I hope all of my readers are aware of the background behind this story, but if not, here is a brief summary. On January 8, 2011 Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was the victim of an attempted assassination in which 6 people were killed and the congresswoman seriously wounded. She was shot in the head and yet miraculously survived the ordeal. Her injuries caused permanent brain damage which has left the congresswoman unable to properly speak, walk, or see. After only 7 months, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords returned to Washington D.C. to vote on the debt ceiling increase. She managed to balance recovery with her duties as a member of the House of Representatives until finally last week she announced she would resign from congress to focus on her recovery.

 

Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords represents a complete selfless politician who would stop at nothing to complete the task the people of Arizona elected her to do. Unable to utter more than a few words and supported by a cane, Gabrielle Giffords came to the capitol in order cast her vote an important piece of legislation. It is amazing that she was able to go this long while still remaining in office. I was deeply moved by her video resignation in which one can clearly see and hear how much the shooting has affected her. What is even more inspirational is the fact that she plans to return to public office after she has recovered to a certain extent. She has every right to never set foot in the capitol building again and yet she is committed to keep her promise to be a voice for her constituents. She has put her duty above her own personal health and I must commend her.

 

Gabrielle Giffords’s story has shown a light on the best and worst parts of our current political environment. Congresswoman Giffords was shot during a time in which our government was so deeply divided and dysfunctional that it seemed more likely that the congressmen and women would be shot by each other and not their constituents. Rather than simply not vote for her in the next election, the assassin chose to shoot her. This slap in the face finally made politicians stop and think about the message of hate that was being conveyed to the American people rather than a message of cooperation and compromise. Of course every politician at the time preached a new era of cooperation and understanding. Yet DAYS later the same politicians were filling the airwaves with the same partisan bickering and gridlock as if those events never took place. Two weeks later at the State of the Union Address, although adorned in the pins to Gabriel Giffords that were meant to symbolize peace and cooperation, the same partisan games continued and the new era of good feelings ended before it even began. It took a congresswoman being shot in the head to get politicians to halt their rhetoric for only a few days. What will it take to bring peace back to the capitol?

http://giffords.house.gov/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nguu0TkCTd4&feature=player_embedded

Listen to the Students, Not Budget Numbers

Today we students of Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies returned to school after a much needed and relaxing winter vacation. However as I walked through the open halls towards my classes I noticed something had changed. I came upon the sight of a large blue cherry picker on one end of the school, brand new railing all across the other end of campus, a new administrator walking the halls, and in between scattered remnants of several trees which had been removed. The cherry picker I later learned was being used to repaint our entire campus. I have no explanation, nor do I assume I ever will, for why the trees were removed, why railing was put in or why our school must add another administrator. Over the past two or three years this has been a routine occurrence when we students return from an extended break. This year alone has seen the adding of one administrator (not including todays new arrival), redoing all of the schools fencing, repainting every square inch, and newly painted murals. I ask myself constantly how we are in the worst financial times in 80 years and yet our school always seems to find money to do some new project to make it look “pretty”.

 

The usual answer I receive when I ask someone else this question is “These funds have been allocated a long time in advance and take time to finally to get done.” The financial times we find ourselves in now have been around for four years and schools have been facing hard times even longer still. From what information I have available it seems I can come to only two conclusions; either the bureaucracy that is our district is so inefficient that it takes 5 years to complete a project, or that there is serious intellectual shortfalls in whomever creates the budget on a year by year basis.

 

At the time, almost 8 years ago, I welcomed warmly the construction of a new elementary playground, the complete renovation of a new stylized bathroom, and the creation of a football team. Now as a near adult I see many realities which at the time my innocent mind could not comprehend. It took two years to renovate two bathrooms and the football team, created simply by the football coach turned principle, continues to divert away funds from other programs for a team which has no academic value. Now we are going to lose our nurse, our school library, and our buses. These things should seem as standard in any school and new railings and courtyards a luxury. Sadly it seems as if it is reversed and we continue to have new perks while office staff is cut, supplies remain inadequate, and classrooms bloated from a school population that once had 1600 and has now added hundreds. I have had a different counselor every year so far in high school and I fear I have lost a vital resource that is gained over years getting to know a counselor. There is so much talk about overcrowded classrooms and yet day after day in front of my locker I see a classroom unoccupied, simply used for storage. A brand new classroom was renovated to become a chemistry teachers dream and yet it is occupied instead by biology professor who does not use all of the amenities provided at great cost. Our computer lab teaches students how to use equipment and techniques which are years out of date and will be of little use in the real world.

 

I hope my readers will look at what I have written not as the ramblings of an overreacting parent or a disgruntled teacher. I am a student who in the end is supposed to benefit the most from all of the policies put into place. I bring to you the facts on the ground as I see them and the emotional stress it places on a child seeing his school on the brink. I would like to dedicate this blog to the men and woman of education who despite the hardships placed on them have the dedication and heart to help students prepare for the challenges ahead.

latimes.com

Home for the Holidays

Few of my classmates remember the start of the Iraq War and I would guess even fewer or none remember the beginning of the Afghan War. But as we now watch the news and see images of caravans pulling into desert airports, bound for home, I think it is proper to reflect. On memory which has been slowing working its way back into my conscious thought is from June of 2004 ( I remember the month because of the “June Gloom”). I was in the third grade and walking with my grandmother from the car to school. I do not remember exactly what prompted me, although I assume it was due to the fact that my grandmother has been an avid listener of NPR in the car for decades. I turned to my grandmother and asked the question “When will the war be over?” At the time it seemed like a very simple question with a very simple answer. I used to think that all wars had a predetermined start and end point and that everything was planned out. To my utter confusion my grandmother answered “I don’t know……..maybe a year”. It had already been a year since the beginning of the Iraq War which to an 8 year old boy, was an eternity.

 

Now as we all know now, my grandmother was wrong. She was off by 6 years! We talk all the time about desensitization in America today and yet still I believe we, including myself, have the audacity to say we really do care. Almost every three days or so I learn of a new attack on US soldiers in the middle east and have just become numb to it. When the country was this far into the Vietnam War, protests on the national mall of hundreds of thousands had become a weekly occurrence. I believe this only further highlights the fact that these conflicts are not in the interests of most Americans and are a waste of resources. But can we be blamed for our thoughts? During almost all of my living memories, we have been at war. Our lives have been shaped by war. If you were to look at a picture of yourself when we first invaded Afghanistan and then take one now, it would show just how long and how much war has played in our lives. From the time we were toddlers to now when we are on the verge of adulthood, we have not known peace. I find it almost unbelievable that it is actually coming to an end. It has been with us so long that to us children who grew up with it, it is a normal part of life. Will there ever be a generation that grows up in peace?

The Oakland Press

5 Branches Protecting the Tree of Freedom

Few people took notice for the reason we had a three day weekend
and even fewer still did anything Friday relating to the holiday which gave us
this weekend. This past Friday the nation, or at least some of it, “celebrated”
Veterans Day. I put the word celebrated in quotations because to me is not a
celebration, but rather an honoring, a recognition of those who have served and
are currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. I was honestly
surprised this weekend to find not a single status with relation to Veterans
Day. All day it was nothing but statuses upon statuses about how Friday was
11/11/11. I found it highly offensive that THAT was worthy of more excitement
than at least acknowledging those who serve.

 

People always ask me “Andrew, why do you care so much about
the military when you’re Buddhist?” It is true that find the thought of killing
and violence reprehensible, but if there is one thing I have learned from
studying the Constitution and learning the history of our country, it is the
idea of civic virtue. Civic virtue is the idea that you put your personal self
behind the overall well-being of the country. It is this principle that makes
me say “I am an American first and a religious man second.” This however was
not always so. I too did not really pay much attention to politics or military
news until our 8th grade trip to Washington D.C.. The trip to Arlington
National Cemetery impacted me in a profound way.  Seeing row after row of white tombstones as far as the eye can see almost made me cry. And in the newest section of the cemetery I saw all of the new graves which had been laid out for those who had died not a week before. No one asked them to put their lives on the line, but they did so and did their jobs well. They died so that we may live.

 

Many people who I surround myself with view the military as
evil establishment who overjoys in invading a country. They view military personnel and the actions they take as one in the same. I will be the first to say that I have not agreed with military policy since WWII. I do not support any war; I support the men and woman fighting it. Another big criticism regarding the military is the amount of funding that goes into the DOD (Department of Defense) budget. The military must pay for the salaries of almost 3 million people along with the equipment that they use to protect us. Now I am not naive and do recognize that there is waste in military expenditures (ie the past 10 years in the Middle East) and that they cannot be immune from the current
economic realities of this nation. Now I will go off on a tangent and say what I
would change if I could, based upon the information I have to date. If I could I
would close all US military bases in foreign countries, restructure the
branches to provide for the common “Defense” and not offense, and transfer the
money the modernization and continued procurement of equipment. But under the current mentality of government it is 100 % impossible.

 

In honor of those in the United States Army, United States Navy, United States Air Force, United States Coast Guard, and United States Marine Corps.

United States Military Branches

Le Premiere Baiser

Pourquoi est-ce qu’on embrasse?
Quelle est la raison? Les personnes le font tous les jours sans penser. J’ai dix-huit ans mais j’ai embrassé qulq’un seulement un fois. Aussi, j’ai aimé seulment un fois. Je crois qu’embrasser est plus important et plus significatif que n’importe autre acte physique. Un baiser peut en dire plus que mille mots.

 

Il y a quelques années quand j’avais seize ans, un nouvel élève était arrivé à mon école. Il était très calme et mystérieux. Cinq mois ont passé et je ne l’avais pas entendu dire in seul mot. Êtant amiable, j’ai essayé de lui parler. “Salut, Je m’appelle André. Tu t’appelles comment? Est-ce que tu aimes ta nouvelle école?” Je lui ai parléplusieurs fois, mais je n’ai jamais reçu de réponse. Cela m’a fait très fâché et frustré mais il y avait quelque chose qui m’intriguait. Quel secret gardait-il?

 

Un matin, pas spécial en février je profitais de la journée nuageuse et froide, quand tout d’un coup il a commencé à pleuvoir. Ce n’étaitpas une pluie dure, mais plutôt une légère bruine refraichissante. Illuminante tous les senses. Ce sentiment de la vie pure m’a donné l’envie d’essayer de parler au jeune mystérieux garçon encore. Mais encore une fois il était silencieux. J’avais terminé avec lui! Alors qand je me retournais à quitter, il m’a arrêté et m’a tiré vers lui. Il m’a embrassé. Un garçon dont le nom je ne savais même pas, m’embrassait.

 

Mais ce n’était pas l’expérience à la quelle je m’attendais. Je voyais d’autres personnes embrasser mille fois, et leur réaction n’a jamais été comme cella-ci. D’autres semblaient traiter les baisers comme une poignée de main, mais ce que je vi vais n’était pas une simple poignée de main. Dans ce seul baiser, dans cet air romantique pluvieuse en trois j’ai appris plus sure ce garçon inconnu que les autres couples apprennent pandant une vie entière. Grâce àson baiser, il m’a raconté son histroire de vie. Il a partagé avec moi ses espoirs et ses craintes. Tous les secrets que ont été dans cet esprit enchanteur. J’ai même appris son nom dans ce baiser. Le nom de…

 

Nous avons partagé quelque chose dans ce baiser. Nous avons eu une heure conversation longtemps, nous nous sommes mariés, et nous avons vieilli ensemble, en partageant un vie. Après ce baiser, il est parti. Mais je n’étais pas triste. Rien d’autre était necessaire. Je le connaissais et il me connaissait mieux que quiconque. Alors la prochaine fois que vous pensez à embrasser un garçon, pensez. Avec qui vous voulez partager vos secrets les mieux gardés?

Kissing Photo

Models of Pride 19

“Models of Pride” is an educational conference held every year in Los Angeles. It brings together LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Allies) youth, ages 12-24, together from around the country to share an experience that can last a lifetime. It is a conference full of workshops, entertainment, and hundreds of youth with a common interest of equal rights and the belief that no one truly is alone. This year I was fortunate enough to participate in “Models of Pride 19”, hosted on the campus of the University of Southern California. Last year’s conference boasted a number of 600 youth; however this year brought a staggering 1,100 youth together at USC. Models of Pride 19 was nothing like had expected, but it did introduce me to a new side of the LGBTQA community which I had never experienced. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing, I will leave up to my readers.

I attended Models of Pride for two reasons; to meet friends whom I had known for quite some time, but had never met in person, and to hopefully learn new information and skills that would make me a more effective leader of the school’s GSA. One of those did not happen at all and I can assume it is obvious that it was the educational part. This was in no way intended. I came to the conference with my reading book for breaks and my special leather-bound notebook which I use for lectures. But alas, as soon as I saw my friends all thought of learning or using any cognitive processing vanished. There were three opportunities for workshops and instead of going to informational ones I attended a workshop on; the meaning of dreams, music therapy with drums, and a third which I would rather not disclose. Now, I want to make it clear that in no way do I regret enjoying my time with my friends. I just wish to convey to my readers that most often teenagers find it very difficult to even balance out work and pleasure.

One thing that persisted throughout the day of the conference were the constant questions/comments such as “Why are you so mature”, “Why is your voice so deep for a gay guy”, and “Why don’t you act like a gay guy”. The last one rather angered me at times. I found it offensive that the point of the conference was to end stereotypical remarks and prejudices and yet I was being scolded because I did not follow those stereotypes! Being gay to me simply means that you are attracted to members of the same sex and that is it. Being gay is just one aspect of my personality that to me is not any more significant than liking classical music. Just because the members of my choir all like classical music does not mean that we share anything else. If there is one thing I want my readers to take home with them it is the knowledge that the LGBTQA community is as diverse as the United Nations. But we come together and put our differences aside to celebrate the commonality that binds us all to each other as one family. Thank You.

www.modelsofpride.org

Even in Fairy Tales, Teachers Dont Get a Break

At first glance, the picture would seem to be that of a giant preying on children. But in reality it is actually a normal sized hag and very small children. And if there is one thing we learn from stories and fairytales, it is never to trust little creatures. Especially when they are little woodland children full of nothing in mischief in their minds. The old fawn in this picture is not some villainous monster full of malcontent. She is simply a school teacher at wits end after dealing with little deviants for 800 years. All she has tried to do is teach them the magical ways of the forest, but all they did was scheme as woodland creatures do. On this day, she would finally teach them a lesson they would not soon forget. Or so she thought. She had already been forced to use a cane after last week’s prank and was in pain every time she walked. But now, now was the day. The final day of their schooling when they would journey to the edge of the wood and observe humans for the first time. There was a road not too far from the forest that humans traveled along between cities. It was the final day of school when the children would learn the boundaries of their world and that of the humans. Paths that she had to teach them, must never be crossed. The journey was hard for this poor woman, but she was committed to finish her final task to complete their education.  But something had changed since her last visit. A small village had taken root only yards from where the normal observations usually took place. Before, all a member of the wood ever saw of a human was just a shadowy figure in the distance. But now humans were right on their front door, unaware of what lay so close. This new sight intrigued the children and made their eyes shine with wonder and amazement. Immediately they asked their teacher if they could go closer to the humans and introduce themselves. She tried and tried in vain to tell them that it was forbidden to interact with humans and that they did not take well to those from the wood. The children did nothing but complain and yell in anger at her for what seemed like hours. She had tried reason and knew that it would no longer work. After all these years of mistreatment she would give them a taste of their own medicine. The children may have been young and strong, but she had the great speed of a wild deer and one by one, swept them up in travel bag she had brought with them. She was angry, angry not at them, but at herself for failing to teach them. She told them in the bag as she stormed off towards their homes that they would never again be allowed to play outside or be unsupervised due to their mistrustfulness. Now being small children of the wood does not mean that they are not intelligent. The moment they were put in the bag they began to plan and scheme for it is in their blood. They soon realized that there in their wool prison, lay not only themselves but all their teachers’ belongings. All of her talismans and charms. Every trinket and item that she ever had used in class. They could have escaped a dozen different ways, but they needed not only to escape from the bag but also not be noticed by their teacher as she continued towards the village in the wood. They decided to use something that was rather unusual for magical creatures of the forest. They used a simple pair of scissors, a human item which she had used as show and tell. Slowly but surely they cut their way out of the bag without the old woman noticing. Once they had all quietly slipped away, they made their way back to the village. Very shortly, all they had ever learned would be put to the test as they made their first steps into a different and forbidden  world.

Tumbler Picture

 

Gay WWII Vet Gets Justice

67 years after being discharged from the United States
Military in 1944 for being gay, Melvin Dwork is having his record cleared. The
military is changing his discharge status from “undesirable” to “honorable”.  This allows him to receive full medical benefits
and to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Both of these benefits come at
a crucial time as the 89 year old enters his final years. He now works as an
interior designer in New York; however it is a miracle that he was able to find
a job at all. Most of those who are dishonorably discharged find it difficult
to find anything above a minimum wage job. What makes Melvin Dwork’s story
unique for me, aside from the fact that he is the first WWII vet to have his
record cleared, is the climate in which he was discharged.

Melvin Dwork was discharged in 1944 during the height of the Second
World War when man power was at a premium. And yet, the military still found it
in them to demonize a human being who was willing to serve his country and die
defending it. The Allies were fighting an enemy who was murdering homosexuals
and Jews by the thousands every day, but a gay could not fight for the freedom
of others while a Jew could. During his time, homosexuality was seen only as a
mental disease that automatically made someone “evil”. An army fighting for
freedom was at the same time denying the freedom of one of its own soldiers. The
circumstances surrounding his “outing” to the military were not as one would
think. He was not making sexual advances towards other service members or
outwardly disturbing others. He was thrown in the brig because of love letters
to his then boyfriend! Millions of love letters during WWII were sent from service
members to their loved ones. But only because his were to a person of the same
sex, he was arrested and sent for weeks to a military psychiatric ward.

This story is very personal for me because not only am I a
gay man, but I also have considered becoming a doctor in the United States
Navy. And I cannot contemplate serving my country and being hated while others
are given medals and treated as heroes.  Hopefully
this will not be the case with the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and a
different socio-cultural environment from when Melvin Dwork was in the Navy.
His story is only one of the almost 100,000 men and women who were discharged
between WWII and 1993 for being gay. Honest people who despite the fear of
persecution and a lack of freedom took it upon themselves to serve us. To defend
our liberty without any thought of themselves. The sacrifices made by those men
and women cannot be repaid. I hope this story reminds us all of the men and
women, gay or straight, who put their lives at risk for those they have never
and will never meet.

Associated Press Article