Monday, October 24, 2016

News Briefs 10.24.16

 U.S. Involvement in Yemen vs. The Trump Show: Who Wins?

Air strike in Sanaa, Yemen's capital
On Sunday October 9th the second presidential debate was broadcast, and Donald Trump once again succeeded at holding the nation captive with his ridiculous and over-pronounced antics. The debate took place the same weekend as the leaked "trump tapes," recording he and Billy Bush's lewd conversation before an appearance on "Days of Our Lives" in 2005. With Trump being in a much more heated position, we Americans marveled with mouths agape at his jittery and childish behavior during the entire debate. While this was going on however, a United States naval destroyer was firing missiles at the control centers of the Houthi rebel group in Sanaa, Yemen. 

Being a person who doesn't use social media, I knew little about the debate other than the few minutes I watched [in agony] and I knew absolutely nothing about what was going on in Yemen. When I did follow the news however, whether it was through social media outlets, television, internet, apps, etc. Trump dominated for sure. But by some miracle, I fell upon an article that award winning author and Brooklyn College Professor, Moustafa Bayoumi, wrote for The Guardian concerning the subject: 

"The Trump show has managed to bump all the serious and necessary policy debates not just off the table but out of the room."
-Moustafa Bayoumi

With all the anxiety that the impending election has been causing in Americans and the problems that lie ahead for the country, it seems as though there's a lot to be afraid of. And believe me, there is. But there's so much already going on now that many Americans simply aren't aware of. While the candidates are busy making obscure arguments about eliminating ISIS, there are U.S. military regimes active in the civil war in Yemen as we speak. The country is both entertaining and exciting war and Americans are completely oblivious to it. Why aren't these things being broadcast? Why wasn't the debate interrupted for a "Breaking News," headline on the attack? Why aren't Americans being generally informed on the military actions their country is taking? Why is it that civilians in Yemen are being bombed everyday by rebel and Saudi troops (with U.S. backing) while Americans are not only unharmed but completely unaware? 

And situations like these are tricky; now that much of warfare is done with drones and air missiles, the casualty numbers are rampantly growing. Often times, innocent civilians, American troops, and the rebel groups being targeted all get caught in the blasts. These methods of warfare know no bounds, and apparently, if we look at current U.S. military activity, neither do we. 

In the closing statement of Bayoumi's article, he makes very important observations of the current standing of candidate Clinton in the race, and her chances of winning. It's important that we as voters, are careful not to get caught up in the rhetoric concerning why we don't want Trump as president, but rather focus on why we want Clinton; and "she's not Trump," isn't enough of an answer. Being that many of her stances on political issues are still quite questionable, we need to question who we'll we be voting for and what the effects of that will be. 

It's unfortunate that these are our options; that this is the place our country has lead itself. But there are still strides to be taken, and accountability to be dealt. Let's hold ourselves, our leaders, and our country to it.

One love,


Scam "Artist"

Love is a strange thing. When I read this story on the BBC website, I had only joked about blogging about it with fellow intern, Chris, but after reconsidering, I realized that there was no way I could not blog about it. It is too amazingly ridiculous to not write about. Blogger's note: this is my second attempt at writing this - my first draft was deleted, and I unfortunately do not think I will be able to truly recapture my initial thoughts. 

Some key background: In 2009, a 62-year-old Swedish native by the name of Maria Grete had created an online dating profile, after being goaded by her friends to do so in an ongoing joke that had followed an ugly divorce. The artist turned art teacher quickly forgot about the whole thing, until one fateful night when she decided to check her profile, only to see that she had gotten lots of messages from potential lovers, including one man by the name of "Johnny". Full disclosure, this was not actually the man's age. He described himself as a 58-year old Danish man who had been raised in South Carolina, US, and now lived in England as a civil engineer on his way to retirement. 

Soon after their initial conversation, Maria and Johnny hit it off, and began to regularly message each other. The following is actual dialogue between the two at the time. Please do not judge, as I'm sure we've all said some pretty sappy things in the "heat of the moment."

Johnny: "I wish I could see through your eyes and see what you like to see"
Maria: "I like to see the truth, and often the truth is more beautiful and greater than people dare to realize"
Johnny: "You talk in parable´s. I can´t wait to see you"
Maria: "I cant understand how you can think so dedicated of me, when you have never met me. That scares me."

With conversation going like this on a regular basis, Maria and Johnny decided that a phone call was soon necessary. They began communicating via phone  (him off of a U.K. number, so he seemed pretty legit) and Maria admitted to Johnny that she wished him to visit Sweden so she could meet him. Johnny agreed, saying that he only needed to first visit Nigeria for a once-in-a-lifetime job interview that had come up. The plan was for him to visit soon after. It is at this point that I should mention that Johnny had also told her that he was a widower and a father of a young boy named Nick. Maria in retrospect also claims that she could not pinpoint his accent, but that he seemed endearingly sweet. 

Maria received a message from Johnny not too long after with some shocking news. While in Nigeria, his son Nick had been shot, and there were no branches of his regular bank in the town they were in. His plea was clear. He needed money, and fast. Maria rushed over to her bank to transfer over the money, recounting how anxious she was to save the young boy's life. After sending a large sum of money, Johnny wrote her back claiming that it wasn't enough to pay unforeseen medical bills, and that more was going to be needed. Maria happily obliged. After three exchanges like this, and tens of thousand of euros sent, Maria began to realize a sad truth. She was being scammed. She cut all ties of communication, and decided she would be more wary in the future. One would think the story ends here. It does not. 

Three weeks later, Maria received a call from Johnny. He apologized profusely, admitting to the whole rouse to being a scam for money, so that he could support himself and his family. When coaxed by Maria to admit his true identity, he owned up to actually being a 24-year-old Nigerian "419" scammer who despite the advice from his fellow scamming team, had fallen in love with one of his "clients, Maria, and felt horrible for lying to her. Even more interestingly, Johnny did not want to continue to hurt people like this, and wanted out. Maria, who at this point realized that her feelings had not completely dissipated, said that she still wanted to meet him and for the relationship to continue. 

Unable to get him a visa to visit Sweden, Maria flew to Abuja. With Johnny waiting for her there, tears in his eyes, Maria says that it was like she "knew him all her life."  It was during her two week visit that Maria Grete got to meet many of Johnny's scammer friends and how many of them, like Johnny, felt compelled for various reasons to scam all around the world for money. This was a trend she learned that was popular throughout West Africa. After Johnny and Maria agreed to let their relationship remain plutonic (plot twist), Maria decided that maybe there was a bigger reason why why she had come to visit Nigeria. She felt compelled to help this people reform their lives in a more productive way (bigger plot twist.) After coming back home to Sweden, she remained connected to West African news. It was through this that saw that there was an arts exhibition being highlighted and an idea was sparked. 

Maria soon travelled back to Nigeria, along with Uganda, and began hosting art shows and exhibitions where young men (and women) could display their own art, along with educate themselves on various artists and art styles. Through these, she began to raise money to help men like Johnny find their way. She raised enough money to help send Johnny to college in the United States to finish his degree and to become an oil worker. They remain great friends to this day and he recently purchased one of her paintings. Maria Grete is now a regularly scheduled lecturer in Nigeria and Uganda, traveling to promote art and find young men and women to whom she can help express themselves. 

This is a love story, not about a person falling for another person, but rather a person falling in love with a nation and its people. I have so many thoughts and questions, but alas I must keep this piece of new...brief. Until next time, stay golden everyone. 


Remembering Mariana Walker

For the sake of my liver I skipped the third presidential debate; my feeble personality simply isn’t provocative enough to offset a struggle with alcohol. Apparently, Senator Clinton carried herself with ferocious poise while the true Lord Voldemort spouted bile-flecked inconsistencies. At least that’s what the cacophony of media coverage has informed me thus far.

I sit here, typing in the midst of an actualized brute who masks his slick of toxic waste with Cheeto dust, and try to squelch the mob of palpitating emotions (Fury, mostly. And Shame. Fear. All augmented by the undercurrent of depression that I’ve been ignoring for months). I’m not naive enough to believe that these feelings will miraculously dissolve upon the election, in which the sausage-fingered racist is slated to lose. To be honest I hate hearing “I can’t wait for 2016 to be over,” because it won’t end there. The political theater of the United States does not crescendo into a fight to the death between the two candidates, in which the loser’s ideals die with him. The subtext of “I can’t wait for this election to come to an end” is “I can’t wait to pretend as if this had never happened.”

You know, there’s a stigma that us millennials are stalwart in our sense of entitlement, and despite the visible nuance, I won’t dispute the stereotype in this instance. If there is anything, anything that the American people, regardless of their generation, should collectively believe that they are owed, it’s a capable adult at the helm of our democracy.

So yeah, I ignored the news this week. I locked myself in my basement apartment.I threw my phone to the side. I zoned out in front of The Dick Van Dyke Show reruns. I wrapped myself in my giant fleece blanket and swallowed Halloween candy by the pound.

Then I called my parents.

And the subject of Mrs. Walker came up.

Now, some of you may have heard about the music teacher who had a crowd of choir students sing to her from outside her home moments before she succumbed to ovarian cancer. When I got wind of her students' touching gesture, I was stung. Because I was one of her students.

And I had no idea that she had cancer.

Three summers ago I had trekked down to Texas to visit my family. Hugs, copious amounts of barbecue, and the chorus of “When are ya done with bein’ a Yank?” marked my arrival. At some point in my visit, I decided to tag along with my little sister to Alvin Junior High so she could pick up her schedule for the upcoming semester. I recognized one, maybe two familiar faces of the teaching staff as I waded through the mob of preteens and their helicopter parents. As I exited the gymnasium with Abbey's schedule in hand ("You're taking Introductory Latin? Why?"), I caught a swarm of excited tweens surrounding the Great and Powerful Mariana Walker. She looked just as sharp and vivacious as the day I met her:

Mariana Walker. Facebook.

She wouldn't let go of my hand.

My meek middle-school self mustered a "Hello" to strengthen the customary handshake when she was introduced to me as my music teacher. In response to my docile greeting, Mrs. Walker had smiled mischievously, and held her grip. She leaned in, towering above me (this was all in front of my mother by the way) with a look in her eyes that could crumble steel, and declared that I would not be released until I agreed to sign up for Choir. "Because," she affirmed, "I can tell by talking to you that you can sing."

Naturally my mother loved her.

I tried to fling that same poignant greeting from ten years prior, hoping that it would have an impact. But the crowd was too hungry; she was the most sought-after teacher, whether or not students were even interested in music. I waved, but she was too consumed to notice.

A few weeks later my mother had run into her at the grocery store, and relayed my visit to Mrs. Walker. She apologized profusely for not recognizing me, and asked my mother to thank me for giving her a copy of Harry Potter all those years agoApparently my prepubescent self didn't want Mrs. Walker to live unknowing of house elves, boggarts, and butterbeer. She still had the copy.

I so wish I could remember.

In her youth. Facebook.
I do remember that in a school district that taught from heavily edited textbooks (“'Reaganomics' was effective." "Slave-owners were largely benevolent." "Hiroshima? What’s that?"), she utilized her medium to slyly challenged taboo subjects, such as white privilege. For example, I recall the quiz she gave after assigning her students to watch West Side Story, and answering "Explain why the Puerto Rican characters seem stronger than the white characters?”

I do remember the school dance where she was chaperoning whilst knitting in a corner

I do remember wishing she would get "promoted" to the high school so I wouldn't have to be without her.

But I had no idea that she had cancer.

Good night Mariana, your farewell resounded more profoundly than my "hello" ever did.


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