Habits And Harmony

People will never completely change their daily habits and mindsets for the good of the environment, because we are all dependent on one another’s ill habits. If one individual changes their habits, it will cause inconvenience for others, as these new actions will not be in harmony with others’ actions.

Until solid communication and common agreement is achieved between all individuals concerning their actions, very little will change.

We have a long way to go. But we can start by communicating with those closest to us, as well as establishing something within ourselves:

How dedicated am I to changing my ways for the sake of the world around me?

“No Cars Go,” by Arcade Fire

 

This is a reminder.

“We know a place where no planes go / We know a place where no ships go . . . ”

Arcade Fire urges all of us, “Let’s go,” only to say, “Don’t know where we’re going.”

We all are given things, objects, that we do not necessarily desire, deserve, or need. The opposite is true for others, as well. But we all come face-to-face with problems brewing deep in our subconscious, sooner or later—and then sooner or later, we must all go on.

Imagination is where we free ourselves from the turmoil and confusion of reality, of physical things. Dreams are how we escape.

Destination is of little importance. Our dreams, in the end, are the only reasons why we are inexorable. And no object, plane, train, car, or submarine can take us to them.

Only us.

Gerrymandering — A Perspective On The Virus Of America’s Democracy

Gerrymandering: the manipulation of electoral boundaries so as to favor one political party or class. In other words, no matter where you live in the U.S., or who you vote for, it is likely that your opinion is not only unimportant, but predestined, when it comes to elections.

The term “gerrymander” is a practice that had been coined nearly two hundred years ago in the election of 1812, though redistricting has been in use since 1788. Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts created a redistricting plan designed to benefit his political party. The result? A newly-drawn district in Essex county that resembled the shape of a salamander; hence, gerrymandering was born.

Gerrymandering, like the electoral college, is one example of how practices founded to benefit those centuries before our time continue to govern us today, but with far less success. What was put in place to prevent mob-rule is now politicians’ addictive cheat-tool, being used with the excuses that there are simply “no other alternatives,” and that, “it has been this way for centuries.”

The second claim is the problem, but is the first really true? To answer this, one must know the basics of districting, and how gerrymandering manipulates its functions.

A congressional district is an area of a country drawn based on the population. Each district elects one member to the U.S. House of Representatives. The intended purpose of districting is to ensure political parties an equal chance of being represented in the House; to attain this, each of these districts are supposed to be equal enough in terms of party population. Hypothetically, if there are six Republicans and six Democrats in one district, then there is predicted to be an equal chance for the preferred representative of either party to be elected. In terms of fairness, this would be quite the ideal districting situation.

Unfortunately, we do not live in the ideal world—so that situation is unlikely to occur. In reality, party populations would be more unbalanced. There may be six Republicans in a state to counter ten Democrats. Since the Democrats have a larger population, they have a better chance of their preferred candidate being elected.

Districting was put in place to prevent that sort of unbalance, providing each party a fair voting advantage during elections. If the district drawer sees uneven party populations, they can redraw the district lines to even them out.

For instance; say a curtain divides a room with five blue-shirted people on one side and five green-shirted people on the other. We can shift the curtain so that there is a mix of blue- and green-shirted people on both sides. While each side does not have an even mix of colored shirts, it is less concentrated than having all of one color on either side. This is how districting is meant to function.

Gerrymandering, on the other hand, is the manipulation of redistricting. If Democrats are in control of the government, they can use gerrymandering to draw more districts that contain mostly Democratic voters, instead of drawing districts with a more even mix of parties. This is essentially what Elbridge Gerry did to benefit his political party.

So, how did he do this?

A major idea of districting is that the more districts your party has, the more votes you have—as each district receives one vote. The more votes your party has, the more likely your candidates will win seats in the House. The more your candidates win seats, the more power your party has in Congress.

Power—an obvious incentive for politicians to exploit redistricting for their own benefit, instead of using it to preserve honest elections.

There are two methods of redistricting; “packing” districts, and “cracking” districts. When packing, district lines are drawn so as to make more districts for one’s own party, and less for the opponent’s. This is done by surrounding a certain party’s district with those of the opposing political party. This is meant to concentrate those voters into a single district, thereby reducing their influence in the surrounding, different-party districts.

Cracking a district means exactly how it sounds. Cracking occurs when lines are drawn through a large district, filled with lots of people supporting the same party, to crack it into multiple districts; thus, increasing that party’s chance of gaining more votes.

These redistricting methods are supposed to help maintain even party populations. However, since Governor Elbridge’s endeavor to manipulate their uses for personal gain, we have since ended up with more salamander-esque districts than proportional ones.

gerrymander-ncarolina

Some could argue that there is a justification to gerrymandering, in that it allows candidates who would not otherwise be elected, get elected. While this is great news for the candidate, the people end up with a ruler in office whom they did not vote for.

One example of extreme gerrymandering occurred after the 2000 census, in Pennsylvania. Democrat Frank Mascara was running for a seat in the House against Republican State Senator Tim Murphy. Mascara was running in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, along with Murphy, while Democrat John Murtha was running in Pennsylvania’s 12th district. Mascara had recalled that, before the election, his district has been “more or less the same for about a hundred years.” This is was not to be for much longer; during the election, the state legislature consisted of a Republican majority, which decided to play around with Mascara’s 18th district. What ended up happening was extreme gerrymandering; Mascara’s district was redrawn so that it was split between two different districts—the 12th and 18th. The line was so meticulously drawn so that on one side of Mascara’s street belonged to the 12th district, while his house, on the same street, belonged to the 18th. The purpose of doing this was to force Mascara into competition with Murtha in the 12th district. Both Democrats now running in the same district meant that Murphy was able to easily take over the 18th district without competition from the opposing party.

Could these sorts of incidents have been avoided? While some politicians claim that there are no alternatives to this centuries-old practice, it turns out that there have been fresh ideas in the wake towards making change. Following 2011, Virginia had held a line-drawing exercise once a survey voiced that a strong majority of Virginians wanted a nonpartisan district-drawing authority. Despite the effort in holding hearings and the writing of a report of this exercise, the idea had gained little interest, as lawmakers ignored those efforts. Iowa, on the other hand, is one of America’s rarities in terms of the redistricting process—to Iowa’s mapmakers, the process is not political. The three district drawers are not allowed to consider voter registration, past election results, or even the addresses of the current members of Congress. These restrictions help keep the redistricting process impartial to opposing party candidates. Unlike Frank Mascara’s gerrymandering incident, Iowa’s elections generally result in far more competitive races due to its strict regulations on redistricting.

Evidently, there are ways to curb gerrymandering, while not abolishing redistricting completely. Independent boards would be more effective as opposed to the state legislature having control over drawing the lines. Though, this is easier said than done; voters themselves must demand change if any is to be made. A first step forward is to question the motives of gerrymandering itself: Shall we let a decision made for an election centuries ago continue to cause turmoil during elections affecting us today? Or, shall we prepare to release ourselves from being ruled by the dead?

We Are Only Human, After All

A friend of mine asked me this:

“Do you think that people who deny climate change are happier than people who don’t?”

I thought about this for a moment, and responded with a very confident, “Yes.”

I didn’t think long enough. Of course, happiness does not discriminate based upon one’s environmental notions—at least, not wholly. Man-made climate change may sound like quite a reality to an individual struggling with happiness, just as it would for someone who couldn’t be living it any better.

I’ve mulled over my response, and decided that ‘happiness’ was not the right word for this question.

Granted, not all Creationists or hyper-conservatives are happy, but possessing the ability to disregard something that threatens the existence of life on Earth as we know it must alleviate some inherent distress.

I wonder if this is a possible reason for why one might be a denier; they are afraid of being responsible for the fate of the world.

While I lament the choices they make in regards to this denial, I don’t blame them. No matter how many statistics bombard screens, books, and magazines, the fear remains. The confusion remains. And the comfort of choosing denial—not too far off—remains. Some will recede into this pocket of denial, because fear is all-consuming.

We are only human, after all. Fear and fate combined will daunt, twist, challenge our intuitions. The size of the catastrophe is irrelevant. There will always be deniers, because there will always be a flicker of happiness, of comfort, to retreat to—no matter how small.

“Savages,” by Marina and The Diamonds

 

Some people declare this as “humanity’s anthem,” as can be seen by scrolling through Youtube’s comment section for this song.

I somewhat agree.

Marina belts out cuttingly-honest lyrics that could describe today’s world down to a T. Of course, saying it is “humanity’s anthem” would be quite the pessimistic approach, but the truth can be ugly. One of her most compelling lyrics is, “Underneath it all, we’re just savages / Hidden behind shirts, ties and marriages.”

Savages, we are.

Marina has no intention towards euphemism, and so her message gets across quite clearly: Humanity sucks. Why?

“Were we born to abuse, shoot a gun and run
Or has something deep inside of us come undone?”

It seems as if Marina is still figuring that out.

In the meantime, let us chill out to the misanthropic vibes this song has to offer, and contemplate existence from a nihilistic standpoint—and maybe, just maybe, we’ll stumble across the answer.

Fun Fact #3: Poverty In 8’s

The place I live in is a bubble.

Meaning, you can walk down the street gazing upon verdurous lawns and red-painted shutters, instead of crumbling rooftops and lots filled with those scantily curled up onto weathered curbsides.

Though I am fortunate to be living in a place where my and my neighbors’ basic needs are sufficiently met, I realize that living in a bubble does make us disconnected with reality. Witnessing cruelty through the television screen can hurt our emotions, but it does nothing to prepare us for the actual conditions of the world.

We know that people are starving, that homes are collapsing, that our world harbors more deficiencies than we’d like to admit. But do we really know?

Let’s look at the facts.

First up, grain.

Did you know…

…if all the grain currently fed to livestock in the U.S. were consumed directly by people, the number of people being fed would be 800 million? Not advocating veganism, here—but grass-feeding our cows was always an option. (from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma).

Not to mention; according to David Pimentel, professor in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, if those grains were exported (to, say, a region where people are indeed suffering greatly from starvation), doing so would increase the U.S. trade balance by $80 billion a year.

Based on these statistics, I don’t see why our government hasn’t yet jumped at the chance to carry out this world-saving masterplan. I mean, it’s not like there’s anything stopping them besides their corn subsidies, the tendency to partner up with corporations relying on cheap labor, the rules of hypercapitalism, mega-military funding, the current hell-spitting party feuds enrapturing every American’s conscience, and—

I’ll go back to all that another day, perhaps.

Next up—nutrition!

Did you know…

In the year 2000, the U.N. reported that the number of people suffering from over-nutrition—a billion—had surpassed the number of people suffering from malnutrition—800 million.

Evidently, our system is flawed. But who’s to blame? Where did the crazed industrialized ethics escalate, when did the national greed spawn, where did calorie-obsession spike and our impoverished comrades die?

Whether your hourly pay is $24 or $2.50, it is crucial to wonder why. It is crucial to understand that the numbers are climbing. The 8’s will shift to 9’s, and the 9’s to 10’s. What we can do about this is spread awareness, and remain conscious of our own mindsets and actions.

Poverty is real. It is okay to step outside of our bubbles every once and a while to be disturbed, to be afraid, to recoil at the facts and wish to escape. But turn your sorrow into motivation, and speak up instead. The numbers are already there. Now, it is our turn to keep them in mind, to use them, with one word, one action, at a time.

 

Random Act Of Kindness: Write Letters to Loved-Ones And Strangers

typewriter

These recent years have been years of woe; it is more preferred to punch a one-lined spiel into an IM rather than ring up your friend’s phone, and the thrill of receiving an envelope addressed to you in your sibling’s convoluted script happens twice or thrice a decade, maybe less.

Snail-mail is a rarity unless you have a faithful pen-pal or solicitor. Most of us have difficulty remembering how to properly format an address. I cannot recall the last time I received a hand-written letter from someone. To be honest, the random copies of Boy’s Life I find amidst the non-profit forms and catalogs every few weeks or so only lead me into a state of scalp-wrenching perplexity (last I checked, I was never subscribed). These are troubled times, indeed.

Since the letters stuffed into our mailboxes now-a-days have long-worn out of the use of catching up with old companions, why not give it a new purpose? Writing letters are perfect for Random Acts of Kindness. What’s more, the best part about sending a message via postal service is that your words can reach anybody—all that’s needed is an address. No phone number required.

 

Third Random Act: Write And Send Letters To Family Members, Friends, Or Strangers

Why write a letter to a stranger, first of all?

You know that feeling when you find a wad of coupons to CVS in your mailbox, or unexpectedly received a Valentine in high school? Granted, neither have happened to me, but I can safely assume that finding a personal letter in your mailbox comes with just as beautiful a sensation as getting chocolates on V-Day.

This is what I’d hope a stranger would feel if I were to send them a personalized letter. Writing to them is a way to contribute a little light into someone’s mundane routine, and writing about a feeling or conflict you’re experiencing may help you to feel heard, or less alone in your situation. Odds are, the person you’re writing to are, or will be, experiencing something very similar, and be thankful that there is someone else out there who understands.

It is true—it’s a small, but rare thing to receive a letter. This makes it all the more meaningful. I consider this to be a Random Act of Kindness knowing that these days, writing a letter means expressing appreciation and love towards the recipient.

Anyone could shoot me an email or text, but if I get a letter in the mail, I know that the writer has taken a decent amount of consideration before dropping the envelope down into that metal void. If I receive a letter, I feel that someone out there, stranger or loved-one, sincerely cares about me, and loves me.

Loving and caring—two things we need more of in this world. So, start using the power of the pen, and spread some more around!

rak letter

 

Random Act Of Kindness: Leave A Note For A Stranger

Not too long ago in my youth, I used to be in the wonderful habit of leaving these kinds of sticky notes around public places in the attempt assuage my boredom:

illuminati

Mind you, this was to my own great amusement, and no one else’s. Now, I’d like to think I’ve moved on to some more mature hobbies, such as:

hobby 2

And…

hobby

Anyways. Upon recently coming across a few stacks of old Post-It notes, I had the idea to bring my inconspicuous note-writing to the next level. This time, I vowed to put my creativity to use, and came up with something that would leave a stranger feeling special instead of, well—targeted.

Speaking of which, before we commence, I’d like to ask one question:

What is the Illuminati, anyway?

 

Second Random Act: Write And Leave A Note For A Stranger

This can be done in any way you’d like. I chose to pack a bunch of my favorite quotes onto a sheet of paper with a brief introduction. It wasn’t a traditional letter, meaning, I hadn’t intended to write about myself, or to a subjective stranger (it is certainly up to you whether you do, or don’t). Quite simply, I thought that stumbling across a list of quotes would be one way that could brighten a stranger’s day, or at least, make it a little more interesting.

That is the only guideline: Write (or draw) something that you feel someone would be pleased to find. Save the rumors and government conspiracies for yourself, please. Make these notes as positive additions to the universe.

Next—where to leave the note? I walked on over to a park near where I live, sat on a bench,  stuck the note under the armrest, and walked away. Generally, as long as you don’t stuff it into someone’s wallet or lamppost, anywhere should be good.

Happy writing!

park letter

Random Act Of Kindness: Bake Treats For Friends

cookies

I admit it.

I don’t make enough of a conscious effort to be random. Or kind. Not on a daily basis.

Whenever I do attempt a gallant Random Act, I tend to overcompensate by going to the extremes, usually with a lick of stupidity. Once, I gave a homeless man $40—out of my mother’s pocketbook (big consequences for me). Another time, I decided to lend four of my most favorite novels to a few mutual friends. The books were never to be seen again. (Oh, well—I do try).

I want to give Random Acts another try. This time, in smaller dosages.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to experiment with some new Random Acts Of Kindness, and I invite you follow along and try a few out for yourself. I plan to start small, get a feel for humbler actions before participating in a tree-sit, or dumping my entire savings into the hands of the WWF (which will happen in the near future—as long as I can continue dodging student loans).

So, without further ado…

 

First Random Act: Bake Treats For Friends

Wednesday night, I whipped up a batch of my favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe, packed two cookies per pouch of parchment, and hauled them over to school with me the next morning.

I’m the big baker of the group of people who know me. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be surprised when I started dishing out packets of cookies before 8:00 am. But I loved the reactions I got anyway—people were happy to receive them. A few friends didn’t understand when I tried to explain that I was giving food away simply for the sake of giving, but I really do think it made their day. In fact, today, one of them remarked that I’d inspired them to start baking cookies themselves. I’d consider that Random Act a success.

Inspiring someone to make cookies won’t help the world in the grand scheme of things. Still, I decided to do this with the intention of helping worlds—my friends’ worlds. I wanted to do something small, but meaningful. I believe I achieved this. School can be a drag—I know I would’ve loved it if one of my buddies came up to me every once and a while with a freshly-baked cookie to cheer me up.

I encourage you to try it for yourself. Bake a batch of cookies (or any treat!) for your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, the crossing guards, teachers. Bottom line, if you’re a lover of baked goods, it wouldn’t hurt to follow the Golden Rule every once and a while: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Who knows? Somewhere down the line, you might get a free cookie in return.

Life Doesn’t Suck—How To Break Past Routine, And Live Spontaneously

sky-pic

I’ve often wished that life was more exciting.

I wish it were more thrilling—like it is in the movies. In books. Especially these past few years. Growing older, I’ve realized how dull daily life has gotten to be. Heck—as an experiment, I’ve even started recording the hourly interactions I’ve made all throughout the course of the day, and at the end of the week I had planned to compare all seven daily recordings, hoping to spot some variance, or lack thereof. On day three, I trudged through half of the day, and tucked the notebook back into my bag. There was no point in continuing.

Leafing through the last couple pages of the book, the truth was already evident—I was living the same day over, over, and over again. What was the point in recording the rest of the days’ ‘events’? I already knew what was ahead of me. That was certain.

I am an individual—valuable, cherished, loved. I am an individual, with my own erratic creativity. My own quirks. I gravitate towards my own esoteric quips, comrades, dreams. So, how is it that I practically live the same schedule as six-hundred million other human beings? How strange that we all complain about the weekly grind, then collapse into Sundays with a sigh and an apprehensive yearning for more?

Life was meant to be more than this. There, I said it. Otherwise, how could there be movies this stifling, novels this engaging—characters created from the real-life imaginings of people, just like us?

We should not stay confined. We should not stay conformed. Do not adhere to the hushed, unrelenting law of ‘living solely for the weekends’—at this rate, you’ll be wheezing on your deathbed before you can even process this article. We are spontaneous, free-spirited beings—organization is a necessity for survival, but when it comes to living and dreaming, it is true to say that some things are best left turbulent in possibility. Let not our feeble aspirations be sequestered behind some mental barricade. You want excitement? Freedom? A good story not only to tell, but to live?

How about we take a step back. Let’s look at this from a familiar, objective viewpoint, a shifted perspective.

Just like the character in your favorite television series, this is you: just your Average Joe. If you’re a student, you’re a student—you get loads of homework, you hate Mondays. Some of your teachers are cool, and you love seeing your friends. You work hard, sweat and bleed through it all. University awaits!

This description could apply to thousands. Most of you may realize that once upon a time, you fell into this generic five-sentence biography. Now, here is another.

You’re an adult (age is irrelevant). What matters is that if you don’t get that paycheck, you can kiss that roof over your head down to hell. Rent flashes crimson on a weekly basis. Your coworkers are friendly, for the most part. Perhaps you like your ‘job’, though the work can get tedious at times. Too tedious. Sometimes…all you want is to escape.

Here comes the part we all know best, but have little personal experience in. Something completely unexpected happens. The student witnesses a street-fight on their walk home from school, and attempts to break it up. Worker-Bee takes a sick day, and while walking along in the park, he stumbles across a mysterious package left on a bench, unattended. These characters lives are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

It doesn’t seem like a lot of drastic change occurring. Okay, the guy found a package. What if he decides not to find its rightful owner? Exactly—the story would end right there. But here is the choice that determines it all: Will he leave it sitting on the bench and go about his day, or will he try to chase down the stranger who left it there? A simple thing like this leads to a whole other chain of events, and while the first ‘event’ was hardly any change at all, if he never took that sick day and plucked his eyes from his laptop to go for a brisk stroll, he wouldn’t be helping some kid run away to Reykjavik after he’d gotten into trouble searching for his cousin’s squandered travel manuscript. Gradually, the choices build upon one another—and the change hits him like a meteor. This character is now officially deserving of an anime theme song.

My point. We weren’t put in this world to be thrust into a set schedule. We, human beings, have created time, for crying out loud. Monday is simply a word. Your checkerboard calendar could be torn to shreds in an instant. Life can be exciting—and it is. Unfortunately, when everyone fails to realize this, or fully acknowledge it, it is so hard to live on the edge. If everyone in the world is operating under this weekend-crash cycle, then who is there to put the package on the bench? (It’s a metaphor. Bear with me here).

So, how to bring that rarity of zest called “living” back into existence?

Be spontaneous.

I don’t mean you have to throw a party for no reason, or buy your girlfriend some chocolates when it’s not any commercialized holiday. Do not feel the need to force it. Simply let the spontaneity come to you.

When confronted with a choice, go with the option that is more unexpected, the one that is most unlike you.

Here is an example.

A few weeks ago, I went on a walk in this lovely little park near my house. I was just nearing the end of the loop around the green, and spotted a man huddled in a dark coat on a bench by the path, immersed in a novel. Immediately, a dozen thoughts crossed my mind:

“He looks like a bookworm. Bookworms are cool people. I wonder what he’s reading. Should I stop to ask him? What if we got into a really good conversation about books? No—just keep walking. What if the man’s a rapist? What if he’s grumpy? What if he’s deaf, and I look like an idiot attempting to make conversation with him? I’m tired, anyways—there’s no point in stopping. I’ll make a fool of myself. People don’t just walk up to strangers and start talking to them.” On and on.

Somewhere amidst these thoughts, I made up my mind. It wasn’t easy. I repeat: It. Was. Not. Easy. I felt especially unlike myself. I was sweating madly, legs stiff, chest retracting a hundred times a minute. Still, I went up to him. In a meek voice, I asked if I could sit beside him. He let me. After a moment of (very) awkward silence, I inquired about his day. He inquired about mine. So led to the best two hour-long conversation I’ve had in months. We ended up discussing everything ranging from classical novelists to our pets, politics, climate change, writing, music, and random things that we noticed in our own strolls throughout the park.

Sure, the guy was at least forty years older than me—forty, or more, years worth of experience, of knowledge. But age did not matter. I’d made an actual friend. For me, it was a big deal. I’m shy. Awkward. Reserved. I was confronted with a choice. If I had sacrificed my comfortability in my own personal bubble for a moment of social incompetence, this day would’ve been just another chip in the grand drag that is my existence. By choosing differently, it didn’t.

The choices you face may not always be obvious. They will slink into your thoughts so unexpectedly, so capriciously at times. Opportunities will not always be presented to you from someone, or something, else.

Spontaneity is not some gift, not anything that one can perfect over time. Spontaneity goes hand in hand with the choices you make.

We are all capable of catching a thrill, even if that means just the thrill of meeting someone new—but it’s up to you, only you, to choose to act. You can’t wait for something extraordinary to happen to you without first taking the initiative in making it happen. Even a musing so small as, “Should I make plans with friends/Grandma/brother this week?” is a very significant choice for you to make.

Be the one to put the package on that bench. You put the possibility, the opportunity, out there for others to engage in, and soon, more will follow. Soon, more excitement will be in the air, more mysteries will be unearthed, and more friends will be made.