21 September 2012

On Happiness and Hatred: A short essay

Here's another article in response to something that happened today. Again, I feel I unfortunately need a disclaimer. It goes as follows: please keep in mind that this is simply my opinion in relation to this issue; I do not expect anyone to agree or to disagree, and I am not trying to change anyone's mind about the issue in this short essay. Even if your stance on this issue puzzles, confuses, saddens, or angers me, I fully respect your opinion to have it. Please don't stop being my friend over an opinion; they happen, okay? I will be happy to engage in meaningful discussion or answer questions regarding this article.

On Happiness and Hatred: A Short Essay

Recently, I read a story posted to my Facebook feed about a woman who got pregnant under unpublished circumstances, and realized throughout her pregnancy that she didn't have control of her own person, and would not be able to provide adequate care for the child. As a result, she decided to carry the child to term and offer him for adoption. She was able to choose who adopted the baby boy, and chose a male gay couple, 2000 miles away from her home. She confirmed this decision even after staying in hospital for his initial care (he was premature), and wrestling with herself. She stated that she loved this child; he was a physical part of her for many months. Still, she knew she could not provide him everything he would need, and went through with the adoption process. She currently receives photo, video, and email updates, and visits whenever she gets the chance.
The comments for this story (which number upwards of thirty THOUSAND at time of writing), are split unevenly, with more support than not for the mother and the couple who adopted the baby boy. Much of the disapproval came in the form of just a simple "dislike," statement, but a lot of hate fell into the conversation. One person in particular pointed out an old fear that comes with this argument, "A child raised in a gay relationship will be confused about the world, and/or will become gay themselves."
Growing up in a world where this idea of "gay" was only really starting to blossom into what it is today, I've heard this concern stated many times. The argument is usually followed with the idea that children need both a mother figure and a father figure to create a balance in the family; a relationship of love and fear, trust and punishment, with the mother being associated with the former and the father with the latter. Many still argue that the necessity for a mother and father is to ensure that someone will be the breadwinner and the other will be the caregiver.
This argument may have held true in the earlier part of the twentieth century, when most women stayed home to care for children. But the family structure has evolved beyond what it used to be. Women now hire babysitters and nannies and work the same hours as their husbands or boyfriends. The idea of a dinner table is being lost to televisions in every room. Punishments have gone from the confinement to a room and removal of all entertainment to removal of computer and cell phone privileges. Yet, the idea of a family does not seem to change. Many women still feel bound by the "obligation" to be the only one to raise the children, to do the housework. Many still think even just being gay -- regardless of whether you're in a relationship or not -- automatically condemns you, makes you foreign.
Having experienced religion in an unfavourable way, I have never followed a named religion. I have my own spiritual beliefs which are not relevant here, but I realize that my opinion is not supported by the religious fervor with which many approach this issue. That said, I don't think anyone in a homosexual relationship is wrong -- everyone should be able to love who they love. In many ways, though, love itself is not the issue that comes up in these discussions; it is whether these couples should be "allowed" to marry or adopt children.
I personally do not believe in the conventional sense of marriage, having seen that this idea has too-often become a front for violence, betrayal, and other troubles. I have seen it be used as a mask for something far deeper and more troubling than the surface, and many will stay in a "marriage" for the "sake of their children," blindly believing that their children are ignorant to the often-horrible truth: that their parents hate each other.
Contrarily, I know full well that their are many marriages that go very well. There are couples who stay together for upwards of fifty years, staying close and loving the whole time. What I simply imply here is that my personal experience has led me to feel that marriage is not something that I personally am eager to participate in.
Given my view on marriage itself, I feel that everyone has the right to be "married," regardless if they are marrying someone of the same gender or the opposite one. Those who take the religious side claim that a marriage between individuals of the same sex is a sin, an affront to their deity. Some argue that it's offensive to their beliefs and that government law allowing same sex marriage attacks their right to conserve a true "marriage" as something under their god. Those for same sex marriage argue that denying marriage to same-sex couples is denying them their rights as people.
The question here, then, is whose rights is it more okay to violate?
I think that, since the actual institution of marriage is evolving naturally under the social, economic, and technological circumstances, that we perhaps just need to redefine what a "marriage" is, or perhaps come up with a better word. Are those who get married just by going to a judge to sign papers considered married, or not, because they didn't go to a church? Those against gay MARRIAGE suggest that same-sex couples be permitted to engage in a "civil union." Perhaps "Union" is the word that we're all looking for here. Maybe we all just need to think of marriage just as a union, but with a potential for different classes of union: A Union Under God, A Civil Union, all encompassed under the title "marriage."
The last point I guess I would like to make is that the level of care given to opposing homosexuality is astonishing to me. Why do so many people care? If it doesn't directly involve them, why should a person try to say who someone can and cannot love, or marry, or raise a child with? Next time you go to work with these ideas of hatred and disdain, ask yourself: how many people did you encounter today? How many of them are gay? Can you even tell?

We all deserve to be happy.

30 August 2012

On the Fear and Gullibility of the Human Race in the Age of Information: Making Enemies With the Truth

Before I present this article, I (unfortunately) feel I should provide a disclaimer to at least try to avoid being intensely misunderstood. So here it is:
This article is about no one in particular. If I use an example that relates to you, I'm not trying to point you out as an offender, but I am using the example as evidence for my article.
Further, know that no one event has caused me to write this, but a series of conversations and experiences collected over many months.
If anyone is offended by the following article, I sympathize, but I will not apologize for the article itself. Know that this is just a report of events and how I feel about them.
Right then...

On Fear and the Gullibility of the Human Race in the Age of Information: Making Enemies With the Truth

We now live in an age where information can be accessed from literally everywhere with enough signal. Many people have smartphones, allowing them to look up everything from recipes to actors to the news, no matter where they are. We can follow our friends' days on Facebook and Twitter, regardless of whether they live next door or across an ocean. The word "Google" has transformed from just being a company into being a popular verb. Indeed, a site called, "Let me Google that for you" is used by people who voice questions on the Internet which can be easily answered by the search engine. But access to nearly unlimited information doesn't necessarily mean people used it.

With Facebook as popular as it is (its own page has nearly three quarters of a hundred million "likes" alone), a significant portion of the world's population uses it to keep in contact with friends and family, abandoning even email as a means of connection. "Facebook me," is now a popular phrase, people have arguments over posts, and relationships aren't confirmed until they are, "Facebook Official." Although this has become an extremely useful tool for many, it has also proven just how gullible, or perhaps just ready to accept anything as the truth, people have become.

The first example I will point to is a post I found on my Facebook wall at least three or four times in the last three months. It goes as follows:
ALL PARENTS PLEASE BE AWARE!! ...There is a drug going around the schools ..Its known as Strawberry Quick ...or strawberry meth ...it looks like pop rocks kids eat & also smells like strawberries & also comes in other flavors like chocolate, etc. ... Please tell your children not to take candy from ANYONE- even a class mate- because this drug that looks like pop rocks is actually crystal meth rocked up with strawberry flavor & can KILLl them :'( ...PLEASE REPOST!!! so all parents are aware of this ..Thank You! This is happening all over the country..
(Source:  http://www.snopes.com/medical/drugs/candymeth.asp#ihRkHxmWt0ik2KGS.99 )

Of course, all parents and friends of parents will become concerned with a post like this, since it poses a danger to our most fragile and innocent citizens: children. Out of fear, they will share this message (Often, messages like these will have the tag, "Please take one minute to copy paste, what's one minute when you can save a life?"), and they hope that by sharing it, the people they know will protect their loved ones by sharing it as well. By doing so, they play into exactly what the story's writer was hoping for: for their post to be shared around the world. It's a sort of anonymous fame that makes people feel important when the story comes back to them. But it's biggest impact is fear.

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," and I think that this is statement puts this issue into focus. In an age of information, we should be able to look at a story like this and question its validity, first and foremost. And since we have the Internet at our fingertips, checking if it's real should take about as much time as it takes to copy and paste said story. Fear, however, tends to override our curiosity and skepticism, and so we spread the fear, adding fuel to the fire instead of quenching it.

But fear is the issue. Why are we so afraid in the first place? 

I have several European friends that I work with here in Pittsburgh who were astonished that I carry pocket knife with me on a daily basis.
"Why would you ever need that?" they have asked.
I always respond the same way: to defend myself if I have to, if I am attacked. 
"Have you ever been attacked?" they ask.
Of course not, but it's just in case. I've only ever used my knife to open boxes and stubborn containers. But I am afraid of being attacked. I have walked home at eleven at night, up the hill to my apartment building, with my knife unfolded and stuck up my sleeve, ready to whip out and cut someone at the slightest touch on my shoulder. But the truth of it is that I was taught to be afraid of every single person around me.

Recently, I was involved in a conversation discussing gun laws with one of my European friends and a friend of mine who was raised in the south.
"What is the point of having guns?"my European friend asked. "In Europe, no one has guns. Only the police. We don't have so many murders and shootings like this."
"But think about the bad guys," my southern friend replied. "They don't listen to the laws. They will have guns anyway. And if you're not allowed to have them, how will you fight?"
"We have the police for that reason," my European friend responded.
The argument is endless. Everyone has a reason for wanting to carry a weapon and not wanting to. In Europe, my friend is not so afraid to walk outside at night alone. She's not so afraid to have her car stolen or broken into. But we are. We are raised on fear. But I don't think we need to be. I think we have to assess our relationships to our family, our friends, and to our community. I think that fear,  most of all, is destroying us, as people and as a nation.

That's all I have on the issue right now. Or rather, all I wish to contribute at this time. You may feel free to respond, or you may quietly get angry with me. Issues like this should be a discussion. I will be happy to answer any questions posed to me.

Thank you for reading.

03 April 2012

Crying Wolf. Or Are They?

Anyone who has been following my Twitter account in the last two weeks will know that the University of Pittsburgh has been turned on its head with a slew of bomb threats. I will try to relate the information as best as I can, as I know it at the present time.
The first threat, on February 13 of this year (not within this two week time frame, but believed at the moment to be the spark that started it all), was written on a stall in the girl's bathroom on the second floor of the Chevron Science building, where I work and have my classes. It said, "There is a bomb in the building. It will go off 8:29pm February 13, 2012. BE READY." Upon finding the message, Pitt Police evacuated the building for roughly four or so hours. The alarm, when it sounded, was the kind that made you want to run faster, every time it started over. It was not the monotone BEEP BEEP BEEP of high school fire drills. It was a siren. I had to run down nine flights of stairs to evacuate the building. Each time the alarm began to sound again, I picked up the pace, flying down steps.
As of two weeks ago, similar messages have been scrawled on the walls of the Cathedral of Learning, David Lawrence Hall, and Chevron's bathrooms, and one being sent via text message. Additionally, last night, the Litchfield Towers dormitories were evacuated at four in the morning, after two emails were sent to Post-Gazette journalists, describing the presence of the bomb, "in the Towers, not too far from Panther Central." Students were not allowed back in their dorms until after six in the morning.
This morning, at about 10:30, the lab I was teaching was interrupted by the alarm going off for another bomb threat, and my students had to cease their experiments in order to evacuate. Barely three hours after Chevron was cleared, the Cathedral was once again evacuated. We are now up to twelve bomb threats in the last two weeks alone. Students are missing labs, classes, exams, and now, sleep. More importantly, some are losing their sense of security.
In an email from one of my students, who will remain anonymous, I was informed that she would not be handing in her prelab as she, "along with many others, no longer feel very safe on campus," and did not feel comfortable entering a building that had just been threatened. Other students have reported that their parents have considered removing them from the school, at least temporarily, for fear of the safety of their children. For those that are visiting this week as part of Pitt's accepted student tours, as well as those for other prospective students, the almost daily threats are becoming a deterrent.
Currently, there are many theories surrounding the "reasoning" behind these threats. Some believe students are involved, and are pushing these threats because they did not study for an exam, or have fallen too far behind in a class. Others think that it is a too-long-drawn-out prank that passed any notion of being funny long long ago. More terrifyingly, some speculate that the threats will turn out to be the real deal some day, in a "Boy Who Cried Wolf" fashion. For now, everyone is taking the threats seriously, and leaving the building as soon as the alarm is sounded, but we can't help but wonder if the day will come when people are not so eager to leave, grown jaded by constantly interrupted classes. Will we, then, be right where the so-called "Bomb-Threat Guy" wants us? The implications of this theory are incredibly dangerous and terrifying, but one cannot help but consider the possibility, especially given the shooting that happened during spring break at UPMC's Western Psychiatric building.
In the meantime, Pitt Police, State Police, the F.B.I., and other agencies are investigating the threats in an effort to find the culprit(s). Pitt Police has even offered a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any and all persons involved, a reward that was announced as $10,000 on Friday, and has shot up to $50,000 as of yesterday, as a result of the two additional threats received to the Cathedral and David Lawrence Hall. With the three that have happened since that increase, I've heard some students speculate that the reward will follow suit.

12 February 2012

Goodnight, Sweet Princess

Cinder, one of my older rats, died Friday evening, at about 1145pm. She was going to be three years old in June.
About a month after I moved here to Pittsburgh, she developed Hind Leg Paralysis, and over the last six months, her movement and body had deteriorated. She was unable to maintain muscle mass, no matter how much she ate or how fatty it was. Until last Sunday, she had been able to get around by scooting across the floor, pulling herself along by her front paws. And she seemed happy. She loved getting cuddled, eating treats, exploring the bedroom, and spent a lot of time bruxing and boggling her eyes. Even as she got thinner and thinner, she continued to show affection.
That changed when, last Sunday afternoon, i noticed that she couldn't hold herself up anymore. The disease had begun to spread to her upper body, and her arms were no longer strong enough to prop her up. She had to eat whilst laying sideways, although I often laid her on her back, in a sitting position, to eat. Still, she pushed to move herself across the room.
At that point, I knew a decision had to be made, but I also had exams to study for this week, so I put it off. On Friday, I saw that she hadn't moved since I left for school that morning, and that her breathing was slower. I took her out of the cage, and held her as Ricky and I watched movies. In the middle of the second movie of the night, she began to have seizures. She died shortly after.
She has since been buried in the back yard, next to the patio. I wrapped her in a small blanket I had crocheted, and marked her grave with a NERF gun dart.
I miss my baby girl, and I'm sure Possum does, too. She threw stuff all around the cage last night after we cleaned it.
May she rest in peace.

Cinder: June 19, 2009-February 10, 2012