Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Radio-Boston to Sanity, come in Sanity."

Usually the kinds of decisions made after midnight are the kind people regret the next day. Sometimes, nobody gets hurt, and those decisions end up working out. Currently, I’m not sure if this is one of those times. I had been sitting in my room talking with an old friend about our usual topic —the fleeting, and evermore evanescent sense of presence in life— when my brother called me, needing my assistance on an urgent matter. I rushed to meet him and once I saw him he looked into me and said “how do you feel about Boston?”
“Yes. wait, I don’t know. When?”
I later learned that he had hoped, and for some ungodly reason expected, that I could be the voice of reason. That went well.

We sat in the all night diner with my brother’s room-mate, Stu, who had first tagged along for entertainment, but was now in as deep as my brother and I. We looked back and forth at each other, checking one another for the crazy eyes. We all had them and I was glad we did. Our party finished the meal and split off to our rooms, packed, and met outside for one last moment of pause. The sky had been misting down soft sheets of rain all day and now it began to pour.

“This is a little crazy.” It was my final plea to a sense of sanity was slipping. My brother looked at his watch and sighed. “It’s only an adventure if you’re in over your head.”

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Day 11: Bruges to Brussels

Travel Log


June 21, 2013

I woke to the sound of a short, fat, and agitated Dutch lady shooing out everyone that was supposed to be checking out that day. I had not really unpacked, so I collected my things and went downstairs to wait. We would spend the day in Bruges and take the train to Brussels later in the day since they ran every half hour until ten at night.

Pato had gotten mildly sick over the course of the night because “stupid Julio opened the window and I died,” he repeated throughout the morning. Julio denied all allegations. It was obviously Julio’s fault. After everyone gathered in the bar/lobby, there was a disagreement as to whether we would rest bicycles, or not. Pato —being sick— got upset that the bikers would do everything faster and then have to wait for the walkers to catch up, and they would get bored, and the walkers would feel rushed, and “you guys ruin everything,” he concluded–exasperated and out of breath. I pointed out how silly he was being and he gave me to most unamused look I had seen in awhile. His mucous clogged head had a hard time understanding that people on bikes could later rendezvous with the walkers when everyone was ready. We decided to meet in front of the hostel at 6:30 and went off to find a place for breakfast. During breakfast, the walkers (totaling four people) and the bikers (making up the remaining six) intermingled and decided that the feud would continue after we had our bellies filled with eggs, bread, and coffee.

When I met up with all of the bikers after breakfast, Ariel, Mau, and Johnny shot off. Jaime and I followed in hasty pursuit, not wanting to be left behind. We must have taken a wrong turn because we were lost and saw none of our comrades. After waiting a few minutes, we decided “to hell with it all,” and started off towards the small town of Damme by ourselves.

As it turns out, before Al Gore started the greatest mainstream hippie ultimatum of the 20th century, Damme used to be on the sea side and served as a port for Bruges. Today, the sea has receded and Damme is nothing more than a town with an old windmill, eight bookstores (which is quite a lot for a town you can walk across in ten minutes), and a good bunch of sheep. During WWI, Damme served as an ammo depot for the wars being fought in the trenches dug into the now lush green fields that surrounded the town for miles and miles.

It was five kilometers riding between the outsides of Bruges and Damme. The bike path followed a canal that cut through the countryside. Alongside the canal, there was a two lane road and beyond that, two rows of trees, and beyond that, an infinite of farmland disrupted only by a church steeple far off in the horizon. Occasionally, we saw ducks paddling about on the canal doing things that concern ducks and spreading ripples on the surface of the slowly flowing water. The bicycle ride was easy along the flat terrain and Jaime and I went at a quick pace while looking out into the country as much as possible. It was in these moments that I really fell in love with the bicycle. Riding next to the canal in the countryside with the wind and your back, one could put out their arms and stop pedaling, and feel the how the tires of the city bike rolled smoothly on the asphalt. Every minute bump, dip, and pebble that the front wheel passed over resonated through your body and echoed down your spine, raising the hairs on your neck as the back wheel passed over the same bump, dip, and pebble. When we reached the old mill, we stopped and drank water from my glass “Club-Mate” bottle. We parked the bikes behind a cafe next to the road, locked them up, and walked towards the town square. I admired the gothic style town hall (that conveniently had and empty cash machine in the basement) and saw the tower of the church off to the side, on the edge of town. There wasn’t a whole lot to see, so we made our way towards the tower.

By the time we got there —no less than 10 minutes later— it was still only around one in the afternoon and the tower did not open to visitors until two. We saw the gate to the local cemetery was open, so Jaime and I wandered in for a peek. As I walked through the place where people preemptively decided to preserve their earthly remains, I realized that it felt very different from when I walked through them as a child. I remember being afraid of spirits, the anger of the dead, the wrath god, and so on... Now, I walk and marvel at the efforts to hold on to what has already slipped from our fingers. The most ironic part is that the dead get no use of it. The tombstones stand and rot, purely for the use of the living. Cemeteries were far more fun in my younger and more enchanted days.

As we left the cemetery, we ran into Ariel, Johnny, and Mau, who had found their way to Damme despite their lack of a map. We talked about the countryside for a short while until Johnny made us all quiet and looked around. “So... we rented six bikes, and I’m no mathematician, but I count one... two... three—”

“Oh shit, Mancera...”

We all looked at each other sheepishly until Mau broke the stunned silence.

“Oh fuck.... fuck, fuck, fuck fuck.”

After phoning the walkers and doing some backtracking, we decided that Mancera was —in fact— completely lost. With this in mind, we decided that it was high time we went to visit the abandoned ammo depots on the outskirts of Damme. Damme (as it has been mentioned) is rather small, so even taking the long way around to the ammo depot only took five minutes. The ammo depot was just beyond the road in a fenced off field where there were grazing sheep. The fence was only knee high, but we hadn’t really read up on Belgian trespassing law so we were not entirely sure of crossing over the fence. Deciding that we were exempt from laws (of the state, laws of physics, and laws of mortality) due to the fact that we were on a Euro-Trip, we stepped over. The baby sheep that had wandered up to us quickly ran over to it’s mother. We soon realized two things; firstly, the secret to the beautiful lush green European countryside is plenty of humidity and a lot of sheep shit. Secondly, there was a minefield of said sheep shit between us and the ammo depot.

We weaved through the shit to the front of the depot which, as we could now observe, was being used as a sheep den; ripe with the smell of composting sheep shit and hay. We looked inside and climbed atop it since it was mostly embedded in the hill. We took pictures down into the valley and scared off some more sheep as we explored the ruins. We kept a wary eye out for the angry Belgian farmer with a shotgun whom we expected to show up at any given moment.

After playing around the ruins for a while and deciding a winner for our competition of who could make the best sheep sounds, we decided to go back to the tower and climb it.

The tower was old, the stairs were steep, and the mid levels were brimming with bird shit that seemed as if it caked every surface on the inside of the tower. The climb burned our legs —and was particularly gross for Jaime who grabbed a handful of droppings as he climbed— but the view from the top was absolutely spectacular. We could see all of Damme, which really wasn’t all that much, and three towns (including Bruges) off in the foggy distance. The red tiled roofs and church steeples stood out in the fog.

We climbed down from the tower and decided to return to Bruges for lunch. The bike ride back was difficult due to strong headwinds that made cruising any extended distance impossible. When we did finally get to Bruges and picked a restaurant, I sat down and ordered an exquisite beer from one of the two breweries that are within the limits of the old city wall. As we locked up the bikes, we found Mancera who in our absence had gone to drink plenty of beer in one of the many pubs that offered a wide selection of Belgian brews.

After lunch we rode down to a park which locals claimed to be the “frisbee and nice asses park.” Since it was cloudy and had drizzled some during lunch, the scene in the park was sorely disappointing. The park was also labeled as a “good kissing spot,” but Johnny failed to convince any of us with his imitation persian accent. We raced around the park a couple of times and had competitions over who could make the best skidmark. We grew tired and collapsed onto the cold, moist grass, and relaxed. Johnny stayed on the bike trying to pop a wheelie while Ariel tried to push him off the bike. Ariel got bored and joined our conversation about waffles.

Suddenly, just as we were getting into the intricacies of nutella topping, Johnny speeds towards us and jumps off the bike—launching it towards Ariel. The bike veered off it’s hellacious trajectory to revenge and hit an unsuspecting Mancera in the shin and forearm. The group decided that due to Johnny’s misuse of aggression on uninvolved parties had earned him a single, and unblockable nut-tap, as a consequence. The next ten minutes were spent carrying out Johnny’s “trial” and punishment. Our little display was observed by some girls sitting on a bench across the park. They seemed confused, but ultimately entertained by our small slice of unorthodox behaviour. After punishing Johnny, we rode back to the hostel.

Once more we gathered and the bikers and walkers were reunited. We got our things and went to the train station and off to Brussels. I sat on the train doing my best to catch up with my writing (which has been difficult to keep up with) when we heard one of the ticket checkers ticketing a Spaniard because his ticket was not properly filled out. Assuming we would have the same problem, I went to wake a sleeping Pato to get the ticket. We could not quite figure out how to fill out the ticket since it was never explained to us and the directions were in Flemish, so we got screamed at by the ticket man too. He clearly had a larger than average stick up his ass that day. He gave us ambiguous directions and threatened us with a fine if we did not fill out the ticket. After we cleared everything up, I gave him my kindest “thank you” with a decent smile. I find that a nice smile has been getting me more places than my company’s aggravated confusion when dealing with strangers caught in a bureaucratic job. Also, that fine would have seriously cut into my budget. After he left the car, Johnny walked over and said “that guy was a Grade A Cunt.”

Arriving to the hostel in Brussels, I noticed that it was quite different from the others we had stayed in. This one was not next to a bar, there were no prostitutes standing on the sidewalk outside, in fact, it looked a lot like a home. We entered the foyer and into the living room where the check in was handled at a small wooden table set in a corner of the room across from the grand piano. There was identifiable African and South American wall decorations as well as other knick-knacks from around the world. This man was quite clearly well traveled. He gave us a tour of the hostel —which was, in fact, a modified home— and showed us to our rooms. I chose the room where there would be three of us and a stranger because I was getting desperate for some fresh conversation that wasn’t about coitus, or economics. We settled into our rooms and lounged about for a while. One of the other guests, who introduced himself as Mark (from Germany), was wearing a Dead Can Dance band tshirt. He had come to Brussels for their concert tomorrow night. We had a short chat with him. I was a little put off by his shaved head and the fact that he always seemed to have one pupil far more dilated than the other. He also looked like he was constantly on extasy. He was a strange character, but seemed, for the most part, harmless and good natured.

We went down to the patio for some of the guys to smoke and for a ping pong tournament. The owner’s dog, Cesar, watched us from the back door. We laughed and commented on the games like professional sports casters with scottish accents. “My god! Julio’s eye-hand coordination is so atrocious that it makes you wonder, ‘how does he masturbate?!’”

After a while, we went upstairs and began talking without room mate, Sophie MacKay. The guys were getting ready to go out for dinner, but I wasn’t sp hungry and I wanted to do some writing, so I stayed behind. I ended up talking to Sophie the while time. She was an easy going girl from Australia with a lovely accent and a contagious laugh that could have made the walls smile had they the facilities to do so. We excanged observations about culture and family for a good while. She was born in the UK, but moved to Australia at the age of 14 months due to her father’s job as a scientist. She currently lives in London, taking a semester off to do some work and some relaxation. When the guys came back, they joined in on the conversation and while they entertained her I went to shower. I came back and continued to talk and coax that wonderful giggle out of Sophie until one in the morning when— after a very long day— we were all decidedly tired. I said goodnight to everyone and to our new friend and fell into a deep sleep.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Reflections on the Status of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is good. In fact, it’s great. Many people stress about not knowing the future, how current problems in their lives are going to work out, what their love interests are doing or thinking about, but I find a great amount of comfort in the unknown. As graduation time comes around, I feel I should reflect on the status of my life, so that you who have yet to make a major life decision like where and what you are going to study, know what there is to look forward to. In one sentence, life for myself and surely other people in a similar position can be summed up by the phrase “I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, or where I’m going with this, but I’ll just pretend I’m doing something right and see where that takes me.” The feeling is almost like shooting a gun into the breeze, or like watching the horizon. There is no particular target, and if there is one, it seems to be far away and low in the sky.

Don’t get me wrong, senior year is great, particularly when you are 18 and you are granted certain freedoms like what you do with your time, what you drink, where you go, how you spend your money, and a bunch of other things. Many people say that the flipside to this is that the greater freedoms come with more responsibilities. It is ironic how the more “free” we are the more we have to tie us down and hold us back (like said “responsibilities.”) I, again, respectfully disagree with the idea that more responsibility limits freedom. In fact, I would go so far to say that responsibility grants you that freedom and, to a certain extent, makes the freedom worth it. The reason is because responsibility is not something to shy away from, or to pass on to someone else. It is something to take hold of, and act upon. Doing things that you are responsible for and completing them to satisfaction gives you freedom because it means that you have become self-reliant. To a certain extent, when you’re 18, your parents may still be paying some of the bills. The important thing here is that you know that you are at least capable of taking care of yourself and some of the things you have to do. Completing responsibilities that you’ve never had before, like planning your own vacation, paying for your own food, and other things (completing homework doesn’t count) is a lot like receiving your first paycheck from your first job; it does not matter how big or small the paycheck (or the responsibility) is, it is still a significant achievement on the road to freedom. At this point, if you are still relying on your parents to do a whole lot of stuff for you; you should reconsider some of your life decisions. So, Pro Tip number one; responsibility is good for freedom. Note that ‘responsibility’ also means recognizing your own shortcomings and dealing with them; never leave something on the ground for someone else to pick up.

Probably the next big thing that comes to mind when graduating (surprise, surprise) is what you are going to do with the rest of your life. There are several decisions that are expected of you here; where are you going to college, what are you going to study, and to a lesser extent, what will you build your career in (you still have a little bit of time before this one gets to be really important.) My answer to all of these questions is the following:

Credit: Glen Eichler/MTV  Source:

What I often find thoroughly uncomfortable is that people (particularly parents) will often ask what you want to do, but not what you want to do. From the moment this question is asked, we begin to construct our lives in a consequential matter instead of keeping an eye on the end goal. We construct our lives based on what the next step is all while ignoring the master plan. Consider an alternative; what if we decide to build each step of our lives based on an end goal that we want. I’m not saying that nobody would ever want to be a lawyer, or a businessman, or a pool boy for the sake of achieving what they want, but rather, I’m saying that we should allow our goals to motivate what we do as opposed to letting what we do motivate our goals. If your life dream is to become a person remembered for their dedication to the cause of civil rights and you want to do that by becoming a lawyer, then go ahead. What is important is to avoid becoming a lawyer who makes a ton of money and then just donates it to charities that claim to defend civil rights. If you do that, you become one of the reasons so many “why did the lawyer go to hell” jokes exist.*

Keep in mind that there isn’t some ‘system’ out there that you have to go ‘beat’ (although I realize all my friends have decided that I'm going to be a pool boy in the name of ‘fighting the system.’) All you have to do is concentrate on what you want, and let the rest (money, time, location, occupation, etc...) fall into place. If you are keeping up with the responsibilities you have, theres no doubt the puzzle pieces will put themselves together. For example, if what I want to do is travel exotic places, then i should pick a job that allows me to do exactly that because I will enjoy doing it; if that means being a poolboy, so be it. To summarize, Pro Tip number two: It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. I don't know anyone who doesn’t dread waking up one day and realizing that they are unhappy.

Finally, an anecdote about my grandfather. My grandfather always had the best dating advice—particularly for the young folks that are “coming of age”—and he would give this advice to all of his young students and grandchildren. It was an interesting monologue of his, and particularly entertaining to watch if you have already heard it. His—almost imfamous— monologue was as follows:

“If you’re going to ask someone out, don’t overthink it. Just ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ And you know what? I’ll tell you... the worst that could happen is that they say no.”

He would then go on to talk about my how he met my grandmother and so on. While my grandfather may have been talking about asking out the ladies (or the gentlemen), I think that his advice can be extrapolated to more general use. If we ask ourselves “what is the worst that could happen,” when making big decisions, there are generally three possible scenarios. In scenario number one, to put it quite bluntly, you die. In scenario number two, you don’t succeed and in the worst case, you have to start from scratch. Finally, in the last scenario, you
at least achieve some sort of success and you can reassess your position and keep going from there. Quite frankly, none of those scenarios sound all that bad. Although it is to be noted that avoiding death should be pretty high up on the list of life priorities. In the end, graduating from high school is a really cool, exciting, and slightly melancholic moment in life. You are leaving behind friends, hang out spots, cool teachers, perhaps a significant other, but it’s all ok because you’re on your way to something brand new! If you keep your wits about you and have a little bit of common sense, you may make it through the school system and step out into the unknown being someone who—at least somewhat— resembles who you have always been. The difference is that now you will be smarter, wiser and destined for bigger things than a high school diploma.


*Just kidding, lawyers always go to hell. No exceptions.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I am G4M3R: shattering stereotypes.

"I am a gamer. Not because I don't have a life, but because I choose to have many."

I am a gamer, and a self proclaimed geek, and a nerd. I embrace all of them. Games have been a part of my life ever since my father brought home the Game Boy Color with Pokemon Red and Blue for my brother and Ia decision which he thoroughly regrets. My brother and I played and played pokemon, and we fought over whose turn it one to use the only Game Boy. Those games hold a special place in my heart because, as strange as it may sound, they were the beginning of a big change in my life.

I was never a really avid gamer until I purchased Starcraft: Wings of Liberty. Before then I had owned a Gamecube, the varying generations of Nintendo Handhelds (although my brother and I mostly outgrew them after we bought the first DS,) Xbox, and a scattering of PC games here and there. Starcraft, however; Starcraft was something new.

I had played Real Time Strategy in the past and I even owned Starcraft: Brood War (the expansion to the first iteration of the series,) but never had I become so absorbed in the mechanics, timing, strategy and flow of a game. It was not until Starcraft that I realized how much I loved games, and how much Starcraft, in particular, had taught me. While knowing how to four gate, 5 rax all-in, or maintaining proper unit composition are only idiosyncratic to the game and it’s players, I learned a lot about the thought process that goes into solving a problem and how I can improve that process for myself. Starcraft demands that you asses the situation, analyze possible solutions, and react accordingly. All of this should be donepreferablybefore the other player kills you. In my life, this translated to a shift from being passive, inactive, and dependant to a decisive, proactive, analytical problem solver. Granted, there were other things going on in life that changed me too, but starcraft taught me that the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is not good enough. If it isn't broken, but it could be better, then why not demand that improvement?

I won’t lie and say that I only play games where I might potentially gain a new skillset, or that I haven’t spent days of my life invested into what is, in essence, virtual. I have played games just for the entertainment; just because I like the story, because I feel bored, or because I’m avoiding some larger issue (just because I learned how to efficiently deal with problems doesn’t mean that I don’t fall prey to procrastination every now and then.) Moreover, this opens the whole debate between ludology and narratology (for those too lazy to read; it’s about whether we judge a game based on the narrative experience, or take it on face as a game), but we won’t talk about that here. For now, enjoy your games any way you like.

From the most primitive flash game to the awe-inspiring real graphics available to PC gamers, to the cartoonish nintendo style, video games surround us. We connect with them, they connect us to others, andin their more complex iterations they are capable of teaching us. We have all had days where we sit in a living room and play Halo, or Mario Party, and scream at each other in excitement and feigned belligerence. We let those moments pass without realizing what we are experiencing; we share joyful moments with other people, whether they be good friends, or in some cases, total strangers. My parents have never understood my love for videogames, or my willingness to self proclaim myself a “Gamer,” “Nerd,” and “Geek.” All of these stereotypes and sub-cultures riddled with misconceptions as being society’s introverts, pale faced ‘virgins’, and the socially inept darkness dwellers. I embrace these stereotypes because I seek to shatter them. It is easy to be an avid video gamer, engrossed in the narratology vs ludology debate while, at the same time being equally interested in things outside the virtual world. So, looking back at the leading quote; I do disagree. I am not a gamer because I have no life, I am a gamer because it it is part of my life. Maybe we all have a little bit of “Gamer” in us, and that is something that I, for one, take great comfort in.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Double Edged Sword: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of ASF MUN 2013

The ASF MUN 2013 Conference was a success.... sort of. Of course, just like every large event involving the entire upper-school body will have its ups and downs.  As usual, there will always be those who undercut the very concept of MUN, and others will defend it passionately; I usually identify the latter as idealists, or people belonging to the MUN Class itself. While I have usually been part of the brigade that thinks that MUN has always done a brilliant job of trivializing the world’s issues, this year, I would like to write some constructive criticism about the conference.

This year, I was part of the press committee, which allowed for certain many liberties I had never had during MUN before. Firstly, I was free to wander the hallways and in and out of committees in order to find some story or another to write about. I ended up accusing members of the U.S. Cabinet of being addicted to a fictitious drug that I came up with by my own accord, but that’s another story. What this liberty to wander did grant me, however, was the ability to see a lot of what happens behind the scenes and outside of the committees in session. Secondly, press allowed me to talk to lots of people (including the opportunity to address entire committees in the persona of Bill O'Reilly) and discover the varying opinions on MUN. It separates, rather generally, into the people who like it, don’t like, and those who don’t care. A particular distinction must be made between those who do not like it and those who do not care because the people who do not like the concept of MUN wouldn't really have anything to gripe about if it did not exist. Those who don't care seem to take the two days off as a sort of pseudo vacation from everyday school life. What this all comes down to, is the people who like it arguing against the people who don’t like it, each side thoroughly convinced that they are standing up for the people who don’t really care.

Even so, the successes of the ASF MUN 2013 were no small feat. For starters, the new and more focused elite committees were privy to a high level of intellectual content and debate. As a reporter who was rather sick of loud and obnoxious delegates trying to be funny in other committees, these cabinets were a nice place to hang out and interesting to listen to how delegates stepped into their roles and supported their positions with legitimate evidence and data. Also, providing water to the delegates, particularly in the 3rd floor classrooms/ovens, was a brilliant idea. The topics of debate this year were also rather entertaining in some of the committees, while there was of course the time tested and  cliché debates about the legalization of marijuana, there were also topics about using artificial intelligence, space exploration, and how the world bank could fund education in turbulent regions such as Pakistan; facing corruption, terrorist cells, and a general distrust of western institutions. These topics were interesting to listen to when delegates decided to allocate their speech time to the actual topic instead of making fictitious alliances, reinstating the USSR, declaring nuclear war, repeating the same blanket statement that the past three speakers had said, or simply agreeing with everything that had been mentioned and urging a resolution to be passed (by someone else... of course).Furthermore, the use of advisory and homeroom time for MUN preparation was an entertaining new approach to getting people ready to the conference although it did lead to rather hysterical posters with grammar faults that make one really question the academic excellence of the school and it’s students’ ability to communicate coherent ideas. Finally, the new changes in how best delegates were elected by including observing teachers in the process, eliminated suspicions of favoritism and nepotism in the granting of these awards and also added some legitimacy to the entire process.

Unfortunately, when you make 700 students sit in really hot rooms, for sixteen hours of ostensible debate, not everything can really go according to plan. What’s worse is that the ASF MUN Class has to fight against the precedent held at ASF that MUN is a time to screw off and attempt to set new personal records for how many continuous hours one can remain mind numbingly bored; here is where the inherent paradox of MUN arises. On one hand we want to spread awareness about world issues; poverty, water shortages, education, and of course human rights. On the other, we plan to achieve this by forcing people to participate in conferences that deal with these issues. This then takes people who don’t care about MUN, and puts them all into the same room and then expects serious debate about these critical issues. While some people do take these topics seriously, what mostly ends up happening is that Human Rights get trivialized when the delegate of Italy stands up and says “I agree with the previous delegate” every time they stand at the podium. Avoiding these scenarios in committees like the General Assembly and other ‘non-elite’ committees has been a challenge not yet met by the MUN class. Personally, I feel like the MUN class and those participating would get way more out of the MUN conference with smaller, more specialized committees filled with people who actually want to be there. Either that, or MUN needs to be made more accessible at the risk of (further) undercutting the value of some of the issues.

Finally, the touchiest of all the issues; especially for the MUN Press team. This is of course, regarding the two articles that were ‘censored’ from the MUN Paper. One about the mediocre enforcement of the dress code and the other about the “Joys of MUN”. Without mentioning the irony of an activity that exists to promote critical thinking responding to opinions and free press with censorship, the MUN Class did make somewhat of a faux-pas in their reaction to the articles. I never read the article about the enforcement of the dress code, but the point here is that even if the article pointed out a hitch in the MUN conference and gave it ‘bad face,’ the MUN Class shouldn’t simply censor the issue and pretend it didn’t happen. The issue should be presented, discussed, and taken in stride to improve future conferences. The real issue however comes with the censorship of the article written by one of my fellow writers during the conference and closest friends during everyday life. While I do realize that I am target to certain bias in her favor, I do think that her article (featured below for those of you who have not read it) dealing with precisely the issue of how MUN trivializes issues and is essentially forced upon people who truly have a natural inclination to apathy did make her point. Her mistake, I feel, is that she mischaracterized some of the issues in an attempt to write a funny and entertaining article. While it was an honorable goal to send an important message through humor, much like the MUN conference, she lost some of the meaning and incited anger from the MUN class. Quite the opposite of what she wanted to do. While I do agree with the MUN class that phrases like MUN is imposed upon Upper School students like child labor is imposed on Indonesian orphans” are a little much, I think that she does make a point about the “Hungover freshman poking,” and “Paris Fashion Week.” As well as the many committees that devolved into North Korea declaring nuclear war on the world, or in one committee; building a death star. The point here is that while my friend may have over-generalized some of the faults in MUN, she did also make valid points. I Understand why the MUN class is upset, it’s not fun to get criticism about something you worked so hard on. However, if they look past the generalizations, there is some truth to the faults being mentioned, and it is these faults that are hidden and never improved on when the article is censored, and no discussion occurs in amongst the MUN class, or in the student body. Leaving the valid points out in the cold and unadressed, simply labeled and offensive and irrelevant.

All in all, I did enjoy this year’s conference significantly more than the past years, and I saw changes that I would like to see continued like using advisory time for preparation, giving water bottles to the committee, and the socratic reflection at the end of the seminar. At the same time, I think that ignoring, overreacting, and censoring the observations of people not in the MUN class is a huge mistake if we plan on making the MUN conference more enjoyable every year. I experienced first hand all the work that went into running the conference and I think that the potential for an MUN that more people can enjoy is definitely present, but we have to want it, not ignore it.

The Joys of MUN
by: Camila de la Parra

“The delegate of Yemen believes that human trafficking is wrong” said the delegate of Yemen, a little freshman with the tail between his legs. “I yield my time to the chair.” He said as he stepped away from the podium. 
“The delegate of No-Norway believes that human trafficking is wrong” said the delegate of Norway, with a nervous stutter. As she stumbled on her heels to return to her hiding space behind the country’s sign, the Moderator yelled: “delegate, you did not yield your time! We will now entertain comments, please return to the podium” followed by a giant gulp of Starbucks. “Delegate of Algeria, you’ve been recognized.”
- “The delegate of Algeria agrees with the delegates of Yemen and Norway. ” and so it went on at the Model United Nations Conference of 2013 at the American School Foundation. Two days of debates, if we can even call it like that, in which food can buy success, Starbucks can assure safety, “hungover freshman poking” is the preferred sport and you appreciate your smartphone and Facebook more than ever before. With the benefit of missing two days of school, MUN is imposed upon Upper School students like child labor is imposed on Indonesian orphans, debates are as heated as the quesadillas from the cafeteria and teachers are as thrilled as Mr.Lemmon is about skipping classes.
The general agenda for the majority of the committees are as follows: agree with all the countries to massacre any possibility of debate, have North Korea declare nuclear war on someone, have a Muslim country defend female genitalia mutilation followed by a couple of racist comments, an unmoderated caucus, love messages from the delegate of Mexico to the delegate of Zimbabwe, the moderator forcing them to dance tango, sending a delegate to the dungeon for coming to the conference in underwear, denying a couple of outstanding resolutions and passing the one that states that creating a reality gardening show will solve all problems, applauding while it’s out of order and eating chips throughout all of the third session.
This conference is also known as the most intimidating experience for freshmen, who need to stand on a podium and state their country’s position in front of all the seniors. Or also, as the day that debaters get to show off and crush everybody. MUN is among the top three days with more speeches and it is by far the most similar to Paris Fashion Week.
However, even if you can smell apathy in the hallways and hear it in the committees, I’m sure somebody learned something out of the conference. Maybe they even discovered the existence of a new country, not to mention the possibility of someone realizing there are other problems in the world apart from having a two story birthday cake instead of a four story one.
As this year’s MUN is coming to an end, everybody is looking forward to the long weekend and is incredibly grateful for passing the breathalyzer at the school entrance.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The King of New York

Hello readers and friends, 
It's been a while since I have posted. Between College Apps and other activities there has been little time. For now, enjoy this poem.

The King of New York

MAKE WAY peasants!
Das Kaiser has arrived!
Bow before your sovereign
endowed by GOD to rule over men!
I take to my throne
on the corner of 5th and Broadway.
You may call me;
‘Your Majesty’

Peons; do not bother me
with your trifles.
Do not come to me
going on about inequality
or money
Go about your miserable existence
toiling day by day!

Tell me I am dressed in tatters
that my beard is matted
that my hair is oily
I do not care.
I do it so that you,
will not feel inferior
to my ceremonial robes.
so that you may not feel
you are beneath
my exalted locks

I’m not delusional
I’m Brilliant
I am compassionate
but authoritative
and Machiavellian
I am the King of New York

I stand on street corners
I preach to my subjects
I get only funny stares
and they badger me
and heckle me

How DARE they?!
defy their supreme disciple
and burn the creeds they swore to me at birth?!
to walk past their king
without so much as a bow?!
to pass without paying their dues!
I ask not much
only but a penny or two...

Lend an ear countrymen!
Entertain my words!
I am not Crazy!
I am your sovereign
by god given right!
I am your sovereign
by birthright!
I am your king!
I am your king...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ASF: A Place we can call School

Following is the extended article written about school spirit for the 'Americano' school paper. While the article does pass a lot of blame on to the school administration, take a moment to ponder the question "what can STUDENTS do to make ASF feel more like a community?" Please share your thoughts in the comments!

There will always be a distance between a school’s administration and students, as there should be between any citizens and their governing powers. At ASF however, the distance between students and decision-makers rather than being ‘reach across the aisle’ is more like a no-man’s-land reminiscent of the First World War. This creates some pretty obvious issues when it comes to creating mutual trust between students and administrators. More specifically, it drastically harms ASF’s ability to foment a sense of community. If anything, the school’s sense of community has been described by students as ‘non-existent,’ and ‘riddled with apathy.’ The question then arises; how do we change this?

While generating a sense of community is no easy feat, school administration should strive to take the first steps. The first way it can do so is by generating legitimacy with the student body (students have described the administration as “willfully ignorant of student wants and needs.”) While the claim may be overly critical of the administration, it makes a good point; there is a clear disconnect between student needs and administrative action. One only needs to go so far as to look at student government at ASF to understand why students feel they don’t have a say in what decisions are being made. Many ex-officials (who will remain anonymous) have described their jobs on the Student council as “the student activity planning committee.” It should be a lot more than that. Student leaders should be the ones expressing the interests of the student body to administration, not simply planning events with abysmal attendance records like El Grito and the Lock-in. The main problem as one senior puts it is that “the administration holds very little legitimacy with the student body because the opportunities to express opinions that will be taken seriously are few and far between, instead of listening to students and responding to the points and criticisms made, the school relies on passive-aggressive political correctness. [And] unfortunately, students see through that empty rhetoric.” So, the legitimacy of the administration is lost because they are not giving students reasons to care. What is worse is that the reasons given seem hollow and disconnected from the reality of student sentiment. The student went on to talk about the “community building sessions” in advisory which are perhaps the “epitome of empty political correctness.”This is because although they may help build community, people don’t care when there is no incentive to be united.

One of the more controversial decisions made by the school was in 2009 when the school decided to stop allowing students to leave campus after school to buy from vendors outside and then come back to campus for their after-school activities. This action was warranted by alleged security concerns for students who leave campus. It may seem like negligible issue, but it showcases the type of hollow excuses that students see through. If safety were really the issue at hand here, then the administration just wouldn’t let people out of the gates, period. Furthermore, if they are really worried about the safety of students, they would open at least some parking to students instead of forcing kids to park their cars in the back streets behind the school where --on more than one occasion-- kids have been robbed. If safety were really the issue when considering if high schoolers can leave and return to campus, then the administration should be limiting a lot of other things that they do not. The more worrisome idea is what we can logically conclude when we consider that safety is not the issue at hand here. This is where our pocket-books get involved.

The school picks its food provider for the cafeteria by having companies place bids and presenting a plan to show how their company will be more competitive than the others. The problem arises after the contract is given. After signing a contract with the school, whatever service provider that proposed the most competitive plan is given an exclusivity contract. They are to be the only official food vendors on campus. This contract opens the ASF campus-goers (especially those who cannot leave campus) to a number of abuses from the cafeteria. Namely, the cafeteria can name their price, and as long as it is not so ridiculous that people stop buying food, they can get away with it. They are guaranteed a monopoly on food available on campus by contract. This exclusivity contract also means that the company awarded the bid gets exclusive access to ASF campus clientele, meaning that when students used to leave campus to buy food and come back, they escape the agreement between the company and the school. This limitation on leaving campus to buy food and returning for an afterschool activity goes far beyond the superficial whining that most students do. It completely assures that ASF students cannot go anywhere but the cafeteria that appears to be steadily raising the costs of food over time. As long as the doors to the outside are closed, students are vulnerable to price abuse from the cafeteria. The reason for this is because as long as the vendors outside the school are taken out of the equation, the cafeteria is invulnerable to any price competition they create.

The current state of affairs is as follows: students feel abused by the administration, but find futility in attempting to fight the decisions because they feel like they are getting nowhere. In return the administration makes decisions that often marginalize the student body and receive little to no feedback from the people these decisions affect. The way to change this is pretty obvious; school administrators have to give students more power and promote school traditions, not strike them down. Other than striking down the tradition of buying food from outside vendors, there is the prohibition of Senior Prank Day. This particular issue is where the student body gets involved. The reason Senior Prank Day was banned was because senior pranks began going further than just being a fun prank on the student body. The pranks became disgusting, hurtful, and strayed far from the harmless fun a prank strives to achieve. Pranks like throwing animal intestines, blood, and feces are the kind of pranks that lead to the ban of Senior Prank Day. The student body should be planning thoughtful, light hearted and amusing pranks. This goes to prove that the burden is not completely on the administration to create community and generate legitimacy in the student body. Students have the responsibility to make themselves heard and to act in a way that --while it may not be completely approved by the administration-- respectfully proves a point. The student body polarizing itself against the administration achieves nothing, and neither does the administration gain anything by ignoring pleas from the students.

ASF wants to generate conscientious, risk-taking, and globally-aware citizens, and yet they refuse to empower their student body. If ASF administrators truly want to live up to the mission statement of their institution, they should be demanding that students take things into their own hands. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality that governs the student body should be what the administration should be fighting. Not using it to take advantage of students who are complacent with things that are just good enough to be okay. Give students reasons to care, and the rest will come naturally. If anything, ASF would at least increase attendance to events like football games and student run music/open mic festivals. However, so long as the administration continues to marginalise student opinion, students will remain apathetic. Students on the other hand, should accept nothing less than an administration that vehemently supports and protects student interests, activities and traditions (within reason, of course). Removing polarizations between school administration and the student body is the best way for the ASF community to come about. With any luck, it could make school a nice place to be.