World News LGBTQIA+ Coronavirus The World

Hungary is using the pandemic to end recognition of its transgender community

The government of Hungary has long held an anti-LGBTQIA+ ideology, and the COVID-19  pandemic has provided them the perfect opportunity to get away with erasing the trans community.

Last Tuesday (May 19th), the Hungarian parliament approved a law that ends the legal recognition of trans people. It stipulates that gender is defined at birth, based on a child’s chromosomes, therefore banning trans people from changing their name and gender in any official documentation.

The Hungarian government is using its power to take away people’s rights when it should be protecting its people from the pandemic. That is highly irregular and unethical. Nonetheless, it’s legal. And it’s happening.

On the 31st of March (Day of Trans Visibility), the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán obtained the power to rule by decree and suspend elections, in light of the COVID-19 crisis. That same day the PM’s party introduced a controversial set of measures presumably aimed at fighting coronavirus. Among them was a draft law that stipulated that official documents only register “sex at birth”.

 The pandemic has provided the perfect distraction for the government.

Orbán’s new power of ruling by decree, and the announcement of jail time for anyone who intentionally spread disinformation about the government’s response to the crisis eclipsed the policy change regarding trans rights. It buried it, under other political debates and a sanitary crisis.

European politicians and institutions (including the EU), human rights organizations, and international LGBTQIA+ associations all opposed the draft bill, with no success.

The news of this bill has shocked the Hungarian trans community. Ivett Ördög, a Hungarian trans activist, said that the passing of the law is “a tragedy” and has been very honest about its impact on the LGBTQIA+ community: “I struggled not to moan myself while trying to chat online with my peers who were just considering suicide”.

The Fidesz party, which has been in power in Hungary for the last 10 years, has long held an anti-LGTBQIA+ agenda. The Prime Minister himself made “traditional family values” the basis of his 2018 re-election campaign and promised to “build a new era” with major cultural changes.

Last year, the party’s Parliament speaker equated gay adoption with pedophilia. Moreover, in 2018 the Hungarian government faced severe criticism from the European Union after closing all gender studies courses that were offered by Hungarian universities.

In fact, trans people have had trouble changing their legal sex since 2017, and there are several court cases underway in relation to this situation. All of these cases and applications for name changes will now be rejected. Moreover, since the new documentation will show ‘sex at birth’ people fear that it will also affect trans people who have already had their gender and names officially changed.

Despite the country’s rigid LGTBQIA+ policies, during the past decade, the country was talking slow steps towards meeting the community’s demands. It is devastating news that a community that has fought so hard and has succeeded in obtaining the legal recognition of their own rights now has to see their identity questioned and even denied.

Homosexuality (above the age of 20) was decriminalized in 1961. Moreover, the Budapest Pride, first held in 1997, was the first Pride that took place in a country from the former Eastern Bloc.  However, it was only in 2003, that the Act on Equal Treatment and the Promotion of Equal Opportunities banned discrimination based on gender identity. Same-sex couples were allowed to register for civil partnerships in 2009, although they are still unable to marry or adopt. Moreover, the right of trans people to change their legal gender was only accepted three years ago.

It has not been a steady fight, and there have been ups and downs. During the 2014 Pride, the political party Jobbik displayed a banner that read “The Parliament Does Not Want Any Deviants” and verbally abused attendees. This weeks’ law is one of the biggest pushbacks to date.

Legal recognition is fundamental because it demonstrates the state’s acceptance of an individual. If a state won´t even recognize the existence of trans people, it will be unable to guarantee their safety, or treat them as citizens of the country.

Ivett has been honest about the problems that she has faced because her gender did not match that assigned to her in the registry. She has issues trying to pick up packets in the mail or even medicines “because the pharmacist didn’t believe me that my name was on the prescription”. Her roughest case was however when someone “challenged me to the police because they thought I wanted to misuse someone’s documents.”

The Hungarian government is taking advantage of the fear of the population and their concern for their health in order to pass a piece of legislation that, in order circumstances, might have faced much stronger opposition. They are using the distraction that the pandemic provides, and the powers that they have obtained by declaring the state of emergency, to push their own anti-LGTBQ+ agenda. In doing so, they are also creating a dangerous precedent.

The passing of this law makes Hungary the first EU country to take away transgender rights. Will other countries decide to follow?

Hungary might become a dangerous precedent.

LGBTQIA+ people have their lives already threatened by COVID-19. A United Nations report establishes that the LGBTQIA+ community is more likely to be HIV+ or homeless, two factors that greatly increased a person’s vulnerability to the virus. Moreover, members of this community already experience stigma and discrimination when accessing health services and are more likely to be de-prioritized in the case of an overloaded health system.

Moreover, the UN has established that there are “reports of police using COVID-19 directives to attack and target LGBTI organizations”. Moreover, the report states that “in at least one country, the State of Emergency has been used to propose a decree that would prevent transgender people from legally changing their gender in identity documents”, probably referring to Hungary.

South Korea, for example, has reported a marked increase in online threats and discrimination against LGBT people who are being unfairly accused of spreading Covid-19, despite the pandemic there being much more under control.

If a country opposes the existence of a community, how can we expect it to protect it from a virus? The Hungarian government’s decision does not only attack trans people’s rights but also their lives.

We are living through critical times. However, we mustn´t let the medical emergency distract us from defending the rights that have been so hard to obtain. Human rights and the lives of people like Ivette are at risk.

Tech Policy Now + Beyond Inequality

Online education has revealed the painful truth behind South Africa’s digital divide

On 16 March 2020, I begrudgingly woke up on the morning after President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation regarding the spread of COVID-19 within South Africa. I was running around the room preparing myself to leave to campus for the day until my phone started going wild with notifications. Speculations that the university would be closing were soon confirmed by the institution. Our vacation period was moved up, and all students living in university-provided accommodation had to vacate within the next few days. With such little notice, many students found themselves stranded. 

A week later, on 23 March 2020, President Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would be entering a 21-day military patrolled lockdown in an attempt to flatten the curve. Since then, it was announced on 9 April 2020 that the lockdown would be extended for another 14 days. Universities and schools decided to keep their doors closed while online education took center stage, and suddenly the reality of South Africa’s digital divide became a rather pressing issue. While most students were preparing for online classes, those who found themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, however, did not have the luxury of partaking in such classes.

According to Stats SA’s Poverty Trends in South Africa report, as of 2015, 55% of the population is living below the upper-bound poverty line in South Africa. This means that they are unable to purchase both adequate food and non-food items. Statistics such as these bring forth the question of how would poverty-stricken South Africans be able to effectively participate in online learning without the infrastructure or support to do so? As I sit here typing on my laptop with a roof over my head, food in the fridge and a stable WIFI connection, I am very aware of the fact that many of my peers do not have the same privileges.

The solution for effective online learning in South Africa is not as simple as providing computers to access online learning material. Many live in small, cramped and unhygienic spaces with little to no water or electricity. I attend a university where the majority of the student body live in university-provided accommodation with resources such as food, electricity, water, WIFI, heating and sanitation facilities. The university also usually provides all students access to libraries and computer labs. Thus, universities have become a safe haven for many students who do not have the same resources in their respective households. With the lockdown, these favorable conditions for learning have been stripped away from these students.

Students without these conducive home conditions face the difficult decision of seeking other accommodation, away from loved ones, in order to effectively continue their studies. Many students who receive funding are forced to use the money on groceries and other home essentials for their families, rather than purchase laptops or data. Such domestic issues seem to not be at the forefront of concerns for academic institutions.

Their focus appears to be digital-oriented. The University of Cape Town has provided laptops to all students on financial aid. The University of Witwatersrand established a Mobile Computing Bank, which will enable qualifying students to loan basic devices from the bank. Rhodes University has conducted an extensive survey on students’ capability to engage remote/online teaching and learning. They have ordered laptops which “will not be cost-free, but will be made available to students who need them for online education on a financed arrangement.” Furthermore, they plan to deliver printed study packs to students who are not able to make use of online facilities, and acknowledge that they have a “moral obligation to ensure that no student will be disadvantaged by the delivery of teaching and learning using online systems.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is making me, and I am sure other South Africans too, painfully aware of these inequalities now more than ever. The mere fact that we are being told to wash our hands to slow the spread of the virus, yet have no water to do so is a testament to how ill-prepared we are, as a developing nation, to handle such an issue. It is a social justice imperative for the privileged to help those that need it. However, I, as an average citizen, feel overwhelmed and incapable of making a lasting difference. Especially in a time where leaving one’s house to share resources puts them and those around them at risk. 

Thus, the government and the various academic institutions within the country need to make a proactive effort in helping students in need during this time. Solutions already adopted by the University of Witwatersrand include pre-loading devices with the required learning resources before being delivered via the South African Post Office to students who need it and arranging with telecommunications service providers to zero-rate its library and learning management sites. Other universities should either follow suit or suspend all academic activity. Without our leaders doing something, we risk stunting the growth of our future workforce. 

Coronavirus The Pandemic Inequality

I am staying at home even if it means not saying goodbye to my loved ones

It’s day 30 of national lockdown in Spain and I have only left my house once: to go to the pharmacy. I am social distancing and staying away from my loved ones who are sick, and I am asking you to do the same.

I have an uncle who has been receiving oxygen at the hospital for the past two weeks and two aunts self-isolating at home with COVID-19 symptoms. I am confident that all of them will recover but I will not dare visit them. My cousin is also a few weeks short of her labor date and will need to go to the hospital to give birth. An event that was meant to be filled with joy and family will happen in silence, and it is for the best. It is not allowed, and it will do more harm than good.

I want to hug my aunts and tell them my uncle will get well. But, even if I feel fine, the risk is too high.

For all of them, for your loved ones, and for the people that you don´t know that also have loved ones, I am asking you to stay at home and social distance.

I have the relief of knowing that my family members are not in a critical stage and hopefully all of them will recover soon. But not everyone has that. Right now, the person that I feel for the most right now is my best friend. Her grandmother passed away last week. Yes, it was because of COVID-19.

My friend’s grandmother started having a fever a few days after her chemotherapy session. She went straight to the hospital and was diagnosed with an infection and tested for COVID-19. The test came back positive. She stayed alone at the hospital for several days. She was soon sedated so my friend and her whole family stopped being able to talk to her over the phone. A few days later she passed away, and the family was notified of the death in a phone call by an employee of a funerary home. Only four members of the family were allowed to attend the incineration, all while maintaining the security distance between them.

Given the case, I can grieve alone, but I will not be the cause of another person’s grief.

My friend’s grandmother was an incredible person. She grew up with supportive parents that encouraged her and her six sisters to have the same ambitions as their brothers. She finished a university degree and became the youngest female university professor at a time when most Spanish women were housewives. She loved playing bridge and golf, two games that she learned to play passed the age of 50, and she was very competitive in both. She had cancer but was starting to recover. She lived a full life, that has been sadly been cut short by the virus.

My best friend said goodbye without hugs or the kiss on the cheek that is traditional of Spanish greetings. She is grieving at home, and online, where she received hundreds of virtual messages. Her family, longing for a way to connect, organized a video conference to comfort each other, tell stories and grieve together.

I am asking you to social distance, even if your government has not. I am asking you to listen to the authorities and do as they say, even if it means not going for your daily run or being stuck in a tiny apartment. I too miss the streets, and fresh air, and seeing my friends and family that I have not visited since I went back to the UK after the Christmas break. I want to check on my sick family members and make sure that they are okay. I want to hug my aunts and tell them my uncle will get well. I want to meet my cousin’s baby. But, even if I feel fine, the risk is too high.

My best friend is grieving at home, and online.

I know that social distancing can be hard and that people’s homes can sometimes be very difficult environments. I feel lucky to be in a position where I can social distance and keep studying without worrying about the next paycheck. Many people live in small houses or do not have a good relationship with the family they are quarantined with. My boyfriend spent a week inside his room to protect his father, who is considered high-risk. We are quarantined on different continents, and I don´t know when I will be able to see him again. Quarantine is hard, but it saves lives, and I am willing to do what it takes for a cause like that.

Because every day the death tolls are lower. Last week we were counting almost 1,000 deceased in a day, and today we ONLY had 510. That is around 500 people that have been able to keep their lives, 500 healthy people, 500 families not having to grieve.

For the first time in a long time, our individual actions matter. We may not be able to cure cancer or end discrimination, and most of us work in industries that are not life or death. But today we can make a difference. A real one.

Quarantine is hard, but it saves lives, and I am willing to do what it takes for a cause like that.

We need to remember that COVID-19 is treatable. However, it only is if you can access the necessary medical care should you need it. By limiting the spread of the virus we give space for hospitals to breathe and treat the current patients. The biggest challenge of COVID-19 is the length of time that it takes for a person to show symptoms and that many people never show them. Therefore, although you might feel fine, you might be the cause of someone else’s illness. So please stay at home. I know the sacrifice is great, but the alternative is appalling.

Instead of longing to go out, I have learned to find comfort in the small things that remind me of human compassion and solidarity. Every evening, at 8 pm, the whole of Spain comes out to their balconies and gives an applause to the healthcare workers and other people that are out in the trenches for us. The sound of the country coming together gives me enough strength to face the next day and hope that my loved ones are also hearing that applause. At the moment that is all that can give them. Because, given the case, I can grieve alone, but I will not be the cause of another person’s grief.

USA The World Policy

2018 was a frightening year for gun violence, so where do we go from here?

Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the country found itself in the middle of a tug of war between student activists and legislators at all levels of government. By then, we’d had enough. In May 2018, the United States had faced its 22nd school shooting of the year alone as ten people were murdered in Santa Fe High School. Not even three months later, two Florida high schools had shootings at their school football games. And, less than a week after that, another shooting took place in the same city in the middle of a video game tournament.  The dates of all these school shootings soon became days of nationwide protests, and at every march, walkout, and die-in alike, there was one ubiquitous chant: “Vote. Them. Out.”

Indeed, young organizers everywhere have now focused on the power of the polls and the ballot. The March For Our Lives organizers pushed for more students to run their own voter registration drives, and prompted over 1000 schools to get actively involved.  One nonprofit organization, HeadCount, registered nearly 5,000 students across the country in a single day in March. That number doesn’t even include the efforts of organizations such as the League of Women Voters or the efforts of local Supervisor of Election Offices, who’ve also registered hundreds of new voters in their respective districts. 

State legislation was passed across the country in an attempt to remedy the problem as well. In Nebraska, Florida, Vermont, and Washington, bans on the sale and possession of bump stocks were made and implemented relatively quickly. Florida passed a bill in March that raised the age to purchase a gun and required a three day waiting period for firearms to be purchased – the first case of gun reform in the state in over two decades. Vermont’s own comprehensive bill, which banned bump stocks, limited rifle magazines to 10 rounds, required all gun transactions to be facilitated by a licensed dealer, and raised the purchase age to 21, was another example one of legislation passed in response to the Parkland shooting. 

While these were impressive gains, they only lasted a few moments. The rest of the country has yet to pass bills like the ones in Florida and Vermont. But beyond die-Ins and walkouts, what else can be done? 

Although it doesn’t always reach the headlines of television screens across America, local activism that makes success possible. Volunteering for local campaigns for both midterm and presidential cycle elections, organizing voter registration drives, and calling or writing to your representatives about the bills you want them to pass is the biggest way you can enact change and ensure that gun reform is affected. Moreover, your engagement would ensure that the bills being reintroduced in Congress right now actually get passed. Since Parkland, the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013  was brought back to the floor, which would make gun trafficking – or the practice of illegally purchasing firearms for someone else – a federal crime for the first time. The Protecting Responsible Gun Sellers Act of 2013 bill would mandate background checks on all gun sales, private or commercial.

Much has been done since Parkland, but successful movements don’t occur overnight. In every city, county, and state there needs to be action. We’ve waited far too long for the end of the mass gun violence epidemic in America. The bright young faces of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School helped inspire students to take to the streets in protest. But today, the rest of us must do our part by inspiring as many as possible to take to the polls both now, and in the future. 

Tech Money Now + Beyond

Here’s how Bitcoin went from the next big thing to a textbook failure

From Pokemon Go in summer 2016 to fidget spinners in spring 2017, the world always seems to be going after a new fad before these fads fall. In 2017, this fad seemed to be Bitcoin, which rarely seems to be heard of in mainstream media nowadays.

Let’s first understand why so many people were getting nerdy about bitcoin.

Bitcoin, at its simplest, is cryptocurrency, a form of electronic cash. While the amount of online stores that accept Bitcoin as payment is not super big at the moment, sites CheapAir and Etsy, if the creator allows it, do. If you want to see which stores near you accept Bitcoin, you can use the website coin map to see.

According to Rebecca Grant at VentureBeat, Bitcoins are characterized by their placement in a public ledger of all Bitcoin transactions. This is also known as the Blockchain, which is a public record of transactions.

Bitcoins are generated by using an open-source computer program to solve complex math problems in a process known as mining,” Grant wrote. “Each Bitcoin is defined by a public address and a private key, which are long strings of numbers and letters that give each a specific identity. This means that Bitcoin is not only a token of value but also a method for transferring that value.”

Bitcoin first emerged in 2008. 

While it remained active, it only really started receiving mainstream attention in fall 2017. During the first week of September 2017,  a Bitcoin reached a new high with a value of $5,013. However, Bitcoin dropped 20 percent soon after the later weeks of September.

Bitcoin soon recovered and achieved a value of over $5,000 again in October 2017. Over the next few months, Bitcoin continued its historic rise. On December 17, 2017, Bitcoin reached an all-time high value of $19,783.21 for one Bitcoin.

According to Coindesk, the value of one Bitcoin presently is worth around $4,400. So, what happened to Bitcoin?

Billy Bambrough of Forbes points to five key issues which may have played a role in Bitcoin’s downfall: (1) mistrust following the hack of cryptocurrency giant Coinrail, (2) increased governmental regulations of cryptocurrency, (3) the decrease of transaction value, (4) users getting tired of Bitcoin, and (5) the power of financial detractors. 

On the first point of mistrust, here’s why people freaked out about Bitcoin. In June 2018, Coinrail, a company based in South Korea which trades around 50 cryptocurrencies, was hacked. This hack could have played a role in users mistrusting Bitcoin, as they could fear that considerable amounts of money could be stolen.

Governmental regulations are currently cracking down on Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency. In countries like China, Bitcoin is completely illegal. France will work with Germany to create a joint proposal on how to better regulate Bitcoin, according to Reuters. Crackdowns on cryptocurrency may deter some people from wanting to use Bitcoin.

Bitcoin still has some value, but its value continues to decrease – and it remains unclear if Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency will rise again in the future. Stay tuned. 

USA Gender Politics The World Inequality

Rashida Tlaib, the midterms, and the pursuit of politicians who look like us

For those not living in Michigan, Rashida Tlaib’s congressional win seemingly came out of nowhere. And yet, Muslims and Palestinian Americans everywhere didn’t hesitate to celebrate following Tlaib’s victories.  Pleasantly surprised and inspired, I decided to do my own research on Tlaib.

Rashida Tlaib ran on a platform of being a non-traditional candidate who saw herself as more of an activist than a politician; a sentiment that helped propel her to victory in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District as they looked to replace former Representative John Conyers Jr. Before resigning last year amid sexual harassment allegations, Conyers’ resume included co-founding the Congressional Black Caucus and being the first lawmaker to propose the making of a national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. As a result, those vying for his seat needed a history of standing by minority communities.

Rashida Tlaib had it.

From protesting President Trump during a speech at the Detroit Economic Club in 2016 to trespassing on corporate land to test for pollution, Tlaib was truly an activist. When speaking to the New York Times, Tlaib said “much of her strength came from being Palestinian” and never shying away from her identity.

Even on the night of her primary win, Tlaib’s mother draped her in a Palestinian flag.

This strong identification with her Palestinian-American background alongside her history of activism helped her win MI-13. Yet, no matter how proud Tlaib was of her identity, she advocated for policies that hurt the very group of Palestinian Americans she championed.

During the race, we saw a candidate endorsed by lobby group J Street, an organization that required a candidate to oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, and support the continued military aid to Israel. This deeply concerned me and many other Palestinian-Americans who believed that the BDS movement and the use of aid as a bargaining tool was vital in encouraging Israel to end their human rights violations. Both of which Tlaib didn’t support.

Today, the situation is different. A week after having won the primary election, Tlaib finally spoke out on the issue and reversed her decision by no longer supporting aid to Israel until it complied with international law. Moreover, she’d declared that she was willing to stand behind the BDS movement. With that,  J Street removed its endorsement and the worries of her followers subsided.

It was then, and only then, did it seem that Tlaib might truly stand to do her part in providing a Palestinian-American voice in Congress.

Though, what is troubling to me is how so many supporters beyond MI-13 were satisfied with the fact that a Palestinian-American Muslim woman had even won the primary despite not doing anything to guarantee that this victory was truly one beneficial for Palestinian and Muslim Americans alike. Thousands from beyond MI-13 were ready to cheer her on without a second thought, even if her stance was more harmful to Palestinians compared to those of other members in Congress with no connection to Palestine.

This election cycle, therefore, taught me something especially valuable as more minorities run for office: we can’t quietly assume that those who look like us will always support us. More importantly, we can’t tell ourselves that the fact they’ve made it that far as a minority in America is enough. This notion of “existence is resistance” cannot allow us to accept politicians who enact harmful policies. It is an injustice to ourselves.

Election Day has come and gone, and Rashida Tlaib is no longer the Democratic candidate for MI-13. She’s the representative. Yes, we can celebrate her. However, it’s also our responsibility to continue diligently watching her and her policies.

After all, Tlaib only spoke out and lost J Street’s endorsement after the public showed their outrage. So we must let any politician seeking to represent us know that we are watching and listening because, at the end of the day, the election of any politician is dependent on our satisfaction.

Tech Now + Beyond

Hate speech should not be protected by tech companies anymore

I will never forget August 11, 2017. It was the first time I ever felt unsafe as a Jewish person in the United States.

I would consider myself pretty fortunate growing up in suburban Massachusetts in a liberal – well, neoliberal – area. The extent of the anti-semitism that I faced was people telling me that they were so shocked that I was Jewish – because apparently, all Jewish people look the same?

August 11, 2017, was the day of the  Unite the Right Rally. I never thought that I would hear that a large group of people, in a country where I call home, were yelling Nazi chants like “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”

The most ironic part was that the same social media platforms that I used to learn about the atrocities that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia that day were the same social media platforms the alt-right used to organize and spread their hatred. The Unite the Right Rally was organized on Facebook, and Facebook only took their event page down the day before the event.

I don’t think it should be applauded that Facebook took the event down the day before given their history of defending the “freedom of speech” of the alt-right, white supremacists, and other awful human beings. In another situation, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Holocaust deniers because he doesn’t “think they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

While these are specific examples, they feed into a bigger picture of how tech companies, like Facebook or Twitter, protect the alt-right, by claiming that they should have the right to free speech. However, when protecting the people who spew horrible rhetoric and ideologies, marginalized groups not only do not feel safe, their lives are put in danger, as seen by the death of Heather Heyer and injuries of others at the Unite the Right rally.

At times, I prefer Canada’s hate speech laws to the United States’ free speech laws. While I do think free speech is invaluable, hate speech and ideologies’ put marginalized people’s livelihoods at risk. I can say in my own experience, I am enraged that Twitter refused to do anything about someone who mocked my chronic illness and that Facebook told me that a guy who threatened me did not violate any standards, despite the screenshots that I provided.

Even in day to day usage, marginalized groups are targeted by Facebook’s policies. People who fairly complain about the harms of patriarchy and gendered violence by using expressions like “men are trash” are often zucced, which means a post was removed or a person can even be suspended.

Certain marginalized groups have even moved to create their own safe social media spaces due to the protection of the alt-right on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Jewish people have created a new social media platform called Jewbook, which tries to be a non-Neo-Nazi-defending version of Facebook. However, this site is not without faults. Jews of Color like Nylah Burton have reported that they have felt unsafe and unheard on the platform Jewbook.

Regardless, marginalized groups should not have to put in the extra labor to create spaces where they are not constantly attacked. Tech companies need to step up and not allow white supremacists and others who attack marginalized people to have a platform on social media.

Career Advice Now + Beyond

Dead languages are alive and can improve our careers

Almost every day of my life since I was 11, somebody has asked me, “why do you waste your time learning dead languages?”

As someone who started Latin and Ancient Greek way before I had to choose whether or not to take them in school, I usually respond with, “I like them. I like understanding cultures thoroughly and that is something that I can only attain by reading ancient texts in original.” To which people usually reply with, “Nerd.”

Yup, that’s me. Classics nerd and proud. Surprisingly, even though I did not pursue classical languages in college, I am still putting them to good use every day of my life. I’m still grateful for my passion, because it helped me in so many unexpected situations, from acing science quizzes to landing communications jobs. Now you will say, what do dead languages have to do with anything? But, you will find that classic languages have to do with everything.

Latin and Ancient Greek are formative subjects. They don’t just provide information, they shape your mind and train your brain to be more active and respondent. Learning them is the definition of a mental workout.

I know that some people may have a hard time believing that anything that isn’t a STEM-related field of study is just a waste of time, but it’s not. Liberal arts subjects help you see the world differently from a broader perspective, and that gives you the tools you need to change the world.

Once during a job interview, my interlocutor asked me about my knowledge of Latin and Greek. I was applying for a social media manager job and I’d had half a mind to erase the dead languages from my resume half an hour before I went in. When she asked me, I had never been so glad about not doing something my entire life. “Am I going to use Latin?” I remember asking shyly and incredulously. “No,” my future employer replied with a smile, “But it tells me you have so many hidden skills up your sleeve.”

It has been proven time and again that Latin literally opens up your mind. Because of its extremely complex syntax, translating original texts makes you develop all those soft skills that job recruiters want to see on your resume. The most important of those being logic, analysis, precision, and a kick-ass memory. And, quite frankly, you learn to speak any language better. Knowing dead languages gives you an elasticity that vouches you could learn another language in no time.

Over 60% of all English words have Latin or Greek roots. Some are borrowed from a medium language, usually French and Italian, and some are taken directly from either dead language. As a non-native English speaker, I’ve often been complimented for my knowledge of fancy and sophisticated English verbs. The opposite has also happened – do you know how many times I had no idea what something in my own language meant, especially in science courses? I’ve always gotten away with it thanks to Latin and Greek.

For that social media job I applied for, I was missing a modern language. I was supposed to be fluid in four but I only knew three. I was hired anyway, not because there were no better candidates, but because the HR person believed that I would have no trouble becoming fluid in a fourth modern language right away. She knew my knowledge of Classics made me more versatile than any of the other applicants.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Latin and Greek develop natural problem-solving in people. Translating from a dead language is hard, let me tell you. We often deal with passages so convoluted and complex that even scholars can’t agree on a translation, and we’re getting tested on it. Part of our training is to stay calm, reevaluate, and find another way out. Also, after years of reading texts of Plato and Cicero, we learn a thing or two about philosophydialectics and winning debates.

This is why – even in 2018 – a thousand years after Latin effectively stopped being spoken in everyday life, job recruiters around the world go under the “language” section on resumes looking for “Latin.” Even if you’ll probably never use Latin in the job that you’re applying for, learning it has developed in you a certain set of skills that come in handy when dealing with difficulties in your job, whatever the field may be.

Someone with a Classics background, or who simply pursued Latin in their own time, has the potential to go into any field. Because the struggle of learning dead languages is recognized, and it will take you places. I guess carrying heavy 3000-page dictionaries around for years is finally paying off. (Seriously, those things were huge. My back still hurts!)

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USA Reproductive Rights Gender Politics The World Inequality

Your access to safe abortions could soon be revoked – here’s why you should pay attention

Judge Brett Kavanaugh was officially nominated by President Trump to be the new Supreme Court justice replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy upon his retirement.  If this doesn’t give you pause, then this article is for you.

The Supreme Court is composed of nine justices. Before Kennedy retired, there was a 5-4 majority conservative make up, meaning that 5 of the judges leaned conservatively, and 4 leaned liberally. Kennedy, however, was often the swing vote, making it unclear as to how the Supreme Court might vote on a given case. Whoever replaces Kennedy secures either the conservative or liberal majority for a foreseeable generation, which is why this nomination matters so much.

You might recall from your high school government class that the president has the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, but it’s not quite as simple as that. After a president announces their nominee, the Senate holds a hearing, debates, and then votes. This is a big reason why it matters which party holds the majority in the Senate: a conservative majority is more likely to win the vote for a conservative nominee, and vice versa. Right now, the Republican party holds that majority.

If you remember back in 2016, Obama tried to nominate the judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The Senate, however, refused to hold the confirmation hearing, rendering Obama’s pick unappointed and a vacancy ready to be filled upon President Trump’s election. He appointed conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, and now has yet another chance to seal the conservative majority in the Supreme Court.

So why should you care about who sits on the Supreme Court? Sometimes it feels like things at the highest level of government concern the average person the least. But there is a pretty big court case that, if overturned, would affect the average American woman immensely: Roe v. Wade.

The case, decided in 1973, ensured women’s right to choose if they wanted an abortion. This doesn’t mean that every woman can easily access an abortion – there are restrictions on abortion clinics, pregnancy crisis centers that falsely advertise offering unbiased advice to pregnant women, and, in some states, very few abortion clinics. 

Kavanaugh, if confirmed to the Supreme Court, could provide the vote to overturn the law that has given women the freedom of choice over what to do with their bodies. Presently, it’s not perfectly clear as to what his stance on abortion is. Kavanaugh opposed the decision of the case Garza v. Hargan, in which a young immigrant woman in a detention center was granted permission to have an abortion without delay. This crucial piece of information will be questioned during the Senate hearing. However, it’s likely that Kavanaugh would be evasive when it comes to answering questions: his true colors would come out only once on the bench.

So how would Roe eventually be dismantled? Individual states, many of which already have restrictions on abortion clinics, could tighten those restrictions or impose abortion bans after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually occurs around six weeks. Eventually, state cases could make their way to the Supreme Court, in which case Roe v. Wade would be in danger of being overruled entirely.

As a young woman who grew up in the U.S. in a fairly liberal state, I have lived my whole life knowing that, if the time came, I could seek an abortion. This hasn’t made me less cautious or responsible as a sexually active human; rather, it gives me agency over my life. It is so hard for me to comprehend why people, and so often men, are so vehemently opposed to granting women this choice, this control over their reproduction and in turn their bodies. It feels like this country is spinning backwards, especially after seeing countries like Ireland make strides in support of progression and women’s autonomy.

If nothing else, this sequence of events is the perfect example of why we should care about more than just the presidential elections. While it’s easy to turn our heads at local elections and midterms because they just don’t seem as important, this is exactly why they are. Across the country, about 60% of people eligible to vote voted in the 2016 presidential election, but only about 35% of that eligible group voted in the 2014 midterm elections. And, even though people aged 53 and younger comprise the majority of the eligible, more liberal, voting population, they have shown up the least when voting, giving the older, often more conservative population more of a say over what happens to this country.

We still have time. We can still call our senators and voice what we want the future to look like. It makes me disheartened and appalled to imagine that we might be heading again towards a time in which women could die by seeking a procedure that should be safe.

I have never felt a greater call to action, and I just hope that if the time comes we will be ready to fight.

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Taking photos up a girl’s skirt is totally legal in Texas, judge says

Upskirting is a form of sexual violence where an individual takes a photo up another person’s (primarily a woman’s) skirt without their consent.

Celebrities, such as Emma Watson and Cara Delevingne, have called out paparazzi for taking upskirt photos of them, and countless other women have had these inappropriate photos of them taken as well. Now, the United Kingdom (England and Wales) are working to pass a resolution through Parliment that would make upskirting a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The campaign to make upskirting a criminal offense in the UK began being pushed for by UK citizen Gina Martin and other women who have been a victim of upskirting. Martin had upskirt photos taken of her in 2017, but police did not prosecute the offense because they deemed the photos “not obscene enough” to fall under the UK’s voyeurism laws. Under the current law, upskirting has to be prosecuted alongside other offenses in the category of voyeurism, even though there are gaps in the current laws that allow the crime to go unpunished.

Due to the gaps, there have only been 11 charges made under the law since 2015, according to information obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request. Additionally, less than half of the police stations in the UK keep appropriate records of how many reports of upskirting have been made, which means there is no way to accurately assess how pervasive the issue of taking upskirt photos might be within the UK.

The first attempt to pass the bill that would have made taking upskirt photographs illegal failed in Parliament due to an objection from one of the members of Parliament; however, a new bill is being introduced and it is believed that progress will be made towards the bill before Parliament recesses for the summer.

According to TIME, the new bill will again be debated on July 6 in the House of Commons, and hopefully this time, there will be no objections to the measure.

The bill being brought forth will protect both women and men, as it includes provisions that make it illegal to photograph up men’s kilts as well. Hopefully, the decision from the UK to make this serious sexual offense its own separate crime will help inspire other countries to follow suit.

In the United States, there are no laws on the federal books that make upskirting a crime, which means that the States are left to determine if upskirting is a crime in its jurisdiction and what the punishment should be. This leaves a lot of variety in criminality and leaves millions unprotected against upskirt photos.

For example, we can look to 2014 decisions on upskirting that took place in Massachusetts and Texas. When Massachusetts State legislators realized there were no laws that protected against upskirting, they passed a measure that made taking upskirt photographs punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine that was to be determined by the age of the victim.

In Texas, however, a Texas court determined that its citizens had a constitutional right to take upskirt photos under “freedom of speech” protections. Whether that decision would hold up in a higher court is yet to be determined, but the lack of federal regulation leaves millions of women (and men) at risk of having no protection against these inappropriate photographs.

Upskirting is a serious offense, and it is unbelievable that in the digital age, the legal system hasn’t evolved yet to address the nature of this cybercrime.

Thankfully, the UK is taking the first steps in order to punish those who commit this crime. We don’t know when the US will follow.

The Ivory Tower College 101 Life

I used to believe that education changes one’s perceptions until this happened

Those in positions of authority are usually expected to be educated and astute.  But this was not my experience.

I had a job where I had to work with a bureaucrat in Pakistan. My boss referred me to that officer and made it clear that this man had a renowned position.

When I entered his office,  he gave me a look like I was the scum of the earth. Rather than allowing me to do my job, which was to tell him what would be beneficial to us and the company, he gave me an arrogant look and started making offensive comments.

He took my report process to a totally different path. What put me over the edge was when he unexpectedly said, “I don’t believe in feminism and I am also very against women empowerment.”

His first argument was because a lady was working with him and was trying to be equal to a man which he didn’t consider a good thing to do. The second part of his statement argued that a lady having power at a young age was unacceptable, especially if that woman had the same level of power as he did.

The thing that flashed through my mind was that he was the man selected to run the affairs of the world.

He was narrow-minded and if we have such people in our bureaucracy then it shouldn’t be a shock for us to see the crisis our country is facing. The leaders of our country may hold higher education credentials, but they do not exemplify progress.

I tried to ignore his statements but it really shook me. I could see these offensive statements from an uneducated man but to hear these words from a bureaucrat was a disappointment. Ignoring those remarks, I continued my job.

I got to a point where I tried to explain our working style but, without listening, he further added: “I don’t work under a lady, I have never worked, so how could you think that I would work under you?” He was feeling insulted for being guided by a woman. It offended him that a girl was directing him to do something in a way she wants.

Such a mentality is a threat to our society. Education makes a difference in people but if someone fails to learn then it is not a failure of that person but of the institution.

Bureaucrats are always seen as better individuals because of their frame of mind, brainpower, and personality which they acquire from institutions. We morph them into good and educated human beings compared to others.

Bureaucracy is setting the wrong trends if all members of government act the way this gentleman did. True leaders are ready to sacrifice for their country and respect the rights of the men and women in their country. Just because someone is highly educated, does not mean that they are progressive or good for the country.

Those who do not respect all who are under their guidance should not be in office.

Politics The World

Our government representatives are sleeping on the job – and it’s putting women in danger

As a full-time college student with a fellowship and a part-time job, my days and nights are filled to the brim with work. I go to bed extremely late and wake up as early as possible. The only way I survive my long and arduous days are with quick naps in the middle of the day. Being a U.S. representative, however, is much different. I’m sure their lives are filled with much more time consuming and stressful work, and it seems that they are determined to get their naps just like the rest of us. There’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, I encourage it so they can be more level headed when making decisions that will affect our everyday lives. I definitely know my naps help me in that way.

But I nap at home, not at work.

According to Politico, members of the Black Caucus have recently submitted a letter to the ethics committee to investigate the legality of Congress members sleeping in their offices.

Some members like Paul Ryan argue that this act of sleeping in their offices shows that they are hardworking and dedicated, but I know if I was found sleeping at my job it would not be seen as dedicated. I’d be fired for laziness, stealing from the company, and for the sheer audacity of my actions. Not only are these representatives stealing taxpayer dollars by getting free housing and amenities, but it’s a suspicious act altogether. A room full of politicians with no supervision will never give me an assured feeling.

CNN brought up another very real and terrifying issue that is directly affecting victims of sexual assault. With over 50 people reporting instances of sexual violence on capitol hill, nothing is scarier than having to stay late in the office to actually do work, with your abuser sleeping right next door. How are you supposed to stay concentrated on all you have to do with a very real threat looming over your head? If we aren’t going to actually take action and seek justice for victims, the least our government can do is ensure these victims have a safe work environment.

Be extra careful of the male lawmakers who sleep in their offices — they can be trouble. Avoid finding yourself alone with a congressman or senator in elevators, late-night meetings or events where alcohol is flowing. And think twice before speaking out about sexual harassment from a boss — it could cost you your career.”

These were the rules that female representatives, staff, and interns would follow to keep themselves safe, according to the previously cited CNN article. At this point, it’s no longer mind blowing that even within our own government women can’t feel safe. We aren’t safe in our own beds, our schools, the workplace, and even within our government. From this one quote, it’s clear that these representatives are doing more than just “working and sleeping” in their offices. If they can’t be trusted around another human and complying with the laws regarding persons how can we trust them with making new laws. We can’t, we literally cannot and the congressional black caucus was right in questioning them and calling for an investigation.

If the people in power can’t act like adults and follow the same rules as everyone else, why should they be allowed to make them?