Tuesday, February 25, 2014

S456 ARCHIVES: A Breath of Fresh Air: Gravity - Film Review

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2013-14 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

A few astronauts, namely a space-rookie named Ryan Stone and a space-veteran named Matt Kowalski, are calmly working on a damaged satellite. Regular small-talk is exchanged. The situation escalates until soon enough an alarming amount of debris crashes into the satellite, sending the rookie spinning out of control, tethered to a detached hunk of metal. She begins to panic more and more as she becomes less and less in control of her fate. She drifts into space, fully detached. 

The premise of Gravity, a new movie starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and directed by Alfonso CaurĂ³n, is compelling, and thankfully the film's execution is equally so. This movie is a terrifyingly plausible display of the human psyche when put together with the scares of space. This isn't a movie about mind-boggling future technology, or anything mysterious that may or may not be waiting out there for us to discover. This is a movie about the horror of the known, present and realistic. And it's fantastic.

What's presented here is a very effective mixture of thriller and science-fiction. The dialogue and acting is natural and believable, making these characters come to life. It's when these actors play their characters as horrified in one scene, and then nervously comical and chipper in another, that Gravity most shows just how unsettling it is. The movie looks stunning from a technical standpoint, with both methodical floating and exciting carnage which engross in whichever way each portion of the film calls for. Sound is also smartly played around with to tug on heart-strings and shoot up heart-rates. Seeing the film in 3D is so mesmerizing that I can honestly say it's the best experience I've had of the gimmick. The movie is aesthetically masterful. 

Gravity has a clear, focused story that it wants to tell, and sticks to it. Every second is relevant, delivering a plot free of fluff. Typical Hollywood conventions are not stuffed in here for length and easy-viewing; this is a unique film. It's structured like a single, long sequence, it takes its time on even small things when it needs to, and doesn't feel the need to align itself with expectations. The movie is constantly unpredictable and surprising. It's a breath of fresh air

By the time the credits roll, Gravity triumphs as a faithfully succinct tale of isolation, determination, and horror. Occasionally it gets a bit hokey, revealing perhaps a tiny overabundance of pride and confidence from the director. But ultimately, this stems from the fundamental truth that what he put together is special. Gravity is sublime. 

S456 ARCHIVES: RHS Does Radium Girls

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2013-14 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

Ringgold High School's drama department is putting together a performance of the play Radium Girls. This play is a historical telling of a series of important cases of occupational disease; so important that they pushed big workers' rights legislation at the time. A group of female workers working with chemicals in paint were told that it would be safe, but that didn't turn out to be true. Fed up with this injustice, the system was fought against by these women in an attempt to secure labor rights. 

Twelfth grade student Sarah Krempasky, according to her at least, has been in every single RHS play and musical throughout her high school career besides one play in her ninth grade year. In this play, she is playing a lead character by the name of Grace Friar, who she explains is fifteen years old at the start of the play and twenty-six by the end. Sarah says she "really like[s]" her character and most enjoys the part when she gets to "stick it to the man." She comically ensures that a ticket to the play ensures that "you get to see stuff glow in the dark!". 

Nicole Garrick is am eleventh grade student at RHS who has been doing stage management since her freshmen year. She simply explains that she "screw[s] stuff together." Garrick told me about a bench that was "hard to put together" and had a habit of "fall[ing] apart." She says the "cast [is] very good" and "the play itself is interesting." 

Mrs. Weinstein, the RHS drama teacher in charge of putting this play together, tells me that this is "a bit more serious" of a play topic as is usual for the school. She told me that this play getting chosen was a result of underclassmen students involved in the school's productions becoming upperclassmen. After warning that "this is going to sound so drama-geeky," Weinstein told me what excites her most about doing Radium Girls is the "universality of the show." She is referring to the fact that the themes and issues of the play are relevant to many even today, as "people are still fighting this same fight." She is "very much satisfied with the casting" and says that "everybody should come and see [the play] because it's really good!".

You can attend Radium Girls on Wednesday, November 6th, and Thursday, November 7th. Both are at 7:00 PM at Ringgold High School. The price of a ticket is $4.00. 

S456 ARCHIVES: Students Consider Post-High School Plans

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2013-14 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

This time of year, many students have a good idea of what they're going to do after high school. Deadlines for college applications and scholarships are quickly approaching, along with the due date for financial aid in March. Some students aren't going to college, but by this time a lot of those people also know what they are doing.

Sarah Krempasky, a twelfth grader here at Ringgold High School, has been very involved in the college application experience. She wants "to major in music/theater." The main school she has in mind is Point Park University, which is a communications-focused college in Pittsburgh. She says PPU is "fabulous," and, "I like the way they structure [the music/theater program] more than [other colleges]." She feels the stress of the application process, and jokes, "it's a horrible, horrible process."

A 2010 statistic from the National Center of Education Statistics asserts that around 5.7% of the population was in college. According to the Washington Post, "only 27% of college grads have a job related to their major." Also, from CNN Money, "in the 2011-12 academic year, the average net cost for a full-time student at an in-state public university was about $15,000 for tuition, fees, room, board, books and incidental expenses, according to the College Board."

Another senior, named Bryce Imhoff, has very different after-high school plans. Bryce plans to "[drive] for a gas company." Currently, Bryce is in the tech program that RHS is associated with, in a "gas and oil class." In this class they "learn as much as possible," he says. He claims he won't do any additional schooling "other than getting my CDL," he says. I asked if he's happy with this path he's going down, and he said he is, so long as he's making six figures.

No matter what one chooses to do afterwards, high school graduation is a pivotal moment in the average American's life. 

S456 ARCHIVES: New Game Consoles PS4 and Xbox One Release to Success

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2013-14 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

The new video game consoles from Sony and Microsoft just released this month. Sony’s successor to the Playstation 3, simply called the Playstation 4, came out on November 12th, 2013. Microsoft’s successor to the Xbox 360 is called the Xbox One, which came out on November 25th. The most substantial new features to both of these consoles is their greater horsepower which can handle more intensive games than consoles before. These two platforms were preceded by Nintendo’s Wii U, which released in November of 2012.     

Each new Playstation console ushers in a new controller, although each controller is very similar to each other. The PS4’s controller does offer some broad changes over the PS3’s controller, including sticks that curve in on the tip to fit around one’s fingertips, and a generally bigger build for more comfort. There is also a small, rectangular touchpad at the center of the controller, which functions similarly to a touchpad on a laptop. The most critically-acclaimed exclusive game for the PS4 is Resogun, a shooter that can be downloaded from Playstation’s online store, which has a Metacritic critic score of 83.

The Xbox One’s controller is more similar to the Xbox 360’s controller than the PS4’s controller is to the PS3’s controller. The most notable new feature is the now vibrating “triggers” (the buttons at the back-top of the controller), which are used in games like Forza 5, a simulation racing game, to give the player additional feedback. An improved version of Kinect, a very advanced camera/microphone device that was introduced on the Xbox 360, comes with every Xbox One system and is integrated into the user interface of the console as well as some games. The aforementioned Forza 5 is the most critically-acclaimed exclusive game for the console, with an 82 on Metacritic.

Brand loyalty is evident in Dwight Moore, a tenth grade student here at Ringgold High School, who thinks that the Xbox One looks better because he “just love[s] Xbox.” RHS Students like twelfth grader Terry Richardson find the Playstation 4 more compelling. Terry thinks that the PS4 has “better hardware” and is a “better deal” over the Xbox One. He does also own a Wii U, saying that he likes it despite not using it very much. On a similar note, some students like twelfth grader Adam Martin aren’t interested in any of the new consoles because they are satisfied with playing video games on their PCs.  

Both consoles have been selling incredibly well. The Playstation 4 retails for $400, while the Xbox One retails for $500. On their own first day of release, both sold over one million units each according to Sony and Microsoft respectively; it is, however, important to note that on its first day, the PS4 was initially only available in Canada and the United States, whereas the Xbox One was available in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Spain, United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand.

The two consoles are both off to a successful start. It will certainly be interesting to see the two duke it out! 

S456 ARCHIVES: Latest Pokemon Video Game is a Success

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2013-14 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

Nearly every American has heard of the Japan-originated franchise Pokemon, centered around young adventurers and sportsmen collecting, training, and living amongst creatures known as Pokemon. The franchise encompasses cartoons and comics, but it got its start with video games on the Gameboy back in the 90s. There is a myriad of spin-off video games, but it is the main series that fans latch onto the most. Each entry in the main series of video games releases in twos, each version only slightly different than the other, and then usually not too long after this simultaneous release there is yet another slightly different version of the game put out. Different releases are organized by “generations;” the latest to start is “Gen VI,” with Pokemon X and Pokemon Y for the Nintendo 3DS. The game has done well financially and it has also pleased both fans and critics.

The first three generations of Pokemon have entirely what is referred to as sprite or pixel-based graphics. This retro style is essentially a collection of two-dimensional, small dots, put together and animated to create visuals. Throughout these generations, these pixel-based graphics have gotten more intricate. Starting with the fourth generation back in 2007, polygon-based graphics were implemented alongside the sprites. Polygonal graphics is a three-dimensional form of visuals. The most easily recognizable difference with the newest generation is its complete usage of polygonal graphics, which forgoes old-school style pixel graphics.

Over four million copies of Pokemon X and Y (combined) worldwide in the first two days of release, according to Nintendo. Metacritic, a website that indexes professional video game reviews, has averaged out Pokemon X and Y’s critic score to an 87%, with 61 “positive” reviews and 4 “mixed” reviews. RHS Senior Aaron Turkovich has been a player of Pokemon video games since he “was… 8, maybe 9.” He bought the latest game, choosing the Y version, and says the series “just keeps getting better.”

S456 ARCHIVES: RHS Paints the Walls

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2013-14 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

A walk through the halls of Ringgold High School reveals walls covered with fun and interesting paintings. These paintings are called murals, and they are craftily splattered on the walls by Ringgold's twelfth grade class of art students every year. A new feature added last year means that, in addition to new murals done directly on the walls, some students' work will be on large boards that are temporarily hung on the walls, and then given to the respective artists to keep. I decided to talk to some of the artists as well as their teacher, Mr. Lewis, to check up on their progress this year.

Meagan Hyslop and Jessie Martin are both doing murals on walls: the former by Ms. Hess's room on the first floor, and the latter by the staircase next to the elevator on the second floor. Meagan describes her mural-in-process as "a big flower," that is "separated into fourths." She joked that dividing it into the four parts was done to "put some symbolism" into her work, and described her lost week of progress due to accidents in her technique. Jessie is doing a horse that, and she wants to be very clear, is "not a unicorn," and "not My Little Pony [related]." She comically described her horse as more of a piece of LGBT propaganda, in reference to its rainbow-coloring. Both expect that their mural will take them quite a long time to complete, with the eight week deadline looming over them.

Two students working on the boards are The Ram Pride's very own comedy-guru Nicholas Greco and Nick Trocano. Their boards can be seen in the last hallway of the fourth floor where the art rooms are located. Greco is doing "two flamingoes flying over a sunset into a portal." According to Greco, "it sounds good but doesn't look good." He does say, however, that "it's been pretty easy so far." Trocano told me his mural is of the professional football player JJ Watt, but with the colors stylistically altered. He says he "like[s] the effect." Trocano also said, additionally, "Hi Mom!".

Ringgold's beloved art teacher is always lively and excited to do his job. He says that the murals are "going great" so far, this year. He also claims that "they get better every year." Thankfully, he assured me that there haven't been any horror stories like paint spills and ladder falls, besides the facetious claim that the Trocano boy had been eating some paint. Lewis also says that there has been "a lot of good cooperation from the other students" in the halls. Mr. Lewis asserts that the "murals are a lot of work," but that he doesn't let that get him down.

The obvious question to ask is which of the murals in progress is his favorite.

His obvious answer is "they're all my favorites."

S456 ARCHIVES: Voodoo Heart - Book Review

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2013-14 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

Scott Snyder is best known today as one of the biggest names in contemporary comic books, but there was a time when this wasn’t the case. His first published work was a short story collection entitled Voodoo Heart, which gained quite a bit of traction when it released back in 2006, including ringing endorsement from Stephen King.  As a fan of Snyder’s comic book work –work that includes American Vampire, a series that was originally co-written along with King – I noticed that Snyder’s style of story-telling didn’t change much once artwork was thrown into the mix. Something else I noticed is that this is a brilliant, quirky bit of fiction, which nails the crisis of having a strongly feeling and conflicted heart.

Voodoo Heart is a collection of seven short stories, altogether two-hundred seventy-eight pages in length. Each short story is memorable and smartly put-together due to Snyder’s keen ability to characterize, and to showcase drama associated with love. The characters he creates are thought-provoking in their intimate relatability, forcing me to self-analyze as I read. In the first story, called “Blue Yodel,” we read about Pres and Claire, two lovers with a fondness for airships. Claire runs away from him and flies off on one of the very things they bonded talking about. That is great situational drama, but the way he writes it is even better. The main thrust of the story takes place in the present, following Pres madly driving around looking for the airship, but flashbacks are sprinkled throughout. These flashbacks deliver beautiful accounts of their relationship when things were good, which actually hurt because of the context.

Snyder also likes to do something with these stories that he also likes to do in essentially all of his comic book work, which is tell a small story that is seemingly unrelated to the main plot, all for the purpose of thematic connection. An example of this is when he writes of a former racehorse who seems to wish he wasn’t so physically shackled by his enclosed home, which is thematically similar to the main character’s feeling of being emotionally shackled in his life due to a feeling of not fitting in. 

What’s truly neat is that he manages to do this on a much larger scale, with the entire book. My favorite short story is definitely the one with the same name as the collection, “Voodoo Heart,” which is – most likely intentionally - right in the middle of the book. This is the story that strongly reveals a thematic connection that all of these stories share, with a powerful, clever ending that takes a bit of thinking to decipher. Besides the thematic angles, there are also other, more subtle similarities to them all. These stories generally all have something a bit weird about them, whether it be a lead character who defends a garbage can with a harpoon, or a couple that bought a huge mansion for cheap because it’s next to a white-collar women’s jail.

I have a few quibbles. One story, “Happy Fish, Plus Coin,” which is very interesting (and probably the most beloved from this collection, actually), is about a loving friendship rather than a romantic relationship like all of the other stories. This is fine in a vacuum but fits in this collection a bit jarringly. Also, most of the endings to these stories are pretty vague, which is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows the reader to enjoy feverishly thinking to fill in the gaps, but on the other hand, it can be a bit dissatisfying to have build-up to something that isn’t conclusive. These, again, are quibbles.

Voodoo Heart is brilliant. Snyder manages to actually hurt with beauty. He is able to make readers think about themselves and ponder whether or not they too have voodoo hearts, but plants novelties throughout to add some fun. Scott Snyder is able to write about more than Batman, folks; Voodoo Heart is a thoroughly worthwhile collection of short stories. 

S456 ARCHIVES: The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Review

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2012-13 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

When trailers for The Perks of Being a Wallflower were playing on television and before movies at the theater, I had a very distinct impression: This movie is either going to be a whiney, pretentious pile of crap, or entirely moving and  inspirational. Nothing in between, folks. And now that I've seen the film twice, I can safely say that through the tears I was looking at one of my absolute favorite movies of all-time. Strikingly realistic and strongly emotional, The Perks of Being a Wallflower knocks it out of the park, and is entirely moving and inspirational.

My chief worry based off of the trailers pertained to what's probably the most important part of a drama - the characters. The easiest way to make a teen drama fail is to present characters with problems that all feels exaggerated and artificial, but that is not apparent at all in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. These problems are actually interesting and things that would cause a great deal of stress and conflict in real life. Some of these problems are things that some of us don't contemplate nearly enough.

This film follows a freshmen in high school named Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, who is challenged to move on from traumatic events in his childhood. In the process he interacts with family and new friends and discovers that they also have problems, and these break him down more and more throughout the film. One of the two most prominent of these new friends is Sam, played by Emma Watson, which plays as the love interest of Charlie but in her own right is challenged by men constantly treating her poorly. The other is Patrick, which the audience quickly learns is gay, with the main conflict of being in a relationship with a closeted son to a strictly homophobic father. There are some other characters with their own struggles and they're just as realized and interesting, but they're not focused on as much.

The movie displays these issues - childhood trauma, homophobia, violence, bad ethics in relationships - in a very direct and powerful way. The movie sent me on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, at points bringing me to a point of blissful happiness when things are working out for these kids, and other points bringing me down to absolute sadness. The most prominent display of this is at the climax and afterwards, when a big twist is revealed. This twist makes a movie with already quite depressing moments seem even more depressing, and it's hard not to tear up. But, rest assured, dear viewer, because in the time after that reveal to the end it progressively works it way up to what I can certainly say is the most uplifting sequence I've ever witnessed in a movie.

There are nitpicks I can throw at the movie. Every now and then there is a line or even a small character that really doesn't work, either because it's just lame and unrealistic or something that should be challenged but isn't. The first character that Charlie interacts with in the movie is a stock bully that appears a few times throughout the movie, and she's very lame. (She does serve as effective symbolism by the end, however). The age difference between these kids in regard to romance is another specific example of something I think should have been challenged in the movie. But again, these are just little annoyances that don't drastically affect the oomph of the film as a whole.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the best movie that came out last year, and it's one of my absolute favorites of all-time. It's just so strikingly real, and powerful. 

S456 ARCHIVES: Debate - Personal Review and Kainz Interview

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2013-14 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

Back on April 29th, I participated in Ringgold’s Fall Debate on the topic of Marijuana Legalization. The proposition was “Marijuana should be legalized in Pennsylvania,” and I was on the affirmative side of that proposition alongside team-members Adam Martin (11), Marissa Miller (11), and Sam Allman (11). In the preliminary rounds (which we didn’t end up getting past), we faced a negative team of Sam Kainz (12), Cassie Lignelli (11), Conner Dudas (11), and Nathaniel Patton (11). I did… um… I did well. I honestly don’t feel comfortable labeling my performance any more specifically than that. After the debate, I not only received the award for the most worthy adversary from the team we faced, but I received myriad compliments from my peers. But personally, that whole day, I felt rather badly about my performance.

I was what’s called a “constructive speaker” for my team, which entails giving a three-minute, pre-written speech building up the position of your team, a two-minute cross-examination of one of your opposing constructive speakers, and handling a two-minute cross-examination from one of your opponents. My speech was well-written, working up a logical and emotionally-invigorating case for getting the Man off of citizens’ pot. When I sparred against one of my opponents in my cross-examination, I think I did a pretty good job of pointing out a bit of a fallacy in a statistic the other team brought up. But when I was cross-examined by an opponent, which was the first cross-examination of the debate, I fumbled over my words, didn’t have much to add on some talking points, and overall allowed the opposition to poke holes in our team’s argument.

Now, that’s two out of three successes, and if I look at the situation more objectively than I’ve been willing to allow myself, it’s easy to see that I didn’t exactly tank when I was cross-examined. But, well, you see, I have pretty specific skills, I think, so I take pride in them and hold myself to a high standard for those skills. I’m inclined to do well with English-type things: I think I write well, speak well, think analytically well, understand grammar well, etc. My weakness, while not crippling, was glaring, so I felt a bit, well, awful, afterwards.

I do admire the team that I faced, which went on from their victory against my team (from both the judges and audience) to an overall victory in the championship. One of the reasons I admire them is that – if I understand correctly, which I’m nearly certain I do – everybody on that team is actually in favor of legalizing marijuana. In a broad sense, they don’t really support the case that they were making, but they still defeated all opposition. I hunted down Sam Kainz, the oldest and perhaps best of the team, for an interview.

“So how does it feel to be on the winning debate team?” I asked. “Good I suppose,” he replied. “Are you proud of your team?” I asked. “Yeah,” he replied.

Before this debate, Sam said that he participated in “every single debate,” besides “only miss[ing] one or two.” He’s also been involved in things like Youth and Government: The take-away is that he has involved himself in quite a bit of public speaking. According to Sam, his team’s biggest weaknesses were clinging too hard to certain points and an “extreme apathy” from their team as a whole, which is amusing coming from the championship-winning team.

In RHS, the general consensus seems to be overwhelmingly that marijuana should indeed be legalized and regulated like alcohol, which is why I thought it would have been smarter to do a topic like, say, the assault rifle ban, which seems more split. I asked Sam about this and he said that he feels the topic of marijuana legalization was “long overdue,” and he seemed positive about the decision to choose that topic. Sam “absolutely” supports the legalization of marijuana outside of the debate, but said he found debating a position he disagrees with to be “enlightening” and “easier.” In defiance of his team’s arguments, he believes that legalizing marijuana would indeed bring money in rather than lose it, and that “marijuana being addictive is a bit of a reach.” He does say, however, that marijuana “would be made less safe if legalized,” citing the increased unhealthiness of legal cigarettes over the years.

The most important thing to take away from my interview with Sam is that Matt Petras was “absolutely” the most valuable opponent he faced in all of the marijuana debating he participated in.

See, Matt, you didn’t do so poorly…  

Next year Sam will be out of high school pursuing education at the “only school he wanted to go to”: The prestigious and “extremely difficult to get into” West Point. Next year I’ll be preparing for the next debate, and probably also reading comic books and writing for this paper as per usual.

Oh, and also, Sam found it important to note that “The goal is always to crush your opponent.” And that his friend Jessie Pry was a “great scorekeeper.” 

S456 ARCHIVES: Troubles with Wages in America

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2013-14 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour, despite increasing once both years before. Many believe that minimum wage should increase, while others think that it would be bad for the economy. Some states, like California, have already raised their minimum wage, but the state of Pennsylvania has kept it at $7.25. Exactly how much to raise the federal minimum wage, and by when, is a point of contention amongst supporters. Remarks from the president during the last state of the union address prompted discussion on raising minimum wage nationwide, even though little progress is being made for supporters. 

Back in February of this year, Barack Obama said in the State of the Union Address that he would like to see federal minimum wage increase to $9 an hour, and then automatically increase after that with inflation. According to “Inequality.org,” the minimum wage “[a]djusted for inflation using the BLS online inflation calculator… would come to $10.55 per hour in 2012 dollars.” Obama is either compromising, or attempting to avoid bad economic implications for such a large increase. In his speech, President Obama points out that “a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line.” What’s frustrating for proponents of this increase is that, as Annie Lowry from The New York Times writes, “the proposal would see the federal floor on hourly wages reach $9 in stages by the end of 2015.” That is a long time from now.

Recently, though, strikes that originated in New York from November have flooded the entire country. The Thursday before Labor Day, “workers at McDonald's and other fast-food chains conducted strikes and walkouts in nearly 60 cities,” according to USA Today. These protests aren’t specifically asking for a minimum wage increase, just a standard wage increase, but to $15. Still, these strikes express a large disappointment over wages for workers towards the bottom. Additionally, America as a whole supports a minimum wage increase to $9.00, with, according to a February poll from Pew, 71% in favor and 26% opposed.

I talked to Mr. Manko, Ringgold’s Advanced Economics Teacher, to get a grounded perspective on the matter. When I asked him whether or not there would be an extreme reaction from businesses to a minimum wage increase, he said changes would “happen gradually.” At the end of the day, he says businesses won’t let wage increases eat away profits, although “some may” just eat the costs. He did cite some chains like Sheetz that pay their workers above the minimum wage, and explained that offering good wages is an effective way of enticing people to work for you. When I asked whether or not Pennsylvania raising minimum wage independent of the rest of the country would have differing results from a federal increase, he said “you’d see an increase in cost of living,” citing other states that saw increased costs of living with a minimum wage increase. I challenged him by saying that it may have been the cost of living that prompted a minimum wage increase instead, and he conceded that it is a tough “chicken before the egg” problem. He did note that there are more to the equation than wages for workers, saying that benefits like healthcare and vacations are important.

Perhaps most importantly, I asked why the heck we haven’t seen an increase in minimum wage in around three years. His response: “Politicians are scared” of upsetting corporations. 

S456 ARCHIVES: Obama's Tyrannical Gun Control

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2012-13 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

Barrack Obama is rolling out new gun legislation. What's odd is that the new legislation does not seem to be a reaction to the disaster at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which a madman wielding an assault rifle gunned down twenty children and six adults. No, this new wave of gun law proposals focuses on a five-year-old girl in Pennsylvania, who said, according to CNN, "I'll shoot you, you shoot me, and we'll all play together." It is reported that she was referring to a Hello Kitty bubble gun.

Barrack Obama is pushing a ban on military-style bubble guns, assuring Americans that concealed bubble guns for home defense and bubble guns intended for hunting will remain perfectly legal. Barrack Obama is also pushing for a maximum of four fluid ounces for containers of bubble soap.

There is outrage from both the left and the right. Piers Morgan is outraged at this new legislation, claiming that what the president should be focusing on is restrictions on what Morgan calls "actual guns." The National Rifle Association is outraged, but from a different perspective. The NRA believes that the president is infringing upon American children's second amendment rights to defend against robbers on the playground.

Barrack Obama has said that he understands many American's desire for a ban on assault rifles and large clips, but has said that the country needs to focus on the "true issue" first. The President has said that he has spoken with eye doctor Richard Starr about the negative effects of bubble soap in children's eyes. Starr says that bubble soap coming in direct contact with children's eyes halts the development of their vision. Barrack Obama says that taking away the bubble guns will force bullies on the playground to use finger guns instead, which the President claims are "much less damaging." When asked about a ban on finger guns, the President fears that removing children's fingers will decrease overall proficiency in handwriting.

Americans are overwhelmingly against the President on this issue. In response, the President said "My propositions have a higher approval rating than congress, which is probably pretty good, right?"

-only the first quote from CNN is real; the contents of this article are fictional and satirical-

S456 ARCHIVE: Gear Seminars

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2012-13 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

Last month I invited a group of students to the library for a forty-five minute lecture about comic books, and the day after, I went to a lecture about alpacas. Ringgold’s gifted program, GEAR, allows students in the program to host educational seminars about virtually anything they please. Each student that decides to host a seminar chooses his/her own format, meaning students can do a lecture, a series of activities, a moderated discussion, etc. GEAR Instructor Ms. Linda Fetchen aids and guides, but this is very much an independent project for the students.

I spoke with Ms. Fetchen about GEAR Seminars. After looking in her computer files, she found that records of GEAR Seminars go back at least ten years, meaning there were probably seminars even further back than that. She told me she started hosting the Gifted Program in 1975, but back then, seminars were “not something [they] did.” She told me, even though the seminars are “different every year” and therefore “hard to compare,” “the quality of the presentations get better throughout the years” because students become “more organized.” In past years, she told me, there were two exceedingly talented presenters, one, a student named Matt Patton, who did seminars about film, and another, a student named Ethan Harger, who did seminars about music. Her hopes for the future of GEAR seminars are that students learn to present well and do good research, and also that the audience members learn. She told me that she wishes students would do more seminars about history, but made it clear that she will never force a seminar topic on a student. This is because she believes students must have a passion for their subject matter in order for the seminar to be successful.  

I do GEAR seminars and I’m quite passionate about what I talk about. In my tenth grade year, after going to several seminars and thinking I can do that!, I decided to conduct a general seminar about comic books, in which I lectured about breaking into the hobby, contemporary comic book events, and more. This year, I have been doing a monthly series of seminars, each focusing on an individual subtopic within the realm of comic books, including “The History of the Joker,” and “Comic Book Creators.” I have a lot of fun doing these seminars, all of which are loosely structured lectures. These lectures are very well-received, which is something the evaluation sheets filled out by my audience members can attest to. Recently, I decided to start a new series of seminars to coincide with my comic book seminars, this one about video games.

I love doing these seminars and look forward to them all, but I also enjoy attending other seminars. Not too long ago, I attended a seminar by twelfth grade student Leanne Fries. She started doing seminars in her eleventh grade year, and continues to do them in her current year. She has covered music in her seminar about Stevie Wonder, and also in her seminar “The Greatest Love Songs of All-Time.” She has also covered fashion and beauty, in her seminars “Fashion Dos and Don’ts” and “The History of American Beauty.” When asked what she’ll do with her seminars in the future, she replied “probably music,” and when asked if she’s proud of her performances so far, she replied, “I think so.” She plans to use the public speaking skills displayed and developed through these seminars for a career in broadcasting. Her advice for students thinking of doing seminars themselves? “Pretend like you’re talking to your friends.”  

The seminar I teased earlier about alpacas was hosted by tenth grade student Noah Smith. This seminar took place in February and was Noah's first. Noah's seminar was unique in that he had hands-on experience with his subject matter, as he frequently works with alpacas owned by family members. I asked him if he plans to do more seminars and he wasn't sure, but he did say that if he did he'd probably do one on massage therapy. He said he had fun and he "guess[es]" he's proud of how he did, but he claims he prefers watching seminars over hosting a seminar. His advice for students who haven't done a seminar yet but are considering taking the plunge? "Take the plunge."

I hope more students take that plunge and do a seminar. And even if they don't take that plunge, I hope that they'll go be an audience member to others' plunges. I hope this because GEAR Seminars are fun, creative ways to educate and develop the skills of the student body. And seriously, when else do you get to sit in a room for forty-five minutes to hear about alpacas?

S456 ARCHIVES: Matt Takes On - Ringgold's Renaissance Fair

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2012-13 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

On Wednesday, February 7th, Ms. Jubic hosted a Renaissance Fair in the library. The students from Jubic's College English 12 class put together an event for the rest of the students and faculty to come and enjoy throughout the day. The presenting students were stationed in the library throughout the entire school day, and any students with permitting teachers could head down and enjoy the event. I was one of those students, and spent two periods there. The fair was far from unenjoyable, thanks to the intrinsic pleasure of games and food and socializing with peers, but redundant, and sometimes irrelevant information, as well as a general sense of apathy from some students brought it down.  

After talking with Ms. Jubic, I learned that this is the first year that she has done this event, and that it is meant to coincide with the students' reading of Macbeth and Renaissance poetry. The event covered music, food, sports and art. I talked to student 12th Grade Student Joe Smith at the event, and he told me that the students got into groups and were assigned a topic at random. Once given that topic, Joe continued to tell me, students could focus on whatever subtopics they wished. Joe told me that his group spent about a week on their presentation.

One of the problems with the event stems from the fact that many groups covered the same information. Instead of collaborating together, most groups seemed to tackle their topic [sports, food, etc.] in a very general sense. Because of this, I learned about jousting more times than I would have liked, for example. The information seemed to bleed together, and sometimes didn't really fit. Food found its way on presentations that weren't even about food and Bruno Mars music blared for no apparent reason. Some presenting students also seemed to not care so much, and resorted to hiding behind their stands.

It was hard not to enjoy yourself in some fashion, though. Alan Howard and Mike Rizzo told me about bicycle jousting, which is the equivalent of Renaissance jousting, and joked[?] that they do it themselves. Billy Balsley's stand offered face-painting, and I was surprised to hear that a lot of people actually obliged to the offer after asking him. Trey Martin's food stand may have been the best, offering cinnamon rolls and chicken that lots of people had positive things to say about.  Over at a sports stand operated by Dan Hess and other students, I popped balloons in a dart game and won an apple tart.

The general opinion on the event seemed mixed, from what I picked up on. More than a few students told me that they found the event boring. I did hear a lot of good things about the food, and it certainly wasn't hard to find smiling and laughing at the event. Ms. Jubic told me "I think everyone's been enjoying themselves." I'd say it was fine.  

S456 ARCHIVES: Obama Needs to Step It Up

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2012-13 year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

The economy took a massive turn for the worst under Bush, and that same president's warmongering in the Middle East fired up the anti-war crowd the most since the Vietnam War. America as a whole seemed very displeased with their leader, so when Democrat Barrack Obama was elected president back in 2008, it was a very exciting time for many disappointed Americans. It was an especially exciting time for progressive Americans, as Barrack Obama presented himself as a candidate that would lessen war, provide left-leaning economics, and stand for social progress.

Well, how did he do? For both America as a whole and progressives?

Well, he "came out of the closet" as the first president in United States history to formally support Gay Marriage, and repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell. He didn't do anything against women's right to choose, and he didn't do anything against Planned Parenthood. He did bring the troops home from Iraq, but it sure did take awhile, and we are still in Afghanistan. He and his Justice Department have hit hard on Medicinal Marijuana clinics, and the next four years under Obama do not look particularly bright for full-legalization of weed in states that desire to do so. He has been very weak on taxes, even though his spending has been no holds bars. The Affordable Care Act is certainly a step in the right direction, but there's certainly a long road ahead if we plan to seriously compete with other countries in regards to healthcare.

He's done an immensely "okay" job so far. In his second term, he needs to step it up, and hopefully he'll be more willing to do riskier things without the fear of not being reelected hanging over his head. I'm not very educated on foreign policy and our situation in the Middle East, so I'm not going to pretend that I am, but I do know that Obama and congress needs to get that all resolved as soon and as nonviolently as they can. And I do know that sounder economics and a rational and modern approach to marijuana legislation are the two things he needs to focus on the most.

If Barrack Obama needs to do a lot of spending for his agenda, so be it, but he has to raise taxes to compensate. Some very rich Americans manage to pay a very low tax rate, and Obama seems to know and care about that, but we can't be sure if he's going to actually follow up on his principals. And America can definitely do for some big cuts to spending - our bloated Defense budget that out-spends China 6-1 comes to mind immediately. In the debates Obama was very firmly against Mitt Romney's position to actually raise military spending, but it doesn't seem like our president is proactive about making significant cuts to Defense.

Marijuana Legalization is an issue of civil liberty and freedom, but it's also something that can help the economy of states that wish to legalize it. Money will not be spent putting people in jail for nonviolent weed offenses, and states will actually see revenue by taxing transactions that are already happening anyway. Heck, if Obama and Congress got together and ended prohibition of cannabis on a Federal level, telling each state that they cannot stop the sale, usage and ownership of marijuana by adults, and allowed states to handle regulation and taxation, that would be fantastic. Probably won't happen, though.

Like many liberals, I want to like Obama more than I actually do. He does a very good job of extrapolating a very progressive, inspiring view of the world and government in his speeches, but he doesn't do that great of a job when actually carrying out his rhetoric. Loads of money we don't have is being spent, and our taxes are pathetically low. Obama's Justice Department seriously believes that medicinal  marijuana is a threat to society that requires throwing harmless people behind bars. America should be even more skeptical of President Barrack Obama in his second term, and part of me is optimistic, but I'd be surprised if the next four years aren't anything but another shade of okay

S456 ARCHIVES: The 2012 Presidential Election - An Overview

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2012-13 year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

The 2012 presidential election is quickly approaching, and the question on everybody’s mind is simple: Who should we vote for? Should President Barrack Obama be reelected, should the Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney get the job, or should we throw our votes at someone else like Gary Johnson, Ron Paul or Rocky Anderson? Let’s take a closer look at these gentlemen.


Barrack Obama is the current president of the United States. Barack Obama is our first president to officially back Gay Marriage. On abortion, he is adamant in securing a woman’s right to choose with his pro-choice position. Obama’s health care plan is very controversial, especially with the insurance mandate which came along with the Affordable Care Act. On taxes, Obama believes in the rich paying more than they currently do and the middle class paying less, respectively. Obama had Osama Bin Laden killed and brought the troops home from Iraq, which is a part of his fight against Al Qaeda. The national debt has increased by approximately five trillion dollars since Obama took office. His VP choice – and current Vice President, of course – is Joe Biden.

Official Website: http://www.barackobama.com/


Mitt Romney is the official Republican nominee running against Obama. Mitt Romney believes strongly in “traditional marriage.” On a federal level, Romney wants Gay Marriage to be outlawed. On abortion, he believes in overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion a state’s rights issues. He is personally pro-life and is against any federal funding towards abortion. When it comes to health care, Mitt wants Obama’s health care smacked down on a federal level in exchange for policies that, as his official website reads, “give each state the power to craft a health care reform plan that is best for its own citizens.” He wants the federal government’s only roll in health care to be helping to secure a “level playing field for competition,” his website also reads. Romney wants more money going to National Defense. Mitt believes in tax rates much more similar across the board than what Obama wants. He is running with his VP pick Paul Ryan.

Offical Website: http://www.mittromney.com/


When it comes to third-parties, Gary Johnson is probably the most well-known. Gary Johnson is a Libertarian with the basic belief structure built around limited government and liberty. He believes in non-interventionalism, meaning he only thinks that military actions should be taken when absolutely necessary. When it comes to the economy, he wants spending to be cute and taxes to be cut. He thinks that removing Obama’s proposed insurance mandate and focusing on competition is the solution to America’s health care problem. He is in favor of ending America’s strong efforts to incriminate drug users and wants marijuana prohibition to cease. He is very similar to Congressman Ron Paul, who is more popular but has ended his campaign.


Though not as popular as Gary Johnson, at least from my observations, Rocky Anderson is another third party gaining traction. On health care, Rocky takes a more far-left approach to health care, standing for the single-payer approach that Canada takes, or at least something similar. Rocky Anderson wants Minimum Wage to be raised to “no less than $10.00 an hour,” as to help fight disparity amongst the economic branches. Anderson wants America to end its financial and diplomatic support for Israel. Anderson is against the death penalty and thinks that life sentences bereft of parole may be a better option. Rocky is firmly against Guantanamo Bay, wanting it shut down, and for fair trials for terrorists to fill the void. He is a part of the Justice Party.

Official Website: http://www.voterocky.org/


I asked around and students of Ringgold High School certainly have things to say. I do not have enough data to give an approximation of where Ringgold stands as a whole, but I can give you some individuals’ opinions.

Students like Sam Allman (11th) and Jonathan Layton (11th) support Barrack Obama. Liz Gearhart (12th) and Aaron Turkovich (11th) are willing to throw their hats in the ring with Mitt Romney, even though only the former is of age to actually vote. Nate Petrosky (11th) supports Gary Johnson, while Alex Ferguson (10th) sticks with his support for Ron Paul. Yet still, students like Eric Rosenburg (10th) don’t particularly care, and students like Alex Stumpf (11th) don’t really like anyone.

As for me? Well, before I wrote this I half-heartedly was rooting for Obama, but after writing this, I have to say, I’m quite smitten by Rocky Anderson. 

S456 ARCHIVES: Mitt Romney has Already Lost

~~ the following is a piece I did for the 2012-13 school year of "The Ram Pride," Ringgold High School's school newspaper ~~

For whatever reason, the loud and proud Herman Cain, the liberty-loving Ron Paul, the "Strong" Rick Perry, the Chick Fil-A chomping Rick Santorum and the feminine Michelle Bachman did not clinch the Republican nomination. None other than Mitt Romney claimed the spot in the ring against Barrack Obama. If you ask me, I would say that he got the nomination because he was perceived as the least controversial and therefor the safest bet to getting Obama out of office. But, now that he has had some time in the limelight as the Republican pick, and now that the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have ended, it's apparent that Romney is not doing the job that so many conservative Americans want him to do. It seems like he does a new dumb thing every day, I can't imagine he's very appealing to minorities and moderates, and the RNC and DNC made the Democrats look a whole lot better than the Republicans. Mitt Romney has already lost the 2012 Presidential Election.

Romney and his VP pick Paul Ryan say that they're going to remove certain tax loopholes as an alternative to President Obama's proposal of taxing the rich more, but when asked which bracket will receive these tax cuts, Romney and Ryan didn't have any answers and Mitt took the opportunity to make Democrats out to be bullies for pressing him. Another day Romney made it a point to say that airplane windows really need to open, and that it's, as Huffington Post reports, "very dangerous," that they don't, making Americans collectively giggle and sigh a depressing sigh. He may have been kidding, but this flub, no matter how much of his words he meant, hit the internet hard and made him look less than intelligent. The Stranger reports that, when asked, "Is $100,000 middle income?" Mitt said, “No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less." Now, 250,000 is the maximum amount to be considered middle class under our current president's tax plan, as the same source points out, but Romney shooting down the questioner's "$100,000" to say "$200,000 to 250,000" is misleading when, to quote this same source again, directly, "median household income in this country is $50,000." Romney just keeps saying things that makes the general public view him as an out of touch aristocrat that doesn't care about them.

Besides white, heterosexual, rich men, who is really going to connect with Mitt Romney? Are the gays, who he wants to make sure can't marry on a federal level, going to be slapping ROMNEY/RYAN bumper stickers on their car? Will all of the Americans that make critically-acclaimed films like Milk so successful be okay with this stamp on LGBT rights? I say no to both. Similarly, I can't imagine enough of those who don't place themselves clearly on the left or right of the political spectrum would throw their vote at Romney instead of Obama or even a third party. Romney may catch their eye when he promises to be more fiscally responsible than Obama, but they'll probably be quite turned off when they hear him go on about how he wants federal protection of abortion to cease, and when they hear him talk about his opposition to contemporary demands of the gays and when they hear him say that he will smack down all of Obama's progress on healthcare. Who exactly does Romney speak to that's going to net him a place in the White House? He's not even likable compared to his opponent, as a Gallup poll reveals.

The Republican National Convention did a good job of making their party, and Romney along with it, look oh-so-very silly. At the RNC, Clint Eastwood, speaking very poorly, might I add, reprimanded an invisible Obama like a painfully annoying Jeff Dunham (or more painfully annoying, depending on your opinion of Mr. Dunham) talking to a puppet. Also at the RNC, the room was filled with applause and shouts of glee as they shouted "We built it!," a response to a version of Obama that is socialist and doesn't value an individual's hard work; such a man Obama clearly is not. At the DNC, we see a beautiful, glorious, inspiring, hour-long speech from Bill Clinton that really makes Obama out to be quite the promising candidate and makes the Republican plan out to be foolish. And he does so with facts. And logic. And rhetoric that's not misleading. Not with invisible politicians and aggrandized slogans that aren't even rooted in reality.

I can't see Romney winning this. The polls agree, the latest from the Huffington Post [as of 8:00 PM, September 30th, 2012] placing Obama at 48.8% vs. Romney's 44.4%. Unsavory sentiments fall out of his mouth like snots from a child's sick nose. His backwards-approach to social issues is hardly going to help him get moderates and minorities on his side. His party looks bad, as the RNC and DNC exemplified. I don't think that it is too early to say that Mitt Romney has already lost the 2012 presidential election.


Tell me why my opinions aren't quite good in the comments below.



"Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan Can't Say Which Tax Loopholes They'd Plug (VIDEO)": http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/09/mitt-romney-paul-ryan-tax-loopholes_n_1868444.html

"UPDATE: Mitt Romney Wonders Why Ann Romney's Airplane Windows Don't Roll Down": http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/mitt-romney-airplane-windows_n_1910930.html?utm_hp_ref=travel

"Clint Eastwood speaks to an invisible Obama: Twitter mocks 'gran turdito'": http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/us-news-blog/2012/aug/31/clint-eastwood-invisible-chair-twitter

"Values" [Romney's official position on abortion is detailed on his official website here]: http://www.mittromney.com/issues/values

"Healthcare" [Romney's official position on healthcare is detailed on his official website here]: http://www.mittromney.com/issues/health-care

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Perspective on the Morgan/Mock Debacle

I really do like Piers Morgan. I think he can be prudish, dismissive, and embarrassingly ill-tempered, but I really do like Piers Morgan. He seems like a well-intentioned, passionate, and generally kind person. I especially admire his strong passion for gun control advocacy, even though I have issues with some of his approach on that issue.

Whenever I saw this tweet, I was puzzled:

What did I miss? I thought. Don't tell me he's transphobic...

And then I saw this tweet:

Oh boy. Is he joking or is this for real? What the heck happened?

Eventually, I got myself educated on this controversy Morgan had stumbled into. Janet Mock, a trans woman and trans rights advocate, was recently on his CNN show to discuss her new book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. His interview was very supportive of her and her cause, and the two had a friendly discourse about mostly her growth to her current state as a fully-transitioned woman.

It turns out, this exchange of their's caused some controversy; most notably from Mock herself in these tweets:

After the drama on Twitter, Mock was invited back on the show by a disgruntled and slightly vindictive Piers Morgan:

"I'll deal with you." Yeesh.

You can watch the videos here and here to catch up for yourself if you are not already caught up.

Overall, I'm very disappointed by Piers Morgan. My central problem with how he handled himself is that he did so very much in a fashion that showed much more concern for saving face than actually caring for the struggles of the trans community. He brought up his support of the gay community, as if that somehow gives him a pass on offending a different group of people. He brought up an old article in which she seemingly labels and characterizes herself just as he did, when in actuality, that article wasn't something she was responsible for, as she wrote about at the very beginning of her book, according to her.

It seems very obvious to me that he made a mistake when describing her life, and is too obsessed with maintaining his righteous self-image to admit to his mistake. He's missing the distinction between gender, something very nuanced, and sex. It's not appropriate to call her "formally a man" and "born a boy" because ever since she was able to fathom such a thing, she didn't identify as a boy, despite her sex and assigned gender.

She also makes the point that focusing on her transition in relation to her very committed relationship with her boyfriend "sensationalizes" her life history in a way that cheapens the struggles of the trans community. While I don't blame Piers for spending a lot of time on this, because it is very interesting and new to so many people, I certainly get her point. Framing this as her being a "former man" certainly takes that discussion to a bad place, and there are a lot of meatier, larger issues that could have been discussed. For example, check out these statistics in this screen cap from a "Pantheos" article:

Piers Morgan's main critique of Mock seemed to be that she did not call him out and correct him for his apparent mistake, to which she replied that sure, she probably should have, but that she didn't because she was afraid. I think this fear is obviously understandable. If this fear wasn't understandable, the argument between the two over Morgan's [mis]representation of trans people wouldn't have happened.

Janet Mock came off as a coolly intelligent and warm woman. She didn't handle the situation absolutely perfectly, but her failings were not only understandable, she also personally admitted them. 

With all of that being said, one of the main reasons I found this controversy so fascinating was that I really identified and sympathized with Piers on an emotional level. I identified and sympathized with him not because I feel I would have also misrepresented trans people in an offensive manor (although, to be clear, I would be open to the possibility of this article showing some kind of ignorance on my part), but generally because I could picture myself putting my foot in my mouth in a similar way. 

I sometimes say things that are ignorant, or offensive, and my ignorance/offensiveness should be apparent to me. But it isn't, because of a kind of worried attempt on my part to make myself seem morally and intellectually righteous at all times. It can be tough to admit you screwed up.

I really think I know the mental process he went through when the controversy started on twitter. The rapid dash for sources and arguments backing up his claim that were attractive for simply confirming his opinion rather than for their credibility, as her counter-argument in the second interview showed; the bringing up of other, clear moments of moral/intellectual righteousness, that really aren't relevant but absolutely are to him, in his deluded state of mind; etc. He just knew he was in the right, because he just knows he's a good, smart guy. 

I get it. I feel bad for him. He made an unfortunate, offensive mistake in discussing a complex issue. While labeling him transphobic may be a stretch, he's in the wrong here, folks. I only wish that he quits being bullheaded and admits that he goofed.