Monday, January 30, 2017

THE STATE OF OUR DIS-UNION

My fellow Americans, it gives me no pleasure to acknowledge that the state of our union is cracked and divided, wounded and festering, dysfunctional and chaotic. We have trashed and discarded many of the principles that have made this Nation great – compassion, intellect, fairness and a recognition of individual dignity and worth in favor of the narcissistic pursuit of money and power. We have abandoned the noble goals of pursuing life, liberty and happiness for everyone in favor of securing those bounties exclusively for ourselves. In the process, we have fractured the fabric of our society to such a point that the United States of America is just a name, because America is no longer united. You can “boo” if you like, but remember while doing so that you are booing the man or woman in the mirror.

Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Prize winning theologian, philosopher, physician and accomplished church organist, famously noted that “the purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.

Unfortunately, here in America, a land blessed by God with abundant natural resources and a boundless sea of human ingenuity, we’ve corrupted life’s noble purpose of serving our fellow man to one dedicated solely to serving ourselves instead. It’s a sad state to be in, but one of our own making. The poor and outcast are no longer pitied for their suffering; they are despised, scorned, ridiculed and unfairly stamped with a mark of shame that labels them as lazy, ignorant leeches sucking at the public’s teat. Is it any wonder that against such a withering attack on human dignity, broken communities and broken families and broken individuals would sink into the lowest depths of human despair? Jesus would say, “Open your eyes to the suffering that surrounds you,” but for far too many Americans, such words are repugnant and revolting. This is why America is no longer united.

And then, there are aliens…not the Martians or creatures from a distant galaxy, but the poor, tired, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, tempest tossed as they seek the sight of our Statue of Liberty’s golden door, those same aliens about which Exodus so eloquently commands, “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Or what about Leviticus, which millions of Americans are so quick to quote – “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” I mention those passages because you cannot pick up a newspaper without reading that Trump says that immigrants from our southern neighbors are all rapists and criminals, and other politicians are complaining that Syrian refugees, millions of which are women and children fleeing the ravages of war and starvation represent a grave danger to the American way of life and should be turned away without mercy. This is why America is no longer united.

And what has happened to American intellect and our wealth of human knowledge? Sadly, it has fallen in value to the lowest common denominator known as ignorance. We champion ignorance. We really do. Take the term, “Ivory Tower,” for instance. Did you know that it originated in the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon? It was used to connote noble purity. Today, it is best known as a derogatory term describing individuals pursuing higher education as being foolish and disconnected from the realities of the world in which we live. It’s like mocking anyone who wants to go farther than seventh grade. The ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes once claimed that, “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” “Hogwash,” we reply as a Nation, and often using a harsher sentiment whenever out tax dollars are asked to support the teaching of our neighbor’s children. And then when we do decide to open our wallets, we insist on teaching a sanitized version of American history, a stilted and incomplete analysis of our human bodies, a censored rendering of American literature and culture, and a review of the principles of science and nature that sounds more like an Aesop’s fable than a method of rigorous testing and examination. This is America is no longer united.

“What of fairness,” you ask? “It’s gone,” I reply. Fairness is being just, it’s impartial, it’s honorable, tolerable, even pleasing. Fairness is the opposite of discrimination and social exclusion. It is recognizing inequality in all its insidious forms and making a concerted effort to rectify the situation. Unfortunately, all the virtue that lies within the principle that Americans use to call fair play has been cast aside with all the pomp and circumstance of manure on a dung heap. This Nation’s justice system is bogged-down with systematic prejudice, but a majority of Americans are more concerned these days with the right of court clerks and bakery shop owners to discriminate against their customers.

There was a time in America when fairness meant that people who worked hard were entitled to a living wage for the fruits of his or her labor, but tens of millions of Americans…let me repeat that, tens of millions of Americans are working a forty-hour week and aren’t being paid enough to raise their heads above the poverty line. And then when the working poor start clamoring for a raise in the minimum wage, the captains of industry and investment cry foul, along with the politicians they bankroll, and claim they cannot afford to pay the bill. Never mind that the top one percent of Americans controls a staggering forty-three percent of America’s wealth. This is why America is no longer united.

I wish I could say that America stands as a beacon of truth, but I’ve seen enough television commercials and political ads to know that, paraphrasing the words of Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘A Few Good Men,’ Americans can’t handle the truth. That’s why we keep deluding ourselves with such notions as “reducing taxes on the rich creates jobs,” “poor people are lazy,” “people who go to church are the virtuous ones,” “money in politics doesn’t corrupt,” “intelligent design is good science,” “climate change is not our fault,” “more guns are the answer to violence” and “people who don’t think and act like we do have no value.” Yes, those are the notions of a seventh grade intellect, but hey, at least they’re not living in an ivory tower.

The recognition of individual dignity and human worth used to be considered a virtue, but in America it’s not any more. My beliefs trump your beliefs, or your beliefs trump mine, depending on who holds the reins of power at any given moment. Compromise has become a dirty word, not because we’re incapable of achieving it, but because inherent in the concept is a recognition that other people’s beliefs have value, too. That doesn’t work in today’s America where getting one’s own way is valued more than the collective aspirations of our entire society. This is why America is no longer united.

The First Amendment to our United States Constitution guarantees every individual the freedom to practice the religion of their choosing, or no religion for that matter, and religious tolerance has strengthened the fabric of our society over the course of our Nation’s two-hundred and forty year history. Sadly, that fabric is rapidly unraveling under pressure from large sects of Christianity in this nation that have no tolerance for or appreciation of the religious beliefs of others. Religion is supposed to be uplifting and inspirational to help us build a better world, and improve the lives of our neighbors in the process, but far too often in this Country religion is wielded like a battering ram destroying the lives and limbs of all who stand in its way. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. Moral purity was never meant to trump the necessity of being kind to one’s neighbor, but you’d never know it by tuning into Sunday morning radio or the self-identified righteous who foul our public discourse with the stench of their hypocrisy. There’s a reason Christ hung out with the poor and the ostracized, and it had little do with their need to be saved. It turned out that they were the genuine folk, the people who could look their neighbor in the eye, understand his or her predicament, display true compassion, and with little material wealth to share, reach out a helping hand. That is not America’s religion, and that is why America is no longer united.

Many of you are wondering whether all is lost in America, and my answer is a resounding, “No!” There are millions of people in this Nation who are still guided by the hand of empathy and compassion. Millions more appreciate the intrinsic value of education beyond the number of dollars it adds to one’s wallet. Others understand the need for universal justice, the kind guided by fair play and available to all who seek its protection. There are many people in America dedicated to seeking truth, wherever it is found, and in whatever form it takes, and who are willing to speak that truth, no matter the opposition or consequences. And there are many who, in the deep recesses of their hearts, want the courage to hear the truth, if only we could find a way to empower them. They represent my hope.

I remember the idealism of my youth, and I’ve witnessed how years of human misery, and broken dreams, and the resulting distrust can chip away at the veneer of all that is good and possible in this Nation. I still nurse a candle of hope, however, because in the words of the English poet, Joseph Addison, “Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

GOODNESS OVER GREATNESS

Winston Churchill once remarked that “good and great are seldom in the same man,” and given the popularity of the recent campaign slogan – Make America Great Again – it might be prudent to question whether that observation also applies to nations. After all, history has bestowed the title “great” upon numerous countries and empires over the centuries, but that accolade was largely due to grand military conquests, longevity, vastness of land holdings and the number of subjects under thumb, not on the innate goodness of a people, their ideals or their deeds. That’s why scrapping a national drive for greatness in favor of seeking simple goodness is a worthier cause. At the end of the day, goodness not greatness is the better virtue.

On its surface the pursuit of greatness is an understandable endeavor. Who doesn’t want to be number one with all the accolades that accompany such a lofty position? But here’s the thing - greatness without goodness is like a useless trophy collecting dust on an old bookshelf. You can look at it and wax nostalgically for past glory days, but nobody builds their future on a trophy. A future like that doesn’t last. Ask any archeologist what things withstand the test of time, and he or she will tell you it’s the simple things that last – molded stones, pots, pans, eating utensils and tools. Occasionally great artifacts are unearthed, but do your history and you will find that those too were created mostly by commoners seeking nothing more than having a bit of goodness in their lives. The great people got the credit. The good folks did the work.

Still, you can’t argue with the notion that seeking greatness offers a measure of satisfaction that seems to quench a person’s thirst for power and control over events and situations that are largely beyond their reach. It’s part of the human condition and of growing up. I remember with great fondness when my youngest daughter was three-years old and took on the mantle of a superhero, who along with her sidekick “Super Shadow” (her stuffed puppy) rescued many a victim in distress with the assistance of a bright red cape and a felt Mickey Mouse cap from Disneyland. She wore her cape and cap everywhere – to church, the grocery store and even daycare – and no amount of pleading or cajoling could convince her otherwise. My daughter is now a grown-up young woman, and her childhood desires for superhuman status have given way to a mature aspiration to do something meaningful with her life. She recognizes, and wisely so, that a cape and super powers are no longer necessary to leave a positive mark on the world. All it takes is the desire to do good and the willingness to put forth the effort. It would be nice if more Americans felt that way.

Maybe my horizons are not that broad, but as it turns out I don’t know a single great person in this world. What I do know are hundreds of good and decent folks with kindness and empathy in their hearts, who are not callously indifferent toward the suffering of others and are genuinely committed to bettering the lives of everyone they meet. These good and decent folks are not interested in greatness or the accolades that accompany being the person or nation on top. They are not a band of Silas Marner enthusiasts, collecting treasure as an empty measure of self-worth. Rather, they are people who make the conscious daily choice to open their hearts, and yes even their wallets, to the possibility of bettering the lives of all humanity. Good folks do not revel in the hollow notion of supremacy. They understand that the difference between good fortune and calamity is very often the product of forces and circumstances beyond their control, and but for the grace of God go they.

Does goodness involve a measure of naiveté? I think it does. Why else would our Christian messiah caution that only those with the heart of a child would attain salvation? And why is it that only the meek and the mild shall inherit the earth? Isn’t there a special spot in Heaven reserved for a nation that can kick butt and destroy humanity three times over in the space of an hour? Doesn’t possessing a majority of all the wealth on earth count for something? A lot of people think so, but I’m not one of them.

There is no goodness in denying food to the hungry or access to medical care to the sick as the powers-that-be in Washington are preparing to do. Building walls and degrading women and killing enemies are not paths to goodness, despite what politicians might say, and if that’s what it takes to achieve national greatness, don’t expect my support. I’d rather be good than great.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

TRUMP AND THE THIRD REICH

William Shirer’s thirteen hundred page historical masterpiece - The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - is a must-read for any serious student of history or political science, but Shirer’s in-depth portrait of Adolf Hitler’s relationship with the German people can still leave a reader scratching his or her head with a gnawing question. How could such a large and intelligent populace fall victim to the spell of an utterly despicable sociopath and acquiesce to the murder of six million fellow human beings?

It’s a question worth considering as Americans today are faced with a Donald Trump candidacy that in many ways mimics Adolf Hitler’s ascendancy to power. While it is true that Hitler did not begin his political career by publicly calling for the extermination of six million Jews, signs of his maniacal future were plain to see for anyone wise enough to put two and two together. He surrounded himself with violent thugs, angrily threatened political opponents using language steeped in violence, vilified the German press, demonized Jews and immigrants as the source of Germany’s economic distress and preached a gospel of nationalism called Aryan supremacy. He alone would make Germany powerful again, a boastful Hitler proclaimed to crowds of eager followers looking to satisfy their thirst for national domination. To his growing list of admirers, the nuts and bolts of Hitler’s plan no longer mattered, even when it eventually lead to the murder of six million Jews.

Speed the tape forward ninety years, where another sociopath takes to the stage, and a golden haired Donald Trump delivers a remarkably similar performance for a modern-day populace filled with disaffected people and cynical voters. He surrounds himself with angry followers, threatens political opponents using language steeped in violence, vilifies the American press, demonizes Muslim and immigrants as the source of America’s distress and preaches a gospel of nationalism that demands the rest of the world genuflect before American supremacy. He alone will make America great again, Trump proclaims, and promises to jail his political opponent and summarily kill all relatives of those who would threaten the American way of life. When a man like Trump boasts that because of his status and power he can sexually violate women with impunity and kill somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and nothing would happen, such talk cannot be dismissed as locker room bravado. Only the worst of the worst brag about their cruelty!

Many good and decent people honestly believe that Hitler’s brand of carnage could not happen here in the United States, but history paints a different picture of what is truly possible in this land of the free and home of the brave. Historians on the subject of slavery estimate that over 1.8 million Africans were killed in the slave trade with America. During the gold rush years from 1849 to 1852, tens of thousands of Native Indians in California were slaughtered for their land and the mineral rights below while the federal government and the State of California acquiesced to the genocide. During World War II, American citizens of Japanese descent were summarily rounded up and interred in prison camps for no crime other than their ethnicity. Between 1882 and 1968, three thousand four hundred and forty-six (3,446) blacks were lynched in this country, many for nothing more than the color of their skin. Clearly, Americans are not immune to the self-destructive forces of evil and social injustice.

That is why a man like Trump must never be handed the reins of power. It is also why many influential conservatives in this country have publicly acknowledged that a Trump presidency represents an existential threat to our republic and they cannot in good conscience support him. Those conservatives recognize, as do many liberals, that Donald Trump displays all the markings of a third-world dictator who would cause irreparable damage to the principles upon which this Nation was founded.

Let’s hope that ninety years from now our great-grandchildren are not scratching their heads wondering why we ignored the warnings about Donald Trump. There are certainly plenty out there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

STRAIGHT SHOOTING ABOUT GUNS

It’s almost impossible to have a level-headed conversation about guns in America these days, which is a shame because gun violence has spiraled out of control and all of us are paying a heavy price for it in some shape or fashion. If cooler heads prevailed, Americans could take steps to reduce gun violence while still protecting the rights guaranteed by our Second Amendment, but that would require people across our political spectrum to recognize the validity and concerns of those with opposing viewpoints. A good reality check wouldn’t hurt either. Unfortunately, there is a glaring absence of cooler heads in today’s political climate, so gun violence continues largely unabated and the only questions are when and where it will strike next.

The Second Amendment states as follows: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Consider the following question: “Does the Second Amendment guarantee prisoners the right to bear arms in jail?” That sounds like a silly question, unless the person answering is an inmate who has experienced first-hand the danger posed by life in America’s jails. For those of us who haven’t, the answer to the question is an unqualified “No.” Denying firearms to prisoners is the right thing to do for obvious reasons, but one has to admit that the Second Amendment doesn’t contain language limiting the rights of prisoners. That means one of two things - either prisoners should be allowed to arm themselves or the rest of us must recognize that the rights afforded by the Second Amendment can be forfeited or subject to reasonable limitations under certain circumstances. Folks can quibble about what circumstances should trigger the forfeiture of gun ownership rights or what regulations of gun ownership are constitutionally reasonable, but any rational discussion must begin with the recognition that there are limits to what the Second Amendment guarantees.

In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that was authored by the Court’s most conservative member, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch gun rights advocate. The Heller decision struck down several provisions of the District of Columbia’s firearm statute. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling, gun control proponents bemoaned what they perceived as a loss of any chance for the government to curb gun violence. Gun rights proponents loudly proclaimed that Heller outlawed any government attempt to regulate firearms. Both sides were wrong.

As Justice Scalia explained in Heller: “…the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right is not unlimited, just as the First Amendment’s right of free speech was not.”

So what are the Second Amendment’s limitations and what actions can a government of the people take to curb gun violence? Again, Justice Scalia’s words in Heller offer guidance: “…nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. We identify these presumptively lawful regulatory measures only as examples; our list does not purport to be exhaustive.” A Supreme Court decision issued just last month expanded the list of approved prohibitions to include misdemeanor convictions for crimes of domestic violence.

Scalia’s Heller opinion went on to note that prohibitions against carrying concealed weapons were permissible under the Second Amendment, as were statutes prohibiting the possession of sawed-off shotguns and other “dangerous and unusual” weapons, including “M-16 rifles and the like.” Scalia also wrote: “Nor, correspondingly, does our analysis suggest the invalidity of laws regulating the storage of firearms to prevent accidents.”

After explaining the Court’s legal reasoning, Justice Scalia directed the District of Columbia to permit Mr. Heller to register his handgun [D.C. law requires registration of all firearms] and issue Heller a permit to carry it in his home. That’s an astonishing order coming from the late Justice’s gun rights pen, especially given the often made claim by gun rights advocates that registration of firearms is blatantly unconstitutional. Apparently, they and the conservative Justice Scalia were not of the same mind.

Scalia drove home this point when he closed the Heller decision by stating: “The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem [gun violence], including some measures regulating handguns.”

Now that the Supreme Court has offered a clearer view of what’s possible and what’s not under the Second Amendment, take a moment to consider proposals that seek to limit the right of individuals on terrorist watch lists and “no fly” lists to acquire firearms. If laws that prohibit felons, perpetrators of domestic violence and the mentally ill pass constitutional muster because of a legitimate governmental and societal interest in keeping firearms out of the hands of individuals deemed dangerous, then keeping firearms out of the hands of would-be terrorists and people who pose a danger to air travel would be permissible, too. It is imperative that citizens be provided with a mechanism for challenging their inclusion on such lists, but the legitimacy of barring people deemed dangerous from possessing firearms is a well-settled principle of Second Amendment jurisprudence. Politicians and gun advocates who claim otherwise are just plain wrong.

It is often claimed that the Second Amendment preserves the right to own firearms for the purpose of hunting, but the United States Supreme Court has never held that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to hunt. The reason for that is an often overlooked fact – wild game belongs to the states. In the absence of federal endangered species protection, a state has the right to control the preservation of its animals as it sees fit. If a state wishes to bar the hunting of its animals, it can do so without infringing on anyone’s Second Amendment rights. If a state wishes to regulate hunting, including the regulation of what weapons can be used by hunters it can do without violating any rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. It cannot be disputed that our Nation has a time-honored tradition of hunting, but a tradition does not rise to the level of a constitutionally protected right simply because of the passage of time. Those were Justice Scalia’s words, not mine.

There are many in this Nation who espouse the view that our Second Amendment’s right to bear arms includes the right to violently overthrow our own citizen-elected government. This viewpoint has never been condoned by the United States Supreme Court, with good reason. It is highly dangerous and runs afoul of our Founders desire to form a more perfect union by the establishment of a representative form of government. From a practical standpoint, if preserving the right to violently overthrow our duly-elected government were the Second Amendment’s purpose, who would determine when violent insurrection is legitimate? Would it be the right of each individual to decide for themselves when it is okay to gun-down a government official or voter with opposing political views? To support such an interpretation of the Second Amendment’s right invites anarchy, the very situation the founders of our Republic were striving to prevent.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was never intended to be used as a weapon by one segment of the population to terrorize, murder and subjugate another. It was enacted as a measure of self-defense, but also subject to reasonable limitations and regulations. All too often we forget that an individual’s right to self-defense is no greater than our collective right to self-defense. An unarmed individual’s right to walk the street in safety is no less important than an armed individual’s right to do so. If reasonable limitations and regulations on firearms can help insure that balance, the Second Amendment does not stand in its way.

Monday, March 14, 2016

BAH SOLOMON AND HIS PIGLETS

Bah Solomon is a self-employed pig farmer in the northwest province of Mbengwi in the African nation of Cameroon. He’s a short, scrawny fellow – a polar opposite to Mbah a Moute, a current NBA basketball player who hails from the same country, but Bah’s lack of height has not diminished his tenacity in working to improve his family’s lot or the zeal he exhibits in rooting for the Houston Rockets.

Jobs are scarce in Mbenwgi, and were more so back in 2009 when Bah was struggling to find ways to support his wife and five children. That’s when somebody told Bah about an organization known as (GHAPE) – Grounded and Holistic Approach to People’s Empowerment. (GHAPE) is a non-profit microlending organization whose mission it is to make credit accessible to the bottom fifty percent (50%) of those living below the poverty line in various countries around the globe. (GHAPE) frequently partners with (KIVA), a non-profit microlending organization I support, to provide loans to impoverished people that would otherwise have no access to credit. Bah is one of those people.

Bah has a history in the pig raising business and in 2009, people encouraged him to seek a loan from (GHAPE) to raise his own pigs to provide for his family. Since then, Bah has slowly built his pig-raising enterprise with the help of three loans arranged through (GHAPE), and on each occasion he repaid the obligation while continuing to provide for his family’s needs. In the process of doing so, Bah has also developed good relationships with his customers and is known for providing a quality product. Now, through the (GHAPE) partnership with (KIVA), Bah is seeking a fourth loan of $275 to purchase more piglets for his operation. If you’re a member of either the (GHAPE) or (KIVA) microlending groups, or are interesting in joining one, check out Bah Solomon’s microlending request.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

THE EMPORER’S SUBJECTS ARE WEARING NO CLOTHES

Yes it’s maddening, but on a different level there is also something very comforting about watching high and mighty Republican Senators expose themselves as hypocrites of the highest order in a naked grab for power. It’s a powerful reminder that underneath it all, they’re no better than the rest of us, just a bit more connected and a lot more full of themselves.

Americans had yet to pay respect to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia when a host of Republican United States Senators, including two presidential candidates (Cruz & Rubio) and Pennsylvania’s own Pat Toomey, publicly expressed their intent to abdicate their constitutional responsibility to advise our President and consent to appoint a duly qualified jurist to take Scalia’s place on the high court. Not only have those Senators besmirched Scalia’s legacy of unwavering support for contextually interpreting our Constitution, they’ve also demonstrated they are unfit for public office. Were he still among us, Justice Scalia would have brutally eviscerated the suggestion that U.S. Senators renounce their constitutional obligation and swiftly called for their resignation, regardless of political affiliation.

Throughout his tenure on the bench, Justice Scalia disdained public officials who refused to fully execute the duties of their office. In February 2002, speaking at a death penalty conference at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a week earlier at a similar symposium in Chicago, Justice Scalia defended his view that an originalist reading of the U.S. Constitution demanded that judges who refuse to perform their constitutional duty to impose the death penalty should resign their position immediately. Scalia reiterated that view on countless occasions during the years that followed and never retreated from that position in any Supreme Court opinion he authored.

Justice Scalia recognized that the potential for political gain or one’s personal beliefs do not justify or excuse the abdication of a constitutionally imposed responsibility, and he would never have approved of a wholesale betrayal of constitutional principles for political gain. To do so would justify the charge that Senate Republicans are unprincipled hypocrites of the highest order and that they have no appreciation or respect for the principles and obligations embodied in our Constitution.

The drafters of America’s Constitution wisely recognized that political winds ebb and flow, each according to its own merit, but only a constitution set in stone, with its attending rights and obligations could withstand the test of time. They also believed, and rightly so, that in order to insure the continuation of our republic as intended, those who pledge to uphold our constitutional form of government must fulfill their duty without exception or delay and without regard for their own personal or political beliefs.

Abraham Lincoln, America’s greatest Republican President once famously warned, “Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.”

Take heed, Republicans. Truer words have never been spoken!

Friday, February 19, 2016

THE PASSING OF HARPER LEE

Harper Lee, the acclaimed author of To Kill a Mockingbird passed away today. The literary word has suffered the loss of a power voice of social consciousness, but her legacy will continue in the book that made her famous. I learned a great deal about justice and prejudice when I studied her book in both high school and college, and I’d like to think I’m a better person because of it.