Flint, Michigan: Where Are They Now?

Back in 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan announced that a new pipeline would be built to deliver water from Lake Huron to Flint to save money. While it was under construction, residents of the city used the Flint River as a water source, only to realize soon after that the water started to look, smell and taste funny. Tests in 2015 by the EPA and Virginia Tech indicated dangerous levels of lead in the water leading to a lawsuit charging that Michigan wasn’t treating the water according to federal policies. And not only was the Flint River water not being treated accordingly, but about half of the service lines to homes in Flint were made of lead; since the water was not properly treated, lead began coming into the water supply. This was the status quo for nearly two years.

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The highest lead level recorded in Flint was 13,000 parts per billion (ppb) in 2015. This was more than 866 times the federal guideline of 15 ppb – the upper allowable level, above which immediate remediation is required.

This crisis led to criminal charges for state and city officials, thousands of children with dangerous levels of lead in their bloodstreams, and the disintegration of trust between residents and their government.

Now, four years later, my question is has anything changed? 

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A Flint resident collects water from a distribution center Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP

To date, an estimated 12,000 children have been exposed to excessive lead in Flint. As lead causes irreversible damage to the developing brain, it is extremely harmful to young children. Symptoms include developmental delays, dyslexia and behavioral problems; and in a community like Flint, where urban poverty is prevalent, these symptoms just add to the multiple challenges residents already face. In a recent report, the portion of Flint’s third-graders who tested as proficient in reading at grade level fell from 41.8% in 2013 to 10.7% in 2017.

However, there has been progress. Pipes from main lines to about 6200 homes have been replaced (of course, there are still more than 12,000 homes to go), water lead levels have improved considerably, and Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, as well as Representative Daniel Kildee, were able to secure more than $100 million in federal assistance to replace the contaminated pipes.

Up until last week, Michigan provided free bottled water to those who didn’t trust their tap water, but that program ended April 6, with the government citing the reason being the now acceptable level of lead in Flint.

But of course, even while the lead levels are now deemed safe, there is still much to do. Two top priority concerns that still remain are:

  1. Immediate enforcement of the mandate to get all corroded pipes replaced from the main lines into the homes
  2. State subsidies to help poor families pay for water (this was not granted until 2016 and then revoked in 2017)

To learn more about the timeline of the Flint Water Crisis, refer to this visual timeline provided by Buckfire Law Firm:

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My Spring Break Experience: Thailand

As I stare out my bedroom window into my backyard, I think about Narnia. Yes, the first day of Spring was just a few days ago, but looking outside, I am expecting the White Witch to draw me in with Turkish Delights any second now…

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Having just experienced a snow day, it’s crazy to think that just six days ago, I was laying on a sandy beach, with my toes in turquoise water, basking in the 95 degree heat. While I sit here reminiscing about where I was two weeks ago, let me take you with me on my journey to Thailand, where I spent my Spring Break.

I spent a week in Thailand, splitting my time among basically every landscape this country had to offer. I spent the first few days of my trip in Bangkok, which is the capital of Thailand. Bangkok is a bustling city, one in which you will never run out of things to do. From endless markets to bazaars to nightlife to visiting temples, I could have easily just spent one week in Bangkok. But unfortunately, as my time was limited, here is what I did in Bangkok:

  1. The Grand Palace – 
  2. Wat Arun – Also known as the Temple of Dawn, I was lucky enough to have a hotel room right across from this beautiful temple. Honestly, neither words nor pictures can do the intricate, beautiful design of this temple justice – you have to just see it for yourself. (And if you do, take me on your flight to Thailand please!)

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    Here I am at the base of War Arun!

  3. Wat Pho – Another temple complex in Bangkok, that is also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. You want to know why? Well, because it houses a reclining Buddha that is 150 feet long and is covered in gold leaf! Also, the temple is considered the first public university of Thailand, and has a school for traditional medicine and message. I, of course, had to check out the famed Thai massages myself, and I got one here – let me tell you, I could have stayed at that massage center for my entire trip. It definitely soothed me of all of my exam stress that I had.

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    Can you believe that it is 150 feet long?

  4. LOTS OF SHOPPING AND EATING – I don’t even know if this part of my trip needs an explanation. Bangkok is bustling with market after market and had the best street food I have ever eaten in my life. Honestly, I think I ate the equivalent of six meals a day, because I just wanted to experience everything. But all of the shopping and haggling (which is expected) that I did definitely burned off all of those delicious calories. After all, Deborah Cater said it best: you have to taste a culture to understand it.

Next, I flew to northern Thailand, where I stayed at the smaller, more rural city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was beautiful as it is situated amongst the highest mountains in the country so I always had breathtaking views. The highlight of my trip to Chiang Mai was visiting the Elephant Jungle Sanctuarywhich is a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill-tribes and Chiang Mai locals who were concerned about the welfare of elephants in Thailand. Their mission is to provide as many elephants as possible with the good health, freedom and happiness that they deserve by raising awareness, providing miles and miles of land for them to roam on, and helping create a future where elephants are not ridden, poached, overworked or abused. Honestly, while many people may be doubtful of these sanctuaries, I could tell that the elephants here were very loved and looked after; you could visibly see the bonds created amongst the elephants and the caretakers. Additionally, this sanctuary provides many Karen people with employment, education and financial support. My day with the elephants included learning about their history, learning about the sanctuary, having a delicious Thai lunch, bathing in the river with the elephants, and something I could never say I expected to enjoy, taking a mud bath with the elephants!

(In case you were wondering, I also ate a lot in Chiang Mai. Just assume from hereon that I ate a lot of everything and I ate it everywhere.)

For the last leg of my journey, I flew to Phuket, which is one of the southern provinces of Thailand. Phuket consists of the island of Phuket, which is the country’s largest island, and another 32 smaller islands. From Phuket, I took a ferry to the Phi Phi Islands, where I went on various boat trips exploring the many islands of Thailand. I absolutely loved my experience in southern Thailand as I was able to swim in the beautiful Andaman Sea, canoe in caves, see the legendary James Bond Island, learn about a historical Muslim Floating Village, and hang out with monkeys. There’s definitely too much to write about for this part of my journey, but hopefully these pictures will give you a glimpse of my relaxing few days in southern Thailand.

Overall, Thailand was one of the best experiences of my life. The people were so friendly – I was always greeted with a smile or a head bow (unless I was haggling for a souvenir…my bargaining antics were not always met with a smile). The food was delicious. Truly, if you go to Thailand for anything, go to eat. I can’t stop raving about the food because everything was amazing, from street food to restaurants to the food found on floating markets that you had to eat in the boat. The views were breathtaking and I am thankful I was able to experience multiple sceneries, from the view of Bangkok from the steps of a temple to the views of the mountains in Chiang Mai to the most amazing sunset I have seen in Phuket. If you ever have a free week or honestly, a free couple of weeks so you can really see everything, book your flight to Thailand. This post and these pictures don’t do it justice – you really have to see it for yourself.

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Last of Many WebRegs, First of Many Tears

Guys, it’s happening. The G-word is upon us…. Don’t make me say it. I’m not going to say it. I’ll just find a meme that says it for me instead.

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Last Sunday, I registered for the last time. It was such a bittersweet moment because I thought about the first time I scheduled and how I was in tears because as a freshman, I registered last, and believe it or not, I got none of the classes I wanted. But now, three years later, I changed my major twice, changed my minor twice, took classes that had nothing to do with my major just to explore different topics, and I am still finishing on time having completed every requirement from all 3 schools I am in (SAS, Bloustein, and SCI) on top of finishing my SAS Honors requirements. On top of it, I am interning at Robert Wood, working part-time, and reading….for fun… so listen up underclassmen, you can do it all, I promise you. Want to know how? Just breathe, prioritize, and plan. I’m not kidding. (And yes, in that order).

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BREATHE. 

One of the most important lessons I have learned from my last seven semesters here at Rutgers has been to always take a step back, breathe, and remember that it will all work out. Whatever that it is, I promise you, it will work out. I am an extremely busy person – I take 18 credits a semester, I intern, I work, I am a research assistant, I am a peer instructor, and I am very up-to-date on all my TV shows (yes, I know what I said). Sometimes, I feel like I am on a hamster wheel, never being able to get off. But I make sure I make time every single day to unwind, whether it be by napping, by FaceTiming my little brother, or just hanging out in the kitchen with my housemates. When I feel anxious about a deadline or an upcoming presentation, I forget about it. And by that I mean I literally forget about. I step away from whatever is making me nervous or anxious or worried and I do something else until I am ready to come back to it. Sometimes, you just need a little breather for you to look at something with fresh eyes. Whatever that breather is, yoga, ice-cream, Netflix, going on a run, a nice bubble bath, napping, or writing – take that breather. You can do anything you want if you remember to take care of your own sanity and health first. You come first.

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Prioritize. What do you want? When do you want it done by? First, figure out what you want. When it comes to your classes, explore different subject matters your freshman year. Just because you think you’re pre-med, it doesn’t mean you can’t sign up for Intro to Computer Science or Art History. Join clubs. Go to your professor’s office hours. Talk to someone on a different floor in your residence hall. When you explore, you broaden your horizons. And when you broaden your horizons, you learn what it is you really love. My freshman year, I took Biology, Computer Science, Calculus II, Greek Civilization, and a Public Health class. Some classes stuck…some didn’t. But I learned by taking those classes what I never wanted to do again (I’m talking about you partial derivatives) and what I could see myself spending the rest of my life learning about (Public Health).  So I prioritized. I had three priorities scheduled for myself second semester of freshman year: graduate with a B.S. in Public Health, complete all of my requirements, and get involved in the health care industry through internships and/or research. And that is exactly what I did. By focusing on what I wanted to do first, I was able to better plan the other aspects of my life… which brings me to….

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One tip I highly recommend is to plan out your next four years now in regards to classes. Open up Excel and create a schedule for all of the semesters you have left. I did this my sophomore year and I really wish I did it sooner because it really helped me figure out what classes were offered and when (as some classes are only Fall or Spring) or if two requirements overlapped in class meeting times, what was the best way to handle that. And best thing is, since it’s Excel, if you change your mind or change your major, you can just readjust your schedule and see if you’re still on track with your goals. Use Degree Navigator, the Honors Program website, Course Schedule planner, and your Honors advisors to figure out what classes you want to take and when. This will help you make sure you finish your requirements as well as give you opportunity to plan for studying abroad or internships.

You should also plan your future after college. No, I don’t mean you need to know exactly which graduate school you are going to go to or exactly what career path you want. Rather, I mean you should take advantage of the career-planning resources that are all over campus such as University Career Services or the Career Fair. Drop in and have your resume critiqued or sit with an advisor and learn about different post-grad options. Go to the career fair with an open mind and a pen – just expose yourself to the outside world, because unfortunately, we all have to face the G-word sooner or later.

 

What You Need to Know About President Trump’s (Proposed) Education Budget

President Donald Trump’s pick for the secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, just recently hit the 100th day milestone of her tenure in that position. Just like almost everything else in the Trump administration, her appointment, her words, and her actions have been controversial. Just last week, President Trump’s first full education budget was revealed, and it displayed both Trump and Devos’ desire to shrink the federal role in education and expand charter schools. For future teachers, for current families and children, and for you, the general population, a human being with a beating heart, this new budget should worry you.

President Trump’s Education Budget proposes cutting $10.6 billion in federal programs.

Under this proposal, 22 federal education programs would be eliminated. $1.2 billion for after school programs serving 1.6 million children would be eliminated. Let’s just take a second to fully understand the impact of after-school programs. Numerous studies and decades of research have showed that participation in after-school programs positively impact academic achievement, social and emotional development, prevention of risky behaviors, and health and wellness. Don’t believe me? Search this topic on any reputable academic journal and you will find the same answer. (And I made it a little easier for you: here is a link to the Harvard Family Research Project’s study on this topic). Additionally, after-school programs allow parents to work longer, or work in general, knowing that their children are safe and in a secure environment. After-school programs provide safe spaces for children residing in dangerous neighborhoods. In short, after-school programs offer a plethora of wide-ranging benefits for students, for families, and for society.

Perkins loans benefiting disabled students would be cut by $700 million. Teacher training will be cut by $2.1 billion. Additionally, according to budget documents obtained by the Washington Post, the Trump administration proposes to end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which more than 400,000 students count on in being able to gain an education. Signed into law in 2007 by George W. Bush as part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, this program offers those whose jobs benefit society (government and non-profit employees) the chance to have their student loans forgiven after ten years of on-time, income-based payments. Furthermore, the proposed budget shows cuts to federal work-study funds that help students work their way through college by $487 million.  The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which is a grant for undergraduate students with exceptional final need, would also be eliminated. Programs such as TRIO and Gear Up, which help disadvantaged students in middle and high schools prepare for college, would also see nearly $200 million in cuts. For college students with children, this proposed budget eliminates all funding for Child Care Access Means Parents in School, which is a program that subsidizes campus-based day care for low-income parents earning a degree, and is often the only reason young parents can still be able to gain a higher education.

Increasing access to post-secondary education for everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, external situations, financial capabilities, or disabilities, should be a priority.  It is irrefutable that higher education leads to better health outcomes, higher earning potential, and lower unemployment rates. Not only does higher education benefit the individual, but it also benefits the broader society in general. Why would anyone want to take that away? The Milken Institute released a study that shows that higher education leads to a better regional economy. The report associates education with increases in real gross domestic product per capita and real wages, “linking the addition of one year in a worker’s average years of schooling to a 10.5-percent rise in a region’s real GDP per capita and a 8.4-percent rise in the region’s real wages. The regional jumps in GDP and wages grow even larger—to 17.4 percent and 17.8 percent, respectively—when applied to workers who already hold at least a high-school diploma” (A Master of Degrees: The Effect of Educational Attainment on Regional Economic Prosperity, 2013). With cuts to programs that help students both have access to school as well as stay in school, not only will the student suffer, but the nation itself will suffer.

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This proposed budget helps charters and religious schools, the direction that DeVos and Trump want America’s education future to be headed. The budget proposes taking $1 billion out of the federal government’s Title I funds, which allocates money for states to support education poor children, to instead pay for a new grant program that will give states incentives to fund privately-operated charters and religious schools.  $500 million will be provided for charter schools, which is over $50% of the current funding for charters, and $250 million will be proposed for grants that would pay for “pay for expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools”.

This proposed budget for the future of our nation’s students and overall education is worrisome. The majority of the nation’s college students rely on grants, repayment programs, work-study, and loans to pave their way through college. And it’s not just paying for college that this administration’s proposed budget negatively affects, but also just gaining access to college. With severe cuts to teacher training, to after-school programs, and to public education, children will be negatively impacted. Education is the most powerful investment in our future, and today’s children are tomorrow’s future, so let us allocate our resources where they really matter.

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Unpopular Opinion: 13 Reasons Why (I’m Not a Fan)

*SPOILER ALERT*

 

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Whya 2007 young adult novel that many of us read in middle school or high school, recently became a Netflix-adapted mini-series. Released as 13 episodes thus far, this series focuses on the death of Hanah Baker, and more specifically, on the events and the people that led to her suicide. 13 Reasons Why has already become the most tweeted-about show in its first week of airing, with more than 3.5 million tweets about the series. It has very quickly become Netflix’s most popular series. However, for me, while I completely understand that this show is made for entertainment, and I do applaud how the producers have highlighted many issues that kids, teenagers, and young adults deal with daily, I do have problems with the implications of both the plot and the actual adaptation of the show. Suicide is a very difficult topic to tackle without being reductive, but in my honest opinion, the Netflix adaptation of the topic absolutely did reduce what I believe was the original takeaway of Asher’s novel. With such a wide platform and an incredible amount of resources, Netflix fell short with how they presented this series.

Now, if you like me have both read the book and watched the show, you probably noted a lot of changes between the two. That is, as always, expected when books are adapted into movies or shows. However, when you read the book, and this holds true for any book, you have your own imagery and your own thoughts that, for the most part, stay in your head. Now, when a book is adapted for the purpose of reaching millions of viewers, something changes. You are now forced to watch the story unfold from a specific viewpoint that was created with a specific purpose and message in mind. And of course, you can disagree with what you see on the screen, and still have your own opinion about it, but you inherently allow the new perspective to enter your brain.

The immediate difference between the show and the book, and the one that I think caused me to think that 13 Reasons Why allows people to romanticize mental health and suicide is the time span of the story. In the novel, the entire story takes place basically in one night. Clay receives the tapes and immediately listens to all 13 sides. However, the show spans the story line over weeks, with each side getting its own hour-long episode. This gives the viewer two options: binge-watch all 13 episodes or take the time to get through the show, just as Clay does with the tapes. By allowing for the change in the time span of the story, viewers see Hannah just as much as they see Clay: they get somewhat of a dual narrative, but by doing so, I believe the actual message gets stretched very thin. Now, the viewer focuses on the questions: “Who is most to blame for Hannah’s death” or “Is Hannah telling the truth?” or even “Who wins the lawsuit?” That is not the point. That is so very far from the point. I even found myself wondering about some of those points, even if I already had read the book and had my already-developed opinion of most of the characters. But by creating a long, drawn-out show from Asher’s words, we learn full backstories and personalities of characters that we may have met fleetingly in Asher’s world. Or we think about the characters differently. For instance, in the novel, Jenny Kurtz is the driver who knocks over a stop sign, that causes someone to die. That someone doesn’t really factor in Clay’s life, and thus, in the reader’s life, in the novel. However, on the show, Jenny is Sheri, someone who likes Clay, and the person who dies, Jeff, has a much larger role in the TV show. This makes Clay feel even more like he needs revenge whilst listening to the tapes.

Revenge is not the point. But it becomes the point.

One of the main plots we follow on the show is the one where most of the people on the tapes want to keep Clay from hearing the tapes. We see Justin and his friends trying to bully Clay from talking about it. We see Jessica worrying about if Clay will release the tapes. And we see Clay recording Bryce’s confession, creating an entirely new tape, leaving an opening for another season. And as I have been following the tweets for this show, I can completely see that revenge has become the point for many of the viewers. There are hundreds of tweets expressing how “Jeff Atkins deserved better”, or even less of a point how “hot” Bryce or Jeff is or that viewers wish they had “someone as in love with them as Clay was with Hannah in their lives”. That is not the point. The point is to focus on suicide, on depression, and on mental health. It’s to talk about it and recognize that it is a problem. While this show has definitely spurred the conversation in this direction, how long will we really talk about? Let’s be honest. When we finish the show, will we tweet “I have such a new perspective on this topic. Let me learn more. Let me do something” or will we tweet “Can’t wait for season 2!!!!!!!”

Essentially, my point is that this adaptation of a book that struck me with its point-blank truthfulness failed to capture the truth of suicide on the main screen. Not once was depression even discussed, other that perhaps for all of five seconds in the scene where parents were taught about warning signs of suicide. Changing the way Hannah committed suicide and actually depicting it on screen may have occurred with the purpose of saying “Look at how brutal this is. There is nothing romantic about this. Do you want your mom to have to go through that?” and it is indeed very difficult to watch, but there had to be a better way to be “look-at-me” while still doing something for youth suicide prevention. For teens and even young viewers binge-watching this show, the graphic depiction of the suicide, followed by the continuation of the prior idea of revenge as Clay hands off the tapes to Mr. Porter, the wrong message can be presented. The message becomes: “Look at what everyone else made Hannah do. Look at how many people are to blame for her death”.

That logic is incorrect. None of the people discussed on the tapes forced Hannah to commit suicide. They were definitely a part of why Hannah felt the actions she needed to commit was necessary, but they are not the sole reason. Hannah is the reason Hannah committed suicide. Mental illness is the reason Hannah committed suicide. But mental illness is not discussed. Depression is not discussed. And these things are different for everyone: they look different on everyone. So the point isn’t that Hannah doesn’t seem to fit the traditional mental illness or depression symptoms. Everyone shows their battles in a different way. You cannot look at a person and understand what they are going through. So my problem is absolutely not with how Hannah is depicted. My problem is with how little the producers chose to do with the giant platform they have. The producers knew what audience this show would target. They knew the numbers they would reach, the lives they may have the ability to affect. So why is that they couldn’t put a simple PSA at the end of every episode with resources or information? Why couldn’t they provide links or interviews or any form of awareness and education on the topic of mental health? If their point was to adapt a novel about the reality of suicide, why was it so romanticized?

While I do think this show moves away from actually addressing mental health, depression, and suicide in the way that it should be addressed, I do think it did a terrific job in bringing to light the bullying present in today’s society. I was especially impressed that it did incorporate social media into the plot, which was obviously not prominent in Asher’s novel. Social media is a huge determinant in bullying, in emotional and mental health, and in self-esteem, so I was very glad to see it addressed on such a wide level. It is absolutely pivotal in why so many adolescents battle with depression, with negative self-esteem, with suicidal thoughts, or just a general feeling to be “anywhere but here”. So while the show does provide insight into the cultural world of teens and addresses situations that need to be discussed openly more (such as sexual assault), it trivializes and sensationalizes the main concern, opting to blame only the action’s of others for Hannah’s death, rather than recognizing the complexity of the entirety of one’s mental health.

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Amsterdam: Cycling Capital of the World

Sitting home during Spring Break, scrolling through my Instagram feed, all I saw was sand, sun, and piña coladas. It seemed like every single person I knew was in Cancun. And while yes, I was having massive FOMO, especially when looking outside my window to the massive pile-up of snow, there are so many other places to consider when planning Spring Break. I went to Amsterdam last summer, and it was a city that I immediately fell in love with. Rich with history, delicious food, and beautiful views, it is a great destination for Spring Break or honestly any time of the year when you have a a week to yourself. I especially wanted to highlight the cycling history of this city, so I hope you all learn something new today and add Amsterdam to your travel bucket list.

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When I first stepped into Amsterdam, I was scared for my life. Robbers? Criminals? Poisonous water? No. Not even close. I was terrified because of the bikers. Amsterdam is an extremely bicycling-friendly city, and there are more bikers than drivers, and at that time, it felt like more bikers than pedestrians as well. When crossing the street, I wasn’t worried about cars or buses; I was worried about getting hit by a biker. However, I quickly realized that Amsterdam had set up a great traffic system for bikers, drivers, and pedestrians to get to the same place, and my fears were alleviated.

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So how did Amsterdam become the cycling capital of the world? Well, it began with a need for change. At the start of the 20th century, with a growing economy in the post-war era, more and more people began to buy cars. However, with the growing traffic from the increase of cars in the densely populated neighborhoods of Amsterdam, traffic accidents became rampant. In 1971, more than 3,000 people were killed by cars, with 450 of them being children. These accidents led to protests for change.

Now, today there are about 250 miles of bicycle paths criss-crossing Amsterdam. Here are some more numbers about Amsterdam’s biking use:

Number of bikes 881,000
Number of kilometres cycled by Amsterdammers each day 2 million km
Percentage of Amsterdammers that cycle daily 58% older than 12
Number of pedal boats/canal bikes 120
Total length of cycle paths and bike lanes (Amsterdam Bicycle Network) 767km
Dedicated cycle paths 513km
Two-way cycle paths 275km
One-way cycle paths 236km
Bicycle shops 140
Bicycle parking spots around Amsterdam Central Station 10,000
Secured bicycle parking garages 25 (including 8 free bicycle garages)
Number of bicycle racks 200,000–225,000
Number of bicycle hire businesses 29

Biking is a huge part of life not only for Amsterdam, but for the entirety of the Netherlands itself. Trips from Amsterdam to Delft, Rotterdam, or the Hague can be taken just on two wheels alone. My parents did it when they were my age when they visited the Netherlands and it was really cool for me to bike the same paths my parents did decades ago.

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Overall, this city is extremely unique in the way they have made cars their guests. It is an experience like no other and it is so beautiful to just be able to bike from one end of the city to another, on the side of the beautiful canals, taking in the fresh air. Amsterdam was one of my favorite places I have traveled to and I highly recommend it for you to consider when planning your next trip.

 

Facts Matter. Our Planet Matters.

No matter what side you are on in any debate, on any topic, facts do matter. Whether you are against something or for something or if you have truly no opinion, it is still vital to know why you stand for a particular position. For me, understanding the reality behind climate change is essential, and that is what I want to bring to your attention today.

So what is climate change? As the phrase itself indicates, it is the process of temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind and seasons (elements of climate) shifting. Monitoring climate change is important as it shapes natural ecosystems, which in turns, shapes us humans and the way we live. While some changes in the climate are expected, the current problem lies in the rate at which those changes have been progressing. The most important shift we are currently concerned with is the warming of the planet, known as global warming. According to Washington state’s Department of Ecology, “rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere have warmed the Earth and are causing wide-ranging impacts, including rising sea levels; melting snow and ice; more extreme heat events, fires and drought; and more extreme storms, rainfall and floods”. To better understand the shifts in not just the temperature, but also the climate as a whole, here is a visual indicating climate change trends in the U.S.A.

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On a broader level, here is how global warming is predicted to impact the entirety of the world:

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These trends are projected to not only continue but to also accelerate, and they will pose significant risks to both humans and to our planet. Global warming impacts our health, our agriculture, our freshwater supplies, our coastlines, and natural resources that are vital for the survival of the human race. But we’re not responsible for this, correct? This is an environmental problem, not a us problem, right? Wrong. Absolutely wrong. Humans are very much so responsible for climate change; just take a look at this visual explanation.

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To sum up some facts and numbers, let’s look at data provided by both NASA and the U.N. (this information is readily available on their websites).

  • The current warming rate of the planet is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.
  • Increased levels of greenhouse gases causes the Earth to warm in response.
  • Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
  • Most of the warming of the earth’s surface occurred in the past 35 years, with 15 of the 16 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.
  • The year 2015 was the first time the global average temperatures were 1 degree Celsius or more above the 1880-1899 average.
  • Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland has lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
  • Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans.
And for you visual learners, here are some data-driven images that I believe hit the nail on the head:
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Let’s be the generation that recognizes climate change as a detrimental issue. It affects us today, it will affect us tomorrow, and it will continue shaping how we live on this planet. We survive as long as Mother Earth survives, so let’s remember that it is our responsibility to take steps to halt global warming.
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New Semester, Same Obsession

Hello fellow Scarlet Knights, welcome to a new semester! And as we all know, new semesters always equate to over-packed, stifling, “sure, please use my head as an elbow rest” Rutgers bus experiences. So while you find yourself packed in between complete strangers or straining to figure out proper footing so as not to fall over when the bus takes a sharp turn, enjoy this little piece of something I hold dearly to my heart (as you hold on dearly to that overhead pole).

You know how most people’s obsessions change constantly? Not mine, nope. I’m just always “Harry Potter”. The first shelf on my desk is ample proof of that.

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Since I first picked up the The Philosopher’s Stone when I was six years olds, to now, at the ripe, old age of 20, I am still constantly in awe at the magic this series has brought to both my life and countless other lives around the world. The books in themselves are just pure magic. When I picked up the first book, I didn’t read it. I inhaled it. And that followed suit for the rest of the series. When the last book came out, (of course I had it pre-ordered), I left the midnight book release party at my local Barnes & Noble, locked myself up in my bedroom and devoured every page until the world as I knew it ended. At least Harry’s world. But that’s where the real magic is, the Harry Potter series never truly ended. Not only does it live on through the movies, through the theme parks, through even everyone’s favorite A Very Potter Musical, but it also lives on through the millions of Potterheads who won’t let the world turn a blind eye to their love and appreciation for the boy who lived and his adventures. Whether that means those individuals selling handmade Harry Potter themed gifts and goods on Etsy, or opening up Harry Potter themed bars and restaurants, or actually starting competitive Quidditch leagues in their colleges, or just simply passing down the books to their children, to their friends, to their siblings, Harry Potter will never be just a passing trend.

Just look at Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. Every October, this little town closes down entirely for a weekend and transforms itself into a world straight out of the Harry Potter books. It brings in Potters fans of all ages, providing everything from a Harry Potter pub crawl (that sells out within minutes) to film screenings to sorting hat demonstrations to Butterbeer and Pumpkin Pasties galore and even a Quidditch tournament. I was lucky enough to attend this past year with my friends and it was absolutely whimsical. It was also amazing to see people of literally all ages, from infants with lightning bolt scars drawn in on their foreheads to entire families, grandparents included, with witch hats and robes.

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So why is this series so popular? Why has Harry Potter sold over 450 million books? Why has it inspired two giant theme parks? Why is it that I can get on a train to Williamsburg, New York, and eat at a Harry Potter inspired pasta restaurant? Why is it that my little brother, who would’t even read the back of a granola bar box before I convinced him to read Harry Potter, now is an avid reader? It’s simply because it’s magical. And that word means something different to every reader. To me, growing up, it meant knowing that finding a home in books was not weird or nerdy, thanks to Hermione Granger, the first strong, female literary character I was ever exposed to. It meant valuing friendship and family, and realizing that blood does not restrict who you love. It meant being kind, being accepting, and always doing the right thing, no matter what. And it still means those things to me. I bet it means those things, and much more, to everyone else who has had the pleasure of reading this series. And if you still haven’t read Harry Potter, better late than never, right?

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Happy reading everyone, and happy spring semester!

It’s That Wonderful Time of the Year

Did you think I meant the holidays? Or perhaps winter break? Or maybe you thought I was talking about the last minute Hunger Games-style sport of finding parking at the mall? Unfortunately, before you make it to any of those, let’s talk about that other time of the year. You know, a little week we like to call FINALS.

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Oh yeah, that wonderful time of the year.

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So with these next two weeks upon us, remember to get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, and break up your work so you’re not trying to tackle everything all at once. I now want to share with you how I tackle finals week, and I promise I do much more than just look up and laugh at memes all day. (Or maybe I shouldn’t make promises I can’t keep?)

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Well first, I try to make sure I do not look like that meme pictured above. And to do that, I like to use Google Calendar to schedule out my exams, projects, and final papers so I can see when everything is due in a timely fashion. By having that calendar prepared, I can allocate which days I will study for what, and also block out chunks of a day for studying. So not only do I have a planned out deadline schedule, but I also make myself break down when and what I will be studying.

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The next thing I do is pick my study environment. This is a personal preference; everyone has their own environment that they perform their best in. For me, I work best in places that are not completely silent, however, I do not work well with people loudly chattering around me. That is why I prefer not to go to the popular libraries on campus (such as Alex) to study as you never know what group will be situated at the table right next to you. Rather, I go to to designated “quiet space” areas such as the computer labs or go to lesser-known libraries, such as Sage Library.

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The final method I have for tackling finals week is coffee. Plenty and plenty of coffee. Of course, I’m not saying you have to be a coffee-drinker to get through finals; that is entirely not true. Rather, find what energizes you and use it – whether it is listening to music while studying or rewarding yourself with a quick Facebook food recipe video after finishing a chapter. Don’t let finals make you think you have to give up the little pleasures in life; you just have to do everything in moderation. For many, getting up during a cram session to wait in line and buy coffee is a hassle – for me, it is an efficient study break. You have to get up and stretch your legs every once in a while and sometimes you have to take a break just for the sake of getting fresh air and a view that is not your textbook; so use that break to get food, to fill up your water bottle, or to send a “Kill Me” bitmoji to your group chat.

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So with that, I leave you to be the awesome, motivated, bright minds you are that will do awesome on their finals. You made it this far, what’s two more weeks?

 

Good luck and happy holidays everyone!

Topic to Think About: “Race is a Social Construct”

One of my favorite aspects of my major is the array of classes I get to take, and hence, the diversity of the topics. I am a public health major, and while my career goal is to work in Health Administration, which is also offered as a major here at Rutgers, I chose to stick with Public Health because of the broader scope of classes it offered. So not only do I get to take classes about disease rates and prevalence, and how health differs globally, but I also get to take classes such as Health Disparities, which shows how health outcomes vary incredibly with factors such as gender, education, and race. Interestingly, when my class discussed race, my professor showed us a video called Race: The Power of an Illusion (A documentary I highly recommend). Watching that video in class led me to doing some further online exploration of my own, and I thought it would be interesting to share with you the viewpoint that race is nothing but a social construct.

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While many hold the belief that race is a genetic/biological distinction, science actually proves the opposite. The Human Genome Project (HGP) conducted from 1990-2003 actually shows that there is more genetic/biological diversity within those of a certain racial group than between varying racial groups. Additionally, the American Anthropological Association on Race released the following statement on May 17, 1998:

“In the United States, both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history, whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species”.

From this perspective, race is race because we say it is; more so, because we use phenotypical differences as our basis for categorizing groups. But if you do not agree with this statement, try this quiz and see how well you can predict someone’s race just by looking at him/her. The answers might surprise you.

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So, if race is just a social construct, why do we have whole classes dedicated to studying its effects? Well, the answer is in the question itself. Since race has been a method of differentiation for centuries, this division between people actually results in differences in outcomes for a variety of factors. Race may be a social construct, but its implications and effects over years and years have allowed for a noticeable difference in groups such as the following:

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So, now that we know that genotype does not equal phenotype, how will that shape our words and beliefs going forward?

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National Geographic: The Changing Face of America