Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline 

orphan trainThe Grade: A

Why I Picked It: The author came and spoke at my public library

Quick Take: Molly, a Penobscot foster child, begins her community service at Vivian’s home in Bar Harbor. Vivian was sent on one of the orphan trains from New York city in the 1920’s and the novel alternates from the present to Vivian’s childhood.

My Thoughts: This will be one of my favorite reads of 2014. I adored this book. Both Vivian and Molly are compelling, empathetic, inspiring heroines and I loved both their stories. Sometimes with novels that alternate between time periods or narrators, I find myself bored with one and skipping through those chapters to get back to my preferred narrative. That wasn’t the case with Orphan Train.

As a Mainer, the Maine setting created a personal connection for me: I’ve  been to the Abbe Museum, my aunt curated the “Four Mollys” exhibit which included Molly Molasses, and Women of the Dawn is on my bookshelf.

I also want to believe that we find our way back to the people we love and that there are all kinds of families, not just the ones in which you are born, and there are echoes of both themes in this novel.

If you enjoy historical fiction, contemporary fiction, strong female characters, happy endings, good writing, or moving novels, I highly recommend Orphan Train.


Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

BSBThe Grade: B

Why I Picked It: Recommended in Bookmarks Magazine and for #ReadWomen2014

Quick Take: In the 1950’s, a young woman runs away from her abusive father and marries a widower. When she gives birth, she discovers a secret his family has been hiding.

My Thoughts: A week later, I’m still puzzling over this book. I liked it, but I don’t think I will read it again. It’s billed as a Snow White story, and there are some echoes of Snow White, but I wouldn’t categorize this as a fairy tale retelling.

Of course, an underlying theme of the book is how people can’t be categorized by race or color. So maybe that’s the point.

It’s not a spoiler to say that when Boy marries Arturo Whitman and gives birth to their daughter Bird, she discovers that the Whitmans are light-skinned African-Americans living as whites. But Bird has black skin. As Bird herself later says, “I accidentally brought truth to light, and bringing truth to light is the right thing to do” (150).

In previous generations of the Whitmans, the children who couldn’t pass for white were sent to live with other relatives. But when Boy calls her sister-in-law, she asks her to take Snow, Arturo’s light-skinned daughter from his first marriage, instead.

There are interesting questions about race and identity, but we don’t get to know enough about the characters to know why they act the way they do. Why does Boy send Snow away for so long? Why is Aruturo okay with this? Snow can pass for white but grows up with black relatives. How does this affect who she is?

Then there is a new subplot introduced in the final chapters that raises more questions and casts new light on previous events.

There’s good stuff here, but it doesn’t quite connect for me.


The Message: The Reselling of President Obama by Richard WolffeThe Message

The Grade: A-

Why I Picked It: I’m an Obamaniac, a political junkie, and I work in communications.

Quick Take: Wolffe covers the messaging and communications strategy of the Obama reelection campaign

My Thoughts: This was an “A” book until the final chapter when Wolffe gets grand and lofty and moves beyond the scope of the reelection campaign’s messaging.

Overall, I loved it. Communications strategy and messaging fascinate me and I liked the limited focus of this book.


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A little glee on an otherwise dreary Thursday afternoon:

Everyone looks happy and lovely and generally awesome. Also, someone in the Obama family likes ModCloth, a new obsession of mine! That’s the Classic Stunner Dress Sasha is wearing. I could totally be BFFs with the Obama Family–the President and I even like to shop at the same bookstore. Yay Kramerbooks.

Also, can’t believe how much the girls have grown in just two years. See the 2009 family portrait below. Both courtesy of the White House Blog.


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I began writing this back in the fall. Then I got busy with social movements, like keeping same-day voter registration in Maine, and I didn’t pay as much attention to the Occupy stuff. Now, Time Magazine has named the protestor its Person of the Year and the issue arrived in my mailbox this week. Most of the story is about the protests in the Middle East, as it should be. Those people are protestors. They helped overthrow brutal dictatorships. Camping in parks doesn’t count as protesting in my book.

The Occupier interviewed for the Time article says he got involved because he was frustrated by how little the Obama Administration had accomplished. I think you all know my thoughts on that one, but just in case, check out What the Heck Has Obama Done So Far? But it gets better. While the occupier was disappointed with the other occupiers, he acknowledged “there are jerks in every organization no matter how ‘pure’ the organization.” If only he and his compatriots recognized that governments are also organizations.

Here are my thoughts from October:

I’ve had mixed feelings about the #occupy protests. The occupiers seems like the Tea Party of the left to me: they are !ANGRY! but it’s unclear exactly what they are !ANGRY! about: wall street malfeasance? Corporate greed? Wealth distribution? Capitalism? Corporations in general? The Citizens United “corporations are people” decision? All of the above?

I agree with Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee that the occupiers lack “a focused agenda: this is what we want and these are the strategies we are going to use to get what we want.” One simple strategy is to vote, but apparently you’re not voting. More about that later.

Jen Schmidt had a great piece on Boston.com: We are the 99 Percent, Too—But We Don’t Agree with Occupy. She highlighted three major concerns:

  1. Hypocrisy–best summed up by this sentence: “Your point about hating the uber-wealthy corporation is lost when it finishes with a small “Sent from my iPhone” sign off.”
  2. The Lack of Awareness—there are 7 billion people in this world and the 99% of America are a hell of a lot better off than the 99% elsewhere.
  3. The Missing Message–I’m a political organizer; message is key, yet the occupiers don’t have one. They have a list of complaints, but I’m looking for more. “Without a goal, without a stance, and without an end, your means mean nothing. Awareness is great, but as you aim for tangible action and demand accountability from those you protest, the need for a unified message increases.”

However, I’d say my number one complaint is the likely overlap between the occupiers and the people who don’t vote. From 2008 to 2010 there was:

  • a 60% decline in voters under the age of 24
  • a 50% decline in voters ages 25-29
  • a 40% decline in African-American voters
  • a 30% decline in Hispanic voters
  • a 33% decline in voters with incomes under $30K

By contrast, the 65+ and up crowd (the core of the Tea Party) declined by less than 1 percent, and the mostly white voters making more than $200K (aka the 1% the occupiers are complaining about) declined only 5% (Voting, Not OWS, Will Save America). 

Why are we in this mess? Cause decisions are made by those who show up. The other side showed up. Too many of you couldn’t be bothered. Life is unfair, the political system sucks, too much inequality. Valid complaints. But I’m less inclined to listen to you when you can’t be bothered to raise your hand every year.

Put another way, “go and participate in the process instead of screaming about why you have no voice.”

You want a revolution? Start by being an informed and educated citizen. Then vote. Vote, vote, vote. Vote in every election. Midterms count. So do primaries. Don’t like the candidates? Run for office yourself. Recruit candidates who share more of your values (you’ll never get an exact match, unless you run yourself and remember that perfect is the enemy of good). Volunteer for the candidates and campaigns you prefer. And vote. Hopefully you’re getting how important voting is. The civil rights leaders did. More from Frank Viviano:

“Half a century ago, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez understood that genuine change could only be achieved through long-term, patient struggle – and that the prize, in King’s famous words, was full access to the nation’s key institutions, notably the ballot box and the governing seats it fills.

“The leaders and foot soldiers of the civil rights era fought with unflagging commitment, and King himself was martyred, in a two-decade campaign for the voting privileges that 2010 abstainers dismissed as unworthy of an hour’s time on a single Tuesday in November. The Wall Street demonstrators are now debating an even broader boycott of the 2012 presidential election.”

Protect your right to voteit’s not as secure as you think. And don’t even think of boycotting 2012.

I found this gem at the end of the Time piece: “Aftermaths are never as splendid as uprisings. Solidarity has a short half-life. Democracy is messy and hard, and votes may not go your way. Freedom doesn’t appear all at once.” Guess what? Politics works the same way.

Decisions are made by those who show up. Class dismissed.

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The Grade: B+

Quick Take: American Library Association staffer compiles interviews and speeches by notable Americans about the importance of reading and librares.

Makes Me Want To: Share with everyone who think libraries aren’t needed anymore and work even harder for my hometown public library

My Thoughts: I saw this on the shelf at the Maine State Library and thought it would be a nice, fun, light read. The book is an ode to libraries, librarians and reading. It is comprised of speeches by, interviews with, or essays about the following people: Barack Obama, Julie Andrews, Bill Gates, David Mamet, Laura Bush, Ken Burns, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Cokie Roberts, Ron Reagan, Garrison Keillor, Ralph Nader, Jamie Lee Curtis, Al Gore and Oprah Winfrey.

I am of course extremely biased, but the Barack Obama chapter was my favorite. It was his speech to the American Library Association at their annual conference in 2005. This was a year after he electrified the country with his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The ALA speech, Bound to the Word, is another example of what a gifted orator he is. I found it courtesy of the Boulder Public Libary, and if you want to be reminded of the importance of librarians and libraries, I highly recommend it:

At the dawn of the 21st century, where knowledge is literally power, where it unlocks the gates of opportunity and success, we all have responsibilities as parents, as librarians, as educators, as politicians , and as citizens to instill in our children a love of reading so that we can give them a chance to fulfill their dreams.

Beautiful. The section on Julie Andrews was also practically perfect in every way. “Libraries have always been places of opportunity, places where everyone–regardless of age, race, or income–can come together, whether for research, entertainment, self-help, or to find that one special book” (16). How could it be anything less from the woman who brought Mary Poppins to life?

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Reading with the Stars:

Libraries and the Pursuit of Knowledge

  • Every advance, every innovation in industry, science, or art, builds upon the work of those who have gone before, which is the common store. That worth, that common store, is the library. –David Mamet
  • Thomas Jefferson said in his famous second sentence of the Declaration of Independence that we were entitled to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” and for most people that means a pursuit of material goods. I know that Jefferson, by saying capital-H “Happiness,” meant a kind of lifelong learning, an improving of oneself in the marketplace of ideas, and that any citizen first given life and liberty was then obligated to continue to improve oneself, to work on oneself, for the rest of one’s life. It is the pursuit of happiness—not something that we’d actually achieve—and so it suggets a lifelong quest for self-improvement, which, to my mind, is not just physical, but alos mental and emotional. –Ken Burns

The Library as Place

  • Librarians should rejoice in the great tradition out of which they come, dating back at least to Alexander, if not before, and the wonderful, wonderful place that they’ve made in the world and in the country, places where people can find not only wonderful things to read but a sense of belonging and comfort. When you say the word “library,” it conveys a sense of a place, a good place, a place with meaning, and I think that is a wonderful tradition to be part of. –Cokie Roberts

Libraries and Community

  • A library takes the gifts of reading one step further. In this day of standardized and homogenized education, a library offers individual and personalized learning opportunities second to none. Perhaps most importantly, libraries offer a powerful antidote to the isolation of the Web, providing connection, support, and community. –Julie Andrews

And  a Final Quote from now-President Obama

Libraries have a special role to play in our knowledge economy. Your institutions have been and should be a place where parents and children come to read together and learn together. We should take our kids there more. We should make sure our politicians aren’t closing libraries down because they had to spend a few extra bucks on tax cuts for folks who don’t need them and weren’t asking for them.

Now, please, go visit your local library.

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Pick of the Week

Obama’s Forgotten Triumphs by Suzanne Mettler. She argues that President Obama’s policy changes have targeted the submerged state (existing policies that lay beneath the surface of U.S. market institutions and within the federal tax system—and most of these policies provide the greater benefits to wealthier Americans). Because people are less cognizant of the submerged state policies, they are less cognizant of the reforms President Obama has enacted. Mettler cites the stimulus package which provided tax relief for 95% of working Americans (the Making Work Pay Tax Credit), yet only 12% of those polled correctly responded that President Obama had lowered taxes—24% thought taxes had increased. Healthcare reform and student loan reform also fall under submerged state policies.

She argues that change is possible by revealing the submerged state so citizens have a better understanding of what government policies actually do and how they work. We need to make governance more visible and understandable to the average citizen.

National News

Voting, Not OWS, Will Change America: “In 2008, more than 65 million Americans cast Democratic votes in congressional races, a 13 million-vote edge over the Republicans. In 2010, the Democratic vote plummeted to an abysmal 35 million, 6 million less than the GOP, which took decisive power in the House and paralyzed the Senate.” Vote! Vote as your life depends on it.

In Friendship We Trust: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Gabby Giffords and Rep./DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I Heart them.

On the Lighter Side

Wouldn’t It Be Cool if Shakespeare Wasn’t Shakespeare? Not really, says Stephen Marche: “Healthy skepticism about elites has devolved into an absence of basic literacy….Along with a right-wing antielitism, an unthinking left-wing open-mindedness and relativism have also given lunatic ideas soil to grow in. Our politeness has actually led us to believe that everybody deserves a say. The problem is that not everybody does deserve a say. Just because an opinion exists does not mean that the opinion is worthy of respect.” Marche also humorously destroys the arguments presented by the film Anonymous and the idea that Shakespeare scholars are part of some vast Shakespeare conspiracy with my new favorite line:

Let me assure everybody that Shakespeare professors are absolutely incapable of operating a conspiracy of any size whatsoever. They can’t agree on who gets which parking spot. That’s what they spend most of their time intriguing about.

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If I were organized, this would have been the first post. But I missed it. So here goes.

A Brief History/Herstory

[Originally based upon About Women’s History Month and written by me for WHM 2009]

In 1978, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, in California, created a Women’s History Week.  The committee chose the week of March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day. The program was successful and well received and began to expand.

In 1979, organizers presented their project to the Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College.  Participants determined to celebrate their own Women’s History Week in their communities, and to petition Congress to declare a National Women’s History Week.

Two years later, in 1981, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) cosponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming Women’s History Week.  Women’s History Week grew into Women’s History Month in 1987 and has been celebrated ever since.

This sample proclamation, reprinted from the National Woman’s History Project website, is based upon the Congressional Resolution first issued in 1987:

  • Whereas American women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the growth and strength of our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways;
  • Whereas American women have played and continue to play a critical economic, cultural, and social role in every sphere of the life of the Nation by constituting a significant portion of the labor force working inside and outside of the home;
  • Whereas American women have played a unique role throughout the history of the Nation by providing the majority of the volunteer labor force of the Nation;
  • Whereas American women were particularly important in the establishment of early charitable, philanthropic, and cultural institutions in our Nation;
  • Whereas American women of every race, class, and ethnic background served as early leaders in the forefront of every major progressive social change movement;
  • Whereas American women have been leaders, not only in securing their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity, but also in the abolitionist movement, the emancipation movement, the industrial labor movement, the civil rights movement, and other movements, especially the peace movement, which create a more fair and just society for all; and
  • Whereas despite these contributions, the role of American women in history has been consistently overlooked and undervalued, in the literature, teaching and study of American history:
  • Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that March is designated as “Women’s History Month.” The President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation for each of these months, calling upon the people of the United States to observe those months with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

This year’s Presidential Proclamation–Women’s History Month 2011 by President Barack Obama (those three words still make me smile) is also quite nice. It begins “During Women’s History Month, we reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments of women and honor their role in shaping the course of our Nation’s history….In honor of the pioneering women who came before us, and in recognition of those who will come after us, this month, we recommit to erasing the remaining inequities facing women in our day.

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2011 as Women’s History Month.  I call upon all Americans to observe this month and to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2011 with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that honor the history, accomplishments, and contributions of American women.  I also invite all Americans to visit www.WomensHistoryMonth.gov to learn more about the generations of women who have shaped our history.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.



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