President Underwood Will See You Now

Originally published in The Bottom Line, March 4, 2015

If you have a Netflix account (or know someone who lets you use their Netflix account), then odds are you were counting down the days to Feb. 27. That date, of course, marked the premiere of Season 3 of House of Cards when all 13 episodes were made available on Netflix.

In the last two seasons, we watched in apprehensive awe as Frank Underwood deviously maneuvered his way to the top. Now “President Underwood,” Frank represents all that is cunning and dubious in his obsessive quest for power. Yet despite his underhanded deals, deceitful politics, and unethical behavior, we find ourselves unabashedly rooting for this political juggernaut. But why, in a country that consistently has 40 percent voter turnout, is this politically-charged show a national phenomenon?

House of Cards’ mass appeal to people who are typically disinterested in politics can largely be attributed to the backdoor world exposed in the show. I like to think our heads of state in the U.S. are more ethical than those in the show (not to say they are completely innocent, but I am fairly confident that murder cover-ups are not on the west wing’s monthly agenda), but House of Cards opens the back door to Washington, D.C. and allows us to imagine all of the unprincipled behavior that runs rampant. House of Cards feels like witnessing a conspiracy firsthand, unraveling the next great political scandal. The genius decision to break the fourth wall between the audience and the on-screen action, which allows Frank to direct his monologues toward the camera, furthers this feeling of back door politics. When he talks to the audience, you can’t help but feel as though you are in the President’s shadow witnessing every handshake, phone call, and internal struggle. This thrill of being exposed to the shady world of politics from the front lines undoubtedly keeps the non-political majority just as engaged.

The dark world of House of Cards is also deliciously devious, which strikes a chord with so many of the coveted 18-34 year old demographic. Frank Underwood’s Machiavellian outlook seems to personify what many of us struggle to balance. We are taught from a young age that if we want something, we must fight against all obstacles to get it no matter what. It is usually implied that murder and extremely immoral behavior are exceptions to this rule, though as we have seen, Frank Underwood has no exceptions. He will use anything and anyone in his way to get what he wants, and while that usually involves navigating outside of the law, we seem to be attracted to his shameless actions. While in real life we know there are some lines we will never cross, no matter what the reward may be, it is strangely satisfying to watch a man with no boundaries or morals chase his goals.

At the end of the day, Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood always keeps us coming back for more. As well-written and produced as a show maybe, there is no doubt that you need the right cast to ultimately sell the show. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright embody the sinister Underwoods so well that you can’t help but be entranced by their performances. So grab a rack of ribs from Freddy’s, possibly a cigarette, and curl up in bed to watch Season 3 of House of Cards, now streaming.

Writing Better Requirements or Riding Into Failure

Originally published by The Bottom Line, April 22, 2015

University requirements can often feel threatening to students forced to take courses outside their major. When a political science major is forced to calculate standard deviation in a statistics class, a biology major needs to read a novel on post-colonial literature, or an economics major must write 10 pages on the principles of sociology, nearly all of these situations result in deer-in-headlights reactions.

While all students will at one point feel out of their element by taking some required course that is not their forte, it is required in order to expand their horizons and widen their skill sets. In the effort to create requirements in the best interest of students, one subject requirement for all undergraduates at the University of California, Santa Barbara seems to have fallen behind. The university currently only requires students to fulfill Writing 2 for their writing requirement, a class that has several ways to test out of and avoid altogether.

Nearly all courses require a hefty amount of writing. We all stock up on blue books come midterms and finals week, we pull all-nighters to turn in that 15-page essay we should have started two weeks ago, and we generally turn in numerous assignments that require basic writing skills. All of this, however, does not substitute the importance of writing courses. Imagine a football team that never held practices because they played in enough games. Overlooking a writing requirement because other subjects require enough writing is just as flawed.

Many skills we are taught in life overflow into nearly all parts of our lives. Learn to be a strong public speaker, and you can succeed no matter what field you choose. Practice critical thinking and apply it to any subject. Writing well is perhaps one of the most indispensable of these lifelong skills that is only of increasing relevance in the technological age.

Today, the technological age results in us using written communication more than ever before. From texts, e-mails, memos, and social media posts, we are consistently writing more than speaking. The Internet also allows your writing to be more visible. A wider audience means more people observing your written voice, style, and even grammar. A stronger writing requirement would mean better preparedness for the world we live in.

Writing well in the modern age not only can dictate your personal life, but your professional life as well. More and more jobs require writing samples or written content along with a cover letter and resume. Employers expect the best skills in written communication from future employees, and a simple mistake could cost you a potential job.

Understanding the lifetime benefits of writing, many Ivy League schools have already adopted a three-level writing requirement, comprised of an intro level writing class, a rhetoric and oral presentation-writing course, and finally, a third level major-specific writing requirement. Strong writing requirements like these propel students past the introductory writing level by creating a foundation for major specific writing skills.

The reality is that writing a blue book final or a few papers per quarter does not sufficiently prepare students for a lifetime of writing well. The benefits of a stronger writing requirement will not only follow students into their other courses, but will remain with them well after graduation. In an age when the world is placing ever-increasing focus on written language, it’s time UCSB did the same.

Never Again? or Never Mind

Originally published by The Bottom Line, April 29, 2015

Associated Students election results came out, the new Apple Watch was released, and Isla Vista Earth Day celebrations were in full swing; it was business as usual at University of California, Santa Barbara last Friday, April 24. I walked by Storke Tower on my way back from lecture where I paused amidst the usual campus bustle—it was just a few hours ago when I stood here at the candle light vigil commemorating the centennial of the 1915 genocide, the 100-year anniversary of an event no one around me seemed to have any clue about.

Sometimes referred to as the “hidden holocaust,” the genocide of 1915 was a period when Assyrians, Armenians, and Pontic Greeks fell victim to systematic annihilation by the Ottoman Turks and Kurds, who notoriously decreed, “No stone left on stone, no head attached to a body,” in reference to the extermination of Christians. Assyrians, along with any non-Muslims, were described as an “internal tumor” that needed to be cut out, and over 3 million of them were massacred as a result.

I went through my normal schedule Friday, but with the date “1915” stamped on my hands. A few friends would question me about the date offering mixed responses, some ignoring the attempt to spread awareness altogether. Replies that ranged from “that sucks” to genuine attempts to understand the catastrophe dotted my daily routine. Throughout the day I felt like I was tiring people with the word “genocide,” as if the two-minute explanation of the first genocide of the twentieth century was somehow a burden to hear or an inconvenient notion to entertain.

The majority of my peers had little to no knowledge about the catastrophe of 1915, and those who did had no idea how it directly affected students on campus. On the night before the 100-year commemoration, the Armenian Student Association organized a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the genocide. Armenian and Assyrian students took turns exchanging personal stories of both horror and resilience, creating a therapeutic environment for descendants of survivors. Any individual who attended left with a deeper understanding of how the genocide directly affects communities and individuals represented on campus.

Yet a notable aspect of the vigil that was missing was the presence of anyone not affected by the events of 1915. Despite the event being massively advertised on campus, only a handful of unrelated students came to pay their respects. What about the tragedy felt irrelevant to students? Why was there so much apathy in an academic environment that breeds open-mindedness? I felt conflicted over our student body’s lack of urgency to participate in this remembrance or even to become informed on the subject at the very least.

It is convenient to isolate events such as the genocide in the past, to conceal the tragedy to history books and ignore the humanity behind century-old accounts. Yet doing so prevents much-needed dialogue on the capacity for mankind to accomplish evil. To ignore the stories of death marches into scorching deserts, forced rape of women in front of their children, and public beheadings is to ignore the possibility of such repulsive evil occurring again. Addressing the depravity of man and the enduring will of the human spirit is vital to creating a future of acceptance and inclusivity.

More commonly, it is easy to place the burden of trauma on the descendants of survivors. 1915 commemoration events are viewed as simply an Assyrian, Greek, or Armenian issue, rather than a human one. Yet the same wicked narrative that prompted the massacres against these minorities is still alive today. Replace Assyrian with Jewish and Islamist with Nazi; substitute Armenian for Sikh and Turk for Hindu; the identical framework used in 1915 was repeated in Rwanda, Ukraine, Darfur, and continues to this day against vulnerable minorities in Iraq and Syria at the hands of ISIS. While we may see each massacre as targeting specific ethno-religious groups, we must remember that evil and hate remain colorblind, even if we are not.

The centennial of the genocide commemorated this year offers a unique opportunity to reflect on some of the darkest aspects of what it means to be human. It offers a chance to struggle between what makes humans capable of both beauty and darkness, a chance to find resolve in activism and awareness, if we allow. Wrestling through these topics isn’t easy, and it is not for those who wish to lead a blissfully comfortable existence, but doing so allows us to fully appreciate culture, diversity, and the tenacity of the human spirit to survive and flourish through overwhelming adversity. As we continue our eventful lives on campus, lets not forget to look a little closer, reflect a little deeper, and strive towards a mutual respect for one another’s past.

OMG! Is txting ruining #English ?!

Originally published by The Bottom Line, April 15, 2015

Illustration by Carrie Ding

We have all heard it before—be it from our grandparents, professors, or Time magazine covers—that texting abbreviations are killing the English language. While reflecting on the addition of lolbrb, and selfie to the Oxford English Dictionary in recent years understandably feels unsettling, texting lingo shouldn’t be seen as a corruption of the English language, but rather an evolution of it.

The new millennium’s debate over streamlining language isn’t the first time people have complained about the changing nature of language. Shakespeare would have scoffed at Victorian English speakers’ “distorted language” just as they were angered by American “bastardization” of words like “center” instead of centre. Ironic that the very language used to criticize vernacular abbreviations was at one time itself the source of controversy.

Many academics have also voiced concern over the constraints technology places on the English language. While it is true that technological modes of communication shorten and quicken conversation, most of the time it is simply streamlining the process. Why peruse an article about breaking news when you can get to the point in 140 characters or less?

That same sense of efficiency is at the root of texting lingo. By typing fomo to a friend, it doesn’t indicate that I don’t know how to spell the phrase “fear of missing out,” but rather that we are so immersed and well versed in the English language that merely four letters can suffice in communicating a thought. Abbreviations are simply a product of a world that is moving faster than ever before. When there is faster Internet to browse, more media to consume, and never-ending news headlines, it is imperative that the speed and efficiency of our communication not fall behind.

In this evolution of efficiency, it is important to note many aspects of the English language that benefit—most notably, grammar. The same college student who hashtags and tweets funny links followed by lmao also proudly displays “grammar snob” or “syntax enthusiast” in their bio header. As more and more communication is occurring through technology and fewer words are actually spoken, it seems more focus is being placed on grammar and punctuation. When a simple period can mean the difference between an aggressive or inviting tone, more and more users will be punctuation-conscious. This delicate focus on punctuation enriches communication and celebrates its intricacies.

It is this attention to the details of the language that has helped English evolve. New abbreviations and alternate punctuation use are indicators of a language that is developing rather than remaining static, progressing without sacrificing value. Open any recent iMessage or Facebook chat, and scattered throughout the conversation are several *corrections, noting that although we want to get 2 the point, we aren’t simpletons.

The popularity and widespread use of abbreviations in tech communication should be seen as just another step towards the future of the English language. Merely keeping up with the fast-paced era we live in, texting lingo is clearly here to stay. So next time someone tries to reprimand you for your streamlined mode of communication, you can tell them 2 gtfolol. jk.