Tican Artists Stickin’ It to the Man

During January, I had the fortune to study in the wonderful Costa Rica. Costa Rica is known for its peaceful policies, the fact that it doesn’t have an army, and its ‘Pura Vida’ – the ‘pure life.’ All across the capital, San Jose, where I lived, artists found their canvases on the walls of the many buildings. The artwork was stunning. What the ticans (Costa Ricans) considered graffiti, the other students and I considered murals.

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An interesting thing that I noticed of the murals and graffiti was that a significant portion of it had anti-government themes.There were stick-it-to-the-man quotes, pictures, and anarchy signs.

Anarchy sign next to an anti - Otto Guevara poster
Anarchy sign next to an anti – Otto Guevara poster

For such a peaceful country and a people that doesn’t like to openly disagree with others, it was interesting to see such a visual display of dissent. To put this in perspective, the anarchy signs were everywhere. On the entryways to stores, on the sidewalk, on the sides of buildings, painted over other graffiti, on billboards, etc. This graphic representation of disobedience raises an important question: Do people listen to the graffiti has to say?

When asked if these masterpieces spoke for the masses, Rakel Solano said, “No, the people who paint the graffiti and anarchy signs are crazy. They don’t know what they are talking about.” Yorlanda Barrantes is also in disagreement with the anti-government messages being depicted through art. In response to the reasons why artists paint this type of artwork, Yorlanda said, “I don’t know why people paint them [the murals]. They are just doing it to do it. The murals don’t mean anything.” While these are just two people’s perspectives, it shows that not everyone is in agreement with what the graffiti preaches.

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“We are Legion,” “We do not forgive,” “We do not forget,” “Respect us”

This brings forth an important point. If the majority of ticans are in agreement with Rakel and Yorlanda, then the murals’ messages will be seen but unacknowledged. The anti-government rhetoric will be ignored as long as the murals are seen as the work of the crazy radicals trying to get attention. Maybe the artists know this. Maybe this is just an a way for the artists express themselves anonymously, without the pressure to expect change to happen. Similar to an anonymous chat room where people can vent, the walls of the city serve as the venting space for artists to let loose. It allows the artists to communicate their views in a space where they cannot be directly judged, while also letting the people of San Jose know that not everyone is completely happy and that it’s okay to have a desire for something different, something better. More importantly, the murals and graffiti let people of Costa Rica know that they can express themselves however they want.

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“The king of the Ring Ring”

 

*Interview translated by Kathryn Brunstein

* Photo Credit: Kathryn Brunstein and Baruch Annink

Minnesota takes on Anti-Bullying

We have all heard the tragic stories of bullying in Minnesota schools. The argument no longer centers around “Is this an issue?” but rather “How can we help make our schools safe for every individual?”. With a state with a reputation as positive as “Minnesota Nice”. Why have we not taken any action to make our schools safer? Well, someone finally did-with the help of many advocates and supporters. i_heart_ss_sq On Wednesday, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed The Safe and Supportive Schools Act into law, a bullying prevention bill that creates a new set of rules for Minnesota schools to follow that will protect students from experiencing bullying from their classmates. It will require school districts to investigate cases of bullying while also providing better training for faculty to deal with cases as they arise in school. The aim is to teach adults in the school to “spot it, stop it, and report it”. Some school board members are hesitant to the new bill out of concern for the cost. Estimates for a statewide implementation have ranged from $5 million to $25 million. Anti_bullyin_posters

A surprising number of people are against the bill due to high cost, however I would argue the end is worth the means. If this bill helps a single student feel safer in their school than the bill will have accomplished something worth while. I am not arguing that money is no object. Rather that the ability for every Minnesotan to get an education and feel safe and respected while doing so makes the price (even if high) worth it.

Dayton shared a wonderful argument for why this type of bill is necessary, “It’s not only to provide the kind of academic excellence our young people are going to need, it’s to provide the kind of emotional, maturational experiences and guidance that they’re going to need to be successful in their lives, to be successful in this society, to be successful in this world”. Though there is some negativity in response to this bill, Northfield Superintendent Chris Richardson is fully on board. He appreciates the clarity this bill will provide for the district in response to acts of bullying in the school claiming, “We’re providing a safe environment right now”. He has acknowledged that the majority of training for teachers and other school officials will take place during teacher workshops prior to the start of school next fall. He is not worried about the “extra” work involved for faculty  as Northfield schools already report and handle incidents as they come up, “We’re providing a safe environment right now”. It will be exciting to have all schools provide the same type of atmosphere as Richardson has said Northfield does.

 

 

http://www.startribune.com/local/254659091.html http://www.southernminn.com/northfield_news/news/local/article_72f56a81-9688-511c-87bc-822b36560d4e.html

Charter Schools: Too good to be true?

There are two charter schools in the city of Northfield, Prairie Creek Community School and Arcadia Charter School. While these two charter school offer an alternative way of learning for students who enjoy alternative means over traditional means or struggle with learning through traditional means, there may be cause for concern when it comes to these schools’ ability to produce students who are academically proficient. This has led state lawmakers to look at cracking down on Minnesota charter schools, many of which are underperforming academically. Both Prairie Creek Community School and Arcadia Charter School produce students who have strong reading skills, but their math scores have historically been lower, often times falling below averages from Northfield Public Schools and state scores. This past year, 44 percent of Arcadia students in the sixth, seventh, eighth and eleventh grade who took the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests were proficient in math, while 61 percent of students statewide showed proficiency. Students at Prairie Creek scored 64 percent proficient but still fell below the 70 percent of students attending traditional public elementary schools in Northfield who scored at or above grade level in math. I choose this topic to discuss in my blog post because it is something that I find particularly frustrating. I once nannied two children who attend a charter school that is project and experience based, does not believe in testing, and allows to children to evaluate their own progress. It all does sound charming and idealistic, and as a child I no doubt would have loved to attend a school such as that one. But I find it quite disturbing that the children who I nannied, who are naturally bright, quite obviously were not where they should have been academically and lacked basic skills, such as telling time. Though children at these kinds of charter schools might be having more fun than children attending public schools I think parents need to consider issues that falling academically behind might cause children later on down the road when attending a school that is more academically rigorous or when taking the SAT/ACT. The state lawmakers are doing the right thing by considering cracking down on charter schools and I think it should have happened a long time again.

http://www.southernminn.com/northfield_news/news/article_28b53ed1-9110-582f-961f-de840d655845.html

Newt Gingrich, Some critiques

I, like many other oles went to see Newt Gingrich tonight, Thursday, April 10, in Boe Chapel. I was excited for the talk as I had only been exposed to Newt’s ideas in as far as the Republican primary debates went (which lets be honest, wasn’t a very in depth look at particular positions).

I sat near the back, and at times had trouble hearing, so I most certainly missed some of the points Newt raised, so I will focus on a few topics.

First of all is Newt’s speech. While he opened well with some mostly well placed humor, I found that much of the speech felt a bit shallow. We got to hear a lot about the future of “new conservatism”, which in very general terms I summarize his description of the term as a refocusing of conservatism on solving pragmatic problems in U.S. government and policy. While this sounds well and good, it begs the question, what is Newt saying about current conservatism if it needs to be refocused on finding solutions as he suggests? Does this mean that today’s conservatives are not searching for such solutions, is it a reference to the constant squabbling in Washington? I would say the latter, considering Newt’s later metaphor of Congress as dancers who dance over the surface of our nation’s true problems. He also seemed to like to invoke freedom, American freedom, freedom of choice and freedom in the marketplace. However, like it might sound, all of this was done in a sort of vague way. He never talked specifically about the nature of freedom beyond that it is what makes us American (or something to that extent, I can’t remember word for word quotes) and he never really addressed how exactly government could stop “dancing” over the issues.

In short, the speech sounded good, it was eloquent, it had humor, and Newt was composed and prepared, but it was hard to determine a succinct point Newt was arguing, and the content underneath it all felt lacking. It seems to me that a campus full of intelligent students could have handled more concrete, substantial stuff than what we got. The essence of intellectualism just didn’t seem like it was quite there at times, especially with all the vague references to “American freedom”, what the founding fathers would have wanted, and his suggestion that we will be the most creatively productive generation since the founding of the nation (on what grounds does he make this claim?). I would have liked to have seen this kind of empty talk to have been left at the doors and rather had a  substantial discussion of the political theory behind his views or something of that nature.

To illustrate my critique I will refer to Newt’s response to a student who asked about his stance on the requirement of religious employers to provide coverage for female reproductive health services such as contraception, counseling and abortion. We essentially got the standard conservative stance, that to force a christian to use their own money to support something sinful is restriction of the freedom of religion, and of course, restricting our freedoms is exactly the kind of thing our founding fathers wouldn’t like.

We have this recurring theme of freedom, freedom is important and don’t let government take our freedoms. Newt used the word coercion to describe the requirements. He is right, actually, that making employer’s provide health coverage is, in essence, coercive. But, so is every law in some way shape or form. Taxation is coercion, as is the use of a police force, and the enforcement of traffic laws. All of these things, and most laws in general, restrict our freedoms in some way. To use the general suggestion that freedoms are being restricted to argue against a law is simply shallow, as restriction of freedom is a common theme among all laws. You cannot give full freedom to all, since this would result in the strongest man controlling all the weakest, not a true freedom at all.

The Affordable Care Act aims to make accessible and affordable healthcare a right for all citizens. Say we make an exception for religious groups to not have to provide reproductive services to women. Problem solved? Well the religious group has not had their rights or freedoms restricted, but we now have a portion of the population who does not have access to the same range of healthcare options as the rest of us, in other words, their right to accessible and affordable healthcare, their freedom, has been infringed upon. In this way we see that all laws restrict freedoms in a way that is designed to benefit society. If Newt does not consider this synthesis of the balance of loss and gain of freedoms, then he is missing an important aspect of lawmaking.

Lastly let us consider this, if I am a religious employer and I am exempt from providing reproductive healthcare to my employees because having to pay for a service which you see as morally decrepit is a restriction of religious freedom, then reasonably I should be able to avoid paying a significant amount of my taxes by the same logic. Say I’m a Christian pacifist; it is a restriction of my religious freedom and hence unconstitutional to require me to pay for something I believe is immoral. Therefore I am then exempt from all taxes that go towards supporting our military? This doesn’t sound logical. But to the best of my understanding the logos of the arguments is identical. We see then that society cannot be run effectively on such standards. The idea suggests that citizens can opt out of participating in society at their whims and discretion, a basis for government which would see society come to a grinding halt.

I’m sure many of my fellow Amconners also went and saw Newt speak so I’d be interested to hear what others thought!

P.S. Colin and Judy, I am just realizing that I was supposed to post last week, not this week. Sorry about that. I had the dates mixed up.

The Price of Sustainability in Portland: Is It Really Worth It?

When one thinks of Portland, Oregon, one often imagines a hipster city with a sustainable focus.  As a native Portlander, I can say from personal experience that environmentalism has become a major dominant culture within the city.  Government initiatives have made many citizens more sustainable and have transformed the city’s sociocultural identity through transportation, disposal, and agricultural initiatives.

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Portland’s local government has proposed and implemented many revolutionary public projects in the name of environmental responsibility.  Biking and public transit are perhaps the most obvious examples of governmental environmentalism.  Funding has made many new bicycle-based transportation features that have increased bicycle use and safety.  In comparison to the national average of 0.6%, Portland has over 6% of the local population who bike to commute.  Additionally, the public transit system is an example of the government-funded environmental stewardship.  Trimet, the existing public transit system is frequently ranked in the top ten of the nation with about 11% of Portlanders commuting using public transit.  Another example that sets Portland apart in sustainable initiatives is the garbage system.  Rather than the usual weekly garbage pick-up, Portlanders have garbage picked up every other week.  In exchange, compost and recycling are picked up weekly.  While this system was initially a bit smelly, the locals soon accepted it, and it is now a thriving sustainable business that processes and reuses previously discarded debris.  Other sustainable practices involve urban farming, a system in which citizens are involved in the individual, inner-city cultivation of produce and animals.  My neighbors own chickens, gardens, and even a goat, and local public schools have created classes focusing on urban farming techniques!  While these examples demonstrate the environmentalist culture of Portland, they also demonstrate the subtle involvement of the government in promoting and shaping the local culture.

Portland

Sustainability initiatives in Portland have expanded and enriched the local culture, but they are ultimately a drain on the local government economy.  Sustainability is very expensive, and as a result, Portland’s taxation and living costs are inordinately high.  The minimum wage is elevated to appease the increase in taxes and is a shocking $8.95 per hour!  This generalized inflation and focused funding has resulted in the neglect of other necessary government services such as sewer systems and education.  Budget cuts and using cheap materials have massively decreased the comprehensive quality of city services.  Everybody poops.  Not everybody requires a bike street.  However, while electric cars and railways combined with localized farming and recycling may initially drain the local economy by requiring new materials and technologies, they have the potential to give back in the long run by creating electric and agricultural independence and lowering our impact on the environment.  Sustainability is expensive, but as a Portlander, I believe that it is truly worth it.

The Oso Mudslide: Stop Fighting Mother Nature

I spent my break in southern Illinois clearing debris from a Tornado that hit November 16th 2013. The tornado cut directly through the Washington Illinois suburb and left hundreds homeless. However during this trip, I couldn’t help but think about the other Washington.

In the morning of the 22nd of March, in Oso, Washington, a massive landslide buried 6 houses and most of their residents  in 30 feet of mud, destroyed everything in its path, and dammed the Stillaguamish River which induced flooding in other developments further downstream. Many officials, including my father had known that this area was unstable, by way of recent studies, and by way of history. Landslides are endemic to this area of Washington. In a 60 year study done by the U .S. Army Corps of Engineers, it was noted that there have been catastrophic slides in this area in 1937, 1942, 1951, 1952, 1967, 1988, and 2006. Additionally, in 2010, Snohomish County had mapped out areas, including this one, at highest risk from landslides as part of their “Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan”.

All hazardous areas in Snohomish County

Interactive map of the Orso Mudslide

Scientists are still unsure as to what set off the landslide, but point out that this area has been insecure for years. Lumber companies do not harvest here because the trees grow crookedly due to the shifting ground, and it is well known that the Stillaguamish is constantly cutting into the already unstable hillside. It was also known that there was potential for a catastrophic landslide owing to the unusual amount of rain in the month of March. So, why were people allowed to be living here?

Zoning officials were still giving the green-light to build new developments along the river up until this event, which could have contributed to residents’ ignorance on the subject of mudslides. But, I don’t buy this. How could residents be ignorant and continue living in this area when a catastrophe is staring at them in the face? A landslide happened in 2006, and based on an aerial view of the land before the landslide shows that little vegetation populated the hillside. Knowing that a landslide is a threat should have been common sense, in my opinion. It is evident from this disaster that some people would rather take their chances living next to a river in the middle of the mountains, as many Washingtonians do, than living anywhere else. But, who are we Seattleites to talk? We continue our lives as normal in Seattle even though we are past due for an enormous earthquake that will most likely destroy the city. Perhaps this disaster indicates the “‘it’s kind of what happens around here’ inertia”, as said by Seattle Times reporter, Danny Westneat. But still this should not erase the blame that is now on officials for knowing the risks, but seemingly filing them away and not preventing people from living in this area. Local officials need to impose stricter regulations in landslide zones. We can’t continue fighting Mother Nature.

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023225339_westneat26xml.html

http://kuow.org/post/oso-logger-we-followed-rules-cut-edge-landslide-zone-cautiously

Child bride poisons husband: change through tragedy?

Last week a child bride who was forced to marry a 35-year old man poisoned him and three of his friends in Kano, Nigeria.

Wasila Umaru admitted to administering rat poison to their food during the wedding celebration. She says that she resorted to the option because she did not love her husband, and also that her father had forced her to marry him.

She is cooperating with the police, and so far it looks like she will be charged with culpable homicide, although her father might not get away free without charges either (thank God).

Nigerian child bride. Sign the source petition if you can!!

According to the Office of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, pregnancy-related deaths are the number one killer of girls from ages 15 to 19. Young Wasila is only 14 years of age, but some girls are forced to marry even younger. Nearly half of child brides are sold into marriage before they are even 15 years old, even though the age of consent is 18.

Considering this, it seems that Wasila’s options were limited, and she chose the most drastic. Should she have continued in her illegal, forced marriage, she would have been sexually abused daily. Running away would almost certainly have been the most difficult way for her to avert the problem, since child marriage is pretty widely accepted in Nigeria and these kinds of marriages are extremely common (almost 40 percent of all girls in Nigeria are married before the legal age of consent); and since her family arranged it, there would be no support even from them.

It seems only the most drastic measures are ever noticed.

Wasila did what she felt she had to do in order to get the help that so many other girls don’t. She’s caught the attention of local authorities and people around the world, people who might be able to effect change someday. Right now she is helping to instigate that change, and her voice is finally being heard.

Is there lead in your backyard/garden? (local)

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If you have any experiences or specialties in dirt, I defiantly have not, than you might know that there is a chance that soil in urban communities are infested with lead and other toxins. I had no idea. Apparently, the number of urban gardeners have grown from 7 million to 9 million people between 2008 and 2013 (Signh).

People have asked the urban gardeners of Baltimore and around 70 percent of people are unaware of these risks. Its not a simple ‘lets take some soil and test it with a toxin lab kit’ ordeal because some of the toxins can not be test for:

Part of the problem is that “there might be contaminants that [gardeners] can’t test for,” says Brent Kim, a program officer at the Center for a Livable Future. Most soil tests look for lead, cadmium and arsenic, he tells The Salt. But they don’t test things like petrochemicals left behind by cars, or cleaning solvents, which might have seeped into the soil from an old laundromat.

Thats a little depressing. Nonetheless, what about the chemicals that can be tested for? Who is responsible to alert property owners and community members about the potential danger? The city? The government? Soil or dirt people? Isn’t it the government’s responsibility to provide citizens with standard essentials that a safe to use. This problem of inability to alert citizens about toxins in standards of life is not a novel situation. For instance, the neighborhood in Hyde Park, in Augusta, Georgia has contaminated soil due to the industrial plants that are ingrained in the community. After extensive tests (took very long time because of environmental racism), about a decade has passed and the community members are still working towards the solution. Yes, so the big picture question… who is responsible to notify the citizens? Is it anyones responsibility? Whats the future for detoxing contaminated soil? How much do you know about your soil at home, if it was contaminated and the toxins went into your garden who would you hold responsible?

Grow your own vegetables, but do mind the lead:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2010/09/29/130212437/fresh-vegetables-but-hold-the-lead

Newbie Urban Gardeners may not be aware of soils dirty legacy:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/04/05/299051466/newbie-urban-gardeners-may-not-be-aware-of-soils-dirty-legacy

This book is about the Hyde Park Case and environmental racism:

http://www.amazon.com/Polluted-Promises-Environmental-Justice-Southern/dp/081471658X

Remembering Rwanda

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, a 100 day period of the massacre of over 800,000 Tutsis. A ceremony commemorating the event began on April 7th, where a re-enactment of the genocide was carried out in the same stadium where the UN peacekeepers came to save thousands of lives.

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Brief History: on April 6, 1994, the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down, killing everyone aboard the plane. About 85% of Rwandans are Hutus, but the small Tutsi minority has generally been in power in the country. Some Tutsis fled to other countries and formed a rebel group, called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The Hutus blamed the RPF for the president’s death, and thus the genocide began. The Hutu militia, called the Interhamwe, were given names of government opponents, husbands were forced to kill wives under the threat of death, Tutsi women were taken away to be kept as sex slaves. ID cards had ethnic groups declared on them, so roadblocks were set up, where they were slaughtered with machetes.

The massacre ended when the RPF and the Ugandan army eventually seized enough territory, and on July 4, marched into the capital, Kigali, and 2 million Hutus fled to the DC Congo, fearing revenge attacks.

Just now are we hearing not only survivor stories, but those of the protectors.

There are some examples of Hutus who helped the targeted Tutsis. Olive Mukankusi was one of the brave people who defied the majority to save others. Hiding Tutsis was punishable by death, regardless of ethnicity. Olive hid 2 girls, 15 and 17, that she had grown up near, as well as another neighbor. Eventually, another neighbor had tipped off the Interhamwe, who came to her house and took her and the 3 refugees out to the killing site by the river. They would have been killed, if not for the money that Olive now kept in her dress at all times. She paid them off, and left the women alone.

Another woman, Godleaves Mukamunana, also took Tutsi refugees into hiding.

“When they talk to me about rescuing, they ask me, ‘Well, you rescued Tutsis, if something bad happened, do you think they would rescue you?'” Mukamunana says. “And I always tell them, ‘Yes they would. I have no doubt about it.'”

But not all Hutus are as receptive. They tell her she is no longer one of them, she becomes ostracized, and the divide continues.
It is so incredibly important to remember the horrible atrocities that history has witnessed, not only to remember our mistakes, as a collective humanity, but also to pay respect to those who became victims and nameless numbers. So many of those who became casualties will not be identified, and so we must remember them. I think the commemoration was a beautiful tribute and reminder to what happens when we let hatred and stereotypes cloud our judgement.  Its hard to see how still how much people are affected by this event. Some of the audience members became so distraught they needed to be taken away because they couldn’t bear to watch anymore.

 

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It’s hard to imagine that as a global community, we let an atrocity of this magnitude happen, and did nothing to stop or intervene. But the people of Rwanda are resilient and hopeful, and determined to never let a situation like this happen again.

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-26925763

http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/04/08/300508669/remembering-rwandans-who-followed-their-conscience

Government Funds Must Be Used For Instructors

North Dakota doesn’t do much in the politics category, at least not in the eastern part of the state, where I live. We have a huge amount of oil in the west and most of the politics are about that. One of the most current politic topics is the Red River. This is the river that divides North Dakota and Minnesota, and it floods every year. A billion dollar plan for the river has come to a standstill in the Congress for diverting the river and saving my town from floods.

However, on a more interesting point, just this past week, one of our senators announced that he was making a bill that would require North Dakota public universities to dedicate up to 80% of their state funding for instructional purposes.

Senator Holmberg’s reasoning for this bill came after he saw a 40% increase in “noninstructional” employees between 2003 and 2011. Meanwhile, the number of “instructional” employees grew only 3.5%

Noninstructional employees are usually directly related to teaching, such as researchers and academic advisors. Opponents to the bill have also said that in this day and age there is a bigger need for IT and institutional research to comply with safety and government regulations.

Yet, by allowing more and better teaching staff (instructional employees) to be hired and keeping the tuition down by mandating the amount of money that can be spent elsewhere, North Dakota colleges could be back on the map someday. There would be lower tuitions and better teachers in order to keep high school students from enrolling in other states’ colleges and universities to fulfill their wish for a better college education than what ND provides.

Compare the 4- year graduation statistics (those who start college for 4 years stay at the college for all 4 years) for the two biggest public universities in North Dakota:

  • North Dakota State University (24%)
  • University of North Dakota (25%)

Because of this, most of my friends (myself included) went to Minnesota instead.