(PIKA!) Camp Kesem

While there are many philanthropic clubs and worthy causes on University of Michigan’s campus, one that truly stands out in my opinion is Camp Kesem. This organization breaks boundaries of race, social or economic status, and religion to bring together roughly one hundred children for one week of fun, games, and friendship.

These children, while they stand strong on the outside, have all been affected in some form by cancer, whether it is their mothers, fathers, sisters, or brothers who suffer from the illness. As one may expect, watching a loved one fight the battle against cancer is trying and by no means pleasant. Camp Kesem offers an outlet, a summer haven in which these kids can bond with others in similar situations and give themselves time to heal.

There are approximately fifty counselors, all passionate about the services Camp Kesem provides. They receive the opportunity not only to work with children but also to develop leadership skills as well as experience working with a team. Additionally, for those who are interested in getting involved prior to college, Camp Kesem offers a Counselor in Training program in which they learn what the counselor position entails and get involved in fundraisers and events throughout the year.

Camp Kesem is all over the web. The Michigan chapter has a Facebook, twitter, and website, all with information and content regarding the nature and goals of the organization. The website additionally offers links to various institutions and support centers for those facing cancer in some form of their life, personally or through a loved one. The website also just recently announced that the theme for this summer’s camp will be “Out of This World”, a decision made by votes and feedback of past and future campers.

I have many friends involved in it and they love it. Are there any philanthropy groups at Michigan you are involved in?


(PIKA!) Poetry Blog

For my poetry class, I was asked to create a blog that documented how media played a role in how America saw the Cambodian genocide versus how they heard about Kony 2012. There were three of us in the group total, and we named our blog Media in the Modern World. The posts on our blog pages, in my opinion, are interesting and informative. We agreed that each blog page should include visuals and word content and each group member worked hard to find the posts and explain their significance. My favorite post is entitled, “Poetry of the Cambodia Killing Field” from November 13, 2012. This post highlights a New York Times article entitled “From Misery to Flight: A Cambodian Soars Through His Poetry”. The article gives the historical background of the rise of the Khmer Rouge and Cambodian Killing Fields through the personal accounts of Mr. U Sam Oeur, and also provides excerpts of poems from the “Sacred Vows”, a collection of translated poems he formulated in his mind throughout the genocide. I found this post to be pertinent to our class because it is an example of poetry’s power to convey feelings and information, while also demonstrating the art form as a means of escape. I am amazed that during a time when writing was forbidden, Mr. U Sam Oeur was able to create and record poems via memory. Overall, I found that although initially I was apprehensive about the project because I knew so little about blogging and poetry, I really learned a lot and was proud of the overall product. Have you ever been in a class and felt this way after completing an assignment?

(PIKA!) Finals

Finals. We all have them, we all hate them. We have been learning all year long, working hard, reading most of the readings, writing all of the papers, and trying to pay attention in class…all for one or two tests to determine our final grade. The pressure is overwhelming and it seems that everyone’s moods have clouded over and gloom and misery has begun to consume our campus. Everybody is stressed. It makes me wonder, is it worth it? Obviously we all want good GPA’s and to succeed, but is it worth all the negative side effects? Should it be about the grades or should it be about what we learn?

I wish there was another way to accurately measure how much we have worked in a class and how much information we have actually consumed rather than having to rely on pure memorization and the spewing of this information on one test at the end of the semester. I think this would improve the learning environment overall. Instead of creating anxiousness and fear we could actually invest time into taking the classes we like and really learning, retaining information far after the class is over.

If society were to make this shift all together, I personally think that this type of educational system could take over. I wonder though, would it be as encouraged to enroll in higher education such as college or graduate school, or would learning just to learn be reserved for those with enough time and money to indulge in this luxury? Would more people go straight to the work place instead, or would college still be as popular? What are your thoughts?

(PIKA!) Why I Love Thanksgiving

I love holidays as a whole, but I must say that Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite. I think this stems from the fact that the whole holiday is based on the foundation of social cohesion. The holiday originates from a story about people of various backgrounds and origins coming together to share a meal, regardless of their differences, and teaching one another so that they could coexist more peacefully. There are no religious connotations and there is no fictionalized characters involved, it is purely a historical account of the beginnings of our nation. As much as I enjoy getting presents, the idea of coming together with family for the purpose of sharing food and spending time with one another is far more inspiring. I celebrate Hanukkah, and I can attest that although the anticipation of ripping open a gift is overwhelming (in a good way), I get even more excited going to watch our annual family football game in anticipation of the turkey and mashed potatoes that are to follow. I know Christmas music is popular, but I like that Thanksgiving has no music associations either, and there is no “right” way to celebrate the day. Each family has their own version of tradition that ensues the third Thursday of November and that is what really makes it magical. Also, while Thanksgiving is a family holiday, it is also an easy holiday to spend with friends or friends of the family if you have no family in the area. Thanksgiving is, like I said before, just about coming together and sharing, which is why I like it best. What is your favorite holiday and why?

Facebook Facade

Facebook has given us a means to put on a persona that we are able to present to the world. Everyone does it, whether it is a conscious decision or not. The thousands of pictures on a Facebook page tell a story. I know that when looking at my Facebook, my family and friends make assumptions that I am always with friends, always having a good time, and could possibly come to the conclusion that I attend social outings more often than I spend time in class. In reality, I dedicate the majority of my time to studying, find myself constantly stressed and overwhelmed with work, and stay in on Friday nights when I have an exam the next week. This is clearly not the picture I want to paint of myself to the public. Coming across as fun loving and carefree suits sounds much more appealing.

The ability of tagging or un-tagging pictures adds to our online-mask. Facebook allows us to create posts, status, “like” certain pages, join groups, and publicize events to hundreds of friends. This ensures that the person we make ourselves on Facebook is calculated and well devised. It takes effort to build your page into the best “you” and Facebook gives us the tools to do so.

While I don’t think that this is a lie, it is defintely a falsity. We are putting our best foot forward and using social media to tell a narrative of our ideal selves, but these selves are not the same ones that wake up without makeup, in sweats, eating cereal straight out of the box. So next time you go on your page and un-tag yourself from the unfortunate picture you took last night, think about what the click of that button means.

Can you measure your happiness?

Last week I was walking through the Diag and while not eavesdropping (although this is a habit I do indulge in), I overheard a group of friends talking about how happy they were that that night the dining halls were serving Mexican food. They all were smiling and seemed genuinely excited that a chicken taco was in their near future. To be candid, I was a bit jealous.

This interaction made me reflect on what made me happy? What is being happy? Does everyone have the same definition of this abstract feeling?

Interestingly the answer is no. Some human beings are predisposed to be happier than others. Recently scientists have been studying these different predispositions and levels of happiness, measuring differences on a scale. They have found that while roughly 50% of happiness is a result of genetics, the other 50% is in your control.

So how do you control happiness? What happens if you get dealt the bad hand of genetics and therefore start out as being an unhappy person? I don’t truly understand how this can even be measured and made into research, but it is an area that is increasingly focused on today, especially with the crash of the economy and the degradation of the environment. We are moving away from assessing success and life on a GDP level only and instead incorporating well-being into the measurements. I wonder if this will work and if a country so focused on money and material goods like ours can even make these adjustments?

The “freedom” of choice

Recently, in my environment class, we were discussing the increasingly evident surge of materialism among our generation. We are constantly searching for the “next best thing” whether it is the new IPhone 5, or the just released IPad mini. We encourage each other in both obvious and subtle ways to buy more, buy new, and buy expensive. It is a part of the reality of society that we live in. There are countless billboards; commercials, previews, and online propaganda that tell us that if we spend our money we can be happy, and the options to do so are endless. We are bombarded with different choices in this regard, whether it is cereal at the grocery store, cars at a dealership, or colors of the IPod Nano.

In giving us choices, society tells us we have freedom; the freedom to make decisions. But is this really freedom? Yes, we may have options, but these choices at times seem more constraining. What happens when you can’t make a choice? Is it even your choice if your decision comes from a television ad or something that popped up on your Pinterest?

I think that what we consider freedom is really a form of manipulation. It is the efforts of big companies to get you to buy “more, more, more” because we are told that more is better, and that we must always search for the next best thing. Maybe it is time to take a step back and think about living in a more minimalistic manner, and think about if we really need to take advantage of this “freedom” we are given.

Obesity in America

America is known as the land of opportunity. We have the opportunity to vote, voice our opinions as we please, read and write what we want, and support any cause we see fit. We also have the pursue and education or to work, and we have the opportunity to freely practice our religious beliefs. While our freedoms are substantial, they are not limitless, and the reality of America is far less inspiring. One particular area that falls under this category is health. As a nation, we are in a constant discussion regarding “being healthy”. Unfortunately not everyone has the same access to a healthy lifestyle, especially with regard to food. Depending on variations in income, location, race, and transportation, healthy food may not be an available resource, and whether these food options are accessible can greatly affect an individual’s vitality and overall lifespan. As a whole, low-income neighborhoods, minority neighborhoods, and populations living in rural areas lack the ability to find and purchase healthy foods, which are found primarily in supermarkets. A national study conducted by the Food Trust found that “more per capita full-service restaurants, grocery stores, and direct farm sales are associated with positive health outcomes. Fast food restaurants and convenience stores are associated with negative health outcomes”. A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that an overwhelming 23.5 million people live in areas that do not have supermarkets or full service restaurants within a one-mile radius of their home.

Personally I find these statistics disturbing. We should not live in a country that values equality to highly in principle, but is so far off in practice. Everyone should have the ability to go to the grocery store and have the opportunity to purchase something healthy, not something filled with artificial chemicals and fat. I have a big issue with the fact our country is known for its obesity problem, yet nothing really is being done to fix it. There has to be a solution!

Errol Morris

Errol Morris has become famous for his interesting and innovative interview technique. He appeals to the human emotions by imploring the Interrotron, a device that uses a two-way mirror to project a face in the lens of the camera as opposed to a black circle. This means that the person being interviewed is staring straight into the eyes of Morris as they answer questions, and he is looking right back, but they are not actually facing one another. This technique has allowed Morris to capture some of the most riveting and intriguing interviews of our time. One particular candid interview was the interview with Sondra London who was a “serial killer groupie”. Morris’ technique has the effect of drawing out emotion and convincing the audience that the person staring at you on the screen is delving deep into their memories or past to conjure up the truth, the actual truth, as they see it. It is a strange experience to read or watch. His questions are of the sort that you would find a friend asking another friend. He truly seems to care and participate in the story as it is being told. In this particular interview, London describes her past boyfriend’s obsession with harming or killing women and how this has shaped her into who she is today- a woman obsessed with serial killers. The interview is chilling in its honesty, and it seems truly as if the audience is watching a private conversation rather than a taped interview. I think the technique is extremely effective and plan on researching Morris further. Did anyone else find any interview especially provoking?

Accurate Account of the Debate

After looking around at the endless amount of articles and opinions about the debate, I think that “5 things we learned from the presidential debate” by Peter Hamby, Mark Preston, and Paul Seinhauser on CNN.com was the most accurate in the sense that it delivered the most reliable representation of what occurred at the debate. Overall the article discussed how Romney took the offensive, was at ease, seemed confident in his answers, and really demonstrated that he had the authority to act presidential even next to the incumbent president. On the other hand Obama, though not on the defensive, was not asking the questions or making the statements he could have to provoke the Republican candidate. Instead he seemed a little “lethargic” as the article ensues. He missed opportunities to attack Romney on his tax plan, an area where the polls show that Obama has more of America’s support. He also did not push Romney to explain his 20% tax cut and exactly how that would work while keeping the tax deductions. He did not mention the “47% remark” which could have put Romney on the defensive. The article then states the opinion that Romney wasn’t stellar, but Obama fell short. This I believe is the perfect summary for the evening. Romney did well, yes, but only in comparison to how he has been doing and what he was expected to do, and honestly the expectations were pretty low. Obama on the other hand did disappoint and seemed to lack the courage to be forward and fight, which either is a strategy that the democrats are going to try to use to their advantage or just a failure of the President. In all honestly I don’t see the point in trying to make sense of the debate because I think that it is such a manipulative and senseless process as a whole. I really did not enjoy watching the debate because I felt like so many prevalent questions were left out, my biggest concern being that the environment was not even addressed, and this is an issue that affects all humans regardless of party alignments.  I think that the whole thing needs to be restructured so that it is more straightforward and understandable, not a spewing of numbers and facts that are confusing and may or may not be true. As cynical as this may sound, we are the citizens of a nation that while great has many problems when it comes to the government and its duties to the citizens, and I do not know if these problems can be remedied.