Category Archives: politics

My Jury Duty Adventures

A few months ago, I received a juror summons in the mail, asking me to appear at the superior court this past Monday for jury duty.

Initially, I was somewhat disappointed about the timing since I had the entire summer off because I’m a teacher, so I didn’t really want to miss a day so early on in the school year.  But once the date approached, I became excited because I was interested in learning more about the whole process.

People had warned me to bring a book because jury duty is usually a long day of waiting.  I read the FAQs online so I would know what to bring and what to wear, and then I waited to check the website the Friday night before my Monday appearance.

I was on call for Monday, which meant that I could go to work on Monday, but I would need to check the website again that evening to see about Tuesday.  I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get to go on Monday, so when I checked the website that evening and saw my number, I was excited.

I changed my mind about my outfit so many times.  I wanted to look appropriate while also being comfortable.  I didn’t want to wear anything that might cause lawyers to excuse me from a jury if I got that far.  I chose blue dress pants, a white and blue striped shirt, a salmon cardigan, and Sketchers brown simple shoes.  I had my hair in a low ponytail.  I debated not wearing my crucifix necklace because I didn’t know if they would want to avoid a religious person, but then I decided against it.  If they didn’t want me because of my faith, then their loss.

The morning of jury duty was extremely boring.  We reported at 8:30am to sit in a huge room full of people who looked bored and annoyed.  We had the rules explained to us before checking in.

We were told that we would receive a $5 stipend for the day.  I can’t believe it’s only $5.  This is 2017.  You can’t even go buy lunch for $5.  As a teacher, my pay isn’t docked for jury duty, but I can’t imagine being someone who lives paycheck to paycheck.  If they are selected for a 3-day trial, they will receive a measly $15.  That seems absurd.  I know that they say that a person is excused if they can prove financial hardship as a result of being on a jury, but I don’t know how lenient they are with that.

Then, we were told that if we are public school employees, we needed to tell them when checking in because we were not allowed the $5.  He said that we couldn’t “be greedy.”  I was not upset about the lack of $5, but found it funny that he could even say with a straight face that we would be “greedy” if we took the $5.

While in line to check in, they played a video about the importance of jury duty and our rights as citizens of the US.

By 10am, nothing had happened.  Thankfully, there was wi-fi, so I actually got quite a bit of work done on my laptop.  They announced a bunch of names and everyone called got to go up to a court room.  I was hoping to hear my name, but I didn’t.

Around 11:40, a man told us that there were three cases and that the only one that still needed jurors would not be ready to call them up until after lunch.  So while we were supposed to leave for lunch at 12:30, we got almost an entire extra hour!

I had packed lunch, planning to eat outside or in my car, but I have a friend who lives close to the courthouse, so I went to her house since she works from home.  It was really nice to get to have a random Tuesday afternoon lunch with a friend since I’m usually working at that time.

After lunch, we went back to waiting.  Then they started calling off more names.  The line of people was getting really long, so I was not expecting to hear my name.  Then I realized that they were reading the names alphabetically, so I waited in anticipation as they got closer to my name.

Sure enough, I heard, “Stephanie….” and a long pause before the woman butchered my name (typical, since I have a foreign last name).  While other people were visibly upset when their names were called, I had the opposite reaction.  I was absolutely ecstatic to get to go up to the court room and see the whole process.  But because the group of us was so large, I knew that my chance of actually being chosen for the jury was quite small.

We entered the courtroom and each of us had to grab a pad of paper and a pencil.  The judge introduced the lawyers, the plaintiff, and her family to us and then explained a brief overview of the case.  It was a civil case.  The defendant had hit the plaintiff’s car, which had already been admitted, but the plaintiff was suing due to health problems that she has been having in the three years since the accident.

He told us that he would be asking us 22 questions as a group and we were instructed to write down “Yes” or “No” on our notepad.  Once it came time to call jurors into the jury box, anyone who responded “No” to every question could take a seat to be questioned further.  Anyone who responded “Yes” had to go to speak to the judge and the lawyers to see if they could be excused from the case.

The initial 22 questions asked us things like this:

-Did we recognize the plaintiff/lawyers?

-Did we recognize the names of any of the witnesses / medical providers?

-Had we ever been involved in a lawsuit?

I was really excited when we got to question #22 and I had answered “No” to each of the questions.  I was wishing that instead of randomly calling jurors, they could have just asked who answered “No” to everything and even who might volunteer to serve on the jury.  I definitely would have raised my hand.

I snuck a peek at the papers that the people on either side of me had.  Both of them had a few questions marked “Yes.”  The man to my left was clearly aggravated with jury duty and just kept sighing through everything.  And then there I was, hoping and even praying (I know, I’m ridiculous, but I really wanted to experience court) that I would get called.

Most people had answered “Yes” to at least one of the questions, so it took forever to get seven people into the jury box.  Once they got to the seventh person, I was feeling disappointed.

Then the judge told them that he would ask them more questions so that the lawyers could get to know them.  He explained that the lawyers had a certain number of jurors that they could excuse for any reason, which is called a peremptory challenge.

These questions went as follows:

-Occupation / former occupations if you were in other fields

-Household – spouse? his/her occupation / children? their occupations

-Hobbies

-Favorite TV shows and new sources

-If you could speak to anyone, dead or alive, for 15 minutes, who would it be and why? (excluding anything religious and family)

-Is our country too litigious or is it too strict in its regulations that prevent people from suing others?

-Would you make a good juror and why?

Since I had all the time in the world while sitting there, I wrote down my answers to each of the questions.  I was struggling with the one about which person I’d like to speak to.  I’m glad that I wasn’t juror #1 because she didn’t have any extra time to think about her responses and she was visibly nervous.

I first thought of Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi, but they’re all religious.  Then I thought of the machine gun preacher.  Nope, still religious.  I have always loved Eminem, so I wrote his name down first, but even though I love his music, I think it would actually be terrifying to speak to him in person, and I would probably have nothing to say.  I settled on Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone.  I thought that might be a risky answer since it’s very different from everyone else’s answer, but it was the best option I could come up with.

Jurors kept getting eliminated left and right and I found the whole process fascinating.  I loved hearing all of their answers.  More people watch the Food Network than I had realized.  Nobody has any opinion about whether or not people sue too much.  That baffled me since I feel like I have an opinion on everything.  Most people also didn’t really have hobbies.  Their hobbies were just playing with their kids and grandkids.  I thought that was a little sad.  I know I’m younger than everyone else who was questioned, but I’d like to think that I will have something else that I enjoy doing in my life other than playing with grandkids.  Some people mentioned different types of sewing or painting.  One lady was a drummer.  But most of the responses were dull.

I’m really interested in racial equality in our country and I’m currently reading a book called The New Jim Crow about mass incarceration in the United States today and how much racial discrimination exists within the justice system.

In this case, everything the book said was absolutely true.  Now, this was not a criminal case, so it’s a bit different than the cases against drug dealers, or people caught with drugs or weapons, but I was still observing everything.

The plaintiff was an African American woman.  The judge and all three lawyers were white.  The first seven jurors were all white.  I started looking around the courtroom at the other potential jurors.  There had to be over 60 people in that room and there was not one African American.  There was one Hispanic woman and one Indian woman.  Everyone else appeared to be Caucasian.

I know that alone does not mean that the case would involve any racial discrimination, but it sure does make it more likely.  From this experience, I would argue that a jury is definitely not a random sampling of people in a particular county.  Anyway, I could get carried away with all of this, but back to my actual experience yesterday…

While listening to each of the potential jurors, I was trying to guess which ones would be excused.  I was correct about many of them.

-That lady has a husband who is a physician and her children are also physicians, so they’ll eliminate her since it’s a carse involving bodily injury. “Juror #2, thank you, but you are excused.”

He said he would meet his great-grandfather.  They clearly said not to choose a family member.  I would eliminate him for being a bad listener.  Yep, juror #4 was excused as well.

Her boyfriend is a state trooper and she hesitated for way too long when they asked her if she would be able to be impartial.  Juror #5, gone.

-She just keeps saying how nervous she is.  I don’t think they’ll like that she’s terrified this entire time.  How will she make a good decision if she can’t calm down? Juror #1, dismissed.

I know that this is not nice, but she has lots of visible tattoos and seems kind of trashy.  I doubt they’ll take her. 

Why does everyone keep saying they would be a good juror because they’re honest?  It’s driving me crazy.  You’re in the jury – your honesty doesn’t really matter.  More significant qualities include: ability to remain impartial, decision-making skills, focus, good listener, etc.  All of these women just keep telling us they’re honest.  Congratulations, but you’re not the one on trial!

Okay, you get the point.  Next thing I knew, they were dismissing the woman I had judged for her visible tattoos and my name was being called.

“Stephanie _____?” said the clerk.

“Yes.”

“Did you respond “Yes” to any of my 22 questions?” asked the judge.

“No,” I said, trying to stop myself from grinning.  I grabbed my bag, and walked into the jury box and into the sixth seat.  I had to try really hard to avoid smiling too much.  I didn’t want them to think I was the ditzy blonde who was overly excited about this experience.

I had to answer each of the questions and because I had written them down, I was ready to go, unlike many of the other people who had been in the jury box.  I was getting so tired of hearing the judge repeat the questions over and over again.

I talked about my job as a teacher and my college job as a sports medicine assistant.  I mentioned how I enjoy working out, running, and volunteering.  I said that I get my news from Yahoo, BBC, and Al Jazeera and that I don’t watch any TV, but that Prison Break was the last show I had watched.  I explained why Ishmael Beah was the person I would choose to speak with, mainly because I love volunteering in Africa.  And I told them that I do believe our society is too litigious.  I gave them the example of people suing for their hot McDonald’s coffee and how that type of lawsuit just causes more restrictions on the rest of us.  I said that I did believe that I would be a good juror because I could be fair and impartial.

When I finished, I was nervous that they wouldn’t like my answer about the 15 minute conversation.  The other jurors either couldn’t pick anyone or they picked famous musicians.  Then came little miss Stephanie, explaining why she wanted to talk to a former child soldier.  I though it seemed a little too extreme.  Every time a lawyer would pick another juror to dismiss, I would hold my breath, hoping that my name would not be called.

Then, the defendant’s lawyer said something in lawyer-speak that I understood to mean that he was happy with the seven of us.  My eyes widened.  The judge turned to the plaintiff’s two lawyers.  They went to speak to the plaintiff.  I heard her say “Yes,” and tried to calm myself.  These lawyers also said that they were satisfied.  YESSSS!

While some of the people around me were visibly disappointed, I was so excited that I would get to go to an actual trial.

The judge told us that we should feel proud of ourselves since they had gone through 38 people before selecting the 7 of us.

The judge explained all of the rules.  We were not allowed to speak to anyone about the case until its completion.  We could not research anything regarding the case online, including looking up the names of the judge, lawyers, witnesses, plaintiff, or defendant.

After he explained everything, we were sent home and told to report back at 9am today.

I called my mom, so excited to tell her the news since she had always wanted to serve on a jury and has never been selected.  I couldn’t tell her any details about the case, but I was so excited to see the trial.

Today the seven of us jurors sat in the waiting area.  Some of them seemed content with being selected.  One woman said she had served on a criminal case previously and that she was happy because this was supposed to be a two-day trial, whereas her last one lasted longer than a week.  One man was pretty disgruntled, saying how he must have selected the short straw.

The clerk met us and escorted us into the court room.  After sitting down into the same seats in the juror box as yesterday, he judge said that he had good news for us: the case had settled, so jurors were no longer needed.

What?  My hopes were crushed.  I was so excited to experience the trial.

He explained that situations like this happen sometimes because the parties involved realize that they really have no idea what the jurors will conclude about their case, so it might be more prudent to just settle.

I did not expect that, especially since we had been told that this case had taken three years to get to court.  Oh well.

Despite my disappointment, I was able to get home much earlier than I had planned and the weather was beautiful today, so I even had time to go to the beach, which I couldn’t have done if I had been at work all day.  It’s also good that I’ll get to go back to work tomorrow so that my students don’t need another substitute.

I’m still excited that I was picked.  It was a fun experience.  Maybe one day I’ll actually serve as a juror for a trial.  Or maybe not.  But that was my experience and I really enjoyed it.  Now I won’t be summoned again for at least three years, so I guess we shall see what happens next time.

I know that this blog makes me sound ridiculous, but these past two days were really exciting for me.  It’s kind of a weird topic to be so excited about, but you know, it’s the simple things in life.

 

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2017 USMC Educator Workshop

Tuesday:

On Tuesday, I was picked up at 4am (along with a coworker of mine) by a Marine recruiter and driven to Newark airport to hop on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, and then another plane to Savannah, Georgia.  We then boarded a bus with other educators from the state of New Jersey and headed to our hotel in Beaufort, South Carolina.

This was the first leg of our journey to the United States Marine Corps 2017 Educator Workshop and we had no idea what to expect.

We were given no itinerary.  Our short packing list included just four items: sunscreen, bug spray, comfortable clothes, and a business casual outfit.

Some of us (like me) had watched a fewYouTube videos from previous educator workshops, so we had some vague expectations.  My roommate and I knew that we would be yelled at, but we didn’t know when that would happen.  As we rode the bus to the hotel, we just held our breath in anticipation of when the yelling would begin.

Upon arriving at the hotel, the Marines were all very kind to us.  We checked in and had free time until dinner, so I went for a run to see some of the area.

When we piled back onto the white buses to head to Parris Island for the first time for dinner, we were again nervous, waiting for the yelling to begin.  We eventually realized that none of that would happen until Wednesday morning.  So much worrying for no reason.

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Entrance to Parris Island

One group of educators (28 of us) was from Recruiting Station (RS) New Jersey and the other group was from RS Pennsylvania (30 of them).  We had dinner together, along with some of the Marines.  We were able to ask any questions that we had while enjoying our meal together.

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Dinner on Tuesday night

After dinner, they told us to expect Thursday to be the physically active day.  For Wednesday, they just made it clear that we would experience the wrath of the drill instructors.  Uh oh.

We rode the bus back to the hotel.  I went swimming in the hotel pool, and then hit the sack early since breakfast would be from 5-6am the next morning.

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Pool time!

Wednesday:

After an early breakfast we loaded onto the buses toward Parris Island.  Immediately upon arriving, a female drill instructor boarded the bus and started screaming at us.

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Ready to find out what day two holds for me

She ordered us to get off of the bus and run onto the yellow footprints, leaving no empty spaces between the members of our “platoon.”  Even though we knew that we were not actual Marine recruits, the drill instructors were still quite terrifying.  The yellow footprints are a significant tradition at Parris Island.  Every new recruit steps onto these footprints upon arriving, which means that every Marine who has ever lived has stood either on the footprints in Parris Island, South Carolina, or those in San Diego, California.  (Recruits from the east of the Mississippi River head to Parris Island while those west of the Mississippi head to San Diego.)

The first thing we did was head into the first building that the new recruits would enter.  We each sat in a small metal desk while we learned about the intake procedures.  Each recruit gets just one phone call home to let their families know that they have arrived safely.  They get three attempts and if they are unable to reach a loved one, they will try again each day until they are able to relay the message of their safety.  After that, there is no contact with anyone from home (other than letters) until the day before graduation (12 weeks later).

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After learning about the intake, we asked some questions and were then released back into the hands of the drill instructors.  For RS New Jersey, we had Staff Sergeant King and boy, was she intimidating.

“Roust that march!”  “Ay, ma’am!”

“Sprint!”  “Sprint, ay, ma’am!”

“STOPPPP!”  “Stop, ay ma’am!”

She had us lining up in formation, sprinting forward, then turning around to run back to the footprints to line up again.  Every time she spoke, we had to scream a response.  If it took too long to get back into formation, we ran another sprint.  If someone didn’t scream the response loud enough, we would run another sprint.  If someone scratched their face, we would run again.  “Did I tell you to scratch your face?” “No, ma’am!”

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We also had to learn how to count off.  So after she yelled some commands, we would kneel down one at a time while calling out our number.  There were 28 of us, so whenever the last person said “28,” all of us would yell, “28, done ma’am!”  Unfortunately, people kept messing up with the counting and kneeling and yelling back commands, so we went up and down a ton of times.  All of us had sore legs and butts the next day.

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Then she had us run into the pit.  It’s a box of dirty, sand flea-filled sand where the drill instructors command the recruits to go through a series of exercises: running in place, running in place with arms lifted and high knees, push-ups, crunches, mountain climbers, you name it.

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We were probably only in the pit for 5-10 minutes, but we were exhausted.  People were dripping with sweat.  Thanks to the combination of sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray, the sand/dirt from the pit stuck to any exposed skin.

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My dirty arm

“I need to text my wife and tell her how I don’t know what to expect for the physical day if this is the non-physical day,” said one of the teachers who was regretting his decision to wear jeans on Wednesday.

We then went into one of the barracks to hear from more drill instructors and to ask questions.  Most people were hesitant to ask questions around the drill instructors since they were so intimidating when they were yelling at us.

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Later, we went into an auditorium, where we would be learning more about the Marines.  They explained that we had 5 minutes to “make a head call” if we “desperately” needed it.  They use the term “head” to refer to the bathrooms.

I opted not to go to the bathroom since I wasn’t desperate, but then I was soon nervous, wondering when they would offer another head call.  I quickly learned to try to go to the bathroom any time they offered it since we never really knew how many hours it would be until we had another chance.

During the presentation, I learned so much about the Marines that I previously had no knowledge of.  We heard about the qualifications and how 71% of current high school students are ineligible, for a variety of reasons which may include:

-drug history

-incidents with the police/law

-tattoo placement

-medications

-health issues

-low ASVAB scores

-lack of a high school diploma

I had no idea how tough it was to get into the Marines.

We also heard from a woman who explained the educational benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill and the 9/11 GI bill.  And we heard from a man who told us about the musicians who are in the Marines and the requirements to enter that program.  I had never considered mentioning that as an option to some of my students who are musically inclined, but there are some Marines who are responsible for playing in their bands at various celebrations, ceremonies, and other gatherings.

After that, we had lunch.  We got to eat with some of the Marine recruits.  It was really nice to be able to speak with them and to ask them questions about their experiences.  The Marine who was sitting across the table from me had finished his Crucible a few days prior.  He had received his ring and his new uniform and he was very excited to graduate on Friday.  His girlfriend’s graduation occurred three days after he started boot camp, so we hadn’t seen her in about six months.  He was clearly proud of their accomplishments, yet very humble at the same time.

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After lunch we went to learn how to shoot the M16 rifles.  First, we tried it indoors on the virtual version.  The gun was much heavier than I expected.  The Marine who was helping me asked me if I was a lefty or righty.  I told him that I wasn’t sure since I do some things lefty, others righty, and I’ve never held a gun before.

He then asked me which eye is my dominant eye.”  “Um…I don’t know that either.”

So he told me to squint.  Because I immediately shut my right eye, he said that meant that my left eye was my dominant eye.  Learn something new every day.

Then it was time to practice shooting the target on the screen.  The gun was pretty heavy and my right shoulder is a little bit injured right now, so I took my 3 shots and then gladly put down the gun to pass it off to the next person.

After everyone practiced shooting, we went to the firing range.  We learned about safety and then each of us was able to take a turn shooting the real M16.  We had the option to shoot standing, kneeling, or prone (laying down).  I opted to shoot prone so that I didn’t have to worry about my shoulder and lifting the heavy gun.

We each got to fire 10 shots.  There were targets placed in the field anywhere from 100-500 meters away.  The first shot I took was a miss, but after that, I did really well, hitting the next shots on targets between 100 and 300 meters away.  Once I tried the 400 and 500 meter targets, I missed again.

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Shooting the M16
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Shooting the M16

Most people were really excited to fire the rifles.  I’m not really interested in guns, so although I was happy that I performed well, I don’t really feel the need to ever shoot a gun again.  We were in a competition between RS New Jersey and RS Pennsylvania to see who could get the most hits.  RS Pennsylvania won.

We left the firing range and then headed over to the pool to learn about the swim test.  We heard from the MCIWS (Marine Corps Instructors of Water Survival) team.  For many recruits, this is the scariest part of boot camp since they don’t know how to swim and may have never had the opportunity to try to swim before.

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They said that if a recruit cannot swim physically, that is an easy fix since they just teach them flotation techniques.  What is more difficult to overcome is those who cannot swim psychologically because of their fear of the water.  If a recruit is unable to pass the test after multiple attempts, he or she will not be able to become a Marine.

The recruits don’t really need to know how to swim well.  It’s more about survival than actual swimming.  They have to be able to float for a certain amount of time while treading water.  They have to be able to remove their gear in the water.  They learn how to tie off their pant legs and inflate them with air as a makeshift life vest.  It’s not like they are training them to swim laps.

They told us the story of a Marine who fell off of a ship and nobody noticed when it happened.  He ended up floating in the middle of the ocean for over two days, surviving as a result of his Marine training and because he was able to inflate his pants to use for flotation.

Then they let us watch instructors go through the tests that the recruits experience.

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They also showed us some extra games that the MCIWS instructors do together to try to push themselves and to have a little fun.  One guy took two 35-lb kettle bells, jumped into the water, walked all the way across the bottom of the pool and then back to the other side in just one breath.40

After that, we drove the buses over to the aviation part of Parris Island.  We heard from some Marines who work on the fighter jets (mainly the F18).  They also told us about the new F35.  Two of the pilots also spoke to us and then they brought us outside to look at the jets.

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One of the pilots with an F18

They let us put on a helmet and climb the ladder to look into the F18, but we weren’t allowed to take any pictures up there.

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After that, we went to have dinner.  It was a crazy long day, with every minute accounted for.  By dinner, I was pretty tired and REALLY hungry.  Luckily there was delicious eggplant lasagna as one of the buffet options for dinner.

Many of the teachers wanted a drink, so they were excited to learn that we could go to the officer’s club for drinks.  I was tired (and I don’t drink), so I was just ready to get back to the hotel and go to bed.

Thursday:

On Thursday morning, we again had breakfast from 5-6am and loaded up on the buses.  I was simultaneously excited and nervous for the day’s activities since I knew that it was our physical day.

First, we got to see the Marines who would be graduating the following morning as they took their motivation run.  This was their last workout before graduation and also the first time their families would see them.  Since there are so many Marines and they all look very similar, most families probably couldn’t pick out their son or daughter, but the energy was vibrant.

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Motivation run

We took a group picture and then we went to the visitors center.  I had a chance to speak to the chaplain, which was interesting.  She said that they have quite a few conversions because some of the new recruits end up finding their faith as a result of trying to cope with the difficulties that accompany boot camp.  She said that she would be performing seven baptisms later that day.

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After that, we went to the Marine museum.  Then it was time to go to the obstacle course.  I was excited for the obstacles since I would be running the Spartan Beast soon after heading back to Jersey.

The first obstacle was a series of logs across other logs.  You had to jump on the first horizontal log, then up to the next, and finally up to the third, before bear hugging it, rolling over, and jumping down.  This is what it looked like:

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Then, we had to run and jump onto this rope and swing across the gravel area:

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Then there was an inverted wall.  Here, one of the Marines is helping me to get my leg over:

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There were also monkey bars and then this balancing log obstacle:

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After the obstacles, we had lunch with more Marine recruits.  Then it was time for the 50 foot rappel tower.  I’m not scared of heights, so I wasn’t as scared as many of the other people in our group, but the tower definitely looked pretty tall.

First, they taught us how to tie the knots for our harness.  The Marines checked to make sure that each of us had tied the harnesses properly and then we walked up the steps to the top of the tower.

I stayed close to the front of the line because I didn’t want to have to wait too long for my turn.  I knew that the longer I waited, the more nervous I would feel.  They ensured us that even if we slipped, we wouldn’t crash down to the ground.  Worst case scenario, we would flip upside down, still attached to the harness.

When it was my turn, I intentionally just stepped backward toward the edge of the ledge, not looking at the ground below me.  I knew that I would be more scared if I saw how far the ground looked.

When the Marine told me to, I slowly leaned back, still not looking down.

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We were told to keep our legs straight.  If we bent them, we might end up flipping over.  Our left arm was supposed to hold the rope loosely while the right arm was supposed to hold the rope tightly since it was our break hand.  As we let go with the right hand, we would start rappelling down.  The Marines would rappel really quickly, almost running down the wall.  I didn’t want to go that fast, so I never loosened my right hand too much.

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I slowly made my way down the wall and it was pretty fun.  I’m happy that I went early on because after me, there were a few people who slipped.  I saw at lease three or four people flip upside down.  I would have been absolutely terrified if that had happened to me and I was hanging upside down at the top of the tower.

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After the tower, we went to the gas chambers.  First, they asked who wore contacts.  I raised my hand.  They said that any of us with contacts would have to close our eyes as we walked through the gas chamber.  Otherwise, we would get these crystals stuck under our contacts and they said it would hurt even worse when they did whatever was necessary to clean them out.

I had an immediate stomachache because I was so nervous about going into the gas chamber without my eyes open.  I had to hold onto the shoulders of the person in front of me.  I tried to hold my breath for as long as I could, but I eventually had to breathe.  I breathed in through my mouth and immediately felt a burning sensation in my throat and lungs.

We were probably only in the gas chamber for a matter of seconds and I probably only took 2-3 breaths while inside, yet all of us were immediately coughing the moment we exited.  People without contacts probably had it worse because their eyes had been open, so they were burning in addition to their noses, throats, and lungs.

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They told us to walk around to get fresh air.  The gas chamber was pretty painful and the gas wasn’t even on.  They said that it was worse for us because it was such a hot day, so the brick building was hot.  The gas gets stirred up by people walking through it, so even though it wasn’t on full blast, it was still pretty strong.

The Marine recruits enter the gas chamber with gas masks on.  Then they eventually must break the seal, letting the air into their masks in order to get used to training in a chemical situation and not just freaking out.  I can’t imagine how strong the gas must feel when it’s on full blast.

After that, we went to see part of the Crucible, the last event that the recruits have to endure before becoming actual Marines.  It’s a 54-hour culminating event. We got to participate in more obstacles there.  These were team-building obstacles that required everyone to work together in order to accomplish the tasks.

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We also got to see the recruits doing some sparring during the Crucible.

From there, we went to a dinner that they were having.  Some of the families of the Marines who would be graduating on Friday were there.  After dinner, we went to a shop that was on the island and then back to our hotel.

My roommate and I went on a 6 mile run with one of the Marines.  The rest of the group had a karaoke night at the hotel bar.

Friday:

Friday morning we had breakfast and then went to the ceremony where they raised the flag.  From there, we went to the graduation ceremony.

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Graduation ceremony

It was amazing to realize that they have this same ceremony every Friday for a new group of Marines.

Then we went to the auditorium to talk to the General.  We then took pictures with the Marine dog, Legend, and with some of the Marines we had been working with during the workshop.

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Legend with two of the Marines we had been working with

This woman, staff sergeant King, was the drill instructor for RS New Jersey.  By Friday, she was nice to us and speaking normally, but on Wednesday morning, she was completely terrifying with all of the orders she was yelling at us.

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We then got some boxed lunches and hopped on the bus for our flights home.  I flew from Savannah to North Carolina and then from North Carolina to New Jersey.  At Newark, I was picked up by my local Marine recruiter and then brought back home.

Overall, the experience was really awesome.  I learned so much about the Marines.  I definitely feel better prepared to give advice to some of my students who may be trying to decide whether the military is right for them.

I actually have a student who just told me this week that he signed up for the Marines and he was asking me questions about my experience at the workshop.  I like the fact that I can now better understand what he should expect in terms of enlisting and eventually heading off to Parris Island for boot camp.

I would definitely encourage any educator, principal, or guidance counselor to attend the Marine Educator Workshop if they have the opportunity.

Dear News Sources, Did You Know that People are Dying in Somalia?

I’ve already written posts previously about American egocentrism (see: American Egocentrism Strikes Again and American Egocentrism – Back at it Again), but it is a constant source of frustration for me.

I have been hearing lately about the desperate situations in which many people in eastern Africa are currently finding themselves due to famine as well as violence.  Most of this information I have come across because I follow the Machine Gun Preacher’s Facebook page after having found myself very interested in his organization, Angels of East Africa, which helps those suffering, after watching the film Machine Gun Preacher with Gerard Butler.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.  The Machine Gun Preacher, Sam Childers, started out by choosing to go to Sudan to rescue children from the LRA and Joseph Kony.  These children were taken from their families, often forced to kill their own parents, and then were trained to kill.

I could go on forever about Sam Childers, but that isn’t the point here.  If I had not been following him on social media, I would have been like one of many Americans who are completely unaware of the current devastation in Africa.

There are also major problems occurring in Syria due to their current civil war.  There are tons of Syrian refugees right now.

There was also a recent situation where 40 or more Somalian refugees headed for Yemen were killed by an air strike.

Many people here in the United States fail to pay attention to the news at all.  However, even those who try to maintain an awareness of the world around them may have missed what is happening in countries like Somalia right now.

Why? Because American news sources are doing a poor job reporting much about it.  Even the world news sources aren’t paying as much attention as they should be.  Here is a look at some recent headlines from the home pages of these news sources from Saturday, March 18th, 2017.

New York Times:

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CNN News:

 

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BBC News:

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Al Jazeera:

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Okay, you get the idea.

Out of all of those sources, Al Jazeera was the only one that mentioned the problems in Syria.  The crises in Somalia and Syria are devastating right now.  There are people dying every day.  Yet out of four major news sources, only one of them mentioned it on their home page.  I could have guessed that it wasn’t going to be the American news source.

Now, what would happen if I specifically looked for world news within these same sources? (I skipped Al Jazeera this time since all of their news is world news.)

NY Times world news:

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CNN News world news:

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BBC News:

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Yep, just what I suspected.  Even the world news sections fail to mention the travesties taking place right now in countries like Somalia and Syria.

Yesterday, I was watching Casey Neistat’s video and it gave me some hope that although our news sources do a pitiful job informing Americans about certain problems in the world, maybe other famous people can do the job.  Casey Neistat gained popularity for his YouTube vlogs.  In this video, he mentions a project that his friend, Jerome Jarre (famous on Vine and Snapchat) came up with, with the help of actor Ben Stiller.

Jerome decided to look into what it would take to get a Turkish Airlines flight to be loaded with food to bring  to Somalia to help the many who are starving right now as a result of their famine.  Fortunately, Turkish Airlines agreed to work with them.

Here is the video:

Casey Neistat posted his video yesterday, March 17th.  It is currently March 18th at 2pm and the $1 million goal was not only met, but exceeded:

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That is absolutely incredible.  They were able to raise over one million dollars to help those dying of starvation in less than 24 hours.  As of right now, there were 42,186 donations.  Many of the donations are small amounts.  $5 here, $8 there.  Obviously there were some larger donations as well, but this goes to show how far a small amount of money can go.  It also shows that people do care to aid those in need if they were just aware of the situation and given a way to help.

Why must it take people like a random Vine star to bring awareness to issues like this?  Shouldn’t we already know about these sorts of problems from our news sources?  From our president?

Despite my frustration regarding the media, stories like this give me hope. Maybe the news outlets will cover the story because Casey Niestat and Ben Stiller are involved, which will provide even more awareness about the issues.

I know that it is easy to get wrapped up in our own little circle of friends and family, to only pay attention to local news that affects us directly.  I am guilty of this myself at times.  But we have to remember that even when our problems seem like a major burden, we are blessed to be living in a country in which most of us do not find it difficult to meet our basic needs.

We are rarely, if ever, in a situation where life or death is dependent upon whether or not we are able to find a source of water.  We do not have to hide in the bush while the LRA soldiers come looking to kidnap our children, rape our women, and murder or mutilate the rest of us.  We do not have to fear that the next thunderstorm may decimate our home.  If we get diarrhea, it’s an inconvenience, but not a death sentence.

I am thankful to be an American, but America, I expect more of you.  I know that people are up in arms about some of the things that Donald Trump has been doing lately.  I can assure you that I am not his biggest fan.

But despite all of that, we must remember that at this moment, someone in Somalia is taking his or her last breath, simply because he or she has gone too many days without a bite to eat or a sip of water.

Admitting Your White Privilege Doesn’t Make You Racist

I previously wrote a post about My White Privilege about a year ago.  This year, I used a new textbook for my AP English Language & Composition class.  We were working on the gender unit when I stumbled upon a new text that I assigned my students to read for homework last week.

It’s entitled “Just Walk on By” by Brent Staples, which is a piece in his memoir, Parallel Time: Growing up in White and Black (published in 1994).  Here is an excerpt:

“At night, I walked to the lakefront whenever the weather permitted.  I was headed home from the lake when I took my first victim.  It was late fall, and the wind was cutting.  I was wearing my navy pea jacket, the collar turned up, my hands snug in the pockets.  Dead leaves scuttled in shoals along the streets.  I turned out of Blackstone Avenue and headed west on 57th Street, and there she was, a few yards ahead of me, dressed in business clothes and carrying a briefcase.  She looked back at me once, then again, and picked up her pace.  She looked back again and started to run.  I stopped where I was and looked up at the surrounding windows.  What did this look like to people peeking out through their blinds?  I was out walking.  But what if someone had thought they’d seen something they hadn’t and called the police.  I held back the urge to run.  Instead, I walked south to The Midway, plunged into the darkness, and remained on The Midway until I reached the foot of my street.

“I’d been a fool.  I’d been walking the streets grinning good evening at people who were frightened to death of me.  I did violence to them by just being.  How had I missed this?”

In his piece, he explains how he is viewed as a criminal before he commits any crime. Being a black man is his only crime.

Staples is a well-educated man who has a PhD in psychology, yet he will continue to be viewed as a criminal based solely on the color of his skin and his gender.  It is now 2017, but being a black man still comes with many negative connotations that I will never be able to fully understand as a white woman.

My students have very diverse backgrounds.  In the one class in which I was teaching this piece last week, I only had two male students present, and one of them was a tall, black male.  He is an extremely polite young man.  He’s a good student with a great work ethic.  He plays on the football and basketball teams.  But he expressed agreement with the author’s assertions, providing instances when had been viewed as a criminal or a thug simply because he is a tall black male.  He even described some frightening instances in which police officers acted aggressively toward him or his family despite no crime having taken place.

Reading “Just Walk on By,” my heart breaks for a few reasons.

First, it is such a pity that this is still a problem in the year 2017.  Things have obviously progressed since the times of slavery and legalized segregation, but we cannot be content with the way things sit right now.  Relative to the 1950s, we’re living in a utopia for African Americans.  But that means very little.

It also frustrates me because I know that many white people deny their white privilege, which just perpetuates the problem.  It does exist and it must be addressed.  Denying white privilege does not do any good.  Accepting it does not mean that you are racist.  I know that I have white privilege.  Although I am half Brazilian, which could in some cases cause people to view me a bit differently, I appear on the outside as a typical white girl — blonde hair, blue eyes.  I am not intimidating.  I do not look like a criminal.  By accepting my white privilege, I am not saying that I am better than anyone.  Instead, I am acknowledging the fact that society puts me on a pedestal.  I am not feared.  My intelligence and education are not questioned.  I am not given second glances by the police.

And last, my heart breaks in knowing that I will never understand what it feels like to be in the position of Brent Staples or my student who related to the piece.  I cannot fathom walking down the street and seeing people cast back second glances, quickening their pace, locking their car doors, or crossing over to the other side of the road to get away from me.  I cannot imagine how it must feel to be feared simply because of being.

Staples says how it was at twenty-two years old when he “first began to know the unwieldy inheritance [he’d] come into–the ability to alter public space in ugly ways.”  He continues to say that it was “clear that I was indistinguishable from the muggers who occasionally seeped into the area from the surrounding ghetto.”

Those who deny white privilege must not understand the recent problems regarding police brutality.  It is undeniable that a black person who is stopped by a police officer must act extra kind, polite, and gentle.  And even if he does, there is still the chance of a wrongful conviction, or even death, simply because of his skin color.

Our society teaches us that the black male must be feared.  This is what we grow up being brainwashed by each day, mainly through the news and media.  Although Staples probably feels some frustration when people fear him, he understands and sympathizes for them.  He acknowledges that the “danger they perceive is not a hallucination.  Women are particularly vulnerable to street violence, and young black makes are drastically overrepresented among the perpetrators of that violence.  Yet these truths are no solace against the kind of alienation that comes of being ever the suspect, against being set apart, a fearsome entity with whom pedestrians avoid making eye contact.”

My student is only 17 years old and he is already aware of this reality.  He was born into a body which will benefit him on the court and on the football field.  His mind and intelligence will be an asset through his schooling and future career, but ultimately, because of his body, he will be feared and judged without reason.

Staples explains how he eventually “began to take precautions to make [himself] less threatening.”  He says that he is careful where he walks, especially at night.  He tries to leave enough space between other people so that he does not feel as threatening to them.

My student actually admitted to doing similar things.  He told our class how he often notices people glancing behind at him, checking his proximity.  He said that he will sometimes cross the street to walk on the other side on purpose so that the person in front of him does not feel threatened.

I will never be able to relate to that.  Why?  Because I am white.

I am able to greet people I cross paths with on the street without them feeling unnerved.  I will probably not be mistaken for a criminal simply because I walked too close to a crime scene and was assumed to be connected.

I love my job as a teacher, mainly for all of the connections  that I am able to make with my students.  But along with those connections comes emotional grief.  It pains me to know that for this young black student, it does not really matter how much I teach him, or where he goes to college; he will not be able to change the body he was born into.

Can he accomplish great things?  Absolutely.  But unless this world changes, he will have a more difficult time achieving greatness than if he had been born a white male.  I know the shameful truth that in many situations, he will be viewed as a lesser version of a white male who has the same education, grades, and work ethic.

Maybe his height, size, and even race give him an advantage with football or basketball.  Some would say that his race could get him into college more easily thanks to affirmative action. But depending on his career goals, he will have to work so much harder than his white counterpart to achieve similar end results.

Some people like to say that this isn’t really true in America in 2017.  After all, we had a black president, didn’t we?  But one black president mean does not nullify the existence of racism and privilege.

I don’t know Obama’s full life story.  But I am sure that he had to work tooth and nail to achieve the success that he did.  The same is true for his wife, Michelle.

Neither of her parents had graduated from college, and some of her high school teachers even tried to convince her not to apply to Princeton because they believed that she was setting her goals too high.  She had to earn her respect as an intelligent woman despite her race.

Growing up without much money, I had an intense drive to succeed, to get through college, and to begin my career as a teacher.  I know that I worked hard in college, but did I have it a little easier because I was white?  I believe so.  Had I been black, I would have had to work even harder to prove myself equal to those around me in my schooling and college.  The intelligent black male or female is still viewed today as the exception, not the norm.

Admitting your white privilege does not make you racist.  It doesn’t make you the bad guy.

Instead, it means that you are aware that you were born into some level of privilege simply because of your skin color.

It means that you have a responsibility to admit and remember this fact so that you can work towards changing the status quo.

It means that you must use that privilege to enlighten those around you about that fact so that we can one day find equality.

I am a white woman.  I was born into a body that does not lead to doors being shut simply because of my appearance.  The same is not true for all of the babies being born into black bodies at this very moment.  They will face bigger obstacles than me for no reason other than the color of their skin.  That is the reality of white privilege.

 

Abortion Funding Changes

Donald Trump is not my favorite person in the world.  Let’s just get that straight.  I was not thrilled for his election or inauguration. (Though I wouldn’t have been thrilled about Hillary’s either, for that matter.)

But I have to admit that I am very happy about one of the first things I’ve heard him doing now that he is president.

Today, he signed an executive action to reinstate the Mexico City Policy.  This basically takes away funding from NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that perform abortions overseas.

According to CNN, this policy was first implemented during the Reagan administration and then rescinded during Obama’s presidency.

Of course, there are many people who are up in arms today, many of whom argue that this is the first step in restricting women’s rights:

“Donald Trump has turned his anti-women rhetoric into policy, and made it more difficult for women and families all over the world to access vital reproductive care. He really is living up to the lowest of expectations,” NARAL’s president, Ilyse Hogue, wrote.

Abortions being legal is not pro-women, despite what pro-choice people would like to have you believe.  And abortion being illegal is absolutely not anti-women.

To abort a baby is to take a human life that was created by a man and a woman.  The baby is just as much the man’s child as it is the woman’s.  The only difference is that the woman must carry this baby within her body.  I am not trying to make light of that situation.  I know that being pregnant is no easy task.  But to call abortion a woman’s issue ignores that fact that the man is 50% responsible for that pregnancy and that he has rights to that child.

If a woman has a baby, the father has legal rights to that child.  If the couple separates, that father must pay child support.  That is because we know that the child is not the woman’s property alone.  The father had an equal part in the pregnancy as the woman.

Why is the same not true of abortion?  Why must it be viewed solely as a woman’s issue?

If you think about the babies being murdered by abortion, it is clearly more than a woman’s issue.  It’s an issue of life and death, regardless of gender.

I’m not going to get into all of my reasons why I believe that abortion should be illegal right now, because I could go on all night.  But I absolutely applaud Trump for this bold move.

People like to argue that abortion does not affect those who do not support it; they simply choose not to have an abortion.  Depending on our laws, though, they are wrong.

Until the signing of this law, my taxpayer dollars were going toward abortion funding, not only within my own country, but overseas as well.  It is bad enough that I am, in a way, helping to kill innocent babies here in the US, but in foreign countries as well?  Don’t I have the right to choose not to fund what I believe to be murder?

Murder, after all, is the premeditated killing of another human being.  A baby is a human being.  It breathes, feels, grows.

If a pregnant woman is murdered, the killer receives two murder charges: one for the woman and one for the unborn baby.  Our laws, therefore, are contradictory.  In one situation, a fetus is viewed as human and its death is called murder.  In the other situation, the fetus is viewed as a bunch of cells and its death is called women’s rights.

A woman who I know from my old job recently had a son born prematurely.  He was born at 24 weeks this past fall.  He was just 1 lb, 9 oz.  Depending on the state in which this woman lived, she could have aborted that fetus at that same age.  Did he have some developmental issues?  Of course.  But today he is able to breathe on his own and he is still improving.

Abortion is not anti-woman or anti-man.  It is anti-life.

I heard about the women’s march that was going on this weekend.  I had no interest in attending because in many of the locations, the right to abortion was one of the issues that women were standing up for.

It saddens me to know that because I don’t condone murder, I will never stand up for so-called women’s rights or feminism.

Yes, I believe that women deserve equal pay for equal professions as men.  Yes, I believe that women are intelligent, capable human beings.  But does that give them the right to kill with the argument that it’s “their body”?  Absolutely not.

To be pro-life is more pro-women anyway.  Many women face terrible side effects from going through with abortion.  There are physical side effects like fever, nausea, infection, and death.  Then there are many emotional side effects, ranging from depression and guilt, to suicide.

The woman behind Roe v. Wade, whose name is Norma McCorvey, says that her part in legalizing abortion in 1973 was the biggest mistake of her life.  She started her own pro-life outreach in 1997 after realizing the flaws in her previous pro-choice attitude.

The annual March for Life is coming up this Friday.  When in college, I traveled to DC for the March for Life, which fights to protect life at all stages.  That is the march that I support much more than the women’s march.

So kudos to you, Donald Trump.  I may not see eye to eye with you, or feel warm fuzzies when I hear your name, but I am thankful for this small step that you have just taken in terms of fighting back against abortion.

Trump is President, For Better or for Worse

I don’t usually like to get too involved in politics, but our country is currently in the midst of a time that will probably go down in the history books.

Wrapping my thoughts around this particular election has been rough.  There were so many reasons I disagreed with Hillary Clinton, and so many others why I disagreed with Donald Trump.

As recently as the night before Election Day, I was still wavering on which way to cast my vote the next morning.

Am I pleased with the outcome?  No.  I’m definitely not dancing for joy, that is for sure. But I wouldn’t be cheering had Hillary won either.

The night of the election, I stayed up until around 10:30 watching the news coverage.  At that point, Trump was in the lead, but they didn’t really know what might happen with the swing states.  It was still anyone’s game.

Upon waking up, I said a prayer for our country.  And before opening my laptop to view the results, I stopped to think about which result I would prefer to see.  I really wasn’t sure.  Since I found so many subpar qualities regarding each candidate’s views, I really didn’t know what I hoped for.

I would describe my feeling upon seeing that Donald Trump had won as a reaction of surprise.  A few years ago, nobody would have thought that this was possible.  A few years ago, people would have laughed off any fortune teller who predicted this outcome.  But it did happen.  This isn’t a dream; this is our new reality.

I work in an urban school district and I could tell yesterday that some of my foreign students had very real concerns about some of their family members.  That was heartbreaking for me to witness.

I have no idea what is going to happen over the course of the next four years.  But I do know that we cannot live in fear.  Many people dislike Trump’s fear-mongering political tactic.  While I agree with them, those same people who condemned him are perpetuating that same fear right now, acting as though the end times have come.

No, I do not believe that Trump, or Hillary, for that matter, is the anti-Christ.

Donald Trump was elected by the American people, for better or for worse.  Half of our country supports him (or just really dislikes Hillary).  No votes need to be recounted.  He won.  I’m aware of the flaws with the popular vote versus the electoral college, but that is something that we know exists and until people fight more for a change with that system, that is the way we go about presidential elections in this country.

If you want to move to Canada, then go.  There are many reasons why I can name multiple countries where I think life could be much better than here in America, even before this election.  So stand by your word and move.

But if you plan to stay here, propagating hatred is NOT the answer.

Am I concerned about the future of our country?  Absolutely.  I’m nervous about the laws regarding the prison system, capital punishment, climate change, gun control, immigration, and national defense.  Had Hillary won, I would have been nervous about right to life issues, religious freedom, and deeply rooted corruption.

But what concerns me more right now is the actions of the American public.

I know you’re upset.  You have a right to feel anger or frustration, but Trump won fair and square, according to American laws.  We cannot become even more divided as a nation.  That is what will cause more problems than the election itself.

Social media is full of people spewing their hatred against each other right now.  Who is that helping?  Okay, you were able to vent, but what other positive end came out of your reactions of anger?

I am at peace with the thought of Donald Trump being the new president because of one thing: God.  I believe with every ounce of my being that God exists.  He is a good and loving God and I know that He is here to protect us.

That is not to say that He does not allow for evil in the world to exist, but living in fear goes against Christian teachings:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” -John 14:27

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make our requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:6-7

“Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice.” -Isaiah 41:10

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.” -Mark 6:36

And there are many more verses just like those.  If we live in fear, we are denying our faith in God to some extent.  Obviously, we’re human.  Fear still always exists.  I’ll be the first to admit that I definitely have my own fears, both with regards to the election as well as other fears that I encounter in my day to day life. But if we make ourselves aware of those fears, we can come to understand that they bear no fruit.

I cannot waste my time being afraid of the tomorrow that has not yet arrived.  I need to live for today.  I need to live in a way that shows that I am trying to follow Christ.  Wallowing in sorrow and fear about the election does not show anyone that I have full faith in God.

 

Remember, also, to be thankful that you live in a country in which the president is not a dictator and that he does not have absolute power.

Consider Obama’s presidency for a moment.  Do you remember all of the laws that he was unable to pass because of the party system?  Do you remember how the Republicans blocked so many bills?  Do you not think that the opposite will be true for Donald Trump?

I am aware that the president has a great deal of power, but we still have the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court.  That remains the same.

So today, I urge those of you who are afraid of tomorrow to turn to God rather than reading your friends’ Facebook posts and Tweets about how Trump is going to destroy our nation.  Sure, he may makes choices that you don’t agree with, but fearing that right now isn’t going to change anything.

Right now, this is what I urge you to do:

Love. Spread your love to everyone you encounter.  God calls us to love everyone, not just our friends, but those who persecute us, our enemies, even.  If you view Trump as your enemy, then pray for him.

Right now, that is what our country needs.  We need love and respect and we need to set aside the fear of tomorrow because our fears and worries do not change anything.

Love your neighbors.  Love Trump supporters.  Love Hillary supporters.  Love everyone you encounter and that is how we can find a better tomorrow.

 

Desensitized America

In America today, the land of the free and home of the brave, not too many days pass between mass shootings.  There are so many names of small, previously unknown towns that are now recognized by the majority of Americans.  Columbine.  Aurora.  Sandy Hook.  These used to be places that would only be known to people who lived in the surrounding towns.  Just dots on our maps.

I wish I didn’t recognize these names.  I wish Columbine was still just a town in Colorado that I had never heard of.

I wish Virginia Tech was just another school in Virginia.

I wish Sandy Hook/Newtown, Connecticut was the place that I was familiar with because of St. Rose of Lima Church, the Blue Colony Diner, the town with the flag pole as its center, exits 9 and 10 off of 84, and the best place to see a cheap, $2 movie at Edmond Town Hall.

Instead, it is a town that is remembered nationally (and even internationally) for the tragic school shooting that took place there.

I’m not here to discuss what needs to be done to end the gun violence in this country because although I have my own opinions, nobody really has an answer.  Gun control alone isn’t the answer.  Neither is more advanced security in schools, the termination or stricter regulation of violent video games and films, better mental health care, fewer divorces, the end of bullying, etc.  None of these one issues alone is responsible for all of the mass killings that take place in this country.

I can’t tell you how to stop the killings.  But there are other problems that coincide with these atrocities.

What actually scares me the most is how we are becoming so desensitized to these shootings.  I remember how the Columbine shooting was one of the scariest news stories.  Most of us still remember the names Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.  Many of us have watched Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine.

But as these incidents become more common, they begin to affect us less and less.

Sandy Hook was more recent and it did cause a great deal of outrage, mainly because so many young children were the ones who had been slaughtered.  For me it was also terrifying since it was so close to home, and I was teaching my English class while the shooting was taking place.

But with each new shooting, there seems to be less media attention (unless it is one that surpasses the death tolls from previous shootings) and likewise, less response from the American public.

We have become desensitized.  Sure, it’s still sad to hear that another shooting has taken place, but it’s almost something that has become expected.

I am guilty of this myself. Nobody wants to hear about another shooting, but the horror that we felt with Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Sandy Hook has dissipated.  I am no longer in shock when I hear these stories.  Sad? Yes. Upset, frustrated, disappointed.  Yes, I still experience those negative emotions.  But the outrage isn’t there as much as it used to be because these shootings have become commonplace.

I want to feel the absolute horror that was present when people learned about Columbine and Sandy Hook.  We, as a society, need to feel that horror.  Maybe then we would work harder to try to find and address the roots of the problem.

Nobody wants to feel such levels of disgust, but those emotions are necessary because without them, we let the murderers win.  If we shrug our shoulders, feeling powerless to ever change the current state of our country, then these atrocities will simply continue.

We cannot accept our nation as a violent place where we have to be suspicious toward every person who looks different from the norm.

We can’t just sit back, hoping and praying that our town, our school, our child isn’t the one directly affected by events like this.

We can’t just lock ourselves inside of our homes, afraid to go to public places.

We shouldn’t have to go to a major event like the Boston Marathon, checking on the police officer presence and consciously deciding whether or not we feel safe enough.

We cannot allow America to be the land of the mass shootings rather than the land of the free.

And most importantly, we cannot allow ourselves to be desensitized and to stop feeling the outrage that should be experienced every time an innocent person dies as a result of one of these mass shootings.

 

Do We All Have the Capacity to Commit Evil?

I’m currently reading Jodi Picoult’s novel, The Storyteller. I love her books so much because they always lead me to question my own morals and convictions.  Although her books are works of fiction, she really brings the characters to life because she does so much research about the professions and backgrounds of each person.  In this novel, the main character is a Jewish baker and she meets a man who was an SS officer during the Holocaust.  The detail with which she describes what he experienced while working in a concentration camp gives the novel a nonfiction feel to it.  It sounds like his dialogue is quoted from a real Nazi soldier.

The following quote really caught my eye:

“Inside each of us is a monster; inside each of us is a saint.  The real question is which one we nurture the most, which one will smite the other.”

It made me consider my own convictions.  I try my hardest to be a good person, but do I have the capacity for evil?  I would like to think that no, I cannot be evil, but I don’t think that is true.  I do believe that we all have the capacity for evil.

Although this is another fictional example, I think Shakespeare shows it the best:

Consider Macbeth. Macbeth starts out as a strong soldier who succeeded in Scotland’s battle against Norway.  But then he hears the witches’ prophecies about becoming king.  He starts to thirst for that position of power.  Upon hearing that King Duncan had appointed his son as prince, Macbeth decides that the only answer is to kill King Duncan.  And after that, he continues to kill anyone standing in his way of remaining king.  Most people would argue that Macbeth is absolutely evil by the end of the play.  But in the beginning, he was a normal soldier.  His desire for power led to his downfall.

Could that happen to any of us?  It’s interesting to consider.

Another section of the book stood out to me.  Josef, the character who was the SS soldier, talks about being forced to beat up his brother when in training with Hitler Youth.  He says:

“Did I know this brutality was wrong?  Even that first time, when my brother was the victim?  I have asked myself a thousand times and the answer is always the same: of course.  That day was the hardest, because I could have said no.  Every time after that, it became easier, because if I didn’t do it again, I would be reminded of that first time I did not say no.  Repeat the same action over and over again, and eventually it will feel right.  Eventually, there isn’t even any guilt.

“What I mean to tell you, now is that the same truth holds.  This could be you, too.  You think never. You think, not I.  But at any given moment, we are capable of doing what we least expect.  I always knew what I was doing, and to whom I was doing it.  I knew, very well.  Because in those terrible, wonderful moments, I was the person everyone wanted to be.”

I am the type of person who often feels badly for many criminals.  I always wonder what led them up to committing their crimes.  What was their upbringing like?  How were their parents?  Were they bullied?  Did they have untreated mental disorders?  Were they framed?  I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Really, that is what our country supposedly does as well – considering people innocent until proven guilty (though most people are condemned by the public long before their actual trial).

We learn about the Holocaust in history class.  We learn to hate the Nazis and Hitler.  But most, if not all, of the perpetrators of the hideous crimes that occurred during the Holocaust probably started out as normal people.  What is it that led them to commit such heinous acts?

In this case, Josef talks about how his decision that first time to say yes and agree to beat up his brother was the turning point.  After beating your own brother, how could you then say no to beating a stranger?

To me, this seems to be the same situation that many of us find ourselves in with regard to habitual sins.  Upon committing any given sin the first time, it makes it easier to do it again.  Well, I already made that mistake once, we often think.  And then it can easily become a difficult habit to break.  Eventually, the guilt will be gone.

The same is true when we are desensitized to violence.  We see so many graphic video games, television shows, and movies, that the violence no longer creates any feeling of disgust or negative emotion within us.  Watch too much violence and we become desensitized.  Commit any given sin too many times and it becomes habitual.

Let’s start with the example of a simple lie.  We tell one lie, but that often leads to another lie because we need to make sure that the first lie isn’t exposed.  Then it becomes a sort of routine.  We’re not lying because we’re trying to be evil or evasive, but because it’s usually the easier option.

The same thing happens with sexual sin.  Anyone who struggles with a pornography addiction had to start somewhere.  They had to click on that first video.  And I bet for most of these people, they felt guilt in the beginning, but it was an exciting, intriguing sort of guilt.  When the opportunity arose again to watch another video, it would be harder to say no because of that first instance of saying yes.  Well, I already did it once.  I’ve already dirtied myself.  What more could it hurt to watch another video or look at another picture?

The same goes for premarital sex.  Many girls (and boys) who regret losing their virginity most likely felt some amount of guilt in the beginning.  But it probably became easier to continue having sex because their virginity was already gone.  It was something that couldn’t be taken back.  Thus, a habitual sin is created, one that is difficult to overcome.  And if intercourse becomes a regular facet of their life, the guilty feelings are probably gone.

In terms of Josef, he did feel guilt upon beating his brother.  But then when he had to ruin the storefront of a Jewish shopkeeper, it was more difficult to say no.  If he hadn’t said no to hurting his own brother, how could he now say no to hurting a Jew?  And after shooting his first Jew in a concentration camp, blood was already on his hands, so how could he stop there?  The violence was just perpetuated.

I’m not saying that we all have the ability to commit genocide, but I do believe that somewhere inside each of us we absolutely have the ability to commit evil.  That is why we were given free will.  I can choose the ethical route, but nobody is forcing me to.  I could have cheated on tests that I performed poorly on rather than taking them honestly.  I could have lied in situations where honesty was not the easiest option.  Could I have ever killed?  I hope not, but I don’t think I could ever say with complete certainty that it would be impossible.

We make one mistake and it can snowball into further wrongdoings.

But that is why I love Christianity and Catholicism so much.  Because God will forgive us no matter how many times we continue to make a mistake and commit a certain sin.  His forgiveness has no limits.  If we are truly sorry for our wrongdoings and confess those sins to Him, with a true desire to stop committing that sin, then we are washed clean and we can begin again.

I think that if it wasn’t for my faith, I would be a very different person, and not in a good way.  Because then I wouldn’t have those fresh starts.  I wouldn’t be able to wipe my slate clean.  Sin builds up so much and it starts to weigh us down.  It dirties us and causes us to feel less worth.  If I had to live with all of the sins that I have committed, many of them probably would become habitual sins because I would have the feeling that it was too late to change or go back.

But I am blessed to live with a different outlook.  I can be washed clean and try my best to right my wrongs, to start again.

I hope that because of that, I will never be a person who commits pure evil, but I do believe that within each of us does lie the capacity for evil; it’s just up to us to choose our path.

Before reading this book, I viewed all Nazi soldiers as evil.  And yes, they did commit evil acts, but they didn’t start out evil.  They didn’t grow up as children whose goal was to kill the highest number of Jewish people.  They started out like you and me.  Children who had positive dreams about their futures.

Somewhere along the line, though, they said yes to something that was inherently wrong.  And after making that first yes, the events that followed became easier to justify.  We wonder how terrorists can exist, but we must remember that a terrorist was a child once.  A terrorist was not born with the goal of mass murder.

What is it that leads some of us to commit such gruesome, heinous crimes?  And how many of us, if put in the same situation and with the same background, could have taken the place of a person we view as evil?  How would I act if I wasn’t Catholic?  If I had been raised in another country, in another family, around different people?

If I was alive during the Holocaust and was faced with the same circumstances as Josef, could I have become a Nazi soldier?

These are questions that we don’t like to consider, but maybe that is because deep inside, we realize that we are human and that, as humans, we make mistakes.  It is just up to us how far we actually get with those mistakes, whether we stop after the first few lies, or only after the first few bullets have been fired.

 

 

 

Will 911 Save Your Life When You Need It?

I recently watched a clip from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight about the problems surrounding 911.  When reading the title on YouTube, I had no idea what to expect.  I’ve never needed to dial 911 myself.  I’ve never heard of any issues with the system.  Upon finishing the video, I was absolutely dumbfounded.

There is no federal oversight, so things work on a state to state basis.  Depending on your state, your 911 experiences could vary quite a bit.  Some states have pretty good systems in place while others are atrocious. It can also vary quite a bit depending on your cell phone provider.

In an age of cell phones and GPS, I always thought at 911 operators could tell where I was located if I called them.  Unfortunately, that is often not the case.

I also thought that if I called 911, I would definitely hear someone on the other line.  Also not the case.  There are times when the dialer is connected with a voice recording that asks him to wait because lines are busy and the call will be answered momentarily.  That is absolutely insane.

Most phone bills even have a 911 fee embedded, yet many states send those funds other places, doing nothing to prove the archaic 911 system.

How are more people not up in arms about this?  People have literally died because of these problems.

I love John Oliver’s videos, but they definitely make me more cynical about the United States.  In a country that acts like the superpower of the world, we definitely have major issues that need to be changed.

I would highly suggest watching John Oliver’s video.  This is something that people need to be aware of.

 

 

“Why Gun Violence Can’t Be Our New Normal”

I just finished watching a TED Talk by Dan Gross, entitled “Why Gun Violence Can’t be Our New Normal.”

If you’d like to watch it, here is the video:

 

He brings up a number of startling statistics:

-90 Americans are killed by guns every day

-Every day, 9 children are shot unintentionally

-Every year, 900 children and teens commit suicide, and among those who killed themselves via gunshot, almost all of them used their parents’ gun

-In 2/3 school shootings, the gun was taken from home

-90% of American support the expansion of Brady background checks, yet guns can still be purchased at gun shows without a background check

-Brady background checks have blocked 2.4 million gun sales

-Gun lobbyists blocked the CDC from doing research about gun violence

-Gun lobbyists blocked smart gun technology that would make gun safer


I have many opinions about gun violence and gun laws, and I know that these opinions are not necessarily agreed upon by those around me.  But I think that most people can agree that lobbyists are a major problem in America.

I don’t think that most gun owners would be offended by the CDC researching gun violence.  Yet our lobbyists are so strong that they are able to block efforts and laws that would potentially improve our country on a drastic scale.

Think about the war on tobacco companies and cigarettes.  Most of the lies about the danger of cigarettes were created by strong lobbyists.  If you look into obesity problems in America, you’ll also find strong lobbyists for sugar.

How is it that the lobbyists control so much of what happens in America?  Sure, we can elect a president who promises to make changes to gun legislature and he very well may attempt to, until the lobbyists get involved.

According to Gross, just ten years ago, 42% of Americans believed that owning a gun made them safer.  Today, 63% of Americans believe guns make them safe.  But what these Americans don’t understand is that so many deaths are caused by a gun that was legally purchased, but got into the wrong hands.

We’ve all heard the stories of children accidentally killing parents, siblings, and grandparents after getting access to Daddy’s gun.  Just look at this article to see a few instances of this, like the two year old toddler who took his stepfather’s pistol out of his mother’s purse and accidentally shot himself in the head.

According to this article, “American children are sixteen times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high-income countries.”

We also hear about the school shooters who stole their parents’ gun.

How, then, does owning a gun make your family safer?  I know that many people disagree with me, but I would argue that owning a gun makes your family more likely to experience an accidental shooting.

There was an article published in the Washington Post entitled “How often do children in the U.S. unintentionally shoot and kill people? We don’t know.”

Why do we not have access to this significant data?  There are many reasons, such as the fact that there are certain gray areas where we are not sure whether a shooting was an accident or intentional.  Or the fact that some companies compiling the data don’t exist in all 50 states.  But the gun lobbyists also try to stop organizations from compiling such research.

My favorite line from this TED Talk is when Gross says that we as a nation have “come to accept a disgraceful national epidemic as some kind of new normal.”

I find this to be so true, and I have to admit that I’m guilty of this myself.  I am no longer surprised when I hear the news.  School shooting? What else is new?

I don’t intend to have a cavalier attitude about school shootings, but I no longer feel upset the way I used to when school shootings were less prevalent.  I hear the headlines and I am not surprised.

That changed when the Sandy Hook shooting occurred since it was in a town located close to my former school and home. When people in my community were the ones involved.  When I was trying to teach my English classes while my students informed me about the updates on Newtown via their Twitter feeds.

We as Americans can’t wait to feel outrage until the tragedy happens that close to our homes.  We can’t wait until it is our own sons and daughters who are the victims.  We should feel anger and disgust every time we turn on the news and hear about a shooting.  But since it is now a weekly (sometimes daily) occurrence, it’s so easy to just ignore.  It’s so easy to become resigned in our belief that nothing can change.

Something HAS to change and it is up to us as American citizens to demand that.  We can not sit back while are children are killed every single day.

We need to react to every school shooting like I did with Sandy Hook.  We need to feel that anger.  We need to feel that pain.  Because once those emotions stop, it’s the killers and the lobbyists who have won, and we can’t let that happen.

We deserve a better America, but it will not happen while we sit back and watch the constant violence.  We have to step up and demand changes.  Otherwise, our society will be doomed to repeat this violence for eternity.

Too many people have that laissez-faire attitude that they can’t evoke change.  They feel that they are too insignificant, not realizing that every person counts.  Most Americans are disturbed by the gun violence in our country.  They don’t realize that if we come together, change IS possible.

If you sit back on your couch and shrug your shoulders about your lack of influence when you hear about next week’s shooting, then you are just promulgating the violence.