Make America Great Again

Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing Michael Moore’s newest film, “Where to Invade Next.” The general premise of the film is that Moore travels to different countries around the world and “steals” great aspects about these countries. Obviously no country is perfect, but Moore comes “to pick the flowers, not the weeds.”

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but what about the weed??

Having seen a couple of his prior films, I was ready for Moore to do his typical “fuck the U.S., fuck Republicans, fuck Fox News” type shit. Instead, I walked out of the theatre feeling more inspired and positive than I’ve been in a long time. It was potentially one of the most moving and powerful movies I’ve seen in recent memory. I teared up, I laughed, and thought deeply about social, ethical, political, and fiscal issues.

Even though most people know that America is decades behind many countries on many serious issues, I will put a SPOILER ALERT here in case you aren’t already mildly conscious of how most of the Western world is light-years ahead of this joke of a government running the U.S. Here are just a few examples of this that are discussed by Moore:

In Italy, employers are HAPPY to give their employees eight weeks of paid vacation (even though they are legally required to).

The Slovenian government pays for college for anyone that wants to attend… even American citizens that want to attend their universities instead of getting fucked by the U.S. “education” system.

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Finland at one point ranked near the bottom of student performance (as bad as America is now). They decided to do something about it. They got rid of standardized testing, as well as most homework. The country gives children more autonomy and more time to be kids, to do things that kids should do. The result of such an obviously silly idea? Finland now leads the world in education.

Schoolchildren in France are given what we would call gourmet meals for school lunches. In the U.S., pizza sauce is considered a vegetable in school lunches by Congress. By fucking Congress. All just to save a buck. The French treat food as something critical to success of children.

The prison system in Norway treats criminals like humans that need to be rehabilitated, not like slave labor. No isolation. Good food, sunlight, autonomy (within the confines of the prison property), and respect. The maximum prison sentence one can receive is 21 years. Even a Neo-Nazi man that went on a 54 person killing spree. The result of this system: the low rates of convict re-arrests upon release of 20%. This rate in America is almost 80%.

Lastly, Portugal decriminalized the use and possession of all drugs (420 blz it lol). Instead of cracking down on users, the government increased funding for treatment centers and support for addicts. Since then, drug overdose deaths and continued drug usage rates have plummeted.

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I left the movie theatre inspired, yet discouraged at the same time. How the fuck am I gonna make a difference? In what way can I contribute to the very necessary change that America needs to undergo? I’m just some fuck with a nose ring and a donut tattoo. What can I do?

The main theme of the movie was the radical idea of treating humans with respect. Most of the countries Moore “invaded” stressed the importance of loving your neighbor. Of course every citizen deserves affordable, if not free healthcare. Obviously a woman should do whatever the fuck she wants with her body. It should go without saying that everyone should be able to marry whoever they want. You’d think it would be common sense that companies should treat their employees fairly, and not focus solely on profits.

Just treat people with respect. It’s so fucking simple.

I figured another small, but impactful thing I could do was write this. Maybe someone who reads this will feel as inspired as I do. Maybe he or she will share it with friends. Maybe someone who’s going into politics will read this. Maybe this will change a Trump supporter’s  mind. Maybe not, but it’s worth a shot, right?

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She was only 25

On February 26th, 2016, my cousin Shaina took her own life. I got the honor of speaking at her funeral today. Here is (roughly) what I said.

                      

Growing up, I never really got to know Shaina very well. Up until September, our two immediate families probably visited each other no more than ten times. They lived in California, we lived in Missouri. That’s just how it goes.

I came out to SLO and started crashing with my Uncle Scott and Aunt Diane in September. Around that same time, Shaina came back to live at her childhood home. She had two months sober at that point, and seemed to be happier and more focused than I had seen or heard about in years.

After living under the same roof as her for an extended period of time, I can now say what a shame it was our interactions were so limited for most of our lives. With that being said, I am beyond thankful for, and will always remember the time we spent together here in California, living in the same house.

One thing Shaina pleasantly surprised me with was how considerate and caring she was. On several occasions, Shaina would text me short and sweet messages, wishing me a good day, and letting me know how much she loved and cared for me. Even near the end, as recently as two weeks ago when she was under considerable stress, I woke up to such a text. Shaina never had a problem with expressing her love for her family. I think most of us could take a page out of her book.

With a girlfriend, fulltime job and classes at Cuesta, Shaina not only made time for me, but actively sought out opportunities for the two of us to spend time together. She was very deliberate in making plans to hang out. At the beginning of the week, she would plan out each day of her week, and set time aside to do something together. It didn’t always work out each week that we would be able to get together, but the thought was always there on her part.

Shaina also was one of the most grateful and appreciative souls I’ve come across. On one specific occasion, Shaina asked me to take care of her iguana, Billy, for a night while she went camping. “Taking care” of Billy meant spraying some water in his cage to keep him hydrated once at night and once in the morning, and throwing a few crickets in there for him. “Taking care” of Billy for one night probably took less than a minute, all in all. For this, Shaina thanked me endlessly and showed so much appreciation. The next day, I walked into my room to a $20 bill on my bed. After I refused to accept such a thing, she made me agree to let her take me out to lunch instead to show her thanks. Another time, Shaina almost got upset that I wouldn’t accept money for helping her with a few math problems. Shaina was so generous by nature. She made me want to give back more to those I love, not only with money, but with love and kindness.

It’s no secret that Shaina lived a hard life. Struggling with substance abuse issues and chronic depression from an incredibly young age, she came an incredibly long way. But as is evident, there is no hard and fast cure for mental illnesses of this nature. Shaina was in considerable pain for most of her life, struggling to find lasting happiness. In no way, shape, or form am I happy about this situation, but the ONLY thing that brings me ANY comfort whatsoever is that she no longer has to hurt anymore. I hope you’ve found peace, Shaina. I just wish you could be here to see all the people that you’ve touched throughout your time here.