Orlando: A Quick Reflection

In the light of the tragic shooting in Orlando, I’ve seen dozens of articles ranging from Sandy Hook comparisons to growing Islamaphobia in the United States. This incident has sparked national discussions of homophobia and racism, discussions which would not occurred prior to the shooting.

Yet I also see a pattern of individuals accusing advocates of “pushing their own political agenda” in the middle of a tragedy and “politicizing” death (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ben-carson-blasts-obama-politicizing-oregon-shooting-article-1.2387093). The mainstream media seems to define discussions regarding racism and sexism as “politically incorrect”, but somehow discussion of a firearm is exploiting someone’s death.

In my view this is a mischaracterization, and I’ll try to explain from a public health lens. If a malaria outbreak occurs, and people urge the legislature to fund vaccines, how does this become a political agenda? If traffic lights stop functioning at an intersection and a child is killed as a result, how does insisting the lights get repaired be of political interest rather than a desire for no one else to die? Since when did caring for the wellbeing of individuals become political?

Or better yet, since when did prevention, which has been proven repeatedly as cost-effective and exemplary, become a political agenda when the subject shifted to gun violence?

One of the leading criticisms aimed at the left is the PC culture and how political views become a matter of good and evil. While I can agree with this argument to an extent, it cannot be applied when lives are at stake. Even Ronald Reagan, hailed by Republicans as an exemplary leader of the free world made a similar argument in an op-ed for the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/1991/03/29/opinion/why-i-m-for-the-brady-bill.html). The bottom line is this though: we can talk and agree that we need to have civil conversation, respect each other’s views, and spend hours debating the Second Amendment and what steps need to be taken. But that’s not going to stop someone from buying a gun and shooting people.

Thoughts on the UCLA Shooting

To the professors at UCLA,

I say this with mixed feelings: today some of you have proven yourself to be exemplary educators. Despite issues with space reservations and timing, you chose to cancel midterms and finals and have students stay safe.

But many of you did not.

You told your students to get on a computer and complete their assignments. You told them that yes there was a shooter on campus but they needed to take their midterm first. You told them that class would resume as usual; the shooting was merely a disturbance, they would be able to resume classes without a problem.

Today I was reminded of an event that occurred on September 30, 2013. No, this was not the Isla Vista shooting. Gun control should be a part of this conversation, but this was not what came to mind. On that day, an explosion occurred on campus, setting the power out on campus. A few students were caught in the crossfire and received minor burns. Some students were stuck in elevators. Many continued on with midterms by using other light sources, even those on their cellphones.

But it didn’t stop there. The dorms were not serving food. They had no electricity or Internet, and all the academic portal websites were down. Yet professors were emailing their students saying that despite the power outage, midterms and papers would continue as normal. We were not told if we could return to campus until 5 AM the next day.

That night several of my friends were at my house. I was serving one dinner while others were frantically trying to get their assignments done so they could leave. That night I was unable to do work, trying to check if everyone was all right and trying to accommodate friends who hadn’t been given a grace period.

This isn’t a once-in-a-while shooting or explosion. This isn’t a new phenomenon, it exists, it is rooted and our culture and we have accepted it as the status quo: when a crisis happens, our mental health is disregarded as we’re told that our work outweighs our health and safety. I’ve seen students sending medical bills to professors, only to have their excusable absence rejected for a zero on the midterm. I’ve seen the influx of students at Tang during finals week for physical and mental conditions alike due to everyone abandoning their health for academics. I’ve seen students who’ve been sick for weeks but can only worry about their upcoming midterm instead of their health.

There’s something wrong with this picture. So to the University of California, I say enough is enough. Implement emergency protocols and ensure that faculty can put aside academics for safety. To student advocacy groups, please keep fighting for mental health; today was proof that we’re not close to where we need to be.

Tangled, South Asian Edition

My hair is quite interesting to say the least.

When I was a one year old, it fell in waves until my parents shaved it off. Curls followed and by age seven, my hair was nothing but a feather duster poof. That was when the single braid started; everyday my mother would enter my room, brush it out, and braid it into the rope that endured twenty four hours of running about.

There was no taming my hair (my mom would joke that it was a bird’s nest): frizzy strands of tight waves that would find a way to tie themselves up into knots. By third grade I had given up on any possibility of hairstyling; girls in my classes were letting down their hair and occasionally appearing with Princess Leia buns.

During Summer 2008, a relative introduced me to permanent straightening. Everyone was on board, as the comments I received were nothing but positive: “Straight hair suits you more”, “You look so much more beautiful with straight hair”, the list went on. I was bored of my single plait; I wanted to be able to wear my hair down for once! Finally, I gave into my insecurity and had it chemically weakened and flattened into sleek tendrils.

For the next five years, the cycle repeated itself: I would go to India over the summer, flatten my hair, and return to two months without bad hair days. Then the natural coarse hair that refused to disappear grew, resulting in a frizzy mess with straight ends. By the next year, my hair would be an amalgam of frizz and thin strands, forcing me to put it in a ponytail. Every year when I went to the hair salon, the hair stylist would tell me that my hair was “unhealthy”, and she would list off why: dry, coarse, not soft. I would sit for three hours and inhale substances, which in California would probably mandate a Prop 65 sign. All I would tell myself was that this was how my hair should be and that I was genetically unlucky; I could just do this for the rest of my life and spare myself some self-esteem issues.

But some point after Winter 2013 I said no. To this day, I still can’t recall at which point I cracked: the exhaustion of straightening my hair to maintain texture consistency or the increasing number of articles stressing how damaging the procedure was. Yet after that, all the dollars went to hair products and masques to ensure damage control. It took me over two years to grow it all back, during which keeping it somewhat in order required two hours of hair product and patience after showers.

My current hair remains a poof-ball. However, the last time I went into a haircut, I was told it was healthier. And I’ve learned the truth behind the myth: my hair is manageable and I don’t need to burn it at 400 degrees Fahrenheit to make anyone happy. True the shampoos on the mainstream market aren’t meant for my hair texture. But today, I’d rather have my frizzy nest than burning my scalp in carcinogens for three hours.

The lone shooter with depression

A week ago it was Planned Parenthood in Colorado. Yesterday it was San Bernardino. We’ve officially had more shootings than we’ve had days in the year, essentially equating to multiple shootings per day. It seems to be an endless cycle: media coverage, people propose solutions, victims are in everyone’s “thoughts and prayers” and then it ceases..until another mass shooting catches CNN’s attention.

And in between that time, Twitter explodes, people post those viral Facebook posts, and Congress passes nothing.  Most of them concern gun control laws, many offering condolences, a few criticize media coverage. Policy solutions are proposed by celebrities: stricter gun control laws, background checks, the usual.

And mental health inevitably enters the conversation. Donald Trump deemed the Planned Parenthood shooter a “maniac”. Paul Ryan suggested improving the mental health system to address the recent “tragedies” Legislation is proposed to encourage mental-illness based background checks , just like Amy Shumer did this summer. In their defense, it’s a convenient excuse—why else would people want to kill each other? Yet according to multiple studies 1, 2, 3, mental illnesses (ranging from schizophrenia to depression) were insignificant factors in determining propensity toward violence.  On the other hand, other co-variants such as race and gender play a more crucial role in establishing a causal association with violence.  Yet few speak up about how mental health is scapegoated as a cause of violence.

The worst part of this whole ordeal? No, it’s not the fact that a therapy visit could ruin your rights to buy a gun. Stereotypes such as these are precisely the reason why a mental health stigma exists. This is why teenagers are afraid to go to their school counselors, this is why despite resources, getting treatment is a convoluted mess. The fear of being perceived as “violent”, the fear of eventually losing employment or other rights due to a psychiatrist record on your health record (a HIPAA violation).

So how do we shift this? Simple steps include not coining the perpetrator in acts of violence as “crazy” or “depressed.” Our mental health services do not cause shootings—those are results of our culture. Also be mindful that mental illness is not synonymous with depression or PTSD (you wouldn’t use the phrase “physical illness” to describe both cancer and diabetes would you?).  Lastly, make mental health an open topic of discussion. The more often these conversations happen, the easier it is to pave the way for chance.

But also acknowledge hate crimes as hate crimes.  A culture that perpetuates entitlement over women causes a shooting near a UC. A culture that mischaracterizes a non-profit as “selling body parts” results in a shooting. Not a mental illness.

 

Photography Portfolio

One of my goals this year is to focus more on photography and (hopefully) improve on it! I’ve been putting together a portfolio of some of my favorite photos I’ve taken and categorized them accordingly. I’m looking to add a lot more to this during 2015 🙂

Graduation Portfolio

eric-1

More at https://www.flickr.com/photos/116243707@N06/sets/72157649849942147/

Portrait Portfolio

CAITLIN2

More at https://www.flickr.com/photos/116243707@N06/sets/72157644847424251/

Scenery Portfolio

Sex-ed censorship is not the Answer

A condensed version of this was published on SFGate.com: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Sex-ed-censorship-is-not-the-answer-5682496.php

Sex-Ed Censorship is not the answer: 

This is concerning the recent controversy about the Fremont sex-ed textbook.

I remember the first time I found out the truth about babies–my parents never gave me the “bird and the bees” talk. I found out through a combination of Scary Movie and Wikipedia. Why? Because I had watched a sexual scene and didn’t understand what was happening. Naturally I had questions, and I was curious. But until my health class in ninth grade, I didn’t understand the necessity of contraception and consent. My education was ultimately the key in processing the disjointed information I had received from unreliable sources.

Today, I intern at an STI/STD prevention center. I repeatedly hear cases about individuals who could have prevented STI transmission with condoms or an open conversation with their partner (one of the criticisms of the new textbook I must add). As a college student, I’ve heard UC Berkeley students claim that “pulling out” was efficient at preventing pregnancy; all of this made me realize how fortunate I was to receive such a comprehensive sex-ed. And the statistics agree–with only twenty-two states mandating sexual education, it’s no wonder we lead in teen-pregnancy rates among developed nations.

The film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey is coming out in February. This series has often been criticized for its inaccurate portrayal of BDSM (some even comparing it to an abusive relationship), yet the franchise is becoming a part of our culture. And that’s not the only sector of entertainment that depicts such themes; Game of Thrones, one of the fastest-rising shows today, openly depicts nudity, sodomy, and sexual violence. Both franchises are on Youtube; the only question left is this: would you prefer your child view such material from an educational perspective or from someone with no experience or conditioning to process such clips? Dating apps such as Tinder are now available on smartphones–smartphones which teenagers use on a daily basis. The bottom line is this: we live in the information age. If I have a question, I don’t call my parents and ask–I google it. No amount of censorship will prevent any teenager from trying to find answers; now, all it takes is a click. From a public health perspective, I’d rather have teenagers discover this information through an educated instructor and scientific material than a porn site. Our culture is shifting, and our education must shift with it.

Sex-ed is one of the most effective preventative measures in preventing teen pregnancy and STI transmission. As a public health major, I’m personally offended that parents are trying to prevent other students from receiving this education. Parents, you always have the choice to opt your kids out of sex-ed. If you have a problem with the book, don’t have your kid take health and teach him/her what you think is necessary. But trying to prevent others from receiving education that may be more significant in their lives than your own is both harmful and unfair.

Social Media and Self-Image

Every time I upload a batch of photos on Facebook, I get at least one message along the following lines:

“Can you delete this photo? My face looks fat.”
“How can I untag myself?”
“Deeps, I told you to send these to me first!”
“Wow, only 50 likes? I thought this would get a 100!”
“I’m posting this in the evening–like it tomorrow so it’ll show up on everyone’s newsfeed”

You’ve got to love Facebook.

Posts on the internet have attributed the “selfie revolution” to a variety of factors, ranging from narcissism to feminism. Youtube vlogger Laci Green, on the other hand, thinks that the selfie revolution is all about defining yourself, rather than having others define you. After all, humans have been capturing portraits of themselves themselves for centuries now, whether they be on papyrus or on a canvas.  Laci explains that the fact that we can capture permanent records of ourself and post them for everyone to see undermines expectations often perpetuated by the media about how we should look.

With my experience on Facebook, I’ve had individuals ranging from the hourly-selfie-taker to people who pride themselves for avoiding social media. Some individuals have attributed this “upload and like” cycle of selfies to a celebrity complex and attention-seekers. But if liking a photo on Facebook fits the definition of a social interaction, then sociological studies seem to think it’s a different story. Erving Goffman, for instance,  defines the self as “sacred”; humans are essentially delivering performances to save face. When an individual encounters others, he/she tries to alter his/her appearance and mannerisms to deliver a desired impression; an example of this could be a top dismissing an exam as “difficult” in order to explain a lower grade and avoid damage to his/her pride. Just take Kim Kardashian’s instagram account as an example; do any of these photos feature Kim with no makeup and a bad hair day? Instagram accounts are merely performances we utilize to deliver impressions of ourselves, i.e. the parts of ourselves we want people to see.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown offers a different explanation to this trend.  Brown defines narcissism as fear of being seen as ordinary; she goes on to categorize this trait as a vulnerability, saying our generation attributes our self-worth to the number of likes on our Instagram/Facebook photos. Brown also associates social media with a sense of disconnect, which results in pain and ultimately isolation.

But in the end, here’s my take on all of this: is if people can post, why shouldn’t they? If you don’t want to see their face on your newsfeed, unfollow them or better yet, unfriend them. That being said, some essence of beauty is lost by constantly taking pictures. Enjoy the view at the top of a mountain you just climbed rather than taking twenty photos of it. Talk with your friends instead of taking a hundred selfies. Social media limits social interaction, but I firmly believe it can be balanced with a drive to maintain face-to-face contact with others. 

Books and the Water Works

Two things first:
1) New blog layout–YAY! It was bound to happen someday, grey is boring. Plus I’m still happy Purple Wedding happened 😉
2) This isn’t really meant to be a book blog, more like Deeps rambles blog. Problem is when I have free time (which really isn’t that often), I read. Hence the book posts 😀

Anyways…

When it comes to books, I’m usually not someone to react with tears. For a while, after reading countless Amazon reviews saying “this book made me cry like a baby”, I thought I was just an unusually cruel person. If anything, I would roll my eyes and start browsing for fanfiction to cure withdrawal symptoms of a book being in the last series.  Once in a while, I go to online discussion posts and see how everyone else reacted.

At least this was the case with Mockingjay. On August 24, 2010 (notice how I typed the date from memory–yes I was that worked up over reading it the second it came out), I entered Barnes and Noble, grabbed a copy, paid for it, and ran. While attending my school orientation and waiting in lines, my face was covered by that book, effectively shutting out welcome-backs from everyone.  After finishing the book on the way home, I barely had time to process what happened before I lost custody of the book to my brother for the next few hours (the disadvantage of having a sibling who also reads). Harry Potter became my Mockingjay-withdrawal antidote…that is until school started and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was stuffed down my throat.  

But here we go…

Deeps + Books = Tears List

1.The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

It wasn’t character deaths that brought it on–rather it was the tragedy of the whole situation, with Morgaine’s actions driven by her belief in the Old Religion (despite her good intentions) causing much of the destruction that occurs. 
2. If There Be Thorns by V.C. Andrews

I always have a soft spot for characters with rough childhoods, and this was the case here. Bart was–as some fans eloquently put it–a “spoiled brat”, but his sense of not belonging and feeling alone was what got to me. Plus it explained many of his motivations in the sequel, Seeds of Yesterday
3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Yes, Heathcliff was awful, but his tormented soul and the fact that he was the only character who made the book interesting ultimately won me over. And, as Tyrion Lannister says, I also “have a soft spot for cripples, bastards, and broken things.” Probably one of the reasons I’ve sworn never to watch a film adaptation of the novel—I doubt any of them can do justice to this character.

4. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I was doing my homework for this during sophomore year, and the execution scene hit me out of no where. Seeing this character moving from being an alcoholic to a savior was one of the few redemption arcs I actually found believable.

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Theo Decker’s childhood was no easy one, and the complexity of his character, coupled with some of his most depressing moments, had me bawling at the end.

6. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

I cried because it knocked Harry Potter off UK’s bestseller list–but that doesn’t count does it?

Guess so. No but with all due honesty, I lost my faith in humanity at that moment. Interestingly enough The Fault in Our Stars, the Harry Potter books, and Hunger Games books didn’t make it up here—I seem to be more worked up over characters digging their own graves rather than people shooting them into one. A Storm of Swords had me cursing and swearing rather than crying. I think the only book which got thrown across the room was Brisingr since it was so disappointing (well that whole series was to be fair).

But yeah, for any internet surfers who stumble on this post, did any books get to you like these did for me? Or do you prefer World of Warcraft to ebooks? Sound off in the comments!