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15

Apr

Today: Humanity at It’s Best and Worst

Immediately following the horrific bombings at the Boston marathon today, Twitter was abuzz with an all-too-familiar question: “What has happened to our humanity?”. The blasts, in terms of their detonation, location, and unknown (at this point) intent, represented the absolute worst of the human condition. Wanton and merciless violence thrust upon innocents on such a  global stage—96 nations were represented in the marathon and it was covered worldwide—is just about as horrific an event as possible. The ensuing fear of random attacks in the most quotidian aspects of life—going to the movies, school, or a race— penetrated throughout the city, the nation and world. Gore was all over the news and the internet: blood and limbs and burning flags. Images that will live in infamy and burn holes into our collective conscience. It’s disgusting, enough to make the most emotionally ironclad of us reduced to tears, hysteria and confusion. 

As soon as the blasts went off, humanity’s state of being flew in the opposite direction right alongside the police officers, on-site medics and EMTs and soldiers as they fought through the barricades to help out the 150 or so wounded. That their first instinct was to turn into the blast zone, towards the source of grave terror and bloodshed to risk their own lives for the sake of those whose lives were in jeopardy speaks volumes of their character, resolve and selflessness. The first responders, which also included finishing marathoners who were medically trained professionals and those who just cared, deserve our utmost respect and celebration in saving lives that might have otherwise been lost to us. The bombings were a human tragedy, but the reaction of the first responders showed that the state of humanity is in good hands. 

It’s extremely, extremely difficult to not boil over with rage. It’s easy to clamor and wring your hands in the air yelling for the guilty party’s head. Granted, I wouldn’t be opposed to that, nor will I deny having had those feelings earlier. But let’s use this time to instead focus on the people in this story that truly matter. The dead, amongst them an 8 year old boy taken from the world before he or she could ever really explore it, will never be forgotten, and will be in people’s prayers around the world. Those first responders, those selfless, mostly unknown heroes, will be deservedly celebrated forever for their courage. When the perpetrator is finally caught and brought to justice, the law enforcement officers and agents will be similarly celebrated. 

But, as all of this unfolded, and humanity’s goodness seemed to be revived, certain people—cough, cough, Alex Jones, Erik Rush, Westboro Baptist Church—sought to use this moment to get on their pulpit and spew their incomprehensible rhetoric to their minions. That they jumped to conclusions—it was a government conspiracy, it was by Muslims and to kill them all, and God delivering the bomb because of gay marriage, respectively—is repulsive and appalling. They should have been joining the chorus of everyone else: here’s how to find friends and family in the race, where to sign up to host displaced runners and spectators, asking for people to donate blood or to simply call their loved ones and say hello and that they love them. Now is the time to wrap your arms around those next to you, because like it or not, we’re all affected by this and we’re all in this together. 

This is what we know: this was a terrorist attack, both in definition in practice (whether domestic or foreign is unknown, but it’s still terrorism). We know that the responsible person or group will be apprehended and they will be served a platter of red, white, and blue justice. 

Boston will prevail. Morality and humanity will prevail. America will prevail and come out of this tragedy more unified, more aware and safer than ever. Now let’s wipe the tears from our eyes, let the smoke and ash settle, and come out of this better than ever. 

29

Aug

Our biggest threat today isn’t Syria, or even Iran, or Russia or China. Our biggest threat today is our own economy, and we cannot continue to be strong diplomatically, politically and militarily and be weak economically.
Jim Baker, former Secretary of State

28

Aug

Why We Care About Sports

                       

I didn’t become emotionally invested in sports until 1995, when I was five years old. I played baseball (Tee-ball) and basketball, but wasn’t really a fan of any team or sport. At the time, I had coxsackie—an awfully painful oral virus that presents wonderfully ulcerating blisters— and was miserable. I was sitting in a room upstairs in my house when my dad came in and flipped on the TV. Coincidentally, the Yankees were playing and a guy named Danny Tartabull was at the plate. My dad, having come to cheer me up, found his opening. 

"Hey, see that guy who has the bat in his hands on the team in white?"

"Yeah."

"Well, his name is Dan, just like you!"

"Cool!", I said, smiling, because things like this are important to six-year old kids.

"And, there’s also a guy on the Yankees named Don [my father’s name]. Look at that, they have Dan and Don on their team and they’re one of the best teams in baseball."

Sold. Fortunately, for my sports fandom, the Yankees did well (and made it to the playoffs, per usual for the rest of my life) that year and I was well on my way to becoming a crazed junkie. I eventually gave up on the Yankees after they won the Subway World Series in 2000 for how the fans treated my family—all Mets fans— at game 2  (when Clemens tried killing Piazza with his own bat), and I didn’t like the idea of just buying all the best players. 

As I grew and developed as an athlete, I became exponentially more emotionally connected to the world of sports. Through my life, I’ve played baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and ran track. Having a diverse playing interest also created an appreciation for nearly all sports. I soon became a sponge of sports information, facts and stats, and history. 

I’ve spent a good amount of time these last five weeks pondering my obsession and fascination with sports. Five weeks ago, the NBA Playoffs started, and I am just about as dedicated a fan of LeBron James as one could possibly be, and have been since he was declared The Chosen One in 2001 by SI. Through all of his many successes and gut-wrenching failures and screw-ups, I have stood by, fully believing that he would prevail.

Why do I care so much? I think it is because we, as humans in a fast-paced world with daily routines, see sports as an outlet to find joy, passion, excitement, and stimulation, while fully knowing the odds are against you wholly attaining those positive desires. Anything can happen in sports, as in life. Teams and players get hot, go on streaks, appear unbeatable and then, can, collapse in an utterly fascinating display of implosion. Our lives can be stable and successful, yet one small decision or turn can completely change course. Sports are not a fantasy world; they are an extension of our daily experiences in reality. They are full of confusion, tragedy, pure bliss, triumphs and failures. We care because we appreciate the incomprehensible combinations of grace, agility, coordination, skill, genius, athleticism, and raw, pure emotion that are on display in a fiercely competitive environment. Everyone wants to succeed; to do so, we fight to the death, metaphorically or not. Leaving it out all on the court, field, track, course, or ice each and every time. 

Sports are unlike anything else in our lives that can be considered extracurricular interests or hobbies. Is it impossible for you to fall asleep at night when your political candidate loses a race, or when you finish a book? Do you cry when your model train set was built perfectly, yet the engine fails and it runs out of proverbial steam? Is there anything else in the world that can keep you simultaneously giddy and nervous for days, weeks, months at a time when you know that you have a chance to succeed or win? 

It’s difficult to find an exact explanation for why, exactly, we care about sports. But, I think, because they are competitive structures between our species’ most talented and physically gifted specimen that we see the finest essence of human life. Will, determination, motivation, perseverance, brilliance, creativity, strength and force, momentum, collapse, and exhilaration. Struggles, hot steaks, slumps, crushing defeats, full of paradoxes and inconsistencies.

These are parts of life. Sports are human; sports, are life. 

09

Jun

Great Poem by Chief Tecumseh

Admittedly, I just heard of this fascinating poem by Chief Tecumseh last night through watching Act of Valor. I love this so much, I’m going to do my best to start using this as an ethos for how I conduct myself through life on a daily basis. 

Here it is:

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. 

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. 

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home. 

Absolutely beautiful. A little morbid and militaristic, but the message is clear: Courage. Respect. Honor. Thank you, Chief. 

14

May

What this power is, I cannot say. All I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when you are in a state of mind in which you know exactly what you want…and are fully determined not to quit until you get it.

10

May

Our Broken Democracy (And How to Fix it)

Stringently partisan parties. Extremist groups. Lobbying. Corporate influence. Congressional puppetry. Filibusters. 60-vote requirements. These are all massive problems in our democratic system which was created to have a popularly elected government with checks and balances instituted to restrict tyrannical power from any one person or group. However, new checks and balances that have come to light in recent years have created an even bigger problem: now, no one person or group is powerful enough to do anything resembling responsible and representative governance. No longer can a simple majority pass legislation, and any bill can be blocked by a filibuster. Take a look at this quote by the prominent scholar Francis Fukuyama from Stanford: 

There is a crisis of authority and we are not prepared to think about it in these terms. When Americans think about the problem of government, it is always about constraining the government and limiting its scope. But we forget that government was also created to act and make decisions.

A popular idea championed by many people, including myself, has been clamoring for the rise of a moderate major third party to balance the growing divide between Democrats and Republicans. This seems logical, considering much of the country falls more to center of both parties, to bring in a group that would focus on reestablishing the public-private cooperative partnership that thrived for so long until money and special interest groups amassed so much influence. However, a change in the leadership of the country (not saying the President, but Congress) cannot be the only solution. Under the current institutional rules, neither of the two major parties has power, and a third party would easily further complicate the problem: those officials of this new centrist party would be the main targets for persuasion by Republican and Democrat leaders which would undermine the whole point of the third party coming into the political fray. 

Changing the rules and regulations for Congressional activity would be considerably more impactful and effective change. Reducing a minority party’s ability to filibuster and force the bill to receive 60 votes as opposed to 51 is one such change. Minimizing the effect of special interest groups, which in theory are a very democratic institution but in practice too polarizing and powerful, would be another necessary change. Eliminating the importance of money in politics is an idealist’s dream, but it does not appear to be possible. Money is now as important as votes. Money persuades and buys votes; money is used to proffer influence, and subsequently, votes (or lack thereof). Removing senatorial holds and reducing the size of legislation supercommittees are other changes that could lead to increased levels of governance and decreased levels of partisan bickering, blocking and stalling. Fukuyama’s additional idea of “heavy technocratic input from a nonpartisan agency like the Congressional Budget Office” would prevent external pressures influencing legislation. 

Going back to the special interest groups, “The Rise and Decline of Nations” by Mancur Olsen in 1982 understood their power as minorities (as summed up by Tom Friedman):

[W]hen a country amasses too many highly focused special-interest lobbies—which have a inherent advantage over the broad majority, which is fixated on the well-being of the country as a whole—they can, like a multilimbed octopus, choke the life out of a political system, unless the majority truly mobilizes against them.

Our government, like it or not, has been heavily involved in many aspects of our lives. But, that intense level of involvement has also included education, infrastructure development, scientific research, economic growth and protection from implosion (through regulations, of course which weren’t enough now, in hindsight) and a just rule of law. The current political system, however, its increasingly dangerous because it prevents the government from performing its main duty: governing for the well-being of the nation. Instead, the government is at a standstill, unable to help America and its citizens who, God knows, need help. One leader, or new party for that matter, won’t be enough. The government needs to govern the government because its current structure is inept and unable to act.

Change is necessary, needed. But will it come? Don’t hold your breath. 

References: Daniel Drezner (Foreignpolicy.com), Friedman and Fukuyama

09

May

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.
The full quote by Barack Obama supporting gay marriage. Massive applause, massive respect for saying this because it’s going to instigate even further partisanship in the upcoming election. The man has a vision, sense of morality and human rights, and most of all, balls. (via nprfreshair

(Source: NPR)

04

May

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.
Thomas Jefferson

03

May

Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, on the origination and explosion of his organization and its efforts to revolutionize education. No wonder he was named to Time’s 100 Most Influential People list for this year. 

17

Apr

The Future of College Education?

With the rising costs of college tuition, students have been seeking cost-effective remedies for getting a higher education. This has resulted in increased enrollments for in-state students at state universities, but also at community colleges and junior colleges. Enrollments in strictly online universities and degree programs have also been on the rise. This last point is concerning, if only for the fact that the sphere of cheap and easily accessible online education is of lower quality than the traditional brick-and-mortar on-campus education. 

The rise of online education runs parallel to a few factors: increased technological innovation, capacity and accessibility, the demand for cheaper education, and the rise of technology’s role in our social and educational development. Again, the question of educational quality that is offered online must be addressed. If technology has created a virtual world for learning and social interaction, then why does online education currently lag so far behind? We have the tools; the demand and economic incentives are in place. Why can’t higher education online be as good as its traditional counterpart, or better?

If the goal of college is —aside from self-discovery, personal growth, and enlightenment— is learning and developing the skills necessary to compete in the global workforce, then one’s educational quality is of the utmost importance. This is being addressed by several education tech start-ups around the country, but by none more than 2tor, Inc. (In the interest of full-disclosure, I intern at 2tor and have become a full believer in their cause but I am not mentioning them because I work there; I mention them because they are simply the best at what they do and because they have the most lucid vision for the future of online higher education.) Based right outside of DC, with offices in NYC, LA, Chapel Hill and Hong Kong, 2tor has developed superior technology with innovative platforms to create virtual classrooms and its own social network for Masters’ students at its partner universities: University of Southern Cal’s Rossier School of Education and School of Social Work, University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business and School of Government, and Georgetown University’s School of Nursing. These are elite institutions that are now offering virtual replicas of their respective Masters’ Degree programs; none of these partner schools would have agreed to partner with 2tor if they did not honestly believe that the quality of the experience and program would not be sacrificed. 2tor has sparked a revolution within the sphere of online education, and the traditional giants within the field (University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, etc) should take note. 

The reasons for a graduate-student-hopeful seeking online education are simple: 

  • With synchronous and asynchronous class schedules, students have the ability to continue working their current jobs and retaining their income.
  • Most of these people have families and do not live near elite universities offering their desired programs; this way, they do not have to uproot their families and their lives.
  • Networking and interaction with classmates is as simple as it is done regularly by these students on Facebook and Twitter, but is even more “real” due to the frequency of video-chat classrooms, study sessions and hangouts.
  • The faculty members teaching the courses are the same as those teaching the on-campus program.
  • There is a full service staff of counselors helping these students every step of the way from applying through graduation.

Critics are often wary of the potential lack of networking in online programs, particularly within business school programs. However, professors have noted that the small virtual classrooms and inability to see each other face-to-face aside from a couple program trips have led to even more interaction within the provided platforms, a greater familiarity with one another, and a shared inherent bond among the students. Services are provided to these students to give them equal chances at networking and furthering their careers. 

Prestige is another critique of online education. 2tor’s executives all have established highly respected careers in education and/or technology which give the firm’s mission and product immense credibility; the product itself is why the firm has become the most highly funded education start-up in the nation. The outpouring of money from investors signifies belief in the mission’s success, the product’s increasing demand and obviously profitability; the continual partnering with elite universities (and especially the forming of second partnerships with current-partners like USC and UNC) add prestige to the programs’ quality and credibility. All of these factors underscore the same overarching belief: the future of education is moving towards the digital realm to create a more expansive and accessible base of students attaining top-tier education without leaving their homes, families or jobs. 

I don’t think the success of online degree programs spells total doom for on-campus degree programs. I do, however, think that this trend, and the success of it, will continue to drive a push for elite universities—notorious for being conservative and traditional—to offer more online classes, and potentially even entire degree programs. Either way, the future of education is upon us, and it’d be wise to jump on the digital bandwagon. 

For more information: hereherehere, here, here, here, and here