Sunday, December 16, 2012

What needs be done to prevent future mass shootings?

As our entire nation weeps the loss of 20 children, and six adults in the tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been much outcry over what our Government can do to prevent these seemingly frequent atrocities. Obama gave a very heartfelt speech, and urged that gun lobbyists need to set aside politics and, "take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this."

An article in the Washington Post revealed that, "Of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six have taken place since 2007." The article highlights some reasons of why the fatal incidents have been increasing over the past several years. Regardless of how, or why these shootings keep on happening I think we can all agree that preventative actions must be taken.

What are your reactions to Obama's speech? Do you think it will inspire gun rights lobbyists to put aside their political views and work to prevent these shootings through legislation? Also, please comment what you think should be done in order to prevent future mass shootings. All of your voices matter, and debating the issue will give us all a deeper insight on what can be done to put an end to these heinous acts.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Changing the Game: Stewardship in the Marketplace

In class today we took a look at Ariel's post, and thought more about where our clothes come from, and the unacceptable work conditions in sweatshops. As there were recent controversies with Apple's factory conditions in China and a fire in a Bangladesh factory killing 112 workers, many businesses are taking considerable actions to turn their company's production methods around. Every year a report of Fortune 100 companies is released measuring employers, sellers, and steward. In the 2012 Good Company Index, a new king was crowned: Time Warner Cable, over throwing Disney. "The entertainment giant saw its Good Company Index grade fall from an A, the top score in the inaugural ranking, to a C+."

 Our teacher mentioned that companies that are supposed to be the face of America (such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and Nike) are often the ones who take advantage of cheap foreign labor with dreadful factory conditions overseas. Although the opportunity of cheaper labor and production is tempting to many of these money hungry companies, there are still several companies demonstrating excellent responsibility with their production methods. Gap Inc. is taking steps forward in their anti-sweatshop advocacy. Some plans for the clothing conglomerate to improve labor conditions include instituting a system which allows the consumer to directly track exactly where/by whom their garment was made all online. More can be read about Gap's sweatshop free plan here. Why don't you think in the wake of all this controversy, more companies aren't making adaptations like Gap? In your eyes, would this change your views on some of the companies who abuse low wage factory workers but make a conscious effor for change? Please comment your thoughts below.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Multiracial America

In respects to our beginning of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, there was much discussion  in class this week about political correctness with identifying multiracial individuals.

Today, the darkness looms from centuries of racial prejudice and divide, yet many think that an upward trend of multiracial individuals could bring racism in American to its final stand. However many multiracial individuals show that certain hardships come along with this gray area of racial identification. Please watch this New York Times video to hear how individuals think their multiracial identities impact their lives.

Various tests, and census forms often ask the individual to identify themselves racially which can be quite tricky for some. An article from the New York Times asks Michelle L√≥pez-Mullins, a 20-year-old junior and the president of the Multiracial and Biracial Student Association, how she marks her race on forms like the census, and she says, “It depends on the day, and it depends on the options.” The rest of this fascinating article can be read here. Our President too identifies himself as biracial, a fact that he believes wouldn't be possible in any other country on Earth as the beginning of the above video tells us.

Doc Oc urged us all in class to think about how far we have come as a nation since the abolition of slavery. Is a multiracial racial America a positive step forward to combat racism? Also, what how do you think this shapes what is considered politically correct in America? I find self identifying with race a fascinating topic and would love to hear what you all think.

Monday, November 19, 2012

An American History of Thanksgiving

As a week full of family, friends, and food lurks around the corner, there is much commotion over the widely anticipated holiday of Thanksgiving. For those whom are unaware of why we celebrate Thanksgiving, feel free to read this brief history summarizing the historic day that triggered a holiday for feast, and giving thanks. The story is widely told that a group of Pilgrims landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the early 1620's where visited by a Native American called "Squanto" greeted them in English, teaching them how to cultivate crops, fish, and live off the land.

Although most Americans know the ending to be a bountiful feast, lasting days, with the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrim settlers, there is still a dark history with our arrival to America, and our historic encounters with Indian tribes. Before our Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Plantation, many of the Indians occupying the land had been previously sold in to slavery to Europeans. This is exactly how Squanto learned English! Contrary to Charlie Brown's (5:45) peaceful view on the first Thanksgiving, other English settlers sold Native American's into slavery, killed many in battle, and also brought over terrible plague that wiped out entire tribes. Richard Greener from the Huffington Post agrees that although Thanksgiving marks a historic treaty of peace, it also reminds us of the previous atrocities against Native Americans.

"This day is still remembered today, 373 years later. No, it's been long forgotten by white people, by European Christians. But it is still fresh in the mind of many Indians. A group calling themselves the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole's Hill for what they say is a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a stature of Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember the long gone Pequot. They do not call it Thanksgiving. There is no football game afterward."

The rest of the article can be found here. What do you all think about the true history of Thanksgiving?  Although this holiday of giving thanks is bittersweet, I find it interesting how we all as kids learn about the story of Thanksgiving as if it were a peaceful brotherhood between the Native Americans and European Settlers. Why do you suppose that teachers leave out the violent history of bloodshed and plague? Also please consider and comment your thoughts below to how America portrays these settlers. Happy Thanksgiving everybody. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Foreign Policy and Anti-American Sentiment

Last week with the presentation of the War on Terror group (perilous times project), an interesting debate arose regarding why Islamic extremist groups hate America. I pondered this and discussed this topic with various people throughout the week.  Mr. Bolos posed the question whether the reason has to do with our foreign policy and meddling activity in the Middle East. The origins of anti-american sentiment is a whole other debate, but I would like to focus on what our policy has done for the U.S’ fight against terrorism.

Many officials from the Pentagon have said that our sole reason for engaging policy in the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan is to suppress terrorist factions who pose threats to the U.S national security. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have used drone strikes as a policy to remove leaders of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and the Taliban. Many Americans consider this policy a success as drone surveillance was used for the Bin Laden assassination. These technologies were also responsible for the killings of 33 high ranking Taliban and al Qaeda leaders according to Jeffery Sluka, Ph.D from Cal-Berkeley. A recent article from CNN challenges the policy and its “successes”, which can be found here.

It is suggested that drone policy is ineffective because of the large civilian casualties sustained, especially in Pakistan where drones are most frequently used. The article highlights a study from Stanford University which concluded that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562 - 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474 - 881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228 - 1,362 individuals." Many innocent Pakistanis die from our policy, where only 2% of those killed are high level targets.   Is it justified that we continue to use these policies internationally, even with detrimental impacts to civilian life? Also I urge you to think about whether this is successfully helping the fight against terror or fueling American hatred. Please comment your thoughts below. I’m curious to hear what you all think.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Waste" of an Education?

Last week in class Doc Oc posed an interesting question about whether certain occupations are a waste of a college education. Some specific jobs that were mentioned included painters, sculptors, and other occupations that are not always what some would consider "well paying jobs." But as the famous saying tells us; Money isn't everything. 

A college education is by no means a cheap investment. College Board reports that in-state public universities cost roughly $21,447 each year, while one year at a private college is closer to $42,224. With these costs, many students are left with crushing debt as well. To add to the costs, there is also suffocating pressure from figures in our community (on the North Shore) such as our parents, teachers, and friends to get into a "good school",  and use that "good education" to land a "good job."

Many parents, especially on the North Shore, will push their kids to take many level 18 classes and numerous APs in hopes that their child will go to an Ivy league school and become a doctor, lawyer, etc. What is often overlooked is what the child wants to do with his/ or her life. For example, many students are brilliant young minds who love the arts. Knowing that making a comfortable living as an artist is extremely difficult, many students are reluctant to pursue what they love to do, which is a huge concern in my eyes. 

I think students should be more encouraged to do what they love to do, rather than what is the safest economically. Pursuing lower income occupations is not a waste of an education if it's your passion. It is important to think about what the purpose of an education is. I urge you to think about this, and comment below what the purpose of your schooling really is. An article from Forbes helped me understand what many perceive to be the main "reasons" for an education. This article can be found here.  When I reflect the early years of my high school education, I quickly realize that my schooling is mainly to develop not only a broader understanding for how our world works, but a deeper insight to who I am, and what I want I want to do with my life. Discovering what you love to study through education seems like the polar opposite of a waste to me. If creating beautiful pieces of art, or whatever it may be is your passion then I say go for it. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Direct Popular Vote and the Flaws of the Electoral College

We are currently in the midst of a close, and heated election to determine our next President.  I recently read an article in the Huffington Post about the close votes within “swing-states”, and the importance of these electoral votes. The article by Professor Jackman from Stanford University can be found here
America often boasts our democratic ideals yet; we have a system for electing our President that many, including myself, consider un-democratic. Candidates focus on swing-states [states that could go either way with their electoral votes] more than other states. For example: Mitt Romney is not going to spend much of his campaign’s money in Illinois, because his campaign strategists realize that it is certain for the electoral votes in Illinois to favor President Obama. Is that fair for Romney voters in Illinois?

Even as a liberal, I still believe it’s unfair for Romney supporters. No one should feel like his or her vote doesn’t matter. I truly believe that a direct popular vote should replace electoral votes. Not only are American’s powers to influence our Government hindered by the Electoral College, but also the college hurts voter turnout. On March 14, 2004 the New York Times said that The Electoral College discourages turnout because voters in two-thirds of the nation know well before Election Day who will win their states. The answer to this problem is direct election of the president. Voters are not going to want to vote for their candidate of choice if they already know the Electoral College will choose another candidate. Please comment below your thoughts on the issue. I look forward to getting a good debate going! 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Low Income Areas and Obesity

Last week on Mr. Bolos' blog post regarding mental and physical health, there was much discussion about America's growing problem with obesity.  The post titled: Sunday "Service" in Waukegan, IL can be found here, if you would like to jump in on our previous discussion regarding what our society can do to address physical and mental health. It is no question that obesity is a huge issue as over two-thirds of our nation is overweight. Researchers from the Brookings Institute have concluded that  " 
Estimated medical costs of obesity are as 
high as $147 billion a year for 2008." Not only are the costs of obesity insurmountable, but it also has devastating effects on a person's overall health and life expectancy. Oxford University research found that "moderate obesity, which is now common, reduces life expectancy by about 3 years, and that severe obesity, which is still uncommon, can shorten a person’s life by 10 years. This 10 year loss is equal to the effects of lifelong smoking." The effects of obesity are detrimental and hit low income families and areas much harder. In low income areas especially, obesity is an epidemic. Many researchers contend that the reasons include the lacking of full-service grocery stores and farmers' markets in poorer areas, and many cheap foods are high-calorie and high-fat products. 

I made it a special mention, in Bolos' post to mention the vital importance of exercise in a healthy community, and  country. Another huge problem with obesity, especially in low-income areas is there are fewer opportunities for physical activity. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) did a study which you can read here, and determined that low income neighborhoods have fewer resources for physical activity such as parks, bike paths, etc. and that low income children are less likely to both participate in organized sports, and have less time being active in PE class.  I really do think our country has a obligation to address the issues of obesity, especially in these low income areas. This is where we see the highest percentages of obesity, and instituting plans to reduce obesity would really benefit both our economy down the road, and the health of our citizens, starting with those who may need it most in low income areas. Do you think our government has an obligation to help fund low-income areas to better  resources to combat obesity? Please comment your thoughts below.   

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tiny Schools, Massive Sports

Williams College in Williamstown, MA 
As Fall roles along, there is much talk about colleges, and the early stages of the application process. Being only a junior, my parents thought this long weekend would be a great opportunity to look at some schools out east. Both my parents, and my older sister attended small liberal arts colleges, in New England so I looked at similar schools. Both my parents and I were surprised to find these schools, with no more than 2,500 undergraduate students, to have incredibly large and expensive athletic facilities.

Bill Pennington from the New York Times wrote an article in 2007, regarding the change of trends and priorities to these small, Division III schools. As DIII schools still prohibit full athletic scholarships, schools find there ways around this by offering merit scholarships, and coaches will help students get through the admissions process by helping them get into many of these highly selective, and prestigious schools.

The issue, as Pennington points out, regarding the recent surge in athletic funding is that "Any real or perceived de-emphasis of sports could diminish applicant pools or cause prospective students to decline admission offers — major factors used in the powerful U.S. News and World Report rankings." 

Small colleges with reputations of academic rigor and success turn to athletics to not draw in more prospective students and to diversify their campus, by accepting many minorities to each of their respective athletic programs. It has brought in much speculation, whether highly regarded institutions should be shifting their focus away from the academics by which these schools are most reputable. Especially as U.S education system is falling behind to some of our foreign competitors such as China, and Japan. There is a huge cultural difference when it comes to athletics in college. Why is it that many teens in the U.S go to college, and prioritize athletics over the academics? Isn't the purpose of college not to attain a higher education and prepare for the adult-working world? Please comment below your thoughts on the topic. For a deeper inside on the changing trends for small colleges please also read this link.

Bowdoin College's athletic center ranks higher than many Divison 1 athletic powerhouses, yet  boasts DIII athletics and a student body of  only 1,700 students.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Defacing Religion Under the First Amendment

In continuation with our classroom discussion on Friday regarding the First Amendment, I’d like to explore the question of whether or not the Government should limit people making statements, videos, etc. which may offend another religion. Obviously, there is much speculation regarding this issue as recently Mark Basseley Youssef, an Egyptian-born Christian who is now a U.S citizen, was jailed. It is important to understand that he was not jailed for creating an anti-Islam film, which enraged many Muslims in the Middle East, but was arrested for lying about his identity (Haaretz).

Many say that it was a disgrace the way he defaced the Islamic religion and the Prophet Muhammad. Others say, he was just expressing his constitutional rights under the First Amendment.  Regardless, the video resulted in violent protests in the Middle East, especially in Egypt and Libya where Google has recently decided to censor the video on YouTube. One “Pakistani cabinet minister has offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills him [Youssef]”(Haaretz).

What makes no sense to me is the hypocrisy of some of these Muslim protestors. Many of these protestors demand “justice”, wanting Youssef to be killed for insulting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Some of the same Muslim extremists, who reacted violently to the video, have made anti-Semitic statements and openly oppose Judaism as a whole, and the Jewish state of Israel. I am not making categorizations saying that either all Muslims were offended, and/or all Muslims hate Jews but it is known through the Middle-Eastern tensions that currently exist, that there are several leaders of Islamic nations that openly oppose Israel and have previously made anti-Semitic claims. What justifies reacting violently ESPECIALLY because several of these people make hypocritical statements defacing Judaism and Israel? For further readings regarding the controversial anti-Muslim film click here and here. Please comment your thoughts below.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Power, Pollution, and the Internet

I recently read a New York Times article, which addressed the growing issue with U.S companies and total energy consumption. The booming industry with all-online companies are the ones who are running their companies on thousands of square feet of computers and servers. James Glanz discloses that “Google’s data centers consume nearly 300 million watts and Facebook’s about 60 million watts.” Worldwide the number is even scarier among digital warehouses which produce over 30 billion watts of electricity a year, “roughly the equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.” Not only are these companies using billions of watts of electricity each year to support their companies, but the amount of this energy that goes to waste is staggering. Empirics from The Times show that data centers around the country can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull of the grid. The article explains this because companies “typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand.”
There is also a environmental cost brought by the wasteful usage of electricity by our nation’s most successful companies and enterprises. These companies break several environmental regulations due to their over-usage of diesel powered generators. Amazon in particular was cited with 24 violations, as resported by Virginia’s Department of Enviornmental Quality. The VDEQ slapped Amazon with a fine of $554,476 for “for installing and repeatedly running diesel generators without obtaining standard environmental permits required to operate in Virginia.”

I find it extremely troubling that these “paperless” and “green” companies who function solely on the Worldwide Web are the ones who are producing serious toxins due to the running of their computer generators. The worst of it, is that there is no solvency. Programs are brought up by companies for lower input of electricity, but they will ALWAYS need excessive amounts of electricity to run this footloose industry. After negotiations Amazon only had to pay $261,638 of the fine (New York Times) a mere parking ticket for this multi-billion consuming conglomerate. I hope these companies too can find a way to drastically reduce their carbon footprint. Please feel free to comment below with your thoughts on reducing environmental harms and what we can do to help even slightly. You would be surprised on how the slightest contributions can make a big difference. For further references to this article, I urge you to read it here

Cited: New York Times