Archive for the ‘News Day Tuesday’ Category

A Genius in Our Midst

January 15, 2009

einstein1

Stop the presses GBD!  Carolyn asked if there was some way we could show our support for the students at the Mirwais School for Girls.  OMG carolyn…are you a genius??  Because this is a genius idea!  GENIUS!

What do the rest of you think?  Got any ideas?  I emailed the reporter who wrote the article to ask how we could help.  Keep in mind that life is rough in Kandahar, so I’m not sure how feasible it is to send our support.  But there’s nothing wrong with trying, right?

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News Day Tuesday: And you thought going to your school was tough.

January 13, 2009

news_mirwais
At left, Shamsia Husseini took an exam with her classmates.  (photo: Danfung Dennis for The New York Times)

I remember when I went to school, all I had to worry about was homework, tests, catching the bus, getting to the cafeteria before the line got too long,…you know, typical stuff.  I never worried about being attacked by people who thought I shouldn’t be going to school because I’m a girl.

But sadly, that is exactly the kind of thing students and teachers of the Mirwais School for Girls have to worry about.  Back in November, a group of men attacked 11 girls and 4 teachers with acid.  Seventeen-year-old Shamsia Husseini (pictured at left above…you can’t really see her face) suffered the worst.  Her injuries were so bad that she had to be treated at a hospital abroad.  They were so bad that today her vision gets blurry, making it hard for her to read.

Not surprisingly, parents refused to let their daughters go outside after that.  So for four days, the Mirwais School for Girls was empty.  But four days was enough for the headmaster of the school, Mahmood Qadari, who proceeded to work tirelessly to fill those classrooms again.  He asked the local government for more police, a footbridge, and a schoolbus.  And he held meetings with hundreds of parents imploring them to let their daughters return to school.

And so today, just TWO months after the attack, the 40 classrooms of the Mirwais School for Girls are so full that additional classes have to be held in tents outside in the courtyard.  Did the government come through with the police?  No.  The bridge?  No.  The schoolbus?  No.

It seems that the only things that came through were the courage and persistence of the parents, the teachers, and most of all, the students.  Almost all of the 1300 or so students have returned to school, including 8 of the 11 girls who were attacked.

And yes, that includes even the girl who was hurt the most – Shamsia Husseini.  Last I heard, she was taking a geography test, trying to remember what the capital of Brazil was.  And if she did remember, she’d know more than a college graduate like me because I am absolutely terrible at geography.  😉

(I Googled it though.  The capital of Brazil is Brasília.  I never would’ve guessed that in a million years.  My two guesses were Rio de Janeiro, because of Carnaval, and São Paulo, because my plane landed there once on the way to Argentina.  Don’t tell Mari that.  She might hit me.)

If you’d like to read the full article, here it is.  There are also pictures showing the students going about their day in school.

News Day Tuesday: Guardian Angels

January 6, 2009

angel
(photo: Dominic DiSaia / Getty)

 

This article is actually a few months old.  I’ve been meaning to post it as a News Day Tuesday for a while now, but other news kept popping up.  Anyway, there was a survey done in which more than half of Americans said they believed they were protected from harm by a guardian angel.  So I was curious…do any of you believe in guardian angels, or have you experienced or witnessed guardian angels at work?

I’ve never directly experienced the workings of a guardian angel.  At least, not to my knowledge.  I will say that I think I’ve led a very fortunate life.  Whether or not that’s because there’s an angel out there looking out for me, I don’t know.

In any case, even though I’ve never directly seen or experienced angels, people I know say they have.  So, three stories.  You be the judge.

First Story:  A friend of mine – spiritual, but not religious – has three daughters.  One night, they were having some kind of picnic or BBQ outside, and my friend was inside her house washing dishes or something along those lines, while her daughters were outside hanging out.  When my friend went outside to rejoin her daughters, she saw that all three of them were staring up at something.  When she turned to see what they were looking at, she saw a group of angels hovering above, almost like joking around, seeming like they were trying entertain her daughters.  But when they caught sight of my friend, they stopped and disappeared.

Second Story:  Same friend, but when she was much younger.  Maybe 10 or so.  My friend and her family went to the beach one day.  While they were there, a storm started to kick up, with lots of wind.  So they went to leave, except they had to climb up this cliff of some sort…not like rockclimb the cliff.  There was a pathway that spiraled up the cliff, but there was no barrier to prevent people from falling off.  Anyway, my friend is walking up the cliff behind her family.  The only person walking behind her is her cousin.  Then all of a sudden, she trips on something, loses her balance, and is about to fall over the side of the cliff.  But then this big gush of wind kicks up, and she says she felt someone push her back on the cliff.  My friend turned around and asked her cousin, “Did you see what just happened?”  And the cousin said no, and didn’t believe my friend when she told her what happened.  Then decades later, when she was talking with her cousin (the one who was walking behind her), the cousin admitted seeing my friend about to fall off the cliff, but then inexplicably something pushed her back.

Third Story:  Another cliff.  Except this time, it’s my uncle, his wife, and my cousin in a car driving along a cliff.  This is a very long time ago…maybe 20 years.  My uncle’s driving, my aunt and cousin are asleep in the car.  Then for whatever reason, my uncle loses control of the car, he sees that they’re about to go off the cliff, then he blacks out.  When he wakes up, the car is on the ground, no damage, and no one is hurt.

Those are my stories.  Honestly?  I don’t know what to make any of it.  What do you think?

News Day Tuesday: Teens Be Thinking Dey Da Bomb

December 30, 2008


Around 5,000 teenagers gather in front of Berlin’s town hall on November 12, 2008 to demonstrate for better education systems. (photo: Tobias Schwarz / Reuters)

Self-esteem, self-esteem…everyone’s always talking about self-esteem, especially the self-esteem of young people.  Well you know what?  It turns out that you high schoolers think quite highly of yourselves…at least according to this study that appeared in the November issue of Psychological Science.  (You can read more about the study here and here.)

Researchers examined answers that thousands of U.S. high school students gave to questions about how they viewed themselves.  They found that of the students surveyed in 2006:

  • 15.6% reported earning an A average in high school, compared to 7.7% in 1976
  • 54.4% thought they’d be “very good” parents, compared to 35.6% in 1975
  • 56.4% thought they’d be “very good” spouses, compared to 36.7% in 1975
  • 64.7% thought they’d be “very good” workers, compared to 48.8% in 1975
  • 72.8% said they were satisfied with themselves, compared to 67.4% in 1975

So yay right?  It seems like students today are more confident in themselves.  This news is all peaches and cream and rainbows and giggles!  But ohhhh…Jean Twenge of San Diego State University (one of the researchers of the study) says hold on and pump the brakes!

“What this shows is that confidence has crossed over into overconfidence…High school students‘ responses have crossed over into a really unrealistic realm, with three-fourths of them expecting performance that’s effectively in the top 20 percent.”  According to Twenge, “uncritical boosterism” by parents and grade inflation by teachers may be fostering expectations that could be in for a rude awakening in the real world.  And Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University who has studied self-esteem, worries that kids may have become more fragile and less able to take criticism well.  He says, “Thinking you’re God’s gift to the world is nice for you.  It’s a little harder for everyone else around you.”  Ouch.

But hey…it’s not all rain on the parade!  Even Twenge stresses that thinking you’re the bomb isn’t necessarily bad: “Young people have always had some degree of starry-eyed optimism, and that’s probably a good thing.  And setting goals for yourself is a good thing.  It’s just when those goals are wildly unrealistic, then that can cause trouble for everyone.”

Jennifer Crocker, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a longtime researcher in self-esteem, says that today’s youth might be right to be more self-confident: “The fact is that we are all getting smarter – IQ is going up quite dramatically over this same period of time.  Students may believe that they are getting trained better than they used to, that they are learning skills that they didn’t use to have.  So, maybe their predictions aren’t unreasonable.”

Also chiming in is Brent Roberts, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who argues that not only is high self-esteem more likely to protect youth against depression, but that having optimistic goals may lead people to do better.  He says, “We don’t know what these kids eventually are going to do.  Maybe a lot of them will be great workers and better at family life than their parents were.”

So does this study reflect your reality?  Are y’all as confident as this study suggests?  Do you think having high self-esteem is good?  Bad?  A double-edged sword?  Twenge mentioned “unrealistic” goals and expectations.  What does that mean?  How do you know if you’re being “unrealistic”?  Where do you draw the line between being practical and limiting yourself?  Is it bad to aim too high?

News Day Tuesday: Zimbabwe

December 23, 2008


A woman suffering from the symptoms of cholera is taken in a wheelbarrow to a clinic in Harare December 12, 2008. (photo: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

You know, even during the holiday season, it’s tough to read or listen to the news and maintain a lightness of spirit. The headlines are overrun with fighting, killing, disease, corruption, and let’s not forget the tanking economy. It seems like it’s the same old story, just a different location, and the location that’s been grabbing headlines lately is Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has been in the news for a while now, and for a number of reasons: the much criticized leadership of its president, Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980; the disputed results of its most recent election this past March, in which Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) defeated Mugabe, but not by a wide enough margin to avoid a run-off, which Tsvangirai refused to participate in because he declared the election process was a sham; the public outcry that resulted from this election, which was widely denounced for the interference and intimidation by Mugabe; the power-sharing talks Mugabe was ultimately pressured into having with Tsvangirai and the MDC because of this public outcry; the current deadlock of said power-sharing talks; the staggering hyperinflation rate, on track to becoming the world’s worst in history, with prices doubling every day, and a 10 BILLION dollar banknote being introduced a few days ago to keep up with soaring prices (on December 12th, 500 million Zimbabwe dollars was worth 8 U.S. dollars, but this is probably different now since Zimbabwe’s inflation rate is so high); and the current cholera epidemic, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people in Zimbabwe and has infected more than 20,000.

Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Geez Kathy…way to go with the cheery news for the holidays.” So why am I telling you all this depressing stuff about Zimbabwe? To show you that despite ALL of these problems facing the people of Zimbabwe, there are STILL Zimbabweans who are doing their best to help, to make a difference where they can. The BBC published a short account by William Machesa, 22-year-old mechanic, who talks about how he uses his pick-up truck as an ambulance to transport the sick to and from a clinic. You can read about how things look from his perspective here.

There is another reason I told you all of this. I am reminded of a scene I read once, a very long time ago, in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, in which the main character Dream (a.k.a., Sandman) enters into a contest called The Oldest Game against a demon named Choronzon. The object of the game is to keep naming something that is more powerful than whatever was named before until one player loses when he can’t think of anything. For example, Choronzon starts off the game by naming a wolf, then Dream counters by naming a hunter. The following is the end of their exchange in this contest:

I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment.  I am the dark at the end of everything.  The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything….And what will you be then, Dreamlord?
– Choronzon

I am hope.
– Dream

So what can we, countries apart and oceans away, possibly do against such overwhelming problems and massive despair? What can we possibly do to help the people of Zimbabwe?

We can give them hope.

Ultimately, it is the people of Zimbabwe who will bring change. Right now, our friends on the ground say that crushing hardship and isolation are the greatest threat — that the most powerful contribution we can make is to cry out our solidarity with their struggle, and let them know that they are not alone.
– Ben Wikler, U.S. Campaign Director, Avaaz.org

Avaaz is currently collecting signatures and messages from all over the world to be broadcast as a radio advertisement across Zimbabwe in the new year. They have online tools available if you want to write or record your own ad for broadcast. So far, more than 50,000 people have signed on. If you’d like to participate, go here.

To find out more about Avaaz.org, go here (the site is in many different languages).  If you’re curious about how the rest of that contest between Dream and Choronzon went, go here (you have to scroll down a little).

News Day Tuesday: The shoes heard ’round the world

December 16, 2008


(still from video of shoe-throwing incident)

So I’m sure you’ve all heard about the shoes that got thrown at President Bush during his farewell trip to Iraq.  But in case you haven’t heard about it, at a Baghdad news conference a few days ago, Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi threw two shoes at Bush.  I know what you’re thinking…”Where’s the video??”  Here.

Before we get to how Iraqis have reacted to this incident, first a little background.  In the States (and almost anywhere else for that matter), if you throw a shoe at someone, it’s obviously not considered very polite.  But I think most Americans would look at the shoe being thrown as just another object that could have just as easily been, I dunno, a book let’s say.  But that’s not the case in Iraq.  In Iraq, the shoe has more cultural significance because the bottom of the shoe is considered unclean.  So, you should remove your shoes when entering a mosque or a home.  If you carry your shoes around with you, then you should hold them so that the soles face each other.  You shouldn’t cross your legs because it is impolite to have the bottom of your shoe face someone.  So if these kinds of precautions are taken in Iraqi culture, you can imagine, then, what it means to throw a shoe at someone.  It’s considered to be extremely insulting because what you are saying, in essence, is that the person you’re throwing the shoe at is worth no more than the dirt on the shoe.  You can read more about this here.

The Iraqi reaction to the shoe-throwing incident has spanned the spectrum, with one end proud of Muntadar al-Zaidi and proclaiming him as a hero, and the other end condemning what he has done as unprofessional, shameful, and insulting to the Iraqi people.  Here are some examples of what Iraqis had to say:

  • What this brave journalist did is nothing but rejecting the tyrants in our country. And this journalist deserves to have a statue as he was throwing his shoe at the American president. – Dhyaa Mahdi Salih, a 56-year-old lawyer (Basra)
  • There’s a reaction against this journalist and his improper behavior as he represents the journalists and educated people in our society. Because he should have rejected the American president with his pen or by embarrassing him with his smart questions, not with his shoes. I totally reject this behavior because it will damage the rights of individuals.  – Saeed Naji al-Ibadi, a 49-year-old pharmacist (Basra)
  • We are Arabs and we have a good reputation in hospitality with enemies before friends. The American president also was accompanying the man who represents the Iraqi government and this made it worse because this journalist also abused the prime minister with his behavior.  – Nasir Mahmood al-Bahadli, 52, an academic (Basra)
  • Despite my hatred of Bush, he’s a president for a big country and a guest for the Iraqi government. And we as Easterners think insulting the guest is an insult for the host. Despite our hatred of the guest, there should be respect and diplomacy.  – Karim Muan al-Qaisi, a 50-year-old merchant (Baquba)
  • Bush deserves more than that because his soldiers have killed Iraqis. If Saddam had occupied America and killed the American people, then what would be their reaction? What we do expect Muntader to do when he watched the American forces kill Iraqis according to Bush’s order? Long life for your hand, Muntader.  – Mohammed Ibrahim, 51 (Samarra)
  • I do not like Bush and refuse many of his policies in Iraq, but at the same time I do not agree about the action which brought bad reputation to Iraq, Iraqis and the Iraqi Prime Minister.  – Ahmad Ali, a 24-year-old student (Najaf)
  • I appreciate the heroic position of Muntader al-Zaidi. I appreciate his love to home and his challenge to the occupier.  – Mohammad Zaki, a 27-year-old lawyer (Mosul)
  • Muntader’s action got back the Iraqi dignity. He got back part of our gravity. God bless you Muntader.  – Jasim Mohammed, a 24-year-old laborer (Mosul)
  • Muntader’s action is the top of heroism.  He represents all Iraqis’ tragedies and sadness, but he has not become a suicide bomber, nor planted an I.E.D., nor beheaded anyone. He practiced the democracy which brought by the American. He has to be released at once. He is in all people’s hearts in Iraq and in the whole world.  – Farhan Khalaf, a teacher (Kirkuk)
  • Bush threw bombs and rockets at Iraq and he destroyed my home by drawing a divisive strategy. So does he not deserve to get something from Iraqis?  – Atyya Mejbil Obaidi, a governmental employee (Kirkuk)
  • The journalist is supposed to cover the event, not to give Iraqi’s a bad reputation, embarrassing the government and the journalists who were at the conference in the Green Zone.  – Sarkoon Hanna, a Christian pharmacist (Kirkuk)
  • I spent five years in Saddam’s jails.  This journalist has to throw flowers on Bush, not a shoe, because Bush saved the Iraqi people from a bloody regime.  – Saman Qadir, a 51-year-old mechanic (Sulaimaniya)

You can read many more Iraqi reactions here.

So what do you all think about what happened? 

News Day Tuesday: Mumbai Heroes

December 9, 2008


Vishnu Datta Ram Zende working Monday at a Mumbai railroad station where he saved lives. (photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

Here is an article about some ordinary people who did some extraordinary things during the tragedy that struck Mumbai recently, when terrorists held the Indian city under siege for three days. 173 people died, which is already too many, but had it not been for the calm and courage displayed by this group of heroes, that death toll surely would have been much higher.

I always find these types of stories particularly inspiring because they give me hope that maybe I, too, have the capacity to display that kind of courage. Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy the adventures of superheroes, and I respect the everyday heroes who, despite the dangers of their jobs, get up and go to work anyway. But personally, I find that both of these are a world apart from me because the reality is, I don’t have superpowers and I don’t have the training to subdue violent situations. I am just a regular gal, like most other folks, who goes to work everyday to pay her bills and maybe make the world a better place along the way.

The people of Mumbai also went to work that day, to pay their bills and maybe try to make the world a better place. I doubt any of them knew that on that day, they would be in middle of an attack on their city, with gunmen on a rampage, shooting their machine guns every which way, and people running away screaming. And yet these unassuming employees of a train station and a hotel kitchen somehow held it together to take care of their fellow citizens. Can you imagine? What does it take, do you think, for a person, with windows crashing and bullets whizzing, to say to him or herself, “I need to get these people to safety” and then go about doing just that? Can that type of courage be taught or developed?

“When we are afraid we ought not to occupy ourselves with endeavoring to prove that there is no danger, but in strengthening ourselves to go on in spite of the danger.” – Mark Rutherford

“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” – Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

What do you think courage and heroism mean?

News Day Tuesday: Men’s Magazines

December 2, 2008

(artist: Patrick Hickey)

Y’all are one intriguing bunch.  Who knew that visitors to a site for Girls by Design would have so much to say about men’s magazines?  😉   So in that spirit, I present to you a study about – you guessed it – men’s magazines.

Jennifer Aubrey of the University of Missouri conducted a series of studies examining how the content of men’s magazines (such as Maxim, FHM and Stuff) affected the self-image of male readers.  In the first study, she examined how exposure to men’s magazines affected body self-consciousness and appearance anxiety among male readers.  What she found was that after a year, reading these magazines led to greater body self-consciousness.  Aubrey was surprised by this result because these magazines weren’t dominated by idealized images of men, but of women.  Since it is unlikely that most men want to look like the women they see in these magazines, she wondered what the reason was for the higher body self-consciousness among male readers.

And so, curious social scientist that she is, Aubrey conducted a second study, along with Laramie Taylor of the University of California-Davis.  This time, the male participants were divided into 3 groups: Group 1 viewed magazine layouts featuring objectified women; Group 2 viewed layouts featuring male fashion, with fit and well-dressed male models; and Group 3 viewed appearance-neutral layouts with topics like technology and film trivia.  What the researchers found was that, as a group, the men who viewed the layouts of objectified females had the most body self-consciousness.  And get this…the group with the least amount of body self-consciousness was the one that viewed the male fashion layouts.

So what to make of this?  Aubrey hypothesized that men ended up feeling like they needed to look as good as the women they saw in men’s magazines in order to have a chance at becoming involved with an attractive woman.

Ever the curious scientists, Aubrey and Taylor conducted a third study to test this theory.  This time, the men were divided into 2 groups: Group 1 viewed magazine layouts with sexually idealized females; Group 2 viewed the same layouts with average-looking “boyfriends” added to the photos, with captions stating that female models are attracted to average-looking men.  What they found was that the men who viewed the layouts with the average-looking boyfriends had less body self-consciousness.  Why?  Maybe because they felt less pressure to conform to certain appearance standards when they saw that the models liked average-looking men.

There have also been a number of studies showing how media images negatively influence women’s body image.  Last year, a study by Laurie Mintz of the University of Missouri-Columbia found that all women – regardless of their size, shape, height or age – were equally negatively affected after seeing models in magazine ads for just 3 minutes.  Another study that came out this past May analyzed previous studies (this is called a meta-analysis) encompassing more than 15,000 subjects, and found that “exposure to media depicting ultra-thin actresses and models significantly increased women’s concerns about their bodies, including how dissatisfied they felt, and their likelihood of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors, such as excessive dieting.”

What is so interesting about the studies Aubrey and her colleagues conducted is that idealized images of women also seem to negatively affect the way men perceive themselves, even more so than idealized images of men.  What do you all think about that?  Surprised?  Not surprised?  Convinced that you too should study a social science in college?  (I studied sociology in college.  Yay sociology!  Well, that was after a stint with electrical engineering.  Long story.  Let’s just say that circuits and I…we didn’t get along too well.)

And what’s all this about “objectification”?  A lot of the studies and a lot of your comments mentioned that word.  What does it mean to “objectify” something and is it always a bad thing?  Is it possible to have media representations of people that don’t objectify?  For example, many argue that men’s magazines objectify women because they’re presented as sex objects.  What about the paintings and photographs that hang in the most revered museums throughout the world?  When people are portrayed as art, is that objectification or not?  What about when people provide entertainment through acting or music?  Is that objectification?

News Day Tuesday: Thanks

November 26, 2008
  

First, allow me to apologize for the extreme tardiness of today’s News Day Tuesday.  The month of November was wondering if I still knew what “insanity” meant, and saw it fit to flood me with about a bajillion different things to do.  But I’m still standing November!  Ha!
Second, for those in the States…is anyone as excited as I am that Thanksgiving is this Thursday??  I!  LOVE!  THANKS!  GIVIIIIING!!  Love it love it love it love it!!  It is hands down my favorite holiday.  😀
Third, so what does this have to do with the news?  Well, you all know how it is with Thanksgiving…it’s traditional to take time out and list all the things that you’re thankful for.  In fact, Brooke posted an awesome list of things that help you find happiness, and one of the things on that list is related to gratitude.  (Yeah Brooke!)  There are certain things that top almost everyone’s list:  family, friends, food, home.  I can honestly say that hardly a day goes by when I don’t pause to think about how lucky I am because my friends and family provide me with more love and laughter than should be legally allowed.  And anyone who knows me will tell you that food is joy to me.  Man, I love food, I really do.  This is a big reason why I love Thanksgiving so much.  And home…ok, well given the outrageous rents in New York, maybe I’m not as thankful for having a roof over my head as I should be.  😉
Anyway, all of this got me wondering…what about some of the things that I don’t take time out to appreciate on a daily basis?  What are some of the things that I benefit from everyday yet take for granted?  And this is where the news comes in.
Recently, several countries (including the U.S.), rights groups, and the United Nations have condemned trials held in Myanmar (Burma) that have resulted in sentences of more than 60 years.  Who were the people convicted and what were their crimes?
A blogger who posted cartoons making fun of Myanmar’s ruler, Than Shwe.  He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Zarganar, a comic who criticized the government’s slow response to Cyclone Nargis and organized private deliveries of aid to the cyclone’s victims.  He was convicted of violating the Electronics Act and was sentenced to 45 years.
Ashin Gambira, a Buddhist monk who led the “saffron revolution” – the wave of peaceful protests by thousands of monks across the country in September 2007.  He was convicted on several charges and sentenced to a total of 68 years.
And the Burmese aren’t the only ones being jailed for voicing their views against the government or other establishment.  In 2006, Abdel Karim Suleiman was sentenced to 4 years in prison.  His crime?  Insulting religion and defaming Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his blog.  What did he say?  Here is a sample:
“I say to Al-Azhar and its university and its professors and preachers who stand against anyone who thinks differently to them: ‘You are destined for the rubbish bin of history, where you will find no one to cry for you, and your regime will end like others have.'”
Meanwhile, on my side of the ocean, I’m cracking up (or at least I used to, back when I had more time) as Jon Stewart and his merry band of comics on “The Daily Show” consistently make my President and other powerful officials look like a bunch of buffoons.
One of the many things I love about the U.S. is freedom of speech.  And it is one of the things that I definitely take for granted.  I realize that it’s still not a perfect system here, whatever that may be, and that there will always be tension between the right to say what you want and the risk of offending those who don’t want to hear what you say.  But certainly, we are given a wide berth here, and whenever I hop on the internet to ask Google for magic answers, I rarely stop to think that there are more than a billion people out there who don’t experience the internet the same way I do because their government censors the content.  One of my friends sent me a link to China Channel, which offers a free plug-in that lets users experience what it’s like to surf the internet in China.  I tried it, and let me tell you…it’s spooky.  Try Googling “Tiananmen Square protests” and see how far you get.
What do you all think about freedom of speech and censorship?  Do you think people should have the right to say whatever they want to, even if it hurts others?  What about criticizing the government and people in power?  Are there times when censorship by the government can be beneficial to society?

Finally, I’d also like to mention that I’m thankful for all of your participation and feedback on this blog.  Thank you Taylor Kagy for writing the “Twilight” review.  I thought Taylor Nikole was supposed to write it, but apparently she punked out.  So thank you for stepping in and covering her butt.  😉  I think you did a great job, for which I am grateful.  And thank you to everyone who read and/or commented on the other posts.  Believe it or not, I do read all of your comments.  It warms my heart to see that my ignorance on certain matters has entertained some of you.  😉

ADDENDUM:  Just to make it clear to everyone…Taylor Nikole did NOT, in fact, punk out.  I was just kidding because I enjoy giving well-meaning people a hard time.  😉  Taylor Kagy and Taylor Nikole are one and the same, but will the real Taylor please stand up?  😉

News Day Tuesday: Gay Marriage

November 18, 2008

At San Francisco City Hall, as many as 10,000 gathered, carrying signs, flags and even copies of their marriage licenses. (photo: Jim Wilson / NYT)

Marriage.  What is it?  A right?  A responsibility?  A contract?  An institution?  All of the above?  None of the above?  How would you define it?  What does it represent?  Why is it so important to so many people for the law to side with their own vision of what marriage is?
The answers to these questions lie at the heart of heated debates and passionate protests that have been sweeping across the U.S. recently after voters in California, Florida, and Arizona approved constitutional bans of same-sex marriages.  This past Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators from New York to San Francisco rallied in front of city halls and capitol buildings to protest the passage of these bans.  As a testament to the respect people have for each other, most of these demonstrations have been peaceful and largely without incident.  Yet there is no ignoring the fact that deep differences exist in the way people view marriage and how it should be treated under the law.  The opposing sides have focused much of their energy on California – largely because only six months ago, its Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriages by ruling that same-sex couples had the constitutional right to marry.  California’s Proposition 8, which passed by a margin of 52 to 48 percent, effectively overturns that court decision by amending the state constitution to read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
Supporters of amendments like Proposition 8 insist that they are not anti-gay but pro-marriage.  Some believe that marriage is a sacred covenant, ordained by God to be between a man and a woman.  But religion is only one side of the argument.  For many people, marriage acts as a societal “glue” of sorts because it is the foundation upon which families are built.  Since only heterosexual couples can reproduce and have children, they believe marriage should reflect that biological reality.  Others believe a more inclusive view of marriage is a slide down a slippery slope – if same-sex couples are allowed to marry, then where do we draw the line?  At polygamy?  At pets?  At fictional characters?  Others argue that legalizing gay marriage will endanger freedom of speech.  They worry that if religious beliefs prohibit churches or other organizations from providing services to gay couples, or if people voice their disapproval of homosexuality in any way, then those parties will be accused of discriminatory practices and/or hate crimes and be subject to lawsuits, fines, and arrests.
On the other side of the fence are people who believe marriage should be available to any couple who loves each other enough to make that type of commitment.  They argue that claims based on religion are without merit because they violate the separation of church and state.  They insist that to deny same-sex couples the right to marry is no different from, and just as discriminatory as, denying mixed-race couples the right to marry.  Supporters of gay marriage also argue that, from a legal standpoint, domestic partnerships and civil unions aren’t satisfactory arrangements because they don’t qualify for the more than 1,100 federal laws that apply to married couples – for example, laws governing veteran’s benefits and Social Security.  Others argue that even if same-sex unions gained the same legal status as marriages in every way except for the term “marriage” itself, that such a scenario would still mark these couples as different or abnormal, and thus prevent them from becoming fully integrated into society.
It’s complicated, right?  And this is assuming that sex can be clearly defined into 2 categories: male and female.  On top of all that is the debate pitting the government against the will of the people.  In California, several same-sex couples and the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles filed lawsuits with the state Supreme Court seeking to block the enforcement of, and eventually to overturn, Proposition 8.  This puts the government and the people of California in a bind.  If the majority of voters approved Proposition 8, then is it okay for the courts and/or the legislature to step in and overturn the will of the majority?  In a democratic society, is it ever okay to ignore the will of the people?   LaDoris H. Cordell, a retired Superior Court judge, points out that there have been a number of times throughout American history when the courts overrode the will of the majority:  when they ordered the desegregation of public schools and public accommodations, when they opened voting to people of color, and when they granted mixed-race couples the right to marry.  Cordell states that the furor “with which society greeted these courageous and controversial court rulings was ultimately replaced by acceptance.”  Thoughts?
There are others who say that the legal recognition of gay marriage is inevitable, that it is only a matter of time.  To support this argument, they point to changing attitudes of generations, and in particular the younger generation.  According to exit polls, young people were among the biggest opponents of Proposition 8: 64% of 18-24 year olds voted against it.  In contrast, 61% of people aged 65 and older voted for Proposition 8.  So what do you think?  Is it only a matter of time?  What do you think accounts for the stark difference in attitudes between the older and younger generations?
Interested in reading more arguments for Proposition 8?  Go here.  Against it?  Go here.