Let Your Dog Eat Your Homework

The concept of homework is a bit absurd. We throw an extra shift on society’s youth in hopes to “reinforce” the information that they learned in school. The problem with this should be clear. When students go home to the one place where they should feel comfortable to live their separate lives, they are forced into more work. This then leads to loss of family time, loss of personal time, increased stress, anxiety, loss of motivation, and creates a negative view of learning for the students. Then once we have finished all of our extra work, we get a sliver of time for ourselves, family, friends, and activities before were exhausted and have to start the same process over again.

Homework “should be responsible for building long term memory, providing additional stimulation for high performers, helping struggling kids learn the material covered in class, and enhances life skills such as organization and time management”(Australian Financial Review, p1). The problem here is that homework is no longer fulfilling its former role.

Todays homework is just a shell of its former self. Homework used to be a task that was a brief review of the material learned while enforcing more hands on learning. Now we see homework becoming longer, less hands on, and more of just busy work. The problem is that homework has the potential to be extremely beneficial, but homework has changed. With the current homework being given, we are seeing more and more of a negative effect on students all around. When a group of students were surveyed, they reported feeling “emotionally stressed, having breakdowns, anxiety, depression, and in some cases even reported developing chronic insomnia all from homework” (Conner, p1). In the same study, they asked students what caused them the most stress, and what they found was that “seventy percent of students reported homework being their primary source of stress” (Conner, p1). Even though the idea of homework started off as a great learning enhancement, the homework of today is actually hurting students physically and mentally.

One of the problems with today’s homework is that it creates a lot of stress on the student. This is mainly because of the length that homework has grown overtime, and the type of homework being given has changed. A current study done on students shows that “homework benefits plateaued after the 2 hour mark”(Galloway p491-492). This means that after 2 hours, the benefits of homework no longer become relevant and result in more negative effects. Now the problem with today’s homework is that it’s at the point where students get so much that it loses its positive attributes and instead causes negative effects. With today’s homework, “students reported having an average of 3.07 hours a night”(Galloway p491-492). This is over an hour longer than the maximum amount that students should be given. Once a student goes over the two hour mark for homework, there brains get unmotivated, tired, and very stressed. This then creates a domino effect on the student causing a array of problems. Because of stress and the mass amounts of homework, the same study reported seeing that ninety five percent of students admitted to cheating or copying just to cope with all of the extra work. Kids reported that “even if the work is meaningful, excessive workload, combined with a busy schedule of outside activities, becomes too much for many of these kids to handle.

Another problem with today’s homework is that it doesn’t work mentally. It wasn’t until recent studies that we found out just how flawed homework is. After looking at how stress directly affects the brain and learning,  Kelleher Ian, author of (Stress and the Learning Brain), found that:

The amygdala, a critical part of the brain’s limbic system, is the brain’s emotional switching station and the gateway to learning. This is true of all students, no matter how emotionally strong, no matter what age. When students are under too much stress, the amygdala sends incoming information from their senses to the primordially hardwired reactive “fight/flight/freeze” part of the brain. This reactive response and the chemistry fueling it may be good for running away fast, but they are not good for the sort of learning we aim to instill in school. (1)

This is saying that the second a student gets stressed, its brain switches from using complex thinking, to a panicking haze. Once your brain stops using its amygdala, your brain stops retaining the information completely. Homework is flawed since it causes seventy percent of students the most stress in their lives when the human brain doesn’t learn efficiently with stress. This pattern of everyday homework for hours one end can even create patterns in a student’s brain where it becomes harder and harder to use the amygdala. After a student’s brain gets in the pattern on getting overstressed, it more easily switches from intellectual thinking to the fight, flight, and freeze side. The effects of this shows just how inefficient the current homework is. it was found that “the time spent on homework now has almost no correlation with academics and had a negative effect on some student’s performance”(Fernández–Alonso, Multilevel Study, p1). But the effects of today’s homework don’t stop internally within a student.

When a student is required to go to school for seven to eight hours, only to be expected to complete hours of homework, it takes a huge toll on that student’s personal life. That student has to be able to spend time with their friends and family, complete their at home responsibilities, engage in their hobbies and extracurricular activities, and have personal time in the fraction of the day that is left. This often isn’t enough time for students to squeeze their lives into reality, which often leaves them with a choice of what is most important. Because of this we see students getting more and more disconnected from family life. Some parents are getting so fed up that they are putting a ban on homework. Parents like Dr Justin Coulson (a psychologist and parenting expert) has personally banned his kids from doing homework because he says that it “creates stress, family conflict, a burden on parents, and was uninspiring to kids”(“Benefits of homework queried.” Australian Financial Review, p13). Students have less than half of the day to themselves and family, so when homework comes into the equation parents can feel a disconnection from there kids. This then leads to families trying to squeeze together family time. The problem here is that this usually excludes kids from chores and responsibilities that they will need to learn for later in life.

One of the most important problems of homework is actually what is being taught. A big reason that homework is no longer working is that it’s a practice that is outdated and hasn’t been refreshed since it was first introduced. The homework content of our generation hasn’t changed much from our parents, while the world has. When kids went to school in the 60’s and 70’s, there were few problems to face. Now the generation who has to deal with the world’s problems aren’t even being taught about them, but instead the same stuff from before. We are the generation who will have to deal with global warming, nuclear warfare, outstanding amounts of debt and so many other issues and what is the school curriculum? Soh Cah Toa? The powerhouse of a cell is the mitochondria? So when a student realizes all of these problems and then realizes that the place that is supposed to prepare you for life isn’t doing that at all but just preparing you for college, what happens? Well they lose their motivation.

Now you’re probably thinking “if it’s so flawed why hasn’t it changed?” Homework is an outdated process and almost all of the research done on it isn’t recent. Since the previous studies, homework has gotten longer, less family oriented, and further away from the world’s problems. Since there hasn’t been many new studies on the effects of homework, people are still going off of the idea that homework is beneficial. I think Whyte, Kenneth,( author of The Homework Myth), puts it best when he says:

We are too polite, or too fearful to question the conventional wisdom. We allow folks up on Mount Olympus, far from the real world of classrooms and kitchen tables, to pontificate about tougher standards and raising the bar, compelling us to do what really doesn’t make sense at all to our children. So really this is not just a question of learning what the research says about homework, but of being willing to speak out, to take a stand against what is nonsensical at best and damaging to our children at worst.

The reason that there hasn’t been a change is that no one has wanted to question the problem at hand since they have always perceived it to be just a way of life. Just the idea of students doing work all day just to come home and do more work seems like insanity.

So why do we have homework still? Well because, the problem isn’t with homework, it’s how today’s homework is structured that is causing these negative effects. Homework has the potential to be a great learning tool for students and teachers all around, however there needs to be a change. With time comes change, and when you don’t change that’s when things get corrupt. Even our country’s Constitution will someday need to be changed, so why not homework. Out of the two interviews given (one to special ed teacher Mr Johanson, and the other to psychiatrist Peter Baker), both agreed that there needs to be a change in the type of homework given. We are now in the time where there needs to be a change in homework to ensure efficiency. We need to adopt a program that resembles the “goldilocks program” (Kelleher Ian, p1), which states that schools need to monitor student stress much more and make sure that they aren’t being overwhelmed, while also not having too little stress. Since a minimal amount of stress can be beneficial for the brain, you need just the right amount to maximize learning. We then have to incorporate the amount of homework into this equation. Any amount over two hours a night is counterproductive to the learning process so there needs to be regulations on the amount given. This will also help with the issues of family, friends, extracurricular activity time, and loss of motivation in students. One of the last major changes that we need to see in homework is making it more applicable to life. Homework should at the very least be more hands on instead of just busy work but should also have an impact on a student’s life. It should teach a student about real world problems instead of the parts of a glacier, and how to overcome those problems. Students should have homework that involves paying taxes, filling out a police reports, contemplating how to create world peace. Things that they will use hands on in life and will benefit them in the future. This would not only solve the motivation problem, but also get students from an early age to think about the real problems that this world faces.

The main issue at stake is that the system at hand is no longer nearly as efficient as it could be and is hurting our students. Because of this outdated system, our students are suffering from chronic stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, loss of family time, loss of motivation, a increased suicide rate, a increased self harm rate, and some who are cheating just to handle the workload. This is no way to bring our youth into this world and is creating negative attributes all around (the domino effect). We need to restructure the type of homework and how it is being given to ensure student success. If we want our youth to come into this world successfully, there needs to be a change in the school system that ensures more for the student and the mind. By changing homework to be less time consuming, more hands on, and more applicable, students will be able to learn much more efficiently while maintaining a lower level of stress.

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The Multiple Faces of Social Media

The advent of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media sites, has pushed individuals to live in a world where our online identity reflects more than just our name, but serves as a facade for our personality, popularity, and social acceptance.

Outgoing, fun, exciting, these adjectives can be found to describe a user by simply glancing at their social media profile. Do these accurately represent an individual? Perhaps not. Today we live in a world where “likes” have become of paramount importance, often driving individuals to the edges of anxiety and back on whether their profile picture “accurately describes their spring break” or not. A personality therefore can become not of how an individual may act in person, but the “face” they demonstrate to the outside world via internet activities. The multiple faces of these sites gives an impression of what an individual cares about and finds important in their life. This has created an entirely new breed of consumers – people who define their personality to “fit” into society. Take for instance a large sorority event in Greek life at USC. The current social norms dictate that all participating individuals must change their Facebook profile and cover photo in order to “build awareness” for their event, regardless if the individual will be participating in or, even frankly cares about the event at all. Other people may simply post certain items because they know it will boost their popularity and/or represents a lifestyle they want others to perceive of them.

While possibly controversial, social acceptance has largely become based off the persona an individual exerts to the outside world. People who are not active on social media sites typically have a reduced social presence. However, the case being that personas, whether an accurate portrayal or not, defines social acceptance. For example, posting an Instagram image of a Beer Pong game on Thursday night with #partyanimal may garner 100+ likes, whereas posting an image of an art piece may only gather 15. Social media is a game, allow some to capitalize on current trends to promote themselves while lacking their true interests. Individuals may be incredibly fascinated in one industry but may not relate that through social media avenues because they feel ostracized or held back by social norms.

Overall, social media sites have pushed individuals to promote themselves in inaccurate ways in order to drive popularity and social acceptance. Personalities become altered and distorted as individuals seek to grow social media followings, causing incredible anxiety(for more on how social media and similar, sedentary activities reduce ability to socialize without anxiety in real life situations–as well as other consequences– check out this TheWeeklyDose article). Regardless of this trend, before committing an Instagram post. individuals will continue to ask their friends, “which filter should I choose?”

Don’t Let Those Unnamed in the Panama Papers get off Easy

Even if no American names are in the Panama Papers, it would be a mistake to view this as the US being free of tax evasion; this scandal should be as much a reminder to America, as it is to the rest of the world, of the need for meaningful corporate reform.

The recent publishing of Mossack Fonseca’s documents has shed light on just how bad the global tax evasion problem and how broken the system that allows it to happen are (if you’re unfamiliar with the Panama Papers, check out NMZ Talk’s overview at http://nmztalks.tumblr.com/post/142913114360/behind-the-journalism-the-panama-papers). Though it may sound surprising, there is a fair chance that Americans will be mentioned little or not at all in these papers. However, this is no reason for Americans to give ourselves a pat on the back; it’s been estimated that in the US, about $2.1 is held in untaxable shell corporations. Tax evasion of any nature—even if not occurring in Panama—deprives citizens of schools, hospitals, roads, etc. and undermines democracy. The global trend in responding to the Panama Papers seems to be punishing the offenders; in the US, we need to go a step further. If we don’t treat this scandal as a wake up call to make substantial policy changes, we can expect this behavior to continue.

One of the many world leaders that had to face the consequences of his involvement was Iceland’s former Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign when confronted with masses of enraged, Icelandic protestors who demanded he step down from his position as Prime Minister. Other countries with leaders tied to the scandal, are beginning investigations in an effort to bring perpetrators to justices. Though this approach might create a façade of security through making examples of individual offenders, many nations—specifically the US—can’t afford to restrain themselves to this method alone if they strive to solve the tax evasion problem. Wealthy Americans—who commit the 3rd highest amount of tax evasion than any other nationality—have other locations they’d prefer to hide their money than Panama. This is for good reason: Territories such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Singapore operate under a derivative of English common law and are viewed to be more politically stable. This gives American lawyers a sense of familiarity and confidence in their legal systems and their ability to navigate them. To make American tax evasion easier, utilizing the previously listed territories isn’t even necessary: Some of the best tax havens in the world are located right on US soil. Is it hard to believe that there are no American’s involved in the Panamanian tax fraud when they’re able establish a partially tax exempt, nearly impossible to trace, shell corporation in Delaware with less information than is required to obtain a library card? These thieves of the American economy deserve to be brought to justice but will never be if we rely solely on the Panama Papers to do so.

The release of the Panama Papers isn’t the first time attention has been called to the problem of tax evasion. World leaders gathered together in 2014 to discus the issue of tax avoidance and put the issue at “the top of their to-do lists”. However, since then no new policies have been put in place. Literally nothing has been done to resolve the problem: not because it’s not important, not because it can’t be done, but because those who control the system do not want it to be. The United States government could easily and effectively shut down all offshore tax havens by refusing these shell companies access to US banks, and it could require corporations in all states to be up to snuff registration wise. This clearly has not happened. Our government is ruled by the wealthy; wealthy people like the system just the way it is.

The wealthy and powerful in this country would prefer to pursue any Americans specifically named in the Panama Papers (if any arise), and leave it at that. They are not going to push for a public registry of corporation owners, transparency of international business transactions, or any other policy changes that get at the root of the bigger issue. Regardless of the quantity of American names associated with the Panama Papers, this scandal should be a wake up call as to who really controls the system we live in and what their motives are. As citizens, it is our duty to elect officials that represent our priorities, not those of people stealing from our economy, if we want to end tax evasion. This is not meant to be a subliminal endorsement for Bernie Sanders; rather, this is an appeal for Americans to support politicians like him to fill the seats in our congress as well as the oval office. Until then, future scandals like the Panama Papers will only result in more PR band-aids administered by those with no intention of solving the problem.

Scientology is Making the World Crazy

Warning: This post contains real life anecdotes on serious subject manner. If the up close and personal dissection of experiences endured by those suffering from mental health issues makes you uncomfortable, be advised to click away now—perhaps an article on Buzzfeed or Reddit will be more your speed. All names of people in this article have been changed.

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This past weekend, my friends and I went to get a tour of the Church of Scientology Community Center (because they say you’re supposed to do one thing that scares you everyday and what better way is there to spend a Saturday afternoon). A 4-floor trek and 3 hours of learning the life changing power of Dianetics later, I left the tour with one particular visual I just couldn’t get out of my head. No it wasn’t the upwards of hundreds of pictures of L. Ron Hubbard, the multiple floors of classrooms used for ‘seminars’, or the framed charts of Tom Cruiz and John Travolta’s emotional well being before and after graphs: This was more disturbing. What got me really heated was thinking back to when Ron, our tour guide and Scientology member since 1972, stood in front of the dozens of TV stations where propaganda films were played for new visitors (why did they need all those TVs to play different videos anyway? They couldn’t figure out how to make a single TV alternate through multiple videos? Isn’t this ideology supposed to be based on science? I digress…) and handed us a pamphlet entitled ‘The Truth About Psychiatry’. He proceeded to inform us that not only are all psychiatrists and psychologists Nazis, but also that all psychotropic medications, specifically antidepressants, lead people to commit crimes like shooting up elementary school (I’d love to see his face if he knew about all the crazy meds that were circulating through my bloodstream in his very presence).

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Exhibit from Scientology’s ‘An Industry of Death’ museum.
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Me and friends getting clear!

More specifically, Scientologists believe that all treatments for mental illness “have no basis in science and are brutal in the extreme”. According to the church, the insane are subjected to these torturous practices to keep patients depended on psychiatrists so they can rake in billions of dollars from their elaborate ponzi scheme. As with many of their beliefs, Scientologists hold additional views on psychiatry that they don’t publicize in an effort to not sound bat-shit crazy themselves to the outside world. However, once members reach the higher levels of spiritual enlightenment, they’re permitted to know the churches full beliefs on the matter. Allegedly, all psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists—referred to as ‘psychs’—are a special breed of being created and invested with the sole purpose of keeping humankind mentally imprisoned sent to Earth from a planet called ‘Farsec’. Sounds sane and rational to me.

The Church of Scientology has gone as far as to create a museum, called The Psychiatry an Industry of Death Museum, and a ‘documentary’, also called Psychiatry an Industry of Death, to promote their anti-psych agenda. The film is entirely propaganda that presents nothing but faulty statistics, misleading representation of accounts and data, and cheesy music you’d find in a low budget horror film. I could go into a detailed account of all the inaccuracies in this movie, but this article is not aimed to be a 10-page fact checking post. I encourage you to not take my word for it, and see how outrageous the film is for yourself.

It wasn’t the fact that the Church of Scientology was teaching something that was untrue that upset me; this was expected. What really got to me was how what they taught so fully perpetuates the existing stereotypes held in our culture towards those with mental illness. There is a huge stigma towards the mentally ill in American and those suffering are commonly stereotyped as ‘not strong enough’ to overcome their feelings on their own and needing to make up their ‘fake disease’ to cower behind as a result. The fact of the matter is that psychiatric illnesses are real medical diseases that affect one’s brain matter and chemistry. By not only suggesting that the most scientifically promising treatment available to mental health patients is a hoax, but by doing so by presenting these conspiracies as legitimate fact (few people doubt what they see in documentaries, and even fewer doubt what they learn in museums), the work of Scientologists can seriously back track the progress mental illness has seen in recent years. At this point, many of you may already be wondering: Who would believe Scientologist propaganda? How much harm, therefore, could it actually cause? Perhaps most reasonable people will write off these publications as disinformation, but the damage caused, particularly by the Industry of Death film, is not great because of the number of viewers convinced, but rather, who those viewers are. This outlandish movie may not be enough to convince the average person that psychiatry is a scam, but it was enough to convince my friend Dylan.

Dylan is an avid music aficionado and loving grandson in his early twenties; he also suffers from sever paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar 1 disorder. I had the pleasure of meeting Dylan when I was incarcerated in a psychiatric ward near Chicago while he was on his 18th involuntary visit—I warned you this post might be a bit much for some readers. Being the only two people under 50 in the ward, we became very close.

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Your typical psychward

Dylan was fucked up, and he knew it. After being in and out of hospitals his entire life with seemingly no improvement, I could understand how he felt frustrated with the system. Many of these visits weren’t taken in an effort to get better—they were an alternative to prison. I remember confiding in Dylan about the medications and treatments the doctors were putting me on, and he’d tell me:

“Pretend to swallow it, and hide it under your tongue. You don’t need that shit. They’re just trying to get you hooked on drugs and take your money.”

When I asked him why he believed that, he told me to YouTube ‘Psychiatry and Industry of Death’ when I was released.

Even after researching the film and learning it was produced by the Church of Scientology, I still could see where Dylan was coming from with his beliefs. On portion of the movie discusses involuntary treatment and highlights how psychiatry is the only medical profession that can drug and restrain. The more a person objects to these treatments, the more these person’s objections are allegedly viewed as a symptom of mental illness. The longer these tactics keep patients in hospital beds against their will, the more money the psychiatry industry is making from insurance companies. As someone whose been incarcerated and administered drugs in the ass that made me not know where I was for five days, I can attest that there is definitely truth in these statements. I learned that the hospital I was at was notoriously known for extending the holds of patients with good health insurance; I was held for 14 days. I was livid. For months after my hospitalization, I was bitter about what I felt was stolen from me in terms of my freedom and sanity. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a moment while watching Industry of Death where I wanted to believe everything I was being told; I wanted a scapegoat to blame for my traumatic experiences in the psych ward, and the emotional appeal the film made to experiences I’ve lived through made it easy to agree blaming psychiatrists was the answer.

However, after I took a breath and calmed down, I regained my perspective. I could not believe the propaganda I was watching just because it used very real flaws that exist in the mental health care system as a crutch for the rest of Scientology’s preposterous beliefs to stand on. My experiences demonstrated some of the problems that still exist in federally ran mental hospitals; the experiences displayed in an Industry of Death attempt to demonstrate how psychiatry as a science is evil. The latter assertion is simply untrue. The flaws in the public system are in no way representative of the entire field. As bad as my experience in a public mental heath facility was, I can personally attest that my private psychiatrist has made my life tremendously better.

Unfortunately, Dylan’s new found beliefs on the nature of psychiatry has prevented him from attaining the same help that has changed my life. I still get calls from him time to time telling me he’s on street drugs, hearing voices telling him to commit crimes, and feels like killing himself. It pains me that if an Industry of Death wasn’t falsely presented as a factual documentary, he could potentially be better mentally, off wellfare, and on the right track towards happiness.

By no means is the Church of Scientology persuading mass amounts of people to ignore their shrinks recommendations, but for the people who are affected by the church’s lies the impacts can be extraordinary. In a nation with guarantees the right to freedom of religion and speech, how do we hold these people accountable for this catastrophic deceit? The Church of Scientology, as with any religion, should retain the right to speak their views; however, claiming to be a religion should not allow a group to hide behind the label in order to get away with presenting their views as scientific fact. I don’t claim to know how many more Dylans there are out there, and I can’t imagine a legal proposition to filter deceptive presentation of fact that wouldn’t hinder freedom of speech. But until there is a way to protect brainwashing of the susceptible, we the people need to hold groups such as the Church of Scientology accountable for what they say. Some might think this is a non issue for people unafflicted by mental illness; however, accountability in the press has a huge impact on our politics (see NMZ Talk’s take on media accountability here: http://nmztalks.tumblr.com/post/142600770275/where-is-the-accountability), our health (for example, ever heard the media claim vaccines cause autism? Check out this unchecked media myth via Think Science at: http://thescientificperspective.blogspot.com/2016/04/you-talkin-to-me.html), and virtually any major issue that is subject to misinformation. When a ‘documentary’ is filled with lies, it is up to us to raise our voices–whether literally or via the internet– to make it known.

 

 

 

 

 

My Generation Can’t Take a Joke

“Can We Take A Joke?” explores the outrage culture against comedy on and off college campuses. It should be required viewing by everyone in this country, stat. (Just to be clear, I’m not the type of dude who says “stat,” but the stakes have never been higher.)

The film, which made its world premiere at the Doc NYC Comedy Festival in November, features Jim Norton, Gilbert Godfried, Lisa Lampanelli, and a host of other big-name comics giving their takes on the rise of joke shaming.

Why is it a must? For one, it’s hilarious, and two, it shows how our obsession with outrage has moved on from us comedians and is now hurting people like you, who had stable upbringings.

But the real eye-opener here is that the filmmakers had the ingenuous idea of givingcomics, the people who actually know how to be funny, a voice in the debate over how comedy should function in 2015.

 

Striking the Balance Between Approval and Fear: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Deny, Rephrase, and Try Again

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally  at the Sumter Civic Center in Sumter

 

With nearly double the amount of delegates than his top competitor at this stage in the race for the presidential nomination, Donald Trump continues to be popular amongst Republican voters. For the rest of us, it’s difficult to imagine how this could be so. Ignoring the fact that Donald has zero political experience, the man is insulting, intolerant, and nearly un-presidential in every imaginable way. Though there may be some very compelling evidence for these assertions, supporters of Trump have managed to scrape together reasoning to justify their candidate preference.

The few explanations available to those who believe Trump has what it takes to ‘make America great again’ are so vehemently shared that they can almost stick in your head like the lyrics to the latest Taylor Swift song. Among the praise for the republican front-runner, one observation seems to trump the rest: Donald Trump says it like it is. The following quote from a The Viewprint article titled Why Donald Trump is the Ideal Politician exemplifies a belief held by many:

“I like to hear him speak, because when he does, you know what he’s thinking. He’s not the politician to say what he can to get votes…When you vote for politicians, you never know who you are genuinely voting for. However, with Donald Trump, whether you agree with him or not, you know who you are voting for and supporting.”

It is true that Trump won’t shy away from saying things that conventional politicians won’t, and he certainly seems at times to blurt out thoughts as they come to him. But is his behavior synonymous with being transparent? Donald has voiced contradicting opinions on nearly every topic a presidential debate question could be written about except ‘what is your name’ (and even some doubt the full legitimacy of that, see John Oliver’s video at the end of the article).

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Here are just a few of subjects Donald Trump has changed his position on:

At the first Republican debate, Trump said universal health care would never work in the US; a month later, he proposed health care for all.

In his 2000 book The America We Deserve, Trump supported a ban on assault weapons and criticized the Republican parties influence by the NRA; today, he considers himself the largest gun control opponent in the race.

During a 2004 interview, Trump argued for large tax increases on the rich and Democratic Party economic policies; now, he supports tax cuts for the rich, not raising the minimum wage, and appointing Wall Street officials to powerful positions pertaining to running the economy.

In a 2013 interview, Trump claimed to support immigration reform and spoke very sympathetically about illegal immigrants; recently he has referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists and suggested building a 50 ft. wall to keep them out (and even the size of the wall has changed since this proposal).

In 2004, Trump openly identified as a Democrat; in 2015, he began campaigning for the Republican nomination as a far-right conservative.

 

Some argue that Donald Trump’s lack of political correctness means that, as said in The Viewprint, “he’s not the politician to say what he can to get votes”. But changing stance drastically on issues time and time again because your old position didn’t sell as well as you’d imagined is the literal definition of saying what you can to get votes. This is by no means an all-exhaustive list of the things Donald Trump has contradicted himself about. With this extensive back and forth, I’d challenge Trump supporters to ask themselves: How can we be so sure that we know what Donald Trump believes? Do I really know whom I’m voting for? Or do I just feel as if I do because his brashness reads as authenticity?

If these questions pose too challenging to reflect on, I’d at least like to implore Trump fans to watch this video that beautifully illustrates this problem of the Donald’s consistency.

 

It may sound appealing to ‘make America great again’, but alas, these are just empty words when there is no consistent definition behind what ‘greatness’ means.

The Circle of (Sustainable) Life

sustainablity

We live in a world afflicted by boundless political, societal, and economic issues. With all there is to solve, it begs the question of what issues are the most pertinent: How as a society should we prioritize which problems are most imperative to dedicate our limited attention to? Though it would be nearly impossible to rank the world’s numerous issues based on importance, the question becomes much simpler when we only attempt to discern the primary problem to address. A clear contender for this position is the issue of sustainability: the ability to continue on with a behavior indefinitely. In our case, the behavior that we want to ensure to be sustainable is human existence on this planet, which consists of what we consume, what we dispose of as waste, and how we interact with our environment. Assuming that we have a sustainability problem, it seems undeniable that this issue would take precedent over others; it would seem rational to tackle problems such as racism, hunger, or poverty after we ensure that our species has the means to survive in the first place. This is not to devalue the impact that these other issues have on society. It’s merely a reality that the survival of the human race should be our top priority.

If sustainability is truly the biggest problem facing mankind, then the natural question to ask is: Why has there been relatively so little action to rectify this problem? Sure, there have been national and global policies put in place to reduce our ecological footprint in the past decade and a cultural shift in consumer preferences towards more sustainable products. However, these changes barely put a dent in the damage we’ve already caused and are not nearly drastic enough to offset current rates of consumption. It’s not that it’s beyond our capability to make the necessary changes to live in a sustainable world. So why is progress in this crucial matter happening so slowly? It’s easy to point the finger at ‘greedy’ corporations, ‘gluttonous’ consumers, and ‘rapacious’ politicians, but in reality it may not be our individual dispositions to blame. Rather, we may be victims of a societal construction that inhibits us from moving in a more sustainable direction. Especially in the United States, we’re immersed in a culture that emphasizes mindless consumption; we are implicitly told that the more we have, the better off we are. We even judge which nations are superior by ranking their respective gross domestic products (GDP, i.e. the measure of all money spent in a region). This measurement does not take into account debt, poverty, environmental destruction, and other negative factors that can correlate with high spending; an oil spill, for example, will raise a country’s GDP, and, thus, its perceived national health—solely because money is spent to undo the damage. Certainly our use of GDP as a comparative economic measure cannot be fully to blame for our wasteful tendencies, but it reinforces this vein of culture when we are literally internationally ranked merely based on how much we consume. When this fact is taken into account, it changes the question from why haven’t we taken further steps to improving sustainability to why would we; it’s hard to feel motivated to take actions that would result in being what we’d currently consider as ‘worse’ off.

The issue of sustainability has previously been a relevant topic of discussion yet a matter of little action. The relatively small adjustment of changing the way we measure a country’s success from GDP to the genuine progress indicator (GPI) would shift our cultural, corporate, and political mindset enough so the necessary societal transition can be made to solve this critical problem: the transition to a circular economy.

It doesn’t require a scientific background to see how our world as it currently operates suffers from a major sustainability problem. The Earth has finite resources. Its ability to absorb or deal with the subsequent waste pollution from consumption is also finite. Even resources we consider to be ‘renewable’ have limits, e.g., food production is limited by the amount of arable land available. By virtue of the ‘take, make, waste’ structure of modern industrialism, it is obvious that the Earth’s resources we depend on will at some point under the current system be eliminated. Compounded by our exponential population growth, and resulting exponential industrial growth, these resources are depleting—and projected to further deplete—at a rate warranting grave concern.

In the early 1970’s, systems and environmental scientists Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers, examined these principles in greater detail and presented their findings to the world in the monumental book The Limits to Growth. This work was revolutionary because it was the first to look at sustainability with a systematic approach; instead of evaluating the effects of population growth and consumption on certain factors in isolation, the scientists analyzed how all-conceivable elements impact with each other (after all, nothing in this world exists independent of everything else). They were able to do this using a computer model, World3, to mathematically represent the world’s systems, and simulate their future

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World3 Output Example

behavior based on different, testable assumptions, in order to make predictions. The team ran numerous simulations using World3: some in which population and business continued as usual; some assumed we’d develop technology to double our extractable resources; some accounted for the possibility of legally enforced population control, etc. All but one of the scientists’ simulations came to the conclusion that we would overshoot our carrying capacity; optimistic models predicting within the next hundred years and, more realistic models within the next twenty. All species have a carrying capacity—a maximum population that can be supported by a given environment—and humans are no exception. To overshoot one’s carrying capacity means to go too far, to grow so large so quickly that limits are exceeded; once a carrying capacity is surpassed, the species in question experiences a rapid population crash, resulting in a die-off of most of the population.

Instead of thoughtful concern, Limits to Growth was met with outrage and skepticism. Many readers were appalled at the notion of restricting manufacturing and dismissed the argument as Malthusian hyperbole. In fact, critics of Limits to

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Carrying Capacity Overshoot

Growth cite the same counter-argument as critics of Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), in which he claimed people would starve due to population growth exceeding agricultural growth. Advancements in technology and human ingenuity, such critics say, will be able to overcome sustainability obstacles as we face them. In Malthus’s case, the critics were right: The first agricultural revolution allowed for food production to keep up with population growth. However, just because technological advancements have been able to delay overshoot does not mean they will be able to prevent it. It is indisputable that the Earth’s resources are limited. Should we continue to consume them in a linear fashion, there will come a point where they run out. Even in a hypothetical world where we have the technological means to extract resources more and more efficiently, there comes a point where the physical capital necessary to extract these harder-to-obtain resources becomes more than the economy can provide.

Just because Malthus was wrong about the precise time period that we’d overshoot our carrying capacity does not mean his prediction is entirely false. In fact, many of the World3 simulations accounted for large improvements in resource extraction and pollution control and still exhibited a fate of collapse. The only one of the World3 simulations that resulted in sustainable life on Earth—referred to as ‘scenario 9’—assumed a stable population, stable industrial output per person, improved pollution negating technology, and improved agricultural output. This model suggests that, with drastic changes, it is possible to undo the damage we have caused, and the sooner these actions are taken, the better quality of life will be.

The measures currently being taken towards sustainability, even if taken in greater quantities, are not enough to replicate scenario 9. Recycling, in the conventional sense, may dampen the rate of resource consumption, but because the process still consumes copious amounts of energy and degrades the quality of the original material, it still leaves a linearly growing consumption rate. In Europe, for example, (where recycling is far more prevalent than The United States) material recycling and waste-based energy recovery only captures 5% of the original raw material value. To achieve a sustainable society that resembles scenario 9, we’ll need to take a step further than a growth economy that recycles to a circular economy.

According to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the leading organization in promoting circular economies, “a circular economy is one that is restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.” A circular business intelligently uses materials that can be reused over and over again without degrading in quality (e.g. smelting steel as opposed to recycling plastics) and has the built in infrastructure to do so indefinitely. Imagine a system that intakes zero new non-renewable resources, recycles energy at the most efficient rate permissible by physics, and produces negligible waste and pollution: this is the circular economy.

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A common misconception about the circular economy is that it implies zero economic growth. Yes, a growth economy is the opposite of a circular economy, but in this comparison the former is referring to an economy of physical material and energy; to define the term ‘growth economy’ as a purely monetary economy in this particular context would be committing equivocation. For example, in an information-based economy, material resources are not required to produce computer code and software, but the sale of these entities would contribute to the economy’s monetary growth (e.g. GDP). This type of economic growth, as long as it doesn’t have a net intake of material resources, can still exist within a circular economy.

While switching to a circular economy may sound good in theory, in reality there are societal constructions that have proven obstacles to this transition. These barriers aren’t rooted in the feasibility of such a transition, but rather, how this change conflicts with our collective frame of mind. Western culture, specifically in The United States, makes us psychologically inept when it comes to considering the long run consequences of our actions; these societies are set up to reward short-term progress. Corporations, for example, profit vastly when they cut corners—e.g. use sweatshop labor—to lower costs. It says a lot about our values that we define as ‘progress’ and compare our nations’ worth by how much we spend (i.e. our GDP) and don’t give consideration to how different expenditures yield drastically different long-term consequences. Economists in recent years have taken notice of this and have suggested a new measure to quantify a nations value: The genuine progress indicator. GPI is a metric that, like GDP, accounts for monetized economic wealth while also gives weight to relevant environmental and social factors that impact the quality of life in a country; where GDP would increase in the event of a natural disaster, due to the cost of clean up, GPI would decrease. By no means is GDP entirely responsible for our wasteful tendencies, but certainly a switch from GDP to GPI as the primary measure of national progress would challenge the way we think about ‘growth’. Over time, it would become instinctual for people to value sustainability on par with fiscal expansion instead of viewing it as a lesser after thought. This change may be small, but even the resulting small shift in our cultural psychology may be enough for a society that currently resists the idea of a circular economy to support the transition towards one.

There is no doubt that a circular economy would look much different from our current one. However, this does not imply, as many believe, that, tangibly speaking, making the switch would be challenging. Certainly, it may be difficult for people to conceptualize how a circular economy would function in America when they’ve only known the status quo, but this does not mean it can’t be done. In fact, other parts of the world are doing it now. Japan recycles 98% of its metals and less than 5% of its waste ends up in a landfill. The Japanese have created the infrastructure and policies necessary to support their circular economy, all while remaining the third strongest economy in the world. They’ve single handedly proven that such a transition can be done without any significant stall in their economy and debunked the myth that government involvement in such a shift is harmful to capitalism. How has Japan been able to make this transition so successful? Japan’s economic design features three key elements that make their system easy and painless to be apart of. Firstly, the material collection and recycling process is exceptionally consumer friendly. Citizens have the option of leaving their old appliances and IT equipment at local post offices, the retail store of their original purchase, or even on their doorstep for pick up by the parent company. This process is customary routine nationally and, therefor, is widely practiced. Recycling infrastructure, such as in the US, which requires people to bear the burden of seeking out locations for recycling special items on their own and transporting the items there themselves are a hassle to consumers and difficult to get wide spread support. Conjointly, the Japanese government requires corporations to invest in recycling infrastructure for their products, as opposed to the US system where recycling plants exist as separate entities. Japanese corporations, consequentially, think more long term about the sustainability of their products because they have personal stake in the disassembly process. By having ownership over the manufacturing and recycling process, Japanese companies are able to directly profit from the recovery of raw materials and are, therefor, incentivized to design products that break down efficiently and can be almost entirely reused when they reenter the manufacturing stage. The last key factor that made Japan’s circular economy a success is how the cost of material recovery gets paid for. Consumers pay the fees for transportation and recycling at the point of purchase as a part of the items sales price. Since they already paid for the services (and the fact that the services are so easy to take advantage of), people have no reason to not recycle their products when they fully depreciate. Though this system is much different than ours, it is painless to operate in for the people who’ve grown accustomed to it. We can learn a lot by looking to Japan as an example; if they could gracefully make their capitalistic economy circular, there’s no reason The United States and other nations around the world can’t do so as well.

Though a circular economy yields many benefits, skeptics may feel that corporations would be left with the short end of the stick while transition to one. It should be noted that, even without policy implementations to do so, there are legitimate incentives for corporations to switch to a circular model. Raw material prices and supply chains have been getting increasingly volatile over the years. By having their own supply of inputs, companies are removed from risks that come with unpredictable supply chains—e.g. not having enough raw material to meet demand, fluctuations in raw material costs, etc.—and are able to cut material and transportation costs significantly. These savings cover the initial investment of recycling infrastructure in the long run and will ultimately add to the company’s profits, positive PR, and supply consistency.

There is an old anecdote called the boiling frog that’s commonly used to portray how we react differently to acute and gradual threats. In the story, a frog is placed in boiling water and, as we’d expect, it immediately jumps out to safety. Afterward, the frog is placed in a pot of cold water that is slowly heated to a boil. Because of the gradual nature of this threat, it goes noticed by the frog, and the frog is slowly cooked to death. Though sustainability is an issue that impacts our ability to survive as a species, we are less called to take action to fix it than we would be toward a problem where we immediately feel the consequences. When New York City is hit by a hurricane, we react fully and instantly to escape boiling travesty we’ve been thrown into. But when the pot is heated slowly, as in the case of sustainability, we are negligent. By taking the small step of adopting GPI as our primary progress measurement, hopefully, we can shift our values and shed a little light on the sustainability problems in our current system that are currently distorted due to the delay of their consequences. Hopefully, this shift, our intelligence, and our rational will help us make the necessary changes to avoid the same fate as the frog’s.

boiling

 

 

Rat Park: Where does Addiction come from?

My graduating class was the last to receive mandatory drug and alcohol education through the DARE program, established as apart of George W. Bush’s war on drugs. This initiative made perfect sense on paper for at the time over 20 million Americans over the age of 12 had an addiction. However, though the intent of the program may have been to help the problem, it did more harm than good. In DARE lectures, we learned ‘facts’—which may or may not have been based in actual scientific findings—such as that marijuana is gateway drug, LSD will cause you to have horrific flashbacks for the rest of your life, and that trying most drugs 1 time will most likely cause you to become a full blown addict (to learn specifically about how wrong DARE got marijuana, check out candidlyfrank).

dare

Though many of DARE’s false claims have been ‘debunked’ since the program’s cancellation, it still managed to perpetuate a false cultural belief that impacts how we view and treat addiction in this country. The current view of the majority of Americans is that addiction is a chronic (meaning incurable, but manageable with perpetual treatment) disease that is caused by a drugs powerful and irresistible chemical hook. It is believed that people who try hard drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine, even once will lose their will power and be converted into hopeless addicts; once an addict always an addict. The DARE program not only confirmed these beliefs but indoctrinated naïve children with them. DARE was dissolved after my year because it had be proven to be ineffective in lowering drug abuse in teens and young adults. Though many issues with the program have been pointed to for blame, I believe the chief reason for DARE’s downfall is that the view of addiction it teaches is a myth.

At first glance, it seems reasonable to believe that that addiction is primarily caused by the pharmacological properties of the substance one is addicted to. Drugs are nothing more than chemicals, and the chemical reactions that occur in your brain because of them have effects. If the drug is addictive, addiction should be one of them. This seemed to be confirmed by a 70’s study where rats were left in cages with a normal water bottle and a cocaine laced water bottle; the rats would almost always opt for the coke, overdose, and die. However, one scientist working on the study felt this wasn’t the whole story. The rats were stuck in solitary confinement (I know if I was stuck in a room alone forever, and all I had was cocaine for entertainment, I’d partake), and he wondered if that was impacting the rate of addiction. So, the researcher designed an experiment known as Rat Park: This experiment was the same design as the previous, except this time, instead of isolation, the rats were housed in a large cage with other rats, toys, and rodent activities.

ratpark

The results from Rat Park were astonishing. The vast majority of the time, rats would avoid cocaine water after trying it and opt to socialize and play in their Rat Park community. This study has been peer reviews and replicated multiple times—including on human beings. This suggests that there is strong reason to believe that the chemical drive to addiction isn’t as strong as we though; rather, drugs are used to try and fill a void in a person’s (or rats) life. Addiction quite possibly is stemmed from a lack of social fulfillment or connection rather than chemical reactions.

Rat Park isn’t the only study that supports these findings. The Vietnam War instigated a wide spread heroin problem in young men off at war. People were worried after they came home, the US would suffer a huge heroin epidemic. However, once away from the atrocities of battle and reunited with their families and loved ones, 95% of these men allegedly stopped using: no rehab; no treatment. Additionally, morphine—essentially refined heroin—is administered legally at hospitals to patients undergoing surgery. It very rarely happens that grandma goes in for a hip replacement and comes home with an opiate addiction.

 

If all of these studies and observances strongly suggest that our culture’s view of addiction is wrong, why haven’t we changed our stance? Rat Park took place in the 70’s; why isn’t it being used to teach children and mental health professionals about the true nature of addiction? Though it would be logical to adopt the ideology that is most consistent with how addiction actually works, there is a substantial emotional impact the Rat Park mentality would have on those who adopt it. Imagine the parents of a young heroin addict. If the chemical compounds in a drug didn’t cause their beloved child’s addiction, then they would have to accept that their home and neighborhood were such a dismal place that their kid may have turned to drugs for solace. Relapsing addicts would have to accept that they need to share the responsibility with fragmented society for their behavior rather than an unavoidable chemical dependence. Politicians would have to face the reality of how bad underprivileged neighborhoods and social programs really are in this country.

Though it may be painful, we need to dry our tears, swallow our pride, and face the facts when dealing with addiction. Victim blaming won’t solve anything; cutting addicts off won’t solve anything; creating paranoia in our youths about drug usage won’t solve anything. On a small scale, you can be there for the addicts you love to help show them they have people in theirs lives. On a large scale, we could do more to improve the quality of life in lower socioeconomic communities. One thing is for sure: we can’t keep believing a myth that makes us feel better about the situation.

An Apple a Day Keeps the FBI Away

 

appledickOn February 16th, Apple Inc. objected to a court order to create a backdoor software that would be able to unlock the iPhone of one of the terrorists behind the San Bernardino shooting last year. In addition to the reasons the company gave for their opposition, there exists a strong legal argument that the government has no authority to make this type of demand. However, just because Apple may be able to evade this particular situation doesn’t mean the laws are sufficient to make appropriate rulings regarding modern technology in the future. To avoid harmful or unjust precedents being set based on outdated laws, congress needs to create legislation suitable for technology in the 21st century.

To understand this case, it’s important to understand why Apple refuses to comply with the FBI’s request. Why wouldn’t a company want to help uncover information that could prevent possible future terrorist attacks? Wouldn’t declining to do so be received as bad PR? Contrary to the FBI’s claim that Apple’s resistance is in an effort to protect their business model, Apple has made public statements clarifying that their actions are purely in the interest of the American people. Their reasoning is two fold: First, the existence of a back door, even if it’s only intended to be used on this one iPhone, creates an avenue for hackers to steal iOS users’ private information. This is a more sever breach of privacy than the private information we semi-willingly give away (to learn more about smart phones and how they leak our privacy technically with our permission, check out Judgments of Solomon: https://sollee.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/big-brother-is-watching-you-how-sovereign-is-our-right-fundamental-right-to-privacy/); this is privacy to things we’d never allow strangers access too–think social security numbers. Secondly, Apple argues that fulfilling the FBI’s order would set a legal precedent that allows the government to order technology corporations to create surveillance features in their devices on demand. This ability would expand the government’s power and allow it to force companies to include features that record our every word, track our every move, etc.

But even if fulfilling the court’s order wouldn’t result in privacy dangers for iPhone users and future technology users, there exists a strong legal argument that the FBI’s requests are illegitimate. The FBI’s case is primarily based on The All Writs Act; this law, originally drafted in 1789, essentially states that courts have the power to issue orders to force people to do things as long as they are within the limits of the law. This act was created to fill in gaps between existing legislation, as there cannot possibly be enough laws created to cover the proceedings for every potential circumstance a court would rule on. However, in Apple’s case, there exists a law that applies and, thus, acts as a limitation on The All Writs Act: The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. CALEA essentially states that the government is not allowed to tell phone carriers or manufactures how they should design their products hardware and software configurations, including specifically their phone’s security features. The government claims that CALEA doesn’t apply to Apple because the company does not act as a telecommunications carrier. This argument, however, is stemmed in a misinterpretation of the law, as CALEA clearly states that it applies to telecommunications manufactures as well, which Apple most certainly is, and is in part purposed to prevent the government from interfering with how these technologies are made. By insisting on making their phones able to be unlocked by non users, the government is acting in violation of CALEA.

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act may be able to save Apple from The FBI’s meddling in this case; however, there exists many non phone related technologies/ technologies manufactured by non-telecommunication companies that contain sensitive information that would not fall under CALEA’s protection in a similar circumstance. The case between Apple and The FBI brings attention to a serious problem in The United States: the lack of appropriate legislation to deal with crimes involving modern technology. Today, technology is integrated in nearly every aspect of our lives, yet we have barely any legislation that directly references technology at all! The courts are supposed to interpret and apply laws as their authors intended them, but if a law was written over 200 years ago (i.e., The All Writs Act), how can it be fair to apply said law to 21st century technology? People 200 years ago couldn’t even fathom the existence of a smart phone; it seems unreasonable to expect a congressman of that time to account for its existence in their work.

If it ends up that congress passes legislation that forces companies, such as Apple, to make their products with backdoors for use in criminal investigations, so be it. But let this mandate be derived through the democratic process and enacted by the lawmakers that represent us. The biased interpretation of an inapplicable law from hundreds of years ago, however, is not a just avenue for this to occur. If you’re interested on reading more about the Apple vs. FBI case: check out this other take on the issue via Pubtango: https://pubtango.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/apple-inc-vs-fbi/