Sunday, January 29, 2017

"you're here on a visa?" and Red Herrings....

I'm a little worried, more the last couple of days, that the energy spent on outrage is going to take a toll and once the initial energy is spent, there will be huge opportunities for other more recessive stuff to happen. Like what is going on in a lot of the states last week - banning demonstrations, making it harder for regular protests, adding fines to arrests etc. (This is affecting citizens of the United States so it is important to their Constitution and amendments.)

I'm worried that a lot of energy is spent on the most obvious thing, while the more insidious comments are being left behind and being slightly forgotten....while these comments and details might in fact be the real threat and issue.

Then again, I worry since there are so many things going on right now that there are not enough time and people to effectively go through them all so again - some things are missed. Of course, things are missed all the time, and that in itself are usually not an issue. You just need to focus on not missing "the important ones".

As a person who currently holds a visa to stay in the United States to work, the last couple of days have understandably made an impact on me. I have been caught between a few things though, and feeling slightly annoyed that certain things that people are outraged about aren't things that I think are the things to get outraged about. At least not right now. Why? Because they have always been like this. Some of these things are just the way visas work and countries adhere to (even if the general public might not know it).

One example of this is the outrage that "DHS will weigh your visa and application when you stand to enter the country". Maybe I'm naive, but my experience both here and when I was in Canada on a student visa, was that it is clearly written that even though you have your application to the visa and the visa - this will be on the discretion on Immigration at the point of entry to country. (I'm sure you can legally challenge if you get denied but this is another issue. Let's just say that the immigration person (CBP) has a lot of power and the whole system is based on them making the correct decision based on your paper work and their good will.) 

I have never been certain I'm allowed to enter with my new visa, just because the process is, imho, arbitrary and you have to be courteous and cute to the immigration officer to not get sent to a special room in the back for further questioning. (Yes, I have done been to a special room.) Then again, I wasn't really certain I was allowed to re-enter with my visa either. Like if you are a scientist and on a working visa and fill in "can you work with radioactivity/anthrax/other things regular people can't...." you end up in a special room, with special people.  (Yes, I have done that too.) Or, when you stand in front of the immigration person and they misread the paperwork, declare "this is not valid" and before you have a second they stamp everything with NO in red and ask you to turn away and you fight tears because you were only away for four days and the CBP person misread and the actual date they should look at is the top one and not the bottom one.... (Yes, that happened to me. Took a long time to resolve. Having a big NO on top of your visa in the passport is not helping future entries either.)

This doesn't of course include all the paper work you have to go through before even getting the temporary visa. Or the interview at the embassy or the paper work on your relatives etc ... Not to mention the things you go through when you apply for a green card. If you think the regular temporary visa has a lot of paper work, yeah it's got nothing on the green card. Plus the immigration physical, immunization records, clean bill of health (now here is something we could really talk about, what rights do you have as a non-healthy individual), tax records, criminal records (you shouldn't have any) and more and more. I'd call that vetting. It's already being done. Oh, and did I mention that you need to report where you live to DHS every time you move? There's already a tonne of data collected on green card holders so to issue an Executive Order to stop them from reentering on 12 hours notice is simply a malicious idea to show power.*

Anyhow, this has NOTHING to do with asylum seekers/refugees and their visas and entry to a safe country. Asylum seekers are someone who flees from persecution, death and is something generally accepted as a status in the world. There are treaties based on that we accept the notion that refugees has a right to apply for asylum and while their application is processed they have a right to be in the country awaiting the decision. If denied, they should leave the country. This process takes years for most countries. It's very unfortunately that there is a huge backlog, BUT this is not an excuse to forbid people to seek asylum when at the border to the country. Neither is the idea that you can turn away such asylum seekers, who have been granted visas in an insanely complicated process that USA is engaged in when it comes to agree to certain classes of asylum seekers to complete this process outside of USA**, and get granted asylum and then be allowed to get on the plane to come over. This process on average takes 18-24 months, during which time the asylum seeker is in a third country (who has agreed to let them be there while waiting for the USA vetting process). So they are vetted and the process is tedious and lengthy. Maybe even more than the average asylum seeker to say Europe - since there they are already in the country. And this is not mentioning the asylum seekers from Central America who are currently looking at a back log of more than 3 years, but they are in the country due to the opportunity of walking across land mass. This is also one of the issues that the wall won't solve since asylum seekers have an international right to seek asylum when touching the border (wall)...

Anyway, since this is turning too long and probably less interesting to read - I'll cut to the chase.

  • It is a humanitarian right to seek asylum and turning people away at the border when they already have visas in order is breaking international treaties, brings chaos and decreases your credibility.
  • To block Permanent Resident Card holders to re-enter with no warning after a short trip based on their country of origin and saying it's because of the safety of the American citizens is nothing short of faulty. It furthermore discredits the process by USA to monitor who gets the green card, if you don't trust the vetting that is already in place.
  • Dual citizenship have always been an issue, and more so nowadays when a lot of countries are demanding visas for entries and making distinction between citizens and others, thus making more people dual. There are also countries who don't agree to give up your citizenship. This will not make things easier in the future.
  • Real troubling is that people who have given up dual citizenship, gotten a new single one, are presumably targeted by this ban due to their "place of birth". (example a British parliament member who is born in Iraq but only UK citizen being told he is not allowed entry to the USA). This would be very telling of what is the back story... (imho)

And this is not even touching on the Muslim list for domestic use. I wish I could think that someone in congress would state "we don't make lists of citizens and their religion" - and I do hope that the SCOTUS would slam down on this. However, I am scared that immigrants and visa holders (both temporary and permanent residents) will be accepted to be on lists as such, "for the safety of the country" seem to work miracles and bring on short term memory.

I'm going to see what happens tomorrow at my work since we are a research facility, thus having a lot of immigrants working there. Personally I know people who are directly impacted by this and there will have to be some kind of reassurance or at least information from the higher ups what they will do to protect their scientists.

And yes, I'll try not to panic. But it is getting increasingly difficult.

*please note that it says in the information when you get the green card that if you leave the USA for a longer period of time (definetly 12 months and longer, but could be shorter depending on your travel schedule), you might not be allowed to reenter. This will be decided by the DHS/CBP person whom you encounter when you travel back. There's a lot of ifs and maybes, nothing is certain...

**you can read more about USA and refugees here: or go to the governmental site

And this all coming from a "safe country".

Friday, January 27, 2017

Remember - Never forget. Never again.

Today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's always been an important day but maybe never as urgent to really think and act like today. The basics of the Holocaust didn't start with the extermination camps, it started years before that. It started with the descriptors of "certain people being less human". And once people had accepted that way of thinking, what's to stop them from agreeing or accepting that there are things you can do to these creatures. They were not looked upon as humans, that's the key of the whole thing. You have to keep a division of "they" and "us" for it to work. And work it did. For awhile. For years. To kill all those people. All those children.

I've been to Auschwitz, in the middle of the summer. It was green and so quiet. I remember thinking "it's so hard to understand since it looked so beautiful with all the trees and grass, like nature wanted to grow and show there could be a future". Then I walked into the houses, saw the torture chambers, saw all the hair and the skin taken from the people and made into lamps and books. Not to mention the shoes and the teeth and .... it was horrific. Seeing the lists of names and numbers, seeing the numbers on the skin of all the people. Understanding the organisation that it took before computers were around, and if it worked then - what possibilities now.

Seeing all the propaganda from the 1930ies, before the camps, making the arguments on blaming people and making it acceptable to beat them up without repercussions. The movies, the movie posters and everywhere you looked reinforcement of the picture of these dirty bad things (not people, "they" were lesser). To ban papers and philosophical discussions. There is nothing to debate, this is truth and this is what "we" want. To make it illegal to listen to any type of music or intellectual debate, and to put it under censorship from the state. Making lists of people who should be watched and controlled. And then making the "internment camps" to keep them in, presumingly to keep "our people safe". And once you have people in a camp, why stop there? And then now to remember that there are talks about this again, now. To add people to lists and then stop them from entering, stop saving children from the atrocities of adults and states...

If ever there was a time to remember the history and how that happened, it's now.

Surely, we have learned that making lists of undesirable people will lead towards the place where we put children in camps and tattoo numbers on their arms (or RFID chips under their skin to track)? That has been what I grew up learning. Listening to the Holocaust survivors coming to my school, showing me their numbers, telling their stories about their families who didn't make it. Telling about how they made it, about the brave men and women who fought back, how the human spirit can endure and keep faith in humans, even when something as atrocious happens as this. Telling me and my school friends so we as young teens would be on the lookout for the propaganda and be aware that this cannot happen again. That we had a responsibility to not be complicit and help the dark forces if (when) they reared their heads.

It might seem idealistic, but what else is there to do today but to affirm once again that I for one will not be a helper and complicit in these things. It will be hard, and it will be scary, but there is no alternative. All humans are worthy. There can't be a "we and them", it has to be "us humans". And there is no time to sit silently on the side lines but for action. This cannot happen again. We owe it to the dead and their relatives. And also to ourselves. We are, as humans, better than this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

women's rights and marching in the USA

I had an interesting experience Saturday when I met up with American friends for talking a walk in downtown city where we live. (paraphrasing, we went in the march.) I've done this quite a few times in my home country Sweden. This was different though and since then my head has been going a little on overdrive. I've tried to vocalize what's going on, and how to phrase it but I'm not there yet. However, I want to write something while it's still fresh and people might be interested in reading?

Anyhow, the main thing I hadn't really grasped before is exactly how uncomfortable and unused to demonstrations (marches?) a lot of people in the United States are. I should probably have known this, considering I've taken history and have lived here for a decade but still, the magnitude of things that has come up since threw me for a loop.

I'll explain the quickest and simplest way there is. I grew up in a country where there is demonstrations every May 1st. The international workers' day, as it is in most leftish/socialist countries all over the world. I also grew up with worker strikes (not many but the few that happened were pretty big), school demonstrations (students doing a "sit out for a cause") and a lot of demonstrations for solidarity - example "against violence against women", "for accepting refugees in the country", "for stopping the war in country X,Y or Z" (depending on which group is having the demonstration)* or protesting a decision that is going through in the local government. 

Most of the bigger demonstrations happen down town Stockholm (capital with the State government building) but a lot in "downtown small town" if not to show that people all over the country support it, like the "we stand together against racism" and similar.

My point? That most of the demonstrations (caveat; it's changed a little in the last decade with being more polarized and "counter-demonstrations") are peaceful and police are there, yet don't do arrests. And even if they end up "not super peaceful" there has only been one time the last 30 years when the police has shot someone and (international demonstration in Gothenburg with EU meeting and Bush visiting in 2001) and teargas hasn't been used since 1970ies (it wasn't allowed until a provision for very limited use in 2012 and forth...).

Obviously it's a different story in the USA. And add on top of that liberal gun laws in the South and who knows what can happen? Yes, different indeed. 

However, what really got me into this thinking is the aftermath conversations that have come up in conversation with coworkers, the media, on facebook and in twitter. It's partly "what's the point of a demonstration? You should DO something instead" (I) and partly "the march excluded a lot of people and also, {you} white women should be ashamed of not doing this earlier and listen to other women" (II).

My very brief thoughts on I and II based on my experience in organized politics from another country.

(I) One point of demonstrations is to show "the people" that there are several who think like them, to find unity and seek support towards or against [what ever the demonstration is there to show]. It's a good way (imho) to get grass roots to feel included and is generally a good way to rally people to get involved. (Part of why I was disappointed that the march I went to on Saturday didn't have pamphlets with "this is what you can do now when you are here and wanting to ACT", perhaps local organizations and phone numbers/names on congresspeople and state representatives supporting this?) 

The second, less kind yet important, part is to show "the rulers" that there is strength in numbers and that they shouldn't forget that the people put them in power, and that they can be removed. (this is of course more philosophical, yet why it's powerful with demonstrations and why a lot of countries don't allow them. Tienanmen square anyone? Terrible optics for the government and all for the world to see. Don't disregard it as a tool for power.)

(II) [read and remember that I am not American, living as an immigrant in the USA and English is not my first language.] The debate on white women, the blame of their vote for Trump. The debate on exclusion of transwomen when making signs showing uterus=woman and vice versa. And maybe most of all to me, the debate on women of colour and people of colour and that they have marched all this time and been met with violence and disregard but now when white people engage, it's a different story and it's peaceful.

This is the section I have hardest to explain eloquently what my perception is. I might be able to do it by simply telling my story - and letting you see where I come from - before being judged. 

I say this since I was part of a movement that worked on change back in Sweden. We wanted to promote diversity, not having only males in the university board. At first it seemed straight forward, trying to change language to "at least 30% of each sex". Of course, it is not simple. It then became a discussion if we didn't need more inclusion of "people from non traditional environments", "people originating from other countries", "people who had disabilities", "people who were religious" etc... and in the end, while we were talking about these important issues - because they are, and yes, we wanted a diverse board - nothing happened. After many years, the only thing that was concluded was "the board should be changed, however the parties can't agree on how the new board should look like apart from 'it needs to be diverse and included everyone'" but there was no change. The status quo had "won". (Similar debate is currently on going in discussions with Company Boards as per the Norway law that went into effect a few years back.)

The only one who wins when the oppressed people argue within themselves are the oppressors. The best way of not getting any progress is to get too focused on history that needs to be apologized for or special subgroups or interest and other things that detract from the main issue. It's the curse of caring for everyone and wanting inclusion and diversity; if you subdivide too much it won't pass, it needs to be finding the least common denominator and go for that (we are all human and should have same rights; regardless of sex, gender, ethnicity, religion?)

I would hate for this great point of working on getting equal rights for everyone** in the USA would be more stalled because of infighting. I understand that there are a lot of issues and widespread fear that this will be another way for white people [women] to get ahead at the expense of people of colour or anyone, but I really hope that the group will unite and see the opportunity of working together is so much more than the alternative. One of the slogans chanted Saturday was "women united, cannot be divided".  Even while women are a diverse group as they come - voting R, D or green for example, yet still there are opportunities to find common ground since at the moment, it is not all common with the general man, or everyone considered equal.

[I really hope what my head has been churning these last days came through in this post, but if I reread and notice it's off I will take it down.]

*also less savory demonstrations as the neo-nazis marching for Charles XII (annual commemoration of his time of death). freedom of speech and all.

**access to healthcare specifically in this case since it's so glaringly obvious it isn't. accessible good schools would be another one.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

DeVos hearing yesterday

I spent this morning reviewing the DeVos hearing from the senate last evening. Thank you C-SPAN for the as always excellent coverage. It's such a great resource to be able to hear and see Congress working every day.

If you are interested in seeing this hearing: HERE IS THE FULL COVERAGE it's about 3h 20min long, It's very interesting and extremely telling on how much time is spent on discussing with Senator Alexander (TN) on why the Democrats would like to have more than 5 min questions per person and one round. There's quite a bit of grandstanding and some quite obvious fibbing going on, politics when it isn't pretty you might say. It's also a great underlying philosophical debate on how differently you might view the educational system in a country, with how it should be governed (state or federal), and how it should be paid. This is to me the underlying fundamental difference between a lot of views, and being open about how to view this would go a long way in discussions and not getting bogged down in other details. Some people think "all children should have the same opportunity", some people think "all children should have similar opportunities but shouldn't stop companies from making money and being hindered by laws to do so", and some people just don't think "all children should have the same opportunities as long as my children have a great opportunity".

There are some, to me, really sad things in this hearing. First of all, that it is extremely hard and difficult for a nominee to say "Yes, I will work to uphold the (federal) law". This would be in the context of "would you uphold the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)" and the nominee responding by moving from state to state examples of their little thought.

this video shows what I am talking about. And Senator Maggie Hassan is excellent and eloquent in her questions and responses in regards to protecting all children under the federal law. (that DeVos said "she may have been confused about").

Of course, she didn't really answer a lot of the questions from the Democrats. Most of it was spending some time saying thank you and rerouting and rewording the questions, and then ending with a "I would leave it to the states" for a lot of it. The Republicans showered with praised on her generosity of helping with charter schools, voucher programs that help children who don't get challenged in public schools to move to better schools and keeping with the faith based morality. And of course - all the donations overall that makes her a wonderful, generous great person to become Secretary of Education.

The more obvious issues to me would be simplified in some bullet points:

  • If you don't answer the question "do you think everyone is entitled to a good school system" with a Yes, you are indeed saying No.
  • If you don't answer "will you work to uphold the federal law" with a Yes, you are saying No.
  • If you think schools should be allowed to have guns, please say so clearly instead of hiding behind "there might be a grizzly to protect from". We all know that's a red herring argument.
  • If you don't know the biggest debate issues the last couple of years in Education, maybe you should have read up a little before the Hearing of the position when you are going to be in charge?
  • I would've loved to hear more "do you know anyone who goes to, or have gone through public school system"? this since Ms DeVos has been quoted a lot of times in the past stating that no-one who goes through public schools goes on to become someone/succeed in life and that's why she want's to save children with the voucher system.

And finally,

  • If you are going before a committee for a hearing on a Secretary position for the United States - please make sure that your CV is correct since "a clerical error" on claiming a position like "VP of a very wealthy and influential foundation" when claiming that's incorrect in person is pretty remarkable. Especially since that statement has been reported to the IRS for 14 years from the Foundation. It seems like that would be something you would like to check prior to ending up in front of the whole world.

If you want to read more about this, this article, albeit biased since it only shows the Democratic questions and Ms. DeVos' answers, you can see some of the more upsetting answers (if you want a public school system for everyone and run by someone who knows educational issues and debate that has been going on for quite some time).

Overall, since I won't drag this out forever, you can read another piece of "what might happen in the future based on previous behaviour by Ms DeVos" in the WaPo. It's pretty enlightening and, I would think, very clear and nice if you like the idea of Christian charter schools and voucher plans. Just be honest and state it clear, like she did before the hearing "not everyone is meant to go to a great school".

A little honesty and a clear vision. Like how it was done in the 1800s before most countries in Europe decided to go with "public education for all children" to increase the equality and give children a chance regardless of how much money their parents earned, or their parents' educational level.

I know, I'm such an idealist.....

Monday, January 09, 2017

2016 is dead, long live 2017

It's a little overdue - the post about 2016 ending but I was on vacation sans computer and now I'm back to business as usual....

So, what can I say about 2016? It wasn't one of my shiniest years. It wasn't the worst one, two or three, but it might be one of top ten of "not great ones". I think it might be easy and fair to say due to some specific occurrences I will be happy to leave this year and I am looking forward to what 2017 will bring.

The main reason 2016 wasn't great was that I ended up with a "routine" finding that led me to have surgery for the first time in 20 years. That in itself might not have been that bad, since the actual surgery was pretty fast and painless, but the stress levels before and after made me think way too much and I didn't really like where that headed. I also worked a little too much in the spring, being the person who covered for maternity leave while training two new people while maintaining my regular day job, which turned out to be.... a little stressful? I subsequently gained "a little" weight and wasn't too surprised when my feet started bothering me in the middle of June, indicating that barefoot was not going to happen during summer time.

On the bright side, while covering for the maternity leave I was surprised to find out that a lot of people found me very useful, helpful and good at my job. They gave me an ego boost and continued to let me and my bosses know that I was doing very well and being a resource to the work place. Other bright things was that regardless of the surgery and the weight gain I ran another half marathon and even if I didn't make my PR I listened to my body when my feet told me "we are numb and not liking this one bit" (and I came in faster than my first one so not too shabby). Also on the personal side, I found that my relationship was stronger than I thought and got support when I went into the rabbit hole of doom due to surgery and some other "not so great discoveries". I also had some friends who reared their head even though I didn't keep in contact with them and enjoyed their time. It showed me that I shouldn't be so harsh on myself and how I interact with others. The summer made me discovery how much I love reading books and how much I had lost the regular reading before bed. I ended up being old school voracious reader of my youth and going through more than 80 light reading/romance-like/fantasy novels (I know but boy was it nice to escape reality a little), and 40 more regular books (Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt being a close top book together with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). Also discovered Eudora Welty, such a great writer and photographer.

So, overall 2016 wasn't my favourite (I'm choosing not to dwell on a few other details on the bad side, they're there so trust me on that). The US election and the revelations it had on my work life and personal life are included in this too. Who knew I knew so many misogynous people? Or so many "alt-racists"? Or simply, so many people who like authoritarian men who take charge of women and other feeble minded people? At times I felt like turning into a rabid lesbian stereotype just to prove a point (that it shouldn't matter what women look like or act like or who we love or any other of the thousand things that came up in the debates or propaganda).

Since I want this to be a positive post, I'll start stating my hopes and dreams for 2017. It's really quite simple.

First, this is the year where I will know if I'm staying at my job for a longer time. If certain things aren't on the books (read promotion), I am going to have to look for new opportunities. In the long run I can't afford to stay in a job without any promotion strategies at all. I'm not at the level where I would feel comfortable staying "for the reminder of my career".  Of course, this will be a little influenced if one of my papers get accepted into a CNS level journal since I then have a good reason for my ego to stay. "I still publish" and "I publish in great journals" (always in the middle of the authors mind you, but since my peers doesn't get on papers at all I see this as a great perk and indicating I am still doing science).

Secondly, my health will have to take a fore front place. There will be more yoga and stretching, if nothing else to combat this foot pain that is quite annoying and hurtful. I'm not wanting another piriformis injury on my body. It is also going to help my mental saneness by giving me endorphins as usual when I exercise. I'll keep running and hopefully break my idea of "good time for 10K" (i.e. under 60 mins).

Thirdly, I need to get back into writing. Both this blog, lablit and some personal dreamy projects that has been in the works for quite some time. I fear this will take a back seat for the first four months while I try and get my PMP certificate (see first goal and how they tie into each other). Hopefully I can keep this blog going with two posts a month, science and personal - maybe some hockey - and most likely some leadership/mentoring thoughts.

Fourth and last, this is where I continue on my quest/work to be more of a positive person who takes the future more in stride and not plan for all the negative things. I've faced the music a few times and it has showed me in stark reality how easy it is to get stuck in "negative mode" and I don't want that for me for the future. I'm not going to be one of those people who quips "there's a good lesson in getting cancer, see the good in it" but I will try to be one who doesn't paint the worst on the wall just because you can and you get scared. Nor will I succumb to automatically thinking negatively about others, my own body (I got my work cut out there, trust me) nor world futures. I think this will probably be the most important thing for me in the long run and something that will influence my relationships. It's really a lot of truth into looking at yourself and your life in perspective to other situations and be grateful for what you have. At least for me, this has turned out to be a good start and made me more of a happy (content?) person than before some of this happened.