Russian dolls, doping and dirty secrets

I watched a documentary about sports doping last night and am still scared.

icarus_282017_film29Like a Russian nesting doll, Icarus is stuffed with more than it first appears. This year’s Oscar documentary winner starts as a simple story of an amateur bicyclist, Bryan Fogel, documenting his experiment with doping. It seems like a sporty version of Supersize Me, but instead of eating McDonalds every day, Fogel  injects himself with performance enhancing drugs. He gets advice on how to cheat from a master, the head of Russia’s anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov.

As the action moves to Russia, Icarus turns dark. It’s not one cyclist’s tale of scamming urine tests. Instead, the documentary delves into how Russia masterfully subverted Olympic sports, stealing victories and medals.

Watching the layers of intrigue about Russia’s sports doping, I tensed up, my mind spinning from sports to politics. The nesting doll of sports doping revealed Russia’s intricate maneuvers to get what it wants. Putin wanted a weak man, not a strong woman, in the White House.

Consider a few layers of our electoral Russian nesting doll:

  • Trump’s dependence on Russian money
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, earned millions of dollars lobbying for a Russian-friendly political party in the Ukraine, and supposedly got more than $12 million dollars in secret cash payments from Ukrainian politician
  • New reports reveal that the one of Manafort’s key business associates, whom the New York Times calls, “his right hand man in Kiev,” had ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, including during the 2016 election when that former spy was in close communication with Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates
  • Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm that sucked up 50 million Facebook users’ profiles while working for the Trump campaign, also had ties to Russia, and by the way, was launched in part by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief political strategist.

It’s no wonder that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still digging into the nested layers between Russia, Trump’s campaign, and this administration. Mueller already charged Manafort and Gates with conspiracy, money laundering and other crimes for hiding money they got for their Ukraine lobbying.

Delving into Russia’s secrets is dangerous. Icarus shows Rodchenko fleeing his country and spilling doping secrets to the New York Times, in a calculated bid to save his own life. Meanwhile, one of Rodchenko’s colleagues back in Russia dies mysteriously. The documentary notes that Russians are supposedly still searching for Rodchenkov. His future seems grim. I think of the former Russian spy and his daughter in England, poisoned with a toxic nerve agent that only Russia controls.

Putin injected poisons into our body politic, funneling money to the NRA, spreading lies, distortion and dissent with help from Facebook and  Cambridge Analytica, aided also by our own country’s toxic stew of sexism, racism and cynical political campaigning.

Russia doesn’t want its secrets revealed, be they sports doping or election tampering. Still, we  have enough evidence to know: Russia doped its athletes. Russia interfered with our election. Russia also likely meddled in the Brexit vote.  It’s as if Russia has doped the world, just as it doped its athletes.

U.S. intelligence leaders warn that Russia will again try to hack upcoming elections. Our weak president, seemingly in awe or fear of Putin, refuses to acknowledge Russia’s interference. 

Icarus chillingly showed how far Russia will go to win gold medals. We’re still learning what Russia might have done to grab the most coveted gold medal, our White House. Will our democracy be strong enough to recover from Russia’s political poisoning?


Confessions of a 55-year-old kindergartner

Donald Trump’s election and Philando Castile’s death have made me realize how little I know.

I’m 55 years old, and I feel like a kindergartener, just beginning to learn about the world I live in. So, what am I doing now? I’m starting to learn, just like a kindergartener, about the world I live in and what I can do about it.

I need to learn how to work with others, those who aren’t like me, who are a different race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, or gender identity. The first thing I need to learn about is my own bias and racism. I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot to do.


Tonight, I’m going to hear about a new coalition in Minneapolis, United in Love & Action: A Response to Hate, Bigotry and Misogyny

Tomorrow, I’m going to an Immigrant Solidarity March March! United vs Trump, Solidarity w/Immigrants)

I’ll keep going to the periodic conversations started by community group, Falcon Heights We Can Do Better, that began after Philando Castile was fatally by a police officer in Falcon Heights. At last week’s conversation about implicit bias, moderator Dr. Nadarajan (Raj) Sethuraju got the mostly white audience to talk about our own bias.

I still haven’t gotten to a Standing Up for Racial Justice meeting, but they’re on my list.  SURJ

SURJ resources include how to talk about race at Thanksgiving

Thinking and talking to other whites about race may be the most important thing we whites can do. Whites were the single biggest group to vote for Trump. We need to talk.

Scared about talking about race? Check out Jay Smooth’s TEDX Hampshire College talk, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race.

What else can you do? Be intentional about how you spend your money.

I’m joining the December 5th Injustice Boycott. Organized by New York Daily News senior justice writer Shaun King, this will be a nationwide consumer protest against police brutality, racial violence and systemic injustice in America.

Some people are also boycotting the Trumps’ businesses.

I’m trying to go to expand my world, to go more places where I am not in the majority, to see and understand more of the world we live in.

Check out the Somali Museum in Minneapolis, which may be the world’s only museum devoted to Somali culture.

Stop for coffee at Golden Thyme Coffee in Saint Paul

Eat lunch or dinner or order holiday catering at Breaking Bread in North Minneapolis, Afro Deli in Minneapolis or Saint Paul. Check out some of the many great Asian or Mexican restaurants along University Avenue in Saint Paul and Lake Street  and Eat Street in Minneapolis.


A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota This compilation, edited by Sun Yung Shin

MARCH, this graphic novel trilogy by Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell is absolutely worth reading. A National Book Award winner.

The Warmth of Other Suns, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner by Isabel Wilkinson

Green Card Youth Voices won a Gold Medal Award for Best Multicultural Nonfiction Chapter Book, from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards

Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine (I’m reading this award-winning book now)

The Latecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, Kao Kalia Yang (on my list)

Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View From the Rez, Jim Northrup

Rez Life David Treuer (on my list)

Intent vs. Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter, Jamie Utt, Everyday Feminism

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, The National Seed Project

The Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

Standing Rock Syllabus

Movement for Black Lives platform

I know I’m just starting to learn to see the world as it is. I’m learning.

And I’m taking to heart what Jay Smooth said in his TEDX Hampshire College talk. Prejudice isn’t like tonsils — you can’t get your prejudice taken out once and be done with it. Instead, prejudice is like little pockets of plaque that need daily brushing and flossing. I brush my teeth every day, it’s habit, and I need to get in the habit of thinking about prejudice every day.

Want more?


13th, Ava DuVernay documentary about the 13th Amendment. Watch it!

We Should All be Feminists TEDX, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I also loved her  The Danger of the Single Story)

Silence Isn’t Always Golden TEDX, Kat Morgan

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Loved Discussing Race TEDX , Jay Smooth

Black History Mini Docs these 90-second mini docs, will whet your appetite for more depth.


Starting with local groups–

MicroGrants offers strategic $1,000 loans to low-income people of potential in Minneapolis.

Support Louis Hunter.  More than 200 people have been arrested in the Twin Cities protesting the killing of Philando Castile. Philando’s cousin, Louis Hunter, is the only protester who has been charged with a felony. Louis is facing up to ten years in jail.

International Institute of Minnesota works with refugees and immigrants, helping them get resettled and launch their new lives in Minnesota

Green Card Voices uses digital storytelling to share immigrants’ first-hand stories

Behind the Blue Line is an interview and photography project that shares real stories of police brutality, abuse and misuse of power in Minnesota.

Standing Rock Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline


Southern Poverty Law Center


Shaun King, senior justice writer, New York Daily News

Movement for Black Lives

(Photo credit for the crayon photo:  Aaron Burden)