Tag Archives: Society

Rethinking “Gender Queer”


By accommodating those who feel that they were born into the wrong sex and wish to live life as the opposite sex, we do trans individuals a world of good. Using preferred pronouns and treating trans individuals with warmth and understanding helps them feel comfortable, gives them courage to take steps regarding transition which they feel are appropriate, and likely dramatically decreases the elevated risk of depression, suicide, and other social ills that trans people experience.

The worst possible course of action, which happened in North Carolina, is an approach that treats people as stuck with their sex at birth. The law requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate even if they have had sex reassignment surgery or otherwise appear to others as their self-identified gender, i.e, “You have a beard but you were born female? Legally you should be using the ladies’ room.”

As a society, we have at last largely accepted the fact that some people are born homosexual and that it’s okay. Our willingness to take that step followed our recognition that some people simply can’t or shouldn’t have to conform to  behavioral norms for sexual orientation.

It seems prudent to extend this recognition to the trans community, but just how far is this line to be extended? In addition to those who identify with the sex opposite that of their birth, there are some individuals who openly identify with both genders or neither.

Perhaps you have seen the video of this individual who was born a human female but identifies as a cat.

She is a clear example of someone who should not be afforded the same kind of accommodation as other members of the trans community. This girl (I am calling her a girl because I don’t feel it is beneficial to her to call her a cat) may suffer from a specific mental illness. This may just be extreme narcissism and an attempt to attract attention. However, this may also be the serious and rare disorder known as species dysphoria.

In my view, some self-proclaimed “gender queer” individuals are in a similar position. While some people are born with both male and female parts, identifying as both male and female or neither may otherwise be a call for attention, or it may be a way for naturally androgynous people to cope with a negative body image.

The majority of gender queer individuals, however, illustrate to me a larger problem — identifying as “gender queer” may simply reflect the stigma from not fitting into society’s perceptions of “male” or “female.”

Just as it is not beneficial to call someone with species dysphoria a cat, it may be a wrong-headed approach to accommodate someone’s pronoun request when that request is to be referred to as “xe” or “they” instead of “him” or “her.” The better approach is a long-term systematic strategy in which we collectively promulgate a view that accepts that males can have feminine qualities and do feminine things, and vice versa. Eliminating gender roles and gender expectations helps allow people to feel comfortable presenting themselves as male or female regardless of their interests or favorite activities, their social behavior, their appearance, or their sexual orientation. We can create a society in which “male” and “female” encompasses everyone and requires no one to change their behavior to fit into those categories.


Nick Kristof v. Ben Shapiro – Who is Right on White Privilege?


Watch Ben Shapiro‘s argument here. Read Nick Kristof‘s argument here and watch him elaborate upon the argument and respond to questions here.

White privilege. Of all the topics you could choose to discuss with others, this is one of the most likely to ruin friendships and draw frowns and snarls from those who disagree with you.

A very charged political, social, and racial issue, the question of the existence and/or extent of white privilege is a question that easily gives way to strong, impassioned opinions. Strong opinions and passion can be good things, but absolute certainty of the correctness of one side of the argument creates problems. When we are not willing to listen to those we know are unlikely to persuade us, we miss out on the opportunity to be surprised and turned around by arguments we didn’t understand or know before. If not persuaded to entirely switch sides, at least the opportunity to understand the other side and to recognize the limitations and weaknesses of our own viewpoints and arguments is important.

This problem is especially prevalent on the issue of white privilege. So, I encourage all readers of this article to consider the competing arguments of two very intelligent men before I provide my own analysis of their arguments.

Have you checked them both out? Good. Let’s begin.

Ben Shapiro Point #1

Shapiro suggests that the bias against people of color by law enforcement and the criminal justice system is imagined, and there is no evidence of white privilege to be found in these fields.

To bolster this argument, Shapiro begins by pointing out that more white people are killed by police than black people, and that police are less likely to kill black individuals in the same circumstances.

Next, Shapiro addressed alleged racial profiling while speeding. A study conducted in New Jersey found that black people sped disproportionately compared with other races. Moreover, while black individuals constituted 25% of all the people speeding, they only made up 23% of all the people getting speeding tickets.

Finally, Shapiro addressed the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, which is often used to argue the existence of white privilege because possession of a drug more frequently used by white people (powdered cocaine) leads to more lenient sentences. Shapiro says that the reason the disparity exists is because black legislators in inner cities pushed for harsher punishment for crack cocaine because they felt pressured to keep people from selling and using crack in their communities.

My take: While these are all interesting points, I find this to be the least persuasive part of Shapiro’s talk. To begin, while black individuals may speed more frequently than white people, there is no significant difference in the rates of marijuana use by whites and blacks, yet black individuals are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it.

Furthermore, even if black people aren’t receiving a disproportionate number of speeding tickets, this does nothing to disprove notions that police officers will occasionally pull over black drivers for little or no reason (even if these encounters don’t result in speeding tickets).

Even the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal reports that prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years.

Prosecutors are almost twice as likely to bring charges carrying mandatory minimums against a black defendant as a white defendant committing the same crime under the same circumstances and with an identical prior criminal history.

Shapiro Point #2

Shapiro argues there is no white privilege when it comes to university admissions, saying “If it’s white privilege to sit on the side because you can’t go to college because the black guy took your spot [even though] he had a lower SAT score – and it didn’t matter that he grew up rich and you grew up poor – if that’s white privilege, then nobody would want to be a member of the white privileged class.”

I am in agreement with Mr. Shapiro on this point. Whites are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to university admissions. This is why white prospective law students all across the country “prefer not to disclose race” on the demographic section of their applications. Mr. Shapiro raises an incredibly important point when he mentions that the affluent black student is more likely to be accepted than the white student who has struggled in a low-income family in a rough neighborhood with poor public schooling. It is my view that the affirmative action programs used by universities should be based solely on the applicant’s socio-economic background and should be race-blind. This preserves the system as more of a meritocracy, while taking into account that students from poorer areas with less educated parents may struggle more to get the same grades and other achievements as students from more well-off families.

Nicholas Kristof Point #1

To illustrate the disparate conditions of whites and blacks in America, Kristof opens with some facts relating to the races’ respective economic standing. He reports that the net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, and points out that the black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.

These figures are shocking and difficult to believe, but the statistic that the value of a white person’s home is on average 18 times greater than that of a black person originates directly from U.S. Census data.

Although black households make less income than white households, that does not entirely explain this difference in wealth. Indeed, even when blacks and Latinos are earning the same salaries as white people, they aren’t accumulating as much wealth.

There are significant differences in saving and investing behavior among the races. Some research has suggested reluctance to invest on the part of African Americans may be related to culture and the fact that previous generations of African Americans were less experienced in investing in stock and mutual funds than whites. This does not necessarily show any prejudice or force working against dark-skinned people at present.

Kristof Point #2

In his Facebook video, Kristof is asked if conscious decisions to promote racial diversity in a company’s workforce may pose a threat to its meritocratic nature. He responds that it probably does not, depending on what measures are taken. He goes on to say that studies on decision-making have shown that the best decisions are made “not by a pool of the most qualified people, but by the more diverse pool and people with more diverse experiences.”

I would really like to see these studies. It seems counter-intuitive that the most qualified group of people is not the one to make the best decision. Without seeing these studies it is hard for me to say more. I came into Mr. Kristof’s video believing merit was far more important than diversity, but perhaps it is diversity that yields better results.


Even Ben Shapiro acknowledges that America has a deeply racist past. This is important to recognize as we try to make sense of the present. It is my view that a large part of the economic disparities between whites and blacks are the result of this past system of forced inequality. The side-effects of this are unquestionably lingering, but whether whites still unconsciously hold up this system to rise above blacks as the racial hegemon invites debate.

We Need a Safe, Sensible Drug Policy

I am not someone who partakes in marijuana or other drugs nor would I advise anyone else to do so. However, for the past few years, I have believed that marijuana legalization is the policy that is wise for this country. I believe this because I recognize that marijuana is part of a War on Drugs that has largely been a failure. I believe this because we need to legalize marijuana to understand its true medicinal benefits. I also believe that marijuana is not as harmful to society as murder and rape are and that drug addiction should be treated as health issue not as a criminal issue.

The War on Drugs has only been successful in discriminating against hippies and members of the black community. Nixon began the War on Drugs to lock up people he didn’t like. Nixon needed an excuse to stow away left-wing activists and black Americans who stood in his way. He saw that these groups both used marijuana quite frequently. Thus, he cast marijuana as a fictional threat to the national order to covertly target his strongest opponents. It’s clear Nixon was more interested in destroying opposition than public health when he appointed prescription drug addict Elvis Presley as a drug enforcement officer.

Since 1970, the War on Drugs has cost the American people $1 trillion. That includes paying for the enforcement of drug laws, drug-related legal procedures, and incarceration. Incarceration costs the American taxpayers $51 billion a year. Today, half of U.S. federal prisoners are incarcerated due to a drug offense. We are spending dozens of billions of dollars on prisons that harden drug offenders into criminals instead of investing a few billion dollars on educating people for future careers. The fathers we imprison for drug crimes are often separated from mothers and children who desperately need paternal guidance and support. We’ve also failed to reduce drug overdose deaths because we treat drugs as a criminal issue not as a health issue.

We need to change the way we approach our national drug policy, and the Americans are slowly but surely starting to agree. For too long, marijuana has been lumped in the same group as heroin, which the DEA states has no medicinal value. We have to understand that marijuana has a variety of strains with varying medicinal value. Marijuana strains that have high THC content (the part that creates a psychoactive effect or “high”) have less medicinal value than marijuana strains with high CBD content. Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN fame reversed his opposition to medicinal marijuana upon learning about Charlotte’s Web, a strain of marijuana with high CBD content and very little THC. A young girl named Charlotte suffered from hundreds of seizures of day and her parents didn’t know what to do. Then, one day, she began using a drop of CBD oil on her cereal. Her seizures dropped from 300 seizures a day to 3.

A revised drug policy can also open the door to new legal economic opportunities. Street-side drug transactions have blighted many urban communities. Drug-related crimes occur not because of the drugs themselves, but because they are illegal. Because they are unregulated transactions, someone buying drugs has very little protection from a drug dealer if a deal goes wrong. With access to legal marijuana, no longer do drug users have to deal with shady drug dealers who could murder them in cold blood if they didn’t pay up. Additionally, much of illegal marijuana comes from violent drug cartels in Mexico. Allowing Americans to grow and sell their own marijuana plants has already taken business, and power, away from these drug cartels.

Legalization of marijuana and other drugs also eliminates the stigma against coming out and seeking medical attention for drug abuse. Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs has been widely successful in reducing drug-related deaths and HIV infections. While the statistics indicate that Portugal’s decriminalization policy has led to a growth in drug use, consider the fact that the Portuguese are more comfortable admitting drug use when the penalty is less severe. They can also seek medical attention for heroin addiction or overdose without being legally implicated.

Ultimately, our drug policy needs to be one that increases safety and informs people how to make wise health decisions. We shouldn’t encourage people to do drugs that are harmful or allow children to start using drugs that have absolutely no medical value to them. However, we also shouldn’t spend billions of dollars on a drug policy that doesn’t solve the problems it claims to be fighting. Use the revenue generated by legalization of marijuana, and we can spend some of that revenue of medical treatment of drugs and education to keep children away from harmful drugs. That’s what a sensible 21st century drug policy should look like.

American Exceptionalism (The Bad Kind)


  • The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not offer guaranteed paid maternity leave. In fact, there are a grand total of three countries that do not do this — The United States, Suriname, and Papua New Guinea. Source: ABC News
  • The United States leads the world’s advanced countries in gun violence. It’s not even close. Americans are 20 times as likely to die from gun violence as citizens of other advanced countries. Source: Politifact.com
  • The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t use the metric system. It is one of only three countries in the world not to use the system. The other two are Myanmar and Liberia. Source: Gizmodo.com
  • 73 countries have a smaller gender pay gap than the United States. Source: CNN.com
  • The United States has some of the worst income and wealthy inequality in the world. Comparable nations include Rwanda, Uganda, and Madagascar. Source: The Atlantic
  • The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, rivaled only by the Seychelles. Source:Politifact.com

It is one of the most often used applause lines by our politicians that America is the greatest country on earth. Perhaps it is. But if it is, it is not because of the America that our elected officials of the 21st century have constructed and presented to the rest of the world. It is not because of democracy or basic rights and liberties as these features are not unique to us. It can only be because of the American spirit, because of American people and places, entrepreneurship, culture, art, entertainment, military power or perhaps that America’s diversity is a melting pot of the spirit, art, religion, and culture of so many other nations.

Education Is Not an Entitlement Program


Education is not an entitlement program for the student. It is an empowerment program for society. The G.I. Bill guaranteed free higher education to World War II veterans due to worries that another recession could take place. America needed to increase its human capital by giving people the opportunity to go to college. This was not a hand out. It was an investment in our country’s future. Millions of veterans took advantage of a college education and many more took part in training programs. As a result, it ended up being a huge success.

For most others, college has only become more expensive. From 1975 to 2015, the combined cost of college tuition, fees, and boarding has risen 150% at public colleges and 170% at private colleges. In that time, the share of college-educated 25- to 29-year-olds only grew by 53%. According to a Georgetown survey, 35% of job openings in 2020 will require at least a Bachelor’s degree and 30% will require at least some college. Clearly, not everyone will need to go to college. Trade school diplomas and even high school vocational diplomas will often be sufficient to enter the middle class. However, we need to provide educational opportunities to potential electricians in order for that service to be provided. However, a liberal arts education provides a different set of skills — learning how to think and discovering what we truly value.

Additionally, having 71% of four-year college students in debt is not only a detriment to themselves but also to the economy. Instead of investing in companies or buying goods or services, students instead must pay off student loan debt, which on average, takes 21 years. They often take up part-time jobs to pay off their debt, which takes away jobs from those who are not college educated. When college-educated individuals enter into professional jobs, the non-professional labor force shrinks, resulting in job openings and often increased wages in that sector. The multiplier effect of a college-educated society is simply too good to reject.

I’d like to reiterate that providing free higher education is not a handout; it’s an opportunity to improve the surrounding community. The reward that students get for hard work and good grades in college does not come in the form of disposable income until they get a job. You cannot get a degree unless you attain a certain grade. A survey at 200 schools indicated that 40% of grades were A’s. Many professors want their students to receive high marks to get a leg up in the job market. In some instances, however, students need to attain at least an A or a B or a C in every course to remain in a program. If a professor gives a student a B-, that student may lose a scholarship or drop out of a program altogether. The institution understands that grade inflation is often necessary to keep students paying into the tuition system. However, as a result, a student often puts in less effort to attain higher grades. If one contends that people should work for what they have and not have it handed to them, then he or she should be against grade inflation as well. A government-financed, but not government-run, higher education system could partly address this issue.

To finance this system, the government will indeed need to implement new taxes. According to Bernie Sanders’ plan, the federal government will levy a tax on Wall Street speculation, stocks, bonds, and derivatives, and not much on the incomes of most Americans. This is poetic justice. Currently, the top 0.1% controls as much wealth as 90% of Americans, but the wealthiest Americans spend very little of it — maybe 5% to 10% of their income. Meanwhile, the bottom 90% spends most of their money.

To imagine what impact that has on the economy, imagine you’re a CEO or if you’re an average Joe. On how many pillows do you personally need to rest? The answer — most likely 1 or 2 — is not terribly different from person to person. A rich man can afford to save more money because he has more money while others may not. A college education would open more Americans to jobs with higher incomes meaning that Americans have the ability to spend more on the economy. We don’t have to worry about raising the national debt from providing free college tuition. When we invest in college, we are investing in a workforce that can make higher incomes. This in turn creates more job creators and raises tax revenues. In a sense, “free” college education pays for itself, and the benefits for society are immense.

ECON 2-14: The Economics of Love


I’ve held the view that there is a false dichotomy between love and money for some time. High-earning women are more likely to be attracted to high-earning men. Women will use terms like “hard-working” and “ambitious” to describe the kind of men they want to marry as opposed to “rich.” However, there is a correlation between men who have those descriptors and socioeconomic status that can’t be ignored.

Economics is concerned with the management of scarce resources. Men and women who are attractive (either physically, financially, or emotionally) are scarce resources (normally we would use the term “special”). People seek stability, companionship, compatibility of interest, etc. They invest in people and hope to find a payoff in the form of having a companion for the rest of their life. They enter into a contract called a marriage. They combine resources such as housing, bank accounts, and personal possessions. Divorces deal with how those resources are divvied up.

In Western culture, the concept of affectionate individualism is built on the premise of investing in love and compatibility to achieve security. If love fades, the security is often at risk, and women have also achieved more financial independence, providing less desire to enter an institution built on security. In Eastern culture, especially India, couples enter arranged marriages that follow the old way of combining resources. In a way, Easterners are more willing to acknowledge that a marriage is an economic institution. There is no pretense of passionate love. Arranged marriages are less likely to end in divorce because they invest in security and stability first, and love may grow as a result.

What Police Custody Deaths Say About Us


Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. These names have led to public outrage and even riots. They have led to accusations of racial profiling, loss of trust in the police, and worsening race relations in the United States. A 2009 poll indicated that two-thirds of Americans believed race relations were good. That number dropped to about 40% in 2015. These shootings have also given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. What we do know is that police officers were trying to arrest each of these men for some reason — stolen cigarillos, illegal cigarettes, or an illegal switchblade. The amount of force in apprehending these men has come under scrutiny. All three of these men died due to police force. The police shot Michael Brown, choked Eric Garner, and injured Freddie Gray in the spine.

The August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, led to some calls for body cams on police officers. The rationale for this was the conflicting stories between eyewitnesses and the police report. In order for a written police report to be truly objective and truthful, some argue, video evidence must exist that confirms that written report. The officer that shot Michael Brown did not have the video evidence that would confirm or refute his innocence. City police departments around the country have adopted body cams to provide more footage of police and resident activity. Police officers who believe they are doing the right thing, especially when confronting tough criminals, should want video evidence that proves they are. Thousands of citizen complaints occur, and body cams would help settle any disputes. However, Ferguson had already adopted police body cams, and these body cams were not capturing footage when Michael Brown was shot and killed.

In any case, sometimes video evidence is not enough to indict or convict a police officer for wrongdoing. In July 2014, Eric Garner was selling illegal cigarettes in Staten Island, and the police tried to bring him under custody through a choke-hold. Garner was pronounced dead an hour later at a local hospital. While Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, no criminal charges were made against the police. Instead, Garner’s family received $5 million in an out-of-court settlement. When video footage is not enough for indictment, there are those who advocate for an independent prosecutor.

Prosecutors rely on the police to apprehend criminals and bring them to justice. If a prosecutor were to then bring a police officer to court, it could strain relations between the prosecutor and the police. As such, an independent prosecutor would step in to investigate deaths that occur in police custody. In 2014, Wisconsin passed a law creating such an official after the death of a young Kenosha man made headlines. Bills in other states have emerged but have not become law. Time will tell if Wisconsin’s independent prosecutor is a model for other states.

Another issue with body cams is an officer could turn his body away from the action. In the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore,the police officer did not secure Gray in a seatbelt and his allegedabrupt driving threw Gray around the van and injured his spine. Wearing a body cam would have been irrelevant as it would have only shown what was in front of the officer and not Gray sitting in the back of the van. However, audio evidence did indicate that Gray asked to be sent to the hospital. The officer faces the charge of second-degree murder for deliberately allowing Gray to die. Prosecutors have stated that it would be very difficult to convict the officer without the testimony of another officer.

In 2012, more than 4,000 people died while in police custody at a local jail or state prison. Sandra Bland is one of those. The greatest public outrage seems to have come from the incidents surrounding Brown, Garner, and Gray. There are many other deaths that have inspired great outrage. The upheaval in our inner cities over these deaths demonstrates that racial tensions have not been solved, and that many questions still lie regarding this issue. There is also the issue of police trust. While the police remain among the most trusted institutions, trust in the police has not been this low in 22 years.

However, the fall in trust has not been dramatic. From 2013 to 2015, when many of these incidents occurred, trust in the police dropped from 57% to 52%, only 5%. The majority of Americans still believe that the police are working to keep our communities safe, but that majority is not evenly distributed among different races or ideologies. Democrats trust the police less than Republicans, and African Americans trust the police less than white Americans. This demonstrates that public attitudes are divided, and an effort to bridge this divide is needed.

The media focuses on individual shootings, but we gloss over a number of systemic problems involving race. African Americans are far more likely to go to prison than white Americans. Yes, individuals should take responsibility for their actions and face the consequences. However, more action is needed in providing legitimate economic opportunities for the disadvantaged who might otherwise turn to illegal sources of income. There’s an old saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” However, society has failed to teach at-risk Americans what they can do to be self-sufficient in today’s economy and to avoid falling into criminal activities. Such an educational system needs strong leadership, especially from African Americans who have grown up in poverty and have chosen against gangs, drugs, and violence. It needs buy-in from numerous parties, and it needs vision. It makes sense that we would be “Waiting for Superman.” We have to become “Superman” if we want our society to be better toward the less fortunate… if we want anything to change.

Star Wars and the Current State of Art


To be honest, I was pretty disappointed by the new Star Wars film. The first time I saw it, I didn’t want to admit it to myself. However, after discussing it with a friend and seeing it two more times, I concluded that it was quite simply Episode IV repackaged with original characters and “retro” tropes to make the audience feel as if it is on the same field as the original trilogy. In terms of creativity and authenticity, The Force Awakens is nowhere near theoriginal as an art form. There are moments that recall the Lucas films. There are glimmers of hope (particularly in the final scene) that the next installments will be good. However, the movie is altogether a commercialized algorithm made to sell tickets at the box office and Chewbacca dog toys at Petco.

This is not a review of The Force Awakens. Rather, I think the most recent Star Wars film can be used to explain the current state of the movie industry and more generally of art. Film studios are rebooting blockbusters from decades ago. They have put a Hollywood spin on other stories we’ve known since childhood: Jurassic WorldIndiana JonesStar Trek, and more recently, The Jungle Book(Why? My childhood is crying!) Biblical movies have also seen a revival.However, the differences between these and a Marvel movie set in ancient Mesopotamia or Rome seem to be minute.

The reasoning behind these reboots is mostly financial. Films are expensive to make and even a large company like Disney can struggle to rebound from a bust, while smaller companies run the risk of being wiped out. Funding can also be hard to obtain: the most recent James Bond movie filmed an extensive (and fantastic) opening sequence in Mexico City. This occurred after the Mexican government offered large subsidies to the production company, which was struggling to finance the movie.

The result of the accountants’ takeover of Hollywood is that movie companies are less willing to risk new stories, and instead bank on the guaranteed revenue of reboots with a large fan base. The other result is that film studios have released nothing innovative recently, at least as far as blockbuster films. I struggle to believe that George Lucas would be successful in proposing Star Wars to today’s investors with its extremely high-effects budget and its radically different story (other than the hero’s journey) from almost anything before it.

This isn’t just a trend in the film industry. Risk-averse companies have also been a detriment to music and literature. When was the last time the best-selling novel was also one of the best literary works of fiction? When did we last see a best-seller’s list topped by books on the same intellectual level as those of Hemingway or Joyce? Granted, there has always been a disparity between the success of authors writing what might as well be screenplays for action movies and rom coms and of those trying to create art. However, with the squeezed margins due tocompetition with e-books and pirated books, publishing companies have been less willing to take a chance on a novel that is not feel-good movie material.

The same has been true in the music industry. An unfortunate consequence of the Internet is that music labels have also seen their margins fall. As such, touring has become the only way for musicians and their labels to make a great deal of money. This has always been a large source of musicians’ income. However, the sole dependence on shows has pushed labels to promote artists who can sell out stadiumsrather than small bars and cafes. Bob Dylan would not have survived in the current musical climate. The Beatles would also have struggled during their later years (which many agree were their most artistically substantial), as they stopped touring about midway through their career.

Artists themselves have often felt pressure to focus on producing “sellable” goods, rather than books and songs with intrinsic artistic value. Artists have always struggled financially more so than their business and engineering counterparts. However, adding to the rising cost of living in most large cities is exorbitant student debt for attending college. First-year graduates of Julliard or Berklee simply cannot afford to play jazz part-time in Manhattan bars and write their own music, living in a normal Queens apartment with other musicians. Many like to poke fun at music and theater majors as being overly idealistic. However, I admire them for having the confidence to pursue their passions in the face of so much societal and financial pressure to become a corporate bean counter.

There’s not much we can do to counter this trend. Many will always choose a Marvel movie over an abstract foreign film because Marvel movies are easy, fun, and allow us to turn our minds off for two hours. Alternative and innovative music will never dominate the radio for roughly the same reasons. However, there are some things we can do.

1. Stop watching Marvel movies.
2. Support normal, local musicians.

Oftentimes, the work of local musicians’ isn’t necessarily great, but it’s different. In addition, supporting artists in their formative years can help them grow into something better. Pay the $5 cover fee to see their show, stay off your cell phone while watching, and buy their album. They’re not really making any money. They’re simply artists trying to survive.

Some musicians do still want to change the way we think about music. Some authors do still try to write about the inner human struggle. Art is a reflection of our society. It’s what elevates us above clever animals in a way that technological advancement alone does not. Help art evolve out of commercialism, and in doing so, help the world evolve as well.

Media Media Murders


We have observed countless gun-related massacres on the television, and lately it feels as if they just won’t stop. We continue to ask ourselves “Why?” and then say, “Well, I guess there’s nothing we can do.” We feel defeated. We blame gun laws for being too lax; we blame gun laws for being too strict. This has widened ideological divides in the American culture wars.

However, we aren’t paying enough attention to the other thing that is happening on the screen: sensationalized new media. Borne from the yellow journalism of the 19th century, the new media feeds on blood, guts, sex, and controversy. People can’t look away from a train wreck. Bad news is good news in the eyes of the media.

As such, the more the media glorifies the perpetrators of mass shootings, the more copycats that will aspire to that glory, the more mass shootings that will occur, the more sensational news the media can report, the more people will watch those news and feed the ratings of those media outlets.

And the vicious (24-7 news) cycle continues.

The media has a moral responsibility not to manufacture news in such a way as to harm the lives of many of its viewers and other innocent human beings. The news has a duty to inform us how to be better citizens, not to reduce us to being mindless consumers only interested in a shocking headline or soundbite.

We are in a way a reflection of the world around us. A part of that world is the media. We are bombarded by words and pictures that tell us who we should be or how we should act. Is this how we choose to live? The media should be pointing us to what truly matters so that we don’t reflect the ugly world outside but reflect within ourselves. We must decide for ourselves who we want to be and in which sort of world that would be.

The media has shown disconnected and alienated Americans something to aspire to: fame. The Colorado shooter (who shall remain unnamed here) is a household name. This is not a positive consequence. While Americans have a right to know that a shooting occurred and that reporting the name of the perpetrator helps law enforcement catch the suspect, copycats see that they too can be a household name if they carry out a mass shooting of their own. Individuals who have failed to gain any recognition from their peers will seek desperate measures to get that attention. It’s sad.

These shooters are not simply exploiting gun laws. They know full well that controversy and sensation drives the 24-7 news cycle, and all they have to do is feed the machine. If we really want to prevent copycats, the media should either blur out the face of the perpetrator and/or provide an alias. The media must do this voluntarily because government intervention on this matter would be a violation of free speech. A dialogue between gun safety advocates and mass media leaders must ensue, and a shift in the media paradigm must occur.

However, we must also recognize that even the media is not the only force driving mass shootings. Evil wins when we fight each other — Democrats point fingers at Republicans for inaction on gun legislation, and Republicans admonish Democrats for politicizing the issue. Discussing gun laws and mental health care is perfectly acceptable, considering that they both existed prior to the rise of 24-7 news. However, such discussions miss the external factors that influence people to conduct mass shootings.

We need to recognize the real problem — disconnection that breeds desire for power, money, or fame. Confronting disconnection will be a recurring test in 2016 and perhaps the rest of the 21st century. We need to identify children who are disconnected or alienated and include them in positive, non-violent ways. Disconnection and alienation don’t just cause mass shootings. They have led thousands of Muslims to join ISIS. When the Western world continues to say to Muslims, “We hate you,” it is not falling on deaf ears. We must understand the consequences of our own actions as they have a huge impact on the health of our society. We must stand together, and tell the media to do its job.