Twenty minutes of positivity.

Because that’s something we really need right now.

capture
The future.

 

We are dissatisfied, frightened, and anxious at this moment, but we can’t stay that way forever. Though we may feel wronged by our current political process, that process is mutable, and the power to change it is still in our hands.

Do not be afraid.

A letter.

The following is a letter sent to my state representative. If you have thoughts on any issue of importance to you that you wish to share, I hope you too will consider writing a letter to your own governmental representatives, if you feel so inclined.

June 17, 2016

To the Honorable Bill Flores:

My name is █████ ███████, and I am a recent graduate of A&M Consolidated High School’s class of 2016 in College Station.  In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, I, as well as many others, have spent some time considering how the Second Amendment of the Constitution ought to be implemented in today’s day and age.

I come from a family with a history of military service where the ability to own weapons for recreation and self-defense is considered to be a fundamental freedom, as the authors of the Bill of Rights and Constitution intended it to be.  This background considered, however, I’m unable to ascertain the need for ordinary citizens to own assault-style weapons.  These types of arms and the high-capacity magazines that can be used with them provide neither the clean wound of a hunting rifle nor the convenience of a handgun in the event of an attack on a person’s home; the only logical use I can see for such weapons can be found quite conveniently in their names – assault.

I would therefore like to ask you to act upon these issues by voting to:

  1. Keep civilian versions of weapons of war out of the hands of those who have been ordained as threats to our nation’s security, if not out of anyone’s hands at all
  2. Ban the sale and use by noncombatant citizens of high-capacity magazines

While I am sure you are under immense pressure regarding this issue from all sides – your other constituents, your colleagues, your party, and your supporting organizations – I entreat you to consider whether assault weapons truly have a place in the lives of ordinary citizens and whether preserving access to these weapons is truly protecting the rights of your constituents to bear arms or threatening our most precious right of all – the right to life.

Whatever stance you choose to take on this issue, I am grateful to you for your civil service to our district, state, and nation, and hope that each of our lives are better for it.

 

All the best to you and your staff.

 

Too good to be true. Ever.

Today, BuzzFeed published a letter from a rape victim to her aggressor1,2. A warning, it is quite disturbing to read. And disturbed is just how I felt after finishing it, not only because of its contents, but because it got me thinking about another phenomenon that I’ve experienced much closer to home.

There’s a certain adult in my life (who shall remain nameless) with whom I’ve occasionally tried to bring up issues of social justice such as the one underlying the case mentioned, and the interactions would generally go as follows: I would express my feelings of dissatisfaction with the way a certain area is being handled in our country be it rape and victim blaming, race relations, support and education for the poor and disadvantaged, bigotry toward the LGBTQ community, or some other topic to this person, and although they3 never made any statement of disagreement, within seconds they would quickly dismiss my “idealism” as naive, uninformed, and, most discouragingly of all, utterly impossible. I won’t deny that I haven’t seen much in my short lifetime, but it seems to me that the group of people who are dissatisfied with the mainstream mindset toward these issues and those who express hopes for changes in that mindset don’t overlap each other perfectly – far from it, actually. That is, the adult I’m talking about is definitely not alone in their belief that the “system” is unchangeable and that we should focus on protecting ourselves from symptoms rather than attacking causes.

To me, this outlook seems depressingly bleak. I’ve written previously about my general optimism about people’s abilities for critical introspection, but the fact that people feel the results of their deep thought are meaningless, that their ideas lack efficacy, doesn’t sit well with me. After all, societal norms and ideas are ultimately made up of individual actions and thoughts, so while one person’s beliefs don’t necessarily change anything, discussing and advocating for those beliefs definitely has the potential to do so.

I haven’t done a lot of thinking about this efficacy deficit beyond what I’ve expressed, but what do you guys think? Do you know anyone like this or do you feel like your well-considered opinions sometimes aren’t worth expressing? The discussion is, as it should be, open.


1 This is related to the Stanford case that’s making national headlines – a lot of them. I avoided getting into my thoughts about the case too much because that would require a whole separate, very opinionated post. I’ll just say this: I hope that, after being hit over the head with these kinds of stories enough, people won’t be forgetting this issue after a news cycle or two.

2 Props to BuzzFeed for its attempts to grow into a legitimate news source.

3 Also remaining genderless. No, I’m not that uneducated or careless.

Farewell to Starman.

confusingbowie
So which of you is the real David Bowie?… oh…

 

A google image search for “David Bowie” returns a host of dissimilar faces, some only identifiable as pictures of Bowie by his left eye. Just as his personal styles has changed over his decades-long career, Bowie’s musical style was also in constant development. While there is no song or album that is quintessentially David Bowie (he dipped a toe in almost everything), I’ll be looking at one of his most well-known songs and one of my personal favorites, Space Oddity (1969), in memory of that eclectic but nonetheless exceptional artist.

 

Space Oddity – David Bowie

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom (Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (Five, Four, Three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (Two, One, Liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in the most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much
She knows

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you…

Here am I floating ’round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.

While this song outwardly appears to be about an astronaut who finds himself feeling weirdly at home in space, the lyrics are widely accepted to describe Bowie himself (or any rising star, for that matter) who is just beginning to experience the world of stardom. Major Tom’s physical height above the rest of the world is heavily suggestive of Bowie’s growing fame, and questions about “whose shirts1 you wear” further suggest the public’s interest in his personal life. However, Tom’s remark that “the stars” (as in celebrities) “look very different” suggests that fame is not what it seems to outsiders: in fact, it is alienating as indicated by Major Tom’s loss of contact with Ground Control, drifting off into space, and his helplessness (“and there’s nothing I can do”) to stop himself from floating away. This view frames Spaces Oddity as a sort of soft and still somewhat unaware prequel to Fame (1975), a cry out against the manipulative and heartless treatment of great artists by their managers and labels.

 

 


1 “Shirts” is probably a reference to sports teams, but asking about his actual shirts would also qualify as invasive, actually, even more so

Our celestial backyard.

nh-spherical-mosaic-9-10-15

(A note for readers not involved in my English class: in the future, when I italicize entire sentences, it is to indicate my use of a certain, required sentence structure, not necessarily for emphasis. Now, please continue.)

Recently, new photographs of Pluto have arrived by way of the spacecraft Horizons on its mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations… okay maybe I like Star Trek a little too much. But seriously, this probe is going places that no man has gone or seen in high resolution before. Throughout history, society has had a certain fascination with Pluto, previously the smallest planet in our solar system, now piteously demoted, but still a culturally revered little sphere of cold rock: perhaps the obsession is due to the fact that Pluto is the smallest, the furthest away, named after the Roman god of the Underworld, or has a ridiculous animated dog named after it. Whatever the case, the pictures that have begun trickling back from the probe as it leaves our solar system are intriguing. Inevitably, the first questions we all ask are 1. “are there aliens?” and 2. “is there or was there ever a chance that life could exist there?” Unfortunately, these pictures have not provided an affirmative answer to these questions; however, other mysteries remain, such as, “what caused those giant crevices to form?” or “how can there be dunes on a planet with only a temporary atmosphere?” As amateurs with little more than pictures, we can only speculate, but doing so is definitely enjoyable.

Except to a few people. There’s a group of people who inexplicably (or so it seems to me) have no interest in space. I personally acknowledge that I am made, albeit in a meandering, indirect sort of way, of compressed stardust, and I’d like to know why and how that happened. While it’s unlikely that anyone will ever know all the details, our “inconsolable longing” to explore space, as the prolific novelist and scholar C. S. Lewis calls it, drives us to continue searching for the answers to our questions. And in the end, we don’t really need a perfectly rational reason for wanting to explore worlds for which we will probably never have any practical use; human wanderlust, our desire to seek beautiful new worlds and search for the origin of the universe and our planet is ultimately a search for ourselves, the noble goal of almost any pursuit of knowledge. It sends generation after generation chasing the stars and, hopefully, each of us to NASA.gov every week to see new pictures from Horizons.

Jennifer Pan: a girl who forged her own chains.

recent story published by Toronto Life about the story of a young, second-generation Asian American woman named Jennifer Pan left me speechless. To summarize very briefly, Pan was raised by two Vietnamese parents who had once been refugees and held extremely high academic standards for her, “tiger parenting”, as it’s commonly called. Unable to continue achieving the excellence her parents demanded by her early teen years, Pan began falsifying her report cards, graduation from high school, acceptance into college, and transfer into the University of Toronto’s pharmacology program. For a decade she showed the world a happy, sociable face while beneath the surface she concocted layers upon layers of lies to convince her parents she was doing well, but as her fabricated reality finally started to fall apart under scrutiny, she began to develop much more sinister ideas. In the events that followed, Pan’s mother was killed and her father badly wounded by three hit-men Pan hired to rid herself of her parents’ control forever. Despite her efforts to evade detection, Pan’s deceptions were once again unraveled, and she along with 4 co-conspirators have been charged with first degree murder, and she has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

I highly recommend anyone interested to read the article linked above in full, but for those not so inclined, here‘s a shorter version.

This story should be disturbing to anyone, but to me and a large number of fellow children of one or more Asian “tiger parents”, this story was unnerving in the extreme. For many of us, it is because we see some of her behaviors and attitudes in our younger selves. We have lied about our grades. We have lamented our restricted social lives and tried to maintain friendships and romantic relationships behind our parents’ backs. We have felt intense pressure to be the best, even if we aren’t capable of doing so. We have imagined a life without our aggressive parents and thought that it might be better.

For me, the feeling of anger and fear of failure that Pan must have felt has faded. The intention of most tiger parents is to be strict in the present, knowing that in the future, their children will be grateful for their constant pushing toward success. However, Pan never reached this conclusion, and her actions combined with the fact that she managed to cheat her parents for so long and in such dramatic ways tells me that something went wrong in the intended sequence of events. Pan’s parents may have invested in their daughter, but they weren’t setting her up for success; they probably pushed their agenda down her throat without giving her a reason why or any amount of wiggle room, hindering her growth into a thoughtful, self-driven young adult. Pan was forced to remain her parents’ puppet and grew twisted in her attempts to cut the strings.

That being said, it is absurd to blame Pan’s actions on parenting alone. Plenty of children experience tiger parenting. Some embrace it; some reject it; some endure it for so long that it grows on them. They do not, however, plot the demise of their own parents. By the time Pan began considering murder, she was an adult who could have simply left her old life behind. The strings between guardians and children no longer bound her; the chains she found heavy enough to be worth ending two lives were of her own creation, reflecting something terribly wrong within the deepest part of her mind. The result was tragic and should remind both parents and children to check whether their intentions and the outcomes of their actions are truly matching up.

Those charged (from left to right) two of the three men Pan hired, Pan's co-conspirator and boyfriend Daniel Wong, and Jennifer Pan.
Those charged (from left to right) two of the three men Pan hired, Pan’s co-conspirator and boyfriend Daniel Wong, and Jennifer Pan.

Change comes from within.

Since the anonymously-shared video of Oklahoma University division SAE members singing a vulgar, racist chant on a bus in an appalling display of groupthink was released to the public, traces of this tainting event and the group responsible for it were swiftly wiped from the campus – the greek letters ‘SAE’ on the face of the fraternity’s building removed, its gates locked, its members expelled, and its actions denounced by all. It is clear that racism still has a hold, however weak, on America, and these decisions on part of the university were inevitable. However, we cannot allow ourselves to believe that the problem ends there by any means; we cannot allow the awareness of such attitudes to be eliminated along with the offenders and their organization.

What is deeply troubling to me is that even higher education, which many hold to be one of the most effective methods of dispelling ignorant attitudes, has not seemed to move these students in any way. Despite the mask of decency that “being a collegiate student” places over students, ugliness and amorality of the soul will ultimately be bared, and, in this case, the result was a disheartening picture of rowdy, young people. That is not to say that most college students resemble members of this group (they do not) but we cannot rely on education to bring full awareness. Neither education nor legislation alone will end racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, socioeconomic discrimination, and all other kinds of unjust bias. Only individuals reaching their own conclusions for themselves will ever truly put a stop to discrimination, and it is the job of every man, woman, and child, to turn their thoughts inward, on their own beliefs, and conduct serious evaluation of their values, words, and actions.

Let’s talk $money$.

For my stat friends out there: I don't think we're going to be able to fit that to a normal curve.
For my stat friends out there: I don’t think we’re going to be able to fit that to a normal curve.

Both Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath concern themselves almost exclusively with one socioeconomic class, exhibit the trials and shortcomings of each way of life, and, by extension, criticize the highly polarized economic situation of America in the early 1900s. Despite the near century that separates us from the Jazz Age and the Great Depression, one thing remains the same – a seemingly unshakable characteristic of the American economic system – the great divide between the well-to-do and… everyone else.

The battles and ruggedly stoic behavior of the poor at such a low point in history as demonstrated by the impoverished Joads in The Grapes of Wrath invokes a tremendous sense of hopelessness, counteracted only by the family’s fierce, prideful determination to survive. As rather comfortable readers some 80 years later, we are separated from this primal fight to continue existing, but considering that even today’s middle class is in the puny minority when it comes to wealth distribution, we see that our society is still prone to problems caused by drastic class divisions like frivolous consumer culture.

When viewed as a precondition for the suffering of so many poor families a decade later, the frivolous party mentality and so-called trials of the minuscule upper class in the 20s does not fail to disgust – Gatsby’s harrowing and pity-inducing struggle to secure the love of a woman becomes a first world problem on the verge of overdose. Though the middle class of Gatsby’s time seemed to strive toward the life of the fabulously rich in Fitzgerald’s depiction, research in the video shows that people today idealize a division of wealth that, though skewed, is much less dramatic than the one that truly exists. This is the point at which objective observation ends and opinionated political debate begins, but if this survey is truly an accurate representation of popular opinion and our country’s policies are truly meant to be reflective of the views of the people, the United States has a lot of financial restructuring to do.