the media skews us yet again.

I always get so frustrated with the media.  I always hated the media for the following reasons: 1. It skews our perception on what’s important news, whether it’s blowing a story out of proportion or incessantly jabbing on about idle celebrity gossip as if reporting what kind of toothpaste the second coming of Jesus used on his first day on Earth.  2.  It tears apart celebrity lives.  3. It skews how children and young adults perceive themselves and the lives they should be leading.  4. It exposes what I would often consider sensitive information to anyone who can get ahold of the articles or clips, this including reports on military strategy or even problems that are weakening the country (and thereby making them more easily targeted).  5. It often publishes photos of people suffering, dying, and crying which are completely personal.  6. I don’t care if you enjoy journalism, I still think it’s selfish to make personal gains on articles that “expose the truth” i.e. get you a higher ranking and plaster such private moments over everyone’s front page.  7. Sometimes, it just plain old reports a topic miserably and inaccurately, such as the skewed article that recently described the recording of the Daily Show mascot issue and how the non-Indians were “attacked”, defending them.  And now the media drives me even crazier because there are so many fake articles circulating and people blowing up over false alarms, like the one about Facebook beginning charges for its services in November.

Well, there’s a good, recent example of the media skewing our perceptions on current issues:  The Ebola outbreak.  IT’S IN THE USA OMG WHAT WILL WE EVER DO.  I get it, it’s bad.  People are dying.  Unfortunately, this is Mother Nature sending us to our rooms without dinner.  You think this is bad?  I’m confident it’s about to get a hell of a lot worse over the next century, and I don’t mean in terms of Ebola.  I mean all kinds of pandemonium.  But that’s okay, just keep living your “modern” life and leave the future up to the hands of the future.  That’s the American way.  Live in the now, take all that you’re entitled to and whatever else you can snag up.  I’m not even sure we can’t get through the next century without blowing each other off the face of the planet with weapons of mass destruction – but that’s not my point.  My point is that indeed this Ebola spiel is not what the media is making it out to be.  Yes, Ebola is also an RNA virus which spreads at a faster rate than Influenza, but its R0 (R-naught) value is actually fairly low.  It’s lower than HIV and way, way, way lower than Measels.  With one or two cases in the US, ones which have been brought here by volunteers in Africa, those have been well contained.

And that’s the key, really – containment.  I’m so saddened by this epidemic because of my many friends in Benin, Togo, and Mali.  I lived a short time in Ouidah just last year.  But that means I’ve seen first-hand the porosity of the international borders.  I literally walked across the border into Togo.  It took a few minutes to present my Yellow Card (to prove I’ve had a yellow fever shot) and to get my visa stamped into my passport.  I got my credentials checked on the Beninese side, then I passed through a door beside the car gateway to have the Togolese police take my currency, represent the money I paid with postage-like stamps, and place their signed seal over the visa.  On the other side of the border, it was a chaotic mumbo-jumbo of women in colorful cloth and head wraps, hacking coconuts open and peddling bananas off as people ran back and forth across the road.  Yes, in West Africa you carpool.  I literally would stand on the roadway between Nigeria and Togo near the Kpasse market in Ouidah and flag a car down.  Actually, I usually asked someone to do it for me.  When a non-black flags down a car, everyone rushes to try to rip them off.  When a black person flagged one for me, I could haggle the price with someone who may not have stopped to get an overpriced deal.  I would jump into the back and keep moving left, left, left…to fit more and more passersby as we progressed towards wherever we were going.  I’m telling you this to demonstrate the relaxed situation over there.  Yeah, I would get yanked out of the car at random police barriers and have my credentials checked, but they were just looking for non-Africans who they might be able to bribe.  Rarely did they do much policing.  Once we got to a country border, it was a chaotic scramble to get the passengers to pick up visas by foot and cars driving through the gate to pick people up on the other side.  When I went to Lome, I actually traded vehicles at the border.  The driver asked to split my fee with his friend.  Rattling, smoking clunkers would roll past us with 20 feet of bundles and bananas on top – and sometimes people – and up to 15 people crammed into small vans.  Oh, when in Africa.

Ebola is spreading rapidly in West Africa.  It’s spreading because of the porosity as I’ve described.  It’s spreading because people don’t have the same sanitation as we do in the USA.  That doesn’t mean the places are absolutely disgusting, not at all.  It’s just not so freaking sterile either.  Lome was actually probably the worst I’d seen.  It had sanitation systems, but the streets were backed up with trash.  I literally walked across a field of piles of burning trash on my way to see some soccer matches at the University.  Benin is a skinny country, just like Togo, so the short trip to Lome already put me within sight of the country of Ghana.  And a lot of the people out there, especially more rural peoples, have some fears of the incoming doctors.  Treatment isn’t that easy, even with the supplies.  Keeping everything sanitary is surely another horror.  And living in Ouidah, Voodoo capital of West Africa, I saw firsthand how very unsanitary practices can contribute to the spread of diseases.  While Ouidah villagers throw carcasses into the street and sell rotting animals for witchcraft spells, other groups of people are also known to wash dead bodies as tradition.  So what would make an Ebola-plagued body any different?

Yet probably the final sad thing about the way the media is reporting this outbreak is the complete neglect Cameroon is getting.  Again, I fear for my friends.  I’ve been to Cameroon twice now, having spent a total of maybe 3 or so weeks in rural reaches of the country.  The rural areas have a much more sterile feel, unless of course you walk through the market area where the trash accumulates or if you walk through the actual market day where what my group would call “fish that looks way too much like fish” and chopped-in-half goats would be lying out in the sun, accumulating masses of flies.  Yes, you could be standing in the beignet booth and be overcome by the stench of ruminating death.  But EBOLA EBOLA EBOLA – oh wait, 80 Nigerians at a camp died in Cameroon from cholera?  There’s an outbreak of that TOO spreading around?  Yeah, no one’s hearing about it.  Why is that?  It’s not “cool” enough or there’s too much to report on for Ebola?  Can’t divert the audience’s attention?  I don’t know, you could also run a story on “the end of the world”, portraying the two epidemics as wiping out Africa and coming thirstily for our continent.  Oh, and I’m sick of seeing pictures of these suffering people.  Does no one else feel bothered by it?  How would you feel if you were the front page story??

That’s just my lunchtime rant.  I’ll be thinking of my friends in those four countries.

poverty vs simplicity.

I’ve been reading Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr.  It’s pretty intense, and reviews by whites tend to reflect two concepts that I find disturbing: 1. Oh, now I “get” Indians and 2. This book is horrible and racist!  I’m white and I’m not like that!  I find the first sentiment disturbing because it shows how damn ignorant the country is on tribal law, broken treaties, and past assimilation programs.  I find the second sentiment disturbing because it not only views Indians versus non-Indians as a racial vis-à-vis rather than sovereign nations with enormous cultural disparities (a central point being made by most of these texts), but it shows resentment before assent to past wrong-doings (which were clearly racially and religiously motivated).  As a result, you get an audience that willing to be enlightened and which consequently becomes divided by those who resent the sovereign separation – but also those who pity.

And that brings me to today’s topic: Pity.  White, Christian society has – as a generalization – repeatedly pitied minorities (once, of course, it got over taking advantage of them).  For example, so many mission trips head off to Africa within 150 years of African slavery in this country and within 50 years of Civil Rights oppression.  These societies didn’t care then, but suddenly they do?  Is it the new, generational upbringings that have helped conquer past racism?  No, I don’t think it is.  I think it is continued egocentrism, a continued effort to inflict one society’s views on another.  And just like people today will look at African countries and pity the poor, impoverished people without any hope, they will read about American Indians and just feel bad – but never do anything that could sacrifice any of their royalties.

Okay – now you’re probably saying, Well people do sacrifice for mission trips!  You say this because they take time and money to go overseas to live in those icky conditions for just some time.  But this is just my point.  Poverty vs. simplicity.  And while I don’t speak for every person in every community in every impoverished area of the world, I can speak from at least my observations in West and Central Africa, places where mission trips and Engineers Without Borders visit on an essentially permanent basis.  I have, in French, conversed for several weeks among people in both rural and urban situations about the poverty.  I’ve asked them what they think of America, of this lifestyle that these do-gooders wish to impose on the “impoverished”.  They’ve told me that America sounds fascinating, but NO I would never leave here for that.  Roukia, a cook in Ouidah, Benin who cleans in her spare time and recently opened her own restaurant – she told me the poverty is bad, people live badly in Africa.  But she also told me that America is not the answer.  People get by, but it’s confusing when the American lifestyle butts up against them.  A man named Tomas and his friends, some committee people in the tiny rural Cameroonian village Batoula-Bafounda, sat around a table drinking palm wine with me, laughing because we Americans refused to stay in their village after the well implementation was complete.  “Why go home??  We have EVERYTHING you need here!  So many bananas, avocados, and palm wine!  No, it’s not the American lifestyle, it’s the SIMPLE LIFE.”  I can’t tell you how many times I heard people tell me this was the SIMPLE LIFE, the BETTER LIFE.

And so I ask, what are these trips accomplishing?  What is this pity about?  Why do people think this American, white, Christian lifestyle – this modernity – is the solution?  When it’s the same answer to why the world is collapsing?  Why are people convinced they have the solutions and that everyone else wants to live like them in this luxurious way?  I think, to many “impoverished” people, this luxurious way is excessive, unnecessary, and severely lacking happiness.  They see it as stress and competition, not family and laughter and tradition.  These people who think otherwise come into villages (kind of like we did with EWB) and they implement systems that, quite frankly, fail immediately thereafter.  (Google it if you don’t believe me; I’ve also written about this failure before.)  Why do they fail?  Because the people don’t care for them.  Why?  Because they fall back into routine, a routine that doesn’t have these luxuries at all.  They choose tradition.

Thus back to this book, back to what I’ve written about so much lately.  Tradition.  This is the same problem we face in America with the failing efforts by the federal government to “fix” reservations.  They’re imposing their beliefs, their ways of living, their solutions.  What is the answer?  Learn, ask, respect – but let be.  Respect treaties and promises.  Respect each other.  Is that really so hard to do?  Sometimes doing is like talking; if you really want to help, sometimes you’re better off not saying anything at all.

Avoid Being a Critic.

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As I struggle to understand the world around me as well as my own emotions and role, I realize how often I judge people in my mind.  You would think that the more I discover about humanity, the more I would come to dislike people who go against the grain of what I think is the right way to live.  On the contrary, it’s been quite the opposite.

I used to be haughty and swing around the opinions I’d been raised on like some kind of righteous sword without even having a cause for why I felt that way.  It was strictly due to my environment.  Moving away from home – and then eventually traveling independently – gave me the priceless ability to view myself from the outside.  And I didn’t like what I was seeing.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the toxic wave of judgment.  Someone says one thing, a few people nod in agreement, no one wants to be “that guy” who stands up and protests.  It’s important to remember people come from different backgrounds, experiences, comfort zones, and beliefs – and all of those things drastically influence their actions and choices.  Even if something seems wrong to you, that person might not be viewing it in the same way.

Let me take a very simple example:
When I was living in Ouidah, Benin in West Africa this time last year, it was perfectly ordinary to walk out onto the street from my compound to swarms of children with outstretched hands.  They would chant “Yovo!  Yovo!’ on account of me being a foreigner with lighter skin.  They would sing “Yovo, yovo, bon soir!  Ca va bien, merci!” without even knowing what they were saying.  They would then tug at my dress and beg for a “cadeau”.  The parents would chuckle and watch.  Yes, these children were taught to racially discriminate and demand money, to disregard personal space, and to taunt.  That’s at least how some people saw it and it angered them.  They’d spit out mean words and curse at the children.  I just smiled and played along, rarely given out any francs.  These kids were raised to believe this is how you treat people, this is how you survive.  And there’s nothing wrong with that because that is how they survive.  That’s how those kids get the coins they need to go to the Internet café.  Some of them probably give the change to their mom, and that’s how they have bread for dinner.  No harm done.

Probably the hardest part in avoiding being a critic, for me at least, has been realizing not everyone is so determined to live righteously.  Some people choose to just live and get by within the common rules.  They don’t strive to find some inner-peace or to travel the world or discover themselves.  They’re content like that.

I used to hate that.  I used to resent that and call it being lazy, selfish, stubborn…but really, it’s a choice.  In fact, I preach so much that morality is just a human-made concept in order to function in an optimal society – that we are really just animals.  So isn’t that perspective more animalistic?  I guess so…I just couldn’t see it before.

I think I always just wanted the best for myself, and then to see the best in others and help them bring it out.  It’s a tough line to walk, but there is a point when your suggestions should stop before intervention.  I see it between me and my peers, the ones who don’t say they’re inspired by my ambition and who continue with the same mundane life they grew up into.  The ones who don’t move or don’t try to make changes.  I’ve got to let them decide for themselves; they’ve already seen the things I have done and how those things have helped me.

So before you’re hasty at judging someone, consider why you’re doing it and why you think you’re better for what you do.  You might find you don’t have a legitimate reason after all.  You might realize you should remain a worst critic to only yourself, and I think you’ll be a better person for it.

Tiffany’s Evil Wrath in Cleveland

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Iconic shot from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

TIFFANY’S IN CLEVELAND AND A HISTORY ON ENGAGEMENT RINGS

Out of all of the news that could have been talked about yesterday, the majority of things pressed through my ears and under my eyes were about the new Tiffany’s & Co. opening up at Eton Chagrin Boulevard in Cleveland.  Reporters dubbed this as an exciting moment for Cleveland, evidently more important than the war in Syria.  Women everywhere have been generalized in the news as lovers of the Tiffany’s box, as Hollys enthralled with the very idea of a sparkling rock.  How is this good news for Cleveland?  It’s not.  Absolutely not.  In a dead, burned out city struggling to get back on its feet, a diamond store doesn’t fit in the least.  Cleveland is third on the list of large American cities with a high percentage of low income families.  Stores like Tiffany’s only perpetuate the stereotypes and materialistic mindsets of young people who grow up thinking a diamond is in the future of any successful lifetime.

So what is the origin of the diamond engagement ring anyway?  The first type of ring worn by couples was recorded in Greece, but there were no pre-marriage rings.  Couples’ rings in Ancient Egypt were a simple band representing an eternal ring and doorway of life.  The Romans had the first true betrothal rings, likely taking the idea from the Egyptians.  These rings were used to signify ownership.  (Yes, ladies, so be super excited to get that ring from him… It means he owns you but notice how he doesn’t wear one.)  Not only that, but women had two rings: one nice one for in public, the other made of iron so they could do housework and not ruin the public ring.  Sometimes there was a key included, not to symbolize unlocking the heart like many want to believe but rather to suggest unlocking wealth.  Charming?  Not.  The ring then faded out and wasn’t revived until after the Dark Ages, mostly for the use of royalty and not for common folk.

But where did diamonds come into play?  It wasn’t until the 1400s that royalty giving rings caused nobility to pursue more expensive gifts, such as diamonds.  This tradition didn’t really take off until the 1870s when African colonies were being ripped to pieces to gather diamonds and sell them to the world.  Sure, this made diamonds more affordable for the common folk to buy now, but only after depreciating their value.  Rings, however, never really kicked off the way we know it until the 1930s – during the Great Depression.  WWII made wedding rings more popular for men who wore them to remember their wives.

 

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

Yet the real reason why 80% of women are given diamond engagement rings and girls everywhere are so childishly infatuated with the “tradition” is supported by a long line of ownership, greed, and… of course, the Entertainment Industry who has continued to popularize the idea and make a diamond ring an attractive possession.  Just think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  The movie, based loosely on a book, stars Holly (Audrey Hepburn), a ditzy, greedy, wanna-be socialite woman…that now so many women today idolize?  The story includes crooks, crime, and corrupted relationships.  If you take away the glamor of the picture, there really isn’t anything attractive about the story.  In fact, here’s what my  pessimist person takes away from the movie: Holly is a horrible person, she only cares about money and things to make her seem wealthy whether she is or not, she has no care in the world for the feelings of others, and she strives to marry rich men for their money without any shame to admit it.

While everyone lusts over the aesthetics of this movie (well, mostly of Hepburn and the diamonds in the shop window), I begin to wonder if anyone really pays attention to the storyline at all.  Tiffany’s, from my perspective, is symbolizing a tyranny of greedy, unnecessary, flashy things.  Silly Holly is sucked into this world of Tiffany’s and acts like something she is not, just like any not-so-great, not-so-rich, and not-so-nice woman lusting over her way too big diamond ring or necklace.  Paul is finally someone who breaks through her bad run of men and manages to – somehow – fall in love with Holly.  Here’s the irony of it all: Holly realizes what  wench she is at the end, when Paul tosses a Tiffany-engraved ring on her lap.  Sure, there’s some Tiffany’s in it…but the ring itself was from a Cracker Jack box that her ex-husband had.

Read the signs people: Diamonds = greed, stupidity, and a perpetuation of a stereotype.  The Cracker Jack ring signifies how meaningless diamond rings are, especially in today’s world.  Diamond rings don’t prove love; they prove the ability to be swindled into wasting a lot of money on a Blood Diamond, on a piece of greed, on a shiny rock.  What are we, parrots?  (No offense, parrots – you probably have a lot more common sense than most people.)

 

MY VIEW ON ENGAGEMENTS

In today’s world, marrying in your early 20s or sooner is not logical (unless you have unplanned incidents that might sway your plans).  Today is too competitive.  We young people have to build a career – one that defines us and easily changes us – before we are actually able to settle down and make those kinds of decisions in our lives.  Furthermore, the idea of marriage has become such a fickle, disposable thing in modern times.  It’s left people with the impression that it should happen quickly and that it comes without significant consequences.  But marriage isn’t about a wedding day or a honeymoon or jewelry; it’s about finances and, well, that’s really probably the heart of it.  It’s about survival and how teaming up can increase your chances.

Think you’re ready for marriage because you’ve been dating the same girl since high school?  She’s been eyeing up jewelry and dropping hints?  Don’t fall for it.  You have to both be prepared.  If she’s so infatuated with the idea of it, chances are she isn’t ready.  If you have any qualms, don’t be tricked into it.  I see too many guys getting dragged around by overly eager, silly, ignorant girls and it angers me that these kinds of people are out there perpetuating the stereotypes the media consequently lays on me of needing shiny things to feel like I have self-worth and am loved or whatever they get out of it.  I would rather see that money donated to a cause I care about than invested in a stupid ring.  I hate the thoughts of weddings for the same reason.  (“Oh, let’s start a life together!  And blow ALL OF THE MONEY WE DON’T HAVE in the first 24 hours!” – NO THANKS.)  My motto is: If she isn’t willing to marry you without any rings at all, then she doesn’t really care about you let alone love you.

And for the record, I don’t even know what a Tiffany box looks like.  Hmpf!