Category: Uncategorized

Comes Wisdom to Us By the Awful Grace of God

img_7711Yesterday, President Obama said “President-elect Trump” and I felt like I was going to throw up.

A man who I regard as a profound threat to our democracy is now our democratically-elected leader. A man who has clear authoritarian impulses and who plays on the lesser angels of our nature; who courts racists and misogynists, and xenophobes; who promised to deport millions of good, honest people from this country and bar more from ever entering our shores; who lies about giving money to children, threatens to sue the women he has allegedly sexually assaulted, and has shown neither compassion nor charity to those who are the worst off among us. He has not shown that he has the character or the competence to serve our country.

And yet: we did this to ourselves. We didn’t merely allow it to happen, we caused it to happen. And it happened.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen and heard a lot written about those who voted for President-elect Trump, much of which boils down to “who are these people?” It’s simple: they are our friends and our colleagues, our family members and our neighbors; they are our fellow Americans and our fellow patriots. They hope and they fear, they love and they hate; they want the best for their families and for themselves. They span every age group, ethnicity, gender, creed, and education level; they live on the coasts and in the Midwest, from sea to shining sea. (That they skew older and whiter and more nationalist is important, too, but it isn’t everything)

Trump supporters may have voted for him because of his racism, his misogyny, his penchant for authoritarianism, or his hate—or they may have voted for him in spite of all of those things. But they did vote for him. They are not all capital-b Bad people; most of them aren’t.

And so before we condemn them all for condemning us all to four years of anxiety and concern, it’s important to take a minute and question our biases and our judgments.  It’s important that we ask what we need to do—to our policies and our politics, sure, but also to our relationships and our day-to-day lives—to do better the next go-around.

Here, I think Aeschylus was right: he who learns must suffer. We need to do a lot of each.

I don’t mean, like Catherine Rampell argued in a column yesterday, that we should hope voters get exactly what they asked for; the suffering that would cause would be sustained and immense.

I mean that we need to try harder to put ourselves in positions that make us uncomfortable and that make us hurt. This could be as simple as volunteering in an environment that causes us to reflect on our privilege and our undeserved luck. It could be having difficult conversations with folks we disagree with, searching for common ground and a better path forward for all of us. It could be exposing ourselves to cognitively dissonant media on a more consistent cadence. We need to suffer a bit to strengthen the empathy muscle.

So where does this all leave us? I don’t really know.

Yesterday was a good start. Secretary Clinton and President Obama were the pictures of grace and magnanimity in their respective speeches, and many in the #NeverTrump contingent—liberals and conservatives alike—offered support to the President-elect.

It all seemed easy. It’s astounding to think of this—the democratic transition of power between opposition parties after an unusually brutal election—as the easy part. But that is who we are.

What’s next is going to be a lot more difficult. I share with many a deep sense of anxiety about where we’re headed as a nation, as an ally, and as a world power. Contrary to popular belief, Presidents are actually pretty good at keeping their campaign promises, and President-elect Trump’s campaign promises are horrifying in their scope and in their scale.  Any one promise—the deportation of millions living in America and the mistrust of millions more who merely do not share his faith; the abrogation of treaty alliances and trade pacts; massive tax cuts that will overwhelmingly harm the worst off among us, coupled with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act—would be a deep moral stain on our country. Taken together, these promises create a profoundly different America, one that strains pluralism to its breaking point and cuts down our moral standing in the world. American exceptionalism, but not the kind we want.

And yet soon Donald Trump will be my President and your President. We owe him our hope and our prayers—that he can surround himself with the most intelligent, thoughtful, principled people he can get; that he finds the humility to admit what he does not know and the grace to learn shame; that he can grow into the office and into the role. Ultimately, that he recognizes that the office is more than any one man or any one term, and that it comes with unimaginable responsibility.

We loathed the Republican Party when its leaders said that their signal achievement would be to deny President Obama a second term, by obstructing progress and grinding the government to a halt. I don’t want to be that person, and I don’t want our leaders to be, either. The Republican Party controls all of the branches of government, and we’re going to have to find a way to work with them to find common ground. I do not expect this to be easy, but I expect it to be important.

None of this means that we have to agree with President-elect Trump, or that we have to be quiet when he flouts norms or threatens our ideals. We will not and we cannot; principled, vigorous opposition requires obeisance but not obedience. But it does mean trying to find compromise and cooperation where we can; it means treating our intellectual opponents civilly, and extending good faith to whomever we can. It means trying to see things from the other side, and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Personally, I have always planned on going into public service; this election didn’t change that. I’ve always been conflicted about where to direct my attention, though; there is so much to do, and the desire to do the Greatest Good had previously led me to think more about global health and development than about America.

But our American experiment is much more fragile than I thought it was.  And because of that, the world experiment—one of cooperation and mutual defense, of trade and of common cause—is more fragile than I thought it was, too. If we fail the world, the reverberations will be shockwaves cascading around the globe. Aid will disappear, wars will start, and a lot of people will die.

So maybe the Greatest Good is here, not there. It may be helping to create—or recreate—our health system for the next generation. It may be helping principled policy-focused leaders elected to higher office. It may be doing both, or something different. I don’t quite know yet.

What I do know is that the midterms are only two years away, the next presidential election only four. If you’re on the fence about public service, let this be your Road to Damascus moment.

Let’s talk. Let’s get involved. Let’s get to work.


I’m a Published Book Author!*

About a year ago, I woke up to find that I‘d been published in the print edition of Marie Clare Australia. This was news to me, as I had not written a piece for Marie Clare Australia.

(The lesson, by the way: always read contracts)

Today, I noticed that I am now ‘published’ in an eBook*:

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 3.18.20 PM

Did I write the articles? Yes.

Did I know they would be used in this way? No.

Am I happy they’re now in an eBook? Yes.

Two out of three isn’t bad.


*Though you could argue this doesn’t really count, I’m not going to make that argument, because vanity.

Eight Podcasts to Fill that Serial-Sized Hole in Your Commute

Because selection bias, if you’re reading this I’m willing to bet you listened to, and loved, Serial.

Maybe you had never previously listened to a podcast before and picked up Serial halfway through, on the recommendation of a rabid fan. Maybe you heard it on This American Life. However you got to it, it’s over – at least for now.

Here are a few excellent podcasts to fill the Serial-sized hole in your Thursday morning commute. If you already listen to podcasts, you’ll almost certainly know the first few.


WNYC_Radiolab_logo.svgRadiolab is my favorite podcast, and one of my favorite things, period. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich have consistently put out eminently re-listenable, curiosity-driven inquiries that rival the best efforts of journalists and entertainers everywhere. It has an extensive back catalog of episodes, so it’s the perfect companion for a long run/bus ride (during which I’ve listened to literally hundreds of hours of it) or your daily commute.

Start With: Memory & Forgetting; Falling; Colors; Translation; Blood; Patient Zero





Planet Money


Born from the 2008 financial crisis and This American Life, Planet Money is an economics-focused podcast consistently delivers entertaining, thoughtful, and edifying 15-20 minute episodes.

Start With: Just download the most recent two or three






The Memory Palace 

The_Memory_Palace_logoHost Nate DiMeo’s The Memory Palace highlights historical ephemera – entertaining vignettes that could be footnotes in your college history textbook. DiMeo has an uncanny ability to dredge up the fascinating, humanist, often-heartbreaking tales behind World Fairs, elevators, and the Civil War. New episodes are rare these days, but it has a long back catalog to pull from.

Start With: Picture a BoxAfter PartyDistanceSix StoriesLost LobstersSix Scenes from the Life of William James SidisGiants in Those DaysCrazy Bet






99% Invisible


99% Invisible is all about design, and the little things that so blend into the background of our daily lives that we forget that they were once made. Roman Mars is a remarkable storyteller, and this podcast will teach you to look at the daily things in your life differently.


Start With: Higher and HigherOctothorpe; Queue Theory; Future Screens are Mostly Blue; Reversal of Fortune









In some ways, the most similar to Serial, StartUp (now Gimlet Media) is a, well, serialized look at starting a business. It’s hosted by Alex Blumberg, a great storyteller who was a founding member of Planet Money and a former producer for This American Life.

Start With: Episode One








Very Bad Wizards


A philosophy and psychology podcast for a (smart, curious) lay audience. Hosts Tamler Sommers (a philosopher) and David Pizarro (a psychologist) are friends and have a natural rapport, which they use to cover complicated philosophical concepts — but always in a way that is easy and entertaining to follow.

Start With: Trolleys, Utilitarians, and Psychopaths; Paul Bloom and the Perils of Empathy








The Gist


The only daily podcast I listen to, The Gist is hosted by Mike Pesca, an entertaining guy who was made to be a daily podcast host. He’s smart, funny, and clearly in love with the job.

Start With: yesterday’s episode






Slate’s Political Gabfest

slates-political-gabfestSlate’s Political Gabfest is a weekly digest of the most important stories in American politics. The hosts are informed, smart, and entertaining, and I learn something every episode.


Start With: last week’s episode


Check Out Stromae – a Great Musician You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

If you combine the visual aesthetic of Fonzworth Bentley and Prince, the synth-heavy beats of Kayne West, and the ennui-laden poetry of a talented Belgian guy, you’d have Stromae.

Stromae, the stage name of Paul Van Haver, a Belgian with Rwandan roots, is a very good musician and an even better performer that you have probably never heard of – if you’re American, anyway. If you’re European, you definitely have heard of him and you probably love him.

A Belgian friend on a Great American Tour invited me to Stromae’s recent concert in New York City, and it was a great show: lively, packed, and well executed. Stromae is a capital-P Performer who clearly loves being on stage, and easily bantered with the large crowd about the proper name for french fries (“Belgian frites”) and the language skills of Americans.

The show smartly used a large projection behind Stromae and his band extensively and creatively; a few songs featured a crowd of virtual “backup dancers” that seemed to be meant to evoke soldiers, and a song about cancer had a creepy, shadowy spider of some kind that creeped and crawled throughout the song.

It was a great time and I highly recommend checking out Stromae’s music, even if you don’t speak French (I don’t). As others have noted, he manages to blend melancholy, weary lyrics about disease, death, and economic stagnation with infectious beats without forcing it; he is a European and Millennial voice without seeming to mean to be, or want to be.

Here’s his breakout song from a few years ago, “Alors on Danse” (“So We Dance”):

And the lyrics to the first verse of that song, translated to English (though I can’t vouch for the total accuracy of the translation, it gels with what Google Translate comes up with):


When we say study, it means work,

When we say work, it means money,

When we say money, it means spending

When we say credit, it means debt,

When we say debt, it means bailiff,

We agree to being in deep shit

When we say love, it means kids,

When we say forever, it means divorce.

When we say family, we say grief, because misfortune never comes alone.

When we say crisis, we talk about the wold, famine and then third world.

When we say tiredness, we  talk about waking up still deaf from sleepless night

So we just go out to forget all our problems.

So we just dance… (X9)


Kind of dark, right? A few of his other songs I really like are “Formidable,” “Carmen,” and “Ta Fete.” Anyway: check Stromae out on Spotify or iTunes, and get to one of his concerts if you can.

John Green Goes to Ethiopia

John Green recently went to Ethiopia with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (and possibly with Save the Children too?). He just posted his first video about the experience, in which he visits Yekatit 12 Hospital (a hospital I visited earlier this year) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital: It’s worth quickly shading in a few things:

  • The “jerry-rigged” CPAPs – basically devices that, in this context, keep babies’ airways open – require a source of oxygen to function; Yekatit 12 buys large oxygen canisters from a local supplier in Addis Ababa. Unfortunately, that local supplier is currently the only supplier of canister oxygen for the entire country. I visited the production site – which was recently privatized after years of being owned and operated by the government – and found it to be run by a nice, bright, passionate team. But oxygen compressors are difficult to maintain and, at some point the compressor will break down. When it does, hospitals like Yekatit 12 will be without their only source of oxygen canisters; hospitals hours away from Addis Ababa will be in an even worse position. Compressed oxygen is an absolutely critical medical supply; it’s needed for, among other things, anesthesia machines (shameless promotion: well, most of them, anyway). Without it, patients suffer. This is an extremely under-discussed problem with too few decent solutions for East Africans
  • Green highlights Kangaroo Mother Care, which is fantastic – it’s really, really great. The incubators in Yekatit 12? Not so much. They look old, were almost certainly donated secondhand, and require a constant source of electricity. While in Uganda, I wrote about an alternative: the Embrace BabyWrap, a bright blue bag with a warming pack that keeps a baby warm for hours
  • According to Green, there are seven neonatologists in Ethiopia, a country of something like 94 million people. Keep in mind, all seven neonatologists almost certainly live in one of the large population centers – probably Addis Ababa, maybe Bahir Dar or Jimmy or Hawassa – meaning that the neonatologist-to-nurse ratio is much lower in the rest of the enormous country
  • I need to mention the troubling political situation in Ethiopia, a country that imprisons journalists and bloggers on account of “destabilizing” the country
  • Finally, it’s worth being at least a little skeptical about Ethiopia’s child mortality statistics, for many reasons, two of which I’ll quickly touch on. First, these figures are really hard to collect, and they are, by their very nature, speculative and gameable. Just as importantly, check out the date his graph starts: 1994, just after the Derg (led by Mengistu Haile Mariam), a junta that put almost no effort into building the country’s health infrastructure, were ousted by a rebel group. Therefore, the mortality statistics are almost certainly “artificially” high compared to peer countries: a relatively small investment is likely to yield a relatively high ROI. This isn’t to say that Green is wrong when he says that the Ethiopian government has put a lot of effort into improving its health system; when I met with leaders of the MoH, hospital administrators, and regional health directors, it was obvious each had a passion for the job, and the country has extremely ambitious plans and goals. As always, it’s worth viewing data with a skeptic’s eye

Friday Links

Wednesday Links

More Podcasts You Should Be Listening To: The Memory Palace, 99% Invisible, and The Moth – and EconTalk

(Update: Added EconTalk because it’s amazing)

If you’ve ever taken public transportation in East Africa, you know it can be… slow. Laborious. Interminable.

I took a lot of it while I was there – like, over a month’s worth of waking hours a lot, often alone. Bumping along the streets, staring out the window, trying to sleep or stay awake or just not be noticed. Headphones glued to my ears.

So I spent quality time with podcasts. I listened to all of the current episodes of my favorites, and all of the Radiolab episodes at least once. And I basically exhausted my supply.

Fortunately, I recently came across Julia Furlan’s excellent list of recommended podcasts, and found some really, really fantastic storytellers to listen to while on the subway or walking through Central Park. Check them out:




What Do Romania and the United States Have in Common?

One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.

One of many hard-to-believe facts from this excellent five-part story about New York City’s homeless children (of which there are 22,000), told through the remarkable, and painful, eyes of an 11-year-old named Dasani.

It is very, very good, and it hurt to read. Do yourself a favor and take the time to read it.