Tuesday, September 30, 2008

For the Love of All Things Holy, Are You Serious?!

To Anyone Who Has Ever Accused Me of Being Subjective in My Opinions,

I want you to read about PETA's new suggestions regarding cow's milk with respect to Ben and Jerry's ice cream.

Now, close your eyes and thank God that you only have to contend with me and not these people.

All the Best,


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Monday, September 29, 2008

Family Photo

This photo of my dad's family (I wrote about them in the last post) predates the partition of India and was taken in Malerkotla, a Punjabi state that my family, ahem, er, this is awkward, ruled for about three centuries.

Far right, my grandfather. Grandmother in the middle and the two ladies on the far left are my father's half sisters. My grandfather's first wife died of TB, I think. The child on the far right is my dad, far left is his brother.

My father is the only person in this photo who is still alive. I wonder how that must feel for him.

I feel lucky to even have it. You know, maybe since I have it and others like it, the quest to instill a little sense of family history in my progeny won't be a total failure? Heh, I know you love how I worked the word progeny in there.

Incidentally, Eid ul-Fitr is on Tuesday or Wednesday and marks the end of Ramadhan.

So, go wish all your Muslim friends "Eid Mubarek."

What do you mean you don't have any Muslim friends?

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why I'm Not Going To Pakistan on Tuesday

We got the plane tickets and travel visas in order, a process which spanned over four months. I could've gotten liposuction at a celebrity spa clinic for the money we spent.

Then, the border firings in Waziristan started. Unfazed, we kept to our plans. I mean what's a little gunfire between shaky allies? In fact, we were so unfazed that we booked additional tickets to go to Saudi where Tariq's family currently lives.

I jokingly started calling our travel plans the "Department of Homeland Security Terror Tour."

A week later, a bomb exploded in the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. I watched the flames pouring out of the windows of that hotel and the sinking realization came to me that the danger was real. Followed by the sinking feeling that everything had changed.


Last time I felt that way was after 9/11. Obviously, I'm not equating the Marriott Hotel bombing with the Twin Towers, I'm just saying that the way I felt was the same.

Before 9/11, I had a very specific construction of who I was and how I fit into the world. I knew that construction would be dramatically challenged and irrevocably changed when the identity of those terrorists became public knowledge. Same thought, everything has changed.

I'm aware that a lot has happened in Pakistan before and even since that bombing. But, for some inexplicable reason, all this nonsense started feeling real for me on that day. My family and I still didn't cancel our tickets, though. We talked, and talked, and talked about canceling, but we couldn't do it.

I know now that the root cause of our indecision was based wholly on denial.

We wanted to believe that we could go to Pakistan and be safe this time, too. We desperately clung to the hope that we would travel to Pakistan during this time of unrest and find, as we had in the past, that the media had blown things way out of proportion. We'd get off the plane and find that everyone was carrying on business as usual.

But, this time, everything was shaking us. The question was, should we act on these doubts or not?

I remember being at a dinner party last Saturday and talking to a friend's mother, who is visiting from Pakistan, about the situation. I asked her what I should do, what did she think?

She couldn't give me a straight answer. We live with this, we're used to it. It's harder for you, you're not used to these things, she said.

She's right. If we went through with our plans, we would be in a constant state of fear. Every moment would be spent looking out for suspicious cars, suspicious packages and shifty characters.

I called my cousin in Pakistan at 3a.m. on Monday morning and asked him what he thought. I expected him to laugh at me. He would say I was acting paranoid, and to get a grip and just calm down. He ended up confirming the worst of my suspicions. We're always looking over our shoulders these days. And we're used to this.

How sad. To have to live in a country where you become used to bombings. I felt sorry for them.

Then, I felt sorry for me. I was done being in denial and I knew I had to cancel those tickets.

Last year, I canceled my trip because of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. So, in December, it will have been four years since I last set foot in Pakistan. I'm starting to forget about that place that has always been so important to me.

I always visited in the summer, and the nights in Lahore were and, I imagine still are, amazing.

My favorite place to be was a garden designed by my grandfather who had died years before I was born. Jasmine, guava, roses, mangoes and fruits that I don't even know the English names of perfumed the air. My cousins and I would lay on the grass and breathe in that sweet air as we listened to my grandmother tell us stories about our grandfather and our parents when they were children. As the night slowly passed, my grandmother would go to bed, but we would stay there, laying on the grass and quietly staring at the stars.

I saw so many shooting stars during those summers in Pakistan. More than I had ever seen in America in all of my life. Probably because I never really look at the stars here.

One of my cousins told me that whenever the devil tried to sneak back into heaven, the angels threw stars at him. And that's why there were shooting stars. I guess even the devil, though he chose the place he calls home, sometimes misses the place where he came from.

I have opinions on the politics of Pakistan and its relationship with America. But, today, I don't care about them.

Today, four days after I canceled my tickets, I mourn, no, I weep, for the memories I have not touched with my hands for four long years. Another year will pass and I won't touch the guava trees that my grandfather planted in his garden over fifty years ago. Touching those trees was the closest I have ever come to touching him, and, in many ways, to knowing that he was a real person.

I just want my daughter to touch those guava trees, too. I want her to touch our past and know that it is real. That it is part of her. I want so badly for that to happen, and I'm so afraid that canceling these tickets means that she will never experience that.

Because it will become easier and easier to slip into fear, to rationalize the distance, the time away... until a few years will become decades and my daughter will file Pakistan away in her mind with places like Wonderland and stories of my grandfather with people like Aladdin.

Fictional people and fictional places that exist only in the imagination.

That same mother of a friend said something else that has been echoing in my ears for the past week. What a shame, she said, what a shame that we worked so hard to build a country that our children are afraid to come home to.

From the outside, I just look like a paranoid American who canceled a ticket. On the inside, I feel like the child that's afraid to go home. Or maybe, I've just become someone whose gotten tired of dodging stars just so I can see the place that I came from.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

You Are Now Reading the Words of an Award Winning Blogger

My ultra-awesome and totally cool blogging sista, Sybil Law, has awarded me the coveted "I Heart Your Blog Award."

First, I'd like to thank the academy...oops, wrong award fantasy.

Thanks Sybil for the award, but, more than that, thanks for the comments you've left on my blog and comments such as "you're so awesome" in the Clearly, You're Retarded chat room.

Also know that Sybil called me "classy," so she's clearly a woman of unparalleled taste and distinction.

With every reward comes great responsibility, and I, as a recipient of this highly venerable award, take my responsibilities very seriously.

Therefore, I shall now bestow the "I Heart Your Blog" award to the following blogs:

Reversible Panda
I knew this guy in high school. He was funny, then, but now he's funny and clever. Basically, he sporadically scans the Internet for popular content, and then writes bitingly sarcastic comments about it. A quick and funny read.

Miss Britt - Before I started religiously reading this blog, everything I wrote sounded like a term paper. Now, I'm learning how to inject myself into every word choice, every sentence, and every topic. That's been difficult for me, but Britt's writing has kept me inspired enough to keep trying. And, Adam, I would've nominated you, too, but I've already mentioned you a few times on this blog and I'm pretty sure that people are going to think I'm being compensated. Plus, gasp, I think I like Britt more.

Avitable - Oh, fine. If you get past the Photoshop of him eating an ice cream cone with Hitler and the completely gratuitous use of expletives, you'll find that Adam is one of the most intelligent and deeply sympathetic (if he likes you) people you might ever come across. I have in no way received financial compensation for the preceding statements. But, I'm beginning to think I should.

Sepia Mutiny - A clever word play on the famed "Sepoy Mutiny" in 19th century British India, this is a South Asian niche blog. It's a good blog, but the commenters on the blog, aka the Mutineers, are the most entertaining.

1 Step Beyond - RW's funny and he has a photo of Jean Luc Picard on his blog. He had me at Jean Luc.

Kishor Krishnamoorthi - This young man is just interesting. Make sure you look at his photographs, they're amazing.

The Coffee Table - If HoosierGirl was a liquid, she'd be sweet tea.  Enough said.

My friend Tami's blog - I didn't post a link on here because I'm not sure if Tami wants strangers looking at a blog about her daughter. She gets the award because I wanted her to know how much I love looking at the spectacular photographs she takes of her daughter. I am totally jealous of her talent and very grateful for the awesome photos she's taken of my daughter. Like this one:

Awesome, right? Oh, and feel free to ignore the fact that I have no scruples and will at any given moment post photos of my gorgeous daughter for no good reason.

So that concludes this ceremony of Faiqa's "I Heart Your Blog" awards.

Now, apparently, there's a few things that you are supposed to do when you get this award, but, honestly, the people I gave the award to shouldn't feel compelled.

I found the opportunity to recognize people who enrich my life rewarding enough in and of itself.

For those of you who believe that "rules are rules," though:

- Recipients of the "I Heart Your Blog Award" may post the logo on their website
- Please link to the person who gave you the award
- Nominate at least seven of your favorite blogs
- Place links of those blogs in your blog
- Leave a message on the blogs you've nominated

Oh, and one more thing...

I find most people very uninteresting. If I've nominated you, you are very special.

Not to say that if you aren't nominated, you aren't interesting.

You are. Stop crying. You are very interesting.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Buying Time

I'm trying to catch up on my blog and write something meaningful. In the meantime, here's a gratuitous post meant to bide my time.

I love laughing at other brown people.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mommy Lessons 34,612 and 34,613

Mommy Lesson #34,612: Icing without cake is just icing.

A definition...
Outgoing: extroverted, talkative, or sociable

I submit that there are times when a Mr. (or Ms.) Outgoing  can turn out to be a lowdown, backstabbing Class A jerk. That is, there are a lot of people in this world who've got lots icing, but no cakey goodness inside.  IOW, good personality, but bad values or ethics.

(Oh, you don't know anybody like that?  Maybe you haven't looked hard enough?  Think.) 
(Still no?)  
(This is awkwaaaard.)
(Because I'm probably talking about you.)

Extrovert or introvert is icing.  What constitutes cakey goodness?  Compassion, kindness, respect.  Stuff like that.  You know, values.

Before I became a mother, I had a vision of the perfect child.  
Outgoing, a risk taker yet very obedient, popular and friendly, talkative, charming, confident, strong, aggressive when she needed to be but extremely compassionate, intelligent, a fighter, a winner, the list goes on and on.

Three years later, I'm beginning to think that people who are overly invested in visions are either messengers of God or just clinically insane.  

My daughter, N., has a lot of the qualities that I dreamed of in that original vision, but not all of them. (You can read more about her personality and my opinions regarding it on the post, Shy Kid.) 

Oh, I know she may change dramatically, and I understand that she's only three.  But, know what?

I don't care if she stays exactly the same. (Well, I could do without the feet stomping that occurs following a negative response to "Can I have Teddy Grahams for dinner?").  

I love her because of  her quiet ways, her discernment, and her reserved manner in the company of whomever she deems an outsider.  And please notice that I didn't say, "I love her, anyway."  

Because there's nothing wrong with the kid who doesn't hug strangers or the kid who still won't hug you after she's met you five times.  Extroverts don't hold superiority over introverts. A talkative risk taker is no better than a reflective thinker.  Talkative and reflective, after all, are descriptions which are generally independent of ethics, values and morals.

I've thought very hard about my original "I want this kind of kid" wish list today, the day after I've withdrawn N. from preschool because of three weeks of non-stop crying. 

A lot of books and a lot of people said she would cry because of separation anxiety.  That she would stop about twenty minutes after I left.  Well, she didn't stop.  She cried.  And cried, and cried.  Some of you might offer one of the following nuggets of wisdom:
I'm not doing her any good by coddling her, she has to learn to work this stuff out on her own.
She's never going to learn how to be social if I don't put her in social situations.
Children learn when they're pushed.
Change is always uncomfortable.  

Well, "some of you" can just zip it and mind your own business.  The rest of you can keep reading.

I know, in my heart, that my daughter's crying wasn't normal separation anxiety.  It was a meaningful attempt on her part to tell me and anyone else who was willing to listen that she is not ready for this.  

Mommy Lesson #34,613: No PhD, M.D., other kid's parent, friend or teacher should hold veto power over one's feelings about what's best for their own child.

N. told me,  I'm not ready, Mama. (Yeah, she calls me Mama, how precious is that?!)

I hear you, N., I hear you.  You're not ready.  That's fine.  I'm not ashamed of you for not being ready, and you don't have to be ashamed either.

Another definition...
Respect: due regard for the feelings and desires of others.

Now that's some seriously delicious cakey goodness.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I hate Taco Bell. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Hate it.

Which is why I cannot begin to wrap my mind around why I ate a Nachos Belle Grande and a bean burrito two days ago from there.  

Actually, I have a theory.  Somewhere in my crazy little brain, I seek out new and interesting ways to punish myself.  I like pain because it absolves me of guilt.  

And punish myself I did.  I have heard of this disease called dysentery.  Without going into the nasty details of it, I'm pretty sure I have it.

In other news, I've decided not to postpone my Pakistancation, despite the following:

Awesome.  If my three year old wasn't tagging along, the prospect of visiting a country on the brink of international and civil war might have actually been fun.

I would love to blog about why I'm going forward with the trip, but you'll have to wait on that. I have to use the bathroom.  

Dysentery is fun.

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Friday, September 12, 2008


UPDATE: This post was written about 12 hours before the breaking news United States Armed Forces have crossed Pakistani borders, without the permission of the Pakistani government, in pursuit of suspected terrorists.  I was asked by my cousin in Pakistan this morning, "Don't people in America care about what's happening?"  Of course we do.  We do, right?

You can read more about it in this article from the Washington Post. 

Yesterday was September 11th.  

Two of the most prolific bloggers in my Google reader, Avitable and Miss Britt, who I've adopted as my blogging mama and papa without their express permission, wrote wonderful posts on the topic. (BTW, making Avitable one's blog papa could be considered extremely creepy).  

I commented profusely on Avitable's blog and stirred up a bit of firestorm which is totally uncharacteristic of me, ha ha.  Go check it out by clicking on his name up there, but if you're at work, be advised that the comments are profanity laden.

Of course, the one person I challenged had to be a United States Marine.  Obviously, I didn't know that at the time.

And, of course, he was very upset about my use of the words "taking action" with regards to the protection of this nation's freedom.  Because he's been all over the world taking action and I've been sitting here in the AC of my suburban home.  I came off as sarcastic, which again is very uncharacteristic of me, so I suppose that fueled his contempt for my comments.  

Truth be told, I understood his point of view, and I offered a reasonable apology.   In the end, I think peace was established through some discreet intervention on the part of Avitable.  

What many people may not know is that when Mrs. Faiqa was once Miss Faiqa, she walked into the United States Marine Corps Recruiting Office in Daytona Beach, Florida at the age of eighteen and signed a recruitment form.  

Yes, I actually signed up to join the United States Marine Corps.  

I took the oath, they didn't ask and I didn't tell (nothing to tell), I did the push ups, I ran the miles, and I took the joke of  a literacy test that all enlistees must take.  

On the day that I went to Jacksonville for my physical, in the multitudes of young people there, I was the only woman, the only Muslim and the only full blooded person of Asian descent present for enlistment in the Marine Corps.    

At the end of the day, I was informed that I had been disqualified during the physical examination because I have an elongated retina which made me susceptible to retinal detachment should I experience any severe trauma to the head.  Apparently, Marines get hit in the head, a lot. 

When I was eighteen, I thought the best way to serve my country was to become one of the warriors that protected it.  My parents, my teachers, my family and my friends thought I was an idiot for "throwing my life away," but I didn't care.  At that time in my life, I believed that military service would be the best expression of my dedication to the service of this nation.

My disqualification, though, afforded me the opportunity to realize that everyone is meant to serve their cause in a different way.  

I serve my country by being informed.  

I serve my country by educating myself regarding the freedoms that have been bestowed upon me by the Constitution of the United States.  
I serve my country by yelling, stomping my feet in my living room (or the living rooms of other people) and blogging on the Internet when I see those freedoms being transgressed or upheld.
I serve my country by showing the world that I am unafraid of identifying myself as a Muslim, despite repeated implications from many of my compatriots and elected politicians that this nation is at war not only with Iraq and Afghanistan, but with Islam itself.

I serve my country whenever I intentionally answer "American," no hyphen, to the questions aimed at determining my ethnic origins.  

Make no mistake, I am not equating my level of service with people who are getting shot at on the other side of the world.  

I'm just saying that we all serve within the parameters of our capabilities, and many of us act with the noblest of intentions.  These services and actions are not any less of a contribution to the greatness of our nation.

Whenever I see a banner that reads, "Support Our Troops," I feel a strange twinge in my heart. I have always supported our troops, well before 9/11, well before it was deemed fashionable by the media and political pundits.  

I'm offended by the conflation of the support of our troops with our current conflict.  After all, I should be able to voice my opposition to foreign policy without having my support of our military even coming up for discussion.    

I fight for this country every day with my words.  And while I am not as prolific as many others, there are people who give my words some consideration.  

I have been to various continents and bravely faced up to the criticisms that others have for this country, and I have defended what was right, just and good about us.  

I do not impose, I do not require agreement, but I will continue to expose the goodness of America to the people of this planet as much as I can.  

And there is much about us that is good, just and right.

Finally, I serve by finding and fostering the goodness within America.  I offer myself as an example of how this nation, at it very best, can be diverse, humane, tolerant and conscious.  

This is the highest and best form of service that I can offer.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Your Right to Complain About the Economy: The Official Quiz

Your Right to Complain About the Economy

The Official Quiz

Answering three of the five following entitles bearer to busting this paper out and screaming, "DO YOU HAVE ONE OF THESE, PUNK?!"

I'm posting the answer right under its respective question.  Don't cheat.

1. Imperialist Capitalism, Inc. has a factory based in Illinois that reports a net profit this year of 130 million dollars. This year, they opened another factory in PoLittleOlUsuania which reported profits of 52 gazillion bazillion dollars. How much did Imperialist Capitalism contribute to the GDP of America?

Answer to #1Come on, it's called Gross Domestic Product, which is defined as consumer ready goods and services produced within the United States.  Imperialist Capitalism, Inc.'s contribution to America's GDP is 130 million dollars.  PoLittleOlUsistan gets to add the 52 gazillion bazillion dollars to its GDP, even if the CEO of Imperialist Capitalism puts the profits in an offshore executive spending account in the Caymans in order to purchase 55 houses in the Cote d'Azure, a private jet in Dubai and 40 million pez dispensers from Japan. Each of those nations will calculate the money spent on those items within their own respective GDPs, as well.  Globalization is fun. 

2. Are we in a recession? How would you find out if we are? (Hint: The answer is not "my neighbor lost her job.")

Answer to #2: A recession is categorized as negative growth in the GDP for several months.  Most economists agree upon about six months.  To know if that is happening you could glue yourself to the television and beleive what they tell you, like a good little lemming, or go to the Bureau of Economic Analysis' website and find out what the GDP has been for the past several months. We are not in a recession. In fact, this month our GDP increased by 1.9%. Don't get too happy, GDP is only one of many economic indicators.

3. Who is in charge of making the final decision about our nation's fiscal policy?

Answer to #3The president has a Council of Economic Advisors who analyze the economy and make recommendations. A budget is put together by the Office of Management and Budget in the White House and then submitted to Congress, who then passes the legislation that authorizes spending and taxation. But it's Congress who makes the final decision. Did you read that right? Yes, Congress.  So, it's Congress, not the President, who makes the final decision. I don't know why I keep feeling the need to say that over and over again. 

4. What is the intention behind an investment tax credit?

Answer to #4: An investment tax credit is aimed at encouraging economic growth by increasing a business' (es'??) or industry's ability to invest. It's the amount that businesses are allowed by law to deduct from their taxes that has been aimed at investing. Hence the terms investment, tax and credit. Golly, economics sure is tricky.  Incidentally, both McCain and Obama are proposing these types of credits, but for different sectors of the economy.  I'm sure you know who is for what and which is for whom.  (That was a very Seuss-like sentence, wasn't it?)

5. Name 4 of the top ten countries with whom we have a trade deficit.

Answer to #5: Our trade deficit is at about $700 billion dollars, give or take. The top ten countries with whom we have a trade deficit are (drum roll, please): China, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria (probably because of all the jailed diplomats who are recieving wire transfers from little old ladies in America), Russia and Angola (Angola? Really? Really, Angola.).  Fun fact: What do most of these countries have in common?  You got it, smarty pants, petroleum.  Petroleum which is used to make fuel and plastics.  So walk and recycle and you could help eliminate our deficit.

I posted the answers right under the question and you had to read them to see if you were right.  Therefore, if you are still here, you know the answers to all of the above questions which means you have a right to complain about the economy.  

I may be a "democrat snob" and "liberal elite," but, hey, I'm a benevolent liberal elite who is not afraid to bestow my wisdom upon the cake eating unwashed masses.  (Sarcasm, haters, it's called sarcasm.)

If you have noticed any discrepancies or misinformation in any of the posts above, please feel free to be the pretentious know-it-all who points them out to me in the comment section of my blog. 

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Your Right to Complain About The Economy

A rant about today's politics always includes some statement about the economy. Which got me thinking, how much literacy actually stands behind the average American's desperate cry, "And what about the situation of the economy?!"

There's a joke among economists, who are a generally humorous bunch, that if your neighbor loses his job that means there's a recession but if you lose your job, that means we're in a depression. While this joke is so steeped in hilarity that I'm struggling to control my bladder right now, it also illustrates an interesting truth regarding how most American voters approach the U.S. economy.

They approach it microscopically and very personally. And, of course, I understand that we all want to know whether all this stuff is going to make an actual difference in our day to day. I wonder, though, if people realize that often your day to day experiences with the economy are one teeny, tiny, miniscule part of a bigger picture. To make the right decisions for your lifetime and your posterity, you have to get to know that bigger picture.

Like, say taxes. Everybody hates taxes. Taxes are the devil. But, why? Because it feels bad to pay them? Because you know you will have less money to spend on useless crap you probably didn't need in the first place? (Yes, I'm aware that the more money you spend on useless crap, the better it is for the economy...but that is entirely beside my overall point.)

No, I don't love taxes, and I don't always support raising them. But, sometimes, the government has to raise taxes. Without an understanding of basic economics, casting my vote for someone who promises not to raise taxes is akin to my only eating things that I find absolutely and fantastically delicious. (Don't believe the hype, spinach leaves will never taste as good as french fries. Never.)

Let me beat you senseless with the point I'm trying to make for a minute.

Say you're a childless bachelor living it up in suburbia. You live in one of those swanky gated communities that has just been built and most of your neighbors have small kids. Because the community is new, let's say there are no speed limits set up, yet. The Stepford Wives that live on either side of you knock on your door one fine afternoon and inform you that they are putting together a proposal for the HOA that will ask them to post a speed limit of 30 MPH on the main road.

"Hmmm," you say, as you think to yourself, I don't have any kids and I like going 50 MPH in my community, but then again, I don't want to hit one of these women's kids, because that one in the DKNY jumpsuit looks like she could kick the crap out of me...

And, then, BLAM!! A spaceship lands on your front yard, and a little green space woman walks out. You and your neighbors stare in amazement as she rambles towards you on her slimy alien looking feet.

"Greetings, mildly affluent people of earth," she says, in heavily accented English, "I am Bunny from the Planet Moronia. I just moved here. I do not know what a car is, nor do I know what this thing 'street' might be or what a speed limit is and only have a vague conception of what a child might be. Still, I'm so worried, what are we going to do about the situation of the Main Road?!!"

I'll feel lucky if most of my voting compatriots are either the childless bachelor or one of the Stepford Wives in the above story. I have a sinking feeling, though, that more than a few of them are represented in the newly relocated resident of the Planet Moronia.

So, I would like to graciously ask those Americans who are not economically literate to stop stressing over the economy. Sure, you have a right to stress, I suppose, but why not focus your pessimism on matters on which you are more educated.

The problem, of course, is that everyone thinks they know something about the economy, or at least enough.

So, because you are super, duper special, I've formulated a quick five question quiz for you to help you find out whether or not you are qualified to comment on the state of the American economy.

Because I believe that the ninth circle of hell is reserved for Ann Coulter and the makers of pop quizzes, I'm going to give you twenty four hours of studying time. (Translate this to "I cannot spend the rest of the day on this blog post.")

If you pass, which I am sure you will, you can print it out. Then, whenever you get into an argument over economic policy with someone, you can just whip that paper out and scream,


That should humiliate your opponent to the point of envy-laden silence or, if you're really lucky, uncontrollable sobbing.

The quiz will cover GDP, fiscal policy making, trade deficit, tax credits and economic growth.

Try to contain your enthusiasm and see you tomorrow.

Monday, September 8, 2008

You Ought to Read This

I was watching television on Sunday afternoon, and heard a foreign policy analyst say something uncharacteristically brilliant. "Sometimes," he said slowly, "we need to focus not on what we ought to do, but what we can do."

Whether his statement holds true with respect to foreign policy, I don't know. It does seem to be one of those fundamental truths that might apply to my daily life, though.

Sometimes, I need to focus not on what I ought to do, but what I can do.

I have a coffee mug that has a great quote from JFK on it.

Stop smirking, there's nothing remotely funny about owning a coffee mug that has JFK quotes on it.

It says, "Ideals are like stars. You will not succeed in touching them with your hands...[but] if you choose them as your guides, you can reach your destiny."

Ideals determine how we decide as individuals and communities what we "ought" to do.

Ideally, polite people always say thanks and please.
Ideally, a parent is always empathetic, and never resorts to power plays to get what they want.
Ideally, a spouse is compassionate, giving and understanding when it comes to their husband or wife.
Ideally, a blog post doesn't ramble on with numerous examples when trying to make a point.

But ideals are not real, and I tend to forget that.

My coffee mug is right, I can't touch ideals with my hands. When I think I can be my ideal, instead of recognizing it as an implausible guideline, I find myself teetering on the dangerous path towards apathy and even inaction. Sometimes, it seems that the whole universe moves against my quest to attain my ideals, and doing what I ought to do to reach them proves totally impossible.

On a day, for example, where I think I can be the ideal parent, the following can (and has) happened.

I conduct a daring rescue of my daughter from her fourth day of preschool only to be handed a pink folder by her teacher which contains twenty minutes worth of homework in it. Instead of sitting her in my lap and letting her recuperate from the trauma of preschool in front of an episode of Diego, I must now sit with her at the breakfast table and do her "math homework." Being only three years old and having been at school for six hours, my daughter thinks it is way more fun to play "Pencil Pick Up." I finally lose it after the fourth round of this game and tell her if she doesn't start paying attention to me, I will give her a time out. And that I might, and I'm not proud of this, send her back to school today.

Not my finest moment as a mother.

I ought to have just let her watch TV. I ought to have laughed at her game of picking up her pencil. I ought to have understood that she was tired, and she didn't want to sit. I ought to have remembered that there is something fundamentally flawed in making a three year old do homework. But I didn't.

Days like that make me want to just throw my hands up and scream, "You know what, this is just stupid. I am never going to be able to (end world hunger, make people listen, be a size 2), so I'm just going to (become an investment banker, watch TV, order a Big Mac)." And, then, instead of doing what I can, I beat myself up because I think I'll never be the person that I "ought" to be.

But, you know what? A foreign relations analyst on CNN reminded me that doing what I can is just as good as doing what I should. Because, often, what I can do is all that's possible.

Trying to be ideal and doing it badly is far better than having no ideals, or worse, doing nothing about them at all. There's nothing wrong with wanting perfection or trying to achieve perfection as long as you know that perfection is not real.

Real is what you do and why you do it.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

'Playing Russian Roulette': How One New Orleanian Copes With the Threat of Hurricanes

Written By: Traci, or is it Jill...Whatever.

I’ve lived in and around New Orleans for 7 years now, and I've got a deep love-hate relationship with the city that I think is common of most New Orleanians. Yes, I think of myself as a New Orleanian. I teach 4th grade and work with other teachers on staff development in a local parish.

To me, New Orleans is completely unique. All at once, it embodies France, Spain, America, and a third world country. It holds a deep history and an overwhelming culture. Still, there's always a sadness that permeates even the biggest of celebrations. This celebration of the macabre and life in its entirety within New Orleans makes it very difficult for me to feel comfortable in any other city or environment.

New Orleans reminds me of that dysfunctional child with whom you get frustrated for not making good decisions or being like other children. But another part of me loves that child even more because of the difficulties they face, especially when I understand that they need more than a "normal" child.

During Hurricane Katrina, I evacuated to Florida with my dogs, while my husband had to stay behind to work in a local hospital. I spent the next 7 days glued to the television in disbelief of what was happening in my city. When I first moved there, I heard that the levees would not hold in the event of a major hurricane. I couldn’t believe that this was a known problem and nothing had been done. Surely, we had the ability in the 21st Century to repair levees so that they would hold?

Apparently, the city and state had sought funding to strengthen the levees but were repeatedly denied the funding. Ironically, our state received no profits from the oil companies that drilled off our coast. Many scientists have argued that this same drilling contributed to the destruction of the wetlands and barrier islands surrounding us that would have protected us from hurricanes like Katrina. Texas and Alaska receive large profits from the oil drilling that occurs off of their shores, but I digress.

When I left, I had taken comfort in the thought that FEMA, the Red Cross, and many other organizations were stationed right outside the city, and stood ready to aid as soon as the storm passed. To them, I guess, "soon" meant about 7 days. I lost tremendous belief in our government as I watched our city swirl in despair. This wasn't an unpredictable earthquake or a surprise terrorist attack. Hurricane Katrina was an event everyone knew was coming and the possible repercussions of it were known well in advance, too.

I also lost the hope and comfort that are the rights of every U.S citizen. I arrogantly believed that our country would save us from any peril that could strike. That we were rich enough, strong enough, and certainly capable enough to conquer the worst of disasters. A predictable category II hurricane took those beliefs away from me. I will never understand how we could be in Thailand after a tsunami within less than 24 hours whereas it took five days for our National Guard to arrive in New Orleans. Nor can I understand how Canada’s National Guard managed to arrive in St. Bernard for hospital evacuations several days before our own guard arrived in the city.

I’ve come to accept that living in New Orleans means that evacuation can and will be a part of my life. I know many people that lost everything they own and I’m okay with losing all of the possessions that I deem not worthy enough to fit into my car. I’m not okay, though, with leaving the lives of people that I love in the hands of the federal, state, and local government.

I was in a busy fog and not relating Gustav to Katrina until a fellow teacher gave me a big hug on our last school day before the storm. That's when it hit hard. I remembered the many people and students I never saw again after Katrina. A deep panic set in for my students.

As they left, I tried to tell them everything would be fine, I loved them, I’d see them on Tuesday and they’d better know their times tables. I guess that’s my way of instilling a sense of normalcy in my children that I think they needed. As we waited for the storm, I feared for people I knew that talked about staying. I feared for the children that have to rely on their parent’s judgment for safety.

There is no question that Gustav has been handled better, and I’m very happy to see we have learned from our mistakes. Our current governor, Bobby Jindal, did an amazing job orchestrating a major evacuation. I disagree with many of his policies, but can't deny that he's extremely intelligent and a great leader. Although I think it was as stupid mistake on McCain's part, I’m happy he overlooked Jindal as Vice President. This way, we can keep him a little longer. Our local leaders had detailed plans in place and acted swiftly and calmly, too. Mayor Nagin was able to salvage some of his reputation, and at least this time President Bush looked concerned bunkered down in Texas instead of flying off to San Diego as he did last time.

I felt a million times better in how it was handled this time. I contribute a large part of the success to our state governor. He was very proactive. Still, the threat looms. Three years later, our levees remain at “Pre-Katrina” levels which means a Katrina type storm could still take us out. To me, God has given us plenty of time to get our act together, but our city remains threatened by the day it will sit in ten feet of water. I think a lot of the rest of the nation are tired of hearing about us. A part of me can understand their perspective, as unenlightened as it may be.

My biggest problem is the levees that still aren’t up to standard. Gustav lost strength, so the outcome turned out well. What about the next hurricane, though? The levees are built by the Army Corp of Engineers and most of that money comes from the federal government. And, frankly, I have a problem with them. Once our levees are built up to standard, then we won’t need any more "support."

At this point, I continue to feel like we're playing Russian roulette every time a hurricane comes close to us.

** As of the posting of this entry, Hurricane Ike, a category II with 105 mph winds is headed towards the Gulf of Mexico.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Rocked Me Like A Hurricane

Running a refugee camp is pretty easy. Oops, I didn't mean refugee, I meant evacuee camp.

The earlier part of this week, my home served as shelter to four wayward New Orleanians fleeing from Gustav. My evacuees were my brother, his very lovely wife (let's call them Jack and Jill since they're painfully old fashioned and think someone will stalk them to death if I put their names on the Internet) and their two very crazy dogs.

It was awesome!! We watched CNN all day. When they weren't trying to pretend to stay calm as water pushed over levee walls, we founded a country called "Liberalistan" in my living room and proceeded to reenact the perfect Democratic National Convention.

Jill pretended she was Hillary, Jack pretended to be Obama, and they had a wrestling match where Hil won and Obama cried like a little girl. Tariq pretended he was Bobby Jindal announcing that he had finally decided to become a Democrat, and I got to be Soledad O'Brien.

My daughter watched us intently and I'm pretty sure I saw the realization wash over her three year old face that she didn't have a fighting chance at a normal life.

Last time, Jack and Jill evacuated New Orleans, though, we didn't have so much fun.

Three years ago, with a week old baby in my arms, a father in the hospital from a triple bypass surgery, and a house full of in-laws, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a little hurricane named Katrina was tap dancing her way through the Atlantic.

I was raised in Florida, so hurricanes don't really inspire much fear in me. In fact, my general feelings about hurricanes center around disappointment. Here's how almost every single hurricane from my childhood played out:

Everyone: A hurricane is coming, a hurricane is coming. Sandbags, water, peanut butter, oh my!

: Sweet. I don't have to go to school. No Algebra (which should really have been called, "Let's tear Faiqa's self esteem down by making her feel like the biggest idiot in the world")?

: Oh, thank goodness, the hurricane turned. It's going to North Carolina instead.

: Kids in North Carolina are so lucky.

As Katrina edged its way towards New Orleans, though, Jill called and told me that she was evacuating the city. Jack would not be accompanying her immediately because he's a doctor and his hospital wouldn't let him to leave.

The hurricane finally hit and you're well aware of what happened to the city after that.

No phones, electricity or a way to leave the city translated into days that rolled by where we didn't hear from Jack. Twenty four hour news stations, also known as crack rock for the anxious, did nothing to assure anyone in my family of his safety.

Bodies floated through the streets of New Orleans and I pushed the worst thoughts about Jack's situation out of my head. For days, all that would come out of my mouth was, "This is America. This isn't supposed to happen here." But, it did happen here.

I will never really know the details of what happened in New Orleans that August. And I still can't imagine how it must have felt to lose your home, your pet or even your family to something as seemingly innocuous as weather.

But, I know what I felt. I felt angry because I had watched over my younger brother all my life. Now, the people "in charge" had failed me, Jill, my parents and everyone who loved him so much. Worse, I felt humiliated because I had arrogantly thought that we were better than this. That we were better than them over there.

About a week later, I watched my brother sleep off his Katrina hangover on my sofa, with my daughter sleeping peacefully upon his chest. I had never loved him more than I did at that moment. He was home, he was safe, and it was over.

I don't think it will ever be over for Jack and Jill, though. I remember them having a lot more faith in people before Katrina. Sometimes, when we talk of politics or society, I'll hear them say something that reminds me that a great deal of their faith in the goodness of people probably drowned in the flooded streets of New Orleans three years ago.

Now, if you ask Jack how he likes New Orleans, I swear you could see a shadow flit across his face before he answers. I suppose he's experiencing a sense of pain, loss or despair in that moment. The truth is, I don't know what lives in that shadow, and I can only make far reaching guesses.

The shadow does show me how Katrina still bears heavy upon the hearts of the people who lived it. And that it's not going to lighten up anytime soon.

** My sister-in-law, seven year resident of New Orleans, a former Katrina and Gustav evacuee, and all around awesome person will be guest posting on this topic on Monday, so be sure to come back!!

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Elephant in the Room

Yes, I know. Obamassiah said we weren't allowed to talk about Sarah Palin's daughter being in the family way. It's a private matter, I get that.

I am an evil, evil person because I've got to say something about it.

Bristol Palin is pregnant. To be completely honest, I really don't care. I completely agree with the right and left contentions that this is a family matter and the media or anyone else has no business discussing her or her unborn child.

Even if her mom is the one that told everyone.

But, you know what? I also think infidelity is a family matter. Remember that guy that was president eight years ago? Remember how he cheated on his wife with that White House Intern? I want to know where all the Republicans hell bent on protecting Bristol Pallin's right to privacy were when Chelsea Clinton's parent's marriage was being destroyed on national television.

Furthermore, when Clinton said he "did not have sex with that woman," everyone called him a liar. And they were right. He lied and it was a sad display.

But didn't Sarah Palin say that her daughter had not attended school in the last several months because she had contracted mono? Does anyone out there know if she actually does have mono?

One might argue that she did it to protect her daughter. O.K., I buy that.

But why couldn't one just translate that argument over to Bill Clinton, too? Maybe he was trying to protect his daughter from being hurt? Regardless, if Bristol doesn't have mono, her mother, gasp, lied about it.

And, I am curious, if Barack Obama had a seventeen year old daughter who was pregnant, would everyone applaud him for supporting her decision? Not likely.

People may not realize this, but I'm a very conservative person when it comes to family life. What I mean to say is that in my own life, I do not live an "anything goes" philosophy, and I'm pretty rigid in determining my own personal actions. See how I phrased that, my own personal actions?

I'm careful in expressing morality laden opinions or forcing others to follow my own set of rules regarding morality.

I'm even more careful about judging those who do not follow my personal beliefs, and I consciously make an effort not to evaluate other people's choices as "good" or "bad."

(God, I am so awesome. How can you stand it?).

I think a lot about what being an American means, and, to me, this is a very basic tenet: your personal beliefs are a valuable contribution to your nation, but your duty as an American is to respect and revere your fellow citizen's beliefs, as well. This is at the heart of the many other things that were meant to distinguish us from all those fascists in the rest of the world. (Back off, people of the rest of the world, that was a joke.)

As I said, Bristol's pregnancy doesn't bother me, nor does her decision to keep her child.

Good for her, she's displaying a real willingness to take responsibility for her actions at such a young age
, I think to myself, on a personal level.

At the same time, people who choose differently from her are O.K. in my book, too. (As a side note, you can order this book from Amazon.com, it's called, My Book: 10001 Ways to Gain Faiqa's Approval).

What is disturbing to me about this whole situation is that young women who are in her same exact position, minus the Vice Presidential candidate for a mom, have historically not been afforded the respect that she is receiving right now from conservatives.

Someone from McCain's camp said, "This is what happens in families." That's absolutely true. It does happen. But, I don't recall that being the party line when we were discussing inner city teenagers.

I remember something distinctly different being said about them. While I won't repeat it here, I'm pretty sure it wasn't "While we advocate abstinence, and we know your parents did their best to teach you values centered on abstinence, it's okay that you are pregnant. We're proud of the decision you're making to keep your baby. We are so very proud of you. "

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