May Day 2012

Thousands of day workers, students, Aztec dancers, worker right supporters and Occupy Santa Rosa and Sebastopol marched from Sebastopol Road to Julliard Park in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, May 1st. 

The May Day march, which started in 2006, attracts thousands of marchers and labor supporters every year to march down the streets of their cities and towns in hopes to raise awareness of immigration, student, and workers rights.

However, the May Day leads back to the Cold War, said Ben Boyce of the North Bay Labor Council.

Ben Boyce, of the North Bay Labor Council, speaks to the marchers of May Day 2012 about the history and importance of the event

“May day is the international labor day,” said Boyce. According to Boyce, the United States does not recognize May day, claiming that the equivalence is Labor Day in September.

“We’re back here to take it back,” Boyce told the crowd. “May day is international labor day. We’ve come together here in solidatiry to take back the promise of America.”

This year’s rally was a little bit different. Members of Occupy Santa Rosa and Occupy Sebastopol joined the march to raise awareness of the Occupy Movement and the “flaws in the system,” said Tess McDermott, an Occupy SR organizer.

Prior to the march, the members of Occupy Santa Rosa conducted a flash nap on the lawn of City Hall. The flash nap was devised by the Dorothy Day Working group, a group specializes in homeless awareness.

“Social services don’t provide nearly enough to people that need them,” said McDermott.

According to McDermott and a few other members, each night there are still 3,500 homeless people sleeping on the streets, in their cars, in Sonoma County. This number comes up after homeless shelters have filled capacity limits.

City ordinance 1122 prohibits sleeping in public for more than two hours. Sleeping in public includes sleeping on benches, public, or even in cars in public spaces.

The marching started around 4:30. Hundreds of families marched together. Friends and students marched side by side. Some showed anger, other showed excitement. Picket signs saying “Immigration Reform”, “Tax the Rich”, “War is not the Answer”, “Human Rights for All. No Exceptions” filled the group of people marching side by side. Even if they marched by themselves, everyone was surrounded by hundreds of other passionate supporters of immigration rights, worker rights, and education rights. 

The clash of the Hispanic community’s chant “Si se puede!” (Yes, it’s possible) and everybody else chanting “Who’s streets? Our streets!” filled the Roseland district of Santa Rosa all the way to Railroad Square and Downtown. A conch horn could be heard every minute. Drum buckets rolled on and on. The American and Mexican flags waved side by side.

Mr. Chuch and KBBF provided a live broadcast of the rally on the air.

“We send a message today, that we as workers are tired,” said Chuch “Ya basta. Enough is enough. We must continue the vision to bring hope and esperanza to our pueblo, to our community. Because many communities are not together because our government is not working into making it a better place to live.”

The march started by the old Albertson’s on Sebastopol Road and made its way past Lola’s Market & Restaurant.  Aztec dancers led the way, drumming and dancing the entire route.

Aside from employment and homelessness, education was also a key issue in the rally. Hundred marched with picket signs saying “Education for All. No Exceptions”, and “Integrated Schools”.

Cynthia Gabiño, a high school senior from Sonoma, immigrated from Mexico six years ago with her mother and siblings. She is a first generation student to finish high school and attend a university. She is also an undocumented student.

“I’m so proud of my mom,” said Gabiño. “And I’m so proud of all of the hardships she had to go over. I’m so proud to be here.”

Cynthia Gabino, a high school senior in Sonoma, shares her story of being an undocumented student.

The crowd chanted with her “Que viva la educacion! Que viva los sueños!” (Long live education. Long live the dreams.)

I came to the march because I’m really interested,” said Gabiño. “And I want to protest about immigration rights. I would like the government to pass immigration reform because it will help me to go to college and to graduate.”

She will be attending Sonoma State University in the fall.

The Hubbub Club made a presence at the march, playing their own rendition of “De Colores,” a popular Spanish folk song and finishing off the event with some more of their eclectic tunes and dancing.

All photos, audio, and video captured by me.

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LOVE: Lack Of Voluntary Emotion

When choosing the topic for my Being & Knowing class final, I wanted to explore emotions, free will, and determinism. Unfortunately, time and activities did not allot space in my schedule. This paper is not an effort to support my feelings or those of anyone else. And in writing this paper, I do not mean to say that I fully agree with my research. I chose romantic love because it is probably one of the strongest and longest lasting emotions out there. But it is also an ever changing emotion. We may get angry at our friends, family, or colleagues for some mistake they make, we may be happy because something made us laugh, but that can easily turn to sadness. But love is different. In some form, it is always there. In my last paper on free will and determinism, I spoke about free will and responsibility. I analyzed and compared Roderick Chisholm and PF Strawson’s views on free will and determinism. In this paper, I’ll introduce basic free will and determinism ideas and incorporate them with the idea of love.The purpose of this paper is to tackle the ideas of Free Will & Determinism and Love. Aside from the philosophical approach to love or any other emotion, I will also talk about the physiological understanding of emotions. Why is it that we love? Why do we fall in love? Or better yet: how is it that we fall in love? Without understanding how our brain works on love and how our psychology works on love, we cannot truly understand whether free will or determinism is a factor in love. Biochemistry
From a psychological point of view, emotions are nothing but neurotransmitters firing away from neurons to target cells in the brain. They happen in several parts of the brain. Love, as we understand it, happens in the limbic system, more specifically, the nucleus accumbens. There are three chemical components that make up the emotion of romantic love: norepinephrine and dopamine, and Oxytocin.In love, dopamine is responsible for making a person feel good. It is responsible for many other things, the feeling of reward, helps with sleep and movement. When it comes to love, this chemical lights up your brain.

Second is norepinephrine: this is that neurotransmitter I was telling you that fires away from cell to cell. Think of this as passion.

Lastly is Oxytocin: this chemical is the one that lasts the longest and is pretty much distributes the emotion of content. Some research suggests oxytocin is not only used as a bonding agent for a mother and newborn child, but also as a bonding agent in romantic love. When mixed with norepinephrine and dopamine, oxytocin is the glue that keeps the highs of the other two chemicals in check for a really long time.

Psychology of love
Forget about the biochemistry of love. Let’s look at the psychological/social aspect of love. If you’ve ever taken an intro to psychology course, you will have learned that emotions are not just factored by biology and chemistry. A person’s environment is also a factor. This is why some Americans will find British comedy to be dry. The laws of attraction suggest that we seek companionship based on a similarity basis or comfort attribute. Theories suggest that we like to be with people who have similar interests to ours or that have similar characteristics to that of our parents.

The last thing we need to know about love and psychology is that love is like addiction, it makes sense that the part of the brain that controls addiction also controls a lot of love. It plays with fear, pleasure, laughter, and reward.

What exactly does biochemistry and the psychology of love have to do with free will or determinism?

Definition of Free Will, Determinism, & Love
Free Will
The concept of free will states that we are free beings with the ability to think and act freely, exclusively and inclusively. Every action we do is our responsibility. The concept of free will dictates that we have control over our actions and any consequences that come out of it are justifiable.

Chisholm’s view of free will is complete free agency. Free agency is the idea that we have complete free will, responsible for our thought and actions. As complete free agents, we have the ability to do anything humanly possible. Yet that doesn’t answer the question of emotions, and whether we have the free will to act upon changing emotions. We don’t feel we have the capability to truly choose our emotions. We have developed techniques that help us control emotions, but even that is not complete control of how we feel. Perhaps because the idea is too complex and it cannot really be studied and answered. I will do my best to answer this problem.

Let’s talk about desire. To have free will also means to have desire to some philosophers. Dennet and Henry Frankfurt talk about desires in regards to how they are used in action. Such desires are contradicting, such as wanting to ask someone out. We can translate this to love by assuming that we can desire to like someone or we can desire not to like someone. Note that the first in a combination of the last 2. Frankfurt would say that the first and second forms of desire are compatible with the idea of free will. The third, the pure desire to like someone, and therefore perhaps acting on it, lacks compatibility with free will.

We can choose to think of our brains like computers, as they have been so many times compared. Like computers, our brains hold information, has a built in back up system, degrades over time, and so on and so forth. If we ask our computer to do a certain function, such as open a program, it will do so with the click of a button. Same goes for raising an arm, or walking, etc. However, unlike robots, we have emotions. But what if we were like Data from Star Trek. Data has it better than anyone else. Even better than the Vulcans. See, if we had complete control of our emotions, then we would be able to control when and where to turn on love, hate, and happiness.

Determinism
I stated in my last paper that determinism is poorly articulated. This is why answering the question of love as a determined state is very difficult. When we fall in love, the feelings are not something that seem very controllable like other emotions such as happiness, anger, or sadness. It is my theory that, to an extent, love is much harder to mask internally than any other emotion.

Determinism is the idea that our actions and emotions are determined by (the universe), for a lack of a better idea. If determinism holds true then, free will is non-existent. Emotions such as resentment, happiness, and love are incomprehensible in a deterministic world. According to Strawson, to experience love, happiness, resentment, and other emotions means to experience free will and is essential to making judgments in which determinism loses its appeal. It could be argued that even if we agree with determinism, determinism cannot be fully true because there is the the flaw of emotions.
Data, through his emotion chip and circuitry, has the free will of emotions that people do not have. With the twitch of his neck, he is able to turn on or off his emotions.

Possibly the best solution to control our emotions is to try to suppress them like Vulcans. Yet suppression of emotions does not mean that they are removed from the mind nor are they not present and willed. Emotions are still there, but tucked away behind logic and other factors.

Perhaps suppression isn’t conceivable without the help of medicine. Yet, if we trigger the area of the brain that is responsible for emotions and remove it, we may lose or damage the ability to not only feel emotions but also the abilities to learn, remember, and most importantly: breathe.

Love & the Optimistic Rule
The Optimistic rule of determinism suggests that everything every action or state of affair is determined. The cause could be anything: God, the Big Bang, natural causation. If every event is determined, emotions and responsibility are pointless. The only definite conclusion we could have with the regards that hold determinism true is that of an omniscient higher power, God, Allah, then who we fall in love with is all destiny and the power of such higher being. I will not baffle you anymore with this nonsense.

Love & The Pessimistic rule
The Ability to Do Otherwise
With the idea of Free Will comes a concept that tells us we have the ability to do otherwise. By that, we mean that we have the mental capacity to change our minds to do something. A simple example would be murder. If we agree that a man has free will and decides to murder someone, then we should be tempted to agree that he also has the free will not to murder. To better understand this concept we have to suggest that he planned to murder someone. And through some consideration of his actions and thoughts about the consequences, he changes his mind just as he as about to murder his victim. But we can only consider this if we expect one outcome and get another. Sounds simple, right? Let’s turn to romantic love. Do we have the the ability to willingly change our feelings for someone? If free will is true, then we should have the ability to just decide who to like and whom not to like. While we certainly have a choice whether or not we’d like to be with a person, the idea to not love someone willingly is complicated. There are two primary ideas given when we look at “ability to do otherwise.” The first is that we could do otherwise. The second is that if we have the choice to do otherwise, then we could do otherwise. In relation to love, we must consider that if free will exists in love, then we can easily choose to love just about anyone in the blink of an eye. Should free will be true, the idea that time heals everything in regards to love and heartbreaks would not a phrase used, as free will gives us the option to just turn love for someone on and off. How do we crack this theory? Simple: Expectations. When we meet someone, we don’t expect to fall in love with them. While we may have expectations to perhaps one day fall in love, that’s a rather vague concept. Narrowed down, we don’t have expectations to fall in love with a certain individual, and now we can rule out the ability to do otherwise.

Causation of Love
Theories of Causation state something, whether it’s an agent or event/state of affair leads to another, which leads to another, and that leads to another, and so on and so forth.

If you’ve ever seen “The Butterfly Effect” you know know that each major event has a causation, and it leads to another major event or way of living. Causation may be simpler to explain turning to other emotions such as anger or sadness. Unlike love, other emotions are easily triggered by events or state of affairs. Take love and happiness to sadness. A person (A) develops a crush over time to another person (B), and A is happy with his feelings toward B. The event that leads to A’s disappointment and sadness is the failed attempt to express his or her feelings to B. Whether the attempt may be successful, the outcome is that B turns A down, causing A to have sudden change in emotions, from happiness to sadness. It only takes a few moments to change emotions.

If causation should exist, how does this play in love? We will have to work backwards. Let’s start with a crush. A crush is developed by one’s (A) physical and/or character attraction to another person, which can be developed by A’s upbringing and surroundings history, which may be caused by A’s parents and their love, and so on and so forth. Causation can be considered the relation between events. In this case, love is the event. This is an example of love and transeunt causation, an event causes another event. This leads back to the psychology of love.

Immanent causation is the idea that an individual, or agent, causes an event or state of affairs. That being said, if love is the event/state of affairs, then we, as agents, are what cause love. Once again the issue we have here is the idea that we are responsible for something that we cannot control. We cannot create love merely out of thought, will, or even chemicals.

Roderick Chisholm says in his paper, “Human Freedom and the Self” that even if causation is transeunt, there might be an immanent component to it. But what is this immanent causation to love? It seems to me that if there is an immanent component to love, that means that we have the (free) will to control such emotion.

He further says “that it is true that our agent does nothing to his brain or with his brain; but from this it does not follow that the agent is not the immanent causes of some event within his brain.” Aha! If we remember from our look at the biochemistry in our brains and love, love is nothing but chemicals and neurotransmitters firing away from one neuron to another. And since this action seems transeunt, we can safely rule out our own will to love.

Let’s look once again at the psychology of love. Basic psychology has taught us that we look for and are attracted to traits, characteristics similar to ours or that of our parents and the people we admire and grow up around. Much of it comes from nurture.

Certain ideas of determinism call this type of determinism cultural/social determinism, and it is a nurture based idea of determinism.

Don’t like that idea? Perhaps our desires, likes and dislikes, and attractions are embedded in our genes. If that’s the case, then we are still faced with determinism that is nature based. This form of determinism is called biological determinism and can still be plugged in with the idea of how we find mates attractive.

Indeterminism and Love
This is my favorite theory. Indeterminism is the theory that free will and determinism are both false. This idea states that things happen at random/by chance. My beliefs on the matter will be left out with the exception of our subject. Since it difficult to prove that love is deterministic, but also hard to believe that we have any kind expectations on the subject, perhaps we can agree on something else. Love is random and just happens.

Conclusion
So what does this mean when we love someone? Why do we have crushes? And why does love hurt if it isn’t in our favor?

As we saw, there are already a few conflicting issues. Perhaps the point I am trying to make with this thesis is that the free will of loving is not very clear or extant. I have said that determinism isn’t clearly defined. The emotion of love and how it affects the way we feel about someone, in regards to determinism, may not be determined by the universe or a higher being. Conclusively, the idea of love and determinism do not mesh well with each other. It can only be assumed that love just happens and just is.

The only definite conclusion we could have with the regards that hold determinism true is that of an omniscient higher power, God, Allah, then who we fall in love with is all destiny and the power of such higher being.

My conclusion from my research of emotions, free will, determinism, and most importantly the emotion of love or fall in love with someone is this: love is unexpected, love is a mystery, we do not have the free will to love, yet without God or a higher power or true evidence of a deterministic world, Love just is.

Thank you for reading. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Mysticism: The Buddhist Approach


A  short insight in to Buddhist mysticismThe concept of mysticism is one of those concepts that does not have one true definition. There is no one way to have a mystical experience. Nor is there a specific time in one’s life which mystical experience happen. The best way to define mysticism is having an ultimate realization or realizing an ultimate goal. every religion has its own interpretation of the ultimate goal. For Christian’s, the ultimate goal, or ultimate reality is being one with God or finding a place with God and being accepted into heaven. A Buddhist’s ultimate goal, according to many, is to reach the state of Nirvana, whether it is through this present life or the next, or some life after that.

To understand Buddhist mysticism, we must understand where this philosophy comes from. The story of Gotama Buddha starts with a young prince of India. Though he was married and had everything to support his life and the life of his family, he abandoned the life of luxury to live a life of finding answers. Not happy with the state of the general public well being, Buddha left his home in search for answers and solutions at the age of 29. Six year later, after studying with various religious leaders and still not happy with the answers laid before him, Buddha decided to start his own search for answers. One day, while sitting under a tree, Buddha experiences enlightenment. This enlightenment could be considered a mystical experience. It was rapid, unexpected, and allowed Buddha to see life in a brand new way.

Mystical experiences, from a Christian’s point of view, are experiences in which a person experiences God. Some people do not have these experiences unless they have a near death experience. Others have it when they are doing their daily routines. These ultimate realizations can occur in several different forms of mystical experiences. Philosopher William James recognized Buddhist mysticism as enlightenment, or a form thereof. This form of enlightenment is considered to be the mind’s acknowledgements that it is in high states of existences. The existences is not of a god, but rather the existence of one’s self.

Mysticism in Buddhism is defined differently from other forms of mysticism. Rather than getting realization from a higher being or power, such as God, Buddhist mysticism is focused on contemplation, ideas, perspectives, and lack of all that. The experience is noetic, as William James would put it.

To attain mystical experiences in Buddhist traditions, it is not easy nor is it something that comes early in life. There is preparation that needs to be done. In Indian philosophy, yoga is used as a training into mystical insight. While many associate yoga as a form of exercise, body balancing, and relaxation, it is much more. In attaining mystical insight, yoga is used as a technique to reach those higher states of contemplation through breathing, following certain diets, attaining postures, and going through intellectual concentration.

In Zen Buddhism, the term for this intuitive experience is called Kensho, or satori. Satori is described as quick, instant experiences in which those experiencing satori gain new perspectives on everything. experiences of satori are usually never instant, but take time to develop or prepare. According to Huoston Smith, when someone experiences satori, it is like a silent rocket deep within the subject. When experiencing satori, one experiences many things, including new perspectives, as mentioned before, and joy. According to Meister Eckhart, this is what is called “a little point”. This little point in which we look at all directions is the same as the satori experiences mentioned above, where we look at things in new perspectives. An example given by Suzuki is “They eye by which I see God is the same as the eye by which God sees me.” Our Ideas, our perceptions of things, and the perceptions themselves, are merely one in the same.

When one reaches satori, all thoughts, ideas, perceptions, are final. In Buddhist philosophy, things are. There is not much questioning unlike in Western cultures. IThe point of these mystical experiences is to get answers or insight without having to second guess. Why question something we already have? Insights are not argued, there is no logical explanation or argument for these insights. They just are.

According to author William James, there is a higher contemplation, or state of existence, is called Samadhi or dyhana. To practice Samadhi means to practice meditation. This form of meditation is broken up into four stages. The first stage consists of concentrating on one point, intellectually. The feeling of desire is removed from the mind to keep focus on concentration. Stage two focuses on [satisfying] sense of unity between the point and the person. This is to say that there does not need to be concentration. Whatever point or idea a person is focused on and the person must feel like there is a unity amongst them. The third stage of dhyana drops satisfaction. In this stage, according to James, there is a sense of indifference between the mind and the point or thought. Stage four is the stage of perfection. The indifference between the point and the mind are perfected, and the mind’s self-consciousness is perfected as well.

The idea of emptiness plays itself into this concept of mysticism. As mentioned, the four stages of dhyana progressively removes feelings, and perceptions from one stage to another. However, mysticism does not stop there. It can go beyond that, removing all ideas and thoughts to reach what is called emptiness. All that there is in emptiness is a state of consciousness. This idea of emptiness plays well with the fourth stage of dhyana that James refers to, and the “happy living in this existence” that will be referred to in the next section.

There is a clear distinction that scholar D.T. Suzuki makes about the differences of Christian and Buddhist mysticism. During the final steps into reaching enlightenment, Suzuki suggest, in his book “Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist” that the crucifixion that most Christians are fixated on, is more than just a bodily sacrifice and crucifixion, but also the crucifixion of egos. Buddhist philosophy rids the ego which allows the mystical experience to be more pleasant, joyful and allow those experiencing to be more at the moment, rather than contemplate their soul’s future. Buddha’s teachings tell us that we must make these mystical experiences there and then. No matter what type of mystical experience one has, all experiences are, by Buddha’s teachings, created and provided by the mind. We, without letting our ego get to us, individually create these mystical experiences in our mind. once the time is right, our mind produces them to us. In order for a proper mystical experience, we must be liberated. They are “happy living in this existence.” Buddhism is about living in the present, which is what the Buddha realized when he had his mystical enlightenment. There is no contemplating the past or future; there is not an attachment to the beyond.

In Western traditions, there is an issue of attachment. People get attached to everything: time, objects, idea, etc. It is true for some religions as well. Both Christians and Muslims become attached to the idea of God or Allah, and worship their deity. Any form of mystical experiences to these religions is a persona and direct connection to the god. Buddhist mysticism lacks the persona aspect that Christian mystics might have with their experience with God. Buddhism does  not have a god, but the idea of being personal with Buddhist ideas and traditions, is not part of the Buddhist philosophy. Meister Eckhart and D.T. Suzuki argue that Christianity and Buddhism differ in this aspect because Christianity is based more on mythological paraphernalia, which allows a Christian to have a more concrete and persona establishment with God and Christ. Buddhism, on the other hand, does not need statues of Buddha or crosses to base their beliefs on. All that is needed are the teachings of Buddha, and present existence.

While both forms of mysticism are constructed on very different cultural mindsets, we can probably agree that satori and Christian mysticism share the same goals, whether we call it enlightenment or finding God. Both are the ultimate goals of each religion or philosophy, respectively. On the hand of those religions with a god, the goal which proceeds finding or experience a god is to achieve entering heaven or any form of it. Buddhism is not much different. While no god exists, the goal following the reach of enlightenment is to achieve the state of Nirvana. The state of Nirvana is similar to heaven. Of course, state of Nirvana is simply non existence. There is no return to the life world. Unlike many deity based religion, Nirvana is the state of non-existence. Like a candle at it’s final points of wicker, there is no more turning on or off.

As said before, mysticism cannot be narrowly defined into one definition. But the Buddhist idea is of mysticism is a simple one. Though its preparation seems complicated, the idea of a Buddhist mystical experience is simple and rapid. One moment we’re thinking about our future; the next moment we’re just conscious.

Author’s note: Happy New Year! For my final post of the year, I felt it should be on a topic that interests me very much: mysticism. Buddhist mysticism is fascinates me. Thank you for reading my blog this year. I look forward to sharing more this coming year. Happy New Year everyone! 

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Obama’s photo of Osama & Burial

I was on my way back from San Luis Obispo when Osama bin Laden was killed. Hours later, when I arrived home did I find out bin Laden was killed.

Again, as a religious studies minor, I fully understand and respect President Obama’s decision for getting rid  of bin Laden’s body so quickly.  What people don’t realize is that Osama, while he may have killed a lot of Muslims, was a Muslim himself. Like Christianity and Buddhism, Islam is broken up into different sects. Who Osama killed in terms of religion is questionable.

But President Obama’s decision to bury the terrorist’s body at sea just hours after his death is handled very well. In Islamic tradition, the body of a person must be washed, wrapped in white cloth, and buried as soon as possible, prior to when decay sets in. If land is not an option as soon as possible, then a Muslim may be buried at sea, weighed down at the feet. Bin Laden’s body was not disposed of quickly because of disrespect. Nor was it to cover up anything misleading information. It wasn’t to say “hey, he’s dead. No, you can’t see the body.” In fact, President Obama followed sharia (Islamic law) pretty well.

We’re hearing this debate of  whether President Obama should release the photos of bin Laden’s death. There seem to be mixed feelings about the issue. President Obama firmly put his fist down on the issue, refusing to release the photos of bin Laden’s body. This falls into the line of ethics. Even if Obama decides to release the photos, there is still the question of to whom. Should he release them online on his site or to the press? Who from the press should he release them to?

There are reasons we don’t see bloody bodies in newspapers.

From what we’ve heard, the photos of bin Laden is rather gory. While many of us think that we’re ready for such site, truth may be that we’re not.

As journalists, we’re trained to follow codes of ethics. While we’re in the business of reporting the news, we’re also in the business of trying to do the greater good. We do hold ethical standards and so does our government. We don’t do this to hide from our readers/consumers, but to protect them from emotional harm. How different would it be if news organizations showed photographs of a child or any civilian with a similar head wound made by gang violence?

There are several questions that should be asked before disclosing the picture or viewing it:
How graphic is the photo?
Does this enhance the story or help us understand it better?
Does the photo do justice or help with improving the quality of life?
Are they newsworthy?
Does showing bin Laden’s bloody face do any good?
Is there anyone being hurt? This question refers to a state of being.
Plus many more questions.

Obama’s comment “It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool” is very well said and should be considered for this case as well as my gang violence case.

We should not prize the death of a terrorist that attacked by showing the world his dead body. Why is it necessary to see such photos? To prove he’s dead? Showing the photos will not change President Obama’s credibility.

The question of placement may also arise. It is up to the discretion of news organizations to decide where to place the photos in their papers or how to link them online. Perhaps the second page in black and white would satisfy both sides of the spectrum.

Releasing the photo will not change the minds of many disbelievers. My friend Victor said “someone online mentioned that video of the JFK assassination did nothing to stop the conspiracy theories, so releasing the photos really wouldn’t do much good. Plus, talk about disrespect.”

And, while I do believe bin Laden is dead, I have to agree with Victor.

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My Allergy with Religion {Part 1: My love for Religion}

This is a start of a small series on my allergy with religion, why I choose not to practice any particular religion.

In my freshman year in college, I took my first philosophy class on Comparative Religion. The class opened my eyes to the 7 major religions of the world: Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism,Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. My instructor used Huston Smith’s World Religions book as the text for our class.

Exploring religions in this settings allowed me to see how different people practice faith, redemption, attempt to salvation, funeral rites, and how they view life after death.  Truth is: everyone is right. There is no right or wrong answer to faith, religion, the concept of God. Each religion has a their own valid points.

As I continue to study religion, I am amazed at the sacrifices people make to serve their deity or savior. Each religion and their denominations have their own faiths, paths to salvation, and own rituals that make each one unique. Hindu and Buddhist beliefs include reincarnation. Judaic beliefs have no hell. Islam requires the bodies to be buried sitting up. In Christiandom, the Messiah was not just a messenger, but perceived as God incarnated into the body of Jesus. Of course there is always debate and uncertainty about these beliefs, even within the religions. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, consider Jesus to only be a messenger.

I also admire the devotion people have to their faith and beliefs. Some of the happiest people I know are devoted to some faith and are connected to some church or place of worship. These people have created bonds with others from their communities that might be stronger than some marriages. Indeed, many marriages are strong for many reasons including faith, values, etc. But having faith and being involved in religion allow for commonality in lifestyles, political and ethical values, etc.

Each religion speaks to me in a way that I wish to embrace a little part of it into my every day values. Last semester I took a class with Professor Mohammad Azadpur, on the subject of Islamic mysticism. What an interesting class that was. Our texts were mostly literary, such as Conference of the Birds. In that class, we spent the semester talking about what felt was basically Islamic faith and several ways to approach faith and the equivalent to salvation.

Each book has their own unique text with beautiful stories, poetries, and challenges that help define the entire religion.

This wouldn’t be a post about loving religion without mentioning my favorite. Ever since taking Comparative Religions, Buddhism has been an interest of mine. Their philosophies include the ending of personal suffering and reaching a state of mind called enlightenment. Who wouldn’t want that?

Of course, not everyone is going to be believe in Buddhist philosophies or Christian philosophies or Islamic philosophies. To each their own.

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I want to write…

I wrote 2 quick posts on the topics I don’t want to report on as a journalist: politics and economy/business.

Then it hit me: I should telling you what I do want to do with journalism.

It took me a while to try to figure this out, but after going over some of my old stuff it became clear what I want to report on: People!

When I was in high school something terrible happened. My friend Lorelei was involved in a fatal car accident. The school was devastated. Here we are, 6 and a half months away from graduating. Then we lose one of our own. One thing that annoyed me about the day we found out was that one of the journalists reporting on the aftermath of Lorelei’s accident was asking the wrong students about the loss. Lorelei was a beautiful and loving person but she wasn’t friends with everyone in our grade. And the journalist on the job was asking some of the wrong people about her.

Not even a month into my second semester of college at Santa Rosa JC, my friend Sheri passed away, along with her boyfriend, John. My friends and I were even more devastated.

As I read the Oak Leaf’s coverage on the funeral services of both Sheri and John, they made a mistake. It was a small mistake but a mistake nonetheless. See, Sheri wasn’t an SRJC student. She was a freshman at Cal Poly, SLO. The small mistake that irritated me was that they said she was a student at Cal Poly Pomona. It may have been a small mistake, but I was going through a loss. Any little misinformed mistake irritated me.

I wish Sheri and Lorelei had more time to explore life,  for them to tell their stories…

Upon entering SF State, my first 2 writing courses were Reporting and Literary Journalism.

One of my assignments for Reporting was a profile story.

To be honest, when I had to write profile stories when I was at the JC, they sucked. My first profile story was in Q&A form. The second… well… it was abysmal.

As I walked up and down Haight street, asking merchants and residents for story ideas, I kept thinking of those 2 previous profiles.

Then I met Jim Siegel. He was a shop owner, restored victorian houses, ran away from home at 16, former hippie, lived in a mansion, and loves Burning Man and the Simpsons. I hit the jackpot. His story was gold to me.

I then met Eunice DeVore, then 62, a volunteer poll worker and caretaker. She considered her poll work as a vacation from her daily tasks of being a caretaker to her family.

Under the recommendation of my Reporting professor, Yvonne Daley, I took Literary Journalism the following semester.

My second major assignment was, yet again, another profile. But this profile was different. I showed more than told. Following tap dancer and street performer Edward Jackson for a few days was not only fun but helped me focus my interest.

As a journalist, I want to focus on people, their stories, their lives. I want to follow people around and record their occupation happenings. I want to be a profile writer. A human interest columnist.

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*Haight Homeless

“Spare change for powers?,” Felenie,18, begs as she sits in front of Earth Song. “Spare change for superpowers?”

Felenie has been homeless on and off since she was five years old. She was adopted at a young age by people she says where good, but decided to run away to find herself. Now she is on streets of California looking for a place to call home. Felenie could be back in Denver, Colorado, working at her old job. Instead she is going up and down the California coast, smoking cigarettes, wearing a black eye mask, holding a cardboard sign asking for change for superpowers. She is looking for to find herself. A place to call home.

Homelessness in San Francisco has been a problem for many years. Every year homeless and traveling young adults venture to the Haight-Ashbury district to experience the stories that they have been told by their parents or other adults in their lives. They spend afternoons in the Golden Gate Park hanging out with other homeless people, or sitting in-front of a shop begging for money. People pass them without even giving them a glance. Others drop a few coins in their hats or on the floor next to their cross-legged bodies.

Many of the young homeless population in the Haight Ashbury do not originate from San Francisco or the bay area. According to Chris “Lucky” Abraham’s experiences, he’s a former homeless man, and a test proctor at San Francisco State University, only about 33 percent of the homeless youth in San Francisco are from the area, while the other 66 percent are travelers.

According to a study by the nation coalition for the homeless, there are more than 1.6 million homeless young adults in the country. The number of homeless young adults in the Haight is not answered though. As many of the young adults travel the country and many who live in the city move around from neighborhood to neighborhood, it is hard for homeless outreach, shelter, and city officials to give an exact or estimated number.

There is not one single reason for young adults to runaway and be homeless. A popular belief made by many people is that the young adults are all from middle class families, who pretend to be homeless. Suzanne Zago, a counselor at the Cole Street Youth Clinic, says that many homeless young adults do leave their homes, not for fun, but to escape divorced parents, abuse, poverty, and broken families. Some young adults even get kicked out of their own homes for getting pregnant. “They aren’t all just these upper middle class kids who got bored in their lives,” Zago says.

While in the Haight, many find themselves doing meth, marijuana, and other drugs and alcohol. Living on Haight Street has made it easy for youth to get their hands on drugs and alcohol, says officer Art Howard, of the Park police station. Many end up abusing the use of substances and get mentally ill. Very few don’t make it at all.

Les Moniet, a 29 year old homeless man, moved to the Haight six years ago. He explains that getting drugs in the Haight is easy for young adults and an issue in the homeless community.

“I started using crystral meth,” Moniet says. “I only sleep about three nights a week, other four days I’m up on crystal.”

Though the Haight is a popular destination for many tourists from all over the world, it is also a popular destination for homeless young adults who travel from across the country. Young adults hop trains, catch buses, and hitch rides on their way to San Francisco and the Haight for a number of reasons, including the weather, the vast opportunity to panhandle, and in hopes to experience the love that the city is supposed to bring. Many show up in the Haight in hopes to relive the culture their parents experienced from the days of beatniks and hippies.

“Haight is an international destination due to the 60’s-70’s for all ages,” says Tes Welborn, a resident in the neighborhood. “Kids still hope for free sex and drugs, and many are escaping mistreatment at home. You can also see suburban’s here ‘homeless’ for the weekend.”

Another reason for coming to the Haight is comfort. In the Haight, homeless young adults say they feel more welcomed and taken care of by other homeless and transients than in any other district in the city.

“People on the streets out here, they actually look out for one another,” Moniet says. “If the police is messing with one of us, we have support with other homeless youth out here.”

Unity amongst each other is an important factor for the young adults. They stick up for each other when other people seem to bother them.

Several residents, shop owners, and shop clerks do not seem to have a large problem with the youth, while others complain to the police daily. Shop owners and employees report the homeless youth are very cooperative and they don’t disrupt business. The youth are responsive to shop owner demands to stay away from store fronts, and often leave the premises if asked, says Stannous Flouride, employee at Robert’s Hardware Store. Other residents find the young adults annoying and feel unsympathetic for them.

Rachel Hull, a resident of the Haight and a clerk at the Haight Street Tabacco Center, says she recently changed her views about the homeless young adults in the neighborhood.

“I used to feel bad for them,” Hull says. “I gave them food sometimes, until I realized they usually just take the food and throw it at each other.”

Several times a week, the police station will get calls from residents and shops that the homeless community is causing problems. Generally, the homeless young adults try to stay away from the police, to avoid being arrested, or beaten up. Others stay where they are and don’t mind the police. Most of the young adults say cops generally leave them alone.

Contrary to what some young adults say, the police at the Park Station are very helpful and do their best to help the homeless, Katie Reisinger, program director at the Huckleberry House, says. Each morning, two officers patrol the east side of Golden Gate Park and Haight Street, looking for homeless and getting them off the streets, Howard says. The police work with the City of San Francisco to help young adults get off the streets and find them a place to live or stay for a few nights, Howard says.

Howard, who worked the homeless beat for three years, says the city has a program called Homeward Bound, and the department often encourages young adults to take advantage of it. Homeward Bound is a program that gives homeless and runaway people, the chance to get on a bus and go back to their families. Bill Buelhman, an SF homeless outreach worker, says the program contacts family members willing to receive the runaway or homeless person, and the city pays for a one way bus ticket back home.

The hard cold floors and grasses of Golden Gate Park and Buena Vista provide the young adults a place to sleep when no one else will or can take them in. They set up camps hidden in the bushes where no one can see them. Others choose to sleep elsewhere, including churches, buses, shelters. The street sidewalks they beg on sometimes double as beds, even if they are out in plain sight.

“If you sleep in the park they’ll write you a ticket if they find you,” Daniel, a 19-year-old homeless man, says. “So I just pass out on the sidewalk because it’s public property.”

The City of San Francisco offers many programs and shelters for homeless youth to go into. In the Haight Ashbury district, the Larkin Street Youth Services referral center on Haight Street, refer homeless youth to shelters and other services in the city. The Huckleberry House, on Page Street, serves as a temporary community home for runaway teens, and offers them counseling, therapy, shelter, food, and community activities. Though the house mostly caters to runaway youth from the bay area, Reisinger says, they house about 25 traveling youth each year.

The Homeless Youth Alliance, (HYA), on the corner of Haight and Cole, takes in young adults for free meals, showers, bathroom use, counseling, and other basic needs they may want. On any given day, they could have 80 young adults using their services, Buelhman, who works closely with the center, says. HYA also provides needle exchanges every Wednesday, and a neighborhood clean-up on the last Friday of each month, when staff, young adults, and members of the community members clean the streets of Haight, and parts of Golden Gate Park.

On Friday nights, the youth can go to the Page Street Center, on Lower Haight, and enjoy a free meal, hangout, and watch a movie, Eric Bergquist, Page Street Center director, says. Bergquist started working at the center 10 years ago. With the help of former and current homeless young adults, he runs a safe environment for them to hang relax for a few hours and make friends.

“We consistently give them a movie,” Bergquist says. “ We want to give them a place where they feel welcome and where they feel valued.”

Most services offer an open door policy, which allows any young adult in who seeks help, to show up and receive the proper care they require. Services, though, are limited and many places are understaffed and affected by the budget cuts.

“It’s not always enough,” Buehlman says. “But we want to show them (young homeless) that people can change. That it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Not all young adults, however, take the services offered to them by the shelters, and youth organizations. Instead, many choose the stay on the streets, and help themselves to what the people can offer. They choose to rebel against authority and ingenuity, Lucky says.

Though life on the streets is may seem tough, many young adults enjoy being out and panhandling.

“It’s fun and exciting,” Lady, 19, from Missouri, says. Lady has been traveling the country for the last two years and is currently with her friend Blame, 23, from New Jersey. Blame has been on the streets for 8 years.

Being out on the streets allows the young adults to be creative and free. Some people feel their creativity, spirituality, and lifestyle is being stifled from where they come from, Lucky says. On the streets, the young adults can express themselves and learn in, what they feel is, care free environment.

“I like to learn from life experiences,” Lady says.

The new generations of homeless young adults are like the new generation of hobos, Zago says.

“That tradition is being carried on,” Zago says. “These kids are it. They have dreams.”

The young adults often stick together as a community and travel with each other. They make new friends and hang out with old friends. They don’t care what other people think and just want to live life without responsibilities. When help is available, many will take it, and others will not. And when have done everything they thought of doing, they find new ways to reinvent themselves.

“We live in a community that will never fail,” Felenie says. “When you have nothing other than yourself, you can figure out you. There’s no mask. There’s no anything else.”

{*indicates a story for Reporting or Literary Journalism }

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*Haight-Ashbury

The neighborhoods and districts of San Francisco each have their own history, voice, and subjects of interest.

The Castro district is a mecca for the homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual/transgender community, Chinatown’s history names it as the oldest and largest in the country, the Presidio has its war stories. It’s no different for the Haight-Ashbury district when it comes to distinctness. The Haight-Ashbury has drug paraphernalia, traveling and local performers on the streets, and multicultural food, as well many other things.

A day at the Haight varies but can consist of tourists, many from European nations, walking up and down the historical street, and browsing the décor, merchandise, and cultural memorabilia. Runaway teenagers and traveling artists set up their instruments in any available spot they can find, whether it’s a street corner or in front of a gated home.

“A lot of people try to make a few bucks playing music,” says Chris Heller of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic (HAFCI).

“It’s a quiet and welcoming place,” says Patricia Ayala, an employee at the Walden House.

The Haight-Ashbury, also known as the Haight, is home to bong shops, various ethnic restaurants and shops.

It is also where street performers come and play their music. The Haight got its name from the main street that runs through it, says Sherry Cronin of the HAFMC.

The Haight Ashbury, according the sfmuesum.org, is named after Henry Haight, a banker, and Munroe Ashbury, a politician.

The portion of Haight Street that many people consider the district is approximately two miles long, going along the street from Stanyan Drive to Octavia Drive. The Haight is part of San Francisco’s fifth district, and has Ross Mirkarimi as the current district supervisor.

The Haight Beat is the neighborhood’s online and print newspaper. The Haight Beat reports on news in the neighborhood and also acts as a guide of the neighborhood to tourists. The Haight had another neighborhood newspaper in the 90s called the Haight Ashbury Free Press. It only published 11 issues.

According to haightashburystreetfair.org, the streets of the Haight hold an annual street fair in June. In addition, the fair organization has put together a Halloween street fair for the children in October, for the last three years.

Architecture of most homes and some businesses is modeled after the Victorian style. The Red Victorian, a hotel since 1904, is a historical landmark and one example of the Victorian architecture. While the architecture for the rest of the businesses don’t reflect any particular style, window, wall, and interior decorations manifest the bohemian community and culture. Villians displays a colorful cityscape mural above its entrance with a metallicstore logo hanging in front of the mural. Wasteland’s window display show mannequins with vintage style clothing.

Most head shops display the different styles of hookah and bongs they sell.

“It’s a good business district because people from all over the world come here,” says Bruce Lyall, of Recycled Records on Haight Street.

Businesses and restaurants in the district are primarily independently owned.  Franchise businesses such as McDonalds, Pure Beauty, and American Apparel are seldom in the district. Drug paraphernalia shops known as head shops, selling medical marijuana, bongs, other recreational drugs, and drug paraphernalia are scattered throughout the district. Pipe Dreams, on Haight Street is the oldest smoke shop in San Francisco. Other shops including Positively Haight Street, American Apparel, Villains, and Wasteland show through their merchandise the Haight’s diverse bohemian atmosphere.

Dining at the Haight is never an issue. Haight Street has many restaurants and cafes to choose from with different styles of cooking and menus. The Squat and Gobble serves sweet and savory crepes, sandwiches and breakfast specials such as the crab cake Florentine. For a more earthly meal, the locals suggest Kate’s Kitchen on Lower Haight, which offers all natural ingredient meals. On a Sunday morning locals and tourists can head over to The Red Victorian to enjoy breakfast in the cafe and participate in “World” or “Breakfast” conversations. Sami Sunchild, owner of the Red Victorian, hosts the conversations at 9 a.m. on Sundays, according to employees and their newsletter.

The nightlife at the Haight is a little more limited. Many of the stores close in the early evening, while some restaraunts remain open until midnight or later, and clubs open their doors.

“There are Hookah bars that cater to a 21 and under crowd. Hookahs are such a novelty,” says Heller.

Indian restaurant Kan Zaman on Haight Street provides dancing and music entertainment, and hookah smoking, apart from the food, for the 18 years and over crowd, wanting to spend a relaxing night out.

Magnolia Pub on Haight and Masonic is open until midnight Sundays through Thursdays, and until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. They serve about a dozen different beers, mostly brewed on site and culinary style meals like grilled albacore sandwich and desserts like goat cheesecake.

The Haight is divided into two sections. Upper Haight is known more for its tourism, drug paraphernalia, history, and shops, while the Lower Haight has more of a neighborhood feel and is more diverse,  says Heller.

“In terms of culture this place is much more liberal than other parts of California,” says ACLU employee, Leisha Aram, who was asking for donations on a street corner.

According to the census bureau, approximately 11,500 residents live in the Haight Ashbury district.  More than 10,000 residents are between the ages of 18 and 65, White Americans make up 75 percent of the population while African Americans make up about 12 percent, and Asians up to 3.6 percent.

Residents living in the area are mostly middle and working class, says Scot Grinthal of Saint Agnes Church.

Few older residents who started living there up to 30 years ago still live and own their homes in the district and the area surrounding it.

The Haight faces problems similar to that of many other San Francisco neighborhoods such as homelessness and financial needs.

“The homeless are annoying but basically they are not criminal,” says Lyall.

Local churches and other shops lend their support to serving the community      .

“We give away bags of food for people in need,” says Grinthal. “For people with cooking facilities, we give away about 75 bags of groceries per month.  For homeless people, we give away about 20 snack bags per month.”

Like other places in the city, living in the Haight is had when it comes to finances. According to the 2000 census, the median household income in the Haight was $64,000 a year.

“It is really expensive. To have this healing center is outrageously expensive,” says resident and Sophia Healing Center employee Myah Kristinhegre. “There is a small percent of businesses that have closed.”

The SFPD Park Station serves the Haight Ashbury district as well as Golden Gate Park, the Castro, Twin Peaks, Western Addition, and Cole Valley.

Crime in the Haight is much the same as other neighborhoods in San Francisco says Officer Gretchen Parker, of the SFPD Park Station.

Car break-ins, theft, and shoplifting are the most common crimes in the district, says Parker. Some residents and merchants have a different view the situation

Everyblock.org reports that theft, drug possession, and assault are amongst the most frequent crimes in the district.

Haight-Ashbury has several health service programs including the Haight Asbury Free Medical Clinic, the Cole Street Youth Clinic, and the re-opened Walden House. Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, HAFMC, offers medical service to anyone.

“We see the uninsured population.  We try to reach to the homeless pop as much as possible,” Heller says.

The Haight has some community councils and associations that speaks for them. The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, HANC, serves as a voice for the residents in the district. HANC holds meetings once a month at the Park Branch Library to discuss issues in the neighborhood and around the city. Pi Ra, a pedestrian safety coordinator of the Senior Action Network, serves as the current president of HANC.

The Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, HAIA, works with merchants and residents to build a better connection with each other. HAIA meets the seconds Monday of every month. Cheryl Brodie was HAIA president in 2007. Other organizations include the Waller Street Association, All Saint’s Episcopal Church, Haight Ashbury Free Clinics Incorporated, and Haight-Divisadero Neighbors and Merchants Association.

To get to the Haight from other parts of the city, six MUNI lines stop through the district: 6, 7, 33, 37, 43, and 71. People can catch the Muni lines from other neighborhoods including Market, the Castro, and Sunset districts. People can also get to the district through the east end of Golden Gate Park, which shares Stanyan Street with the Haight’s west end.

Most of the crowd that goes to the Haight is mostly young adult, and tourists. The district has some hangout locations for the younger crowd. A Boys and Girls Club is located on the outer barrier of the district on Page Street.

Buena Vista Park, San Francisco’s oldest official park, is great for morning walks, Ayala says.

De Avila Elementary School is the district’s public elementary school and is located on Haight Street close to Masonic and Buena Vista Park.

Haight Ashbury is full of history and culture. It’s a place for tourists and locals to go hang out, meet new people, enjoy cultural shopping and learn a piece of San Francisco History.

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*DeVoted DeVore

{During the 2008 election night, I was reporting in my neighborhood for a class assignment. I met a wonderful woman who works as a poll inspector every election season.}

It’s moments after polls close their doors to count the ballots, and Eunice DeVore, takes the key around her neck to the voting machine. As she opens the machine, she picks up the ballots of the day’s election and sets them on one of the tables in her polling place inside de Avila Elementary School. As she waits for the results of the election, DeVore and her team of volunteers have to count all the ballots to make sure they are all there. The count in the electoral college’s votes is rising and they are about to announce the next president of the United States of America.

Devore, 62, a Haight-Ashbury resident, volunteers with the San Francisco Department of Elections, and has been doing it 18 years in her neighborhood. Devore first took the volunteer job when her church on Clayton Street, then one of the polling locations, was in need of volunteers. Devore stepped in and has been an inspector for her polling place ever since. For a few days every few years, DeVore balances her life and the life of an election poll volunteer.

When it is not election season, DeVore works at home as a caretaker for her two ill brothers and, also provides care for foster children. She is in charge of the chores, including cleaning and cooking. Her job as a polling inspector requires her to do a lot for one day of work and wake up early to get to the polling place.

“We have to gather our supplies in the morning and bring them over to the polling place which is only two blocks away from home,” says DeVore’s son, Samuel DeVore.

DeVore, like other inspectors, oversees the polling place, directs volunteer duties and she is responsible for solving any problems that may come up in the polling center. To DeVore, working one day as a poll inspector is a piece of cake compared to one day at home.

“This job requires people to follow through with the job,” says Gerry Ashley, a Department of Elections precinct coordinator. “Eunice doesn’t back down.”

However, her job is not that simple. At the end of the night, it is her and the other volunteers’ job to pick up all the ballots in the center and count them. She is also in charge and the only one with the key to the voting machine that voters put their ballots into at the end of their voting.

“This is actually a vacation from home,” Devore says.

She enjoys the perks of coming into the polling place and seeing the same people vote every election, as well as seeing new voters. She also finds the pleasure in helping out her community.

“I feel like it’s just so citizen like,” DeVore says.

Since the start of her part time career as an inspector, DeVore has seen the changes in the way people vote. DeVore recalls voters used awls to punch holes into their ballots when she first started voting.

“They’re continually improving their voting procedures,” DeVore says.

DeVore now manages the voting machines and has to assist voters with the change, while at the same time, adjusting to the change herself.

Over the years, Devore recruited her family to volunteer with her. In the past, her brothers and children have worked with her when it Election Day came. Now, DeVore’s children and grandchildren volunteer with her any chance they get. She hopes her family become better citizens by helping with little jobs as the one she has.

“She’s a good boss,” Samuel DeVore says.

Samuel and his sister both have been volunteering with their mother for almost 10 years.

This year’s election is very important to her because she is black, DeVore says. As the results of the election came in DeVore was still wrapping up her job at the precinct as well as watching the coverage of the election.

“I am very ecstatic. I never thought that in my life time I would see a black president,” DeVore says. “I don’t think of [Obama] as a black president, I think of him as a president who happens to be black.”

Her way of voting and looking at politics changed over the years. DeVore claims she would vote on instinct in the past and now keeps herself informed on the issues by reading up on them in papers and brochures.

“First time I voted I was glad to be voting,” Devore says. “I didn’t know what I was voting on, I just did what my mamma told me to do. Whatever you do, I do mom. I just followed my mom.”

Besides the presidential election, DeVore felt Proposition 4 was a very important issue to her and the rest of the propositions were very important to everyone.

“Most of the propositions I voted for went in my favor,” DeVore says.

Nicolai Safai, a student at International High School and a poll place volunteer says he enjoys working with DeVore and her family and has being doing for two elections.

“She a very curious and friendly person,” Safai says. “She knows everything and she’s pretty laid back and helpful.”

DeVore’s job this season is over. Though she enjoys what she does, she is not looking ahead to the next election season yet but is prepared to volunteer and vote again.

Though this election season is over, DeVore encourages future voters to “stick with what they want,” and let their voice be heard.

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*A Moment of Zen

*CLANKCLANKCLANKCLANK*…. *Clankclankclank.* The sounds of early commuters are drowned by the sound of a bell persistently being hit on by a very silent monk walking down each hallway to wake everyone up. It’s only six in the morning. The only lighting outside is coming from street lamps and the stars. The hall is illuminated though. Pairs of shoes are neatly placed on the hardwood floor in front or right next to every door. They are facing either outward or toward the middle of the hallway. They rarely ever point toward the doors.

Only a few minutes pass when the sound of the Han, a wooden block, softly echoes throughout the building. *CLAP*… the sound reverberates around. A minute passes. *CLAP*. After seven minutes, a roll down of repetitive hammering wooden clicks fills the Zen Center.   The sounds of footsteps are scattered all over, making their way down to the basement, into the Zendo, the meditation room. The sound of shoes treading the floor stops at the mat next to the room. Pairs and pairs of bare feet walk into the Zendo. One by one, Zen practitioners and monks step into the Zendo and find the farthest available cushion. They bow to their cushion, then to each other. Everyone takes a seat and swivel clockwise to face the wall. *Ding! Ding! Ding!* Three sharp chimes signal the beginning of Sazen, the period of meditation. For forty minutes, the only sounds heard are those of water running through the pipes, the breath of a person, and the tires and engines of cars passing by the center. The only thing they see is a blank wall in front of them, slowly getting lighter as the sun comes up. The only thing they feel is their hands pressed against their abdomen, and the cushions they are sitting on.

It’s now 7:10 in the morning. Still no one has said much verbally. The only words come from little children or confused guests. Everyone in the Zendo grabs their footwear and heads up to the Buddha Hall. One by one, they take off their shoes again, and leave them side by side by side outside of the entrance to the Buddha Hall. One by one they pick up a cushion, step onto the middle of the straw mat and bow to the statue of Buddha in front of the room. Then, one step to the side, turn, and finding a place to sit. Everyone sets their cushion down on the mat, then faces forward. *Ding!* A small cup shaped bell is rung. Everyone in the room takes a bow. The remains of the echo from the bell, the sounds of robes ruffling, the swoosh and roars of vehicles passing by, and the occasional chirping of a bird or two, are the only sounds heard within the room. Everyone gets up. *Ding!* Once again, the sounds of clothing ruffling fills the room as everyone gets on the floor and bows. Seven more times they do this. *Ding ding ding!*

The final ringing of the bell signals everyone to take their seats. Shogan, the Chant leader for the day, recites a verse out of a book in a very monotonic tone.

“We we thank the Buddha for this great day!”

The next forty minutes of the service is spent reciting the many names of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, their appreciation for knowledge, and hope for the well being of others. Once over, they silently put away their cushions and head over to the basement for breakfast.

One by one, monks, residents, and guests enter the Zendo. Turn left, bow. Turn right. In their hands lie a set of 3 plastic bowls, topped with a set of chopsticks and a single spoon.  They are wrapped together in a giant napkin neatly and precisely tied at the very top. The chopsticks and spoons, as a set alone, are wrapped in a separate napkin. One by one they proceed to walk around the zendo until reaching upon the last available cushion.  Before they sit down, they turn clockwise, toward the cushion, and bow to it. Once again, they turn clockwise and bow away from their cushion before finally sitting down.  Silently they wait in a half or full lotus position, for the head monk to initiate the ceremony. Resident Renee Meiffren stands in the far left corner of the long side of the Zendo.

Ding! Meiffren quickly runs along the side wooden bench, wiping it clean with a moist rag. Silently, she walks out of the Zendo. Everyone takes their set of dish and silverware and sets them in front of their bodies. Meticulously, they unwrap the larger napkin, revealing three bowls. They fold the napkin on the wooden surface, as to not let it drape over the ledge. With as little noise as possible, the smaller bowls are removed and placed on the napkins, left to right, largest to smallest.

Meiffren returns to the room, with a small kettle filled with bland rice porridge. She pours the porridge into the big bowls. After every pour, each person raises their bowl and bows to thank her. Next, the Miso soup is served in the medium bowl, followed by the tofu in the smaller bowl. A chime is rung. Everyone picks up their bowl of porridge, and slowly eat it little by little, but not all of it, each at their own pace and rhythm. They move on to the soup, taking just a few small sips. The tofu is next. Silently, the chopsticks are picked up in no distinctive pattern, as people eat the tofu. Individually, the process is completed in that order, until each bowl is cleaned from any left-over food bits. After the bowls are cleaned, everyone wraps their bowls back into their napkin wrap and sit silently for a few more minutes. Ding!

***

Breakfast is over. The residents and guests of the Zen center have had time to take a quick shower and clean up before continuing on with their day. The Buddha hall, starts getting filled with people who await the free weekly lecture. Abbot Paul Haller enters the Buddha Hall and sits on a small sitting stool located in the center of the room.

“I’d like to tell you the story of a woman,” Haller says in a gentle, caring voice, “who had a baby boy that died not long after. She was distraught. She went to the Buddha and asked for his help.”

Not knowing where this was going, everyone stayed attentive.

“She asked the Buddha to help her bring her son back to life,” Haller continued. “The Buddha replied: find a household who has not grieved or lost a loved one, to give you mustard seed, and bring it back and I will help you.”

Haller continued his story, explaining that the woman found no such household.

“Now what is the moral of the story?” he asks. “The point of this story is that she waited for something, and what you got wasn’t what you were waiting for. And that’s what priesthood is all about.”

***

The Buddha Hall is quickly filled. Guests take up the majority of the folded seats and benches that surround the straw mat floor. The Zen residents and participants lay out their cushions on the straw mat and stand next to them until the signal is given to sit down.

Abbot Paul Haller enters the Buddha Hall, with two other officiating preceptor priests. Finally, the three monks, David Haye, Steven Davidowitz, and Trevor Maloney enter the Buddha Hall, wearing long grey robes. Their heads are shaved, except for a small square piece in the back.

*DONG!* The first bell goes off, and everyone in the assembly take a full bow, all the way to the floor. Immediately but slowly, they stand back up. *DONG!* The second bell goes off. They bow again and stand back up. Another seven rings and seven bows. *DONG DONG DONG!* The final three bells signal everyone to take their seats.

“Welcome everyone to this wonderful event,” Haller addresses to everyone in the room. “Let us pay homage to all Buddhas in the ten directions, homage to the complete dharma in the 10 directions, to the endless sangha, to the first teacher, to the single being succession.”

Everyone is silent. Only Haller’s voice fills the room.

“Let us recite the names of Buddha,” Haller instructs the assembly in his gentle but vibrant voice.

“Vairochana Buddha, Pure Dharmakaya Lochana Buddha, complete Sambhogakaya Shakyamuni Buddha…” the whole assembly chants in a monotonic tone.

The room, once again, goes silent.

“To come here today to be ordained as disciples of Buddha, this certainly is possible. As Buddha’s disciples you have the opportunity to receive the teachings transmitted by practicing with Buddha through the ancestors.”

Lucy Xiao, assistant to the abbots, stands on the right end of the table.

Haller stands behind Haye, kneeling. As Haye lowers his head, Xiao hands Haller a razor. Haller inches a razor to the small patch of hair.

“This last piece of hair is called the Shura. Only a Buddha can cut it off. Now I will now cut it off. Will you allow me to cut it off?”

“Yes,” responds Haye in confidence.

Haller rubs some shaving cream on and around the block of hair. Gently, he shaves off the remaining hairs on Haye’s head. He wipes off the excess hair and shaving cream with a cloth, revealing a completely bald head. Davidowitz and Maloney follow. No one in the assembly claps. They remain seated, watching silently.

Haller commands Haye, to step forward. As he waves a piece of paper containing Haye’s new name. ”Your name is Shundo Ginen: swiftly flowing wave,” he tells Haye in a poetic tone.

The newly ordained priests return to their spots in-front of the abbots; Haller receives a wrapped package from Xiao. He hovers the white package over the smoke of a burning incense stick. Haye stands from his spot, bows to Buddha then bows to Haller. He receives his package, and wraps it, revealing a black robe.  Before he sits back down, he takes a small bow toward the preceptors. He waits for Davidowitz and Maloney to receive their robes. Together, Haye, Davidowitz, and Maloney bow their heads and raise their arms in the air, robes in hand, and chant.

“Oh Bodhisattvas, please concentrate your hearts on me. I am Buddha’s disciple, and receive this robe. I will wear this robe of Buddha with the mind and body of its sacred meaning.”

Another preceptor, Dairyu Michael Wenger rises from the table and stand behind the new priests. With incents in hand, they circle their hands around the priests head, making a faint halo of smoke. Xioa hands Haller a small cup with water. Wenger dips his fingers into the water and splashes it on Haye’s, Davidowitz’s, and Maloney’s heads. The water, a spiritual cleanser, drips down the new priests’ scalps.

“From now on, even after realizing Buddha hood, will you continue this faithful practice?” Haller asks the three men.

“Yes I will!” the three priests respond in unison.

The preceptors read the Buddha’s three refuges, three pure concepts, and ten grave precepts. Haye, Davidowitz, and Maloney verbally accept the offerings.

“Yes I will.”

“From now on enlightenment is your teacher,” says Haller. “Buddha is your teacher. All being is your teacher.”

The assembly closes the ceremony with two more chants. Ding! Everyone bows at the tone of the bell. Ding! The noise of clothes ruffling can be heard as the assembly bows again. Ding! The final bow is taken and Haye, Davidowitz, and Maloney, the new priests, exit the Buddha hall, and their friends and families behind them.

###

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