A few years ago, when Facebook made the switch from ordinary profiles to Timelines, I was incredibly excited. It meant I could look back at all the things I’d shared over the years–those moments from years past became easily accessible, and the thought of that was just awesome. Now, in 2014, I lament the fact that I (or anyone else I’m friends with, for that matter) can easily go back and look at the things I’ve posted over the past almost-six years I’ve been on the site.
Why, you ask? Because I wasn’t very smart about using it back then. Ask anyone who’s been Facebook friends with me the past three-to-four years. Really.
A few years ago, I used Facebook primarily for two things: 1) Starting raucous political debates, and; 2) Complaining about ridiculous things, such as losses experienced by Syracuse athletics. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s sadly true. I think I’ve gotten better in the past few years–a lot better, actually. And I hope my Facebook friends would agree with me.
Social media is unique in that it allows us to control exactly how others perceive us and how we build ourselves, both personally and rhetorically. No one can know exactly what people are thinking at any given moment, but the things we choose to share on social media offers us a glimpse into the minds and lives of others at any given point. What we choose to share and how we choose to share it has a huge impact on how others perceive us and the lives we live.
Some of you may be thinking “Well, so what? I’ll share what I want to share, and if people don’t like it, there’s always the ‘unfriend’ button.” The problem is that this was exactly the attitude I used to have, and it really proved to be a poisonous one.
Think of it this way: If you had a friend who, when you spent time together, did nothing but complain about the negativity in their life and start arguments with you, would you want to continue spending time with that person? I didn’t think so.
Social media friendships are really no different. When we accept a friend request or follow someone on Twitter, that means that we at least want them in our social media lives badly enough to make that initial connection (except, of course, in rare cases when people will accept any request or follow back anyone). And these connections have a dynamic quality to them–we have at least a subconscious expectation that the people we connect with are going to make an effort to not only keep up with the goings-on of our own lives, but also share moments and content that make us laugh, cry, or think about things in a meaningful way.
On Facebook especially, that’s what I’ve begun to do–share things that my friends on that platform will find meaningful, engaging, funny, or thought-provoking. And my social media presence has only become more positive for it.
With these things in mind, I propose the following rules for building yourself in a positive way on social media platforms and building a more healthy online community:
1) Privacy is of the utmost importance.
This holds especially true for services like Facebook, Foursquare, and others where your privacy settings are very controlled. When someone posts a photo of their kids with their friends on Facebook, their intent is to share that photo with their friends, and only their friends. Respect your social media friends’ privacy by not sharing their personal posts. Or, if you really feel the need to share it with your friends, ask them first. Additionally, try to refrain from using children’s names or personal information–as good as privacy settings are now, you never know who can see that information.
2) Don’t like or comment on everything.
It’s great to like or comment on someone’s posts (or to retweet/favorite tweets you enjoy)–it shows the person posting the content that you found it meaningful or enjoyable in some way. But when someone interacts with everything someone shares on social media, it loses sincerity. Don’t be that person who likes something just for the sake of liking it.
3) Don’t post or share too much.
A few years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for me to post four or five Facebook statuses a day. Now, it’s rare for me to post four or five a week. I’ve found that less is more on social media (at least on services like Facebook; Twitter is a different story entirely)–the less frequently you post/share things, the more likely people are to interact with your content.
4) Be a positive contributor to the social media community.
Life really can suck sometimes. I know–I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. But if life is getting you down, the last thing you should do is go on a spree of posting nothing but passive-aggressive or whiny statuses/tweets. The reaction from your social media friends likely won’t be positive–I learned this one the hard way.
Posting a nice memorial to a deceased loved one? Go right ahead. That’s actually a pretty touching thing to do.
Asking for encouragement in hard times such as unemployment? Also an appropriate use of social media platforms–your online community will more than likely react in a positive, incredibly supportive way.
But posting a rant-filled status about a personal issue you’re having with someone? Not okay in most situations (there are always exceptions to rules). And starting contentious, nasty political debates? Also not a good thing to do. Not only are most people set in their political ways, it’s also a waste of your time and energy, and previously healthy friendships can become damaged (I also learned this one the hard way).
The main point here is that you should try your best to make positive contributions to the social media communities of which you are a part–no one can be exclusively positive, but it’s good to at least attempt to share more positive content than negativity.
5) Turn off the computer and put down the smartphone once in a while.
Social media is great, but spending time building personal, face-to-face connections with people is better than any social media platform out there. It’s good to turn off the iPhone and spend time with people you care about, and to build friendships in person, not just online.
I used to spend way too much time on social media–it was actually pretty unhealthy. When I wasn’t logged into Facebook on my computer, I’d more than likely be browsing it on my phone. You’d be surprised how refreshing it is to unplug yourself from the digital world for a while and spend time honing your talents, practicing your hobbies, and making memories with those you care about.
Now, I don’t claim to be a social media “expert,” and I’m certain not everyone reading this is going to agree with these rules. These aren’t meant to be hard-and-fast rules that guarantee you’re going to have a happy existence on social media. No, these are just things I’ve learned (often with hard lessons) from my experience on a variety of different social media platforms.
The remarkable thing about platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is that the community is what we make of it–your contribution to it matters just as much as mine. The posts we share and the comments we leave make our collective experience. We’re all in this social media experience together, and we should strive to make it as positive and memorable as we can. So let’s get started.
I get asked the question all the time: Why do you write? And for the longest time, I’ve never really had an answer. I guess I’d never really given it much consideration. Why do I write? With this post, I’ve decided it’s finally time I give an answer, both to those who’ve asked and to myself.
To me, writing is catharsis–it gives me an emotional outlet unlike no other. At life’s extreme highs and extreme lows, I choose to express myself with words.
It’s remarkable, isn’t it? That differing permutations and combinations of just twenty six letters can allow us to externalize what we’re feeling? To share our joys and our sorrows?
Why do I write? Because it helps me convey and understand my emotions.
If you’ve never sat down and just written before–just put the pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and let it flow–I suggest you give it a try sometime. It’s one of the most therapeutic things you can do.
Sometimes, when life gets me down, I open a writing program I have on my computer and just let everything out. I often keep these writings to myself–I’ll read it over, be satisfied with my work, and close the program without saving a thing. Other times, I’ll save these pieces with the notion that I’ll one day work up the courage to share them with you all. The latter scenario is what led to my sharing the memoir I wrote of my late grandfather that appeared on this site a few weeks ago.
In the most difficult and trying of times, people cope with their feelings different ways. Some may curl up in bed with sad music and let their tears wet the pillowcase. Others may sit in solace and contemplate the meaning of it all. Still others–and I pray this is not you, dear reader–will let their emotions out with the self-infliction of pain.
But none of these things are me. I write instead. My keyboard is my razor blade; my words are my blood.
Why do I write? Because it’s how I cope.
When my grandmother died four years ago, I was completely stricken with grief. She was one of the people I held nearest to my heart, and losing her broke me.
In the days after her death, I decided to write a eulogy for her–to take the swirling cacophony of thoughts buzzing about my head and give them a voice. That one simple exercise was one of the most emotionally freeing things I’ve ever done, and I haven’t stopped since.
My advice to you? Start writing. And if you already write, keep writing. Even if you think you’re no good, and even if you keep it all to yourself. Write it all out.
Why do I write? Because, in a way, it sets me free.
…For the sole reason of neglecting this blog that I’d promised you, dear reader, I would attempt to update regularly.
It’s unfathomable that it’s been nearly a year since I’ve written on here. And yet, so much has happened in that year. Aside from the usual “everyone I know got a year older and wiser,” life has had its fair share of ups and downs.
I’m now a senior (!) at Syracuse, and this is my last undergraduate semester. I find myself in disbelief at how quickly things have gone, especially when considering how much has happened in such a short amount of time. The fall semester was jam-packed, as usual. Marching band took me all over the place–from a Buffalo Bills game, to Montreal, and to the Meadowlands in two weeks for the Super Bowl, where we will be performing the pre-game show with the Rutgers University Marching Band. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I feel so fortunate to be able to take part.
Academically speaking, last semester was interesting. I’m done with my political science major requirements, so my coursework was devoted to completing my writing major and remaining liberal arts requirements. I took an introductory-level philosophy course that actually ended up being somewhat fascinating. The topics we studied included the philosophy of religion, epistemology, and theories of reality. The whole experience opened my mind to new ways of thinking about things, especially when it comes to logical reasoning.
I’m still planning on attending law school next year (because ‘more attorneys’ is just what the doctor ordered for the world, right?). Where I’ll end up, I’m not completely sure. I’m planning on applying all over the Northeast, simply because I don’t want to be too far away from home. I’m currently in the thick of the application process–be watching for angsty jeremiads about how applications are the worst thing ever.
On a personal level, I’ve forged many new friendships this year. One of the things I love about marching band is that it gives you a vast social network simply by virtue of being in it–you automatically recognize two hundred faces around campus. This year has been no different. I’ve met some wonderful new people and connected more with people I already knew. I’ve also very recently started dating this girl, Natalie, and she’s just wonderful. Really. I’m not going to spend too long gushing about her (probably because she’s going to read this at some point and call me out on it), but suffice it to say that I’m pretty happy with where I am in life right now.
I should probably wrap this up because I’m playing at a basketball game later this afternoon (in the pep band, not on the court. That would just be hilarious.). I hope you have been enjoying the new year, and I promise you that I will try to be a better blogger in 2014.
In the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, we’ve been inundated with rhetoric about guns from both the right at the left. At the most extreme ends of the spectrum, we’ve heard people calling for the complete ban of all firearms, and we’ve also heard people calling for their complete deregulation. Neither of these scenarios are plausible. Instead, we need a combination of two things: more regulations for guns, and increased access to mental health services.
Gun violence is a problem that must be addressed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. has 3.7 gun-related homicides per 100,000 people. While this number appears fairly low, it’s high enough to place us at fourteenth in international rankings (just ahead of Costa Rica, whose rate is 3.32 gun-related homicides/100,000 people). When we compare the United States to other highly-developed countries, however, we move up significantly in the rankings. According to U.N. data, the United States ranks first among other developed/industrialized nations–including former members of the Soviet Eastern Bloc, where the firearm-related homicide rate is well below 1 per 100,000. This is similar in non-European (but developed) nations such as Canada and Australia.
Compared to these other developed countries, the United States has the loosest gun control laws and the highest rate of gun ownership–88.1 guns per 100 people. In Japan, most guns are illegal, and almost no one owns one. In that country, there are 0.6 guns for every 100 people. In 2008, there were eleven firearm-related homicides. Total. Let me say that again: Japan had eleven firearm-related homicides in 2008.
In the United Kingdom, there are 6.72 firearms for every 100 citizens. Gun control in Britain is much stricter than in the US–in order to own a gun, you must obtain either a five-year firearm certificate or shotgun certificate from police. In order to obtain these certificates, the police must be convinced that “good reason” for owning the firearms exists, and that the individual can be trusted with it “without danger to the public safety or to the peace.” Good reason, according to British law, consists of sporting purposes, collecting, or work-related needs. But that’s not all: After the previous steps have been completed, the individual applying for the permit must provide a verification of their identity, two references who can verify their good character, an approval of the application by the applicant’s family doctor, an inspection of the premises in which the guns will be stored, and an interview by a Firearms Enquiry Officer. A background check on the applicant is then completed. If the certificate(s) are issued, they must be renewed every five years. Perhaps these strict regulations (and complex process for obtaining a gun) are why only eighteen Bretons were murdered with a firearm in 2009.
The logic of the pro-gun movement is that we’d be safer with more guns, not less–that shootings in Aurora and Newtown would have been less severe if a bystander had been armed. But when compared to other highly developed nations, this logic doesn’t make sense. According to the argument that more guns = more safety, less guns should mean less safety (and that has been almost explicitly articulated by the “if only someone had been carrying…” rhetoric). Almost the opposite holds true, however. In Europe, Canada, and Australia, less guns have meant more safety.
Since the incident in Newtown, I’ve also heard the argument usually articulated as “criminals carry out these shootings, and criminals don’t obey the law, so therefore more laws aren’t the answer.” While I could go on and on about the ridiculousness of such a statement (I mean, murderers are criminals, and criminals don’t obey the law, therefore we should get rid of laws that prohibit killing each other), there have been numerous studies to dispute (or disprove) this line of thinking. According to a study done by Mother Jones, the overwhelming majority of individuals who committed mass shootings over the past two decades in the U.S. obtained their weapons legally. In fact, 49 of the 63 shooters obtained their weapons through legal avenues. Of the 142 total weapons used, over 75% of them were legal. Below is a chart detailing the weapons used in the attacks.
Based on these statistics, it’s clear that the vast majority of mass murderers use legally obtained weapons to commit their respective crimes. The one incident in Newtown (in which the shooter stole his mother’s guns) cannot be used as a textbook case to justify the deregulation of firearms.
One proposal that’s gained some traction (but has also seen severe backlash) is a ban on assault weapons–namely semiautomatic weapons. Such weapons are quite popular when it comes to mass shootings, according to statistics published by Mother Jones. Of the 142 weapons used in the mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982, 103 of them have been semiautomatic handguns or assault weapons, while revolvers and shotguns account for only 39 of the weapons. These numbers are broken down below:
Of course, at the center of all this debate is the Second Amendment and its interpretation. The Amendment reads “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This Amendment is rooted in the bygone era of militias as the primary form of defense from foreign belligerents. At the time, the primary form of defense in the United States were minuteman militias, composed of volunteers who could (and were) readily activated into service. The muskets of the time were the primary weapons of these units, and the peoples’ right to own them was of great importance.
Fast forward to the present day, when the United States has one of the largest and most well-regulated standing armies in existence. When the muskets of yesteryear (which could take up to fifteen seconds to load) are treasured antiques, and the weapons of choice have the capability to kill dozens of people in the time it takes to load one musket. Doesn’t complete deregulation seem a bit extreme? Would the Founders really be supportive of the peoples’ right to own automatic weapons capable of mass murder? I certainly don’t think so.
And I’m not wholly anti-gun, don’t get me wrong. I understand that firearm ownership is an embedded cultural value in this country. We live in a country where a lot of people (including some of my own relatives) are avid hunters and gun enthusiasts, and regularly exercise their Second Amendment rights. However, I simply cannot believe that the intent of this Amendment was to stick an assault rifle in the hands of anyone who wants one. The Founders intended for people to be able to defend themselves at a time when an army of our current class did not exist, and police forces were largely nonexistent. A more modern interpretation is necessary, and this interpretation includes restrictions on gun ownership, including licensing, education on how to use guns, mental health screenings and comprehensive background checks for all guns, not just some. Such regulations would not infringe upon our right to gun ownership, but would better weed out the mentally ill people who perpetrate crimes like the ones in Aurora, CO or Newtown, CT.
And a note about mental health–the study done by Mother Jones indicates that a majority of the mass shooters of the past two decades were mentally ill, and exhibited signs of this illness prior to their crimes. Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, also showed signs of mental illness throughout his life. These people need help, but treatment is wholly inadequate. According to an anonymously written open letter (I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother), the author’s own son has severe mental problems, but help for him is virtually nonexistent. She writes, “When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. ‘If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,’ he said. ‘That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.'” The criminal justice system is not the answer for the mentally ill–that’s punishment, not treatment. And prisons are now becoming hubs for the mentally ill. The author writes “With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill — Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.”
The United States needs a better mental health care system. The only way to accomplish this is to do what nearly every other industrialized nation has done by adopting universal health care. In the United Kingdom, all mental health services are free of charge. The same holds true for Australia, Canada, and Japan. In fact, nearly every country with lower rates of gun violence (mass shootings, in particular) have more universal health care systems which allow individuals to seek mental health treatment. In the United States, cost serves as a big barrier to mental health treatment. According to a study published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of those who needed mental health treatment but didn’t seek it cited cost as the main barrier to seeking care. Isn’t it plausible that the reason we have so many mass shootings in this country is because our mental health care is inadequate?
Much of the rhetoric from the pro-gun lobby features the phrase “I’m fat, and it’s the fork’s fault.” In other words, the anti-gun faction places too much blame on the gun and not on the person holding it. Some middle ground between the two must be forged. While we should be placing all the blame in the world on mentally stable individuals who go out and shoot twenty people, we cannot be so quick to blame the mentally ill who do so. Yes, what they do is evil, and I don’t by any means condone their actions or sympathize with them. But we need to recognize that this is a broader societal issue–these people go largely without any kind of help, simply because our system cannot meet their needs. These people need our willingness to help before they commit crimes, not our hatred after it’s too late. A friend of mine recently said that Adam Lanza’s mother should have “locked him up a long time ago” to prevent something like this. This could not be a more ignorant stance–Lanza’s mother is one of the victims here. She was killed at the hands of her own son. We cannot know the hardships she faced and the battles she fought raising her son. How do we know that she didn’t seek help, but was turned away or ignored?
Mass shootings have become an alarming trend in the United States–in the past twenty years, there have been 63. That’s an average of 3.15 per year. If we’re going to stop future slaughter, future bloodshed, we need reform now. We need to reform our gun control laws and make them stricter. Evidence from around the globe indicates that such action is effective at reducing overall rates of gun violence. But we can’t stop there–we need health reform as well. A comprehensive, universal health care system can provide the treatment to mentally ill individuals who might otherwise enter a crowded mall and open fire. In light of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, our biggest mistake would be to pretend that there isn’t a problem and take discussions of reform off the table. We need to talk about this, and the longer we wait, the less likely we are to get anywhere. How many more innocent people have to die before we’re ready to talk?
The verdict in Jerry Sandusky’s sex abuse trial was reached and delivered yesterday, and–much to the public’s collective relief–the jury found him guilty on 45 of 48 counts. The evidence against Sandusky was overwhelming, and any result other than a conviction would have surely caused widespread outrage and rioting. Thankfully, this was not the case.
After hearing the news of the jury’s decision, I felt satisfied that justice had been served. And I figured that would be the extent of my reaction to this whole case–internal satisfaction that our justice system worked, and nothing more. However, a disheartening feeling struck me when I began reading tweets and Facebook posts bashing the attorneys in charge of defending Mr. Sandusky. So here I sit, ready to explain why the defense attorney-bashers need to tone it down a few notches.
Why We Have Defense Attorneys
Defense attorneys are a necessary (albeit unpopular) part of the criminal justice system in the United States. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution says: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” Criminal defense is essential to maintaining a fair justice system, especially when the accused maintains his innocence. Defense attorneys must work based on the plea that their client (the accused) enters.
In Jerry Sandusky’s case, he maintained his innocence throughout the investigation and subsequent trial. This is all his attorneys had to work off of–it was their job to create reasonable doubt, despite what they may have personally believed about their client’s innocence. If Mr. Sandusky plead not guilty, then it was their duty to defend him–and they did just that.
In addition, wrongful convictions are all too common in our criminal justice system, and good defense attorneys can help prevent wrongful convictions. You really want to lambaste someone who could be the only thing keeping an innocent person out of a life in prison–or worse, the execution chamber?
The Role of the Defense
In criminal courts in United States, each party–the prosecution and the defense–has a specific duty they must perform to win the case. It is the prosecution’s duty to prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the defendant is guilty of the crime of which they are accused. Of course, they use witness testimony, physical evidence, and the like to accomplish their ultimate goal of conviction. In criminal proceedings, the burden of proof lies with the State; the prosecution is the only party that must prove anything.
On the contrary, the defense does not have to prove a thing, but rather inject holes in the prosecution’s case to create reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is the only thing required to acquit someone of a crime. Defense attorneys do not have to prove anything regarding their client’s innocence, they simply need to make jurors doubt the prosecution’s story. The public’s fundamental misunderstanding of these different roles lead us to the cause of the defense attorney’s bad reputation in the public eye.
The Public Judgment Dilemma
As I’ve already said, a defendant’s attorneys need not prove their client’s innocence in order to get an acquittal. In a court of law, a defendant is given the benefit of the presumption of innocence–they are innocent until proven guilty. The location of the burden of proof stems from this fundamental right granted to those accused of crimes. And I’ve already postulated that the general public does not understand where the burden of proof lies, and thus criticism against defense attorneys is much easier to levy. But why do people have such a profound misunderstanding of the principles of our justice system?
I call it the Public Judgment Dilemma. In present times, modern technology and the news media make it possible to know the intimate details of high profile cases from around the country. Exhibits A, B, and C: the cases of Michael Jackson, Casey Anthony, and Jerry Sandusky. The public can follow these cases closely–they can hear evidence (even read Grand Jury reports online), and make judgments of their own. The problem is that people often rush to judgment upon hearing the story of and sparse details about a criminal case. In other words, the public rushes to premature judgment, with their collective verdict almost always being that the defendant is assuredly guilty. In this way, the presumption of innocence is ignored, the roles of prosecution and defense teams are forgotten, and defense attorneys morph into soulless monsters who try to acquit the most heinous criminals. The poor reputation of the defense attorney stems from the public presuming that everyone accused of a crime is guilty before the jury reaches a verdict (or before the jury is even selected, for that matter).
To conclude, I ask those who bash defense attorneys to carefully consider how warranted that criticism may be. Remember that every defendant is innocent–no matter how overwhelming the evidence against them–until the prosecution proves otherwise. Defense attorneys perform a job that is Constitutionally mandated, and although their duty is unpopular and misunderstood, they are the only thing standing between the defendant and the prison. From a someone considering a career in criminal defense, I ask that you remember that.
In my senior year of high school, I decided to enroll in AP English Literature. Throughout the course of the year, we had to respond to certain writing prompts in our writing journal, or simply free write in it. Below is my penultimate entry. As I look back through these past two years, I find that the words I wrote then have proven to be true now, more than ever.
Journal 16 – Free Write
You know, for a long time now, I’ve been hearing that after prom is over, the rest of the school year will fly by. And for the longest time, I never believed them. But, I admit it–I was wrong. It is so hard to believe that we have mere days left. And after graduation, I will never see some of these people again. Such is the cruelty of high school: Friendships are made, and then these friends are scattered like seeds in a field. Some will never be seen or heard from again. Others will take root, and grow to be strong and successful. How I long to be one of these seeds. And some seeds will never take root at all. These things are unpleasant to think about, yet, such is the way of life. I’m very excited for college, but I will miss this place. I will miss it terribly. Perhaps not the building, or the classes–but the people. I will certainly miss the people.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written! It’s hard to believe that it’s been about two weeks since my last entry. The main reason that I’ve been absent from the blog is because I’ve been extremely busy traveling with the SU pep band to both the Big East and NCAA tournaments (what a hardship, I know). In the past two weeks, I’ve been to New York and Pittsburgh for a combined total of eight days, and I’ll be leaving again Thursday morning for Boston. Whew! Talk about living out of a suitcase. And, if our team is fortunate enough to win both games in Boston this weekend, I’ll be going to New Orleans next weekend for the Final Four.
My next major blog post is going to be a draft of a letter to the editor that I’m going to send to my local newspaper. A fierce debate over my old school district’s budget is raging in my town as I write this, and this letter will address why passage of the budget is of the utmost importance, as well as other democratic issues regarding the social contract and voting. I’ll likely begin drafting it on my way to Boston tomorrow, and I’ll share it when I get back. Enjoy the rest of your week and the weekend!