Tag Archives | obama

Define “best and brightest”


I wrote this post back in the halycon days of Obama’s first presidency and well before “lean in” became a meme and not an athletic command.  I like to think that even with newborn Caleb strapped to my chest, I did a pretty good job at my job, but then I again, I was half-asleep most of the time, so I might not be the best judge. Outlaw Mama runs a great Friday series about women and work, which you might check out if either of those categories–a woman or a worker–pertains to you.

“Critics worry about academic insularity,” reads the title of an article in Sunday’s Washington Post online edition. It’s not quite a backlash – yet – but almost every day, it seems, there’s another little niggling worry posted somewhere about all the Ivy Leaguers making up Obama’s new administration.Sometimes it’s even one of the lead stories for the day.

Seems Barack has appointed people who went to really elite schools, like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford; he’s also appointed others who couldn’t quite cut the mustard and had to make do with such slacker schools as University of Chicago, University of Virginia, and MIT.

Frank Rich on Sunday sounded one such note of worry, pointing out that the phrase “best and brightest,” which David Halberstam used as the title of his book about Viet Nam, was intended ironically: a group of incredibly well-educated men (more about that in a minute) got us stuck in Viet Nam and couldn’t get us out. Other pundits on both the left and the right have sounded equally worried about what will happen when all these ivy-covered lefties find themselves in that most ivory of Ivory Towers, the White House.

The Post article comments that Obama’s team “lacks diversity in one regard: they are almost exclusively products of the nation’s elite institutions and generally share a more intellectual outlook than is often the norm in government.”

Dontcha just hate it when government is run by people who think? Of course, one needs to go back quite some time to remember when this was the case (and one wonders how to tag the Clinton administration – intellectual isn’t precisely the word that springs first to mind, alas).

As I read Rich’s column yesterday morning and then bounced over to the Post article, I couldn’t help but think about Governor Ed Rendell’s comment on Janet Napolitano’s selection for Homeland Security chief: he said that she was the perfect pick because she’s “got no life. No family. Perfect…” (See this link to The Christian Science Monitor for more about how Rendell unintentionally put his foot in his mouth about the precise conflict faced by women who want to have successful careers).

So Napolitano is perfect because she’s got no family and Larry Summers isn’t perfect because of all that Harvard in his background. Hmmm.

And yet, when I read the profiles of all the potential appointees that The New York Times has been running, I notice two things: I notice that many of these people are – gulp – my age or – double gulp – younger. And I notice that very few of the women on the list have children, while many of the men have several. I pointed this out to Husband, who said, basically “duh.”

Translated, this “duh” means what we all know but hate to say: to get to the spot on the career ladder where you can be chosen for a cabinet position is a tough climb under the best of circumstances – and those circumstances are rarely improved by having to lock yourself in your office every few hours so that you can use your Medela pump in some semblance of privacy (if, that is, you have an office and aren’t forced to stuff yourself and your pump into a stall in the woman’s bathroom and hope that no one mistakes that peculiar Medelian wheeze for you having a horrible asthma attack).  It’s hard to fast-track yourself if this is what you feel like:

mom_and_nursing_pup_600.jpgI know, I know, it’s better than it was, the times-they-are-a-changing, sure, okay. I know that song; I can even hum a few bars. But four years ago, right before Caleb was born, I was appointed to be the director of a program at the small college where I teach. This new position would reduce my teaching load from four courses a semester to two and I was thrilled – teaching four courses each term was killing me. (For the record: I am not a member of the academic elite. Academic, yes. But elite? The elite don’t teach four undergraduate classes a semester – one, maybe, but four? No freakin’ way). I was afraid to go on maternity leave because if someone else were appointed as director in the interim, I might never get the job back (no one wants to teach four courses a semester).

So I took a leave from teaching but not from administration and came to work with Caleb slung across my chest in one of those baby slings. And yes I locked the office door several times a day to nurse him. Students who came in to talk to me that semester were frequently startled by the sight of Caleb’s small hand emerging from the sling or by the sound of a deliciously timed baby fart, one of those long, rippling farts that you know is going to result in a diaper filled with what looks a lot like scrambled eggs.

Frankly? That’s about all I remember of the semester – Caleb wiggling and farting as I tried to help students choose their courses, review their transcripts, or talk about why they were flunking calculus.

I could get away with functioning in what was basically fugue state because – well, in part because I am not a member of the academic elite, and because college students are themselves functioning in a kind of fugue state. I’ve got no clue how more high-powered women juggle newborn hell with high-pressure jobs. Lots and lots and lots of child-care, I guess. And maybe a smidge or two of valium.

But here’s my point: what if we stopped worrying that all these Obama appointees are too intelleckshul (and let’s also notice, shall we, that most of this conversation about “too smart” centers on the men Obama’s picked to handle the exchequer). What if we started worrying with equal frequency – above the fold, as they say in newspaper-land – about why it’s so hard for women with families to climb that ladder? After all, an ivy-covered wall is still…a wall.

Continue Reading · on August 25, 2013 in family, Feminism, Kids, Parenting, Politics, teaching

screen shot heard round the world

My computer’s live stream, at 8:15AM Abu Dhabi time.

There may have been some screaming in my apartment. Also? Some joy.

And then I texted Liam, who went off on the school bus this morning, clutching his phone, which was streaming the live feed of election results (I’m green, he’s white):

So there you have it folks. WOOOOOT Obama won.

And then many, many exclamation marks.

Continue Reading · on November 7, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Politics

for the people, by the people

Here it is: Voting Day.

It’s up to you, now, people. You can choose gay rights, reproductive rights, earth’s rights, educational equality, pay equality, healthcare reform, civil rights. You can choose to let the women out of the binders; you can choose the 99%.

Or you can Romney the country to the roof of the family 4×4 and hope for the best.

It’s your call.

Continue Reading · on November 6, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Politics

Labor Day & A Metaphor

It’s Labor Day weekend in the States: the last hurrah of summer, the beginning of fall, and–given that it’s an election year–the beginning of revved-up campaigning from both the right and the left.

The Repubs just finished their hot-air balloon of a convention (with apologies to hot-air balloons everywhere), leaving the world with a legacy of Lyin’ Ryan, The Empty Chair, and Ann Romney loving that her son spoke “great” Spanish (she knew it was great even though she says she “doesn’t know a word” of Spanish). Happily unleashed from facts–because, as a Romney pollster said, their campaign won’t be dictated to by fact-checkers–the Romney/Ryan campaign bus, full of animatronic Mitts,  trundles onward towards November.

Now, granted, Obama’s campaign has had its share of playing fast-and-loose with truthiness, but in a recent column, Charles M. Blow cites Mediaite as saying that Romney’s campaign is ahead in the “liar liar pants on fire” race, with a score of 46% to the Obama campaign’s 29%. Nearly 1 in 10 statements coming from the Romney camp is likely to be false, as opposed to 1 in 50 from Obama.

No matter how you slice it, that’s a grim statistic. I suppose politicians and world leaders have been lying to their flocks since forever, so maybe now it’s just that we have ways of discovering the lies (except no one can crack the mystery of Mitt’s taxes. Where o where have you hidden them, Mittens? Are they Romney’d to the roof of one of your many cars, perhaps the jeep you use in the Caymans?)  But if I have to choose a liar, I’m going to choose the person who lies the least.

Some of you, perhaps, want to throw your hands up in disgust and say “screw ’em all,” and stay home watching reruns of “Burn Notice” on the telly. Two words for you, people: Supreme Court. Be as disenchanted with the process all you want, but the person who is sitting in the White House for the next four years will choose two, maybe three Supremes. And anyone who wants even a remote shot at health care, transparent political systems, reasonable immigration policies, clean air/water/land, or relatively stable individual freedoms, should care deeply about who will be picking the next members of that abaya-clad group.

No, Obama hasn’t been perfect. Probably no one other than Clark Kent or god could’ve lived up to the national expectations that greeted Obama’s 2008 victory, and if you’re feeling disappointed, a recitation of his accomplishments probably won’t convince you – so I’m not going to say anything about child tax credits, or killing bin Laden, or Ledbetter, or Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, and I won’t send you to this list for a fuller account of what this “do-nothing” President has done.

I’m going to ask, instead, if you have any t-shirts that you wear and love, even if the t-shirt is a little rumpled, a little faded, a little bit stretched out?  I bet you do.  Maybe it’s the fave because it fits just so, or maybe because of the memories it connotes, or maybe you love the slogan blazoned across the front or stitched on the sleeve.

I have a t-shirt like that:

Yeah, it’s a little faded, a little wrinkled, a little stretched out, and the letters look a little worse for wear. But I love what it says. After all, hope was the only thing left in Pandora’s box after she released all the evils into the world; hope is “the thing with feathers/that perches in the soul,” says Emily Dickinson. What do we have without hope? We’ve got truth strapped to the roof of a campaign bus, like just another Romney pet, that’s what we’ve got.  And that, my friends, is simply not enough.

here’s what might be enough: come see what’s happening at yeah write this week (this month, too): the mommy bloggers will be blogging without help from our cute tykes and irascible partners. yeah write: one of the forces for good on the interwebs

Continue Reading · on September 3, 2012 in Feminism, NYC, Politics

in which we discuss unicorns, world religions, and whether barack IS in fact a muslim

About two weeks ago, we got notification from the boys’ school that today, 17 June, would be a national holiday and the school would be closed.

National holidays on short notice. One of the perks of life in the U.A.E.

I’ll give you a minute to think about how parents in a large metropolitan area in the States, say New York, might react to a holiday delivered so casually. The brouhaha about banning soda would pale by comparison.

When the boys came home from school last week, excited for the long weekend, I asked them what holiday was being celebrated today.

Boys: It’s the day that Mohammed rode a unicorn to Jerusalem and met with all the prophets and they had like a prophet party.

Me: A unicorn?

Caleb, emphatic: Yes! Or maybe some other magical creature, no, no, Abdullah in my class said it was a unicorn. And that Mohammed met with God, too.

Me, again:  A unicorn?

Liam, patiently, the way one speaks to the elderly:  The word is buraq and that’s the word for unicorn or any magical creature.

Caleb, unconcerned about translation issues: What is a prophet, actually?

Me, realizing yet again that what my children don’t know about religion (any religion) would fill all the holy books, combined: Well, a prophet is a holy person who–

Liam: Noah was a prophet!

Me: Um…sort of, I guess, and some religions see Jesus as a prophet, but Christians see Jesus as the son of god–

Caleb: Whose idea was it to be Christians?

Me:  The followers of Jesus called themselves Christians but they were originally Jewish —


Me: Yes but in this part of the world–

Boys: Jesus was from ABU DHABI?

Me: No, but this part of the world, the Middle East, is where Islam, and Judaism, and Christianity all began, thousands of years ago.

Boys: So is Mohammed from Abu Dhabi?

Me: He was born in a place called Mecca, which is a holy city to Muslims, but he also lived in a place called Medina.

Caleb, getting at the heart of the issue: Did Jesus ever ride a unicorn?

Me: I don’t think there are unicorns in any Jesus stories. Just donkeys.

The boys are unimpressed. Unicorns are cool. Donkeys, not so much. The boys wander out of the room to worship at the altar of “Star Wars the Old Republic,” which is our household’s primary religion. I turn to my holy book in search of answers to questions about Mohammed and the unicorns.

Wikipedia, praised be its name, says that the unicorn holiday is actually Isra and Mi’raj, which celebrates the night that Mohammed rode a magical steed to “the furthest mosque,” in what we now call Jerusalem. Apparently, at least in the realm of Wikipedia truthiness, this journey is also where Mohammed bargained with God about how often Muslims should pray. God originally asked for fifty times a day and Mohammed got him down to five.

Mohammed’s magical steed was called buraq. You can pronounce it “barack.”

And there you have it. Some Tea Bagger confused unicorns with Presidents.

(And no, I’m not saying anything about believing in unicorns being more or less ridiculous than believing that Obama was born in Kenya.)

Buraq also, according to my online holy book, can be translated as “a beautifully faced creature.”

So while it’s clear that Barack isn’t a Muslim, it seems entirely likely that he could be a buraq. After all, as I said to the boys: have you ever seen Barack and a buraq in the same place at the same time?



When you’re done reading through these various Wikipedia links, check out my review in The National of Lauren Groff’s entertaining and thought-provoking new novel, Arcadia. For that matter, if you’re searching for a good book to read on vacation this summer, look over there at the Amazon box. No, not the little ordering box, but the long box, with books in it, just to the right. Lots of good reading in that box. Help yourself.




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Continue Reading · on June 17, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Children, Education, expat, Kids, lost in translation, Parenting, Politics, religion

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