Is the Embargo Evil?

The UN condemned the US for the embargo on Cuba.  First, I have to stress how incredibly strong the language is.  The word “condemn” doesn’t get tossed around the UN the way average people use it, so this is actually a stronger action than it may first appear.  Also, the UN knows our current president is one who responds to and respects international opinion, which is perhaps why no one bothered condemning this practice while dubya was in office.

My mom and I were talking about this the other day, and it seems like a lot of people we know are unsure about what the embargo means for Cubans and Americans, both now and for the future.  I don’t know nearly as much as I should about it, but here’s my take on it so far:

  • Under Bush, Cuban-Americans could only visit immediate family members (no going to see grandma without your parents present, tough luck if they passed away) once every three years, for a period of two weeks
  • Also under Bush, Cuban-Americans can only send a max of 100 USD a year to their family.  While this does make a huge impact on an average Cuban’s life, it doesn’t seem fair that the government can stop Cuban-Americans from sending more.  This american currency that comes in also creates quite a disparity amongst those with wealthy relatives who fled to Miami, NYC or wherever, and those who do not.
  • Obama has taken steps to change both of these practices, which in my mind is a good thing.
  • The embargo isn’t just on America.  Any ship that goes to Cuba has to wait six months before it can go to America.
  • Despite this, the US has done some trade (somewhere around 17 mill last year) with Cuba
  • If the embargo is suddenly lifted, th
  • Obama is taking steps to ease the burdens on average citizens in Cuba, and their American relatives (see above).  However, he has said that while he is open to normalizing relations, he will not do so until the Cuban takes serious steps, eg democratic elections.  In my mind, this is a smart political move for Obama as it makes lives better in Cuba in the short term, but puts the ball firmly in Castro’s court.  Obama keeps his campaign promises without looking like a pushover.
  • While I personally believe in lifting the embargo, it could have disastrous consequences for Cubans.  There are many ways to liberalize (in the IR/econ sense, not the American political) an economy, and the two governments need to tread lightly otherwise they could seriously devastate the Cuban economy.  Rise has cost the same thing for the last fifty years, due to government subsidies, and an influx of world trade would most likely change that.  We don’t want another Jamaica on our hands.

This is just my current understanding of the situation, after what I would consider surface level research.  If you have any great links or an opinion on the embargo, sound off in the comments section.


Very rarely do we face a quantifiable loss.  We choose the wrong path, don’t get a job or get dumped.  You always doubt yourself, wonder what could have been, but there’s no one to tell you what exactly that might have been.

I know what i lost.  they calculated it for me.  I lost a decade.

on my 12th birthday, we buried my nana.  today would’ve been her 96th birthday.

i know how much we lost because her death was wrongful, whatever that means.  so they had to calculate the years of life that were taken from her, and put a dollar amount on the suffering and loss of her five children, eleven grandchildren and five (soon to be seven) great-grandchildren.

I don’t know the dollar amount.  no one ever told me.  i never had to give a deposition.  as far as i know, none of the grandchildren did.  i don’t even think my father went, and he was like a son to her.  To my knowledge, my father has only actually cried twice, and the night nana died was the only time i witnessed it.

if i had been just a little bit older and more forceful, i would’ve insisted on being at the trial.  or hearing.  whatever.  just like i would have refused to be sent out of the room for her last moments.  but i was eleven.  i was in the dark on a lot of things.  apparently, people knew she was going to die.  i had no idea.  for forty days and forty nights, from the infamous election to its result, which she apparently so disliked she vacated the planet entirely, i was under the impression she would get better.  i also was the last to know anything had even happened to her.  i went to bed early that night and the next day everyone assumed i knew.

at one point, there were plans to move her to my house for recovery, after the hospital and the rehab.  i guess i was too young to realize when they stopped talking about those plans.

I find that as much as doubt eats away at us, it’s hard knowing exactly what i lost.  she would be here, alive, for this.  i often find myself wondering what the hell she would think of who I’ve become.

I look at Fritz, her cousin and best friend, who just turned 95.  Fritz, who I spent every summer with down the Cape, Fritz who had a mind like a diamond.  Fritz who thinks she’s 96 and doesn’t know who I am.  Times like that, it makes me wonder if it isn’t better this way.  Sure, at the end Nana was like that on some days.  But as long as those 40 days felt, it couldnt have been harder than i think it must be for my cousin Paul to watch his Fritz slip away.

Happy Birthday Nana–maybe this year I’ll even celebrate mine.  Slainte and god bless.

addendum: started watching a random movie as a distraction.  five minutes in and a major plotpoint is that the heroine’s grandmother died on december 16.  claro.

Alan Khazei for US Senator

Monday night, Alan Khazei (rhymes with “hazy”) spoke at a women’s forum.  There are only 47 days left until the special election for Teddy’s seat, and Khazei is running against AG Martha Coakley, Rep Mike Capuano, and that guy from the Celtics

I am ever the delegate, so of course I analyze his speeches and q&a the way I would any member of my team. 


What he got right:

  • Political lineage, AKA passing the torch.  He framed himself as a natural heir to such politicians as Lincoln, Teddy Kennedy, Tip O’Neill, Mayor Kevin White, Obama, and even (the relevent) Clinton
  • The trappings.  He had a cute little black girl sing the national anthem.  He let his daughter interupt him (adorably, after raising her hand) whenever she wanted.  He praised his wife endlessly, and let her have the last word. 
  • “Ask me about Alan.”  The constant use of his first name simultaneously makes him sound more friendly/approachable and less foreign/Middle Eastern.  I really dislike that he has to tread lightly around his Iranian heritage, but it’s a political reality and he has done it well.  He has played up the “son of immigrants/American Dream” narrative, and emphasized that his mother is Italian.  Whenever he mentions his father, he brings up that he is a doctor (read: respected, non-terrorist citizen) and that he raised him to love America, “the only country that accepted him with open arms.” 
  • His resume.  Co-founder of City Year, inspiration and protector of/for Americorps, founder of Be the Change.  This guy’s made a name for himself in social entrepreneurship.  How do you argue with that?
  • His treatment of Obama.  He showed how they are similar, but noted that he is also his own man.  He frames himself as a valuable member of Obama’s team who can play the role of the loyal dissident when the team needs him to, when Obama has to tow the line but needs to hear another perspective.  Well played, sir. 
  • His response to his competetors.  Coakley’s doing a great job as AG, we can’t afford to lose Capuano’s strength in the House, and after the Sox’ early elimination, we can’t afford not to have that guy running the C’s.  Entertaining, fairly truthful and it makes him seem like a helluva guy.  Whoever came up with it first deserves a raise. 


What I didn’t like:

  • Afghanistan.  This went over great with the crowd, but I’m hesitant about maintaining or declining troop levels.  That position is a response to domestic political pressure, but does not reflect the needs of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.  I want them to come home, too, and I didn’t really want them over there to begin with, but I think we are dangerously close to seriously mishandling the Afghanistan question yet again. 
  • The lack of foreign policy discussion.  Aside from the one Afghanistan question from the audience, there was nothing.  His website is similarly lacking.  I know people like to think about what the senator from Massachusetts will do for Mass, but let’s not forget that the senate has things to say about place outside of the 128 belt.  Outside of the 495 belt, even. 
  • What about Gen X/Y/the millenials/anyone under 40?  I mentioned to Marisa how odd it was that Khazei referred to himself as the “younger generation,” the “new generation,” who was accepting the torch from the likes of Kennedy.  This dude is old.  MY generation is new and young.  Sadly, in politics, 40 is like a teenager or something.  Which could be why he only adressed babies, young children, the elderly, and people my parents age.  Right, because from ages 12-39 people cease to exist.  It’s cool, Alan.  We’re an unimportant demographic anyway. 
  • The softball from the woman down front.  Of course, if this were a conference and he were my guy I would throw him meatballs too, but I like to think I do a better job of crafting a positive, worthwhile question than that woman did.  Also, this was a group of Khazei supporters.  They’re ALL meatballs.  


Bottom line: I’m voting for him.

Backpacking is a good way to travel…

…But not a good way to do anything else.

Included in “anything else”?  Meeting locals, learning the language, getting to know the country, and becoming immersed in the culture.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of literature (books, articles, blogs) written for, by and about backpackers.  I love travel and it’s all they talk about, so I thought it would be great and inspiring.

Not so.  I think the ’round the world’ deal is impractical.  I would rather go to one region at a time, with similar climates to save space with gear.  This of course would also allow for more time in each individual place.  But I also hate the idea of being just a tourist.  Many of these backpackers made comments about how it doesn’t matter if your clothes are dirty, because you’ll only be hanging out with other backpackers.  Or they made the bold suggestion that hey, every once in a while, you should try some local food.  But only if you’re feeling brave.  And of course, one of my personal favorites, is the total disregard for local culture and values, manifesting itself in attire.  Um no, a two piece bikini is not acceptable everywhere, and neither is a miniskirt. 

A lot of these backpackers seem mostly concerned with hooking up with people of as many different nationalities as possible, looking cute, and seeing tons of countries with no repeats.  So, yes, if you literally want to move from one place to the next, rapidly, while stopping only to sew your wild oats, backpacking is for you.  The physical act of travel (on the cheap) is their specialty.

But that’s not my deal.

I want to live in a bunch of different places, for a few years at a time in each.  The six weeks I spent in Egypt seemed short, and I’m eager to stay somewhere on a slightly-permanent basis.  Even in high school, I immediately knew I wanted to return to Paris for a few years. I was talking about the importance of being there for more than a year with Marisa.  You need to see the way the place cycles through every holidayand temperature change.  How activity waxes and wanes.

Travel shouldn’t be about checking things off your list.  It should be meaningful, it should inherently change who you are, adding to your personality and life story.  In my mind, a lot of experiences gleaned from backpacking are akin to a layover.  You might’ve been there for a bit, and you probably have a couple stories from it.  But what did it really mean to you?  One backpacker can say she went to India, true, but she spent the entire time in her room because it was so “uncivilized.”  In my mind, she got as much out of India as I did out of several hours in Germany.  I can check “drank German beer in Germany” off of my life list, but I don’t know what the countryside looks like.  I haven’t attempted German, or relaxed with locals to get their perspective on…anything, really.

So keep your 36 countries in 52 weeks.  I set my own pace.  I’ll cover the globe.  Eventually.  A place is like good food, and I savor it.

The Hillary List

Lately, there has been many a rumble in lady-land.  I have been reminded again and again that there are certain rules that should never be broken by people who are any combination of a) female, b) in authority, or c) driven, straightforward and intelligent.  I have come to think of this, aptly, as the Hillary List.  Love her or hate her, we’re all going to be treated like her, so we may as well learn a lesson or two.

  1. Everything you do will be subject to far more scrutiny.  Rather than complaining, accept it and adjust accordingly.
  2. Never let them see you cry.  This is imperative. See: Sex and the City
  3. If you lose it, everything you say will be discredited.  You’ve just given them an excuse to do what they already wanted to.
  4. Know when to hold em, when to fold em, and when to walk away.
  5. Own shoes that are comfy and shoes that are sexy.  Know when to use which ones.  Bonus points if they are in fact the same pair
  6. You will be called a bitch.  You can’t stop it, so don’t try.  Just deal with it, and see #2.
  7. Blow sunshine up their ass.  This is great advice from my mother
  8. Also from my mother: if you ever need to get out of something, bodily functions are an excellent excuse.  No one will want to chat about your period, and you simply can’t argue with the runs.
  9. Follow the rules.  You can get away with a lot if you stay within the lines, especially if it’s not that big of a deal for you to do so.
  10. Be cautious about who you trust, or: don’t air dirty laundry in public.  You don’t want to be considered a gossip, and many females will actually go out of their way to make you look bad.  Think very carefully about what you are saying (and to whom) before you speak.  Even if you disagree with something, be careful who you air that disagreement with.  Nobody likes someone who complains about their own team/boss/friends/whatever to people who aren’t involved

Break these rules at your own peril.  And remember, sometimes you just have to settle for Secretary of State.

Originally posted Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 10:01 PM


A few weekends ago, I was one of the volunteers at the U2 shows down at Gillette.  Greenpeace, Save Burma and the ONE Campaign were also there, which made for some nice camaraderie amongst the volunteers. 

It was an experience I will always remember and never trade, but in a way, it was so disheartening.  I spent the day out in the hot sun, approaching strangers and beseeching them to care about this woman with a strange name who lives so far away and is rarely on the news.  I was polite to people who were rude, I engaged with people who were argumentative and I tried not to piss anybody off.  I did my best to cram as many facts in as I could, once they agreed to sign and were finagling the clipboard. 

But after all that, Bono did more. 

He waved his magic wand and brought us all on stage with her face covering our own.  He sang the song he wrote for her, and played an informative text overlay on the jumbo tron.  He got the crowd of people, previously drunk or disinterested, to put on their own masks of her, and to care. 

But does the ONE campaign really hold up?  Or rather, does it stay true to its ideals?  Yes, it raises money.  But the premise is that we each only have one voice, and if we each raise that one voice, there will be a million voices all crying out for the same freedoms and protections.  But not all voices are equal.  There’s a reason Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle do the ONE ads, not me and my dad. 

It was an emotional weekend, and for the first time I truly felt like an activist.  But it put into perspective a few things, like how many hundreds of hours of photocopying and data entry balanced out the joy of being on stage with U2.  Or more importantly,  the fact that no matter how hard I worked, Bono could write a check and give a directive and do more for Daw ASSK than I ever could in a lifetime of activism. 

For Bono, it doesn’t matter that he’s not a politician.  He’s an average Irish guy with an amazing voice, great songwriting skills, and some really talented friends.  But he has made himself so relevent to the non-profit and activism world, as well as to popular culture, that governments listen to him.  Average people listen to him.  There’s a reason people signed my petition if I said Bono asked us to be here, Bono wrote Walk On about this woman, Bono supports us. 

What he says matters. 

Which brings me back to my high school dream: I should either be president, or Bob Dylan.

Play Nice

Lately I have received a lot of similar criticism, all stemming from a behavior about which I am offended to be criticized.  This is mostly because a successful male equivalent commits the same behavior and is revered. 

Also, it is because I am not wrong.  It is simply a choice of style, and in my mind, the style of those criticizing me is more offensive, but in a different way.  I do not meet their definition of nice, but they don’t meet mine, either.  I brought these points up to someone when they made a snarky remark about my behavior, but they claimed my male equivalent loses respect too.  And yet, no one makes snarky remarks to his face.  Even if people lose respect for him, they do it in private, and they still maintain a healthy amount of respect for him in other ways, like intellect and presence.




Why can some people get away with it and others can’t?


In Model UN and Model Arab League, we have chairs who lead committee.  Mine have run the gamut from almost-impeached (more than one) to award-winning (quite a few).  This year I had a great chair that was abrupt and rules-oriented.  I must admit that at first I bristled, but it turns out my chair was great.  She didn’t chair the way I would, but there was nothing inherently wrong with her chairing, and she had vast experience.


Unfortunately, some others didn’t agree.  They were a  vocal minority, and there were enough in the undecided column to cause a stir.  


Essentially, she wasn’t nice enough.  She didn’t break any rules, but she passed down a ruling quickly, without explanation, and without a smile.  All weekend she was fairly no-nonsense, and whipped an incredibly green bunch of delegates into shape.  Apparently, they didn’t appreciate it.  So they motioned to impeach her, not based on a violation of the rules, but on a personality conflict.  Because she wasn’t bubbly; she didn’t smile and mollycoddle them.  


I brought up, in my defense of her, that delegates could have approached her personally before taking such a drastic step.  But I guess that’s the issue.  No one felt they could.  When people feel that you are unapproachable, they won’t bother until it all gets to be too much, and then there’s a bit of an explosion.  Allegedly, it’s a sign of respect when someone criticizes you–it means they think you can change, and care enough to help you.  Perhaps my…colleague?  Acquaintance? is too unapproachable for anyone to confront him for the behavior that I am chastised for.  I’m hoping that my reception, compared to his, will save me from an upset down the line.  


For those of you who think this is too cutesy, I agree.  While I am aware it is the appropriate inner-growth zen-type thing to say, I feel otherwise.  I feel like maybe this applies if people criticize you constructively, but not if they simply judge you and are unreceptive to criticism of themselves.  And a part of me says why the hell should my chair have to play nice?  She already followed the rules, why do you have to throw in the smile?  


Well I guess you don’t.  But it means you have to be willing to be impeached.  


Originally posted Friday, April 24, 2009 at 1:02 AM


One of the girls on our trip was researching the facilities, treatment and social ramifications for those with Autism, mental retardation, Downs’ Syndrome or other special needs.  During our dialogue with the Fullbrighters, she asked about the treatment and perception of children with special needs.  At first I didn’t understand the response; I thought I was mishearing someone, or that it was a language issue.  They kept talking about Mongolians.  What on earth do they have to do with Downs’ Syndrome, or mental retardation?

Apparently, “Mongolian” is a term used in many parts of the world to refer to someone with less than full mental capacity.  Some people said they’ve heard their grandparents use the term.  It didn’t take long for this to catch on amongst our group and find use the way “wicked retahded” often does.

Most of the Arabs we talked to were very emphatic that people with mental handicaps are not looked down upon in their society.  They told us they aren’t hidden (although they used to be, and some still are) and they aren’t shameful.  They’re cute, they’re sweet, they’re innocent and are better than the rest of us because they can’t do any harm.

I’m no expert on the rights of people with special needs, but this doesn’t strike me as the right answer either.  I’ve actually been exposed a bit lately to our perceptions and treatment in the US of people who are mentally disabled.  I know that’s probably not the best term, but it’s better than Mongolian, and I’m not exactly sure what the real term is.  See in my family, we have De De.  We’re not really sure what’s wrong with her, since every test comes back normal, but she’s had health issues since she was a little baby.

It took several years, and someone else saying it,  for it to occur to me: De De has special needs.  We don’t say it out loud, but that’s the truth.

I don’t think hiding a person or their abilities is fair, but I also disagree with the cute, innocent label.  To me it seems condescending.  Maybe I see it differently because De De is so high functioning, and in fact rapidly improving, but she’s not innocent.  She’s got personality like nobody’s business.  De De is precocious and when she’s about 13 she’s gonna be a real handful.  She’s as far from her prim and proper sister as possible–she likes fart jokes and smelling my brother’s gigantic feet.  And she gets into trouble–she pretended to choke on her pacifier because she was mad at my father.

I look at De De, and I think of how one day someone who meets her will have idea that any of this ever happened.  I know that this is only possible because my aunt and uncle had the wherewithal and the means to pursue every possibility.  They were able to have every test known to man performed, get Dede every bit of therapy and piece of equipment from braces to walkers to a therapeutic hot tub and horseback riding.  I think about how different things would be for us all if we didn’t live in this country, if we didn’t have insurance, if Missy and Paul didn’t have a good financial situation.  And I think about these kids being shut up in houses or sent away, called Mongolians or treated like they could never be anything more complex than an innocent child, like they are nothing but a burden and an embarrassment.

We are so very lucky to have our De De.

Don’t Give it Your All

First, there is the obvious, obnoxious reason: we need to take time out for eating, sleeping and basic hygiene.  But beyond that, there’s also a reality check: we are entrenched in multi-tasking.  Everyone has family, friends, occupation and hobbies.  If you don’t have all of these things, you won’t stay sane.  So no, you can’t give everything to any one of these things, so stop making speeches about giving it “110 per cent.”

The problem is the return on your investment.  If you spend all your free time (after satisfying the basic needs) on any one person or project, it can never give back to you anything close to what you deserve.  People simply aren’t capable of living up to those sort of expectations, and it will just strain the relationship.  And the project, whatever it may be, will never be worth all of that time and effort, and will never fulfill the amount of you that was devoted to it.

Take me, for example.  I gave pretty much everything to the UNA, in one way or another, even sometimes sacrificing the basic needs part.  I took chunks out of the time I used to spend with my boyfriend, I rarely communicated with family, and I cut a whole group of friends out of my life.  I put my health at risk and put school and work in the turned around wayback of a station wagon.  The problem with this is that the UNA can never be all of these things for me, all the things I gave up.

I have friends in it, sure, but it will never have the kind of personalities I need to balance me, the ones I cut out, and it sure as hell can’t replace my boyfriend.  I got either the easiest or the  hardest A ever by taking Arab League as a class, but that does nothing for my American Gov grade.  I can go to conferences sick, stay up late and eat fast food so I can get everything done, but putting on a great conference or winning an award will never make bronchitis go away.  It’s great that I was able to have so many leadership positions, but they won’t put dollars in my pocket, or make my boss think I’m less of a flake.

But really, the very worst thing about giving it your all is that you may fail.

And fail I did.

And when we fail, we need the diverse-life thing to make it ok.  If you fight with your friend, you can bury yourself in work.  If work sucks, you can complain about it to your significant other.  If they dump you, you can work out your aggression with your hobby.  If things in your chosen diversion aren’t going well, you can complain about it to the friend.  When one of these is your everything and it fails, you have nowhere to go.  And you can bet that when things start falling apart in all those neglected areas of your life, the one you spend all your time on is gonna leave you high and dry.

So treat your time like money, and invest wisely.  Diversify, and choose a few safe, steady investments, so that when the big risks don’t pan out you aren’t a mess.

Originally posted Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 2:42 AM


The weekend of September 20th was phenomonal.  In the words of my father, “Nobody is gonna believe us.”

September 20th is my dad’s birthday, and he and I spent it by collecting signatures for Amnesty all day and then watching U2 from the inner circle at night.  Oh, yeah, and we walked on stage.  With Bono.  It was more amazing than I thought it could have been, and the best free birthday present ever. 

The second night I went to Gillette with Alex, cuz my dad works for a living and that was an exhausting day.  So that means I spent two full days immersed in Amnesty and Save Burma and U2.  I actually got a bit jaded from seeing them so much, which was kind of weird.  But it was by all accounts an amazing weekend, and not just for the reasons you would think. 

The second night, I was legitimately choked up while walking on stage, Aung Sun Suu Kyi‘s face in front of my own.  I finally felt like I was really doing something worthwhile, and I had this little moment of oh, so this is my life now.  I’m a girl who does the solidarnosc fist and wears peacock feathers in her hair because they symbolize democracy in Burma.  I’m also the only one (besides Alex) who knows what CEDAW is and can properly explain our petition about it.  I kind of like being this person.  Hm.  I could totally be this person, for real life, not just for coop.  Hm. 

It was englightening to speak to the monks, both of whom were in their early 20s.  These are people who have given up the comforts of modern or family life for ascetism and service to their people.  I really enjoyed seeing people my age who were so committed to their faith and their country, and on such a different path from where I am. 

One of the monks had a digital SLR, his only luxury item.  He explained that it was not frivolous at all.  Since the warrant for his arrest was issued due to his part in the protests, he can’t go home.  Instead, he travels, taking pictures and telling his story, trying to save his country from afar.  The camera is just his way of doing the work he was called to do, adapting to this new circumstance. 

I’m no monk, but I’d like to think that my path isn’t as far from his as it first seems.  Because right now, I’m a professional activist.