My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

Archive for the category “Politics”

Nasty Woman, Speak Up!

Nasty woman 16 tshirt

Today, I politely but firmly took on a woman on our neighborhood Nextdoor site. She was repeating the Trump/Fox News argument that because a small number of undocumented immigrants have committed violent crimes, then we need to keep them ALL out. I called her on this irrational argument.

And the whole time I was having this public discussion, a voice in my head kept saying, “Naomi, enough already. People are going to think you’re dogmatic and angry and they’re not going to like you. Why do you always have to be so vocal?”

I am tired of this voice.

I am tired of separating my Facebook friends into Best Friends and Acquaintance lists, and then only posting the political stuff so my Best Friends can see it. I’m tired of feeling hurt when people unfriend me and unfollow me because I express my opinions. Even as I write this post, I am remembering that certain people in my life might read this, and I worry that they will think less of me.

I am tired of this standard I have in my head of the Likeable Woman. The Likeable Woman smiles and helps others, and doesn’t have political signs on her lawn or bumper. She posts pictures of her dogs and kids on Facebook, and only posts opinions on Facebook with disclaimers like, “I rarely post my political opinions on Facebook, but…”

Most of the women in the world I care about and admire most are not anything like this Likeable Woman. Yet I realize that I hold myself to that standard. I tell myself that people would like me more if I would only keep quiet.

These days, though, I have been posting political opinions on Facebook for everyone to see, not just those on my Best Friends list. I am arguing with bigots on Nextdoor. I am blogging again, and taking on controversial topics.

Because these days, there’s too much at stake to be a Likeable Woman. These days, we need more Nasty Women.

Oh, and a few days ago, I submitted this post to a certain secret Facebook page that focuses on issues relating to women and marginalized people in the era of Donald Trump. (You all probably know what awesome Facebook page I’m talking about.) The submission was posted, and so far I’ve gotten about 1,200 supportive comments and 10K likes. So there you go.

Make the Pridelands Great Again: How Scar Overthrew the Kingdom By Mobilizing the Hyenas


Hey, antelope comrade, the system is rigged.


Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called the Pridelands, which was ruled by an elite group of lions. The lions, who represented a fraction of one percent of the kingdom’s population, controlled about 40 percent of the resources in the kingdom. They also frequently ate members of the middle class, like antelopes and elephants. This didn’t sit well with Simba, the bright young heir to the throne, so he asked his father King Mufasa why this seemingly oppressive practice was acceptable.

“It’s okay, Simba,” explained Mufasa. “It’s all part of the Circle of Life.”

“The Circle of Life?”

“Yes, son. You see, it may seem unfair. But when we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life. So, you see, Simba,” said Mufasa, “all lives matter.”

Simba was still skeptical. “But Dad,” he asked, “there are so many more of them than us. Why don’t they rise up and overthrow their oppressors?”

Mufasa laughed heartily. “You’re so funny, son!” he exclaimed. “Come, let’s go practice your pouncing skills on our humble and terrified servant Zazu.”

But there was one member of the lion elite who wasn’t so happy with the Circle of Life. That was Scar, the king’s brother. Scar was socially awkward and kind of funny-looking, so the other elite lions scoffed at him. And things were getting worse for Scar, because these days, the female lions were finally getting more power. There was talk of a young lioness named Nala becoming the leader someday, which enraged Scar, because his position in the lion patriarchy was the only thing that kept him feeling superior. On top of that, Nala wasn’t even a 10!

Unfortunately for the other lions — and for the kingdom as a whole — Scar was a sociopathic narcissist, so he devised a plan.  He started hanging out with the hyenas, who lived in an elephant graveyard that once housed manufacturing plants.  The jobs had moved to other lands, though, and the hyenas were poor, desperate, and despised by the rest of the Pridelands. In fact, disdain of the hyenas was one of the things that kept the middle class antelopes and elephants from overthrowing the lions, as they were easy scapegoats. “It’s the fault of those hyena scavengers!” cried the lions when resources were scarce, and the middle class animals believed them — and felt better about themselves because at least they weren’t as lowly as the hyenas.

Scar started holding rallies in the hyena lands. “If you help me become king,” he declared, “I’ll bring jobs back! Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!”

“Hooray!” cried the hyenas.

“The lions want to make Nala the queen,” said Scar. “She’s the one responsible for the loss of your jobs because of trade deals she made with other lands.”

“Eat her up!” cried the hyenas.

“Ah,” said Scar below his breath, “I love the uneducated.”

So, with the help of the hyenas, Scar killed Mufasa and sent Simba into exile, and Nala returned to her inferior place in the patriarchal system. Unfortunately, Scar had no government experience or diplomatic skills, so the kingdom eroded into disarray. Of course, he abandoned his promises to the hyenas, who were as hungry and despised as ever.

We know how this story is supposed to end. Simba returns to the Pridelands and takes his “rightful” place as the king. Nala becomes his queen, and someday, she or another elite lioness might be the leader of the Pridelands.  The hyenas rebel against Scar and kill him, but after he takes over, Simba doesn’t provide anything better for them. The Circle of Life continues, and the elephants and antelopes continue to be dinner.

But maybe there’s an alternate ending. Maybe the antelopes will have some meetings, and start saying, “Hey! The system is rigged, and it’s the lions who are doing the rigging!” Maybe they’ll demand real change from the so-called Circle of Life. And maybe they’ll realize the hyenas are allies, not scapegoats, and maybe they’ll work side by side to create a truly democratic and egalitarian Pridelands.

Maybe. Or more than likely, the antelopes will go back to reality TV, Facebook, and other forms of Hakuna Matata. But maybe, just maybe, the antelopes and the hyenas will have their day.

Mourning the New 9/11: An Open Letter to My Republican Friends

This is for my Republican friends — and specifically for those who voted for Donald Trump. More specifically, this is for those of you who are saying and wondering, “Why are they being so whiny after losing the election? We didn’t take to the streets when Obama was elected, right?”

I understand that Americans are doing a whole lot of speaking within their echo chambers right now — and I mean all of us, not just Republicans! We’re talking in completely different narratives about the election results — so much so that when we read conversations from the other side, the things we read might look completely foreign. So here’s my attempt to explain some of the feelings of despair and anger that you’ve been observing on social media and on the news and, perhaps, even in your real life conversations.

Republican friends: do you remember how you felt on 9/11?

I do, because I almost certainly felt the same way you did. Were you afraid for the future of your country? Did you feel angry and vulnerable? Did you feel a powerful sense of mourning — for the victims, but also because your country had been attacked viciously by people who meant to do great harm?

There were no echo chambers on 9/11 — at least not on that day. We all hurt and mourned together. I was sitting in the crowded cafeteria at the small college where I was teaching, and President Bush came on the screen to speak to the nation. There was total silence as we listened, the same way we would listen to a eulogy at a funeral of someone who had died tragically. I was no fan of that man, but in that moment, I was grateful to see him on the screen, offering us comfort in our mourning. There was comfort in knowing that we were united.

So imagine this, Republicans:

What if on 9/11, half of the nation was not mourning?

What if, on 9/11, half of the people you knew were saying the next day, “Get over it already! Why are we making such a big deal of this? It’s just some buildings. You’re all being childish and whiny.”

Presumably, you would have felt horrified. And moreover, the experience of 9/11 would have been so much worse for you, because so many of your fellow Americans were mocking the genuine feelings of mourning you felt.

So, Republicans, here’s where I ask you to step outside of your echo chamber and try to understand what many of your fellow Americans are feeling.

To us, the election of Donald Trump is nothing short of another 9/11. We strongly feel that a man has just gotten elected who has the capacity to do great harm to our nation and to  the most vulnerable among us. Like you, we are patriots, and for this reason, we mourn because our country is in serious danger. On 9/11, terrorists with the intent to harm America did just that — and based on what we saw in the election, we fear that Trump will do the same kind of harm.

That may be hard for you to wrap your head around, because I know you feel very differently about Trump. But if you’re genuinely wondering why people are reacting the way they are to the election, please try to understand what I’m saying.

Let me make this clear:  this is not how we would have felt if a different Republican had defeated Clinton, like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. I would have been pretty miserable if one of those men were the president elect. But I would not be in mourning. I would not be thinking seriously of going to a protest march in Washington the day after the election.  No, the reaction you see is specifically a reaction to Trump.

Why do so many Americans feel that the election of Trump is a danger to the well-being of America, and to many of our citizens personally? If you’re still reading, let me summarize some of the evidence we see that Trump is a dangerous man. I know very well that you see different things than I do in regards to Trump, but if you’re curious, these are some of my biggest concerns:

  • Trump has clear authoritarian tendencies, much like Hitler, Mussolini, Kim Jong-un, and Putin. Trump has manipulated those with economic and social fears by creating scapegoats out of Mexicans and Muslims.  (As a Jew, that scares the pants off of me.)  At his rallies and in the debates, he threatened to jail his opponent and said he would not concede the election.
  • Trump has no government experience whatsoever. None. Unlike most of the other Republican candidates, Trump offered very little information about his policy positions and plans. He is grossly unqualified for the most powerful position in the world.
  • Trump put antidemocratic restrictions on the press during his campaign (like literally corralling them into a pen during his rallies), and worked his followers into an anti-press frenzy at his rallies. He plans to place restrictions on the press during his presidency. I would hope that those of you who are staunch supporters of the Second Amendment are also strong supporters of the First Amendment, which guarantees us a free press.
  • As seen by his behavior on Twitter and elsewhere, Trump has a very thin skin and no self-control when he is criticized in any way. And now he has the nuclear codes.
  • Trump’s misogyny is very well-documented. He has bragged about how his celebrity gives him license to assault women. He bragged about being able to walk into the dressing room at his beauty pageants, and publicly humiliated a Miss Universe who gained weight. Many women have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment, including a 13-year-old girl.
  • Despite the fact that almost all scientists believe that climate change is an extinction-level danger to humanity, Trump has said that climate change is a hoax. If that’s not something to mourn about, I don’t know what is.
  • Trump has called for the ban on Muslims entering America and flat out lied about seeing television footage of Muslims in New Jersey cheering after 9/11. He has called Mexicans rapists and “bad hombres,” and has threatened to deport millions of people, including children. This kind of racism and xenophobia goes against my fundamental values. Oh, and he mocked a reporter with a disability.
  • Trump chose a vice presidential candidate who is one of the nation’s most outspoken opponents of LGBT rights — and that too goes against my fundamental values.
  • Trump is endorsed by the KKK and Putin.  That doesn’t scare you?
  • Trump has threatened to take away the health insurance of millions of people.
  • Trump has lied routinely about just about everything. Seriously. If you don’t like Clinton because you question her honesty, then how can you be okay with this record of lies? Moreover, he has routinely changed his position on many issues over the years when it suited his interests — including abortion, a position he changed to earn the votes of many Republicans this year.
  • Perhaps most frighteningly, since the election, there’s been a wave of violence since the election towards women, minorities, and LGBT individuals. That’s what many of us fear most. No, not all Trump supporters are bigots and sexual predators, but these behaviors have now been given state approval.

I know you will not agree with many of these positions, but I hope you can understand. Like you, I am a patriot. I love this country and the people who live here, and I believe this country is in danger. I am in mourning, just like I felt after 9/11, and so are many of your fellow Americans. And our sense of mourning is even more painful because so many people in our lives are telling us to get over it.

So, when you see people on the news who are protesting on the streets, or expressing their feelings on Facebook, or sobbing at your upcoming Thanksgiving dinner, please try to be understanding. You wouldn’t have told people on 9/12/2001 to stop whining or to get over it, right?

Ice Bucket Activism: Reflections on Why People Obey the Facebook and Dump Ice Water on their Heads

ice bucket

So if Facebook told you to dump a bucket of HOT water over your head, would you do it?

Probably not. And yet, over the month of August 2014, thousands upon thousands of people dumped buckets of ice water over their head to participate in a Facebook challenge.

This is the result of an extremely clever marketing campaign by the ALS Association, which has gone viral to an astounding degree. My Facebook feed, and everybody else’s, is filled with people dumping buckets of water over their head to raise money for ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that most people know little about.

Now, in a futile attempt to keep my Comments section devoid of hateful comments, let me assure you all that of course, I support raising money to fight horrible diseases. If you are one of the many people who dumped water over your head to raise money for ALS, you indeed did some good in the world.

Any yet, there’s something about Ice Bucket Activism that, well, brings me a chill.

It seems that people are really attached to the Ice Bucket Challenge. And we’re not just talking about people with a connection to ALS. Ice Bucket Activism is really resonating with a large portion of the population. So why is that?

Well, take a look at everything else that’s been going on in the summer of 2014. This has probably been the worst summer of news that I can remember in my lifetime, and it almost reads like a Greatest Hits of Awful Things.  A passenger jet got shot down over war-torn Ukraine. A journalist was beheaded. ISIS is committing genocide against religious minorities in Iraq. Israel and Hamas are at war again. The most serious racial crisis we’ve seen in years is underway in Ferguson, Missouri. And don’t forget about ebola. Yes, even ebola is back!

And on top of all this, the most beloved comedian in the world was so depressed that he killed himself. RIP Robin Williams. Life sucks.

It seems like no coincidence to me that this is the month when the Ice Bucket Challenge caught on. People feel helpless. I mean, how can you not?

So, to mitigate the feelings of helplessness, we engage in collective action. We dump buckets of ice water over our heads. We collectively raise millions of dollars to fight a terrible disease. We might not be able to do anything about the poor suffering Yazidis in Iraq. But at least we can raise money for ALS.

So as a culture, we’ve engaged in collective action. We’ve done this before. During the Vietnam War, millions of young people responded to the feelings of helplessness by creating a massive anti-war movement. During the 1950s and 1960s, millions responded to the systematic discrimination of African Americans with boycotts, sit-ins, marches, and organized actions that in some cases cost people their lives. And during August 2014, collective action happened again!

We rose up and dumped water over our heads.

Part of what’s fascinating to me about Ice Bucket Activism is how angry people get at people like me who challenge it.  Just look at this Slate article imploring people to “stop dumping ice on your head and just give money.” Some of the anger directed at the author in the Comments section is outright vitriolic. It’s the kind of anger that seems more appropriate for someone who advocates, I don’t know, dumping buckets of ice water over kittens?

So why are people so angry at Ice Bucket Activism Dissenters? I think this goes back to the Greatest Hits of Awful Things we’ve been treated to in the summer of 2014. So many of these Awful Things are extremely polarizing. Israel-Hamas conflict? Polarizing! The shooting of Michael Brown? Even more polarizing! Try having a conversation in mixed company of one of these two issues and someone is bound to get very angry very quickly.

And that’s part of what’s so appealing about Ice Bucket Activism. There’s no Two Sides of the Issue when it comes to ALS. Horrible diseases are universally hated by all, regardless of their race or religion or political leanings. If you post your opinion about Michael Brown on your Facebook page, you will inevitably piss some people off. But go right ahead and post a video of yourself dumping water over your head. The “likes” will mount up immediately!

Like I said, Ice Bucket Activism isn’t wrong. It’s raised millions of dollars to fight a terrible disease. It’s also a reasonable response to feeling hopeless in light of recent world and national events. People want to do something, and Ice Bucket Activism is something.

But the thing about Ice Bucket Activism is that it’s easy. It diverts people away from the kind of activism that has the capacity to make a real difference. And the powers that be are more than happy to have people channel their energy into Ice Bucket Activism than demanding other kinds of change. If there was a viral campaign to end the vast socioeconomic and racial disparities that exist in the United States, then the powerful people would get nervous.

But Ice Bucket Activism? The powers that be are happy to see our need for change placated.


Socioeconomic Pong: A Game about Inequality

Do all Americans have an equal chance to be economically successful? Or is the playing field inherently unequal?

To illustrate the concept of socioeconomic inequality, we created Socioeconomic Pong. Play Socioeconomic Pong and let us know what you think! (The game works best in Firefox, Chrome, or IE9.) Select the image below:


Our version of Pong is modelled after Atari’s traditional arcade game. In traditional Pong, players are each given equally-sized paddles, and therefore neither has an advantage. In Socioeconomic Pong, the size of a player’s paddle is determined by socioeconomic factors. The purpose of this game is to demonstrate that the socioeconomic advantages and obstacles faced by an individual at birth have a strong impact on the likelihood of that individual’s success.

I created this game with my colleagues Matt Taylor and Estelle Domingos at Capella University. We are in the Course Media department, and we design media pieces for online courses. We presented Pong at the Games, Learning, and Society Conference and received the Judges’ Choice award at the poster session.

Attention Racists! “Muslim” is a Religion, Not a Racial Slur

Miss America 2013, Nina Davuluri, "accused" on the Twittersphere of being a Muslim

Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, “accused” on the Twittersphere of being a Muslim

Here’s my latest theory on racism in America.  Since the 1970s, and especially since 9/11, there’s been quite a bit of anti-Muslim hatred in America. My theory is that this racism falls into two categories.

First, there is anti-Muslim rhetoric that is the same thing as anti-Islamic rhetoric.  Proponents of this type of rhetoric oppose Islam and the people who follow it.

The other type of anti-Muslim rhetoric? It’s not about followers of Islam per se.  Rather, I suspect that many people who spew hatred about Muslims do not actually know what “Muslim” means. It seems that Americans have come to see the word “Muslim” as synonymous with “brown-skinned foreigner.”  Or at least with brown-skinned foreigners who don’t fall easily into a category with whom many Americans are familiar.  People from Mexico and China aren’t often “accused” of being Muslim.  But people from Egypt, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Kenya — and Americans who descend from people from these nations?  They’re all a bunch of “Muslims.”

And when I say that some Americans don’t understand that Islam is a religion, I don’t mean that these people are ignorant about the details of Islam. I mean that there’s a certain percentage of the population that literally doesn’t know that Islam = religion, just like Christianity = religion.

What made me conclude this? Just look at the bizarre anti-Muslim comments that spread throughout Twitter after the crowning of Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri. This woman is an American woman of Indian descent.  Like most Indians and people of Indian descent, she’s not a Muslim.  And yet you’d never know that from reading Twitter after the pageant. Here’s a representative tweet that declares that Miss America is a “Muslim”:

Miss America Muslim

Of course, in lieu of actual information about Islam, Americans with this mindset “know” that Muslims are associated with terrorism.  Hence, the Twittersphere was abuzz with accusations that Miss America is a terrorist:

miss america terrorist tweets

Of course, this all relates to anti-Obama rhetoric that Barack Obama is a Muslim.  Barack Obama has stated clearly that he’s a Christian, so people who “accuse” Obama of being a Muslim are (1) believers in the conspiracy theory that the president is lying about his religion and is part of a secret Muslim takeover or something like that, or (2) do not understand that “Christian” and “Muslim” are mutually exclusive categories.  For people who define a Muslim as a “brown-skinned foreigner,” and who know that Obama’s father was from Kenya (and who was, indeed, a Muslim), then of course Obama’s a Muslim.  I mean, just look at him!

Obama flag

Among other things, this makes for a more socially acceptable way to use a racial slur to describe the president. After all, it’s not socially acceptable to call him the n-word, much as some people would like to do this.

Of course, part of what’s infuriating about the “Miss America is a Muslim” rhetoric is that it demonstrates ignorance about the world. Anyone with basic knowledge of geography and culture knows that India is not located in the Middle East, and that dissimilar countries like India, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya can’t be lumped together as one homogenous group of brown-skinned people.  But it’s more than just cultural ignorance.  The “Miss America is a Muslim” rhetoric points to the birth of the term “Muslim” as a racial slur directed at an ill-defined group of brown-skinned people, some of whom of actually Muslim and some of whom are not.

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