Celebrities Pop Culture

Here’s why it’s time to stop being disappointed in celebrities

What seems like mere weeks ago, drama channels like Spill Sesh and Tea Spill caught wind of some very dark rumors circulating popular YouTubers James Charles and David Dobrik. Both were separately accused of serious allegations, and both have since apologized and announced hiatuses from the internet. What’s interesting about these two different scandals—other than the coincidence of their proximity in time—is that both Charles and Dobrik have millions of followers, which I think has made them believe they’re largely untouchable.

In 2019, Dramageddon 2.0 saw Tati Westbrook, Shane Dawson, and Jeffree Star expose Charles as sexually manipulative and predatory. When Westbrook later revealed she was gaslit into making her accusation, Charles was considered the victim of the situation. Much of what Charles was accused of was forgotten, arguably making him believe he couldn’t be called out again. This mindset carried over into 2021, when multiple minors came forward as early as February to accuse Charles of grooming, soliciting nudes, and sending explicit photos. As more boys stepped forward, Charles was committed to dismissing the claims for months. Finally, on April 1, he apologized.

Dobrik, on the other hand, has remained unscathed by scandals for most of his career. That’s not to say his content has always been squeaky clean. Half of his vlogs sensationalize putting his friends in harm’s way, while the other half is homophobic, racist, misogynistic, and fatphobic jokes. In February of 2021, former Vlog Squad member Joseth “Seth” Francois accused Dobrik of sexual assault and racism. Then in March, Business Insider revealed that former Vlog Squad member Durte Dom raped a young girl. These headlines were followed by news about Vlog Squad member Jeff Wittek’s life-threatening accident. All three of these incidents were filmed as content for Dobrik’s vlogs.

Though the first two incidents took place years ago, Dobrik didn’t apologize until this year. First, he posted an apology video titled “Let’s Talk” to his podcast channel, Views (1.6M subscribers), with the comments turned off. Following an immediate backlash, Dobrik posted a second apology video to his main channel (18.4M subscribers). It’s unfortunate that it took a series of very public call-outs for Dobrik to realize his content was doing more harm than good. At this point, Dobrik can keep posting apology videos all he wants. But if he doesn’t genuinely change his behavior, then it’s going to be telling that those videos were just hot air.

In the last year or so, cancel culture has made its way into the lexicon of almost everybody. But this has misconstrued the original purpose of cancel culture, which was more about accountability and education than blacklisting celebrities and public figures for their mistakes. In the context of the situations of Charles and Dobrik, however, both are repeat offenders of the allegations they are just now apologizing for. This is but one reason why I think we should stop being disappointed when celebrities make mistakes.

I’ve always been a little too interested in what celebrities are up to. I used to come home from middle school every day and peruse pop culture magazines and gossip channels before starting my homework. While I still tend to ere on the side of being in the know on all things celebrity, my relationship with the concept and its “elite” group has changed significantly.

In the past, I would read celeb headlines in open-mouth shock, borderline hurt that celebrities I liked could make such egregious errors. Now, however, there is no bewilderment or letdown on my part. Most of these headlines rely on the element of surprise: Can you believe [insert famous celebrity] would do this?! The short answer is yes, I can believe it. The long answer is celebrities are human, which obviously means they will make mistakes just like the rest of us. The only difference is that celebrities make mistakes on a grand scale and in the public eye, whereas the rest of us benefit from having a much smaller audience.


It’s important to realize that the pedestal on which society places celebrities doesn’t protect them from the consequences of their actions. They are still flawed humans who need to be held accountable, just like the rest of us. If anything, the pedestal has become more of a stumbling block that has caused some celebrities to fall farther from grace than they had to. This is largely because celebrities, like Charles and Dobrik, hide behind their pedestal as though it will shield them from having to face the repercussions of their actions.

And the pandemic has only made this more apparent to the masses. Wealth and fame have removed celebrities from the realities of the everyday person. The New York Times’ Amanda Hess described the concept of celebrity as a “spectacle of excess [that] has functioned as a bizarre appeasement for inequality.” But in 2020, this spectacle wasn’t fun to watch anymore. Celebrities made it too obvious that their pandemic experience was not the same as everybody else’s—primarily because many stars, content creators, and influencers weren’t always quick to adhere to safety and quarantine guidelines.

Again, I’m not surprised anymore when celebrities are revealed to be questionable people who think they can flout the rules. This has helped me have less of a personal stake in the concept of celebrity. I do still think accountability is of the utmost importance. Viewers are the reason why Charles and Dobrik both finally apologized. However, should they return to the internet, they’re going to have to make it very apparent they learned from their actions and grew from their mistakes. It’s also important to note that the communities they’ve harmed are the only ones who can accept their apologies.

Both James Charles and David Dobrik have repeated the same mistakes too many times for it to be an accident at this point, which I think should affect whether they’re allowed to have platforms anymore. But I’m not sure I’m in the majority with that opinion. There are still celebrities who have careers after blatantly and unapologetically being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and pedophilic. And regularly there are new people given platforms despite their past mistakes. I’m mainly looking at the two contestants on Drag Race Down Under with heinously racist pasts. In this specific example, it would have been so easy to cast people of color instead and avoid the current backlash happening online altogether.

My point is celebrities are human, and humans are disappointing. We’re riddled with flaws and imperfections. I can’t waste any more time being disappointed when celebrities make a mistake—primarily because so many celebrities aren’t interested in learning, growing, or evolving in ways that matter. Just like Bonnie Tyler, I too am wondering where all the good men have gone. But I can’t hold out any longer, let alone till the end of the night.

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History Historical Badasses

Gertrude Stein, the queer feminist at the centre of the art movement

I first encountered Gertrude Stein through her avant-garde poetry in Tender Buttons, an evocative series of short poems that forced writing to its breaking point with sentences like: “Dirty is yellow. A sign of more is not mentioned.” I met her blindly, only through her words, yet I already fell for her eccentricity. I knew there was something wonderful behind the mind that put down on paper the bold tongue-in-cheek yet unbelievably serious statement, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I just had to explore her art further. So I began scouring old journals and artist profiles to learn more about her. 

Little did I know that the radical art Stein created could almost be rivaled by the art that she nurtured in the artists around her. I found multiple sources that called her the ‘mother’ of modernism, but after getting to know more about her, I am sure that she would scoff at such a title. After all, she left the United States in 1903 to flee the pressures of gender norms. She was also bored with medical school and seeking an outlet to express her eccentric point of view, she settled down in Paris, where she intended to pursue a life free from heteronormativity. She opened a salon in her home for the world’s creative mind, including some of the world-renowned names such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. She was the voice of this ‘Lost Generation, the group of American expatriates flocking to Paris– and even coined the term.

The way I see it, she brought together these esteemed artists and in many ways, elevated them through her no-nonsense critique of their work. I had always internalized that a woman inspiring other artists (typically male artists) was a muse. That term is loaded, as there were often sexualized or romanticized elements typically tied to a muse. Instead, what I admired about Stein was that she was a mentor to the ‘greats’. I see her as a woman that had an undeniable presence in her time, respected by those around her. 

Nothing about her was conventional and she embraced her own strangeness, something that drew me to her further. Stein deserves the title of a trailblazer of the modernist period and of queer identity at the time. Stein’s essay Miss Furr and Miss Skeene were among the first story to be published about homosexual revelation, containing the first noted use of the word “gay” in published works to refer to same-sex relationships. She also hosted one of the first avant-garde exhibitions in the United States, funding it with the money she collected from her art dealerships. I have no doubt that every piece of art in the period has her fingerprint.

And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her accomplishments either. Stein didn’t believe that women must be modest, proudly proclaiming “I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” She never sold herself short, a habit I found myself doing as I presented my own poetry or other writing. I was still working with my own feelings of inferiority, belittling my stories as ‘just’ relevant to female-identifying communities. While she wrote about women and her partner, she didn’t restrict herself to writing women’s stories. I found it so refreshing to see her unabashed pride, as it reminded me to take hold of my own achievements and to be confident. No matter how unconventionally and ‘weirdly’ I experimented with my creativity, I learned that I could (and should) still demand to be taken seriously. 

Regardless of all this, I don’t think she should be idolized. I often like to give powerful women in difficult situations the benefit of the doubt, as do most of the historians and writers that grapple with creating a retrospective of Stein’s life. I witnessed a trend in the way that they wrote about her, that she was ensuring her safety as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France by making these questionable alliances with Nazi figures. As much as I respect her as a feminist and as the backbone of the Lost Generation of artists, I cannot excuse her political affiliations and ironic, confusing pro-Nazi expressions. 

At the end of it all, Stein didn’t strive to be accepted or allow herself to be molded by the society around her. She carved her own place into history and I believe it is important to commemorate it, lest she is lost in the shadows of her male counterparts. As a woman in the art world, looking at Stein as an example liberates me and allows me to embrace subversive expressions of creativity. 

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Activism Gender The World Inequality

Gulabi Gang: India’s badass all-women vigilante group

The streets of Banda, Uttar Pradesh were once filled with despair. Ranked 154 our 447 on the Planning Commission’s index of backwardness in 2003, caste-based violence, domestic abuse, and poverty were pervasive throughout Banda, with little to no police support. In the midst of such chaos, the Gulabi Gang formed to combat the widespread domestic abuse and violence against women.

Clad in “Gulabi”, or pink sarees, these women wield bamboo sticks as they accost male offenders. Most, if not all, members of the Gulabi Gang are of oppressed castes, as are the women they assist. The gang was initially created to “punish abusive husbands, fathers, and brothers in an effort to combat domestic violence and desertion”. The gang has various stations set up and each station has a “commander” that takes care of the problems of the women in her area. Through word of mouth, the location and purpose of these stations are spread to women in the district. 

When a woman comes to the station to narrate the story of her abuse to the group, the police are immediately called. If the police fail to take charge, the Gulabi Gang takes over. Often, the gang accosts male members and calls upon them to understand their wrongdoings. If the men do not relent or resort to force, they are publicly shamed or beaten with bamboo sticks. Because the gang has over 200,000 members, they receive enough support from the women of each district, and by carrying bamboo sticks with them and walking in large groups, they prevent men from being able to successfully retaliate. Recently, the group has started to offer cost-effective services such as henna application, tailoring, and flower arrangements to provide their members with a source of income to sustain their lifestyle. 

The work of Gulabi Gang has resulted in legislation to designate 33% of parliamentary seats for women in India. Even though this has brought upon many positive changes for women empowerment in India and legislation to promote gender equality, the Gulabi Gang continues to operate in their relevant areas. They prefer to work outside of politics because of the widespread corruption amongst Indian politicians. 

Over time, the gang’s scope of issues has expanded from domestic violence to child marriage, dowry deaths, and access to education. They also target human rights and male oppression by actively encouraging men to get involved in activism. Many members of the Gulabi Gang are men who support the causes that the gang raises awareness for.

Because the scope of the gang has grown so much, the woman have been able to engage in undercover projects to bring deep-rooted government corruption to light. In 2007, the founder of the gang, Sampat Pal Devi, heard that government-run stores were not distributing food and grains in a village fairly. Due to widespread poverty, hundreds of families depended on this food to survive. The Gulabi Gang observed the shop undercover and found evidence that the store was shipping the allocated grains to open markets to make a higher profit. The gang reported the store to the local authorities, who ultimately ignored the complaints. However, this incident solidified Gulabi Gang’s reputation as an organization that fought for justice. 

In 2008, Gulabi Gang stormed an electricity office in Banda to force them to turn the electricity back on. The office had cut the electricity to the district off in an effort to extract bribes. Additionally, the gang has stopped multiple child marriages and protested to receive justice for oppressed-caste rape victims. In India, police indifference to the rape of oppressed-caste women is pervasive, as is government action. 

As an Indian-American feminist, I am blessed to be able to walk in the steps of the empowered women of the Gulabi Gang. India has a poor reputation with women’s rights and gender equality, which is often not acknowledged within the Indian community. The work of the Gulabi Gang is exposing how deep-rooted women’s oppression is in India, as well as creating solutions to empower women while fighting the patriarchy. 


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Moving home after graduation meant leaving my true self behind

Moving back home after graduation is always a huge transition. Some people have to get used to sleeping with pants again, while others struggle to find themselves in their childhood bedroom. Most graduates are grateful that the days of scavenging for food and ready-to-eat meals are over. But there are those that miss those wild nights out with their friends. Nights where you can’t pin down exactly what happened or how but you remember feeling happy.

If I could condense it all into one memory, it would look like eating take-out food on the worn-out carpet in a room lit only by fairy lights with friends. We would pause as the door swings open and someone I’ve never seen before passes through. My friends and I laugh once they’re out of earshot before picking back up at where we left off. “Yes, she can give mean massages but no! That’s so ‘male-gazey’ of you to say.” I look around the room and feel a little pride because it’s home.

Upon moving home after her university experience, a friend’s parent once told her, “You’ve had your fun. Now it’s over.” It’s harsh. It’s bold. And it’s true.

My roommates and I made it feel homey through our endless trips to IKEA to purchase houseplants, sturdy hooks for our paintings, and coveted fruit bowls. When moving home, there are those of us that miss that sensation, that pride of being independent. Or the feeling of closeness with people that make sense to you, just as you know you make sense to them.

Sometimes, however, the nostalgia feels even more drastic. All at once, I realized that I was not just missing these people that I used to be around, but missing me

 Upon moving home after her university experience, a friend’s parent once told her, “You’ve had your fun. Now it’s over.” It’s harsh. It’s bold. And it’s true.

All at once, I realized that I was not just missing these people that I used to be around, but missing me

My time was certainly coming to a close. As I looked over my packed-up college dorm room, I felt a strange surge of panic. I was afraid that I wouldn’t ever live independently again. I thought about moving to another city and starting a new adventure. But more than wanting a change of scene, I was mostly spurred on by the fact that no unmarried woman in my family has simply moved out of her home. This means that I could not remain in Dubai and live independently from my family.

While I had chatted about finding an apartment to live with a couple of local friends, who were in similar situations, it always seemed a bit like we were playing pretend. I knew deep down, it was all wishful thinking as if we all weren’t actually a week away from moving back home.

For me, and many others, coming back home meant a complete lifestyle flip. It felt like leaving behind a version of yourself that you were just discovering; the you that is independent of family and other codes of normalcy. 

There were simple things. I still feel strange getting ready in the morning without putting on colorful eyeshadow. Now, putting any sort of effort into my appearance is completely out of place. If I happen to, those around me observe me strangely. Perhaps when I walked through the door, I was supposed to revert to the withdrawn high-school chapter of myself. Or at least wear the costume of her. 

It felt like leaving behind a version of yourself that you were just discovering; the you that is independent of family and other codes of normalcy. 

I get it. It is the version of myself that my family is acquainted with. It is the version that makes them the most comfortable. Though I wonder why it is mainly girls that feel like they have to go through this adjustment period. I have noticed that it is mostly women who try to tone themselves down when they’re moving back home.

There was a feeling that we could not act the way we did on our college campuses as it would be seen as too ‘liberal’ for the family setting. It is not that I was living some sort of double life (although I can appreciate that many girls do resort to this). I simply grew out of my shell.

I had been roaming around, seeing what type of person I could become. But now I have returned. And my less liberal high-school shell is fine enough. It’s familiar and worn-in. But it is a guest house. Although I feel at home, I know it is not my final dwelling. I just can’t figure out how to present myself there. Yet at the same time, I don’t have any answers to the questions of what comes next and where I want to be as I am still trying to see where I fit.

Can I ever let go of that other ‘me’? I will have to because I know a lot of us are staying put. It wasn’t our grand idea of post-graduate life but this is where we will be for now or a little longer. Given the current circumstances, it seems that the latter is true.

As graduate schools are moving online and jobs are becoming more and more remote, it seems as if we are in this for the long haul. I wish I knew how to wrap this all up in a way that gives advice to anyone else feeling this way. But I suppose that this is all part of a personal evolution. Even if it feels like one that is not according to plan. 

World News The World

I could lose my UK citizenship because of this loophole- and so could others

In 1968, eight-year-old Dexter Bristol left the British colony of Grenada to join his mother, Sentina, in the UK where she was working as an NHS nurse as a British-subject passport holder. Both Dexter and his mother were considered British citizens and lived in the UK as such, claiming social benefits, working and paying taxes. Bristol lived the remainder of his life in the UK, but in 2016, he had his benefits cut off as he could not prove he had the right to be in the UK. In 2017, he was removed from his cleaning job when the employers learned he had no passport. He tried to get new work, but no-one would hire him due to his lack of documentation. With no money coming in, Bristol was living in destitution.  Within a few months, Bristol collapsed outside his home and died.

This is what is happening with immigrants in the UK right now.

Many people from the British colonies who moved, lived and rebuilt the UK after World War II are being told they have no legal status to be in the country, even if they migrated prior to their homeland’s independence. Bristol, and many like him, are known as the ‘Windrush’ generation who arrived on UK shores from British colonies such as Jamaica, Grenada, and Barbados between 1948 and 1971. The name derives from the ship that brought the first migrants in 1948 – MV Empire Windrush and it is unclear how many people arrived during that time as many were children traveling on their parent’s passports, but it is believed to be in their thousands. The influx of migrants ended in 1971 when the Immigration Act was introduced. It gave the Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK the right to remain.

However, in 2010, the “hostile environment policy” was introduced by then-Home Secretary, Theresa May and the Home Office. Its aim was to make it as difficult and hostile in the UK as possible for people without leave to remain (e.g. illegal immigrants) in hope that they would “voluntarily leave”.

With the Windrush generation, the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it, so when the “hostile environment policy” was implemented, it became difficult for the Windrush arrivals to prove their legality in the UK. Most of the Windrush migrants had arrived before their home countries gained independence from the UK, so they and others were not incorrect in believing they were British citizens and many of them were minors, traveling on the passports of their parents.

The British Nationality Act of 1948 gave a citizen of the United Kingdom and its Colonies status and the right to settle in the UK, to everyone who was at the time a British subject by virtue of being born in a British colony. But the lack of documentation means those of the Windrush generation (who are now of retirement age) cannot work, be treated medically under the NHS, claim benefits or even remain in the UK.

But it is important to note that this has been going on longer than the British people initially believed. While the scandal gained national notoriety in 2018 resulting in a double public apology by the Prime Minister, the resignation of the Home Secretary and a promise of citizenship documents with waived fees and compensation, it doesn’t change or make it easier for the estimated 160 Windrush citizens who have been wrongfully deported or detained, according to Home Office reports.

And while the country is currently caught up in the final negotiations for the UK to leave the European Union, the Windrush scandal has been pushed to the side and the appalling treatment of the victims is being ignored.

But those of who arrived from the Caribbean are found to not be the only ones who are suffering as 30% of those who are being forwarded to the Windrush taskforce (a group set up by the British Government to help with those with limited documentation or evidence of residency) are from “other nationalities.” This includes people from European countries including France and Germany and other Commonwealth countries such as Nigeria and Australia.

The scandal leaves many questions and doubt. If the UK can do this to its own people, what about the European citizens living and working in the UK? What will happen to them when the UK leaves the European Union? Could they also be declared illegal years down the line and be terminated from their jobs, unable to claim social benefits or health care and be deported back to a country they haven’t lived in for years?

Myself, as a child of one immigrant parent and the grandchild of immigrant grandparents from a Commonwealth country, could I also lose my status as a British citizen if the Home Office declares my grandparents illegal?

The rebuilding of the UK after the atrocities of World War II was an open invitation to the Commonwealth to settle in the UK but the scandal regarding Windrush will forever stain British foreign policy and must never be forgotten.

Gift Guides Movies Books

What’s in the book nooks of your favorite characters’ dreams

I often wish I could live in a TV show or movie, just to spend more time in that world. The best characters can become so ingrained in our lives and consciousnesses that they begin to feel real, like any other friend you might text or get coffee with or maybe even swap books with. As an avid reader myself, I like to think that all of my favorite characters would also love reading, even if it’s not specified. So in the spirit of spending more time in the lives and universes of great characters, here are the books and reading essentials for 5 of them.

Leslie Knope- Parks and Recreation

[Image description: A smiling blonde woman sitting at a desk with an official seal and awards in the background, she turns her head and smirks]
[Image description: A smiling blonde woman sitting at a desk with an official seal and awards in the background, she turns her head and smirks] via NBC
The question is not if Leslie would buy Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, but how many copies she would buy for her galentines, coworkers, mentees, friends and waffle suppliers.

[Image description: cover of Michelle Obama's memoir titled Becoming. Michelle Obama is smiling with her chin on her palm on a light blue background.]
[Image description: Cover of Michelle Obama’s memoir titled Becoming. Michelle Obama is smiling with her chin on her palm on a light blue background.]
Becoming by Michelle Obama on Indiebound

 Leslie would no doubt make time to read it even with her busy DC schedule, probably while being shuttled between meetings with this Notorious RBG travel mug in hand.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing a crown and text reading "Notorious RBG"]
[Image description: Metal travel mug with the image of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing a crown and text reading “Notorious RBG”]
Notorious RBG mug on Etsy

Jane Villanueva- Jane the Virgin

[Image description: A brown -haired latina woman wearing a flower in her hair smiles.]
[Image description: A brown -haired latina woman wearing a flower in her hair smiles.]
Jane and books go way back, but her life can get a little hectic, meaning that she has to work to carve out time to read her favorite author.

[Image description: Cover of Isabel Allende's novel In The Midst of Winter. It shows a city street blurred by snowfall with pink flowers in the top right corner.]
[Image description: Cover of Isabel Allende’s novel In The Midst of Winter. It shows a city street blurred by snowfall with pink flowers in the top right corner.]
Despite her Miami roots, Jane has a soft spot for snow or at least the idea of it. This snow and pine soy candle would round out Jane’s literary fantasies while she reads Isabel Allende’s 2017 novel, In the Midst of Winter

P.S. Did you know you can read the romance novel Jane spent the first three seasons writing? Check out Snow Falling, by Jane Gloriana Villanueva here.

image 0
[Image description: Soy candle in a glass jar with metal lid]

Elle Woods- Legally Blonde

[Image description: A blonde woman in a polka dot top and a blazer makes a concerned face.]
[Image description: A blonde woman in a polka dot top and a blazer makes a concerned face.] via MGM
Elle Woods is a woman of many interests, as her application video showed, which is why I think after a long day in court she’d love curling up with a good book.

Elle is no stranger to productive anger, so she’d certainly resonate with Rebecca Traister’s newest book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. 

Good and mad 9781501181795 hr
[Image description: Cover of Good and Mad which has bold red font over a white background with repeating gray text that says “F*CK”.]
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger on Indiebound

The beautiful heels with which she crushes The Patriarchy aren’t so easy on the feet. She’d put her feet up in style, on this pouf– in pink of course.

image 0
[Image description: Crocheted poufs on the floor in yellow, orange, gray and pink.]

Olivia Pope- Scandal

[Image description: A black woman with wavy hair walks confidently down a a hallway wearing a black and white pantsuit.]

Olivia Pope is a brilliant fixer, so in her rare downtime, she’d want to read something equally brilliant that needs no fixing.  Toni Morrison’s moving and complex novel Sula grapples with good and evil, adultery and trust, all themes Olivia is very familiar with.

[Image description: Cover of Toni Morrison's Sula. A black woman dressed in a floral dress, fur stole and hat stands in front of a yellow background with birds taking flight behind her.]
[Image description: Cover of Toni Morrison’s Sula. A black woman dressed in a floral dress, fur stole and hat stands in front of a yellow background with birds taking flight behind her.]
Sula by Toni Morrison on Indiebound

While reading she’d obviously want a glass of wine in a glass as modern and stylish as she is, like these modern wine glasses.

Arris 8oz Wine, Pair
[Image description: A pair of angular wine glasses with opaque gold matte bottoms but clear tops and stems]

Sabrina Spellman- Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

[Image description: A blond girl in a white dress sits in front of a cake covered in candles. She smiles.]
[Image description: A blond girl in a white dress sits in front of a cake covered in candles. She smiles.] via Netflix
Between two high schools, family obligations and the Dark Lord always after her, Sabrina’s got a lot on her plate, but she’s handling it fearlessly.

Though not on the list of banned books that she and her friends are eager to dive into, Sabrina gets a lot out of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.  Like the main character, Sabrina is navigating moral dilemmas and secret worlds without the guidance of her parents.

[Image description: Cover of The Goldfinch which is offwhite and has the illusion of being torn in the middle to reveal a painting of a goldfinch.]
[Image description: Cover of The Goldfinch which is offwhite and has the illusion of being torn in the middle to reveal a painting of a goldfinch.]
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt on Indiebound

Considering Greendale is riddled with cold breezes and given Sabrina’s penchant for sweaters, this knit blanket would no doubt be a reading time essential.

[Image description: red chunky knit blanket draped over a black couch with a mug on the armrest.]
Politics The World

Here’s what you need to know about the scandal rocking the White House

Michael Flynn was Trump’s National Security Advisor for three weeks and three days before resigning amidst allegations that he communicated inappropriately with Russian officials in the run-up to the inauguration, and then lied about it.

This is a huge story, so let’s break it down.

Who is Michael Flynn?

Flynn served in the US Army for 33 years before being appointed by the Obama administration to lead the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was pushed out of job in 2014 by his colleagues and superiors because of his chaotic management style and constant clashes with his superiors.  In a The New York Times article from November, it was reported that while leading the DIA his penchant for unsubstantiated facts was widely known and his subordinates coined the term “Flynn facts”.  Such “Flynn facts” facts include describing extremist Islamist terrorism as ““A world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people” in his book and tweeting that Hillary Clinton and the DNC were involved a child porn ring run out of the DC pizzeria.  After his forced retirement he started a consultancy firm. It was in that role that he frequently appeared on Russia Today, the state-sponsored propagandist news channel that Russia runs in the US.  He was paid to give a talk at a gala held in the honor of RT in Moscow during which he spoke about the dangers of Iran and world politics.

Trump tapped him to be National Security Advisor on November 18th, 2017.  In December 2016 the met with the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, a far-right nationalist party founded by disgruntled former Nazis in Austria.

Photo: Bild

What is he accused of?

In December, US intelligence agencies issued a report that found Russia not only hacked into US political parties during the 2016 election, but leaked information strategically to help the Trump campaign which had made it clear that a Trump administration would be friendlier to Russia.  President Obama responded to the revelations with sanctions on three intelligence organizations, expelling 35 diplomats suspected of spying and shutting down two Russian intelligence “bases” in Maryland and New York. The Obama administration previously imposed devastating economic sanctions on Russia. Given President Trump’s open desire for a cozy relationship with the Kremlin, it looks like Trump would benefit from lifting or relaxing them.

So, here’s the kicker:

It was revealed Michael Flynn called the Russian Ambassador to the US on the same day the latest sanctions were announced. Not good news for the Trump administration. The FBI has been investigating his calls for evidence of Flynn interfering with US foreign policy which Flynn himself has denied. Last Thursday, The Washington Post reported that according to US officials, Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Flynn had discussed the sanctions and had discussed the possibility of Trump rolling them back.

If true, this amounts to Flynn blatantly undermining the sitting president of the United States.

President Trump has denied this and Vice President Pence spoke to the media reiterating Flynn’s innocence. As of Thursday, Michael Flynn claims he cannot remember what he and the Russian Ambassador talked about and “couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”  That certainly makes it look like Michael Flynn lied to VP Pence as well as the FBI.

Flynn resigned on Monday.

Photo: AP

What’s next?

It is clear that Flynn’s relationship with the Russian government at the end of the Obama presidency need to be investigated. Here’s who could do that.

Congress has the right investigate the Executive Branch and more importantly, it has the right to subpoena information for those investigations. That means that the House Oversight Committee could demand that information be handed over and if they are denied, the person refusing to cooperate can be held in contempt of congress.

The House Oversight Committee: Not yet planning to investigate. 

Right now, the House Oversight Committee is controlled by Republicans and those Republicans, including Jason Chaffetz have remained silent. The Democratic members of the oversight committee have called for Chaffetz to investigate or to allow members of the committee to vote on oversight steps.

 “It is difficult to imagine a more serious list of allegations for our Committee to investigate…They demand a robust, immediate, and bipartisan investigation rather than partisan stonewalling and the transparent excuses for inaction. If you are not willing to take action, then we ask that you allow us to do our job by scheduling a vote on proposals from other Members of the Committee about the investigative steps we should take on this matter.”

Senate Intelligence Committee: Already investigating Russia, will investigate Flynn. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been investigating Paul Manafort’s ties to Russia and the Russian influence in the election and they have confirmed that they will investigate Michael Flynn.

House Intelligence Committee: Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) wants to investigate. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Chairman Bob Croker (R-TN) said Flynn should testify but has not yet commented on an investigation.

Photo: AFP

What you can do:

Call your congressional representatives and voice your support of an investigation. Not sure who represents you in Congress? Find out here. 

This is extra important if your rep is on the Oversight Committee, House Foreign Affairs Committee or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Here is a helpful script that you can use to make calls. 

USA World News The World

Golden Globes, Bumblebees, and Jeff Sessions: The Week in Review

We get it, Wednesdays can be tough to get through. In an effort to keep up with the world’s ever-changing news landscape, we’ve put together the top 10 headlines so you can stay on top of things.

1. Gunman opens fire at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport


A gunman opened fire in the baggage claim of Fort Lauderdale International, killing 5 and wounding 6 last Friday afternoon. 26-year-old Iraq war veteran Esteban Santiago was charged with carrying out a violent attack on an international airport resulting in death – a charge that could result in the death penalty.  The gun Santiago used in the attack had been confiscated late last year when he entered an Anchorage FBI office and told the officers that his mind was being controlled by a US Intelligence agency and that he was being influenced by ISIS. The gun was returned to him in December after a mental health evaluation found him to be not to be mentally ill despite that incident. 

FBI & Anchorage Police Department held a press conference to clarify and provide details on the shooting.

2. Dutch trains now run 100% on wind power

Image Source

Dutch trains will be the first in the world to carry around 600,000 passengers per day exclusively using wind, according to a joint statement by the national railway (NS)  and their private energy partner, Eneco. Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) announced the good news in late December with a video which featured the CEO of NS strapped to a traditional dutch windmill. The project was started two years ago and the original goal for 100% wind power was planned for 2018.

3. For the first time, a bumblebee is added to the endangered species list

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

US Fish and Wildlife announced on Tuesday, Jan 10th that the Rusty Patched Bumblebee would be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The bumblebee was once common throughout the contiguous 48 states, but its abundance has fallen by 87% since the early nineties, according to the official USFWS announcement. Bumblebees are part of a group of pollinators responsible for $3 Billion in pollination services, the loss of which would cripple American agriculture.

4. Apple’s iPhone turns 10

Image source

People around the world are paying tribute to the 10th anniversary of the launch of the iPhone, which changed the telecommunications landscape when it was released in early 2007. At the time of its release, it was unlike any other phone on the market. Today smartphones are ubiquitous – more than a quarter of the earth’s population owns one. Nearly all of those devices look like that first iPhone – a rectangular device with a glass multi-touch screen.

The iPhone and the smartphones that followed created an environment of constant information that has defined a generation, from the live transmission of Arab Spring revolutions to the election of a US President best known for sharing his every thought via the Twitter app on his smartphone.

5. HarperCollins pulls Monica Crowley’s book over plagiarism 

CNN Money

Publisher HarperCollins decided this week to pull Monica Crowley’s book from digital sales after finding evidence of plagiarism. Crowley, who is Trump’s pick for a top communications role in the National Security Council, is a Fox News commentator and talk radio personality. She holds a PhD in International Relations from Columbia University. The 2012 book, What the (Bleep) Just Happened, which is highly critical of the Obama administration, seems to have borrowed generously from Wikipedia and published articles. HarperCollins’s statement says that while it is no longer publishing this book because it has already reached the end of its natural print cycle, it will no longer be offering it online because of the plagiarism concerns.

In the wake of this scandal, investigative reporters now looking into Crowley’s other published works are now speculating that she plagiarized sections of her PhD dissertation as well.

6. Former Iranian President Rafsanjani passes away

Image source

On Sunday, Iran’s former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died at 82 from a heart attack. He left a legacy of being ruthless, some say, under the guise of progress. During his eight year term as president between 1989 and 1997, Rafsanjani was a powerful figure and commander-in-chief during the Iran-Iraq War. He is considered a founder of the revolution in his country. Those who opposed him say he imprisoned those who publicly criticized him. Since leaving office, he remained politically active and sided with the Green party, causing two of his children to be imprisoned. The mourning of this political figure has turned into a public display of dissent in the streets of Tehran. As millions gather, many are using the occasion to express support for opposition leaders.

7. Jeff Sessions is grilled in the Senate

Boston Globe

In a ten hour hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama (R) was grilled by the Senate as President-elect Trump’s pick for attorney general. The hearing was interrupted several times by protestors, some of whom were wearing Ku Klux Klan outfits and yelling “white power” before being escorted from the room.

Sessions has been highly criticized for previous statements he has made on sexual assault and his record on civil rights, which prevented him from becoming a judge in the eighties. He changed his tune from what was said on the campaign trail during the hearing, maintaining that he would uphold the Supreme Court’s rulings on same-sex marriage, torture, and abortion. Sessions also promised he would not support a ban on Muslims and that he would recuse himself on any investigation involving Hillary Clinton.

8. History is made at the Golden Globes 


On Sunday, January 8, the 74th Golden Globe Awards ceremony took place in Beverly Hills, California. La La Land won seven awards, making it  the most successful movie in Golden Globe Awards history. Ryan Gosling, who starred in La La Land, won the award for best actor in comedy or a musical. Meryl Streep won the Cecile B. DeMille Award, a prestigious lifetime achievement award. She also called out Donald Trump for making fun of a disabled reporter and defended journalists in a moving acceptance speech.

9. Blasts in Kabul kill at least 30 people 

Wakil Kohsar for Getty Images via NPR

Two suicide bombings went off in the Afghan capital, killing at least 30 people. The blasts occurred near Afghanistan’s parliament building and the Taliban claimed responsibility, according to Al Jazeera. President Ashraf Ghani promised to bring those who perpetrated the attack to justice. At least 70 other people were injured in the attacks.

10. International journalist Clare Hollingworth passes away


Clare Hollingworth, a British reporter who broke the news of World War II, died on Tuesday at the age of 105. According to The New York Times, Hollingworth was in Katowice, Poland in 1939 when she saw troops and tanks and knew the war had begun. She phoned her editor at The Daily Telegraph and her story was published the next day on September 1. Over the course of her life, she covered stories on World War II, the Vietnam War, Palestine, Iraq and many other places.

Until next week:

Tech Now + Beyond

These famous historical writers have as much drama as the Kardashians

Ever heard of The Year Without Summer? If you haven’t that’s okay, I’ll fill you in. The Year Without Summer was the summer of 1816, when a chain of volcanic eruptions caused a volcanic winter that spread as far as Europe. The cold, dark, rain and crop failures got so bad that it prompted one Italian astronomer to predict that the world would literally end in July (spoiler alert: it didn’t).

There was one positive to this dismal summer, though. It inspired Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and a lesser-known writer, John Polidari, to some of their greatest works. And now, it has also inspired an app: Summer of Darkness.

The iOS app follows the events of that summer on a day-by-day basis, as closely as they can be recreated by the letters, diaries and manuscripts that each of these writers left. You can preview upcoming events before they happen, but the information associated with each event can only be viewed on or after the day happened.  To give a sense of the world around the writers, the designers (husband and wife Andrew and Anindita Basu Sempere) incorporated maps of the area on Lac Léman where the writers stayed together, and recreated the daily weather using actual data from 1816. Fun fact — that data is apparently in the public domain. Who knew?

To the uninitiated, the lives of writers from nearly 200 years ago may sound boring. But they were really anything but!  As Annalee Newitz at Ars Technica puts it, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron were something like the rockstars of their days, and lead lives to match. When Lord Byron was the first to leave England, it was because he was fleeing from debt and a scandalous affair. Claire Clairmont, his extramarital love interest and Mary Shelley’s stepsister, convinced the two Shelleys to come with her as she followed Byron to try to reclaim him. The Shelleys were also dealing with demanding creditors, and though Mary called herself “Mrs. Shelley,” Percy was married to another woman at the time. These people led lives that are just as colorful as the lives of the Kardashians, but  congratulations, your daily dose of gossip now comes with a veneer of historicity.

But the app isn’t all gossip either. It was that summer that Lord Byron challenged his friends to a competition to see who could write the best ghost story. Polidari penned a vampire tale, appropriately called Vampyr, and Mary Shelley was inspired by both the challenge and a nightmare she had to write Frankenstein. According to Ars Technica, both works sparked entirely new genres of storytelling, and permanently redefined themes for pop culture. As for Percy Shelley and Byron himself, they also experienced many moments of inspiration in that strange, dramatic summer.

Although the app began in May and most of the summer is already over,  if you start now you’ll be able to view all of the information that has already been unlocked in one fell swoop, and continue to receive the concluding updates as they come out. After all of the information is released, the creators say that users will have the option to reset it, and receive the updates again over a four month time period.

Summer of Darkness can be purchased on the iTunes store for only $0.99, and works on iPhones or iPads.

Science Now + Beyond

These car company scandals could make your life worse

In the past couple of years, several fuel emission-related scandals from various car companies have come out. Although these have not gone unnoticed, there are deeper issues with these scandals than what you’ve probably read: these incidents do not occur in a vacuum. The effects of greenhouse gas emission lies span across the globe.

The latest major emissions scandal comes from the Japanese automaker Mitsubishi. In April, the company admitted that it had been lying on fuel emission tests for 25 years, causing its stock to plummet by a third. For a quarter of a century, the company has been inaccurately reporting fuel economy. The total amount of cars affected? At least 625,000.

Seven months earlier, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report stating that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act. The statement mentions that many cars made by Volkswagen Group, specifically in its Volkswagen and Audi vehicles, from 2009–2015 “include software that circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants.” The company did this by rigging the system that checks for greenhouse gas emissions. The difference isn’t merely marginal, but a shocking increase. For instance, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta was tested in the urban city of San Diego, and came up 37 times over the limit of nitrogen oxide emissions. The 2012 Volkswagen Passat was 20 times over the limit when tested in Los Angeles. These allegations, denied by Volkswagen, affect almost a half a million cars in the U.S. alone. The number of cars affected worldwide could be as high as 11 million.

The scandal sheds light on the need for an up-to-date emissions test. Transportation makes up 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions. But the exposed scandals as well as those that are still uncovered in the automotive industry have lead to severe miscalculations of emission projections. One analysis states that the Volkswagen scandal alone could have caused an underestimation between 250,000 to 1 million extra metric tons of nitrogen oxide emissions every year.

It gets worse. Because these are not isolated incidents. In 2014, Hyundai and Kai were forced to pay a record $100 million in direct payments to car owners after it lied about their fuel economy statuses. It was no small lie that these companies told, as their projections of greenhouse gas emissions were underestimated by about 4.75 million metric tons over a vehicle’s lifetime. In the same year, Ford compensated 200,000 vehicle owners in the U.S. for overstating its gas mileages.

This deception is the result of greedy companies and a highly competitive market. These companies have chosen to get ahead financially while taking advantage of its customers. While these billion dollar businesses are “saving” money by lying about each car’s MPG, it’s costing their customers significantly more than what they paid for. It is unacceptable.

This is pure corporate greed on display. These companies cheat both their customers and the environment. While much of the media focused on the deception of the company, it did not focus on the severe impact this has on the environment in the form of air pollution. Around 3.3 million people worldwide are effected by air pollution every year, causing premature deaths, according to study in Nature done by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Another shocking statistic shows that vehicle emissions cause twice as many deaths as traffic accidents in Germany

Oftentimes, we use the statistic that it’s safer to fly on a place than it is to drive a car. But what if it was safer to drive a car than to breathe?

This is only part of a larger issue. We are ignoring the immediate effects of climate change. Developed countries, especially the United States, deny the threat of rising greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. While we ignore the effects of climate change in developed countries because its immediate effects aren’t hitting us over the head, undeveloped or developing countries are much more affected. Developed countries emit the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, but developing countries bear the burden. This is an extension of the problems that arise when we do not hold corporations to high standards. When we allow industry’s greenhouse gas emissions to go unchecked, we are polluting the Earth. More importantly, we are stunting the growth of developing nations, while developed countries’ industries make a profit.

For someone who would consider themselves quite cynical, it is not a surprise that companies did this. But it should be. We should not expect these companies to lie to us. We should not expect corporations to continue to pollute the environment with few regulations. These incidents prove the necessity for cleaner energy and holding industries to higher regulations. It proves the need for greater protection of consumers in the marketplace and and checks and balances for corporations. It proves the need for massive, global change.

Gender & Identity Life

Here’s why you can love the art without loving the artist

When I was a child and one of my beloved TV personalities were found out to be a pervert, a felon, or a perverted felon, my mom and dad would quickly forbid me from watching them any longer.

But now that I have grown older, I can choose exactly what art I consume and how. And that kind of responsibility is a heavy burden.

It’s not always easy to rationalize why I love a song or movie, even though the person who made it is less than perfect, but no one is perfect, including those who play perfection on TV.

Can you really love the art but not the artist? In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental state of holding two opposing or inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes simultaneously. This dissonance is what creates the ability to dismiss our own seemingly hypocritical nature.

[bctt tweet=”This is the psychological phenomenon that lets us ignore our hypocrisy.”]

In this way, we allow ourselves to justify loving one aspect of a person or thing, while dismissing others. In the case of celebrities, we often filter out the “bad” – their behavior in real life – and take the “good” – their art.

Why we hold these inconsistencies is easy to understand – they allow us to enjoy life guilt-free. It lets us say things like “I don’t like her as a person, I like her as an artist,” or “I know he’s kind of a d**k, but man, he’s such a good performer!”

This begs the question, does the art we consume say something about us as an audience? Are we accomplices in the diminishing of the soul when we encourage art that is born from an individual not worthy of our attention? Are we hypocrites? Of course no one is really in a place to judge anyone else when it comes to their actions; but society has certain constructs and rules that no one, not even Steve Jobs or Gandhi, is exempt from.

Society will seemingly forget anything, from the mild pot-smoking, to the more serious adultery, to even abuse, but there is one thing we simply will not stand: being lied to.

What is “good” and what is “bad” are exchangeable terms and depend on each individual. Integrity, however, is universal. Integrity is important, because it speaks not to the actions a person makes, but rather, to the consistency in their actions overall. It does not matter to me what a person does as long as they are up-front about it from the get-go. The trouble and disillusionment comes when there is a lie or a veil pulled over the public’s eyes.

When I heard Charlie Sheen was an addict, I shrugged. “Well, that’s just who he is, I’m not surprised,” I thought. The bad boy image was pretty well always there. And Sheen’s character in real life seemed little different from the one he portrayed on “Two and a Half Men.”

On the other hand, when the public learned that Lance Armstrong was doping or that Bill Cosby might be taking advantage of women, we were hurt, distraught and angry. Their actions were so adverse to the public brand they had been selling to us for years, and we felt taken advantage of. We know that many people do drugs, beat their women and lie, but when these men did it, we felt like it was happening to us. We gave you our love, we sent our kids to your shows and we bought into your brand – how could you?

In all honesty, we have been consuming art by corrupt individuals for hundreds of years. Before the wide-spread use of social media and camera phones, one could simply be a degenerate in peace – not that this is a particularly good thing. The drinking, the public indecency and the multiple families were easily kept under wraps.

The lifestyle of the rich and famous is often one of extremes. Celebrities have always misbehaved, only now, we have more evidence. Is ignorance bliss? Perhaps not, but in the case of cultural consumption, knowledge sure gets in the way of us discovering, purchasing and consuming good art.

It’s interesting how much time has to do with the public’s tendency toward amnesia. We are more likely to forgive lapses in judgement or degenerate behavior if it happened in the past. When enough time is allowed to pass, something occurs, especially after an artist is deceased, where their behavior becomes part of their myth or their legend, like in the case of Kurt Cobain. No one is appalled when we see pictures of Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley smoking a joint, but if Rihanna or Miley Cyrus do it, they’re being “bad influences.”

Time allows for greater dissonance. We can say “it’s all in the past,” the person and their behavior is dead, and it is only the art that lives on.

[bctt tweet=”Why is Bob Marley a legend for lighting up, but Rihanna is a ‘bad influence’?”]

As censorship decreases and there is less discrepancy between the person on screen, and the person in real life, the scandals will surely seem less scandalous. It is unreasonable for us to really think that an artist can be the same person we see on the stage. Some cultures treat their celebrities like gods, but they’re the furthest thing from gods. They are people.

I’m not saying they are right or wrong in their behavior. I’m simply no longer surprised.

Most art is just a reflection of the world around it, so when you relate to a piece of art, you are relating to the world as a whole, not to a person. Artists hold up a mirror, they reflect the world and have a special power for illuminating truth, but they must have no command of our attention over that. I no longer expect the celebrities whose work I admire to be upstanding individuals in real life, but if they are, it’s a great bonus.

All good art, no matter who or where it comes from, has the same noble intention: to unite. Though you may not appreciate the individual who created the piece, you can surely appreciate what it means to our culture as a whole – and that, in itself, is worthy of our attention.