Restrained Freedom of Speech: An Oxymoron of Human Rights and Why it Matters by Ericka Barroso

Carmen Aristegui. Saying she is a well known journalist in Mexico would be an understatement. Yet recently, she was fired for doing the exact thing she is paid to do: reporting. Even though freedom of speech was granted in my home country in the year 1857, journalists today still fear for their jobs, and even their lives every time their stories fall out of the norm. This fear has escalated to such ridiculous heights that, today, Mexico is among the 5 most dangerous places in the world to work as a journalist (Reporters Without Borders) occupying the 3rd place in 2011 and rising with every passing year. Sadder still? Casualties are never reported as work-related but as accidents instead. As if being beheaded or having your life threatened happened during everyday walks. Being a journalist is also among the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the world in case you were wondering, but this article is not only about complaining.

In the same way the United States proudly housed “free” slaves in the past, Mexico is inhabited by restrained journalists yet we are starting to finally see a change. Carmen Aristegui made the “mistake” of reporting “lies” about our first lady and this resulted in her being fired. But also in a massive response not only from Mexicans, but from organizations as recognized as the United Nations. People all over share their support for a common cause: the freedom of speech we were all granted years ago, yet are still unable to use.

Aristegui has not been the only journalist to lose her job for reporting “offensive” information or the first one to be affected by her opinions nor will she be the last but maybe, if people keep responding the way they have since recent events, truly caring about the news being censored and them being lied to,this problem might encounter a steady decrease. In a time where communication is essential and information is at the tip of our fingertips, it is hard to stop the lies from surfacing. In the same way readers share the news they find, they should share and voice the ideals they convey. Make use of that which is being denied to you, speak up.

Mexico is a beautiful country, yet a hard one to live in sometimes but maybe, some day, thanks to the joined effort of all those today, next time I am asked what my chosen career path is, people will not try to talk me out of it once I proudly answer “journalist.”

Our Failed Education System by Kashaf Doha

Last week, I had to trudge through wintry sludge, battle subzero winds, and haphazardly tread on ice; all of this just to sit in a half empty classroom with a substitute teacher. From fighting elderly women for a seat on my bus to bruising my limbs on ice, I risked my life for a five-hour session of school. I will always remember that day: February 2nd: the day students and teachers deserved a snow day instead of a 10 A.M. delayed opening.

I am not saying this merely because I  wanted a snow day. No, I made the effort to go to school through the wind and snow. I waited at my bus stop for almost an hour, watched two buses go by, decided it was impractical to go to school, and trekked back home. Why should I risk my life for people who don’t even take me into consideration when making the decision for a delayed opening? I wonder how many students and teachers were absent that day. I wonder how much money went into hiring substitutes for an empty school.

But why am I so surprised? This isn’t the first time the Board of Education has failed its students. I remember three months ago, teachers all over the district came together to protest the board’s decision to extend report card night by a half-hour. The teachers simply demanded to get paid, regardless of being under a contract. I also remember, three months before that, teachers and students grieved over the board’s decision to implement PARCC, a standardized test that is supposedly the best thing that has ever happened to standardized testing, but, in reality, only illogically quantifies a student’s knowledge and wastes time for other endeavors. Needless to say, teachers and students were aggravated when the board took a step further to jeopardize lives in the name of education.

Education, the only means by which any person can elevate his or her own standard of living. Education, the key to success that can only be attained after years of pouring over books and papers. Education is to coax students to venture into a world of endless possibilities, because they are the future. American Journalist Sydney J. Harris once said, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” Unfortunately, the Board of Education turns windows into mirrors.

Education is an open window that lets you see outside yourself. Hence, turning mirrors into windows, but what Board of Education has done is force students to confine themselves within standardized testing, so that exams shroud their creativities and abilities to venture into a world that does not run on standardized testing. My brother got a 14 out of 40 on a practice PARCC exam, the highest grade in his class. So will that number matter when he is in college? Will that number matter when he has a job? What is the point of education if it is an obstacle to the real world?

As students outside of my city rejoiced over a snow day, I cursed the freezing elements. Walking through the sludge, I realized that the education system is in peril, and I would have to wait forever to see the day the board stopped caring about numbers, and started caring about its students.

Will the US support the Kurdish Revolution in the North? by Joe Henao

The conflict currently present in the middle east is growing ever more violent. Contrary to the relatively sparse and holistically myopic media coverage, we are witnessing more than just your simple “good guys, bad guys” dialogue, but instead the butting-of-heads between major players in the middle east’s ideological war, as well as key insight into the hidden agenda of the U.S. Government actions.

It is important to note that this topic is expanding in vastness with every passing day. The informality of guerrilla forces in the middle east has led to “thousands of groups” both small and large guided by a plethora of goals and beliefs. The major instigators are, however, the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, the ambiguous, mystified, and seemingly endless pool of Syrian rebels, and of course, ISIS. Understanding these three opposing forces is difficult enough. For starters, ISIS opposes the rule of Assad, yet the two have struck what seems to be an unceremonious agreement in a sense, staying out of each others way for the sake of mutual benefit, all the while ISIS absorbs the more radical of Syrian rebels as differences among the rebels have spurred violent internal conflict. Assad, being able to focus a majority of his military might on the rebel groups, can divide, conquer and mitigate their forces, allowing ISIS to grow in stature through drafting rebel outcasts, and easily resisting Assad’s partitioned attention. This all makes it more difficult for the U.S. to intervene, because the rebels we perceive as “good” now, could later be ISIS militants bearing the arms we supplied them. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Other rarely noted groups play major roles in the violent campaigns spanning the Middle East however, namely the Peshmerga and the “terrorist” branded PKK. Both hailing from the Kurdistan region, a roughly defined region stretching from Turkey to Iran, they maintain incredibly different ideologies. The Peshmerga have been vocally and militarily backed by the west as well as Turkey, but The PKK, the Kurdistan workers party, remain, in the west’s eyes, terrorists. Since the early 1980’s the PKK, an anarchist group striving to assemble an autonomous Kurdistan, has instigated armed resistance against the Turkish government in the name of independence. Their large scale war efforts against the state of Turkey have earned them the notorious label among world powers, but recent events have had the west questioning its stance. Over recent months, the PKK has proved formidable a ground opponent against ISIS, gaining crucial territory in the fight against the Islamic state. On top of this, The PKK’s politics fail to compare with other terrorist groups in the area, namely former Al-queida and ISIS. The Kurd’s, formally operating under a Marxist-Leninist structure, now progress forward in a libertarian-socialist, communalist fashion, similar to the anarchist autonomy of the former Free territory (Ukraine) and unfortunately short lived Paris Commune. An economy built on mutual aid, free from market forces as well as the Turkish state, remain one of there goals, and the PKK remain the foremost progressive cultural group in the middle east in terms of gender equality and female liberation- by far. In fact, the PKK’s all women ground force (a notion virtually unimaginable among most middle eastern spheres), The YPJ, has gained widespread mainstream attention for it’s victory and success in the battle against ISIS. The PKK’s statutes and beliefs reflect a direct and sincere appreciation for human rights, economic liberation, and horizontal equality that many western countries can only dream of. The social experiment of the Kurdistan workers party, one they have deemed democratic con-federalism, is being recognized today by many political scientists as a radiating hub of progressive political thought.

The U.S., as well as many other global powers, are in a tight situation. The situation can climax at any point, and every move will prove critical when- and if- this conflict ceases. The PKK represent a stable, safe solution the United states can invest in, and with its current success and prosperity militarily, there is no better time but now. Now, on to why the U.S. may feel hesitant to move forward. Initially, the U.S. Is obviously not very keen on supporting a “terrorist organization.” However, on top if this, we must understand that each and every foreign policy decision out of Washington is driven by economic self interest. The autonomous Kurds represent a form of government and society the U.S. has not only refused to endorse over the past century, but moved to oppose and repress, time and time again. From the Vietnam war to secret coups in Chile and Guatemala, the red scare is a deciding factor in how the U.S. conducts it’s policy abroad. And with amount of oil present in the region, the stakes are even higher. If the PKK gains influence and control over the area and it’s resources, the oil market and its participants could feel the brute force of Kurdish nationalism, and this is not something the neo-liberal forces of the world would be fond of experiencing. While many believe the U.S.’s best bet is to invest in the Kurds, economic interests may unfortunately prove otherwise.

Don’t Forget The Women By Julia Schemmer

“I desire you would remember the ladies…”

This famous quotation from one of Abigail Adam’s letters to her husband has been quoted as a source of inspiration, motivation, and Jeopardy questions. Although it was written in the eighteenth century, her words haunt the solemn duties of feminists worldwide as they endure persecution for the betterment of womens’ rights.

Let’s dabble more into what motivated Abigail to write her cautionary letter. In the seventeenth century, women weren’t given the same rights we enjoy today. Typically, a girl between the ages of 13-16 would enter into an arranged marriage, made primarily for the economic benefit of their parents. After marrying, their main responsibility would be to have kids and maintain the household through chores and domestic work. They weren’t given the right to vote, and although they had basic education, most didn’t continue their education at a university.

Abigail Adams took boldness in asking her presidential husband to remember the ladies, to consider them as equals in the United States. Today, women of the United States experience the right to freely marry, gain a career, achieve an education, and pursue their dreams. While admittedly we have a lot to work on in regards to womens’ rights, it’s through trailblazers like Abigail Adams who was gallant enough to gain the attention of influential leaders to promote change.

You can make a difference too, by urging your elected officials to “remember the women” in the issues we face today! When passionate people join together for a cause greater than themselves, the results are inevitably wonderful.

All my best,
Julia Schemmer

The Sexist Undertones in Comedy Shows: How Indian Matrimonial ads Equate Women to Objects by Nika Roychoudhury

With the advent of 2015, most people believe sexism is a problem that the world has overcome. But then we come across instances of blatant sexism that make us wonder how we ever thought this problem had been eradicated, especially in developing countries. I felt similarly when I came across a series of fake matrimonial ads on Youtube that were based off real ones, developed by a comedy channel to make a mockery of the charade. While it is heartening that people can see that this level of sexism should not be taken lightly, it also works the other way in that people are not outright outraged by this display of crude thought and actually laugh at it, thereby diminishing its actual gravity.

The first ad was that of a woman named Ridhima. Most of her one minute on camera was spent pleading that men not call her by pet names such as “pumpkin, honey, sugar” because it means that they are “forgetting me and giving me a different personality”. While her broken English is a grammatical disaster, it is not difficult to figure out the thought behind the words. Remember the scene in the arguably terrible chick flick ‘John Tucker Must Die’, where Kate says that the three-­timing John was only calling his girlfriends “babe” because he forgot their names? It is a similar case of treating women are replaceable objects here, and Ridhima clearly feels it. She goes on to say that she will not tolerate men comparing her to toys and calling her “teddy, kitty, dolly”; here again we see the wish to be more than an object. It is, however, commendable that she stands up for what she doesn’t want in a man. On the other hand, it shows terribly on the part of the viewers that the comments on the video were filled with mean references to her looks, including ones such as “Can I call u dildo?” and “Maybe hippo would be a better nickname then. What say, Ridhima???”

Another clear indicator in Ridhima’s video is her lack of stating what she actually wants from marriage, such as common hobbies or working after marriage. In contrast, the man in the second video, Rocky 2, speaks of his love for the Indian game “kushti” and declares that he wants a wife who understands this love straight off the bat. Why is it that only men are given the luxury to describe their wants? He then goes on to mention that one of his positives is that he has no case against him in any district court. Should he be commended for not being a criminal? According to established laws, this is the expected norm for functioning members of the society. If a woman in the rural areas that the people in the videos seem to come from was even questioned for such a crime, the people of that community would have ostracized the woman’s family for generations.

Another interesting contrast is that the women ask for resumes, while the men ask for pictures. This shows that sexism is not just restricted to the minds of the men, but is now ingrained in the minds of women looking to marry as well, who will then unknowingly perpetuate this narrow mindset to their children too, ensuring that the problem continues as a vicious self-­fulfilling prophecy.

The third video shows another woman, Yashoda, who seems to have tried to appear as modernized as possible, saying that men could chat with her on Facebook and even poke her “if they want”. She mentions this last twice, emphasizing it as the most important part of the sentence, giving the impression that the decision of the man was more important than even her own comfort, as she leaves herself open to random messages in her quest for marriage.

“I like wearing colorful clothes. I want a wife to have a personality.” begins the matrimony ad of the not-so-charming Chandrakant. His subtle comparison of women to clothes again reinforces their objectification. Moreover, it treats her as a customizable good, such as a dress that can be dyed different colors, as if the wife could have no mind of her own and would just be a reflection of her husband. This sets a dangerous precedent about his attitude. He then goes on to say that he wants to marry an engineer, but not an electrical engineer due to the social stigma. With no mind to the woman’s personality, her education would be viewed as though for a job profile, and intelligent women with electrical engineering degrees would be denied a possibly happy marriage simply due to the man’s ideals on what constitutes social stigmas. Should it not be a stigma to have such a narrow mindset? Worse, this may backfire with the women looking unfavorably on an education.

Other requirements for him includes an interest in cricket, a sport widely watched in India, and playing “holi”, the festival of colors, but not drinking “bhaang”, an Indian alcoholic drink commonly consumed on the same occasion. This is basically the same as telling the woman what she can and cannot eat and in turn controlling her body as you would an object. Finally, he ends his ad by stating that she should have a valid passport, for reasons that he does not state. This makes the entire process appear dubious given the history of human trafficking in developing nations.

The next man, Shekhar, starts off by saying “I don’t have female.”, which may be attributed to bad English, but really means having a female in terms of owning her. He then goes on to say that while he is uneducated, he wants a wife who is from an “educated Brahmin family” from a particular state. There is nothing that gives him this right to demand these minimum qualifications that he himself does not possess, but this kind of double standard is evident throughout the series.

These are just a few examples out of hundreds of such videos which have been uploaded on *name withheld to protect channel* but they are enough to highlight how sexism is only taking on new forms, making light of which does not help the issue any.

A Minor Reflection on Intelligence by Iman Messado‏

Earlier today I was watching Crash Course’s episode on the “Controversy of Intelligence”. The content of the video,however was not very instrumental to the construction of this article,;rather, the comments to the video were. In the video, Hank Green touched upon ‘eugenics’, the practice or the belief that one can improve the human race by encouraging smarter people to have children and discouraging not as smart people to have as many children (or possibly, discourage them from procreating at all). The comments were mixed, as they tend to be; some were praising Hank, others were condemning him and Crash Course and still others were expressing their personal stances on this ‘Controversy of Intelligence’.

There was one particular comment that irked me a little bit further than the others: “People are so afraid of eugenics and racism that they would rather ban any research that suggests general or heritable intelligence, or at least they would deny any evidence. Good ol’ moralistic fallacy. ” Thanks a lot there, fella. I really appreciate your usage of this online public forum to communicate your own beliefs and to challenge others’. That’s really the fibre of the internet – easy communication with others and making people question their thoughts and beliefs. Some might even be persuaded to believe that that is the foundation to the advancement of a society.

I’m not here to pick apart this Youtube user’s comment, I’m here to share the beliefs I hold in regards to intelligence. I want (read: want not ‘am going to’) to explore what it means, what it is, how it’s perceived, how it’s received, how it’s acquired, etc. This comment did more than challenge my own beliefs, this comment ignited an emotional response. I got angry at these words and then I analyzed why I felt angry. (side note: I feel that this is generally the best way to deal with anger. Don’t just get angry and then respond without knowing why you’re angry. Even if you think you know, try to figure out why your anger warrants an immediate and passionate response. If you’re angry, you most likely want things to change and nobody really feels compelled to listen to angry people.)

This isn’t an academic essay so I’m not going to go super in depth into intelligence, what it is and what it stands for. All I hope to do with this article is introduce ideas to you. To make you question your beliefs in a constructive way. I don’t want to offend people or to disrupt someone’s world views – I want them to feel compelled to look within themselves and decide whether or not they need to or even want to change. I want them to be aware of the problem so that they can take it upon themselves to fix it. I am not imposing my smart, I am encouraging other people’s.

“Smart” is definitely a controversy. What counts as smart? Who decides what or who is smart? What does smart matter? How do we measure smart? This controversy has taken form in many different ways – notably in education systems, scholastic aptitude tests and social commentary. We make people go to school so that we can have a smarter populace. In the effort to advance human society (this is to increase the quality of life for as many people as possible), we figure that the best way to do so is to get everyone sort of on the same page. We (by we, I mean general human civilization) aren’t necessarily trying to involve every single person in this effort, but we do want to make sure that as many as possible are involved. After all, if we want people to think and act in a different way, we have to inform them of that desire and explain what that different way is. In addition, we can’t simply order them to do what we want, we have to appeal to their self interest so that they can feel compelled to follow through with our system without our direct prompting. This isn’t new news, but it is news that people need to keep at the forefront (or at least near the forefront) of their minds.

So why do we make people go to school? Why are we interested in the SATs and IQ tests? Why do we care about smart and how much of it someone has? I’ve already sort of-kind of-lightly touched upon that – we want to progress our race. This being said, it’s important to analyze what we consider as progression and how much interest everyone has in this goal.

There’s a topic! Let’s talk about goals for a second. The general goal of mankind is to survive. I’d say that we haven’t yet surpassed this goal as too many people aren’t able to depend on a steady shelter or source of food and sanitation. This basic goal of survival is one that cannot easily be achieved because of many factors. A large one is that we are all different people who live in different places and have different interests. Providing somebody the resources with which to survive without expecting much in return is commonly known as charity/altruism. You give food and clothing and shelter to needy people because they’re human and you want them to live. Easy, right?

Not really. Because of personal beliefs, and political barriers and all of that complicated human stuff, survival and helping other people survive tends to be harder than expected. So what does that have to do with smart? Well, if people are too busy trying to survive, they’re really not going to be interested in the type of smart that people are condemning them for not having. To give an example for this, let’s turn to Ancient Egypt for a few sentences. Egyptians lived on the banks of the Nile and made tons of food and were able to survive relatively easily. They were a somewhat defined nation and thus they were able to delegate responsibilities and defend themselves pretty easily because they were aware of their allegiances. Because of this surplus of resources and this union of people, they were able to indulge into other occupations such as pottery making and writing and all of that fun stuff. They had time, money and food. They could afford to be smart.

So what do you do when people can’t afford to be smart? You either leave them alone or you help them survive. You don’t insult them for trying to get by. So yeah – even though it’s definitely easier to help others nowadays, it can still be tough because of all of the moral and financial and whatever other responsibilities that can conflict each other. Taking this into consideration, we have to understand that some people simply don’t have the time nor the opportunity to be our (by our, I mean more privileged people) kind of smart.

And they don’t have to be. The next goal is living. In my view, smart has 2 objectives: to increase the quality of life of Earth’s inhabitants and to uncover/interpret/learn about as much of the universe(s) as possible.

When concerning the quality of life, smart helps for sure. Smart helps to develop technology which gives people public sanitation systems and refrigerators. It just so happens that that kind of technology has already been developed and distributed. The kind of smart that involves most of the people on this green Earth is the kind that increases the quality of life. While that can always be worked on, it doesn’t warrant as much energy and attention as it once did. I think that I can reasonably say that most people are pretty OK with their lifestyles. Those that are somewhat benefited by modern technological advancements are comfortable with the level of involvement that smart has in their lives. If the general quality of life increases, they might like to participate in it, but they’re not aching for things to change. They’re the common man.

Recap? Smart is important, but not instrumental to the continued survival of the human race. Don’t condemn others for not being your kind of smart – they really, honestly don’t have to be. Advancement is cool and all, but that’s subjective, complicated and not exactly an imperative issue.

Or maybe just – be careful when writing YouTube comments.

Didn’t See The State Of The Union? Here’s What You Missed by Julia Schemmer

The annual State of the Union Address was delivered by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 20th, 2015. The Address, which is a constitutional power given to the President to convene Congress for special assemblies, is one of the most pertinent events for the national government, as it sets the pace for the president’s agenda and Congress’ legislation, If you missed the address, have no fear! Here are the biggest discussions Obama explained during his address.

1) Womens’ Rights

Feminists rejoiced when Obama announced that it was finally time for women to receive equal pay as their male counterparts. “It’s 2015,” the president explained with a slight smile. For years, feminists and socioeconomic activists have advocated the idea of equal wages, and
now the winds are turning to favor the struggle for womens’ rights. Something tells us that Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Cady Staton, and Mary Wollenstonecraft are all smiling down at the progress being made for the female minority. While by no means are we close to attaining our goals completely, a step is being made in the right direction.

2) Education

Obama created a flurry of excitement when he announced his goal of creating free two-year community college for blossoming students, If executed in excellence, this paves the way to a more educated and innovative America, as well as the ability for more low-income students to achieve their goal of pursuing further education. However, this doesn’t come without commitment – Obama mentions that high grades and an educational focus is pertinent to receiving the financial aid.
While there’s no doubts about the cost of appropriating such ambitions, it’s important that Obama is taking the next generation
seriously. When we empower the next generation to pursue their academic goals, the future is brightened with the possibilities and potential of the next trailblazers.

3) Veterans’ Rights

Obama brought joy to the room when he acknowledged the need for veterans to find employment. He emphasized their admirable traits, explaining that they are the hardest working and most loyal employees a company could want. With more veterans able to enter the work force after their discharge, more are finding hope of self-sufficiancy and
independence. The people that fight to protect our independence are finally given greater opportunities to use their skills, receive training, and support their families after their military service,

While some of Obama’s reforms seemed to upset members of the Congress, it’s important to realize the progressive reforms reinforced through the State of the Union. Whether 2015 will be a year of advancing civil liberties and empowering excellence in the misrepresented,  it’s clear that the future holds an open frontier to change the oppressive cycles we’ve been accustomed to for so long, and make changes that’ll cause an impact much greater than ourselves.