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Sunset from Jan. 1. Great way to start the year.

While I’m not usually a Resolutions! person, there are two glaringly obvious ones:
1. Finish my novel. It’s been going on for over a year now and I’m only just – finally, cringingly – making one Mother Of An Outline (though yes, I am already 200-odd pages in. A bit late in the process, you say? Well, rules were made to be broken. So there.)
2. Figure out where I’m going to college/what I’m going to do with my life.

I think that should keep me busy for quite a while – that and, you know, school. *Cue rant*

I sincerely believe there’s something wrong with our education system, and I’m not just talking about the fact that everyone who has (a) both parents working and/or (b) money saved for college gets basically NOTHING from public universities. Squat. No matter how smart you are, it seems that you get penalized for having successful parents, while less fortunate people get all the financial support. Now, don’t get me wrong – I think that that part of the system is wonderful, though I haven’t done research on exact amounts/statistics, etc. But someone please tell me – what’s so wrong with taxes paying for our educations? Grumble, grumble, yes, I know – more government spending, etc. (If only we’d get out of the wars and not spend *quite* so much on defense… and not extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich… But that’s another cup of soup.) Aside from all that, though:

Most of us unfortunates just got back from our winter/holiday break, back to the drudgery of school. Now, over break, I definitely applied myself. I wrote furiously, I outlined and drafted and redrafted, I designed, and I read Dostoevsky’s Demons (or started to). But the moment I walked into school at 7:02 a.m. this morning (yes, a truly ungodly hour when no mortal being should be awake; no good can come of it), I literally felt my brain begin to shut down. Athletes out there: you know that terrible feeling of unexercised-ness that you get once you haven’t run/biked/swum/etc. in a while? Your limbs feel weak and generally disused? Well, that’s how my brain felt for most of the day. It perked right back up when I got home, put on some sweats and picked up Dostoevsky. Many of my classmates agree – and I don’t think it’s just senoritis: we haven’t learned anything. All those hours spent poring over mundane chem notes last year may have paid off for the final, but if you asked most of us the most basic of elements questions or chemical building blocks, we’d be clueless – and we got As on that final, mind you. Math? Don’t get me started. Sure, I have an A, but have I learned anything? Not so much. Even our AP classes – with, perhaps, the exception of AP Calc and languages – aren’t that academically challenging: while an incredible amount of information is spewed at us, we realize in a panic two days before the test that we haven’t learned anything. Somehow we spit the answers back out, but apply it to anything? Ha. You must be joking.

The problem here seems to be that none of what we’re learning – with a few exceptions, of course – are really applicable, or at least thus far in life. Having been accepted to my colleges thus far (still waiting to hear back from Northwestern and GWU – fingers crossed!), I’ve realized that a B+ in Honors Physics won’t break my chances of having a viable career in the government. It’s just not logical. My independent “studies” – reading the news, etc. – sticks in my head, though. Ask me about Afghanistan or the health care bill or the 9/11 responders bill or START. Those are applicable, modern, at-the-moment. They matter, even for someone not going into political science/international affairs. It’s interesting because it’s our world. The same general concept applies to the fact that I’m so invested in my novel: it’s my project, independent, and totally powered by me. It’s all coming from my mind; there’s no spitting-back-of-of-facts involved, no tests, no nothing – unless I try to get it published, of course. (Fingers crossed…!) But the point is that I’m self-motivated. I want to do this, so it’s extremely easy for me to sit down for three days and focus on getting facts straight. Which city should they be in when This happens? Who should get shot when? What’s the part of this specific gun called, and would it be used by Him or This Other Guy? How is Mexico involved? That sort of thing. I won’t divulge details.  😉

I know it’s very bad form to offer criticism without then offering advice or a plan to fix whatever it is, but that’s what I’m doing. If I knew how to solve this problem single-handedly, I’d probably be doing more than typing away about it on here. But there you have it.

Now, where was I? Ah, right: new year.

Basically, all I wanted to do was to share the above photo with you and share THIS LINK to Dave Barry’s review of 2010. He’s a comedic genius when it comes to writing.

Okay. Off to, you know, be “productive.”

Happy 2011, everyone! Best of luck to you in the coming year  🙂

~ r

PS: Oh, I remembered. I am firm in my belief that if everyone – and I do mean everyone, world leaders included – wore sweats all the time, the world would be a better place. Can you imagine a World Leader declaring war while lounging in buttery soft sweats, loose and comfortable? I think it would be a scene of:  “So we’re declaring war on [major superpower] today, sir/madam?” “Oh… oh, never mind. I can’t be bothered, it’s too early. Plus there’s a Law and Order marathon on.” Really. All anyone wants to do it sleep, eat and generally be happy and comfortable, so while we can’t quite do that – we do need some people to work – sweats is the next best thing. Vote for me for President of the World next year and I’ll guarantee that sweats, always is the new black.  🙂

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The war in Afghanistan: a big, broad topic that can’t be covered in one forum post. Over the past few years, particularly in conjunction with the Iraq War, the United States’ presence in Afghanistan has become more and more controversial. The root of this seems to be, primarily, confusion: many people tend to inextricably link the Iraq and Afghanistan wars when, really, they are two utterly separate enterprises. Before we get into details and debate regarding this decade’s Afghanistan war, though, let’s look briefly at the history of US involvement in Afghanistan (with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden). In the 1980s, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; the Taliban, who had an extremely large presence in the country, fought back (they took control of the government in 1996 and were later overthrown). At the time, the United States’ relationship with the Soviet Union was still very much estranged – the Cold War was still tapering out, really. It seemed to make sense, then, for the US to back the Taliban in fighting the Soviets. The US armed and supplied the Taliban; after all, isn’t the enemy of our enemy our friend? Anyway, once the Soviet Union retreated, so did the US: we stopped the funds and supplies, but never bothered to really keep track of the sub-machine guns, grenades, and rocket launchers we gave to the Taliban. (Bit of an oversight there, I feel, though it would have been impossible to thoroughly do so.) As was previously mentioned, in 1996, the Taliban took control of the Afghani government; however, in November 2001, Kabul fell and the Taliban régime was officially over. Fighting continued, obviously, as an interim government was established; we all know that fighting still continues there today.

Right. Having given that small history, now we can discuss the Afghanistan war today. We went there after 9/11 for obvious reasons: retaliation against attack and a commitment to tracking down and eliminating terrorists. This action was deemed justifiable and reasonable by both the nation and the world; the nation gave Bush an approval rating of about 85 percent in November 2001, and Canada, France, Germany, and Australia pledged future support in Afghanistan. (According to NATO, in 2009, 42 countries had active troops in Afghanistan.) The US’s invasion of Afghanistan, at the time, was viewed as a necessary violent response: had we not responded as such, other terrorist attacks may have occurred. So in that sense, certainly, the Afghanistan war is rightly justified.

The trouble (confusion) arises when people forget that the US invaded Afghanistan for a reason; or, alternatively, that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. It is imperative that they be kept separate: Afghanistan was invaded as a reaction to 9/11, and Iraq was invaded to destroy weapons of mass destruction (which, we later discovered, didn’t technically exist).

So, having clarified all this, today’s Afghanistan War can be addressed to a slightly better degree. Now that troops are being pulled out of Iraq, there seem to be two major views on Afghanistan: one, that we should not be there now – that we’re not doing any good and that the Afghanis don’t want us there – and two, that we should stay in Afghanistan long enough. How long is long enough, though? Until the baby democracy really takes root and begins to sprout of its own accord, as any beginning government should? Until the Taliban is put down once and for all? Until peace is established?

It comes down to what our goals are, militaristically and politically, for the “new” Afghanistan. It seems incredibly unlikely that the Taliban will suddenly be snuffed out and peace will be established; on the contrary, the Taliban is probably the most resilient, determined group in that region – even the world. It would be unrealistic to believe that the world will ever fully be rid of them. As long as there is a Taliban presence in an area, though, any government established by an outside force (i.e. the US or the Soviet Union) is likely to teeter for a while before either being actively overthrown or simply crumbling; with either of those two results, one outcome is constant and that is a reigning chaos. The Taliban thrives is chaos; it is how they derives their power. As long as there is no central pillar (a powerful, dependable government) for the people to turn to, they are easily manipulated by insurgent forces like the Taliban.

This cycle is the true root of the seemingly insurmountable problems in Afghanistan. Despite having had a presence of one sort or another there for nearly three decades, the United States has not managed to make too much permanent, deep-seated change. Certainly, some good has been done, but the fact remains that despite attempts by the US (or any military, foreign or Afghani), the Taliban will retain their order and reform. Today, they’ve all but vacated Afghanistan (to some extent), but they’re not disbanded – they’ve simply moved next door to Pakistan (talk about the neighbors from hell!)

The big question being asked today, then, is whether or not we should still be in Afghanistan. A nation only supports a war as long as they feel it is both justifiable and, more importantly, winnable. Vietnam is the classic example for this: a war that dragged on and on, seemingly endless, sucking away at America’s youth, economy, and enthusiasm. There were troops overseas for years on end, and what did they have to show for it? Nothing. Nothing except a miserable defeat at the bitter end, a defeat which both the veterans and the country may have chosen to forget. No one wants a repeat of Vietnam; however, it seems to be that we’re well on our way to just that.

So will the Afghanistan war be “won”? It depends on perspective. “What the troop-contributing countries want to see is progress…” Gen. Petraeus says in the MSNBC clip. “I didn’t come out here to carry out a graceful exit or something like that; I came out here committed to achieving our objectives and doing everything can to do that.” Which means: we’ll have troops here until our objectives are reached. But what, the public wants to know, are those objectives, exactly? If it’s totally ousting the Taliban and their influence, removing Karzai and his corrupted government and replacing it, and bringing Afghanistan into the twenty-first century, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for that.

Afghanistan hasn’t been totally negative; we did go there with a purpose in the beginning. Once we branched out into Iraq, though, things got fuzzy – to say the least. The US experience in Iraq has definitely negatively affected the public perception of the Afghanistan war, and in situations like this, public perception is a large part of how things get played out. If the people want to leave Afghanistan and we don’t, then the country seems much more likely to turn to a Vietnam feeling of hopeless rage and, eventually (hopefully), protest.

For as long as my – our – generation can remember, Afghanistan has been synonymous with war, chaos, horror, and tyranny. Generations before us have known that and the generations to follow will know that. In the short-term view of things – say, the next decade or so – some positive progress may be made in terms of quelling the Taliban’s influence in the region and installing some semblance of a democratic government. However, in the long run, it seems inevitable that the country will fall back to its former ways – to the despair of the public and the world. Is this victory?

~ r

A few links for your reference and perusal:
Vision of Humanity’s 2010 Global Peace Index. (Afghanistan is ranked third most violent; Iraq is first.)
The Taliban in Afghanistan.
US in Afhganistan timeline.
Pie chart of troops in Afghanistan (by country).
Number of troops per country (overall, not just in Afg.)
Bush poll ratings.
Recent NYT article: election fraud in Afghanistan.


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01.01.10 // twentyten

Happy new year, everyone! Today’s date is 22 in binary, which is the first thing I thought when I woke up at the late late hour (for me) of ten a.m. after going to sleep at four. That’s a crazy sleeping schedule for me, because I’m lame.  😛

Had some cranberry bubbliness en lieu of actual bubbly, which I’m ok with – a bit tart for my taste, but fizzygood nonetheless. Other things on my NYE agenda: various British comedy things (The Office, Black Books, Eddie Izzard, Little Britain), a wild game of  Scattergories, chocolate chip cheesecake at three a.m. (!!!), late-night discussions (boys, prom dresses, college, and religion) (we do know how to party!). Woke up to french toast and grapefruit… yum.

So. It’s 2010 – technically not quite a new decade (that’s next year; 2010 is the last year of this decade. But I digress.)

“All is quiet on New Year’s Day… nothing changes on New Year’s Day”

– New Year’s Day, U2

Very true, if you think about it. Most people use the new year as motivation to stiffen their resolve, start fresh, be better – that sort of thing. But really, it’s just another day. I’m not saying resolutions aren’t good (Learn to sew! Finish your book! Practice guitar! Hone your photog skills! etc.), but you can make them any time. Not to be a downer.

It’s strange to think that it’s another year – 2010 – but at the same time, it’s just another year. I dunno… I guess I just don’t put the same value/significance on the new year. I’m a realist.

Ok, I’m done.  🙂

Zooey Deschanel (via andthecityneversleeps)

(zooey deschanel)

Make it a good one!

~ r

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Today was a rather interesting day. It involved too small heels, too much subway, too much mundane talk, too much coach-to-runner drama, and too many donuts (two).

Spent the majority of the day – actually, I should calculate that to see if it’s true, but I’m too tired, so nope – in Lansing for some student journalism conference… the most exciting part was locating the Subway we’d planned to eat lunch at (ERGH ending with a preposition!) and ending up walking an extra 12 blocks because the map we had was poorly drawn and therefore no help whatsoever. That was where my too-small-in-the-toebox-area heels came in… I hadn’t had any problems with them prior to today, so I’m not sure why my toes are still in pain from the walking…

Cross country was our last workout – fairly easy: 400, 4 x 600, 400. One of our varsity girls was having some trouble – she’s been injured for a while now – and our coach completely, utterly lost it and blew a gasket screaming and swearing at her. As our assistant coach said, “Go,” she took off, crying and cussing not-quite under her breath.

Yeah, join cross country, it’s great.

Then came (after band, which isn’t worth mentioning) Academic Awards Night…

Of 262 students, only enough showed up to scantily fill three rows of the auditorium. This is normal. As the VP droned on and on, name after name of sophomores and underachiever (relatively speaking) juniors and seniors, my friend K and I sat in the front row playing I Spy; my other friend P and I critiqued everyone’s outfits. After we’d finished cheering obnoxiously for our friends – in both normal and manly voices – cider and donuts were served (needless to say, the highlight of the evening). We were talking and we realized something very important:

We’d become those obnoxious teenagers who didn’t dress up (I was still in my XC stuff) and who sat up front, talking through the whole thing and generally not caring.

Now that‘s achievement.

In other news, I just wasted ten minutes typing this when I could’ve been sleeping. Damn. Oh well.

In other other news, I think I’m going to take a stab at NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. The goal: write a novel of 50,000 words/175 pages… in one month (specifically, November). My thinking: XC will be over, and why not take a month of of having a life to crank out an undoubtedly crappy, but nonetheless completed, novel? I have an idea anyway…

In other other other news:

~ r

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[Started this post about a month ago and never got around to finishing it off, so with all my free time I’ve finally done it. Social activism stuff after the thermite. Oh, I’m not sure, but some stuff may be outdated by now… I don’t know. Let me know.]

Such a good day. School – who cares. Did a lot of nothing (biking and working out and thinking and writing) until dinner, after which my older brother and some of our friends got us some thermite and dun made big flames and sparks and steam and whatnot!

Yeah, it’s this great powder you light with magnesium and melt through stuff. Liquid iron (and other cool things) are biproducts, just to give you an idea of just how cool (err, hot – it gets above 4,000 degrees!) it is. A video by Brits who melt through a car’s engine using thermite:

Haha yes, I’m a science geek. Bill Nye is my favourite. Alrighty, moving right along to, umm, social activism/the 70’s/rock & roll – the real stuff.

JAK&JIL. Those glasses remind me of hippies, about whom we are learning (who? whom? As in, whom cares? Haha) in history. Hippies, who started and carried on and weathered out a fine tradition of a cultural revolution. Like it or not, that’s what it was: an uprising in protest of the government. …

Compared to today, where people are content with the way things are. Too content, I feel, and therefore not inspired or motivated to take action for something they believe in. The Vietnam War was the main antagonist of the time, of course, and why should the Iraq war (and all its related baggage it’s dragging along behind it through the blood-stained sand) be any different? Vietnam was to “contain communism”; Iraq is to “prevent terrorism” (although it’s obviously much, much more than that – for simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick with Terrorism Prevention. Mostly). Don’t you see the huge differences between them?
Oh, you do? Could you point them out?
Ah, sorry, that was a bit snarky. But really, it seems to me that both wars have lots of similar characteristics:

1. They could have been pretty much entirely avoided in the first place. (This is arguable, and is a huge argument, but that fact of the matter is that they could have been avoided. It may have been a blow to the US’ pride, but… there it is.)
2. They’re far away and could have been over much, much shorter than they were/are being dragged out to be. (The ‘far away’ part is actually a huge deal; if Iraq were, say, near Canada, people would be prone to pay more attention to it. However, due to the distance – an ocean and a continent – people tend to brush it off).
3. Lots of people aren’t very happy about it. (The difference: people then saw the – for lack of a better word – inhumanity/injustice/unnecessity of it and did something about it. Now… well, I’ll get to now shortly).
4. The government played a dubious role in the whole thing. (No, I’m not referring to Watergate/Nixon, I’m talking about the Gulf of Tonkin resolutionduh. No worries – I only know about it because I’ve just learnt it.)
5. They were both an overextension of American power and, some would argue, imperialism (or something along the lines of that – a show of power, etc.); again with the avoidable/blow-to-pride bit.

Those are they key points.

But the differences? It’s all in the culture, society.
In one of the documentaries I watched, one man said: “You were active. Everyone was. You couldn’t sit back and not be active; your sense of decency prevented that.” That begs the question: are we indecent, as a society, today? Have we lost so much of our morality and lost sight of traditional American values? Democratic values? Even basic human rights? Most people will be flustered by hearing this, indignant, but I beg of you to sit back and think about that. The young people of the 1970’s knew that the war was wrong, but more importantly, their sense of decency made them act upon it. They took risks to make a strong point to their government, their culture, and their society.

What exactly is different about the time of the Vietnam war (a long time) and now? What happened between the 70s and now that made society complacent, content to forget about their country’s wars and be oblivious to current events?
Now it seems that social injustice and war and stuff don’t give rise to indignation (only insult can do that now, I feel), but only seems to dredge up a wisp of emotion, a memory of some feeling of obligation, and [generally] people today aren’t prone to act on that wisp. In some people, however, the wisps turns into a stronger force, provoking them and urging them on to expand their thoughts and experiences and opinions and eventually their actions.

[Protests were not, of course, limited to merely marching around with signs and whatnot. The entire counterculture – sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, their clothes, etc. – all lent to the cause. Some people went so far as to alter their entire lifestyle just to protest not only the war, but the entire culture – the way society was turning. They didn’t like it, so they protested. They acted on their impulses and emotions and thoughts. It seems to me that people today would be too uncomfortable by changing everything about their lives simply to make a point. It’s like we, as a whole, have lowered our levels of mental power and our wills to set things right.]

Another thing: people may say, ‘But what’s the point? It’s not like just because you protest, the war will be over.’ Maybe not immediately – which is another contributing factor, people today want immediate gratification, and they won’t wait for anything – but eventually, if enough people rise to the challenge, open their minds and thoughts and actions, we can fix this.

~ r

PS: no senseless, inane comments, please. Intelligent conversation only.
PPS: sorry, it’s a bit rough/unpolished – as I said, I started this over a month ago and just now remembered about it.

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So I finally broke out of my shell of sickness and ventured outdoors today… not good for my sinuses (I’m over the achy/fever/flu bit and on to a terrible cold), but good for my mental health (and complexion, of course, though I’m still not quite as alive-looking as usual). Walked around, took crappy overexposed photos, and went on the lake for the first time this summer… my little brother and I spent the majority of the time dangling our feet in the water, looking for fish and coming up with as many adjectives for water as possible. Quite entertaining, actually. Anyway, when we pulled up to the dock, he missed hooking it by about and inch, and eventually – after drifting into a bush on shore – ended up stranded, not moving, about 10 feet from the dock. It would’ve been a simple matter to hop out and pull the boat over, had there not been massive thickets of slime-covered seaweed growing in questionable ooze somewhere at the bottom. (Our lake is not known for its clear water and nice, sandy bottom, needless to say). I ended up lassoing the dock with some rope we had lying around and pulling us in, which was a comical sight. But in the end, we did get back on shore. Oh, and to top it all off: as we were coming through the canal, two guys floated by on a rowboat, one standing up and pointing a bow and arrow – yes, a BOW and ARROW – into the water. To shoot fish. I am dead serious. I mean, who does he think he is, Chuck Norris? And the icing on the cake: pulling out of the grocery store, I saw a red pickup truck (the trademark Hickmobile!) with a Confederate flag sticker on the back with the words “Country girl” written above. ‘Ha, more like “stupid girl”‘ my dad said. This led into a conversation about whether or not people who sported Confederate flags actually knew what they were standing for/saying about themselves. One, there’s the sweeping stereotype of HICK, redneck, etc. (Which is usually true… last year, there were these two guys who had a freaking Confederate flag ON TOP OF their red pickup truck. Needless to say, these guys were like the Alpha Hicks of Hickville. Thankfully, they either graduated – not likely – or got kicked out – very likely). Second is the political statement: they wish the outcome of the Civil War had been different, and slavery is OK. Which it so isn’t, as any sane ANYONE will tell you. So really. *deep sigh*

Ah, my exasperation with rural/hick life continues to grow.


emma watson // bazaar


i want to go on a road trip


i love sitting on my roof, even if my dad hates it.

so stuffy.

~ r

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Just wondering: do you keep track of your magazines? Sort them? Put post-its on all your favourite spreads and articles? Colour-sort the stickies?
Or is it just me?
~ r

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