Saturday, October 30, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passed by Congress in 1993, is a law mandating the discharge of openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual service members. It is a law that has caused much controversy as we watch Republicans on one side supporting the law and Democrats on the other with an agenda to repeal it. What is the history behind “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and what are the efforts on trying to repeal this discriminatory law?

The history of the law seems to be a prolonged tug of war, so to speak. When he was campaigning for the Presidency, Bill Clinton proposed to issue an order to override Department of Defense regulations that banned gay, lesbian, or bisexual people from serving in the United States Armed Forces. But in  a piece of legislation passed in 1993, Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, proposed holding hearings concerning whether or not gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. The Campaign for Military Service (CMS) was created to operate during these hearings. Along with other gay civil rights groups, CMS put together background information on witnesses chosen by Nunn for the hearings and organized a media campaign to lift the ban. But these efforts had no gains thanks to Senator Nunn and a group of military commanders in the Defense Department. What happened instead was that President Clinton announced a new compromise, which was "Don't Ask, Don’t Tell, Don't Pursue."

If we break this down we can better understand it:
Don't Ask: Commanders or appointed inquiry officials shall not ask, and members shall not be required to reveal, their sexual orientation. Don't Tell: A basis for discharge exists if . . . "the member has said that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or made some other statement that indicates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts ..." and lastly, Don't Pursue: A service member may be investigated and administratively discharged if he or she:

1. states that he or she is lesbian, gay or bisexual; 2. engages in physical contact with someone of the same sex for the purposes of sexual gratification; or 3. marries, or attempts to marry, someone of the same sex.

Yet this law is still oppressive and discriminatory. But there may still be hope for people who support the repealing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” According to the Service members Legal Defense Network, there is an ongoing movement to repeal DADT. President Obama said, "I will end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Congress that repealing DADT is "the right thing to do." Former Chairman John Shalikashvili agrees. Richard Cheney and Colin Powell say it's time to re-examine this law. Along with these leaders' opinions there are the facts: the House of Representatives adopted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that could lead to the repeal of the law in early 2011. The Senate Armed Services Committee included a similar provision in the bill it reported to the Senate.  Service members Legal Defense Network states that "Under this amendment, repeal would await the report of the Working Group established by the Defense Department. The Working Group is studying how to best implement repeal, not whether DADT should be repealed.” Repeal will become effective 60 days after the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify that new regulations have been prepared and that repeal is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.

Here are some statistics on support for the repeal of DADT: 73 percent of military personnel are comfortable with lesbians and gays. According to ABC News and the Washington Post, 75 percent of Americans support gays serving openly. And majorities of weekly churchgoers, which is 60 percent, and conservatives, which is 58 percent, want DADT repealed.

What many of us don’t know about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are the consequences a soldier has to pay for coming out to their military communities. Mara Boyd, who was discharged from the Air Force ROTC program in 2003 after coming out to her commanding officer, has suffered financial consequences. According to an article by Peter Fulham from Politics Daily, Boyd had to repay approximately $32,000 in educational costs to the military. And this is just one example out of many.

It is unfair and degrading for soldiers to be discharged from the military and to have to repay money merely because of their sexual orientation. It is a shame for this to be happening in an allegedly free country.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an intolerant and unfair law that affects many of the men and women fighting for our country. It may have had much support in the past, but in today’s society most of us do not judge others considering the fact of whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. As a society and as a nation we are learning to accept people for who they are and what they mean to us and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” just does not conform with America’s changing views.
Maria Dilonex

Aid in Haiti

Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere and one of the ten poorest countries in the world, has been battling need and destitution for years. Following the earthquake that further devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010, major issues in the country have come to light. Although Haiti has been receiving aid for decades, there are people who say that Haiti has been forsaken by the rest of the world. After the earthquake the focus of the world turned to Haiti. Haitians are in dire need of not only help, but also of guidance in order to provide an environment of development and improvement that perhaps has never existed. Countries and organizations all over the world have sent aid to Haiti to help minimize and manage the level of damage of which this country is victim. But what exactly is being done with this aid?
            According to This American Life (WEBZ), a radio program based in Chicago, Illinois, the resolution of issues in Haiti is not going as well as people might think. In May, four months after the earthquake, there were 1.3 million displaced Haitians. They were roaming the ruinous streets looking for ways to make money. The living conditions are deplorable; due to the rainy season people were trapped in their homes because of water 3 feet deep. Something very distressing is the hunger that even the most innocent cannot escape; a This American Life correspondent, at around 5 PM asked a group of children if they had eaten anything at all that day and some said they had not. This is where we ask ourselves an important question: how is the aid being distributed and is this where it is needed most?
            This American Life investigated what is going on with the aid. One of the results yielded was that in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti, many agencies ended the emergency relief aid for the people and started using the funds for the rebuilding of Haiti. Here lies a major controversy and they bring up two issues. One is whether sponsors, or perhaps authorities in charge of the distribution of funds, should worry about the people in desperate need of food and medical attention now. The other is whether they should put those issues aside in order to reconstruct a country in ruins. Where should the money go? What would be the best solution? These questions have become great dilemmas in the lives of Haitians.
            With this issue things can go both ways; authorities can decide to help the people get by on a day to day basis or they can decide to rebuild the country for the advancement of society. But how can society advance if the people are struggling to make ends meet? And if they choose to focus most of the funds to rebuilding, how would they go about it? One way, suggested by This American Life, is capacity building. This means that they would teach the Haitians themselves how to rebuild their country, for example, teach them how to build roads and to create small banks to lend money to small farmers, hence, creating a viable foundation and market for their goods. But all this takes time and is very difficult to accomplish.
            When these issues are analyzed, one can construe that one of the more adequate solutions is to manage the funds so that they reach the people and also help rebuild Haiti. This is because authorities must work their way up and have a foundation of societal improvement and advancement so that it can thus be arranged to resolve the most pressing problems, such as reconstructing Haiti.       
 Maria Dilonex 

Foliage Comes to Boston


Are you considering driving all the way to Vermont or New Hampshire this fall to take in the foliage?  Don’t bother! There’s a place right here in Boston where you can stroll through the woods, play in the leaves, and escape the rat race. So, what is this place you ask?  It’s Boston’s Emerald Necklace.  

Stretching from the Back Bay Fens all the way to Roslindale, the Emerald Necklace is (if you’ll excuse the pun) a real gem.  Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, creator of Manhattan’s Central Park, the Emerald Necklace is a chain of 6 parks designed to appear in their natural state.  Throughout the parks, trees line ponds, old stone bridges cross brooks, and walking paths meander through the woods.  Whether to see the nation’s oldest wartime “Victory Garden” in The Fen’s, jogging along the muddy river at Riverway Park, fishing at the majestic Jamaica Pond, or taking a peaceful walk through the forest in Olmstead Park, around 1 million people visit the Emerald Necklace each year. 
 
 The necklace’s crown jewel is the Arnold Arboretum. Considered to be one of the world’s leading locations for the study of plants, the Arnold Arboretum is the oldest public Arboretum in North America. Founded in 1872, it has been the goal of Harvard University and the Arboretum to build a collection of plants from across the globe.  Currently, that collection consists of 15,234 woody plants in total.  That’s not a typo folks. 15,234 plants from around the world, right here in Boston, in one beautiful location.  If you’re looking to see fall, there’s no place around offering a more diverse and breathtaking experience. 

            Upon your arrival, you’ll find maps placed at all of the entrances and along all of the trails. For your convenience, the 256 acre park is divided into 31 different regions, all labeled on the maps, to help you find the trees you’re most interested in.   Maybe you feel like walking through the maples, watching their red and orange leaves fall into the ponds.  Maybe you’d rather stroll past the dove trees and the beeches, playfully kicking at the leaves that cover the path like a mosaic.  No matter what you decide to do, don’t miss the impressive walk up Peter’s Hill.  After ascending through the fiery red Hawthorne trees, and past the glowing yellow of the ginkgo’s, you will find a sight beyond words from the summit.  The Arboretum lays before you in its entirety; a patchwork of reds, yellows and oranges resembles a quilt.  Standing in the distance, ever so close, is the Boston skyline, where inside the Pru, people are swarming to the windows for a view that pales in comparison to where you are standing right now.

The Emerald Necklace is accessible by public transportation via the Green Line and bus.  Parking is also available, but limited, in most locations. www.emeraldnecklace.org
The Arboretum can be accesed via the Orange Line at Forest Hills, or via bus. There is also parking street parking available, if you feel the need to drive. For more information and directions, visit http://www.arboretum.harvard.edu/

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Afternoon in the Alumni Lounge

It just sat in his drawer for over three years, rejected but not forgotten.  More than a dozen publishers dismissed Paul Harding’s “Tinkers.”  Then, after years of solitude in that drawer, his novel was given a chance by a tiny publisher, whose office was described by Harding as a “glorified janitor’s closet.”  That book that so many refused to publish became the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, and on Thursday, October 14th, Harding gave a reading at UMass Boston’s Alumni Lounge.
   
The lecture was scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. eastern standard time, or 2:45 p.m. UMass Boston time.  After some minor technical difficulties, the audience was greeted by Judy Goleman, UMB’s English department chair, and then by Steve Sutherland, assistant professor at UMB.  Both paid tribute to Shaun O’Connell, longtime UMB professor and founder of the annual lecture, but most of the brief introductions were directed at the main attraction, Mr. Harding, and his award-winning “Tinkers.”  “It’s a short book,” said Sutherland, “but a long novel.”  And with that, the man who everyone in the packed room was waiting for stood up and approached the podium.
   
Under his blazer Harding wore a dress shirt without a tie, complemented by a casual pair of blue jeans.  The top of his hair appeared to be dyed a shiny, golden color, but left grey on the sides.  On a day he would be reading twenty-five minutes from his now-famous publication, Harding broke out his thickly framed spectacles.
   
Harding wasted little time with exposition and delved right into his excerpt.  In contrast to his short and soft-spoken introduction, his reading was loud and forceful.  This passage was about the protagonist of his novel, Howard Crosby.  A crafty man, Howard has a boastful list of accomplishments: he cuts hair, has saved a baby in a freezing river, and has even pulled the tooth of a hermit.  The excerpt explains Howard’s unusual yet endearing relationship with the hermit, who Howard supplies with tobacco every year.
   
Though the story of Howard Crosby was compelling, it was Harding’s ability to write powerful and poetic descriptions that was most captivating.  He explained the process of writing such descriptions during a question and answer session after the reading.  “I think more is more,” said Harding, “then I strip out the extraneous parts.”  His sentences originate from truths in his life, and he then elaborates with his imagination.
   
Harding revealed that his musical background had a strong influence on those elegant sentences of his.  He intentionally makes his writing musical, incorporating time signatures, harmonies, and overtones into his writing.  Talented as he was, how did this unknown author become the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner?
   
Just 3,500 paperback copies were originally printed.  Independent bookstores from San Francisco were the only ones to sell it at first, but it just kept selling.  It found such a strong following that it was the surprise winner of the 2010 Pulitzer.  Harding is now taking a break from his teaching position at Harvard; he recently signed a two-book deal with Random House.
   
Usually, listening to someone read out loud is not an enthralling experience.  Harding, though, made an exception.  Not only was his material top-notch, but his humor and charming personality made the lecture especially engaging.  Harding attributes his success to a simple phenomenon he learned as “Tinkers” grew in popularity.  “Books,” Harding stated convincingly, “will find their readers.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Little Fashonistas

When it comes to clothing today, children are deciding what they want to wear. This new independence that children want is affecting their relationships with their parents. In the world of fashion, retailers have become smart when they target these little fashionistas. Is this good or bad? This is the first step for kids to become more independent at a younger age. Is it detrimental to their growth as a kid? How much is it actually costing them and their parents?

Talking to one parent from Malden, Massachusetts was informative. She explains, “My daughter just turned 9. She asked me when we went school shopping if she could shop on her own. In my mind I was shocked and a little sad, but I gave her the freedom. For me it was a little heart-breaking because it meant that my little girl didn’t need me anymore. I’m sure for most parents it would be shocking as well.”

A young girl from Malden, Massachusetts named Elizabeth comments about her independence. She states, “I am 7 years old. My mom always tries to help me get dressed in the morning. I don’t like it when she does that. I keep my door closed when I change so that I can dress myself like a grown-up.” As noted, kids want the freedom and independence from their parents. It might seem horrific to the parents because their children are so young, but this is what children want.

Many leading retail companies have begun to branch out to younger children. One example that has been around for a while is Gap. They have the regular adult Gap then there is Kid Gap and Baby Gap. Another recent company to do this is American Eagle Outfitters. They recently expanded their clientele into kids and babies. They launched their idea in 2008, and now in October of 2010 they will be opening up stores called 77 Kids. It markets to the little fashionistas of the world. They offer styles and outfits that you would see a teenage boy or girl wearing. These companies target younger kids and are dressing them like older kids. This is where independence takes place. These younger children want to have the independence that older kids have. If older siblings shops at Gap or American Eagle, their younger siblings might do the same. Thus, these younger kids will look up to their siblings and they will want the independence that they have.

This is where targeting younger kids becomes a problem. There are kids ranging between 6-12-years old, who want to dress like their older siblings or grown-ups, but in actuality they cannot. These companies market high fashion outfits that may be revealing or inappropriate for kids of this age. These types of clothing appeal to kids, especially girls. “Mommy I want this, mommy I want that,” is all I can hear when I am at my job. I work at American Eagle Outfitters and it is astonishing what I hear throughout the day. These young girls want to wear mini-skirts and low-cut shirts and I am shocked that their parents allow them to wear these outfits. I understand that it is the parents’ judgment, but this is making kids sexualized at a young age. I believe that if kids did not care about what they wear or care about what’s cool and what’s not, they would be able to have fun and be kids.

There may be a solution to this problem for parents as well as kids. For the parental side I suggest giving your children the independence that they desire, but to an extent. Kids need to know the boundaries for what they can wear for their age group. Parents should also talk to their younger children and let them know that they cannot have what their older siblings have. Children need to understand who the parent is in the relationship. If these boundaries are set between child and parent then there should be no problem. Children will be able to be fashionistas and have their independence, while parents will feel they are in control and that their children are dressed appropriately.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Don't Ask. Just Tell.

Two great civil rights precedents have been set in the United States military: Truman ended segregation in the armed forces in 1948 and military service was opened to women in 1976. No surveys were sent out.

In other words, the government didn’t ask. They told.

Fast forward to July 7, 2010: 400,000 active duty and reserve troops receive surveys to assess the attitudes of forces and the potential problems of allowing openly gay members to serve in the military.

Policy seems to have shifted.

Instead of telling or ordering armed forces to comply with change as they had done so in the two previous occasions, the government now sees it necessary to ask service members how they feel about the topic.

On September 23rd Republicans blocked repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy” noting that that they would like to see the results of the military’s survey before definitively making a decision to abolish the policy. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advocated repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy back in February. However he cautioned that Congress should wait for the Pentagon to “crunch the data” from the survey before it acts to repeal the policy.

With the repeal of the military’s ban on homosexuals serving openly, a third potentially great moment in civil rights history regarding the armed forces may be here, but will this crunching of the data be an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or a revival of it?

The 32 page survey was sent out via e-mail and included over 100 questions. Recipients had until August 15th to complete the lengthy questionnaire. According to the Pentagon, there was a 27.5 % response rate meaning that only 109,883 of the 400,000 surveys were received. A final report of the findings is due December 1st to President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and other top military officials.

The survey was created by Rockville, Maryland based research company, Westat. In using an outside contactor the Pentagon hopes to maintain confidentiality and privacy. What they are implying is that this survey is not a Catch-22 that seeks to expose and punish homosexuals in the military. By answering questions openly and honestly troops can inadvertently identify themselves or members of their unit which violates the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Through the contract with Westat, the Pentagon is getting around this potential Catch-22. So far no one has been discharged.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’ policy was put in place 17 years ago and since that time the policy has resulted in nearly 13,000 service members being discharged because of their sexual preferences.

The Department of Defense intended to keep the contents of the survey under wraps but two days after its private release a California based gay and lesbian advocacy group, The Palm Center got a hold of a copy and distributed it to the media.

A major aspect of the survey that became immediately apparent is the fact that it avoids the question of whether or not the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy should be repealed. The survey has drawn sharp criticism.

Servicemembers United, a group that advocates for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has created a website in response to the survey. On their site SurveyRefund.org the groups refers to the language of the survey as “biased” and even “insulting” noting that such a survey is “unprecedented” in history. Servicemembers United is demanding that the Department of Defense refund the $4.4 million of taxpayer money that was spent on the survey.

At a recent meeting of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, General James Amos and Republican Senator John McCain discussed the survey. Amos primary concern with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is “the potential disruption to cohesion” in the armed forces. He also noted that a change in policy would be “a distraction to Marines who are tightly focused at this point on combat operations in Afghanistan.”

Coincidentally the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” survey seeks to find out or assess the concerns that Gen. Amos and Sen. McCain discussed at the Senate Armed Forces Committee meeting. Other areas of concern that the survey is hoping to uncover are housing issues, spousal benefits, and possible changes that may be needed in military recruiting. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates said that “To be successful, we must understand all the issues and potential impacts associated with repeal of the law and how to manage the implementation in a way that minimizes disruption.”

It seems that that the military and the Pentagon have become quite sensitive in regard to this topic. Previously the military had not been so meticulous in trying to understand potential issues that might arise from change. They told the troops how things were going to be and the military simply followed orders. What is so different about repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”

Gen. Amos asserted in the Senate Armed Forces Committee meeting that any new policy in the military would be backed by strong leadership and discipline and that “If the law is changed... the Marine Corps will.”

So now we must ask, why has $4.4 million of hard earned taxpayer’s money been spent on a controversial survey that will likely come up with little solid evidence as to why the policy should or should not be repealed?

Military service has become a job for some and a career for many more. Homosexuality is not an issue in the American workplace therefore it should not be one for our service members. We might look at the low response rate of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” survey as a means of signifying that the times have changed. Many did not fill out the survey because they simply don’t care if the policy is repealed. Nothing will change. Soldiers in the military have become co-workers. In this military workplace the only thing that really matters is if another soldier can do his or her job.

Most importantly we must also try to understand why there has been an apparent and needless shift in the military’s civil rights policy. Shouldn’t the military just be told what to do rather than asked?

Simply put: give orders, and the military will follow.

Traveling is good, volunteering is great, but DON’T GET CAUGHT OUT!

For those who live outside the equator, visiting a tropical rainforest can be a truly unreal experience! The jungle and its wildlife, the weather and storms, and the cultures of tropical regions are totally different than anything the average American experiences. I visited the rainforest for the first time this past summer doing volunteer work and can definitely recommend it.

This trip unfortunately was not all swinging from vines and snapping cool pictures (Yes, you really can swing from vines!) There were a few crucial things I either forgot to bring, was unprepared for, or just plain did not expect. I have learned from this trip though and will not get caught out next time I visit the lower latitudes.

I signed on as a volunteer research assistant for a UK based foundation called Operation Wallacea (http://www.opwall.com/). This foundation has research stations all around the globe; I however decided to stay local (in the western hemisphere at least) and visit a little country called Honduras. I shouldn’t say “little” though. Honduras is Central America’s second largest country and over 80% of it is comprised of extreme mountainous landscape. The research station I was staying at was situated within the Cerro de Las Minas mountain range at an average 2,850 meters above sea level. The highest point in the range is approximately 9,000 meters! These high altitudes within the tropical region, getting so much rain as they do, create extremely unique micro environments. Every rainforest is different ecologically and physically.



As a student at UMass Boston, studying Environmental, Earth and Ocean Science I found this trip particularly amazing. As a research volunteer, I had the opportunity to work with teams of scientists and students who were working on different projects. A few examples include the small mammal and large mammal monitoring teams, the bird team, Chiropterology team (bats), and the Herpetology team (amphibians and reptiles).

You don’t however have to be interested in science in order to enjoy a visit to the tropics. I had wanted to visit the tropics since I was a young kid. I just simply loved the outdoors and the jungle seemed like an extreme trek. Traveling to Honduras turned out to be one of the cheapest ways to do it. A roundtrip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second largest city was only 280 dollars. Transfer from the airport to the research station was taken care of by the foundation.

I encourage everyone to travel more, volunteer, experience new cultures, and to go outside your comfort zone. But you have to do your research. I would recommend doing as much online reading about other people’s tropical adventures as you can. There are plenty of forums such as http://www.tropictravelonline.com/ where people will talk about their trips. There are also other forums such as http://www.abc-of-hiking.com/ where extremely outdoorsy people talk about gear and equipment. These are a good place to get started when trying to get ready.

Going out on nightly herpetology walks really enlightened me as to where I was lacking preparation. Our guide for these excursions was a young Honduran student named Mario. Mario was crazy about amphibians and reptiles and just a little crazy in general. We would meet up outside the campsite headquarters at about 10:30 at night for the late night walks (these were when you saw the coolest stuff). Before going out he had just a few announcements. First off: no bugspray. When he said that I immediately did a double-take. I thought, “You mean were going out into the jungle, following streams and finding ponds at 10 at night and we can’t wear ANY bug spray!” He went on to explain that we could wear bug repellant only if it did not contain the chemical DEET. DEET, which I did not realize, is what is known as a persistent toxin. This means that aside from being extremely effective at killing bugs, it is also extremely effective at poisoning everything else that might be found in a pond or stream. If we were to handle a frog, salamander, butterfly, or any other creepy crawly the DEET would kill it not long after putting the little one back on its log or plant. What is also amazing about these super chemicals (DEET was developed by the US military back in World War II to be the most effective chemical defense against mosquitoes) is that even if you were to wash your bug repellent covered hands in a stream or pond, the chemical would wash off and infect the entire body of water. Mario talked about an instance when, due to the volume of people visiting a certain stream near the camp, an entire cloud of tadpoles of that area were killed off.



To resolve the issue of DEET killing off critters indiscriminately you can simply purchase a bug spray that does not contain the chemical. Unfortunately these tend to not be as effective. And heaven forbid you should try and purchase an organic and/or biodegradable insecticide, these will cost you an arm and a leg. Try finding an affordable, non-persistent and/or biodegradable insecticide such as Neem Oil. Also you can use brewer’s yeast tablets as a natural mosquito repellent. By far the easiest solution is to wear long sleeves and long pants!

Okay. So with the depressing stuff about chemicals wiping out entire communities of tadpoles aside, let’s talk about how you can better enjoy one of these Herpetology walks if you ever get the chance to go on one.  One thing I learned from this trip is that your headlamp can never be bright enough! For those who are not the most outdoorsy people you probably have never worn or owned a headlamp. Yes, they make you look a little goofy but they are an absolute necessity when visiting the tropics. I went with the most light weight and least bulky lamp. This seemed like a good idea at the time. It saved space in my rucksack while also being lightweight. This was a mistake though because when actually out in the jungle and around camp, to use the old idiom, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face! I needed a more powerful head lamp. As I said earlier, some of the coolest stuff to see in the tropics is at night. When on these Herpetology walks I found myself reverting to my flashlight for light. But this is not a good idea at all. A flashlight can be a nuisance when traversing a rocky stream at night. You absolutely need both hands free in order to get around in the jungle. What I have learned is do not invest in a top notch flashlight, it will only become a burden. Buy a powerful headlamp—these can be just as powerful as flashlights and will direct light exactly where you are looking and free up your hands to keep you steady over those rocks and logs.

I would recommend taking way less clothing than you think you will need. As I mentioned earlier, go with pants rather than shorts. Pants, or as the Brits call them, trousers, protect your legs from mosquitoes and chiggers (nasty little bugs found in the lowlands that will eat up your shins). I ended up wearing the same dirty, mud-stained pants for a week straight.

Bring duct tape and string. I was lucky because we slept in elevated tents at base camp. However, when you’re out in the middle of the jungle and far away from base camp you will sleep in a hammock with a tarp overhead to shed the rain away. It is a good idea to bring extra string with you and duct tape for patching up holes in your mosquito net.


My friend Alex posing next to our tents.
Don’t forget to bring something to purify water. Boiling water is the perfect method for killing bacteria and viruses but you will not always be near a campfire. Use Chlorine Dioxide. This is usually a liquid that you can put into single bottles of water which make it great for treks. You can fill up your bottle at any stream and purify it right there and then. There is a new trend in buying built in water filters for water bottles. These tend to be extremely expensive, will require replacement filters, and do not effectively take care of viruses. A small bottle of Chlorine Dioxide will save you time spent in anguish on the toilet.

This brings me to my next suggestion. When you go to get vaccinations for your particular country, after doing your vaccination research at the Center for Disease Control website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/content/vaccinations.aspx, make sure to request a bottle of Ciprofloxacin. This is a very widely used medication that will take care of most bacterial causes of diarrhea. Around campsites like the one I was at, no matter how many precautions were taken, there were still bacteria around every corner waiting to give you the runs. Nearly everyone who had been there had experienced at least a day with some kind of infection. When I got sick myself I simply took the recommended dosage of Cipro and was back to normal within two days.

There were a few things that you simply cannot prepare for or deal with once in the rainforest. One example of this is having your camera fog up. Descending the mountains only a few meters can cause the lenses and all other parts of your camera to fog up and become completely useless. This is simply because of condensation. Once your camera has adjusted to a certain temperature and you descend into a warmer, more humid atmosphere, even just a few meters, water will begin to condense on all parts of your camera. People in my group were plagued by condensation daily. The weather, especially in mountainous regions, changes so drastically and quickly that it is hard to combat.

Another thing that is simply impossible to prepare for is living within and among a new culture. I traveled deep into the mountains to one of the most remote regions of Honduras. I met only four other Honduras who spoke English with at least some fluency. This experience was truly special to me. Pictures, movies, and textbooks for a long time had developed a desire in me to travel to the tropics and see it for myself. This trip was only the beginning. I plan on visiting other regions of Central and South America and meeting other locals and seeing how they live. I believe that traveling is a crucial part of growing and learning. You have to be ready to do a lot of research for your specific journey. Make sure to read up before you go and learn from your experience afterwards.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Where in the World is Don't Ask, Don't Care?


Recently, lawmakers failed in an attempt to eliminate the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the United States military.  Since the policy was first enacted in 1993, more than 13,000 gay U.S soldiers have been discharged for not being heterosexual.  In keeping this policy in place, the military will continue to ban homosexuals from service at a staggering rate.  Denying gays the rights enjoyed by heterosexual citizens across the country is discrimination, and goes entirely against the United States Constitution. It’s shocking that the majority of our senate actually supports such an unjust policy.  Do other nations stand by these same practices? Are openly gay citizens in other countries allowed to serve in their military? And, if so, can the United States truly claim to be “the land of the free, and the home of the brave”?

According to a list compiled by the University of California, Santa Barbara, there are many countries where openly gay citizens can serve in the armed forces. In fact, there are twenty-five countries in the world that do not enforce a ban on openly gay soldiers.  Can you believe we claim to provide freedom and equality unequaled by any country across the globe, yet there are twenty-five nations offering more liberty than we’re willing to give?  It’s not like these nations are small, desperate places we don’t know either.  Of those twenty-five countries, several are our allies and contemporaries. 

The United Kingdom is our closest ally, and a contemporary to whom we are often compared with.  Until about ten years ago, the U.K had a ban in place prohibiting soldiers from being openly gay.  Lawmakers, however, recognized the ban as unjust, unethical, and unnecessary.  Also, it was apparent that a soldier’s effectiveness could not be determined by whether or not he or she was heterosexual.  After lifting this ban, it has become compulsory for all British soldiers to participate in equality and diversity training.  During this training men and women are introduced to such values as “Respect for Others,” and “Appropriate Behavior,” to help eliminate any possible discord.  Also, the military in the U.K have implemented additional laws protecting homosexuals and transgender soldiers from harassment from fellow soldiers, to ensure a comfortable, safe environment for all. Whether these programs have worked or not cannot be said for sure, but according to the Ministry of Defense there has not been any major fallout amongst the soldiers, or lack of camaraderie, as the United States military expects would happen here.

Even more progressive is France.  The French do not have any law or bill protecting gays in the military, but have also never had a ban in place.  For citizens of France the “issue” is not an issue at all. According to Associatedcontent.com, “Some French military spokespeople have hinted at their openness by poking fun at Americans, quipping that the French policy is ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Care’.” 

            Among the other U.S contemporaries to not enforce a ban are Spain, Italy, Germany, Australia and Canada.  And, if that’s not embarrassing enough, there are countries in Eastern Europe that were under Soviet rule less than twenty years ago, but now have a fully diverse and accepting government and military. These are places that existed under some of the harshest, most scrutinized conditions.  Yet now, without judgment or contempt, they offer full opportunity for gays and straights to serve side by side, openly, in their armed forces.

            With so many nations worldwide allowing for equality in their armed services, the United States government should be able to see that they are truly behind the times.  More importantly, the lawmakers voting against the ban should take a moment to listen to the citizens of our own country.  Recently, a woman named Margaret Witt was dishonorably discharged from the military for being gay.  After pressing charges for being unjustly discharged, the court ruled in her favor, granting her reinstatement.  According to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), a gay soldier is considered to be an impairment to the military, siting such reasons as damaging unit morale and unity.  The judge ruling on the case declared that without proof of such accusations, the officer could not be legally discharged without honor.  This ruling has been called “The Witt Standard”, and has become a beacon of hope for other gay soldiers who are unjustly discharged from the armed services. Furthermore, fellow officers testified on her behalf, supporting that openly gay soldiers are accepted by their heterosexual peers. This might also suggest that ending DADT now would not suffer any negative fallout amongst the troops, as is believed by many DADT supporters. 

As a strong believer in equal rights, and the freedom that our country stands for, it frustrates me to see our government struggling over the DADT issue.  Our country has passed laws and bills to eliminate discrimination over the years.  We are told that minorities are protected by equal rights laws, and fair act policies.  To stand by those standards and still deny openly gay citizens to serve as soldiers is hypocritical, embarrassing and shameful.  It’s time for our government to truly bring equal rights to our country.  The United States must rise as the “home of the brave” and join the twenty-five other lands of the free across the globe. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pink is the New Blonde

For many native Bostonians, being a fan of the Red Sox is not out of the ordinary. Countless people grow up watching the Sox on TV or hearing the games on the radio with family members and friends. Sports memorabilia, such a t-shirts and hats, are also quite common among all ages. However, since the team has won two World Series championships since 2004, their star has been rising among more and more people who have never given them a second thought before. It is because of these types of people that the prices of tickets have skyrocketed to around $100 or more per seat.


Now, you would think that these people who are willing to pay all this money to see Red Sox games would know a thing or two about the game of baseball. Think again. There is a new phenomenon that is sweeping the area known as Pink Hats. What is a pink hat? Fred "Toucher" Toettcher, who hosts his own sports radio show in Boston, says, "Pink hats are the people that have been driving the price up of games to astronomical prices. They don't really know what's going on at the game, yet they go anyway just to hang out with their friends and see and be seen.” Pink hats, usually women, go to Fenway Park just to sing “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning and get drunk with their friends. Why the name pink hat, you may ask? These women are almost always seen wearing a pink baseball cap or shirt, although, as many people know, you don’t have to wear a pink hat to be a pink hat!


A local radio station in Boston, 98.5 The Sports Hub, pays tribute to these girls each and every week by playing a game known as “Ask a Pink Hat.” They send one of their fellow reporters, Adolfo Gonzalez, to Red Sox games specifically to look for girls with pink hats on. He interviews them at the very end of the game, asking simple Red Sox and baseball trivia questions. These questions are answered with hilarious and sometimes perplexing responses, which they play on the radio for all to hear. The hosts of the show, Fred "Toucher" Toettcher and Rich Shertenlieb, love to make fun of the silly answers people give and even try to to guess what their answer will be. With each new game, they try to come up with an understanding of how people can sit there at a game for three or four hours and not have any idea of what’s going on, why these people don’t just go to a bar or karaoke lounge instead of spending so much money at a Red Sox game, and how they can pretend to be such die-hard fans of a game they simply know nothing about.

Want to find out if you speak pink hat? Most of the interviews involve seven or eight questions, including ones such as: why are you a Sox fan and who is your favorite player. Most contestants start off the interviews by saying they have been Red Sox fans for their whole lives, and were born and raised in Boston. When asked why they like to come to Fenway, there is an array of responses that all center around the same things: beer, hot dogs, the crowd, and singing the songs.


One woman from the July 12th interview had this to say about why being a Red Sox fan was so special: “It’s a tradition, it’s a huge part of Boston, it’s a huge part of who I am and how I was raised. I bring everyone with me, all my friends, and they all know- Red Sox, the only way to go. They all jumped on the bandwagon.” She then named “Big Papi” as her favorite player, and claimed he plays second base, when he is really the designated hitter. Another woman on June 2nd said Youkilis was her favorite player, and said he plays “second position,” when he is really a first baseman. Yet another woman on April 26th claimed Papelbon was her favorite player, and said he plays first base, when he is really the closing pitcher. To make matters worse, these girls are wearing the jerseys of their “favorite players,” and seem oblivious to what they actually do for the Red Sox!


Here are some other hilarious questions and answers:

What do you call the object that all players put on their non-throwing hand? “A bat.”
(Correct Answer: Glove)

What is a warning track? “Third base.”
(Correct Answer: Strip of dirt in front of the outfield wall)

What is the shape of the infield area? “Octagon or pentagon.”
(Correct Answer: Diamond)

Who is Jerry Remy? “Outfielder.”
(Correct Answer: He is the Red Sox announcer and former player)

What is the name of the location where the pitcher stands? “Home bound.”
(Correct Answer: Pitcher’s Mound)

What is the name of the person who decides whether a pitch is a ball or a strike? “The Emperor.”
(Correct Answer: The Umpire)

How did Jacoby Ellsbury do tonight? “Very good.”
(Correct Answer: Jacoby Ellsbury is injured and has not been playing)

What does RBI mean? “Right ball inning.”
(Correct Answer: Runs Batted In)

What is a pinch hitter? “Fourth inning.”
(Correct Answer: When a player gets off the bench to hit for someone else)

What team does Clay Buchholz play for? “The Yankees. Damn him.”
(Correct Answer: Buccholz plays for the Red Sox.)

What is a full count? “All the bases have to be full for a full count.”
(Correct Answer: When a batter has two strikes and three balls, it is a full count)

How many innings are there in a regulation game of baseball? “Two.”
(Correct Answer: Nine. Let me remind you this woman had just attended a game)

In the last 10 years, how many times have the Red Sox won the World Series? “Seven.”
(Correct Answer: Two, once in 2004 and again in 2007)

What position does Josh Beckett play? “Home run.”
(Correct Answer: Pitcher)

What player goes by the name Big Papi? “The big black guy.”
(Correct Answer: David Ortiz)

What do you call the big grassy area where the outfielders stand? “The green monster.”
(Correct Answer: the Outfield)

What team does Alex Rodriguez play for? “The Red Sox.”
(Correct Answer: The Yankees)

Who is the manager of the Red Sox? “David Absolute.”
(Correct Answer: Terry Francona)

Who is Terry Francona? “Third baseman.”
(Correct Answer: the Manager of the Red Sox)

What position does Victor Martinez play? “He plays a really good position for the Red Sox, I’m glad to have him here because he plays second base and I’m really happy and excited to have him here for Boston. I know his brother, actually.”
(Correct Answer: Starting Catcher)


…And the list goes on and on! As you can see from these answers provided by the pink hats of Fenway Park, people are paying lots of money to go to games they know nothing about. They don’t know much about the players on the Red Sox or anything about baseball itself. While it is fun to make fun of them, it also angers a lot of people that these women continue to go to games on a regular basis. Because while they may not know what the umpire does, who the fielders or pitchers are, who is actually on the team, or how many innings they just sat through, you can bet they all know the words to “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning!