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could become president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, 'He's a Muslim, and he might be associated with terrorists.' This is not the way we should be doing it in America.""

It was about time someone pointed this out. How is it that “muslim” has become a derogatory term? And the same apparently goes for “Arab.” I was appalled when McCain sought to defend Obama against the racist bigotry of the Republican base. A woman at a town hall meeting tells McCain that she is scared of Obama because “he is an Arab”. McCain’s answer: “No, no, ma’am, he’s not; he’s a decent family man.” As if “Arab” and “decent family man” are mutually exclusive. Most media reported this as an example of McCain trying to do the honorable thing and renouncing his own campaign’s nasty scare tactics. And yes, his motive might have been to seem honorable and salvage a bit of his reputation, but couldn’t he do that without implying that “Arab” is a pejorative?

I realize that if Obama really were a muslim, or an Arab, he wouldn’t stand a chance in this presidential election. Electing an African-American is enough of a stretch for mainstream America at this point. But that does not permit us to accept blatant xenophobia. The United States is and should continue to be a multi-cultural society with room for people of all nationalities, ethnicities, and religions. Thank you, General Powell, for bringing a voice of wisdom and reason into the public discourse.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sarah Barracuda is turning up the heat

Well, Sarah Palin didn’t get booted off the ticket. Instead, she’s back in full force. And she’s in attack mode. I guess you could say Palin did “well” in last week’s debate, in terms of looking self-confident and strong. She was sure to appeal to the right-wing Republican base, but most other people were turned off by her performance. She didn’t stumble the way she did in her Couric interview, but that was only because she set her own rules and chose to ignore the moderator. She bluntly stated that she wasn’t going to answer the questions; she was just going to talk about whatever she wanted. And she did. She talked about “mavericks” coming to Washington to “shake things up” (as if McCain hasn’t already been there for 26 years), and she talked about “energy policy,” as if she actually has something to contribute to this discussion.

Joe Biden tried to catch her on her evasive responses on several occasions, but moderator Gwen Ifill hardly ever followed up. Perhaps she was subdued by the pre-debate discussion of her possible bias, or perhaps it was simply the debate format, which only allotted a short time for each answer.

Biden may have looked old and tired compared to Super Sarah, but his answers were substantial and meaningful. He did a very good job of presenting the Obama/Biden ticket and what they stood for. When Palin ventured away from uttering catch phrases (“maverick”, “energy”), she managed to get herself into trouble. As, for example when she talked about climate change. First she states that it’s not manmade. Then she says that we need to take action by reducing emissions. Why would that help if man-made emissions haven’t contributed to the problem in the first place?

She’s also stunningly unprofessional. As when she gave a shout-out to her brother’s third grade class, telling them they would get extra credit if they watched the debate. That’s about as mature as saying “Hi Mom” and waving at the camera. Does she realize that she’s running for the second-most important office in the nation, not for VP of the local PTA?

What is really appalling about her performance is her over-confident attitude combined with her complete lack of knowledge. I cringe when she says, in that scornful voice she has mastered to perfection, that Obama is “beyond na├»ve” in wanting to meet with leaders of hostile nations. She has absolutely no credibility in anything relating to foreign affairs, and she can only get away with such statements because she is taking no questions from anyone who might challenge her statements.

True ignorance is not knowing how much you don’t know. And that is truly dangerous.

Monday, September 29, 2008

When is Palin going to withdraw from the race?

Sarah Palin’s disastrous interview with Katie Couric last week has been widely criticized, and some sound bites have been played over and over again, such as Palin’s absurd statements about Putin rearing his head over Alaska, but every part of the interview revealed that she is a person who has never seriously considered any issues regarding matters outside “the great state of Alaska.” On top of that, she tries to mask her ignorance by being arrogant and condescending. Here’s one of the lesser-heard exchanges from the interview:

Couric: In preparing for this conversation, a lot of our viewers … and Internet users wanted to know why you did not get a passport until last year. And they wondered if that indicated a lack of interest and curiosity in the world.

Palin: I'm not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world.

No, I've worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture. The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world.

There were a lot of ways she could have answered this question without insulting people who actually do travel abroad. Apparently she believes that only spoiled rich kids would travel outside the U.S. and only because their parents tell them to do so. It doesn’t occur to her that there are people who have a natural curiosity to see the world, and who might work to save money so they can travel.

And look at the last sentence. This woman has a degree in journalism, and she doesn’t know that the correct plural form is “media.” Somehow she missed that snippet of information during her six years at five colleges. When you use the plural form “mediums,” you are referring to psychic people, as in the TV show “Medium.” I don’t think that’s what she meant to say.

After her performance at this interview, plus her consistently absurd answers to the few questions she has taken from reporters, I seriously believe that the McCain camp will have to let her go. They have no other choice. And it will happen before the debate on Thursday. They will find a time to announce it when it is most likely to be overshadowed by other news – which shouldn’t be too hard to find these days – and they will wait as long as possible, to give Joe Biden as little time as possible to prepare for a different opponent. But it is going to happen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Is McCain ready to implode?

I’m getting addicted to reading political news coverage. It’s fascinating and scary at the same time to watch what is happening. It’s truly amazing to see the McCain/Palin campaign implode, and it is frightening to see that McCain is still even with Obama in polls. It can only be a matter of time before that starts to change. I’ve never quite understood why anyone would want to vote Republican, but now it’s even harder to comprehend. Each day brings new damaging revelations. Palin is emerging not only as a person who’s ignorant of anything that doesn’t involve moose or hockey, but also as a shrewd politician who governs by secrecy, favoritism, and lack of willingness to listen to critics. Sounds eerily familiar to George W. Bush. And poor McCain, I actually feel sorry for him. At one point he was known for his honesty and integrity, but he has given up every shred of that in order to become “electable,” and he doesn’t look like he’s enjoying his new persona at all.

It’s interesting to see how McCain and Obama are responding to the current financial crisis. McCain comes out with rash statements that are meant to sound decisive but turn out to be hotheaded, and he has to backtrack and change his mind on a daily basis. Obama, on the other hand, chooses to step back and review the current situation and discuss the options with financial advisors before he will announce specific plans for dealing with the crisis.

Who would you rather want to be president? Someone who favors rash decisions that turn out to be wrong? Or someone who wants to absorb and understand the facts and discuss options and scenarios with knowledgeable people before reaching any conclusions? That should be an easy choice. Of course a president must be decisive, but a president should also be levelheaded and capable of making rational, intelligent, and carefully deliberated decisions. The ability to think before acting is a mark of wisdom. So is the willingness to listen to people who disagree with you.

Oh, and by the way, with all the Republican chatter about “tax-and-spend” Democrats, it’s worth noting that a simple statistical analysis of economic conditions from 1959 to 2007 shows that under Democratic presidents, the economy does better on every important measure. Taxes are lower, government spending is lower, unemployment is lower, inflation is lower, budget deficit is lower (or surplus is higher) and the economy is growing at a faster rate. Again, it should be an easy choice.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Scary Lady

I stand corrected. Sarah Barracuda is not entertaining; she’s downright scary. It’s not her soap opera family (though the hypocrisy is appalling: the media are told to stay away from the pregnant teenage daughter, yet the poor girl and her hapless boyfriend are placed in the front row during Palin’s convention speech); it’s the issues. The more I read about Palin, the less I like her. To think that Hillary supporters would ever vote for this woman is preposterous. She stands for the exact opposite of everything Hillary stands for. Sarah Palin is pro-life, anti-gay, anti-gun control. As the mayor of Wasilla she wanted to ban books from the local library and threatened to fire the librarian when she wouldn’t comply. She wants creationism taught in schools. Her answer to our energy problems is simple: Drill, drill, drill for more oil. Nothing about saving energy.

She’s far to the right of John McCain, and disagrees with him on issues where he has taken a moderate stand. For example, she doesn’t think global warming is caused by humans and thus wants to do nothing about it. She wants to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which McCain does not. She is by no means anti-lobbyism; she hired a lobbyist to secure federal funds for the tiny town of Wasilla. She was in favor of the “Bridge to Nowhere” until it was politically convenient to oppose it. Her economic politics are reckless, reminiscent of George W. Bush. I read about this on blogs (but, I admit, not from any “reputable” sources). Apparently, as mayor of Wasilla she turned a balanced budget into a large deficit. She lowered taxes for businesses but raised taxes for ordinary people. As governor of Alaska she wants to hand the state’s surplus out to citizens while borrowing money for necessary projects.

I watched part of her speech at the Republican National Convention last night – I couldn’t bear to watch it all, but I watched enough to see that she’s one tough lady. The blog rumors have it that she’s ambitious, ruthless, and stops at nothing to get what she wants. One of the TV commentators pointed out that her speech brought the culture wars back into the spotlight. Hasn’t John McCain tried to position himself as someone who can work across the aisle and favors bipartisanship? God help us if this woman is elected to the second-highest office in the nation. I hope that the American people will see her extremist views and stay far, far away from her.