Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sorting through the politics of politics, and the reasons why I'm not as independent as I thought..

My father is a self-made man by all accounts; “a good old boy,” if you will. He dropped out of high school at age 16, but he still managed to build a very successful construction business, while pursuing a career in public service. He’s saved every dime he’s ever made, and he’s never expected a handout in his life. We’ve always lived comfortably, and that’s because my father busts his ass and is smart with money– bottom line. He reads the Boston Herald, drives an American truck, and supports the Republican Party.

I, on the other hand, have always considered myself to be an independent when it comes to politics. I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal, to be exact.

My parents made sure I learned the meaning of hard work early on, and I’ve held a job since the age of 15. I believe in personal responsibility when it comes to money, and that each person should have an obligation to put in as much as they take out, in one form or another. I don’t spend beyond my means, and I don’t think it’s anyone else’s duty to pay for the things I can’t afford.

But, I also know that I’ve been very blessed. My parents have set me up to succeed, and I’ve never wanted for anything. My father’s hard work has granted me a great college education, a roof over my head, and a car to get me where I need to go. I’ve never gone hungry, and I’ve never been without. I realize that not everyone is that fortunate. I know it’s easy to believe in financial responsibility when you’re already financially stable. I’m lucky that I have my parents to fall back on. Many young adults don’t have that kind of support, and we don’t all start out on a level playing field.

I can see both sides of it. We need a welfare system to help those who can’t help themselves – the disabled, the elderly, and the children living in poverty. I understand that to support a welfare system, the government needs to take in order to give. The only way to do that is through a progressive tax structure. If the money taken out of my paycheck means that people much less fortunate than me will eat dinner tonight, then I’m more than happy to give it. They need it more than I do.

What I do have an issue with, is supporting and enabling those who take advantage of the system. I won’t get too much into it, because that isn’t what this blog post is about. But if you are able to work, and make a living, and support yourself, then you should. There are far too many people who are truly struggling for the government to be supporting those who aren’t. Welfare systems need to be reformed, period.

So, that sums up my fiscal views, which I believe are pretty moderate. Like I said, I see both vantage points.

But what I can’t see, or understand, or support, are the views of social conservatives. I very well could be perceived as a republican as much as a democrat if it weren’t for the social conservatives. They’re the reason why I no longer consider myself independent. I’m not “on the fence” anymore. I’m a democrat, and it’s because of them.

I’m not even 100 percent sure that my parents are still republicans, either, because of the social conservatives and the current republican candidates and election. Those who are republican for fiscal reasons, and those who are republican for social reasons are very, very different types of republicans. And that’s what will cause the party’s demise, I think.

There has never been, in my eyes, a bigger contradiction than the Republican Party. How did a conservative ideology come out of the most liberal/progressive political movement ever? The republicans freed the slaves. Whether it was for economic reasons or not, they freed the slaves. That sounds pretty freakin’ liberal to me. The republicans have been a confused bunch from the get go.

So, lets take a look at the republicans today. Laissez-faire economics is still their go to for economic policy. The less government involvement, the better, right?

But, if that’s the case, then will someone please explain to me why bedroom talk has been the main focus of the primary election? If the republicans don’t want to get involved in corporate policy and private business practices, why do they want to decide whether or not I have an abortion or use birth control? If government shouldn’t have a say in how people spend their money, then why should government have a say in my reproductive life?

I assume that the majority of people use birth control because they don’t want children. Duh. Many young people can’t afford to have children yet, and they know that, so they prevent pregnancy. That’s called being responsible. When pregnancies happen and young people can’t afford children, they depend on social programs. Unwanted children who aren’t adopted become the burden of the government. It’s simple.

So there’s the contradiction. You can’t be against government spending on social welfare programs, but pro-life and anti-birth control. It doesn’t make any sense. If you believe that all children have the right to life whether or not the parents are prepared, both mentally and financially, then whom do you expect to pay to raise those kids? Think about it, religion aside. Kids cost money. Where’s the money supposed to come from?

And what about gay marriage? Here’s a scenario. You have a gay couple. One man has a great job with good benefits. The other has just lost his job, and therefore his benefits. If they were allowed to get married, both men could be insured under the employed one’s policy. But if they can’t get married, the one who lost his job will have to get state health insurance, which costs the government and taxpayers money. Allowing them to marry would cost nothing.

Spirituality is a personal thing, whether conservatives want it to be or not. We have separation of church and state for that reason – because everyone has and deserves the right to their own religious beliefs. If you personally don’t believe in abortion, then don’t get one. If religion tells you it’s wrong to be gay, then don’t be gay. But why do you care how I chose to live, and what does that have to do with government?

That’s what I don’t like about the Republican Party, and that’s why I’ve chosen not to support it. If socially conservative republicans feel it is their moral obligation to interfere with one’s sexuality, how can they turn their cheek to corporate corruption? Being a Christian doesn’t mean you get to pick and chose which “sins” you want to stand up against.

And say you don’t believe in funding social programs that provide birth control, like Planned Parenthood, for fiscal reasons. Would you rather help pay for an unemployed woman’s birth control – while helping to end the cycle of unplanned pregnancy and child poverty – or pay to raise her child that she couldn’t afford to begin with? The birth control sounds like the logical choice to me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What makes social media special...

There’s no question that social media has transformed the world during the past few years. Cyber bullying, diminished privacy, and technology overload are just some of the negative side effects of Twitter and Facebook – along with countless hours lost to “creeping,” and I know I’m not the only.

But much good has come from social media, too. A prime example is the Susan G. Komen controversy that blew up during the past week. In an alleged politically driven move, the Komen foundation announced that it would end funding to Planned Parenthood. Komen claimed that they don’t partner with organizations that are “under investigation,” whatever that’s supposed to mean – though it was clear that the decision was due to pressure from conservatives. While approximately three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are used for abortions, they provide thousands of women with screening, tips for prevention, and care – exactly the kinds of things the Komen foundation rallies for.

A few liberal blogs and sites reported on the decision, and they went viral as those against Komen’s decision shared the posts to friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter. The outcry from the public was unbelievable, and it was the result of social media.

The issue really blew up over night, creating the ideal circumstances for reactive media – a situation where the media must respond to the news, rather than dictate it. The decision probably wouldn’t have even made the news 10 or 15 years ago, but the news isn’t a one-way lecture any more; it’s a conversation. Successful media sources feed off of what the people are already talking about, and that’s exactly what they did. Those who hadn’t heard about the Komen controversy through social media now had the mainstream media reporting on it too, just adding fuel to the already huge fire.

In less than a week, Planned Parenthood received more than $3 million in donations. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg even pledged $250,000 in matching grants.

The people had spoken, and the Komen foundation was forced to listen. On Friday they announced their decision to continue funding Planned Parenthood.

It’s pretty mind boggling, if you think about it. When else in history could one average person inform and motivate 500 people, whom can then go and do the same? Within 10 minutes, thousands and thousands of people from all around the country can share information. It’s crazy.

I’m not really the type to go out in the streets and rally for a cause. But if simply sharing something on my Facebook page can get hundreds of people to care about something as much as I do, I’m all for that. When I read something that makes me happy, or sad, or angry, I make a conscious effort to share it through social media, to put it out there again and to give others the opportunity to read it and maybe pass it along to their friends and followers.

Social media gives each of us the chance to share knowledge and perspective with others, and that’s pretty special.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Little Bee

I confess, I’ve never been much of a reader. But I’ve been reading for pleasure a lot more lately, and I actually really like it. It gives me a nice break from school-related reading, yet I don’t feel guilty about it because I know it’s good to read as much as possible.

On Sunday evening I finished “Little Bee,” by Chris Cleaves. Cleaves requests that readers don’t disclose too much of the plot, but it’s about a Nigerian girl – Little Bee – and a British woman – Sarah O’Rourke – who meet on one fateful day – a day that forever changes both of their lives.

The novel alternates between the two women’s points of view – both of which are relatable and well developed. Usually when I read novels with multiple points of view I side with one of them, but in this case I found myself identifying with both women. I was just as excited to hear from Little Bee as I was to hear from Sarah, and the multiple voices added to the suspense and foreshadowing.

It took me just one week to read “Little Bee,” which is impressive for a graduate student with three jobs and two hours of commuting daily. And it wasn’t an easy read, either. It was the type of reading that must be done in a quiet room with little distractions. I even had to read some of it out loud. The language is rich and descriptive, and just really beautiful. I did need to have a dictionary close by, though.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of fiction, but “Little Bee” is different because it’s based on the World that we actually live in. The plot is based on real events and people – real third world countries, real detention centers, real oil companies and real refugees. The scenes of “Little Bees” depict things that really happen, and it’s heartbreaking. Although it’s fiction, it shows a world that exists so far away from here.

There are scenes in the book that I could in no way relate to, but I could always relate to Little Bee. That’s what makes it so compelling. “Little Bee” sheds a lot of light into the human experience, and how different, yet the same we all are. On one level, the novel made me so appreciative of the life I’ve been given, and all the freedoms, luxuries, and safety that come with it. But it also showed that we can’t escape pain and hardship and being human, no matter what world we’re from.

All-in-all, I highly suggest reading “Little Bee.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just some clutter to add to the clutter

Lately whenever I’m on my computer, I feel so overwhelmed by information it’s unbearable. There’s just so much out there to see and read that it’s defeating. My brain literally experiences content overload, and I find myself wasting time reading about the most trivial things that have no significance to my life. Yet when I tell myself I won’t go near Huffington Post or Wikipedia, I feel almost guilty. It’s like there’s information out there to be known, and I’m not taking the time to know it. But when it comes down to it, in the big scheme of things, does it even make a difference?

Trivia certainly has its place in my world. Random facts and stories help to make a well-rounded person, and they can serve as great conversation starters. But how much information is too much? While some of this knowledge is useful, a lot of it just feels like clutter. And when it becomes clutter, it’s difficult to distinguish what’s worth caring about, and what isn’t.

I think that’s kind of a common theme for a lot of us. The Internet and the abundance of information it offers has desensitized us to the point that we can’t figure out what is worth a second glance and what isn’t. This is especially true with the sad stories and tales of misfortune – which make up the majority of headlines.

After spending some time browsing the Web I’m often left feeling like there’s no point in even attempting to make this world a better place. There’s just so much wrong with it. And when that happens, people throw in the towel. There’s a very fine line between caring too much and not caring at all. Nothing stirs our emotions anymore.

Once upon a time there was this thing called a print newspaper, which had a limited amount of space. It was the job of journalists to navigate that space and to decide what was critical for readers to know, and what wasn’t. Responsible citizens of our world could read The Globe or The New York Times front to back and feel like they did their part to become concerned, mindful beings. We could rest easy knowing that we felt empathy for something or someone, if nothing else.

That doesn’t happen any more, and I miss those days. Readers have to maneuver through billions of stories in an honorable attempt to find something worth knowing, worth caring about.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, or why it is, but it’s like the more I know, the less I feel connected. I may need to pull a Thoreau and peace out for a while.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

a small (and scary) step towards independence

I reached an important milestone in my journey to adulthood yesterday: I purchased my first car completely on my own.

After much research and deliberation, I settled on a 2011 Honda CR-V. I’m in love. It’s a great little buggy with 4wd and a sunroof. In a perfect world I would have gotten leather, but I couldn’t justify the extra $2,000. Plus, having to peal my thighs from the seat after a 10-minute test drive wasn’t all that appealing. I’ll take cloth, please.

It was an exciting day, of course. But it was also very stressful. My mom calls it “good stressful.” Maybe when I’m halfway through the payments it will be “good stressful.” For now, it’s just stressful.

The new payments won’t put that much strain on my finances. I live at home rent-free, I have minimal student loans, and I’m pretty responsible with money. Ideally, though, I’ll move out before I’m 30 (if you’re reading this, mom and dad, I can’t promise anything).

And lets be honest, rent is not cheap. The thought of paying rent actually makes me nauseous – mostly because it’s money thrown away. There’s no investment there. At least I’ll own my CR-V some very far away day, so I can justify the $400 monthly payment. But I also can’t justify an hour-each-way commute. I do it now and it’s hell. So if I end up working in Boston, I won’t have much of an option when it comes to renting.

Anyways, it’s not so much the new car payment that stresses me out, but the thought of having a car payment on top of rent and whatever other bills come my way in the next 5 years. I’ve come to accept that I probably won’t be making the big bucks as a journalist, so $1500 (give or take) a month on living and transportation alone is kind of a lot.

How do people do it AND save? It seems impossible. And I don’t buy that it has anything to do with my generation and our poor work ethic and/or obsession with materialistic things. The cost of living and education has grown dramatically while wages have stayed relatively the same.

Think about it.

A $400 car payment for a very modest vehicle (I’m not driving a BMW people) is a lot for someone who makes approximately $500 a week. That’s basically a quarter of my income. Imagine is if I had $400 in student loans and $800 in rent to pay on top of that each month? I’d be left with $400 for food, gas, other necessities and fun.

Maybe I will be at home till I’m 30, at least.

Friday, August 12, 2011

One Unsolicited Lesson for The Job Search

The job search has been on my mind a lot lately as summer quickly comes to a close. The thought of finding a real, full-time job does elicit a sense of anticipation and excitement from time to time, but more than often it causes pure anxiety. Where to even begin?

I undoubtedly have the experience, and I think I've built a nice little network along the way through my internships and graduate studies. But I always have a lingering concern that I could be doing more. So my worrywart self naturally had the job hunt on the brain once again today.

I was browsing through the Letters to the Editor on Boston.com, and I stumbled across one from a Brandeis graduate titled “It was just one unsolicited email, and she read it.” The author explained that during his first year in law school he sent Myra Kraft an email seeking advice for breaking into the business of sports and entertainment law. Some time later the student received an e-mail from a senior attorney working for the Krafts regarding their office and legal internship program. Not only had Kraft read the email, but she had taken the time to help the young man out as well.

The author’s story perfectly exemplified the type of woman Myra Kraft was: genuinely kind and thoughtful. He wrote to illustrate just that, and he did so successfully.

But the letter did more than that for me. It showed the importance of having a go-getter attitude. The author was pleasantly surprised when he received a response. He obviously wasn't expecting one. But he sent the email anyway; what was there to lose? Nothing. Just a whole lot to gain, and he got lucky.

Good for him. Closed mouths don’t get fed.

Moral of the story: Be kind, but also take risks when it comes to looking for work, regardless of how far-fetched it may seem. Got it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"From here on out, I'm only interested in what is real. Real people, real feelings, that's it, that's all I'm interested in."

When I tell people that I’m a writer, I quite often get the question, “Do you want to write a book?”

I then respond with, “No,” and that’s that.

Except with one friend in particular. “No” just doesn’t sit well with him, and he always comes back with “Why?” He simply can’t accept that I don’t have any desire to write a book.

So the usual “you should write a book” topic came up once again in one of our recent conversations.

After I reiterated the reasons why writing a book isn’t on my list of things to do, he concluded, “Well, you should help me write a screenplay then.”

“If it’s a screenplay based on a true story, then maybe,” I answered. “I don’t do fiction.”

Of course he can’t accept that either, and pulls out the usual “Why?”

In this instance, though, I wasn’t so prepared to explain. I thought about giving him the ole’ “Just because,” but I wanted to nip this conversation in the bud before it turned into a weekly routine.

So I thought about it, and this is what I came up with.

For one thing, I don’t have a very creative imagination. I’m not sure why; I just don’t. I’m simply not good at making up stories. Even ask my mother; I’ve tried to sell her a fabrication a time or two. They didn’t work. I think it’s partly due to the fact that I denounced my imagination a long time ago, thus stunting its growth.

But I don’t write fiction primarily because I don’t believe there’s a need for it. There are so many amazing and true stories to be told, why waste time making ones up?

Writing fiction almost feels wrong to me. It’s almost like I’m not taking full advantage of this magnificent world in front of me that I know so little about. I don’t want to miss out on anything that’s real.

Folktales were originally told to teach people the difference between right and wrong. For children, that makes sense. It allows us to simplify life into little tales that neatly conclude with a lesson. I can still remember the stories my Nana used to tell me conveying the importance of kindness, honesty and hard work – like the one about the little boy who was rewarded with a puppy because he did extra chores.

But what about adults? I feel like I'm morally responsible to learn as much as possible about our universe because I can. With technology at our fingertips, there’s no accuse not to. I don't need make believe things and people to convey good and evil. They already exist.

And the thing that confuses me the most is that the majority of fiction is based on reality. Unless you’re writing about vampires and werewolves, you’re writing about the human experience, which is a real thing. So why not just convey the human experience through real people?

Every person has a story, and every person deserves to have their story be told. Real people deserve our compassion, and that's why I write about them.