Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Vigil: Awaiting the coming of the Christ Child

Salesian Reflection

Vigil of Christmas
This evening is the vigil of Christmas and we ponder on the mystery of the birth of Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. St. Francis de Sales offer us some thoughts on the nativity:
If someone intends to build a house or a palace, he must first consider for whom the dwelling is intended. He will obviously use different plans depending upon the social status of the person. So it was with the Divine Builder. God built the world for the Incarnation of the Son. Divine wisdom foresaw from all eternity that the Word would assume our nature in coming to earth. To accomplish this task, God chose a woman, the most holy Virgin Mary, who brought forth Our Savior.
In the Incarnation, God made us see what the human mind could hardly have imagined or understood. So great was God’s love for humanity that in becoming human, God desired to fill us with divinity. God wished to crown us with divine goodness and dignity. God wanted us to be children of God, for we are formed in God’s image.
Our Savior came into this world to teach us what we need to do to preserve in ourselves this divine resemblance of God. Oh, how earnestly we ought to summon up our courage to live according to what we are. Our Savior came so that we may have life to the fullest. He was wholly filled with mercy and kindness for the human family.
Often when the most hardened souls have reached the point of living as if there were no God, Our Savior allows them to find His Heart full of pity and kind mercy toward them. All, who know this, experience some feeling of gratitude for it. Let us let go of all that is not of God in our house. When we open our hearts to God’s love, we bring to birth the Christ Child in our hearts so as to establish God’s kingdom on earth.
(Adapted from the writings of
St. Francis de Sales)

Ho! Ho! Ho! When Christmas Eve falls on Saturday, it's Kitty Day!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How To Fight Fascism – Dear Design Student

Mike Monteiro

November 30, 2016

Q: I am freaking the fuck out that America just elected a fascist. I’m bouncing between wanting to fight and hiding under my bed. I’m just a designer, what can I do?

Hi. Take a deep breath. I’ve been breathing into a paper bag for three weeks myself. Let’s not white-wash (ha!) this. We are truly fucked. We’re standing at the very edge of the American experiment. I can’t blame you for not wanting to take that next step.

So let’s take stock: barring any last-minute Hail Marys such as vote audits, appealing to faithless electors, or praying that Congress actually gives a shit about conflicts of interest, Donald Trump is set to become the President of the United States. We should behave as if he’s going to do the things he’s said he’s going to do. There’s no secret liberal inside the orange jumpsuit. And while he may not be a fascist himself, he’s a needy narcissistic Zelig-like sociopath who needs to be loved and admired by those closest to him. And he’s chosen to surround himself with fascists.

In the next four years, civil rights in America will be under constant massive attack. As designers, we don’t get to opt out. And since you’ve all been screaming about changing the world, now’s the time you realize it’s not done by disrupting viral video consumption delivery systems, but by actually getting involved in some of that civil shit. This is not a healthy human being.

Get healthy
First off — and I cannot stress this enough — get your shit together. Your mental health is important. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re in no position to take care of others. And right now, not taking care of yourself the most selfish act possible because we need you. So go to your therapist, get back on your meds, do some physical activity to get those endorphins going because we need you strong and we need you healthy.

And look, if you’re seriously freaking out, know that I totally understand why you would be, because this all sucks. Then know I love you. Then call this number: 1–800–273–8255. They will take care of you. If you need some help figuring all this out, but can wait a few days, you can find someone to talk to here. Please take this seriously.

Once you’re healthy, we can get to work.

Be a citizen first
Before we need you as a designer, we will need you as a citizen. As a citizen there are three things you can give: time, money, and haven. Give what you can of each.

The most important thing you can do is make phone calls. Call your representatives. Call your senators. Do not tell them about your feelings. They don’t care about your feelings. They care about your next vote. Tell them what they need to do to get it. Be relentless. Be the person who calls every day. You can make 5 calls a day and you’ll be in and out in under 15 minutes. And yes, I mean phone calls. That’s how these people work. A call is ten times more valuable than an email, or a petition. You all have phones. You’re probably reading this on one.

Look for the helpers
There are organizations out there busting their ass to keep the flame of democracy alive. Find them. They need your money to keep doing this. Give to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, the Anti-Defamation League, the Trevor Project. There are so many more.

Help those still willing to speak truth to power. The media failed us in a big way, but there are enough thinkpieces about that already, and this is not that. But donate generously to the ones still standing proudly: Mother Jones — still fierce after so many years and stronger than ever, ProPublica — going deep into the data to expose corruption, The Washington Post — still standing tall. And, oh how I love adding Teen Vogue to this list. Because they’re kicking a lot of ass, and they’re talking directly to the next generation. The New York Times has already fallen.

Mostly, though, as a citizen, look out for each other. And especially look out for people most likely to be the target of roving jackbooted deplorable thugs. There is more safety in numbers. We’re past the point of pretending not to see that hate crime happening on the bus. It’s happening. And it will keep happening until the people on the bus, or on a plane, or in the street, stand up to the haters.

Here are four simple steps to stop all types of harassment. Is this putting your safety at risk? Yes. Is it increasing the overall safety? Yes. If we’re going down, we’re going down as a community.

They’re not smart. And there are more of us than there are of them.

There’s no wrong way to help
Some of us are fighters. Some of us are check writers. Some of us like to protest. Some of us are focused on vote audits. Some of us are preparing for four years of absolute terror. This is all good. And this is all necessary. Don’t tell someone they’re helping wrong just because they’re doing something you don’t agree with. (Unless you think it actually runs contrary to their goals. That’s called critique.)

If it gives people hope it’s worth doing. Hope is gonna be in some short supply in the next four years so let people generate it where they can. If you’re organizing a protest, but your friend Bob would rather sit at his desk and make phone calls, that’s cool. He’s doing his thing and you’re doing yours.

The amount of time we spend arguing with each other only subtracts from the amount of time we spend fighting fascists.

Go local
Fix yourself. Fix your house. Fix your street. Fix your neighborhood. Fix your city. Fix your state. Fix your country. That’s the order to work in. Start small and work up. This election was lost at the local level. We won it at the national level!

Get a grip on what’s going on in your local community and find out where you can help. Maybe it’s keeping your street free of swastika graffiti. Maybe it’s making sure the two Muslim kids down the street have a clear path to school and back every day. If you own a business, make sure everyone knows they’re welcome there. Put up signs. Make them visible. Make sure that any fascist walking into your place of business feels unwelcome.

Who are your local elected officials? Where do they stand on things? When are their terms up? Local officials turn into state officials. State officials turn into national officials. (Unless of course, we keep electing idiots who run golf courses. Badly.) Weed the bad apples out locally so we never have to deal with them nationally.

And I can’t emphasize this enough. The shit on the ballot that actually affects you is that long winded badly worded local shit. (It’s designed that way on purpose, by the way.) That shit has an almost immediate effect on your community. And as a local voter in a smaller voting base your vote has a higher percentage of mattering. So read it, try to understand it. Someday you’ll be so far up in it you’ll be able to influence it.

Don’t work with fascists
We do not work with fascists. There is no reason to reach out to fascists. We don’t build bridges to fascism. We burn down the bridges that link them to us. These are people who think those who don’t look like them as subhumans. I have no desire to reach across the aisle to that deplorable vomitous shit.

If you help them you are advancing their agenda, and become no better than them.

Work ethically, now more than ever
More than ever we need to look at how we’re designing the world. We also need to look at who is designing it. Don’t look for much resistance from Silicon Valley, which is run by rich white boys, towards a government run by the rich white men they aspire to become. Take stock in who you’re working for, what they’re making, and who they’re hiring to make it.

We have serious problems to solve. Make sure you’re working at places that are interested in solving them. And if you’re working at large companies, especially companies in the social space, keep an eye out for how your products effect the marginalized. Work on ways to empower those who need empowering. And if you’re in the “news” business, maybe take a look at what kind of lies you’re spreading. (Yes, I’m talking about you Facebook.) Take a look at the words you’re using. Stop sugar-coating shit. Don’t say alt-right when you’re talking about Nazis, dammit. (Yes, I’m talking about you, New York Times.)

As designers, we need to fulfill our missions of being gatekeepers. Your job is to improve the world for everyone, not just those in power. When you are asked to work on something that can marginalize people, you must stop. When you are asked to come up with solutions that tighten the grip of fascism on your community, you must stop. And not just move over so that someone else can take the oar, it is your responsibility as a designer to make sure that work never sees that light of day. Even if that means throwing your body across the gears of fascism. This is the job. This is what you signed up for.

And the company that signs on to build the Muslim database can go fuck themselves.

The world is watching.

Prepare for a better future
We’re in this situation because we designed the world to work this way. The rescinding of the Voting Rights Act, the gerrymandering of congressional districts, the existence of the electoral college, the underfunding of schools to create an undereducated electorate. We did all that. And we’ll have to undo it. This will take a fuckton of time, which honestly I’m not sure we have. But we have to try.

Right now, as we speak my friend Dana Chisnell is working on how to improve our election process at the Center for Civic Design. Part of me thinks she is insane because we’re never going to have another election. But I’m trying to listen to the part of me that wants to ensure she has a chance to get there.

So we fight. We fight because we can’t not fight. We fight because maybe this is the cliché darkest before the dawn. We fight because if we don’t people get beat up, rounded up, stripped of their dignity, and killed. And while this may or may not happen in a large government-sanctioned way, it’s definitely going to happen in small pockets of deplorable misery throughout the country. And there are things we can do to prevent it. We have to try.

Fight fascism.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Solstice ~ the Light begins to return

Solstice begins at 5:44am EST

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Letter to my Father, The Man Who Chose Donald Trump Over Every Woman in His Life

This young woman writes powerfully, albeit no doubt futilly. She speaks for me.

Kamira Riis

Dear Dad,

On November 1st of this year, I will turn 30. I remember the first puppy you bought me, a sweet Dalmatian named Cookie with spots covering both of her eyes. I remember being five, putting make up on your face and curlers in what was left of your hair because you would suffer any fate to make us smile. I remember bringing home my first boyfriend, your jokes about buying a shotgun to ward the other boys off. I remember when you told me after every episode of American Idol that I should audition. That it would be our claim to fame. I also remember barely making the deadline to vote in the Bush / Kerry election.

At 18 I was still full of angst and registered independent, something I have not changed on my voter’s registration to this day to many of my die-hard Democrat friends’ disdain when primaries roll around. Maybe I was a touch absent minded, forgetting every year to take care of it so I could cast an early vote. Maybe I was holding on to what I saw as rebellious in my first year as an adult. I didn’t know much about your political views or my own at the time, but I knew I was different. I thought I was everyone with a less represented voice. “I am Latina and I am an independent woman,” is what I thought. “Don’t label me as a Democrat; I will label myself as an Independent.” I remember walking to my car having taken the day off from school to vote. I rolled the windows down and ran the A.C. before getting into the driver’s seat to replace the insufferable heat with coolant saturated air. The Florida sun is unforgiving. You stuck your head out of the front door and looked at me for a bit longer than you normally would and said, “If you vote for Kerry, do not bother coming home.” I desperately searched for a smirk, a smile in your eyes that was telling of a light hearted joke, a flash of a dad teasing his daughter.

But there was no light in your eye, no subtle raise of the corner of your mouth. It was then that I realized that there was always going to be a divide between us, an impossible to cross chasm of political difference and disproportionately prioritized values. I voted for Kerry. I still went home. And we never spoke of it again.

As of 2016 we have survived two more elections. We have no battle scars to show from your small jabs about Obama’s birth certificate in 2008 or my backhanded comments about George Bush’s idiocy being a virus that spread to his supporters. I cringed but did not engage you when you called Obama a communist and likened him to Hugo Chavez who had turned Venezuela, your beautiful home, inside out. In 2008 I had already fled the nest for what I believed at the time to be the most liberal and liberating city in America. I voted for Obama and despite his win tumbling you into a fleeting bout of depression, you came for Christmas with mom and sister, the same smile you had in 2006 when Bush was still in office. We broke bread, exchanged gifts and said I love yous, appreciating the cool, calm breeze that shifts the air after a torrential downpour.

The 2012 election was truly Deja Vu. We were both bumbling Bill Murrays trying to do something differently and essentially suffering the same fates. During a year long Groundhog’s Day we made the same jabs, texted each other the same insulting propaganda videos, you suffered the same fleeting depression and in December, you came for Christmas and we said the same I love yous. We broke bread.

Dearest Dad, I am not writing you this letter to change your mind about your vote in 2016. I am not writing this to sway you, to convince you that Hillary Clinton is the better choice. That is not my goal, because I know that is impossible, just as impossible as an attempt from your end to get me to vote for Donald Trump. I am writing you this letter to tell you how heart broken I am that you have made this choice. Not because I am a broke student pursuing a PhD in a field that is not exactly lucrative. Not because I rent an overpriced apartment in the Upper East Side that I struggle to afford. Not because I fear I will never be the one percenter that you have “pulled yourself up by your boot straps” to become, an immigrant Latino with no college education who built a multi-million dollar corporation from the ground up with his bare hands. Before I continue this letter to you, I must tell you that I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you for hiring the sort of men that deserve a second chance, that no one else would ever employ. My heart swells when I think of the blood you shed to put food on our table, to put a roof over our heads.

But all of that seems to lose its spark in the shadow of your support for Donald Trump.

You see Dad, it seems you have forgotten that you have two daughters and a wife. And it seems you have closed your eyes to Donald Trump’s violent misogyny. Donald Trump is a man who calls women he does not like ‘fat pigs’, ‘slobs’, ‘dogs’ and ‘disgusting animals’ because he doesn’t “have the time for total political correctness.” Donald Trump is a man who said via twitter in April of last year that sexual harassment in the military is totally expected, because “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?” Why would anyone expect women in the military to feel safe, right? As a Trump supporter who honored his country and served his time in the U.S. Navy, I’m sure you agree, right dad? Because if I had chosen to follow in your footsteps and serve my country too, well sexual harassment is just part of the package. And according to Trump, what am I but an aesthetically pleasing object? Where would I be without my sex appeal? Assuming I have any at all?

According to Donald Trump, I would be nowhere. Trump, were he to see my tattoos, my average curves, my collection of mumus and my facebook chat history full of Hillary praise, would see me on the same level as all of the other women he hates. Would I be a Bette Midler? Would he find my “ugly face and body” offensive the way he finds hers? It is possible you would read all of this and assume your eldest daughter is too sensitive. Too soft. That she should let body shaming roll off her back. That this is the change Mr. Trump is making. Donald Trump, you may argue to me, is making women strong again by forcing them to suffer insult after insult and grin and bear it. You may think, Dad, that the reason both of your daughters spent time in the hospital with eating disorders 15 years apart has nothing at all to do with insecurity or issues with lack of control in our lives because of our gender and the amount of pressure placed on a young woman from birth until the very end. No. That isn’t why. That isn’t why Alicia Machado, the Venezuelan Beauty Queen, ended up with an eating disorder either, is it? It wasn’t because Donald Trump told her, and told the media, that she was fat, a “Miss Piggy”. She was a person who “really really liked to eat.” According to Trump, an eating machine! No. It couldn’t be anything external. It is internal. We are just much too sensitive, aren’t we Dad?

And what about the rest of it? What about Trump’s slip up inference to engaging in sexual relations with his own daughter? I raise the question of how you would feel if at Christmas dinner your own brother stood up and said of my sister, “If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her uncle…If I weren’t married I’d perhaps be dating her.” If your own flesh said this of your daughter deep down in the pit of your stomach I know it would make you ill. I know you dad, and you would go to the ends of the earth to protect the dignity of your youngest daughter because you are a good man. This is why I still cannot understand how you feel so confident in your support for Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a man who would strip women, your wife and your two girls, of our rights to affordable healthcare. Just because you can provide healthcare to Mom and my sister, just because Mom no longer needs birth control and you would forever deny the fact that my sister could probably put it to good use in her first semester of college, that doesn’t cover everyone in your familial vicinity. There is still me who, at 30, takes care of myself. My life has been an uphill battle, ever independent and always doing whatever I could to survive on my own. And here I am, my back bent by the weight of the patriarchy; I have made it as far as a woman can make it on 73% of a white man’s income, working the same backbreaking hours, having the same education. So why not bring a man into office who will roll me back down the hill I have suffered to climb my entire life? After all, rolling downhill seems so much easier than crawling up it.

But it is not just us you are neglecting, dad. It is not just us you are throwing into a fire fueled by sexism and inequality. You have also forgotten your mother who is on Medicare. When Donald Trump rolled onto the scene he promised no cuts for medicare and medicaid. But just a few months ago he endorsed house speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to gut both. Did you know that I have Obamacare, dad? And that everyday I take a life saving medication I would not be able to afford without it? And abuela, your mother, what will she do when Medicare is no longer an option for her? What will she do when the monster that is Donald Trump takes it away? Because isn’t she just another immigrant abusing the system, stealing what is ours, naturalised or not? But wait. According to Donald Trump, none of this, any of it, belongs to you.

I have to ask you, Dad, will you care for us all? Will you feed us, clothe us, pay for the things we need to live that Donald Trump has taken from us? Or will you forget us the way Donald Trump has forgotten us, watching us flounder in his wake.

My biggest fear, Dad, is that by supporting a man who so nonchalantly insults women, a man who believes us below men, believes us to be bottom feeders, I fear that in time you will come to share his sentiment. Because when Donald Trump strips us of our rights, when a Trump presidency pushes me to a place where I am forced to need you, am I not just the “gold digger” all women are in Mr. Trump’s eyes? But why suffer to the point of needing your help. I don’t really need healthcare, I don’t really need medication, right? Because what am I worth anyway?

As a note, I hope you did not give mom access to any financial assets because, as Donald Trump suggests, you can’t even trust your own wife. And what a wonderful thing that you and mom were never able to have a second child because, according to Donald Trump, pregnancy is an “inconvenience for employers”, and mom was employed by the Miami Dade Police Department at the time. What would we have done when her pregnancy inconvenienced the entire department? It doesn’t matter, does it, because like Donald Trump you seem to easily forget the things you have done when someone moves to contest them.

According to Trump, you cannot trust your immigrant friends either. How does it make you feel when Donald Trump insults immigrants? When he insults the Hispanic community? When he infers that Mexicans are rapists and that because you live in a hispanic community in not-the-safest part of Florida, that you live in “hell?” Do you take a hit to your own pride because you are proud to be a mix of Venezuelan and Cuban? And did your heart break for the African American men you employ when Donald Trump relayed that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization? I mean, you can just replace your ethnic employees with white men, right? Because they will most definitely respect you the way Donald Trump respects you and your fellow immigrants, won’t they? I am saddened that your priorities don’t include much more than the money your company is worth, your salary that has placed you well into the category of 1%. But Donald Trump is notorious for scamming small businesses, whether you choose to accept this or not. But I guess that doesn’t matter to you now that you are worth millions of dollars. Isn’t it nice to look back at where you came from, struggling through so many failed business ventures, and choosing to forget how hard that was? For you and for us? Yes. Forgetting must be so nice. You made it! Forget those following in your footsteps! And somehow still sleep well at night.

Another question I have to ask you, Dad (and would you like me to apologize for my excess of inquiries, as women should not inquire so much, should they?). What about my Iranian in-laws? I can only assume you think them terrorists. I can only assume you fear them the way Donald Trump does, the way he implores us to fear them. Do you secretly hope that when they fly home to Tehran to visit their family that they won’t be able to get back into the country? I mean, what if they are the few bad Skittles in the bowl that Trump, Jr. warned us about? I guess they are not worth the risk.

My dearest Dad, over the last three decades we have had our ups and downs. I like to think the good times have always overshadowed the bad times. I can’t help but feel I am somehow indebted to you for everything you have given us, for helping to shape me into the strong woman I am, even if it is because I spent so much of our time together deflecting the hurtful and unnecessary verbal punches you threw at me when we didn’t agree. Not unlike Donald Trump.

Between your love and Mom’s I have become a person I feel I can be proud of, an accomplished and educated minority destined to be a force in my field. But if Donald Trump wins the election in November of 2016, it is not him who takes away everything I have fought so hard to attain. It is you. You are the cold blooded killer of the rights women have fought for for as long as we can remember. It is you who will rob millions of young women of the respect they deserve, the future they deserve, and the feeling of safety we are barely clinging to now. It is you and only you who will give your daughters the gift of an impossible uphill climb, a bleak future stuck to the bottom of some man’s shoe. And you will cut the chord that has connected us for so very long. I must pose this question to you Dad, because it is really and truly the only thing I want an answer to: Do you really care about someone who is nakedly contemptuous of you and what you have accomplished more than you care about your own daughters?

When I was 14 years old, there was a moment when I made you so angry you told me that you hated me. In the whirlwind of my teenage years I may or may not have been insufferable. I never once considered that you might have meant it because the apologetic hug you gave me in what I’m sure was a wave of guilt cancelled out the pain. That moment has always lived in the very back of my mind, deafening in its quietness. Knowing that you are voting for Trump, I can only assume that what you said half a lifetime ago was true.

It is possible you don’t entirely hate me, maybe it isn’t personal. Maybe you just have a complete disregard for women. This idea has crossed my mind when I am grasping at straws, when I am desperate and pained. But your current actions speak louder than 16 year old apologetic hugs, and I am so heartbroken you have chosen a racist, sexist monster over every woman in your life. If Donald Trump wins this election, then what you said to me so many years ago, when you looked me in my eyes and told me you hated me, maybe it is true. And I will just have to grin and bear it, won’t I dad? I thank you for the gift of life, but reject your gift to me, to women everywhere, of the most sexist candidate the free world has ever seen.

Maybe this election year, Dad, this potentially devastating Christmas, when we break bread, it will be in silence.


Your eldest and seemingly forgotten daughter

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Salesian Sunday Reflection

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Today’s Gospel reminds us that like St. Joseph, we must have confidence in God’s plan for us. God has a plan for us that is greater than our own. St. Francis de Sales notes:

In today’s Gospel, Joseph sees that Mary is with child. Knowing that it was not his child, he was ready to divorce her. But the angel revealed to Joseph that the Holy Child was to be Our Savior. With great peace and serenity of mind, Joseph accepted the unexpected event that befell him. Our confidence in God ought to be like St. Joseph’s.

The foundation of our trust is not in our own self, but in God. While we may change, God remains always gentle and merciful when we are weak and imperfect, as well as when we are strong and perfect. When we have absolute trust in Our Lord, we are like an infant on the breast of its mother. The child just lets itself be carried and led wherever the mother wants to take it. Similarly, we ought to have such confidence in letting ourselves be carried when we love God’s will in all that happens to us.

Holy confidence in the goodness of God is the life of the human spirit. As we grow in love with God, we may experience the contractions and pangs of spiritual childbirth. Yet, in the midst of our troubles, Our Savior will guide us on our way no matter how difficult it may be. Let us think of the words of our gentle Savior: “When a woman gives birth she is in great distress, but after the birth she forgets the suffering of the past because a child is born to her.” Our souls ought to give birth to the dearest Child that one could wish for. It is Jesus whom we must form and bring to birth in ourselves. The Child is well worth whatever we endure. How happy we would be if we devoted all our efforts to accomplishing God’s will for us. We would obtain from God’s goodness all that we could possibly desire and need, a new invigorating life. A holy rebirth in Christ!

(Adapted from the writings of
St. Francis de Sales)

This letting go and submission to God's Will is the hardest part of the Christian project for many since it seems to imply passivity, as in the image of the infant being carried by its mother. Yet the true life of the Christian, and more broadly of the Progressive, is active cooperation with and participation in the Will of God, that is to say Good, Peace, etc. As the saying is, we are - or must be - the good and peace we seek.

So as we prepare in this last week of Advent to welcome the Christ Child, let us reflect on what He brings and what He demands of us. We need not be Christians to find these things in our hearts or to see the desperate need for them in our world.