Fifty Shades Of Grey: The Next Twilight Saga?

Fifty Shades Of Grey. Fifty Shades Of Grey. Fifty Shades Of Grey!!!! That’s all anyone was talking about and clicking links to once the movie was soon to be showing in theatres. The publicity Christian Grey’s suits and good-looks generated alone were probably enough to push the movie to break-even (sarcasm intended).

Before I start this review, I think it’s fair for y’all to know that I have not read the book. I am a movie enthusiast and I love a good movie any given night. Me and my friend decided to give the famous Mr.Grey a shot the night before spring break started. What did we have to lose, right? We figured if it was going to be a good movie, then great! If not, at least we’ll get a good laugh out of it. The lack of chemistry between the actors, the bad camera angles, and the rush in the plot change seemed funny and pointless at the time. However, when I gave it some more thought, I was a little concerned.

Yes, if one found normal ‘love-stories’ to have a lack of nudity and sexual ‘passion’ then maybe you’d like the way this movie progresses. In my opinion, the female lead needed more work. Her character development throughout the movie was quite confusing and it kept going back and forth till the very end of the movie. I thought Christian Grey had a mysterious feel. He was dark and twisty in his own way and played the role of a dominant throughout the movie quite nicely. All in all, there was no chemistry.

Regardless of how the movie went on and how I would like to pick it apart, I have a bigger concern. I am concerned about the change in mentality this movie could bring about. While the U.S. has more regulations and will try its best to keep this movie out of reach from minors, other countries with much less control over movie viewers will probably be distributing this to everyone who can pay for it. How much damage could that do, one may wonder?

Remember when us early-20-somethings were 15 and Twilight was a thing? How the mind-reading Edward and mysterious Bella were star-cross lovers and we loved every bit of that story? Well… Christian and Anastasia could be the new them, except there is no longer an entirely fantasy-world-of-vampires-and-werewolves shielding us. Those who did not know BDSM was a preference and a lifestyle now know it exists and, even worse, probably think it’s the cool thing to do just because these characters do. Even those who probably don’t even know enough about sex, consent or healthy relationship dynamics are probably now in love with the idea of BDSM.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against BDSM. It’s a preference and a choice that consenting adults make. But what happens to minors who get exposed to it for the first time through Fifty Shades Of Grey? It scares me that Christian and Anastasia could become the new ‘IT’ couple that high school and middle school couples aspire to be. Men who grow up in already male-dominated societies will now find more comfort in a story such as this. Yes, there have been other movies in the past which were inappropriate for children and there will be more in the future. However, this particular movie has had so much social media presence that its reach and fans go way beyond a normal inappropriate movie in the wrong hands.

What I took away from this movie and the concerns I had after watching it: I wish societies would take a step towards actually having conversations about intimate relationships, consent and sex at the same rate as these movies come out and beg us to have these concerns. Maybe somewhere deep-down the point of this story was to raise awareness about violence and consent? Who knows? It definitely has generated a lot of debate about consent and domestic violence. We can never be too sure about the original intention of movies or their aftermath. Hopefully people will ask more questions instead of being consumed by the unrealistic concepts proposed in this movie. Hopefully… the world won’t see any more college students raping their partners to reenact scenes from Fifty Shades Of Grey. And hopefully we’ll get better at protecting the next generation of adults, a lot better than how Christian protected Anastasia’s choices.

-Suaida Firoze

Watches Make a Comeback

smartwatch-comparison-guideI’ve said it myself: “why would I need to wear a watch?”

Since I was 16 I’ve been carrying around a cellphone that tells time just as (if not more) reliably than a wristwatch. Now with the majority of us sporting smartphones, we’re even more attached to our phones, and there is an even less need for wristwatches. But as these smartphones keep shrinking and as consumers’ desire for convenience and innovation peaks, wristwatches might be making a comeback.

By now you have probably heard the term “smartwatch” before; this is just a broad umbrella term for watches that can simply do more than tell time. On the market now we have smartwatches that can track your physical activity, tell you your heart rate, your geographic location and altitude… it’s really amazing.

A U.S. survey found that people between the ages of 16 and 34 tell time by looking at their cellphones. Now cellphones and watches might start becoming paired and, perhaps in the future, inseparable. There are already several models of smartwatches that have the ability to connect to most smartphone platforms, but now Samsung and Apple (the two leading cellphone providers in the U.S.) are attempting to extend their market domination to the smartwatch industry as well.

Samsung’s release of their “S-Gear” is not novel news. It’s had glitches, and its uses and applications are limited. Apple has upped the ante and now created a watch that will communicate elegantly with its counterpart. The new Apple watch will also offer thousands of smartwatch applications that the particular model could work with.

What I find more interesting than any new gadget is how these new smartwatches will affect our daily lives. Just consider how much smartphones have changed the way of our culture. I was riding the T in Boston the other day and nearly everyone was on some sort of smartphone. Several had their eyes glued to their tablets! When that same sort of technology is no longer in our pockets, but on our wrists, we’re never going to be disconnected! You won’t miss a call and you won’t miss a notification or message. Your watch will be your calendar, your GPS, your Internet browser; the prospects are incredible.

-Alexander Santos

Words with Worldly Repercussions

Every time we use a word or a phrase, it reveals something implicit about how that thing is viewed. I know that seems a little bit abstract and like I’m just some liberal arts student looking to draw grand conclusions about the world, but bear with me. Let’s look for a moment at the phrase “throwing something away”. It implies that that thing is now launched away forever into another place and does not need to be thought or cared about. This phrase reflects a common attitude on waste disposal and implicitly gives big companies, institutions, and even cities permission to stop thinking about where their trash goes and how it affects the world around us.

When people think of the journey of their trash, many think of it all going to a dump or incinerator. But some of that trash ends up in our waterways and out into the oceans. In fact, in America in the early 20th century, dumping trash into the oceans was viewed as a common practice. “The solution to pollution is dilution” is a phrase commonly used to describe a traditional view of waste disposal. This isn’t entirely inaccurate because all things do biodegrade eventually, but the advent of widespread plastic use combined with a shift to consuming disposable products and an increased world population has caused our oceans to suffer immensely.

Prior to the invention of plastics, most consumer products were made with natural materials that could degrade in a reasonable amount of time. Dumping waste from these products into the ocean was not beneficial to most ecosystems’ health in the oceans, but the pervasiveness of plastics that we are seeing now is unprecedented. It is estimated that there is 268,940 tons of plastic in the ocean today that is ever growing. Plastic particles can be found in absurd abundance in every shape and size from large pieces to particles at the molecular level. There are so many ways that these plastic particles affect ocean ecosystems, many of which we don’t understand. For example, sometimes plastic particles look like prey, causing organisms to ingest them and often die from starvation. Plastic that is broken down to the molecular level can even behave like estrogen and chemically affect organisms in the ocean. The vast expanse of issues associated with this massive amount of plastic is not yet fully known, but it is sure to create changes in our oceans.

Because of the way the ocean currents work, there are 5 major places on Earth that these plastics are congregated and they are called gyres. This is only one of the many paths that trash can take once it is “thrown out” of our lives into a trashcan. So, next time you throw something away you, may want to think for a minute where this piece of trash is really going and if there is a better way for it to be disposed of.


If you are looking to learn more about plastics in our oceans check out the documentary Plastic Paradise” The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Breach of Protocol: Is the Senate Trying to De-Rail Obama’s Negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

If you haven’t noticed the groundswell: America is outraged.

On March 9th, 47 U.S. Republican Senators sent an open letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran with an effort to bring to their attention two features of the U.S. Constitution. This letter was sent with obvious allusions to the diplomatic negotiations President Obama is currently having with Iran concerning the Republic’s access to nuclear warheads. The first feature the senators wanted to highlight was that anything the president agrees to is a “mere executive agreement”, bluntly hinting to the Iranians that any agreement they might come to with the President might in effect mean nothing without the Senate’s majority vote. The second feature the senators brought to their attention was that Obama will be leaving his office by January 2017, but that many members of the senate would remain in office for perhaps decades to come.

There are obviously many things I see wrong with this letter. First and foremost, it is an incredible over-reach by the Senate and an extreme breach of protocol. The Logan Act of 1799 forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, and the 47 Senators who signed this letter are undoubtedly unauthorized. Secondly, it characterizes our elected leader (President Obama) as deceitful in the midst of a very high-stakes negotiation: we’re talking about nuclear bombs – weapons of mass destruction. Third, it reflects poorly on the nation as a whole. Partisanship is a part of our system, and it’s an immensely integral part our country’s government and culture. But this letter represents more than just domestic democratic differences – it represents a nation which is at war with itself.

If these senators are so clear about the constitution, why didn’t they consider one of its most fundamental principles—separation of power? Our country is based entirely on a constitutional system of checks and balances and I think it’s safe to say that this letter transcended those checks, and might in turn throw foreign negotiations off balance. This letter might have only been intended for the Iranian Government, but it has further implication—it threatens to effectively illegitimate any of Obama’s future foreign negotiations.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has already commented on the scandal, apparently seeing it as very black-and-white: “either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the Commander and Chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy. Either answer does discredit to the letter’s signatories.”

In truth, I see this issue as rather clean-cut myself; the 47 senators put their own interests before the well-being of the entire nation. The hashtag #47TRAITORS has now gone viral throughout the nation as hundreds of thousands demand that the senators involved be charged with treason. Violation of the Logan Act in itself, aside from the growing list of other offences the Senators might be charged with, is punishable under federal law with the potential of imprisonment for up to three years.

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Do you think these 47 Senators should be named traitors and charged with treason? Does anyone think the Senator’s letter was justified? We want to hear your opinion on Things That Matter!

 -Alexander Santos


Sweetie: A Step to Stop Webcam Child Sex Tourism

A 10 year-old Filipino girl named Sweetie tracked down and identified 1,000 pedophiles from 71 different countries in 10 weeks, the first of whom was convicted in October, 2014. Scott Robert Hansen pleaded guilty to sending obscene pictures of a child, possession of images of child abuse, and failure to comply with a sex offenders order in Brisbane District Court, Australia, and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Hansen started the conversation with saying “hi, u really 9yo”. When he received the answer “Yes”, he proceeded to ask questions such as, “wanna chat or cam with older?” and “I like Asian chicks, are you … for action?” Hansen then became more explicit, “I’m naked, ever seen a guy naked?” before turning on his webcam and performing a sex act in front of a girl who he believed was only nine years old. At one point, as reported by an anonymous operator, Hansen also asked to involve Sweetie’s 8 year-old sister.

What’s amazing about this particular case, however, isn’t the nature of the crime or the unbelievably short prison sentence (which Hansen isn’t even expected to serve) for a man already previously convicted of attempted child abduction and possession of child pornography.

What’s amazing is that the child he sent the photos to was not a child at all.

Sweetie may look, talk, and act like a little girl, but she’s actually a digital model of a Filipino child, created by the Dutch branch of the children’s rights organization Terra des Hommes (Terra des Hommes the Netherlands) to combat the fast-rising phenomenon of webcam child sex tourism (WCST).

What is webcam child sex tourism? To start with, it’s an appallingly easy crime. Adults, usually from developed countries, pay to direct and view children performing sex acts in front of a webcam, in real time. Child victims of this crime report that the people they talk to ask them to perform various sexual tasks, such as take off their clothes, masturbate, and even have sex with other children or adults, in front of a webcam. Basically, these predators direct their own real time child pornography.

Every month, tens of thousands of children fall victim to webcam child sex tourism in the Philippines alone. Predators pay between only USD 10 and 100 for each show. Terra des Hommes the Netherlands has published research showing that WCST has permanent psychological damage on child victims.

The victims of this sex crime tend to be impoverished children who comply with the predators’ requests for money. Child prostitutes can use WCST to supplement their income from street prostitution. Often children are coerced into WCST by their struggling families. Sometimes children are held captive with other children in trafficking ‘dens’ and forced to perform sexual acts in front of webcams by their captors.

The age of victims can range from 5 to 17 years. Terra des Hommes has indicated that infants and babies are also regularly involved in WCST.

Webcam child sex tourism is prohibited by international and most national laws as it combines two different crimes of child exploitation: child pornography and child prostitution. WCST is growing increasingly common, and the number of child victims are rising every day as the internet becomes more accessible to poor children in the developing world, particularly in Southeast Asia, where there is already a developed child sex industry. The UN and the FBI approximate that there are at least 750,000 predators connected to the internet at any given time, and Terra des Hommes believes that this is a minimal estimation for the global demand for webcam child sex tourism. The organization fears that as criminals recognize the potential revenue involved in WCST, the trade will grow into an unstoppable multibillion dollar industry, much like has been observed in the child pornography business.

But this crime leaves next to no evidence, and the only way to convict perpetrators is to catch them red-handed.

That’s where Sweetie comes in.

Terra des Hommes the Netherlands went straight to the source of the problem. Their researchers logged into public chat forums, dating sites, and social networks, identifying themselves as 10 year-old Sweetie. The moment Sweetie revealed her age, she was swarmed by pedophiles, who revealed their sexual interest in her in under five seconds. They felt safe. They could use fake names and use untraceable credit cards to pay and they were in the safety of their own countries.

The predators all wanted Sweetie to turn on her webcam, so the researchers did. Sweetie is an incredibly realistic model of a little girl. Her every motion was controlled by Terra des Hommes researchers from the Netherlands, and while she chatted, the research teams tracked down the predators.

Terra des Hommes the Netherlands clarifies that they did not use any illegal methods to hunt down the predators (all men, apparently) that Sweetie spoke to. These men volunteered all their information the moment Sweetie asked. She asked where they lived, and she received a country. She asked if they had Facebook, they said yes. She asked for their real names, they handed them over. She asked them to turn on their webcams after they asked her to turn on hers, and they revealed their faces.

She never instigated anything sexual or even flirtatious. She was very careful not to solicit anything but basic personal information (name, age, address). The men she spoke to asked her to perform sex acts and performed sex acts in front of her without any prompting. Terra des Hommes obtained live video footage as evidence.

The researchers posing as Sweetie took immense care to constantly remind these predators that she was a minor. If the researchers were posing as a 10 year-old girl, Sweetie took care to mention again and again that she is 10 years old. She is a 10 year-old girl. Her age is 10. Hi, she is a Filipino girl, and she’s 10.

The researchers compiled 1,000 predator dossiers in two and a half months, containing names, ages, addresses, chat logs, and video and audio recordings, and handed them over to Interpol. Terra des Hommes the Netherlands has stated that there would be at least 20,000 more dossiers if they had had the resources and manpower to communicate with every single person that Sweetie was contacted by, since each predator is conversed with individually by teams of researchers controlling Sweetie’s messages and motions. This isn’t even a full sample of online child predators, as predators with a preference for young boys and/or younger or older children did not contact Sweetie.

Concerns have been expressed about Sweetie’s existence being public knowledge. Will predators become more difficult to catch now that they know they may be lured in by Sweetie? In a press conference, Terra des Hommes the Netherlands dismissed these concerns on the grounds that there is no way for a predator to know if the child victim on the other end of the webcam is Sweetie, or an actual Filipino child. More importantly, the organization wants the predators to be aware that there is a possibility that the child they are speaking to is Sweetie. A large number of predators will choose to not participate in WCST if they are afraid of being caught.

Terra des Hommes the Netherlands is convinced that no new legislation needs to be created to deal with these predators because, although Sweetie is only a virtual girl, the fact that these predators offered to pay for her to perform sex acts in itself is illegal since it amounts to prostitution. Coupled with their knowledge of her age, their offers instantly categorize them as child sex predators.

As Judge Julie Rylie noted during Hansen’s conviction, “If you believe that’s a nine year-old girl, that’s the law, that’s good enough.”

Investigations into Sweetie’s other predators continue, but no other arrests have been made. Albert Jaap Van Santbrink, director of Terra des Hommes the Netherlands, asks governments to take a more active approach to prosecuting the remaining predators the organization identified. Despite Hansen’s conviction (who, reportedly, was not even remotely close to the worst of the predators Sweetie had been in contact with), Interpol has expressed reservations about Terra des Hommes’ approach, as the criminal investigations were not undertaken by law enforcement, but by NGOs.

Terra des Hommes the Netherlands has not been discouraged, however. The organization continues to raise awareness about WCST and Sweetie, and is currently working on project Sweetie 2.0, developing globally applicable software to combat webcam child sex tourism. This time, they have the assistance of national and international law enforcement agencies.

Their message to online predators is, “We are watching.”

Petition created by Terra des Hommes the Netherlands to pressure governments to act against WCST can be found at

The full report released by Terra des Hommes the Netherlands after the 10 month sting can be found at (Warning for disturbing and explicit samples of chat logs between Sweetie and child predators.)

For more information, visit

-Medha Monjaury

Trendy Environmentalism to the Rescue… Hopefully

As we become increasingly aware of the declining state of our world’s environment, our society continues to find issues of waste disposal and environmental sustainability to be a challenge. In my studies as a student of Environmental Science, I often find myself thinking, “There are so many environmental problems out there. How on earth are we supposed to get people to know and care about them and then have them actually change their behavior?” Teaching people about the problems is the easier part—it’s getting people to change the way they live, even in little ways, which is harder than you might imagine. Anyone who has ever worked with teenagers or been on a marketing campaign for anything will know that making something cool is a great influence on behavior change. It seems that we all feel a need to feel accepted by some group or another. And, even though I am already willing, I know that I’ve found myself feeling more inclined to walk to a compost pile in the snow because it is expected of me. Although we are nowhere near fixing the huge problems that we face, the popularity and cultural acceptance of practices like recycling and using reusable water bottles gives me hope that we may be able to more dramatically shift society’s view of these problems.

Original_UnverpacktIn the last few decades, health food stores and grocery stores that discourage plastic bag use have come into the forefront. Wholefoods and Trader Joes, as well as smaller local health food stores, have taken off in popularity. Recently, a pair of women in Germany dreamt up the idea of a grocery store that doesn’t produce any waste! All of the packaging that we are used to in normal grocery stores isn’t there and everything is priced by the pound so shoppers can take exactly as much as they want of any given product. By design, this setup reminds customers to conserve. If we can make this kind of grocery store and expand this mentality into other parts of our lives, we may be able to use this trendy environmentalism to combat environmental issues further.

If you have additional ideas on this topic, I would love to have a discussion about it!


To read more about this zero-waste grocery store, visit:

NAAOM VS Comcast Lawsuit a Sham?


Comcast Corporation, the largest broadcasting and Cable Company in the world, is currently in the midst of a potential racial lawsuit filed by the National Association of African-American Owned Media (NAAOM). Allegations directed towards Comcast have also been extended to Time Warner Cable, a company which (pending a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission) will soon be merged with the Comcast Corporation. The lawsuit accuses both Comcast and Time Warner Cable of spending an annual $25 billion on service and product advertisement, while only allocating $3 million annually to 100% African-American-Owned media.

Thinking about this allegation critically, how many 100% African-American-Owned media businesses are there really? Considering the United States’ incredible diversity I find it hard to believe that there are, by proportion, enough media companies solely owned by men and women of African descent to warrant spending considerably more than 12% of a $25 billion advertising budget.

Just to be sure, I did some research. I visited, the official website of the highly successful magazine “Black Enterprise”, which describes itself as a “premier business news and investment resource for African Americans.” Black Enterprise (BE) keeps track of the nation’s largest, most successful, black businesses and compiles them onto a list called the “BE 100s.” They do a great job at analyzing all these businesses as a whole and determining the businesses leading in growth, employment, by annual trend, and by industry. I examined the sales of all these top businesses by industry and found that out of a total $29,808 million in sales, a measly $154 million derived from “Telecommunications.”

Let’s put this in perspective: In 2010, the total US Telecommunication Industry Revenue was $985 billion, and since then it has only increased. Can Comcast, the biggest Telecommunication Industry in the country, really be blamed for being market-conscious investors? Is it unreasonable to assume that a corporation, which for six consecutive years was named one of the “Top 50 Organizations for Multicultural Business Opportunities,” was allocating resources based on viewership statistics rather than race?

This is not the NAAOM’s only controversial lawsuit; the organization has also filed a $10 billion lawsuit against AT&T and DirecTV for discrimination in their contracting services. The NAAOM alleges that when considering African Americans make up 13% of the US population, AT&T has not contracted to enough 100% African-American-Owned Media companies…but last time I checked, corporations don’t contract/hire in accordance to the racial distribution in the US. This implies that AT&T should make sure 72% of their contractors are White American, and that 5% of their contractors should be Asian American! That doesn’t seem right to me…

What it does seem is that the NAAOM’s claims are poorly supported and unfounded. While this is only my humble opinion, I do welcome more discussion on the topic. Please respond with your thoughts!

-Alexander Santos

How Columbian student’s Dangerous Space could be truly dangerous


As universities across the U.K. roll out policies instituting safe spaces on campus, which enforce rules against any form of speech that is intolerant and insensitive, students have taken a hostile stance against them. Viewed as shutting down debate, dialogue, and discourse on topics of identity, beliefs, and culture, students have taken to the streets to push back against this institutional development.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic pond, students in the U.S. have adopted a similar attitude towards institutional designs to establish safe zones. This is the story of Columbia University junior Adam Shapiro. In an op-ed piece run by the Columbian Spectator, the flagship publication of the university, Adam said that college is both a space and time intended to nurture critical thought and reflection, not blind faith and dogmatism. He said that what drew him to Columbia was the liberal culture that prized free speech and rational thought above all – a kind of culture that would host Iran’s then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denied the Holocaust and questioned the existence of gay citizens in his country. While Shapiro maintains that no one should ever feel physically unsafe or subject to hate speech, a completely frank and open culture better counters bigotry while ensuring that all value systems are tested by all. It is this belief that led him to ignore a flyer that was slipped under his door inviting him to declare his room a safe space and instead put up a notice announcing it to be a ‘dangerous space’.

To begin, I must establish that I am a firm proponent of open dialogue and discourse. I believe that a free marketplace of ideas will serve us well, if it is truly free and fair by all. I acknowledge the power of rationality in changing views. But, like any other creation of the human mind, rational thought and discourse contain their own flaws. Allow me to illustrate why Adam Shapiro’s ‘dangerous space’, though perhaps well intended, is far more dangerous than he may realize.

“We need dangerous spaces where bad ideas can die and good ones can flourish” is what Adam expects of these spaces. The question that begs to be asked is who is to distinguish between bad and good? The history of humanity is a gargantuan textbook of examples demonstrating that we have struggled to understand and adjust to differences. In a society in which the majority outweigh the minority, and the crescendo of the vociferous extremists can prevail upon the silent moderates, violence can reign unchecked. One could argue that universities are structurally and culturally different and do not represent the dynamics of society, but here we run into that age-old predicament of generalizing our mythic expectations of a place of esoteric learning and the nature of an exceptional few to the masses, who tend to remain quiet and unaware. Universities in their natural state do represent society, for modern education does not always translate to social awareness. If one were to analyze any social justice movement, it is evident that stigmatized groups were never handed rights from the ether. Neither were they won through debate and discourse alone. Rather, these groups made their voices heard, and became a thorn in the side of institutions, thereby prompting structural change. Mainstream public opinion was perhaps the last to change. The suffragette movement and the LGBTQ+ movement stand as prime examples. If we were to consider the latter, when the first homophile movement was chartered at (ironically) Columbia University in 1967, the Columbian Spectator was overwhelmed with complaints by students deriding the institution’s decision to acknowledge a gay rights movement. These problems plague us to the present day, from the controversy that gripped all of Dartmouth in 2013 to the homophobia and transphobia that exists in college sports culture.

We must wonder, why do colleges buckle under pressure and institute such policies? Is it not to safeguard the personhood of those who have been victimized for far too long? My concern with dangerous spaces is that, despite the best of intentions, they can be subverted to cause more harm than good. When spaces do not contain any rules or safeguards, then the law of the jungle prevails. How do we break past the barriers that the victimized have erected due to years of oppression, if they know that they are offered no protection? How do we encourage those who live in the margins, the closets, and shadows to step into these circles and be authentic? How do we deal with those stubborn few who refuse to accept differences, who now are given free license to hurt and mar? How do we prevent celebrity status and social influence from granting some voices more power than others? There is a grave danger in these dangerous spaces for the voice of diversity to be stifled and only the mainstream rhetoric to be heard. For the sake of argument, let us disregard all of these concerns and assume a foolproof system that ensures that all are heard, and equally. What if the majority decide, through pure reason, that the minority is wrong? Does this mean that the identities, beliefs, values, and culture of a minority must fall prey to the whims of the collective? Even democracy, the bastion of collective rule, strives to avoid the trap of majoritarianism by instituting minority rights.

What is the alternative, you may ask? Embrace safe spaces is my response. Safe spaces and rational discourse are not mutually exclusive. In fact, we should do all that is in our power to facilitate discussion and debate within safe spaces, on the understanding that certain voices cannot be stifled. And this does not mean that everyone should be or will be well informed and in full agreement. These spaces should be a testing ground where we are unafraid to make mistakes in order to learn, and unafraid to disagree in order to realize that different does not mean danger. While imperfect, these spaces have the most potential to foster a culture of reason in its purest form, impervious to human failings.


#OSCARSSOWHITE : A Matter of Race

As black history month comes to a close, let’s talk about racial representation, particularly in regard to the 87th Academy Awards. This year the Oscars were watched by 34.6 million people worldwide—a considerable chunk of the world’s population!

I think it’s safe to say that if you’re watching the Oscars you must, even in the smallest of ways, care about the Oscars. It might be a life-long aspiration to win one of those pretty golden trophies, or even simply because your girlfriend is into it. Regardless, people who are attentive to the Academy Awards set multitudes of standards. It also doesn’t hurt that filmmaking is among one of the nation’s most lucrative and growing industries.

The “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences” (AMPAS) consists of members that are allowed into this super prestigious organization by invitation only. These high-profile invitations are selected and sent with a blessing from the Board of Governors and once you’re in, you’re in for life. (Admittedly, this is really cool).
So let’s get to the problem: with about 6,000 members, a whopping 93% of Oscar voters are white. Of those 6,000, 76% are male, and their average age is 63. So we have this really important organization (consisting of a mostly elderly white males) voting on what motion pictures, actresses, and original songs are ranked “the best” of the cinematic year.

Bearing this in mind, let’s look at the number of Black academy award winners (using the image below from International Business Times):


A little concerning right?

Obviously, I’m not the first one to notice this. AMPAS’ President, Cheryle Boone Isaacs, has already responded to lawyer and blogger April Reign’s #OSCARSSOWHITE viral trend. Boone Isaacs expressed that she was would love see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories and that the Academy “continues to make strides toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization.” Cheryle continued on to declare that that it was Hollywood itself that needed to become more racially diverse “as an economic imperative, if not a moral one.”

Norwegian animator Bard Edlund created a great video comprehensively depicting the racial distribution of past Oscar winners.

Check it out!

<p><a href=”″>Diversity Among Winners at the Oscars</a> from <a href=””>Bard Edlund</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

-Alexander Santos

Images & Related Links:

My Appreciative Rant on Count Volta & Batteries

We have batteries to thank for everything from our cars to our mobile phones, but have you ever wondered where these wonderful contraptions came from?

Technically the first electric battery originated in Italy all thanks to Italian chemist and physicist Count Allesandro Volta. His inspiration towards making the first battery was sparked by Luigi Galvani, and Italian anatomist who had been dissecting a frog when its leg began to twitch. Knowing absolutely nothing about electrical nerve in the 18th century, Volta attempted to solve this mystery, eventually coming to the conclusion that the metal instruments used to hold the frog’s leg had conducted electricity. Volta continued working on this concept for several years until around 1800 when he finally created a continuous flow of electric current via a “wet battery”, now called a “Voltaic Pile.”

A Voltaic Pile consists of discs of copper and zinc separated by discs of paper or cardboard which are soaked in salt water (hence being named a “wet” battery). When Volta closed the circuit, using copper wire, he effectively made electricity flow continuously through the pile. (see images below)

VoltaBattery o-level-physics-notes-the-voltaic-pile-html-m22b4eed2

The battery was of course refined by later scientists so that they can fit in our itty-bitty smart phones and are manufactured all over the world. China, India, Brazil, the Czech Republic and South Korea are currently the world leaders in battery production, and this market is expected to grow considerably as battery consumption increases exponentially. Today there are still really cool advances happening with battery technology. With global warming and carbon emissions becoming an increasingly dire issue, powerful electric car batteries are becoming not only more efficient, but recyclable and more easily producible. Old laptop batteries, which would otherwise be taking up space in landfills, can now be used to light homes in developing countries!

So there’s my rant on batteries. Thank you Count Volta!


-Alexander Santos