My news vacation

disney birdsI recently went on vacation. My first real ‘away from home, the dog and my laptop, sleeping in a hotel, eating out every day’ vacation in 4 years. To build on the relief of having no schedule, no must dos, laundry or dying veg in the fridge, I decided to also take a vacation from the news.

Nothing. No newsletters, no social media posts, no hitting refresh on CNN, BBC, The Guardian or even the tv. In fact, I didn’t watch tv for 7 days.

The bliss of no Trump for 168 hours. I highly recommend it to anyone feeling ragged, angry, frustrated, furious or just terrified. Its like sitting in a warm bath of innocence while fairies sing songs and fat suddenly melts off your thighs for no reason. I actually felt lighter. I heard birds again. I learned to hike without a annoying ping of texts or emails. I actually did.one.thing.at.a.time. It was like 1994 all over again.

Of course I returned to find out that we’re heading steadily towards some kind of nightmare scenario with the only leader with worse hair than ours, Houston had a Katrina (but the First Lady looked fabulous because fashion matters when dealing with immeasurable loss), and Dreamers will now be deported (or not be able to stay as citizens). Landing back in reality felt more like a car crash than even I expected and my shoulders are once more up by my ears. This shit ain’t going away.

You can argue that having the luxury to ignore the news is a sign of my privilege that millions can’t afford to do. That turning off the news and social media is sticking your head in the sand and if everyone did it… blah blah blah.

But no one can be angry and frustrated and fighting all the damn time. And I found new time in my day by not hitting refresh, liking posts, adding snarky comments or reading sites, that gave me the chance to actually breathe. I returned to the news with more energy, and a clearer idea of what is important to read vs. the piling on vs digging a deeper hole. How my time is better spent doing, instead of posting. Finding ways to create and contribute instead of wallowing in despair.

I’m back in the real world now. The fairies may have left and the weight has returned, but for now, I can still hear the birds. And I’m hanging onto that for as along as I can.

 

 

 

 

Can you hear me now?

spyEdward Snowden isn’t exactly hot news these days. Stole documents, NSA spying, ran to Russia to avoid extradition, blah blah blah. The revelations that were revealed remain topical – big government is spying on all of us – but somehow, no-one seems to think its newsworthy these days.

Many people, myself included, had the initial thought of ‘so what?’ After all, if the government wants to listen into my weekly transatlantic calls to my mother on the topics of ‘what illness have we got this week’ and ‘I’m watching Dancing the the Stars right now, can I call you back?’ – well have at it NSA. Listen away. As for my emails, well I really could give a crap on whether some spying lacky reads my latest missive to my sister about the beauty of the 5 miler, or my most recent review on Zappos. Online search history? Nothing to hide here other than a slight embarrassment at the amount of lingerie sites I visit, and the phantom shopping I do (you know, add the cart then close the site because, well, I do have bills to pay).

But it always made me feel a bit icky. Something slightly not quite ‘ok’ about the whole thing. All that access, everything I do being stored somewhere… made me feel a little uneasy even though I wasn’t sure why.

After reading about the NSA files, I realized that clicking sound on the line that my mother had complained about since 2002 was probably a wire tap. After all, I flew to the UK on Sept 10th and flew back on Sept 15th – I was automatically a person of interest to the government. As an legal alien I was searched at every airport as a matter of course since my arrival in 1998, and I knew that until the whole ‘terror’ thing faded, that it was a safety measure, a necessity. I didn’t feel safe and having people watching, well it made me think that somehow, it was all for a good cause.

Then last year I became a US citizen. As I sat in front of the immigration agent and my 4 inch thick FBI file (oh yes!), I was questioned about everything from my NRA membership (expired), gun ownership, international travel and political party affiliation. Every donation I’d made to Planned Parenthood, and even my clicks at online polls. I was stunned that they knew so much about me, but I figured – hey, at least they don’t let in just anyone.

(jokes on me huh?)

So when the NSA revelations came to light I wasn’t terrible surprised. The scale, the size of it was astonishing, but I knew they’d been tracking me – sort of – so the fact that they were tracking everyone..well, its the US. Go big or go home. But something about having all that data about me (and everyone else) tracked, monitored, searchable and stored indefinitely by the government smacked of 1984. It initially seemed ‘harmless’ (especially since I’m not a terrorist or a criminal on the lam), but then I started to wonder about the longer term ramifications of the program. Especially when the whole thing became public, major corporations lobbied the NSA to stop it, the President was presented with 30 suggested changes to the problem and as of today, nothing has changed.

Again, a lot of you might be sighing and thinking ‘so what?’ So the NSA knows I buy too many shoes and the intimate details of my bank account. They read my online flirts with that guy from work or know who my friends are from my Facebook account. So they can track my movements on my phone GPS, watch me through my computer’s video camera and pretty much follow me around the world. They’re only using that data to fight terrorists. And I’m not one. So what?

Except.. except.

As part of my becoming a citizen I read a lot of US history. And anyone who’s not been buried under a rock knows that back in the 50s and 60s, the big ‘terror’ in the US was ‘communists’. ‘Commies’ were going to be the death of the US way of life, and Hoover and McCarthy made it their life’s mission to make sure that didn’t happen. People of interest were monitored and tracked, letters were read, phones were tapped and eventually ‘persons of interest’ were outed and put on the stand accused on treasonous acts against the US and communist sympathies. Lives were ruined, sometimes on very little tangible evidence and some of those went to prison.

Today the terror is from extremists. Extremists not defined by a country, a faith, a desire to invade or convert the country to a new economic system. Nope, the fear these days are people who don’t like the US, the values of the country and, according to GW, ‘our freedoms’ (again, debatable).

Are you an extremist?

Didn’t think so. After all, in your head you’re not waving an AK-47, wearing a hijab or shouting ‘death to infidels’. Today’s definition of an extremist that is.

But what if tomorrow’s definition of an extremist is something different (as it undoubtedly will be). What if its people who rally for a higher minimum wage? People who camp out in support of Occupy? Those who don’t agree with what the government is doing and ‘take to the streets’ in search of something different. Lets say, socialism¬† (an ugly word for essentially the provision of government services to support the people). Lets say socialism becomes the next ‘extremist’ target of the government. People who want healthcare provided by the government, who want better social welfare, who meet in small groups to figure out how to make their voice heard. Who lobby and march for a better social safety net. Some of whom might directly and vocally criticize the government.

Who now, armed with a wealth of data about every citizen’s movements, their network of friends and colleagues, their phone calls and communications… really wouldn’t have a problem tracking down who the new ‘threat’ is. One day you’re attending a rally or signing an online petition for better funding for hospitals, the next you’re standing in court being accused of acts of treason.

Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it?

I’m sure that those 50’s communist sympathizers initially thought so too .

Except back in the 50s, the government only targeted a few. After all, there were only so many phones they could tap, letters they could read, people they could follow. There were no handheld devices, no GPS, no portable video cameras, no email, no social networks and no cellphones. In fact, its amazing they managed to drag people into court with such as absence of source data.

Well we wouldn’t have that problem today, now would we?

Today.. with the accumulation of big data on all of us, and everything we do, well its limitless as to what the government can know about you, your life and what you think and believe. In fact, if you think about that article you read and liked (tracked), that online petition you signed (tracked), that Facebook posted you ‘Liked’ (tracked), that call you made (tracked), that country you visited (tracked), that vote you made….

What doesn’t the government know about you? If they cared to look.

Luckily, right now, you’re not that interesting.

But one day you might be.

So before you turn the channel or click past the next bit of NSA files news, pause for a second.

It might not relate to you today – after all, you’ve got nothing to hide do you?- but one day, down the road, you just might. What is deemed socially acceptable may change (after all, its not illegal to want a higher minimum wage or more funding for schools right now is it?), and with it, you might suddenly become a person of interest.

McCarthyism and ‘big brother’ isn’t just historical fact or Orwellian fiction. They’re markers of society that we shouldn’t ignore. Because what is laughable today ‘if they want to listen to our phone sex, have at it’, might not be so laughable in 20, 30 or 50 years down the road.

And by then.. it’ll be much too late.

The Constitution: My suggestions …

I’m now 10 days away from ‘C’ day (citizenship) and am swotting up on civics and US history like a 4th grader with a project due.  Growing up learning about long dead English kings and queens, US history is bawdy by comparison. Talk about a movie script – land grabs, internal wars, presidential murders and ‘laws of the land’ which change 27 times in less than 200 years. 
However for purposes of citizenship, I’m required to know less about the history and more about the facts as defined by the government. Which is remarkable and redefines the term ‘vanilla’
 
‘Slavery existed in many countries long before America was founded’ (phew! we weren’t the first!)

‘ ..after much violence, the settlers defeated those American Indian tribes and look much of their land’ (much? much??? much like all?)

‘ In the Civil War, the people of the United States fought against each other. Many lives were lost.’ (yes, a fair summary of 4 years and  620,000 deaths – more than WW1, WW2 or Vietnam)

Still its a requirement for me to be an American, so I’ll try not to start an argument with the Department of Homeland Security guy during my interview. I’ll save that for after I’m sworn in.

One thing which has been particularly fascinating for someone who grew up with a monarchy, is the Constitution. Sorry Nic Cage, but the reality there is way more interesting and exciting than you dripping lemon juice onto parchment (though I learned that trick in Girl Guides and I’m still waiting to find a use for it). For those outside the US (and who can’t stand Nic Cage), the Constitution was a document written to document the new system of government for America. Its actually very short and only has several main points (27 amendments were added later as people realized that it might be too liberal and wishy washy to not specify that citizens can carry guns and start a militia ). 

This ability to continue to modify the ‘rules’ is pretty cool – especially coming from a country where nothing much changes in a 100 years, and since the last amendment was 21 years ago, I think its time for a new amendment (I mean, they didn’t even have Facebook back then). Since Amendments contain often several issues, I’ve decided to draft something for your review. You know.. as a new citizen and all, I figure I’ll get a head start on my right to free speech and save the militia for later…

The 28th Amendment (as drafted by citizen #365,253,274)

Article 1: Everyone is equal.
I know, I know.. Janice in accounting can be totally annoying but while she might cancel your print queue, she is entitled to her opinion if you’re going to print out 120 pages first thing on a Tuesday morning. And yes, Bob and Joe can get married and no, you don’t have to come to the wedding unless you want to help them celebrate (nobody needs a sourpuss face when declaring love to each). And everyone gets paid the same for the same job, regardless of your gender, race, marital status, age or accent. Just because I don’t have a family, doesn’t mean I should get paid less (or my priorities really need to change). And if you don’t want to have a kid or you want to adopt a kid, you can. Because kids needs homes with people who want them (unless we’re planing on reintroducing child labor – which we’re not in this Amendment).

Article 2: Stop harking back to the historical values of America
I’m sure that wearing multi colored shoes and calling your kids ‘Billy-Bob’ without any irony was awesome, but the 50’s was also segregation, Jim Crow, poverty, women chained to the house, fear of communism, McArthur witch hunts and the Korean war. Was it really that ‘better’ if you weren’t a white middle class male or living in a Rock Hudson movie?  No.. anyone harking back to ‘a better time’ or ‘old fashioned American values’ should be forced to eat Spam, chain smoke Winstons and living in a bomb shelter. Things are pretty good now, especially if you ignore this Beiber blip.

Article 3: The President shall pass an IQ test and psychiatric evaluation
Evidenced by the 2008 and 2012 elections, all potential candidates for president must pass a basic geography, English and civics test. Qualifications for president shall not include previous experience as an actor, ability to see Russia from your house or ownership of a penis. All candidates must understand that global warming is not a Democratic scam aimed at taking away our guns and aborting children, and that the world is in fact, not black and white. Rorschach test results which include multiple references to God, homosexuals, ‘them Negros’, ‘damn Frenchie socialists’ or Ronald Reagan will exclude candidates from consideration. 

Article 4: Citizens shall be required to stop working all the goddamn time
Guys, c’mon. It doesn’t make you a Eye-talian socialist who hates America to turn off your PC at 7pm or not check your email over the weekend. This is actually normal behavior for most of the world and doesn’t mean that you have a small penis, lack intelligence or are sponging off the government. Reading a book isn’t a sign of laziness or lack of drive. Vacations should not involve work. If they did, it would be called ‘working in a warmer location’. Please America, take a break. It will still be there when you get back.

So there you have it America. My 28th Amendment to the constitution. Let me know if you have any suggestions (I know, I couldn’t include everything). Meanwhile I think I’m going to print this out for my citizenship interview. I think they might like the fact that I’m so eager to get started on being an American… after all, expressing my opinion pretty much makes me American.

When I am American

After 15 years of alien-ness, I’ve decide to abandon the proper use of the letter ‘t’, learn to like grits and join the mother ship. Yes, I’m becoming an American.

I moved to the US from the UK, full of self righteous superiority and plummy vowels, determined to show the Yanks a thing or too at work while surreptitiously looking for some yummy Springsteen ass (only made in America, I assure you). No surprise that the wind was knocked out of me on my arrival. Gone were the grey faces, sour dispositions and cynical sarcasm that I knew as mothers milk. The people I ,met were were positive, friendly (if a little resistant to my English wit) and welcoming. America was the hug I’d been wanting since childhood and I wasn’t leaving.  

Armed with a green card I’ve been happy to remain an alien. I still cling to the correct pronunciation of tom-ah-to, celebrate Guy Fawkes day and get my Marks and Sparks Christmas Fruit cake sent stateside every year.  I drink tea not coffee and think that your bacon is a travesty, but I love this country. When I think about where I’ll end my days, the thought of drizzly old England leaves me cold. Give me the mountains, the blue sky and people who say ‘ma’am’.

As a new American I might not be able to run for President (I’ve already got enough grey hair thankyou) but I will participate in the democratic process. Its the main reason I’m adopting this country (that and replacing ‘God Save the Queen’ as my national anthem should I ever win that 100m gold medal).
As I swear my allegiance to the flag and offer up my assistance to defend the country (I’ve already got the gun and I can probably learn to chew tobacco), well, I’ll be thinking about the possibilities and the future. Not just my own, but what I can help influence for other women.  Not being able to vote has been the thorn that drove me to finally call myself an American and all that goes along with that, good and bad. I will fight the inevitable American fattening up process and you have permission to kill me if I ever watch an episode of anything starring Aston Kutcher, but along with crap comes the ability to stand up and vote for what I believe it, and lend a hand in 2016 should Hilary choose to do whats right.
And that’s what I’ll be thinking about tonight as I sit down with my flash cards and  Schoolhouse Rock. Plus did you know, Washington had wooden teeth???
How cool is that????