Friday, August 31, 2012

On Summer Nights

What it is about the dark that seems to change everything? Particularly summer evenings. Tonight, I went to a Shabbat service that the College of Charleston puts on through the JSU. The services, though small and somewhat impromptu, are nonetheless beautiful. I don't know an inkling of Hebrew and I certainly would butcher any of the prayers if I attempted to sing them; but, you know, sitting back and listening at Shabbat service doesn't seem to evoke that left-out feeling that most ceremonies can evoke when you just don't fit in to whatever is being praised. Instead, when it comes to Shabbat, it is more of a meditative experience. To see this group of individuals that really don't know each other (well, some of them do, but that's beside the point) connecting in this almost unsaid way. Through a common culture. Even the said "half-assed Jews" sing along to the prayers they were raised to sing. So sitting there, or standing there when appropriate, just listening to the voices echo in my head, is in fact a truly beautiful experience. It doesn't have that Church feel of "this is what you should be doing." It's more of a "let's embrace our history and lift it up to our God" kind of feel. The Hebrew, though foreign to most, seems to roll naturally off the tongues of those singing. There is this kind of warmth that radiates through the room. I have to say I am thoroughly impressed by the 20 or so members that show up to these Shabbat services and practice the religion they call their own. You have the reform Jews, the Jews that really don't believe in God but embrace culture, orthodox believers, and then people like me - the observer, yet in some sense, an observer who has been entered into a world that is not their own yet completely invites you to join along. The melody of different voices of different beliefs all culminating into a central ceremony, a central tradition, a culture, a history...well, the only word to describe it is beautiful. 

So where does this tie into summer nights? Beauty. After singing a melody of Death Cab for Cutie songs (I Will Follow You Into the Dark, Marching Bands of Manhattan) and a bit of The Decemberists (The Hazards of Love Pt. IV), the group seamlessly migrated to the lawn in front of the library. Yeah, we're sitting outside of the library on Friday night. Lame. But really it isn't. 

So here is our little ensemble. Introduce:

The guitar player
The ukelele newbie
The seasoned violin player
The beautiful singer
The listener
Me, the writer

And as the night sky envelops us, giving a sense of wide open opportunity and simultaneous comfort, they play into the night, and I, I write. So what's the purpose of this post?

Nothing.

Have a nice Friday. Stay inspired. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Alimentary Contemplation - Part I

Introduction

As a recent college student, it is almost a rite-of-passage to deliberate over one's eating habits. In a cafeteria that has multiple vegetarian options and even a vegetable stir fry station, it is no understatement to say that college is the perfect time to explore the wonderful and often controversial world of vegetarianism. So why is college such an opportune venue for those non-meat-fairing individuals? Unlike many other controversial topics, this question has an overwhelmingly simple answer: ease of access. Many vegetarians run into the age old wall of "well your mom cooked this chicken for me, and I don't want to be rude, but seeing as I haven't had meat in 7 years I really don't want to cave now, so what do I do?" This is a very real, and very annoying impedance in the lives of young aspiring pro-veggie consumers. The herbivore's dilemma, one could say. 

To be completely honest, up until recently I never really understood vegetarianism, and thought that is was a pretentious yet subtle way to boost one's ego amongst a sea of meat-eating comrades. The College of Charleston, in all its liberal wonder, decided to assign summer reading that was titled as "optional but highly suggested, though we don't know how or when it will or will not be required." Seeing as I didn't have much else to do to stimulate the brain, I decided to read the book - Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of recently converted book-to-movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Though every student I've talked to read a different amount of the book and holds a unique opinion (whether it be positive or negative), there is definitely no arguing that the book evokes a response. So, for this blog post, I'd like to provide my own commentary on how the book made me feel and why I am not changing my eating habits post-reading. This commentary will come at least 2 parts (but plausibly more), so keep patient and I'll be sure to link all of the articles up when they're finished!

*Also interested in reading Eating Animals by Foer? Click here to check the book out.  

The Case for an Herbivorous Diet 

So the way I'm going to approach this is by giving some unfiltered views from vegetarians, and then using a combination of what I've learned and the opinions provided, I am going to try to draw some overarching conclusions on why a vegetarian diet would be beneficial for the individual and society at large. This section does not reflect my personal opinion..that's to come! 

Interviews With Vegetarians

I decided that the best way to get a grip on why vegetarians chose to eat the way they do would be to ask, well, vegetarians. I formulated 4 very basic questions and sent them to four of my vegetarian friends. The four questions are as follows:

  1. How long have you been a vegetarian?
  2. What were your initial reasons for choosing a vegetarian diet? Since then, have your reasons for continuing your vegetarianism changed?
  3. How do you feel about the vegan diet?
  4. How do you feel about those people who elect to eat meat? 
The following answers are [almost] exact copies of what I received:

Vegetarian #1:
  1. 6 years
  2. Honestly, I think I just wanted to see if I could. At that time I had started to look with new eyes at what I was putting into my mouth, and the basic premise of eating the body of something that used to live and breathe and walk and feel like I did...just felt icky. So I just stopped cold turkey one day with no specific provocation. Only over the years as I became even more meatless did I start to really think about the ethics behind eating animals, especially in today's age with the disgusting way that they're mass-produced and slaughtered in dirty factories. So, in short, I became one for no real reason and developed reasons over the years as I became more developed myself. 
  3. I think veganism is extreme. People tend to look at vegans and vegetarians as all the same, but actually vegans (in general, of course) look at vegetarians as being half-assers and vegetarians look at vegans as being over-the-top. I guess I understand the reasons motivating veganism-- dairy is fatty, factories dirty, and the conditions the donating animals are kept in are unethical-- but being a vegetarian is really very easy, whereas being a vegan is almost impossible, and what you give up outweighs what you're benefitting, in my opinion. 
  4. It varies from person to person, naturally. As long as an omnivore treats my eating habits and views with respect, I don't feel any negative sentiment towards them. It would be unfair for me to. Although, to be honest, my stance on vegetarianism is so strong and I am such a stubborn person that if I ever really think about it too much I get really frustrated that not everyone is a vegetarian. It just seems so black-and-white to me, that eating meat is something that never should have been socially acceptable. But, given society, I try to keep these thoughts under control and not blame individual people for eating meat when the issue is something that's way bigger than their own personal decisions. 
Vegetarian #2:
  1. When I was in the 4th grade, my dad cooked extra rare steak for dinner and I realized for the first time that the "juice" coming out of the meat was blood. I guess I thought it was just cooking residue before. I refused to eat any more red meat after that because all I could taste was the metallic flavor. In the 6th grade, I stopped eating any meat. I distinctly remember biting into a piece of chicken while simultaneously rubbing a sore muscle in my arm and realizing that the food in my mouth was composed of the same muscular matter as my own body. 
  2. I initially became a vegetarian out of some instinct that eating animals is wrong, or at least wrong for me. It just made me feel uncomfortable. As I've gotten older, I've learned about the environmental and health arguments commonly used to support vegetarianism, and although those arguments reinforce my decision, they would never be strong enough conviction on their own. My decision really comes down to two things:
    1. Killing any life, human or animal, causes suffering. There's enough suffering in the world without any additions I might make. I know this reason is very abstract, but it's intuitive. 
    2. I believe that there is unity among all living organisms. By killing an animal, or supporting the killing of animals, I am killing parts of myself by extension. Again, this is an abstract and spiritual reason, but it's the best way I can explain my perspective. My instincts haven't changed,but now I have the ability to basically articulate how I feel. 
  3. Vegans are super. I think that there are enough ways to humanely access animal by-products that I don't feel drawn towards that diet, but more power to them. I've tried it before and it just zapped my energy, but that was a couple years ago, so maybe I'll give it another go. 
  4. I think that eating is very personal. When you eat, you're choosing to put something in your body. I don't judge people for what they put in their bodies in regards to drugs, alcohol, and sex, and I don't see much of a difference between those decisions and the decisions of what to eat. I encourage people to try vegetarian diets, but I never push. Yes, it would probably make the world a better place if everyone protested the meat industry. No, that will never happen. Different lifestyles work best for different people. Just be happy, because a happier population would make the world a better place, too. 
Vegetarian #3:
  1. Since October 13, 2008 (my 14th birthday)
  2. I felt awkward eating dead animal flesh and I felt bad that in order for me to eat animals, animals had to be killed. My rationale hasn't really changed except now I also do it on account of world hunger issues. (i.e. tons of grain and whatnot is used for feeding livestock that benefits big slaughterhouses when it could instead be used to feed starving people [across the world])
  3. It's  noble and good for people that do it, but it's just too dang hard for me. I've tried it.
  4. I don't care if they eat meat. This was my own personal choice and it has nothing to do with with anyone else but me and whoever (whatever) I might be saving by doing it. 
Vegetarian #4:

  1. [I have been a vegetarian] since I was five, around Thanksgiving time. So about to be 13 years, if I'm doing the math right. 
  2. My kindergarten class was taught a song about Tommy Turkey running away from a farmer to escape being dinner. It was the notion that my food might not enjoy being my food, if it indeed used to be a living, breathing animal. I was a really big animal lover. Now I simply find meat to be gross, the way most others find roadkill to be gross. I don't want to consume dead things, and in fact, I doubt my body could handle it now. 
  3. I feel like veganism can be a lot of things - difficult, trendy, excessive at times. I do believe that we should be as well-educated about our animal products as possible, as we should be educated about anything we consume, and if abstaining is one way to insure that you don't negatively impact the animal world with your money, then good for you. I agree with certain vegan ideals, while the culture that sometimes surrounds it can come off as elitist or preachy. 
  4. I don't have anything against meat eaters for their eating of meat - it's a cultural norm in America. I wish though, that is was more of a decision, rather than an assumption. Meat eaters can sometimes make my life difficult - meals in restaurants tend to be crafted towards them, and they sometimes ask me odd questions or have awkward responses to their learning of my vegetarianism. My whole family, all my relatives, eat meat. It is generally a rare few number of individuals, especially when I was younger, who would try to "convert" me by not giving me access to meat-free options. This is something that I feel is very wrong - our country needs to be tolerant of all dietary decisions, whether they be moral, religious, experimental, or simply out of health concerns. 

Drawing Conclusions for a Meat-Free Environment 

Please remember, this section is not an opinion based section. If anyone does feel inclined to leave a comment in reference to my opinion, you'll want to read further. 


So let me attempt to put some of the reasoning behind going vegetarianism into some sort of cohesive how-to and why-do-it model, with more emphasis on the latter.

It seems to be a common cause for vegetarianism that in the eye of the vegetarian, animals are being abused. The idea of abuse is loose in this situation, because many a vegetarian would fully argue that despite a hypothetically overly comfortable life, the actual slaughtering of the animal is abuse enough. Take a look at the acclaimed Vegetarian #2. I would probably classify her under this school of vegetarianism. Other vegetarians would consider an adjustment to their eating habits if access to organic/free range food was more plausible. (Oh wait, you thought it was? Just wait. I did too.) All in all, the number one motivation for a animal-free diet typically relates to animal welfare. Ok, that's simple enough. But here's where it all gets choppy.

Some vegetarians/vegans go as far to equate the value of human life to animal life. In Eating Animals Foer provides a letter written by a PETA representative that essentially uses the following logic: "if you wouldn't eat your own child, why would you eat the child of a cow?" So not only does this league of vegetarianism/veganism equate human and animal life, but they go as far to state that your own child is on the same level as a baby cow. I think this creates a major division in the schools and beliefs across all vegetarians. But remember, here I am just presenting, not analyzing, so let us move forward.

You also have this sense of environmentalism that is prevalent in vegetarian thought. In fact, Foer's book and much of my research suggests that environmentalism is rapidly becoming a object of concern that is at the heart of vegetarian lifestyles. The way in which we are raising our animals in the United States has been scientifically proven to be bad for the environment. The term unsustainable gets thrown around a lot in environmental discussion, and I will be sure to get to that later.

Health is yet another factor playing into this whole mess. Our animals are pumped with antibiotics and exposed to a ridiculous number of diseases. Seeing as this is a blog post that will eventually be based on opinion, I won't reel off the numerous statistics that are downright disgusting dealing with food-born disease, but please, take a look here. What might be even more alarming is the recognition of these food-born illnesses published by the Physicians of Social Responsibility. It is very evident that risks for viruses such as H1N1 are skyrocketing on account of the food industry that we currently exploit to a maximum. Animals get pumped with pills, gain resistance, get sick, pass sickness to humans who are also gaining an immunity to antibiotics (no, this is not a good thing), and we have a human-health crisis festering at our taste buds.

Finally, and more recently, the issue of humanitarian aid has come into focus. As Vegetarian #3 pointed out, our livestock take up the majority of corn crops that are grown in the United States. Want to know something at least mildly disturbing? Corn-based products are not found in the natural diets of many of our livestock. Ever heard of cows eating corn fields? Food for thought next time you have filet mignon. So the humanitarianism that gets reflected in the animal rights issue is this - we are abusing animals and causing them to suffer extensively, and in doing so we are creating a highly harmful and unsustainable food system that will (and has) hurt the environment, which, ironically, takes more raw food to produce then humans are even eating. So now we have a large percentage of food to feed our food (?) and the food we are producing only gets to a handful of people. So what if we cut out the middleman? Feed the needy with the food we are using to feed to food. Wordy, I know.

Okay, so there's the guide of why-go-vegetarianism in a nutshell, written by yours truly, an omnivore. So, maybe I'm not the most qualified writer on the topic. But, I tried to just present the facts as is without bogging you down with numbers.

Please stay tuned to Part II, which will hopefully be up in the next few days. I'll be sure to link all of the posts.

To read Part II, please click here.
To read Part III, please click here.
(The link to Part II should be active! Keep posted for Part III)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Part II - Beyond Landing the Job: A View On What Makes College So Unique

This article is a continuation from Part I which can be found here.


The Paradigm Shift - College

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a paradigm as "an outstandingly clear or typical example" and goes as far to equate a paradigm to an archetype. The word paradigm is an interesting  word for me, and to be honest I've never felt that I've had a strong command over it. Long explanation short:  please forgive me if my paradigm-usage doesn't meet your standards of English composition.

So where does the vast difference between college and high school exist? While the trusty student trudges through the dregs of high school, it is always at least mildly refreshing to look into the future with starry eyes and wonder what lies beyond the gates of tasseled caps, valedictorian speeches, and the milestone of high school graduation. Let me reiterate the fact that I have been in college for just over a week, so no, I cannot provide an in depth analysis at the many ways the two realms differ. In fact, I can hardly give an adequate answer to "what is the college experience" because the foundations of my experience are just settling now. However, I can answer the question, "what is different so far, and how do you think this effects the college experience?" So that is exactly what I will attempt to do.

For one, college is a mighty dynamic place. High school is a time for change, certainly one cannot deny that. There is no debate that one will change fairly drastically (is that an oxymoron) over the period of four years. Entering high school as a 14 year old and leaving as an adult is sure to bring forth an onslaught of dynamic-mess in a person's life. However, this change is at a much slower rate. For example, it took me 2.5 years to really realize how petty the "high school drama" and the aforementioned superficially constructed social ladder really were. Though the notion of being dynamic strictly refers to change, the nature of the change was lacking in rapidity, so the change itself was a pretty static process. I think this goes for most high school students. Even the most mature and seasoned of them all. Granted, a life can change extremely fast while in high school (i.e. the death of a parent), but the way in which one sees the world and handles the things around them is likely to stay (at least relatively) static over the coures of the high school years.

Let me draw from an example: Meet Cory. (Yes, another alias) Over the course of Cory's Senior year and prior summer, he lost both parents. An utter tragedy that no one can ignore. Despite living changes, and drastic emotional trauma, he remained a high school student and therefore lived in a high school world. This is in no way meant to criticize the reaction, and I surely fail at understanding the gravity of the situation (thankfully), but the environment in which we grow as a high school student does not foster dramatic personal change. So those who lose parents, struggle with drugs, partake in self-mutilation, and experience whatever other hell-bound experience will most likely fail to undergo massive personal change in a short period of time. This, in my opinion, is the first notable distinction between college and high school.

Upon entering college it is almost overwhelming the freedom one experiences. No more parents, no more set notions of anything, no more immediate clicks, no more social hierarchy. Everyone is in the same situation. This promotes a great deal of change. Those who were dorks or emo in high school are now just...college students. And due to this, the world in which you live in become far less exclusive and far more inclusive. Sure, there are certainly facets of cliques and elitist social constructs in college (i.e. Greek life), but the underlying difference is the ability to choose your own direction. No one but those involved in Greek life are going to exclude you from Greek life. In other words, in high school you were either popular or you were not, creating a clear division in social status, while in college you are either this or that, or that, or a handful of other equally interesting and unique things. And the best part? You never have to be just one thing. You can be as many or a few as you'd like. So how does this relate to my whole tirade dealing with dynamic change? College fosters the ability to quickly change interests, friend groups, and beliefs.

I'll use myself as an example:  for 5 years I have been in constant conflict with my religious beliefs. I knew that I wasn't in favor of the Christian religion, but I really had no outlet for my beliefs back home. Due to this dichotomy of belief that is created through lack of access in high school, I was often labelled "atheist." This harsh distinction made it exceedingly difficult to make any notable changes in my beliefs. There really wasn't anywhere to turn. Within one week of being at college, I have been exposed to the Jewish Student Union (which, for those of you who don't know, is a thriving and wonderful group on the CofC campus), walked in the gardens of a Unitarian Church, learned more about Islam from a small white girl from Arlington than I have in 18 years of life back in NC, and found a Tibetan religious society within an 11 minute bike trip.

Therein lies the difference.

So, for now, this is the huge difference between high school and college which is currently defining my college experience. What was previously so set in stone might as well never have existed. It almost seems silly. That isn't to say that certain relationships developed in high school are meaningless, because that is certainly not the case. But it is to say that so much of what seems so dire, so importnat, and so pressing in high school ultimately equates to nothing the second you have that esteemed diploma in your hands. High school is kind of like homework - you learn from it, you hate doing it, sometimes it can be fun, but ultimately it is a realm of parameters. High school is limiting in nature, and well, it probably should be. But college, college is different. College, almost by definition, seems to be the perfectly executed interdependence between independence, growing responsibility, intellectual development, personal discovery, and not-quite-there-but-in-the-right-direction sort of human growth.

There will inevitably be much more to come in the way of college experience, and if you'd like me to write on any other more specific facet of this whole college thing (or anything else for that matter), please feel free to leave a comment. This blog isn't anything meaningful without readers or thought, so thanks for taking the time to read over what I write. Hopefully you can gain something, even if that means gaining a firmer stance against what I have to say. I love hearing what you all think!

Part I - Beyond Landing the Job: A View on What Makes College So Unique

The Introduction of Growth 

Everyone keeps asking "why don't you just use your blog to write about college?" College is...college. I feel like people don't need to read about college to understand college if they are already in college. And if you aren't in college, there is no use speculating because each college is vastly different, but in some strange way all colleges, large or small, have this unique ability to have a similar experience: that of personal growth and individual aspiration. And though I've only been in college a few days, I can already see this "college is just better" theory that all high school students are told to ward off desires to burn their schools down. I applied to 8 schools: UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Wilmington, USC Colombia, College of Charleston, University of Miami, Emory University, University of Miami, and Pomona College. To say the least, these colleges were across the board in all ways categorical. I was accepted to all 8 schools, but in the end it came down to two schools: UNC Chapel Hill and the College of Charleston. I really have no desire to expose the similarities and differences between these schools. There are clear differences and if you are truly that interested do a Google search. I broke down and chose CofC, fearing that my college experience would lack the prestige of some of the other "top-tier" schools, but as I said, there seems to be this link between all college experiences. Everyone told me that no matter where I went to college I'd love it. I didn't want to believe this. But now I'm realizing that yes, once more, elders do have some good things to share. So what is this link in college experience? The fact that the experience exists. 

So what are my aspirations, goals, and hopes for my college experience? Of course, I can't know what my life plan is from day one, but I have a pretty solid idea of what I hope to gain. There are the obvious benefits of schooling: receiving grants for research, making connections, studying abroad, and eventually, landing a job. These types of opportunities are what make college worth shelling thousands of dollars over to the office of admissions (though this too is in disput in today's day and age). However, what I'd like to focus this post around are my personal aspirations. The kind of growth that isn't measurable in money, promotions, or grading scales. This is the kind of growth that feels innate, that builds the social webs that we all strive to fit into, and directs the flow of our lives, and ultimately, the people we are as we lie on our deathbeds. So, no, this won't be an editorial on the cost-risk analysis of a collegiate education in the twenty-first century (though, that is an interesting debate). This will be a reflection of what I hope to see in not only myself, but the people around me who will share this novel growing experience with me.

A Lonely Place Called High School

I really doubt that anyone could look back on high school and lack a single sad memory. It is almost a right of passage for high school students to spend sleepless nights in desperation over love lost or lover aspiration. High school, in all seriousness, is not a particularly easy place to be. Now, I'm about to delve into the world of stereotypes, so forgive me, but they do exist, to an extent. It is irrefutable that some kids have it easier in high school than others - sometimes it just seems that certain people are able to woo the masses into loving them for no particular reason. Some call it popularity, I call it luck. I call it lack of thought. I call it the herding affect. People don't like to lead, and as much as most people claim that they don't like to be told what to do, much of that is utter bullshit. Pardon the language. Popular kids appear to set the trends, but it's the kids that set the trends that get trodden over in high school. People flock to someone who is above them. Why? Because gaining "access" to a perceived "higher being" in the realm of socialite capitalism is a way to boost an ego that runs off of this semi-artificial affect of climbing the popularity ladder. (Sorry if I lost some people there, it was a bit jumbled) 

Okay, so you may be thinking: "Chris, it's unfair to hate all people who were 'popular' in high school and to think that they are devoid of all sense and simply flocking to the leader." You're right, it is unfair. But that's not what I'm getting at. I'm getting at the fact that the majority of high school students feel lonely, like they don't fit in, due to this perceived notion that others are above us socially. And the irony of this is many of the said popular kids with all the great parties are also striving to simply fit in, yet the superficiality behind the high school social ladder creates this idea of popularity and fitting in. So in the end, much of this fitting in issue is a horribly stupid, but horribly unavoidable at that. As long as kids are kids, high school will be a tough place to get by.

Allow me to recap what I've already attempted to say because I feel like this is a bit scatterbrained and unrelated to college. My point is that high school is full of unsubstantial social status markers created and suffered by the same, include and exclude the same, and ultimately much of the typical teenage angst is fueled by these social implications that we created all on our own. In short, high school students are stupid, and they follow stupid trends. Now, let me make the following very clear: there are definitely instances in high school in which "teenage-angst" is much more serious and should be addressed accordingly. Not every problem can be attributed to these said artificial social ladders. There are certainly serious issues felt by many, including but not limited to divorce, abuse, severe depression, severe physical and verbal bullying, and physical/mental health issues. But the fact of the matter is much of the menial drama and anxiety that surrounds a teenage life is meaningless, though at the time, it could seem to be the most important crisis in the world.

So how does this relate to college? I'll get there in a minute, so hold your horses. I'd like to share an anecdote from high school to demonstrate and perhaps prove what I've been detailing as of yet. Names will be changed for the sake of a story.

Meet Ann. Ann is pretty, she is funny, and seems to have an almost cult-like following. Everyone feels that she is simply the end-all be-all of our class. However, knowing this about herself, Ann uses her charm to manipulate those around her, and to be honest, who would blame her? As time progresses people start noticing this about her, and a friend of hers, James, starts to point this out. Clearly James overstepped his bounds in doing this, because now half of his Junior class is in an uproar over who-said-what and so forth. Essentially meaningless drama. As all of this cools off, people begin to despise the "mechanisms of the all powerful Ann" and begin to seem a little less dazzled by her. The halls are filled with anti-Ann sentiment, and everyone seems to have shifted the roll of all-important-one away from her and onto...wait, to where? Therein lies the issue. As the glory of popularity shone away from our prized Ann, those who had dramatically lost hope in her also lost hope in finding the next, for lack of better words, ring leader. After all of the nonsensical drama and hurt feelings, the herd couldn't help but seek guidance...and slowly, but ever so surely, they trickled back to the desire to impress the all-mighty Ann. And did anything change? Of course not. Everyone continued to complain about how Ann treated them, and how they seemed to be neglected when it came to the prioritization of Ann. But did anyone ever attempt to break free? Absolutely not. That would go against the self-destructed and self-created paradigm that leads to all of these issues in the first place.

So, at this point I have gotten myself way off track. I am a tangent seeker, by nature, I suppose. I'll stop with my high school speculation, because at this point you probably have already decided whether or not you agree with me. For now, I'd like to get back to this said college experience, and what it all adds up to. At least for me.

To keep this from being extensively long, Part II (ya, the whole college-experience-addressing part) will be published soon! Keep posted and I'll be sure to link you when it's ready! Drop a line with any feedback. 

Please click here to read Part II of this article. It can also be found on the main page of the blog.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Getting Lost In The Asian Lingos

A Topic For A Small Audience

So I've decided to write on a topic that will probably interest very few people, but I feel that since this is my blog after all, I should write on things that interest me. So what is the topic for today's post? I have been attempting to learn Japanese via self-teaching (Rosetta Stone, Japanese for Busy People, etc.) for about 5 years now. Tuesday morning will be my first Japanese 101 class. (Seeing as this will most likely be posted after Tuesday, I'm referring to August 21) As I've struggled through the kana, SOV sentence structure, kanji, and particles I have noticed an utter lack of understanding for Asian languages. Though I know that few people are driven or determined to learn an Asian language, I feel that it is our duty as global students to have at least some bare-minimum knowledge on how languages are structured. I wouldn't take it upon myself to "educate those less fortunately versed" in Asian languages (total sarcasm there, just in case) if I didn't feel that those who speak Asian languages get clumped into one large category that then extenuates the stereotype that all Asians are the same. So this post is definitely nowhere nearly as serious as my Chick-fil-a one, and probably won't be nearly as interesting either, but hopefully someone out there with linguistic enthusiasm will enjoy it in one way or another! I've chosen to simply use Chinese and Japanese since those are the most familiar. 

Chinese

Probably the hardest tonal language out there for practical learners. By far. 

Chinese is thousands of years old and is a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family. To save you lots of nitty gritty details that no one would be interested in, I'll focus on more modern Chinese.

Chinese works on a character based writing system. This means that one character typically equates to one word. For example the character 水 has the English equivalent of the word water. Chinese is written with combinations of several characters to express compound and complex words. Roughly 90% of all characters have one solid reading; however, the remaining 10% of characters can have different readings to reflect different meanings. Finally, Chinese can be written in pinyin, which is an adaptation of Chinese sounds using the latin alphabet. Seeing as many characters are read the same way, pinyin fails to provide as a sound way for people to write in Chinese.

Chinese is a tonal language. Vowels have different tones. In English, for our purposes, the letter 'a' is pronounced as "ay" or "ah" depending on whether or not the vowel is long or short. In Chinese, conversely, the letter 'a' can carry four tones, which are represented in pinyin via accent marks. The difference in intonation between two different "ma" sounds in Chinese differentiates if the word means horse or is used as a question marker. Learners of Chinese should probably use as many characters as efficiently possible from the get-go. 

Japanese

Let me start by saying this - the following sounds are NOT in the Japanese language:
-ong
-ing
So, this means that "gong king pong long" does not exist in Japanese. When you are trying to imitate a Japanese speaker in the comical way that so many self-privileged Americans do, at least cut out those noises because ultimately you make yourself out to be an idiot. 

Japanese has three writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

Hiragana are used for Japanese words. Beginners of Japanese will start with hiragana and ease off of them as they learn more Kanji. Certain words can only be expressed in the hiragana. Hiragana are also used to express gramatical concepts.

Katakana are used for loan words. Loan words are words that are borrowed from other languages. Almost always, western names such as Chris or Jared.

Kanji are used in the exact same way as the Chinese characters. In fact, the Japanese language adopted the Chinese characters to match their own language. Most kanji have at least 2 readings: onyomi and kunyomi. The onyomi reading comes from the original Chinese pronunciation, sin tones. (Since Japanese is NOT a tonal language, at least the vast majority of the time) The kunyomi reading refers to the Japanese adaptation.

Finally, there is the romaji, which would be the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese pinyin. 

Lets break a word down:
水 is a borrowed character meaning water. The Japanese had a spoken word to represent water, but when they borrowed Chinese characters they now had a way of writing it. The onyomi for thi character is "sui", which is the "detonalized" version of how you would read the character in Chinese. "Sui" is pronounced something like "swee" as in "sweet." The kunyomi reading is "mizu." This means that the Japanese word depicting water is pronounced like "meezoo." 

Depending on how the kanji is being used determines the reading. When referring to drinking water, one would use the term mizu. However, if talking about the word Wednesday, which uses the character for water, one would read it sui.

In hiragana, you could spell both "sui" and "mizu." So let's say you don't know the character for water. You would then use the hiragana. The hiragana and katakana (collectively the kana) are kind of like alphabets. In order to write mizu one would write みず and in order to write sui one would write すい. 

So in short, let's use these two examples:

私は水を飲んでいます。"Watashi wa mizu o nonde imasu" - I am drinking water
水曜日です。"Suiyoubi desu" - It is Wednesday

Finally, you have the katakana:

Chris - Kurisu - クリス

Since no one is reading this anyways, I'll stop there. If you were bored by this, I promise the next topic will be more interesting for a larger audience. I couldn't help but geek out - language and travel are passions of mine.

Unless anyone is interested in learning about another language (if you are, let me know), this will be the last language related post!


Thanks!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Chicken, Anyone?

So, yes, we've heard it all. COO of celebrity status fast food chain (at least in the Southeast), Chick-fil-a, Cathy, came out against the "non-traditional" family. Shock? Absolutely not. Chick-fil-a was, is, and always will be a Christian run franchise based on Christian values...at least as much as a fast food can be based on the values outlined in a 2000 year old sacred text. Anyways, to anyone who found it shocking or surprising that Cathy was in support of the traditional marriage was a little behind the train in the first place. But hey, at least everyone must be informed of the platform now, right? 

So before you read on, I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea here. I'm not here to convince you to stop eating Chick-fil-a, I'm not here to tell you that people don't have a right to free speech, and I'm not here to tell anyone that what they are doing is wrong. My goal is simply to sort out fact from fiction, and give some sort of sense to what did actually happen with this whole Chick-fil-a fiasco.

On Popular Belief

As always, the public obfuscates everything. Chick-fil-a has always been a Christian company, and most informed people would acknowledge and accept this, and most likely always have. Seeing as typically conservative Christian morals would dictate a not-so-tolerant policy towards homosexuality and marriage equality, it would also be a relatively accurate assumption to say that Chick-fil-a would take an anti-marriage-equality stance. So for those of us who have been eating Chick-fil-a all these years should have known all along that Chick-fil-a would not be the first place to turn for a homosexual safe-haven. It's logic. 

So when Cathy came out with an anti-homosexual statement, it came as no surprise. For two reasons:
1. He has made similar statements before
2. Chick-fil-a is raised on Christian values (not to say there is a pretty large debate on Christian morality and homosexuality in the first place) 

I saw a status on Facebook that went something a little like this:

"What actually happened: Cathy said he wasn't in support of a non-traditional marriage.
What people thought happened: OMFG Cathy hates gays and doesn't want them in his restaurant."

This status has 40 or so likes, and filled me with frustration. What actually happened was not the point, and anyone who was informed would know that freedom of speech was not the original issue.

What Actually Happened

Chick-fil-a has donated roughly $5 million to anti-marriage-equality campaigns since 2003. 

That's the real issue, and has been the issue from the start. A dear friend of mine was raised by very progressive parents who have never supported Chick-fil-a for this reason. She is almost 19 years old. So if people have been aware of the issue since 2003, why is everyone making such an issue out of Cathy's statement (which he's essentially made in the past before)? 

That's a great question, but before I get into answering that, let's look at some facts.

1. Between 2003 and present day, Chick-fil-a has donated about $5 million (though other estimates put this number closer to $2 million) to groups that actively work to protect the traditional marriage
2. At least one of these groups is labeled as a hate group
3. Some of these groups not only work to protect hetero-marriage, but also actively work to diminish rights and protection of homosexual rights (and in my opinion, human dignity)
     -i.e. criminal punishments, gay-to-straight boot camps, etc 

So, to the status, this is what actually happened. So, I suppose, in context, what actually happened was Cathy explained that he does not support traditional marriage, but what actually occurred in the context of large scale social progression was the dumping of significant numbers of funds into groups that are active in the degradation of the quality of an American homosexual citizen. 

Combining Popular Opinion

Firstly, I'd like to get back to the question I asked then left hanging a few sentences back: why does it seem that everyone is suddenly up in arms over an opinion that isn't, well, novel?

Gay rights and the journey to marriage equality in the US has really taken off over the past 10 years, but in late 2011 and early 2012, gay rights were set on the stage of public scrutiny via Amendment One proposed by NC's legislature. Since this post isn't about Amendment One (hell, I feel like I've lost sight of why I even started writing this) I'll save you the details. Long story short: Amendment One would enforce a hetero-only marriage recognition. This means that all civil unions and domestic partnerships, gay and straight, would no longer be recognized as a legal union between two individuals. This Amendment sparked major controversy, and I really feel the NC showed its LGBT pride, despite the passage of the law. So how does Amendment One relate to Chick-fil-a?

1. From January-May, LGBT rights were at the forefront of public opinion in NC (at least more than they have been in the past)
2. Many more progressive minded North Carolinians were given the first substantial opportunity to voice their opinion on marriage equality
3. Many socially conservative North Carolinians fell further into their support of the traditional marriage only legal system
4. There was a lot of noise made

North Carolina served as an interesting testing ground. With origins in the said "Bible belt" of the US, it seemed a far cry that pro-LGBT organizations would have much influence in North Carolinian politics; however, due to a mix of uber-liberal areas such as Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, anti-Amendment sentiment radiating from the NAACP, and non-local "transplants", the anti-Amendment platform gained quite the following. This resulted in a ~60% support for the Amendment, and a ~40% opposition. A feat, in my opinion, for such a historically socially conservative state.

Due to this strange mix of socially liberal but morally conservative, socially conservative but pagan values, etc, NC caught a lot of attention outside of NC. Many celebrities expressed their dissent for the Amendment via social networking (Twitter, Facebook), and other states waited anxiously to see if North Carolina would overturn speculation of all out support for the Amendment. By the time May 8 rolled around and the polls were cast, the country had its eyes in our direction. Gay rights were a hot topic.

Shortly after the passage of A1, President Obama came out "in support" of marriage equality. Seeing as this is an entirely separate topic, I won't delve into all of that. The moral of the story: with NC forcing LGBT rights into the social and political atmosphere and the announcement of a pro-LGBT presidential office, LGBT rights simply could no longer be ignored in the United States.

Back to Chick-fil-a. As I mentioned earlier, many people were already aware of the money donation, and many of these individuals were already exercising their right to boycott said business. When COO Dan Cathy made his statement against gay marriage and those who support it, I honestly think people exploded. After so much pro-anti-homosexual tension, it was inevitable that some larger argument would spark. Additionally, the previous LGBT stances had been stated by legal and political groups. When the door was opened in the private sector, people had a way to voice their opinions: in money.

Many people quickly called out Cathy for hate speech. Do I think what he said was hate speech? I think yes. But I know that many people would disagree with me and have well-versed arguments to go along with their positions. I'm not going to attempt to get into all of that. So if you've been reading this post so far, you're probably beginning to reach the same conclusion that I did: Dan Cathy's statement wasn't truly that huge of the deal. But the culmination of all of the LGBT news with Cathy's statement brewed a stewing boil of tension.

Why This Is So Troubling

So at this point you might be totally confused of what point I'm trying to make.

My main issue: Though I personally do not support anti-LGBT support in this country, the first amendment protects freedom of speech, so the topic is moot. Cathy had every right as an American to say that he is in support of traditional marriage as homosexuals have the right to marry. However, clearly homosexuals currently do not have this right. So support of the degradation of a minority group, in my eyes, is hate speech. Feel free to disagree, that's not even my main concern. The main concern comes in when I see all of the misinformation out there about this Chick-fil-a uproar. As I was told by a new friend: "The Chick-fil-a issue is dead," I see that the issue at hand totally and completely shrouded the issue at the core of all of this. Yes, the issue of free speech is dead. And anyone on either side of the argument that was passionately defending his or her right to say that the other side was wrong based on the conviction of free speech was wasting breath. On Chick-fil-a's Facebook page is saw thousands of comments focused on freedom of speech. Why? Because people simply don't know what they are arguing over. When I attempted to state that the true moral dilemma comes in when weighing the ethical implications of donating money to hate groups, I was completely ignored and the argument naturally shifted back to Cathy's right to freedom of speech. Failed attempt, I suppose.

So what is my goal, after all? My goal is to inform people who choose to read this of the overlying implications. I am not going to judge anyone who continues to eat at Chick-fil-a. I have made the personal choice to stop eating there. This doesn't mean that if I happen to have a Chick-fil-a sandwich again in my lifetime I'm immediately ceasing my support of gay rights, but it does mean that I am making a personal and conscious effort to stop putting my money in the hands of groups that work to strip the rights of others.

And to my friends who say they are supporters of LGBT rights, yet refuse to even consider a decrease in Chick-fil-a consumption - I understand you are exercising your right to capitalism, and that it is very challenging to separate tasty fast food from deep-seeded social and moral constructs, but don't take yourself too seriously as a true advocate for LGBT rights, because whether you like it or not, your dollar is fueling groups to demean and dehumanize those you say you support.

Is Chick-fil-a the world's biggest enemy of LGBT rights? Absolutely not. Does the company partake in fair hiring practices and do great things for the community? Again, absolutely. But by pretending your five dollars spend on a #1 Combo with a sweet tea isn't impacting the lives of homosexuals in this country in a negative way, you are doing no justice to your stance.

We've all pretended long enough. Myself included. Choose to eat where you choose to eat. We'll still be friends. But do realize where your money goes and how it affects those that you say you support.

--

I know that this was a long one. I hope someone takes the time to really consider this essay and provide some feedback. I would love to know what others have to say. Leave a comment. It can be anonymous. Just be polite!

Thanks for reading.




Good Morning CofC

Today is the day! We are officially being convocated...if that's a word. I don't think so because there is a red dotted line underneath it, but I like it nonetheless!

I hope that the College of Charleston's Convocation is more than what everyone makes it out to be - long, boring, long.

So, prior to this, were we still unofficial?

Well, that's all for now.

Next time I post I'll be an official CofC Cougar.

--

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Haikus

Why Haikus?

So, I had a request to write about each person I've met in college so far...and I thought that was just a bit excessive. I've only known them for a few days, so how could I possibly write that much? But then, just in time, haikus were suggested.

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A SEASONED HAIKU WRITER

...so bear with me.

Jared

A socialholic
Fueled by constant chattering
Remember to breath

Madeline

Unique, like a quilt
Total lack of sarcasm
Really sick glasses

Clay

Definitely blunt
With a touch of sweet humor
And the "math' major

Dillon

A man with secrets
Affinity for hookah
A curious ring

Derek

A trumpet player
Never short of things to say
A seasoned writer

Joseph

Some journey we have
Dating to two-thousand-ten
Adventures to come

Eden

Perfect touch of quaint
Soft spoken but with much depth
It will take some time

Olivia Cohen

Bound with a love song
Doesn't mean a thing to her
Packs her clothes and goes


Got a haiku you'd like to share? Drop a line!

 




Motivation

Why Write, Anyways?

When you first get a blog it's really easy to get lost trying to decide what to write on. As a college student, to quote a friend, it is super cliche to write about college...but yet again, it's so simple to turn to that topic. It's an easy out. So what else can you write about as a (almost) 19 year old college freshman?  I've found that writing is much easier when you have something to write about, and almost always, at least for me, topics just come to me as I'm writing.

So talking to some friends today while walking back from The Battery made me realize that I can write about whatever I want. I really want my writing to create a sense of community. I feel that writing loses purpose if there is no sense of interaction involved. 

What Is Important to Me?

What is importnat to me, after all? Right now there are a few things that I think I can talk about:

1. What is the issue with Chick-fil-a, and why should anybody care?
2. What are the core beliefs of Buddhism, and is it truly a religion?

So, yes, two very different topics, with probably very limited audiences. But hey, it's my blog.

Drop a line if you have any suggestions. 


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Request for Topics

Leave a comment with a topic you'd like me to write on!

Something that might be interesting to discuss.

To Pack or not to Pack?

A Simple Status, Much Weight

As the time seems to slip away between Huntersville, NC and Charleston, SC, I quickly have begun to notice how ephemeral some relationships are, and how lasting others prove to be. However, when it comes down to sit down (or rather, run around frantically) trying to pack up for school, the phrase seems to carry a much heavier meaning that stuffing as much as possible into as few as possible bins. In the end it really seems to come down to this: what is coming with me as I move to this next facet of my life and what is staying behind? 

What's Coming

I've spent all summer contemplating what I will be taking with me as I move forward in life. I've managed to see most of the people that I wanted to before heading off, and so many that I felt so sure would carry on into my college years have seemed to show no promise of doing so. Many of the people that I felt so certain about don't seem to really mind the idea of this serving as a final end. A final closure. So, what is coming to college with me? 

My hope to maintain the great things I've built up while living here in Huntersville is coming with me. I refuse to drop all relationships and sever all ties, yet I also refuse to exhaust myself trying to stay connected to people who would drop me like a hat. So with me I'll bring positivity for the future and nostalgia for the past. But in any instance where the past would like to revisit, I would be more than happy to let it in. 

What's Not Coming

Primarily what is not coming is a sense of obligation. I have seen the people I wanted to see (mostly) and said the things that I wanted to say (again, mostly). Anything I choose to maintain will be that: a choice. Not a heavy obligation to continue doing things "just because that's what everyone else is doing." I spent far too much time in high school attempting to appease everyone and the constructs of (extremely stupid) social constructs. College is not my time to bend to everyone else. Everyone that I have bent to so far will only struggle to find a sense of identity that I spent building and they wasted, and I will come out stronger, and more independent minded. 

So, in summary, pity is not coming. Pity to be with people that do not like me in order to appease friends that dropped me so suddenly as soon as it became inconvenient to stick around.

So here's to a brand new beginning. 

Welcome!

Welcome to The Column

To Myself

I would like to promise myself that I will actually use this blog how a blog is supposed to be used. For thoughts, travel, updates, and photos. All my blogs in the past have been failures, so I am determined to actually use this one.

To My Readers

If there are any, that is. I hope that you can enjoy the posts and add active and thoughtful insight and feedback on the blog contents.