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12 November 2020 News Archive
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[Table] IAmA: We are students that have taken over Taiwan's Legislature. Almost half a million people have joined us in support. AMA!
Link to submission (Has self-text)
|Which if any of the two descriptions do you believe to be accurate? A follow op question is: do the interpretations of what this protest really is vary among protesters, or do they generally agree?||While there is quite a lot of different voices in the protest, for example, student groups and human right groups are mainly against the authoritarian manner of the government, labor groups against the impact on jobs, etc, we do not really think that it is about any ideology in particular.|
|What are the pros and cons (for both China and Taiwan) of signing this trade agreement? What are the impacts this agreement will have on a global scale?||Oliver:|
|Pros: From a purely economic standpoint, and a cost-benefit analysis, the government tells us that this will increase our GDP slightly (400 million USD or 0.11% (link in Chinese\)). Of course, there are questions over this figure, and whether it takes into account the ability of predominately small and medium sized Taiwanese enterprises to compete with Chinese state-owned behemoths.|
|Cons: The cost of this trade pact, simply put, will be our freedom and the future of our country. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn't. On the economic front, our economy is already 38% reliant on China, with China only 2.5% for us. This is unbalanced. And you can probably imagine the impact of this on our democracy, our freedom of speech, etc, especially China's stated aims is to use its economic ties to impact our political system. This trade pact will increase this unequal dependency further in the future, maybe not in 1 or 2 years, but definitely in 10-20. And we fear that this will be a course we cannot reverse in the future.|
|0.11% doesn't sound like much. Does the government have other reasons for trying to push this through? Is there any evidence that they might be getting manipulated or pushed or bribed by forces in mainland China?||Chen Wei-ting: There is alot of pressure from China to quickly pass this agreement. In 2009, China and Taiwan agreed to the ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) framework. Under this agenda (in Chinese\), the services trade pact is currently on stage 3 of the agenda. Next will be a goods and commodities agreement, but Ma only has 2 years left (the next elections are in November, presidential elections are in 2016).|
|This plays a part as to how President Ma would like to cement his legacy as well. With any economic achievement out of the picture, he needs cross-strait relations to help show that he actually did something in office.|
|What happens if, in response to this, Beijing decides to give Taipei the finger and declare an embargo Taiwanese goods? Can the Taiwanese economy weather a sudden 38% drop?||Oliver: This is precisely what we are afraid of and highlights the dangers of an over-reliance on the Chinese market.|
|the next legislative elections are in November, presidential elections are in 2016. A small correction: local government elections are in November, presidential and legislative elections in early 2016.||Sean here: that was my translation error and I've fixed it.|
|I am a Hong Kong person who now live in US, and it was a big surprised to see you guys on the reddit! =) First, salute to all of you! You guys have started and maintained a truly impressive movement, and I hope your demands would be answered by the Taiwan government eventually. 1. In your eyes, how does Hong Kong look like now? What is the worst thing you see in Hong Kong now that could happen in Taiwan in the future? 2. It seems to me that, this is the first time Hong Kong people actively support such a movement in Taiwan. Do you think this kind of interaction would increase and go both directions?||Oliver: Thanks for your support. We've heard a lot of messages of support from the students of Hong Kong. To us, we see many of the freedoms (such as the freedom of expression or press freedoms) become increasingly eroded due to Chinese influences. But the worst is probably the lack of control that most Hong Kongnese have over their territory's future. That is the worst that could happen.|
|Of course. Many of us here are very supportive of what democracy activists are doing in Hong Kong.|
|What would you do if the protest got violent, Ukraine-style? What if China stepped in, like Russia did?||Oliver again: Actually the riot police moved in on us when we attempted to occupy the Executive Yuan (the cabinet office) on March 24. More than one hundred people were hospitalized when we were forcibly evicted with police batons and water cannons.|
|It was especially troubling because they evicted members of the press before they moved in, so that they could not get an accurate picture of what really happened in there. It was pretty well documented.|
|I will have Chen Wei-ting respond to the second question shortly when he comes back!|
|What did you expect them to do? You took over a government building!||Sean here (1st from left): Actually the police didn't harm the people inside the Executive Yuan (note we are in the Legislative Yuan and have little to do with the protesters that branched off to take the Executive Yuan).|
|However the police did a crackdown on protesters and media within their rights outside of the Executive Yuan which was a separate group from those inside. The result has been condemnation from groups like Amnesty International and Taiwan journalists associations.|
|1) How do you see the involvement of "White Wolf"'s counter protests impacting on the Sunflower Movement?||Thank you for following the stream.|
|2)Have any of you personally received threats?||In regards to White Wolf, the triad leader, I was really worried at first. But after his threats to attack us, people came out of the woodwork; bodybuilders, big people, to guard us. Plus White Wolf's words spoken today to the media was so out of place (possibly from his long time in China) that he's painted himself as out-of-touch with Taiwanese society in general. Note that White Wolf is often seen flanked by KMT officials and it's quite horrible how that can happen in Taiwan and not end careers.|
|I have the utmost respect for you and your cause!||Yes.|
|Is this merely about trade agreement with the The People's Republic of China or are there more internal issues that are motivating your actions?||Oliver: Both are very important issues.|
|China is obviously an important consideration. And I think that it makes people very uncomfortable when you have a huge hegemonic neighbor that wants to annex you, by force if necessary. In the past few years, we have seen China 'step up their game'. They're in the media industry, the entertainment industry, etc. If the service trade agreement is passed, this process will accelerate.|
|Internally there is also a lot of anger towards President Ma Ying-jeou. Basically, almost all of his major campaign promises (economic growth of 6%) have not been realized. The only thing that he seems to be doing quite well is running roughshod over Taiwanese public opinion to formulate closer ties with China. His approval rating in September last year reached a low of 9%.|
|Wow, that is seriously LOW :D. Probably the lowest approval rating of any president in office.||Oliver: Yeah, we call him the '9% President' in Taiwan.|
|What made your governement sign such a pact? What's the state of Taiwanese economy?||Oliver: Good question. This goes back to the history of Taiwan as well. The KMT (the party currently in government) has always been more China-friendly than the opposition. As a result, they are very much for closer ties with China, even despite public concerns about the impact on our democracy, media freedoms, etc.|
|The Taiwanese economy has been very slow in the past couple of years. Salaries haven't increased in around 14 years. The president was elected on an economic platform, but despite closer ties with China, the economy hasn't improved much at all.|
|Is it a bad time to visit Taiwan right now and for those who are interested in visiting Taiwan. Is there any places you recommend they check out?||Sean here (1st from the left\): I really think Taiwan is a beautiful place and our protests are equally different. Our protests are more like parades or happy gatherings or even music concerts. You can see this article and the corresponding photos here|
|People in Taiwan really love their democracy and likewise we have almost a dozen news channels for just 23 million people. Participation for elections is in the high 70-80% of the population. After rallies, people pick up after themselves and leave no garbage.|
|How do you plan to do (more) to ensure that the public doesnt equate the sunflower movement to another politically motivated stunt initiated by the DPP?||Oliver (Right 1 in the picture) This is a great question!|
|We do not accept any money or support from the DPP or any related political organizations.|
|We are a completely student led organization. This means that all our decisions are made entirely by students and civic NGOs. No politicians are allowed to participate.|
|When DPP politicians join us, we welcome them, but we don't hand them the stage or the microphone so that they cannot make political speeches.|
|Our demands are against all legislators, not just the KMT (although they are a bit more problematic as they are the main supporters of the trade pact!)|
|Do you have a lot of legal help? Is it possible that part of this can be found unconstitutional? I believe the trade pact with New Zealand was much more transparent.||We have over 300 volunteer lawyers. At least a couple are here with us at the Legislative chambers round the clock.|
|How is the KMT justifying the difference between the two?||That's the problem, they're ignoring that very inquiry. It makes a lot of people uneasy.|
|What is the legal status of the trade pact? Is it law? Does it need to go through any other approvals? If so how likely is it to become law?||This is Yu-hsuan (second from right): Well the bill approving the pact was rammed through a committee in under 30 seconds. This was done without any public input or substantive review. So right now, its awaiting the second reading at the Legislature. It will need to pass the third reading before it becomes law.|
|I would say that at this point, the bill in its current form is unlikely to become law. At least we hope! We're compiling a list of legislators that support/oppose the bill to give them some added pressure.|
|Can you expand on your point about the public input? The public does not usually have input on specific legislation (at least not in the US). Why do you feel that the public should have input on a piece of legislation when you have elected members?||Oliver here: No problem.|
|It's about an entire trade deal that will impact 64 industries and tens of thousands of jobs. It will also have deep society and political ramifications (consider that China wants to annex Taiwan by force if necessary). But instead of asking the public, or even the Legislature, what they think, the government instead drafted, negotiated and signed the agreement with China in a completely closed-door process that was not open to the public.|
|Legislators aren't doing their jobs. The President also acts as the chairman of the KMT party, so he punishes any legislators that deviates from what he wants. This is why we saw the bill pass through a committee session in under 30 seconds, without room for ANY debate, even though they originally promised the public that they would conduct a clause-by-clause review.|
|I would imagine you would want world support ... do you?||That said, BBC, Al Jazeera, and other news outlets have given us comprehensive coverage.|
|What do you see as the likely outcome of your move?||Oliver (Right 1 in the picture): Well, we are very optimistic that President Ma and the rest of his cabinet will accept our demands. After all, close to 500,000 people came out on the streets of Taipei in support of us. That's got to count for something right? And plus, more than 60 percent of the public is on our side (according to a poll by TVBS - a very government friendly TV station).|
|Reject the trade pact.|
|Establish monitoring mechanism for cross-strait agreements.|
|Hold a Citizens' Constitutional Assembly.|
|Taiwanese-American here. I've been watching the news and monitoring the situation from your ustream since the beginning. I really admire and appreciate how thoughtful, organized, and peaceful your protest has been. 3) It seems like the situation is at a stalemate right now given that President Ma is unwilling to offer any concessions. Are you concerned that a long stalemate might turn public opinion against you? As a follow up, how do you plan on mobilizing the public support you have now to really pressure the politicians to properly negotiate?||We've been contacted by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Al Jazeera to the BBC and so on. Currently public support has been building more and more, we've just had one of the largest protests in recent Taiwan history. If the Ma administration does not respond, he risks critical failure to his party in the upcoming November elections and in 2016.|
|1) Have students faced censure or were prevented from participating in the protest from their universities? 2) It's frustrating to read international media negatively portray the student protests, whether explicitly or implicitly with their wording. Which international media presence do you have at the protest and how have you tried to clear up misconceptions/mistakes?||We've gotten incredible support from universities. Many of the top universities have taken a strike out in support of the students. Some professors have literally moved their class outside of the Legislative offices to teach students there.|
|In a proper democracy this is where the judicial branch gets involved right?||Oliver: These questions have been asked many times over the past few weeks, and we have answered them on our Facebook page and in our statements to the media. They are good questions by pho-sizzle, however, and warrant a further response here.|
|Shouldn't the DPP and the protesters be calling the Judicial yuan to determine whether whether what happened violates due process and whether article 61 applies here?||Article 61 stipulates that executive orders which fail to complete a committee review within 3 months shall be deemed passed and effective immediately. However, the bill is NOT an executive order, as it is a component of the 2009 ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) with China (please see page 1 of the official text) which was deemed by the government to be a legislative bill. Considering this to be an executive order is a cop-out by the KMT Legislator Chiang Ching-chung and the government in order to not have to review the bill clause-by-clause when it would otherwise be a requirement. As far as we are concerned, this is both a legislative matter, a judicial matter, and quite possibly a constitutional issue as well. We are exploring our legal venues, and this is something that we will likely initiate in the near future. However, judicial inquires take time. In the meantime, we are determined to block the government from using its underhanded and illegal tactics to force through the bill without public oversight or accountability. The best manner in which we have determined to do this an act of civil disobedience by occupying the Legislature. And please note that we cannot speak on behalf of the opposition DPP, and what they might (or might not) do.|
|Reading the comments here and reactions of people on TV and people around me, the message I am getting is that they've had enough of President Ma and KMT's failures to respect the law/govern properly, and that's what prompted the student movement Can you explain to me in detail what they've done exactly to warrant such reputation?||You mention every politician in every country using underhanded tactics like its something we should be okay with here in Taiwan. It's not. It's up to the citizens of other countries to take responsibility for their own politicians.|
|I think it's safe to say almost every politician in every country uses some sort of underhanded tactics to fulfill their agendas(i.e the 2000 US election, the justification for invading iraq under Bush). so what is it that the KMT and Ma did that is unequivocally worse than other mature democracies?||This is a hypothetical scenario at this point, because without a monitoring mechanism in place by the legislature first, there can be no 'proper review' of the bill and no guarantees that similar trade pacts will be properly reviewed in the future (other than relying on the government's good faith, which is a tough sell at this point). Which is why we continue to call on the government and the legislature to pass this mechanism first and for the bill to be resubmitted by the Executive Yuan (cabinet) to the Legislature. Keep in mind that this bill was from the start, drafted, negotiated, and signed in complete secrecy and behind closed doors. There was no public input at all. It is, according to the majority of Taiwanese, a flawed bill that should be renegotiated with China. This highlights why a 'proper review' is so important. Furthermore, to many, our representative system is no longer representative of our democracy. The president also acts as the chair of the ruling KMT which uses threats of party discipline to push his own personal agenda, even against broad public opposition. So there is also the question of how much their actions are reflective of democracy.|
|At that point would you still be demanding the trade pact to be withdrawn altogether?||Hope that this answers your questions!|
|If you do, on what basis would you call what you do pro-democracy, since the law at that point would be passed by majority who were democratically elected, and they did not break any procedure passing the law?||EDIT: Added links.|
|This seems to parallel the struggle in Ukraine where the largest question is one of national identity. How do you view Taiwan as it is now and what do you hope for it's future?||Yu-hsuan (second from right): We've been noticing the similarities :). Both of us seem to have a younger generation wanting to move forward and connect more with the rest of the world. Unfortunately a decreasing but vocal group in the older generation continues to want to hold us back in favor of Russia/China (in this case).|
|For example, in Hong Kong we see that they lost the freedom, including press, speech, that they used to have. Many students from Hong Kong also tell us about the growing income inequalities due to economic ties with China that benefit mostly the rich. We don't want to see this in Taiwan.|
|I view Taiwan as my home. So I am saddened when people tell me that my country doesn't exist, or only exists as part of China. We are optimistic that this will change in the future :).|
|Some of my friends who are currently in Taiwan as exchange students have been hearing rumours of foreigners who support the protests being sent out of the country by the government (and as such are worried that could happen to them as well). Have you heard anything similar, or even better, is there proof of this? Probably a question for Wei-ting specifically: what goes into organising a movement like this - basically, what do you do throughout the day as co-organiser?||Wei-Ting is taking a break for now, but he's usually in front participating in lots of democratic deliberations with student circles (you can see this in the live feed) tasked with figuring out our next moves will be and the ramifications. Some civic, labor and human rights groups have stepped out in support of the movement and frequently work with Wei-ting as well. Of course Wei-Ting also takes a lot of interviews each day. Wei-Ting is sort of a hero to youth in Taiwan because he's like the advocacy batman, he's always trying to help different groups that are suffering from social injustice in Taiwan, despite party affiliation or ideology. All this besides repeated statements from him that he wishes people will regard him as just a normal advocate.|
|Are you in contact with political activists in the China? How active are they?||Sean here (1st from left): Actually some Chinese political activists, mostly from Hong Kong though, have flown over and given us their support.|
|That said it's significantly riskier for Mainland Chinese activists to lend their support openly as China is still an authoritarian state and many still have families there. But, we do have refugees from China and they have come to visit the Legislative grounds and spoken out in support of us.|
|Do you feel that there is any wind of change in mainland China? Surely the students there can't be too pleased about the state of their democracy...||Sean here (1st from left): No. Most of state Chinese media have been depicting us as an unruly mob somehow causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. This was quickly debunked as we allowed media in to the Legislative Yuan and they're camped out here with us. The tours they've made shows that was not the case..|
|How are you going to pressure them? I know my friends are going to call their local offices, but is that enough or is there anything else that we can do?||Oliver: Yes! Please keep up the pressure by calling their offices. Based on the huge crowd that turned up on Sunday, I have no doubt that many of them are already under tremendous amounts of pressure.|
|Amongst your chief grievances is the "undemocratic and authoritarian" manner in which an elected leader and govt is pursuing policy. How do you reconcile your own undemocratic behavior (occupying buildings of a democratic government) as a response to perceived authoritarianism? Put another way, what gives your group the right to use undemocratic tactics while decrying such behavior from your opposition?||Sean here: Being part of the academic community, we often have study America's history. Here is the answer he gave to this very question.|
|We could also cite the the Founding Fathers of America as they often practiced civil disobedience as well.|
|How can overseas Taiwanese donate (money or materials) to the Sunflower Movement? I have heard of a NGO (non-governmental organization) collecting donations? What efforts can overseas Taiwanese (ex. writing LY members) do that will most effectively help the Sunflower Movement?||Sean here (1st from left): If you're abroad, you can contact your representative and have him/her join Senator Sherrod Brown or Congressman Ed Royce or many others in support of Taiwan. At least for the USA, since the TransPacific Partnership is often cited by Taiwan's President Ma as something that can only happen if this services pact with China passes (although there isn't any proof of this), that could further point out the credibility problem that Ma has.|
|where to send the funds we have raised?||Sean here: We can't quite accept it, that said people have ordered boxes of supplies and sent it to us via PCHome (think of it like Taiwan's Amazon.com except most things are shipped in 24 hours). Currently supplies are stacked higher than me!|
|That said, please instead donate to a local Taiwan human rights or labor group. Off the top of my head, I can think of Taiwan Association for Human Rights.|
|What are the roles of Lin Yu-hsuan and Oliver Cheng (how come they are in AMA)?||Sean here (1st from left): Lin Yu-hsuan is our student spokesperson in domestic media and has appeared on some local programs. She doesn't sleep.|
|Oliver Cheng is from National Taiwan University (Taiwan's best university as well) and his English is amazing so he's been helping out translate stuff and to speak with the international media. He doesn't sleep either.|
|Thank you for doing this AMA. I am disappointed in how little this event is being publicized or talked about in the US, though I have myself been following the story closely.||Oliver: Thanks for the questions! I hope you can continue to share our story with the media in the US.|
|What would be your ideal outcome of the protests, in regards to the trade agreement, 馬英九, or anything else?||As we mentioned earlier, the ideal outcome is that the government accept our demands.|
|Headlines usually say the protests are composed of students. Do you have the support of the older generation as well?||Yes. Over the weekend we saw hundreds of thousands of people of all ages join us. Even in the chamber itself, we have teams of doctors and lawyers standing by.|
|Hey guys! This is the first I've heard of this issue. How is the overall morale of the movement? Do you feel that you are building momentum? Also what can I do to help? (I'm just a random guy in California, but I'll do anything I can to support you guys)||Yu-hsuan: As adooryeh mentioned earlier, the Vice article is a good place to get started. We would love it if you could continue to spread the word, both to your friends and the international media.|
|To be honest, we are all really tired. It's been like a never-ending camping trip, except we're in a fluorescent lighted building in the middle of the city. But we keep ourselves busy and organized. There's singing, exercises, classes, etc.|
|We're definitely building momentum though. Almost half a million protestors came out on the streets of Taipei on Sunday in support of our demands.|
|Are you kidding? Taiwan is tiny! It would just get annexed into China.||Sean here (1st from left): This. Also the same has been said about Hong Kong and Macau, that they would liberalize the Chinese state, and we all saw how well that worked out.|
|How would society become closer to that of the mainland?||Sean here: Personally I think as this pact allows major Chinese state owned companies to purchase Taiwan ones, it's more like how Taiwan's society may become more authoritarian like China. Imagine how willing a Chinese book publisher might print something from human rights groups or the Dalai Lama.|
|If we could not solve the root problem, then this kind of events will only be repeated again and again.||Oliver: Thanks! The problem at its root is the lack of a monitoring mechanism for cross-strait agreements. This allows the government to draft, negotiate and sign bills without any input from the legislature or the public. As a result, we will not stop until our demands have been met. As to what that might entail, we'll leave that up to the government's imagination. :)|
|My own worry in regards to the movement at present is in regards to attrition and its broader long term considerations--that is, even should passage of the CSSTA be revoked in the present situation and the Sunflower movement succeed in its current aims, it is not impossible that a similar bill will be pushed through later down the line, using measures that conceal it from the public eye. What can you say as to the long term strategies of the Sunflower movement for halting not only the current CSSTA, but similar bills in the future? And what can you say as to strategies for making the world more aware of this as an issue?||Yu-hsuan: Yes! In fact one of our main demands is the passage of a monitoring mechanism for cross-strait agreements in the future.|
|How would you respond to people saying opposition to the border loosening policies that are a part of the black box motivated by anti-Chinese prejudice and that the view that immigration from China is a means of assimilating Taiwan, like is done in Hong Kong, is a conspiracy theory demonizing people who just want to build up a better life?||Sean here: That's quite loaded, and it isn't really in reference at all to our movement. Our focus, again, is on having the same legal process and protections over trade pacts much like the ones that other countries such as South Korea, Japan, the USA, and most of Europe has.|
|Why are the occupation and protests called the Sunflower Movement? What do the sunflowers symbolize?||Yu-hsuan: Good question! This was a name given to the movement by the media after several students and protestors started bringing sunflowers into the area. We did not start this name. Sunflowers symbolize our wish to shine a light into the darkness and the ‘black box’ process (referring to a closed-door, non-transparent process) that the government has used to negotiate the deal with China.|
|And plus, giving revolutions flower names seems really popular for some reason. :/|
|You guys are so brave. I'm a student and I couldn't even imagine overtaking a Taco Bell.||Oliver: Ask most of us here a couple of months ago, and we would have probably said the same.|
|But one day you realize that if you aren't willing to stand up for your country now, there might never be another chance. That's a pretty sobering thought.|
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I Read It So You Don't Have To: Growing Up Duggar (by Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger Duggar)
On the book's cover, the four eldest Duggar daughters smile placidly at the reader, bedecked in a dignified assortment of denim and denim-adjacent garments. Yet even within these constraints, our feisty fashionistas still find ways to express their own unique aesthetic sensibilities. Jinger, for example, sports an early iteration of her now-iconic blazer, opting to emphasize her youthful spirit through whimsical cap sleeves and a precious baby-doll waistline. Next to her, Jessa stares soullessly into the camera, and -- almost against my will -- I find my eyes drawn to her hypnotic gaze. But thankfully, before I am sucked too deeply into that most barren abyss, I am distracted by the smattering of small pearlescent buttons adorning what might otherwise be mistaken for a extra-small mechanic's shirt, and I seize the chance to move along to the next Duggar offspring at hand.
Jill's silhouette is by far the most avant-garde of the foursome, perhaps foreshadowing her oft-hypothesized rebellious inclinations. A tunic-length dress is cinched cheekily above her waist with a thick, woven belt, while a long denim underskirt fully obscures her sheepish shins. In the back right corner, Jana jazzes up a simple tee with a bold statement necklace ostensibly purchased from the clearance section of Earthbound Trading Co., the perfect compliment to an exotically hemmed skirt that I can only assume has been sewn together from the tatters of Duggar rags past.
Eager to learn what invaluable wisdom these pages hold, I impatiently open to the book's introduction -- welcomingly titled, "Greetings: From Our Hearts to Yours." As I begin to read, I am heartened to learn that there is hope for each and every one of us, "whoever you are -- whether you're the girl we met who goes to a Christian school and attends church three times a week but is still struggling inside, or the girl with five tattoos and multiple piercings." Yes, whatever sins you may have committed in your ungodly ignorance -- provided, of course, that you have not yet blighted your body with that accursed sixth tattoo -- the Duggar girls hold a special place for you in their hearts:
Even though we have never met most of you reading this book, we want you to know we love you and care about your future. We want to share our stories with you, knowing you have a story, too, and hoping something we say here might empower you to use your story, your life, to help others.The Introduction continues with a brief summary of the Duggar Family timeline, in which we are informed that "Mom and Dad look at life as a race against time." This seems to me a bit incongruous with the whole 'eternal life' thing, but perhaps Jim Bob and Michelle were affected by the hit 2002 film Clockstoppers just as strongly as I was. I am also excited to learn that I will soon get the chance to hear more about the authors' "passion for being involved in the political realm," as well as their "commitment and desire to reach out to people in faraway countries." With a few concluding remarks emphasizing the importance of relationships, the introduction comes to an end, and we begin the book proper with Chapter One: "Your Relationship with Yourself: Getting to know and love the girl in the mirror."
We are informed that "Jana and I (Jill) sleep in double beds with our youngest sisters, Jordyn and Josie, and the other girls sleep in twin- or youth-sized beds," which seems as good a time as any to clarify that our authors ranged in age from twenty to twenty-four years old at the time of this book's publication. But if you find yourself pitying the cramped conditions of the Duggar daughters, think again! Not only is it a delight to spend so much time surrounded by siblings, but the elder girls are often led towards profound truths by the innocent remarks of babes. To illustrate this point, Jill recounts a scene in which a young Johannah asked to wear her sister's retainer. Wise beyond her years, Jill gently denied the request, explaining that the retainer had been made to fit her mouth and couldn't be worn by the small girl (a small blessing, as I can absolutely imagine the Duggar family passing down a single retainer from child to child for a decade or more). But what sagacious insights should we glean from this touching tale?
Thinking about that conversation later reminded me that we can't conform ourselves to other people's molds. But we try sometimes, don't we?It's so comforting to remind myself that I was molded for Jesus's mouth only -- why would I try to adapt to the crooked canines of this fallen world? We are next provided with a list of "ten aspects of life" that God wants us to accept. These range from the blatantly problematic -- "whether we're a girl or boy" -- to the bafflingly sinister -- "the date we will die." When it comes to the more physical aspects of your aesthetic presentation, however, a lack of effort is unbecoming. Or, as the Duggar Girls reminisce:
We heard a pastor say one time, "Any ol' barn looks better with some paint on it!"The girls also explain their convictions regarding modest attire -- "we want to be respectful of those around us." Personally, I've always attempted to show respect to others by presuming that they have the emotional and cognitive wherewithal to avoid turning into some kind of raving hormonal beast at a bit of tasteful sideboob. But that's why I'm not the one writing an advice book!! Thankfully, in this day and age, a number of options exist for those who want to be both chic and chaste. For example:
Several of our friends have purchased stunning dresses from designers such as www.beautifullymodest.com or www.totallymodest.com.I'm rather partial to inordinatelymodest.com myself, although the sales at bewilderinglymodest.com just can't be beat! But our gracious authors bring us back down to earth, reminding us that there are far more important things in life than the frivolous fads of fashion -- namely (as we begin Chapter 2), "Your Relationship with Your Parents: Love, respect, and communication."
In order to facilitate these crucial lines of open and honest communication across such an innumerable brood, we learn that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have made the radical decision to carve out dedicated time for one-on-one conversations with each child -- "usually on one Saturday a month." These precious monthly check-ins with one (or, on a particularly special occasion, both!) parents provide an opportunity for otherwise scant face-to-face contact, and also allow the Duggar parents to exercise some of their more cutting-edge parenting techniques. For example, our authors let us in on one particularly hard-earned pearl of wisdom practiced by their beloved parents -- "often to help get the conversation going, they'll ask us questions."
With such a lofty standard being proffered, I understand how intimidating it may be to even attempt to incorporate such advanced strategies into your own parenting repertoire. But rest assured -- in case you have yet to acquire the child-reading confidence necessary to formulate such thoughtful queries on your own, I've taken the liberty of transcribing a few of the book's most incisive inquiries to help you parent like a pro.
How's your thought life going?
What things about your past would you like to change?
What things in our family discourage you?"Discouraging" is exactly the word I would use to describe Michelle Duggar's bedragged coiffure, although something tells me that's not exactly the kind of confession that line of questioning is designed to draw out. A subsequent passage emphasizes the importance of obedience, which we learn should be "instant," "cheerful," "thorough," and "unconditional." Such instruction is necessary, as the Duggar Girls explain, because "we are all born with a sin nature." Similar to the appendix, the "sin nature" is a vestigial organ that humans retain as a remnant of our distant evolutionary past -- at least, according to the heathens who indulge in that sort of paleobiological storytelling. And if such instructions still seem overly domineering to your unenlightened mind, this adage from
Obedience is the freedom to be creative under God-given authority.We transition from this doubleplusgood quote into the next chapter: "Your Relationship with Your Siblings: Becoming best friends," in which the authors waste no time in assuring us that the Duggar siblings "range from outdoorsy types to computer geeks, animal lovers to bookworms." Plus, I can only assume, a brain, an athlete, a basket-case, a princess, and a criminal. We go on to learn that the clan represents "a diverse assortment of personalities, interests, strengths, and weaknesses." Which sounds suspiciously like the noncommittal vagueness of someone who has never before possessed a character trait more forceful than, perhaps, a vague appreciation for wainscoting. Inevitably, however, these differences in temperament lead to vicious conflict. For example, as Jessa tremulously recounts:
An incident many years ago served as a lesson to us all. A younger sibling asked, "What kind of ice cream are you getting?" and the frustrated older sibling replied, "You don't have to always copy everything I do! Why don't you just pick out your own flavor?"I find it truly inspirational to know that even this -- the most unimaginably devastating of sibling brawls -- could be delivered from the brink of schism and restored to genuine affection. Yet it is not just sibling relationships that must be navigated with this sort of grace and levelheadedness. No, as we learn in the next chapter -- "Your Relationship with Friends: 'Show me your friends, and I'll show you your future'" -- it is important to shrewdly evaluate our friendships to assess their effects in our lives. To illustrate this point, the Duggar Girls encourage us to be mindful of the influence we exert over our loved ones.
Mom immediately took that older sibling aside and shared how much hurt and devastation a remark like that causes. […] Apologies were made, and the younger sibling readily forgave. The older sibling resolved to never speak demeaning words like that again but rather to embrace and uplift this sibling, and today, these two continue to be the best of friends.
Think about your last conversation with your friend. Did it lovingly challenge him or her spiritually?I think back to a time when a dear friend lovingly challenged me to take edibles and re-watch the first season of Double Divas -- surely this is the kind of spiritual development that a true confidante should inspire! The authors also relay a parable that their parents shared with them as children to demonstrate the importance of standing up for your convictions. In the apocryphal tale, a young girl begs her father to allow her to attend a friend's slumber party. He agrees -- provided she promises to uphold her Christian morals -- and sends her off after a parting moment of prayer. But what began as a carefree romp soon turns sinister, as the chilling saga continues:
The party was lots of fun, and the girl had a great time playing with her friends. And of course, what is a birthday party without a big piece of cake and a scoop of vanilla ice cream? But late that night, before bed, the mom suggested they have a "pretend séance" using a Ouija board.And that mother's name? Albert Einstein. But truly -- I can only hope to one day have even one fraction of the courage shown by this young girl, in this absolutely true story that definitely without-a-doubt one-hundred-percent happened. A more believable anecdote quickly follows, however, this time starring a young Jim Bob Duggar in the role of "huge nerd".
When the girl heard what this involved, she said respectfully and quietly to the group, "I'm not going to be able to do this."
When the mom asked why not, the girl replied, "I've given my life to Jesus, and I'm not able to do things like this."
The mother was stunned by the little girl's words -- and by her quiet courage in speaking up for her beliefs. She packed up the Ouija board and suggested the girls play something else before bed.
Dad became a Christian when he was only seven, and one day when he and some other little grade school classmates were out on the playground, one of the boys started using God's name as a curse word. Dad quietly told the boy he wished he wouldn't misuse God's name. "After all," Dad told his little friend, "He's the One who made us and loves us."Following in her father's smarmy footsteps, Jessa encourages the reader to eschew those friends who are only concerned with "watching all the newest movies, listening to the latest pop music, and judging others whom they deemed 'not cool.'" We are also treated to the compelling account of an accident at one of the family's rental properties, in which several cases of energy drinks exploded within a warehouse. By the time this tragic mishap was discovered weeks later, "the energy drinks had actually eroded away a layer of the concrete -- in some places, a half-inch deep!" The moral of this story, as we are solemnly advised, is that "the same thing happens to us when we spend lots of time with 'friends' who may seem sweet and appealing but who are exerting a harmful influence on our hearts." I would have thought a more telling moral would have been "Probably don't drink energy drinks" (or perhaps, "Check on your rental properties more frequently"), but I digress.
Our rollicking ride continues with another of Jim Bob's classic legends: "the story of a nice, likeable young man who grew up in a Christian home but eventually became a drug addict." Eyes wide with horror at the very thought, I read on. After making the grave error of surrounding himself with people whose "sole purpose in life was to 'have a good time,'" this unnamed man soon finds himself ensnared in a perilous trap. Then, on one fateful night, he attends a party and is handed a beer by a passing stranger.
At first he just stood there holding the beer in his hand, smiling and contemplating what he would do. He had never had a desire to drink, but he did not want to feel like an outsider, so when no one was looking he poured half the beer into a nearby potted plant. A little later his friend came by and said, "You didn’t drink any, did you?" Then, grabbing the bottle out of his hand, he noticed that it was half empty. "Hey, guys, he's one of us!" the friend announced to everyone.I can only assume the rest of that pivotal party went more or less like this. A bone-chilling illustration of just how slippery a slope can be!
Shorty after that the young man started drinking; later he got introduced to drugs. How sad that one, seemingly small decision started him on a path of self-destruction.
We move along to a more cheerful topic in Chapter Five, which switches gears to focus on "Your Relationship with Guys: Saving yourself for the one God has for you." Here, too, we are greeted by the eternal words of our communal patriarch-in-spirit, JBD:
About the time we entered our teenage years, Dad told us a story about a girl he went to school with in elementary and junior high school who was boy-crazy. […] He said he wondered at that early age if eventually this girl would find Mr. Right or if her habit of throwing herself into relationship after relationship would prove to be preparation for a future unstable marriage.Prior to today, I would have found it hard to believe that anyone else could be quite as smugly infuriating as Jim Bob Duggar. But -- if even half of the stories I've read in this book so far are to be believed -- he's gotten only more mellow with age. It's a level of condescending smarm I wouldn't tolerate from a distant great-aunt desperate for an heir to her vast fortune, let alone from the insufferable schoolboy herein described. Nevertheless, my thoughts and prayers go out to this pitiable Jane Doe -- our nation's epidemic of Boy-Craziness has wreaked havoc on so many communities, no doubt the devastating consequence of 5G, vaccines, and/or the 19th amendment.
Sadly enough, when this girl finally got married, it didn't last long, and that same pattern of discontent, insecurity, and self-centeredness that had affected her dating also affected her marriage.
In order to avoid such dangerous impulses, a responsible woman should take care to abstain from romance novels -- "they paint a picture of an unrealistic, unobtainable relationship." I'm not exactly sure what part of Her Country Star Billionaire Groom seems so "unrealistic" to these narrow-minded nincompoops, but I'll table that conversation for another time. We have more important things to attend to at the moment. Namely, the continuing explanation that, for women, romance novels do "the same thing pornography does to men." I'm grateful for this analogy -- as the most delicate of damsels, I'm not even really sure what pornography is, let alone what about it those mysterious menfolk could possibly find so stimulating! But I do know that warm tingly feeling I get when I cuddle up late at night with a thick, beefy Harlequin Romance!
Alas, it is this very indulgence may prove to be my undoing! As we soon learn:
When a girl reads romance novels, she's doing something very similar [to watching pornography], drawing perfectionistic, romantic pictures into her mind of what she thinks marriage is.This is a sentiment that, prior to the publication of the book I hold before me, had been most recently proffered by the famed Scottish wordsmith Charlotte Lennox in her 1752 novel, The Female Quixote, and I appreciate our authors for bringing light to such an underrecognized talent. The Duggar Girls continue our intellectual escapades with a reminder that "God put that deep need to be loved and accepted in our hearts so that He could be the one to fulfill it." As an astute pupil of the cultural arts, I immediately recognize this approach as step three of the D.E.N.N.I.S. System (Nurture Dependence).
For this vast array of reasons -- as eager as we may be to
We like to think of [these thoughts] as a live hand grenade coming our direction, and before it explodes we quickly pick it up and throw it right back at the devil.I can only assume that this what Bruno Mars was trying to convey with his hit song, "Grenade" -- the intertextuality never ceases to amaze me! The Duggar Girls go on to demonstrate their dexterous command of the metaphor -- "We give God the position as 'boss' and 'ruler' of our lives, and we release the 'steering wheel' to His control." -- before highlighting ways to serve God regardless of your marital status. For example, "visiting places like Honduras and sharing the gospel with villagers is a ministry opportunity our family greatly treasures." And by "places like Honduras," I'm sure they mean, "places with countless centuries of rich cultural heritage ravaged by colonial conquest and its lingering effects," and not "places where brown people live." Pretty sure, at least.
But even once you've managed to attract the attentions of your future beloved, you must take care to guard yourself from falling too quickly. To ensure that you don't award your affections to an unworthy suitor (thus irrevocably tainting your eternal purity), the Duggars suggest asking the following questions:
Is his passion in life for earthy money or for eternal riches and rewards?
Does he have a vision for his life of doing great things for God?
Is he a man of character, showing initiative, creativity, diligence, enthusiasm, and wisdom?I'm 99% sure that "initiative, creativity, diligence, enthusiasm, and wisdom" are the primary attributes from a knockoff version of Dungeons & Dragons -- who knew the Duggar girls were so into RPGs? (I guess they did warn us earlier that some of the family members are "computer geeks").
In the next several passages, the authors explain the "very real and very purposeful differences" between dating (bad!) and courtship (good!). First, they highlight a number of treacherous threats that pervade modern romantic culture.
A danger of modern dating is that it is typically two young people, alone, enjoying an activity. Usually a guy invites a girl out to a nice restaurant or some fun place or event. They enjoy a carefree time without the responsibility of the normal tasks and pressures of life.I'm almost too overcome with terror at the thought of such a wretched situation! But somehow, (mostly by channeling the immeasurable determination of someone only allowed to show affection through three-second side hugs) I find the strength to read on. But to my despair, even more tragedies await me! As we are instructed to imagine:
What could be worse than having to tell your potential future husband that not only did you not wait but that you also have a severely painful STD that he will likely get if he marries you?Not a SEVERELY painful STD?! But idk, lots of things could be worse than that, probably? Maybe it's just my overactive imagination, but it seems like you could knock out that whole conversation in one night over a bottle of wine, particularly given ongoing advances in modern medicine. But it seems I still have more to learn -- as I soon read:
Physical intimacy in marriage is pure, wholesome, and beautiful. Outside of marriage, it spreads disease, death, and destruction.I've never really thought of myself as a "sower of destruction" before, but…I don't hate it. I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what kind of casualties ensue the next time I have sex with my live-in boyfriend. As they say, nothing spices up the sex life like ascending to your thrones as eternal agents of pestilence and devastation!
Our next tip for identifying an ideal mate encourages "meaningful conversations about history, politics, theology, and such" -- I can only assume that the extensive footage of this intellectual discourse is edited out from the family's show at the demands of tyrannical production companies. But while those easily titillated minds might prefer to focus on worldly concerns, our authors are courteous enough to remind us of what truly matters. While he doesn't have to be "the best-looking hunk of human flesh ever created," it is vital that any potential partner practice "the fine old art of gentlemanly chivalry." As the Duggar Girls explain,
A gentleman's courtesy is not about women being weak or strong: it's about men needing to be men.Jim Bob, as one would expect, exemplifies these virtues. We are regaled with recollections of his many demonstrations of decorum throughout his storied marriage:
Years ago, he was working on honoring Mom in several specific ways, including remembering to open the car door for her.As soon as I finish reading this book, I'm going to get right to work on a list of specific ways that my boyfriend can work on honoring me -- I'm sure he'll be very appreciative for the guidance!
However, before I can get to that, I must tackle my next lesson: "Understanding What Christian Guys Look For in a Future Wife." Based on an admittedly "small and totally unscientific survey" of their male acquaintances, the Duggar Girls are able to share with us a few explosive secrets. For example, the ideal wife "has a hunger and thirst after righteousness" and promises to "faithfully help [her husband] grow deeper spiritually." What's more, she should also be "involved in some sort of ministry -- preferably music ministry." The chapter concludes with a convenient list of commitments for the reader, including pledges to "choose wholesome activities" and avoid "bad Internet sites."
In Chapter Six, the Duggar Girls lead the reader to examine "Your Relationship with Culture: Making choices that will keep you pure." Almost immediately, we are cautioned that
With just a few clicks of a keyboard, the Internet gives us the ability to research any subject. But it also has the potential to destroy the souls of those who get entangled in its dark side.And lest you think this is hyperbole, our authors reiterate that "it is not a matter of if but when Satan will try to tempt us." As a thought exercise, the reader is encouraged to reflect: "would your Internet choices be the same when you were all alone as they would be when someone were sitting beside you?" In particular, the girls draw attention to the seedy underbelly of harmful gossip sites, breezily brushing off these piteous busybodies with the following bit of clever wordplay:
We've heard that some discussion boards or chat rooms might be better named bitter rooms because those drawn to them often seem rather bitter.As our quipsters continue, "unfortunately, some people seem to derive much pleasure from nit-picking other people's lives." Thankfully, I derive my pleasure from nitpicking other people's books, so I'm totally in the clear on this one! Our authors encourage us to reform these renegade impulses by explaining that when we stop wasting time on mindless pursuits, we'll find ourselves becoming more productive, enterprising individuals. As a result of this ideology, we learn that "by age ten, John was working on and operating heavy equipment." I'm unimpressed -- call me when you've got a three-year-old on woodchipper duty. Regardless, it is clearly far safer than its petrifying alternative -- exposure to the horrors of television.
And what, pray tell, might these horrors be? Magic -- "which often shows up in children's movies" -- is revealed to be "part of a demonic realm that God wants us to stay away from." As the authors solemnly intone, "as harmless as it may seem, it's not a joke in God's eyes." Graciously, the Duggars have deigned to provide several reliably pure entertainment options:
many of the old classics that promote honesty, respect of parents, and reverence for God
educational documentaries that teach about science and history from a biblical perspective
many carefully selected episodes of The Andy Griffith Show as long as they are not centered around a lot of romance or deceptiveness, as some of them areWith regard to making appropriate music choices, "much prayerful consideration" is required, lest we "bring a blot to the name and character of the God we represent." However, in order to guide our future reflections, the Duggar Girls go on to provide a helpful technique for assessing acoustic chastity.
Soon after Mom became a Christian at the age of fifteen, a friend encouraged her to write out the lyrics of questionable songs and then compare them to the truths found in the Bible. For instance, if a song's lyrics are saying, "Follow your heart. Do what feels good," we compare it to the Bible and find that […] we're not supposed to follow our hearts, as that will only get us in trouble.I suppose that means I'll have to rethink my upcoming single, "Follow Your Heart (Do What Feels Good)," but that will have to wait until I've fully absorbed all the insights this book has to offer. For example, as I read on, I learn that I should be particularly suspicious of "rock 'n' roll and its variations such as hard rock and heavy metal." As the authors expound:
Since its beginnings in the 1950s, this music's main goal and purpose have been to promote every one of the issues we want to avoid. A heavy backbeat and words being sung in a breathy and sensual voice -- and even the style of rock 'n' roll music itself -- give off an attitude of rebellion, resistance toward authority, and a rejection of morality. None of these things come without consequences.Lest you think that our authors are merely being alarmist, they go on to explain that when they "examined the lives of many of these artists," they were dismayed to conclude that "the life expectancy for rock artists and musicians is around forty; many of them die at a young age for reasons related to AIDS, drug or alcohol abuse, or suicides. It's a tragic reality." Far less perilous to enjoy "classical music and traditional hymns," as they are known to "follow a pattern and maintain a very distinct and definite order."
With this final injunction, we move on to the volume's penultimate chapter, "Your Relationship with Your Country: Making a difference in the political arena." My attention is instantly captured by the opening sentence, which informs the reader that "God used a series of supernatural events to clearly lead our family into making a difference in the world of politics." The "supernatural event" in question turns out to be the undeniably divine miracle of Jim Bob Duggar…finding out about a rally against "partial-birth abortion" and then…attending it. I can only imagine how much more wondrous the world must seem if such a banal and explainable episode is sufficient to incite veritable fits of exaltation.
But this portent is just the beginning of Papa Duggar's political career, and I read on to learn even more about "the values Dad stood for." Although this lineup presumably does not include any sort of commitment to avoiding sentence-ending prepositions, it does include a promise to vote "the right way on life-and-death issues."
Before long, Jim Bob "felt God urging him to run for the US Senate," and although he loses the election, publicity from the campaign eventually brings about the family's first taste of national media attention. After much prayer and "wise, godly counsel," the family agrees to be filmed for a reality show -- "we agreed to do it based upon our hope that it would enable our family to share encouraging Bible principles with many other people." And indeed, the family now receives "hundred of letters and e-mails" per week from viewers who have been "spiritually challenged" by watching the series.
But rest assured -- "Dad's loss in that Senate campaign did not end our involvement in politics." If you, too, would like to follow our authors' example and become more civically engaged, you could "find a conservative Christian who is running for office and then call and ask them where he or she stands on the issues." I suppose I should give them a modicum of credit for the inclusive phrasing, "he or she," but the fact that I don't have the slightest doubt as to the intended meaning of "the issues," prevents me from even a half-hearted endorsement of this sentiment.
Blessedly, however, we've reached our story's denouement -- a final chapter entitled, "Your Relationship with the World: Developing a servant's heart." Jill tearfully recounts a ministry trip to El Salvador, taking care to highlight the contrast between the "iron-barred windows" of government orphanages and the "love-filled" Christian facility the group goes on to visit. What accounts for this stark discrepancy? "They've fed these children not only with food for their tummies but also food for their spiritual lives." As Jessa quips, "It is so neat to see how God works." Of course, as you might have suspected, the Duggar Girls quickly realized that, "as with every trip, it was clear that we were the ones who'd gotten the biggest blessings." Truly -- the engagement you get from an Instagram post featuring a bona fide orphan is worth more than any financial reward one could ever hope to gain on this mortal plane!
We next learn about Jill and Jana's experiences with the local volunteer fire department. Mercifully, this endeavor doesn’t necessitate as many Rugged Man Skills as you might assume, and the two are able to respond to such dainty predicaments as "a little old lady's cat stuck in a tree" and "a kid with his lip stuck in a sippie cup" without jeopardizing their feminine delicacy. Jill next shares more about her journey with midwifery. As she reassures us, it's not just "Christian, homeschooling moms" who opt for home deliveries, but "single moms" as well!
Jana, in contrast, tells us that she "[feels] called to focus on childbirth coaching and prenatal preparation instead of 'running the show,' as Jill does so competently when she serves as midwife." And Jinger has been called to minister at "the juvenile detention center in our area," which she fashionably abbreviates as "juvy" to highlight her comfort with urban vernacular.
As I read on, I learn more about the Duggar family's love of music, which is far more diverse and expansive than one might initially assume. For example, did you know that the Duggars "enjoy traditional music as well as classical," or that a young Joy-Anna was encouraged to undertake the daring pursuit of "[learning] to play the violin 'fiddle-style'"?
As these examples illustrate, God's gifts can take a myriad of forms! For this reason, we go on to learn about the importance of "learning how to give an enthusiastic, friendly greeting to others." This technique is a surefire way to spark a deep and meaningful conversation with anyone you may encounter. And, in the most dire of emergencies, "we know we can shoot up a little flare-prayer and God is always able to give us the words to say." However, one should always take appropriate caution "not to be too overly friendly with people of the opposite gender, as that can send the wrong kind of message!"
As luck would have it, we have only to look to the Duggar parents to find examples of more decorous ways to approach intimate dialogues. As we learn:
Many times our parents have guests over and then ask if it would be okay if we watch one of Jim Sammons's Financial Freedom Seminar messages together from embassyinstitute.org and then discuss it afterward. Once they watch one message, most people want to go through the whole series.With a few final nuggets of wisdom, the volume comes to a close. The authors graciously offer an obligatory apology for daring to burden the reader with their inane female ramblings -- "Thank you for sticking with us through this super-long chapter!" As they continue:
We know we've shared a lot of concepts about relationships, but it is our prayer that God will direct and encourage you as you begin to make them part of your own lives.As you go off and begin your own personal journey towards relationship rapture, you may find encouragement in the idea that -- despite their celebrated name -- the Duggar Girls are not just some faceless paragons of virtue. As the author biographies on the back inside cover remind us, these are regular people, with their own unique interests and capacities. While Jessa might be found "memorizing scripture" or "discipling friends," Jill would rather spend her time "counseling girls via phone, text, in person, or email." Jana "stays busy managing the family mailroom," and Jinger? She's "always full of energy, that is, when she has a cup of coffee in her hand!"
And with that cheeky witticism, I close the book and begin my quest towards docile, denim Duggarhood -- I wish you nothing but blessings as you enter this season of life!