Something to Write Home About

The Rose Garden on my last Sunday

The idea of living abroad became a topic of conversation between Joe and I over a year ago. I was encouraged by a friends’ girlfriend, Emily, who lived in Argentina after college. Her experience gave me some confidence, but more than anything, a blueprint to justify the trip. Joe’s excitement about living abroad in the fall of senior year kept me motivated to hatch out a plan. Before we drew up any details, Kelsey and Matt said they were interested in living abroad too. I lobbied for Argentina, and I’m pretty sure my efforts swayed no one. Living in Argentina sold itself.

Commitment is never easy. My college friends couldn’t always commit to the same bar on a Saturday night, let alone a plan to move to a foreign country. After a January weekend at Kelsey’s Vermont house, no promises were made, but a sense of excitement—perhaps possibility is a better word—stayed with us. It wasn’t until last June that we definitely knew the trip was happening. To me, it was our commitment to each other over several months that gave our journey a remarkable beginning.

As I’m writing my last post about Buenos Aires from up in the sky, somewhere over South America, it’s difficult to find the right words to describe the last nine months. I fell in love with a city and its way of life. Many times people asked me if I prefer New York or Buenos Aires, and—perhaps like many city comparisons—I find the question to be unanswerable. You can’t compare them because they are one-of-a-kind cities.

San Telmo Street Art

Buenos Aires embraces youth. One night while walking on the huge, Avenida 9 de Julio, I saw a grandfather and his grandson walking hand in hand at 2am. They both seemed so happy just to be going for a walk. The moment symbolized Argentina’s approach towards age: don’t let it affect your bed time. Stay out late, whether you’re 80 or 8, and figure out life and its worries tomorrow. Matt summed up Porteños very well last week. “They don’t live for their jobs,” which he meant in a complimentary way. There’s more to life outside the office. Perhaps it sounds dreamy, and to Americans and tourists it probably is. Unfortunately, it’s a feeling you can only grasp after living in BA for a long time. It’s no myth.

The Botanical Garden the day before I left

Argentina’s problems aren’t a fantasy either. The list of issues is lengthy and too long to write about here. But despite its flaws, Buenos Aires is a city to dream big. Whether its magnificent, old architecture or a new entrepreneur’s creativity, BA is the lab of big ideas—Los Bosques come to mind. It’s a place where people take risks. I found that out personally.

By mid-November, it was clear teaching wasn’t working well for me. I took an internship at a walking tours company before Thanksgiving, and became a marketing intern. I knew nothing of marketing. My bank account had dwindled considerably by November and I gave up some English classes—my only real income—to take the internship paying $150 pesos a week. The only thing that swayed me to take the internship was a sense of honesty from my boss, Alan. It was a commitment bounded by trust between, frankly, strangers. Alan offered me a full time position at BuenosTours in January and it completely changed my experience in Buenos Aires. Over the months, Alan, my co-workers Isabel and Quincy and I became a great team. I looked forward to work (and the pan de queso/frutigrams). I miss you guys already. Let me know when you hire the next meat correspondent—big expectations!

Classic BA Dogwalker—I count at least eight dogs

Aside from one obvious improvement, a salary, my job made life in BA so much more creative. My job beckoned me to explore the city, find interesting things and write about them in a compelling way. I once walked around downtown Buenos Aires just to find the places where Jorge Luis Borges—Argentina’s most famous author and a favorite of mine—worked and lived. It was one of the best days of my time in BA, even with the extreme, January humidity. I left the BuenosTours office with a smile on my face most days, and that’s because Alan, Quincy and Isabel were so upbeat and happy everyday.

A couple weeks ago, I was describing my mixed feelings about coming home to Tere, and she found an ideal metaphor. I told her I didn’t want to leave, that the life I wanted in Buenos Aires seemed to just have started since my trip to Patagonia. Time was flying and I didn’t want to leave. Tere said it was like I made a big sandwich over the past months, and I had been nibbling at the crusts for awhile, and I was just making my way towards the center of the sandwich, packed with all the best stuff. I laughed off her analogy, but in hindsight, she knew exactly how to describe my feelings. Tere and I have had a complicated time together, but I will always appreciate our willingness to tell each other everything, and listen to each other. I’ll miss our walks in the park. The sandwich only got better the longer I lived in Buenos Aires.

Plaza de Mayo, while bike riding through the city

I’m partly grateful for my Argentine friends because I know what life was like without them. Frankly, boring. Once you know what life is like without someone or something, you appreciate them or it so much more. That’s true anywhere, but especially in Argentina, where acts of generosity go beyond anything I’ve seen before. In Patagonia, with a rental car company trying to screw us over, our hostel’s owners, Javi and Naty, not only translated between the company’s reps and Matt, Joe and I, but they defended us for over an hour. It was an undeserved act of friendship—we hardly knew them—yet it symbolized the kindness I saw from expats and Argentines. When I needed a place to live after Patagonia, Sylvana offered me her couch—and social plans—for an incredible, New Years week. In February, Juan took about five seconds before saying, “Yes,” to letting me stay with his family for a week. He let me have his room. His family welcomed me like a long-lost cousin. Living with the Rovillard family was a week I’ll never forget. And Tuesday, when our landlord abruptly kicked us out well before we had to leave for the airport, Lucia invited Matt, Kelsey and I, and our copious luggage to her apartment. We ate our favorite empanadas and hilarious/crude/racist Louis CK videos. It was a great, impromptu goodbye. The list of kind acts go on, but they never seized to impress me.

The Malvinas War Monument

Maybe the best example of the kindness I experienced came from my biggest struggle: Spanish. I never became fluent, and my Spanish-speaking friends knew I was never going to become fluent. But it didn’t stop them from teaching me a word here and there. They never seemed bothered by my Spanish questions or perturbed when I said something incorrectly that they had taught me for weeks. They remained loyal teachers throughout my time, encouraging me even when I sounded like a complete boludo. To Juan, Lali, Sylvana, Lucia, Juanca, Tere, Celu, and many others, I’m grateful for your help and friendship.

Through it all, from pronouncing “Guemes,” at Ezeiza to afternoons in Los Bosques to eating our last milanesas at Palermo Viejo Parrilla, I had Matt, Kelsey, Steph and Joe. They tolerated my clumsiness, unique sense of humor, guitar playing and love of avocados and pesto. Through the best and worst of times, I had you guys to come home to and talk to.  It’s tough to part ways after so much time—and so many stories—together, but I know we’ll stay close. You’re all family to me.

I started this post on my flight home and I’m finishing it at home in Connecticut. It’s strange being back. Dinner lasted about 45 minutes last night. Our waitress came to our table at least five times to ask if we needed anything. We finished dinner at 7pm. My parents went to sleep at nine. The Yankees are on TV. The Wifi is great. The water pressure in the shower was amazing.

Sunset from Guemes 4560, Apartment 31

More importantly, it felt strange because I wasn’t in Buenos Aires. I wasn’t going down to the verduleria to get fruit and veggies, or Caesar’s for albondigas and alfajores. I didn’t pass by Cocu and eat chocolate croissants. I miss the wonderful ladies and sandwiches at La Francisca. I didn’t grab my guitar after work, go up to the terrace and look out over the Bosques and Rio—a view that means much more than a picture. It’s a view of the city that became a home— a home that will remind me of the great people who I will always keep in my mind and heart.

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The Next Alcatraz?

Yet Another Sunset Pic from the Guemes Terrace

From 1934 to 1963, Alcatraz housed America’s worst criminals. Robbers, murderers, rapists, big name gangsters (Al Capone) and downright evil people. Surrounded by cold, choppy waters in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was deemed inescapable. Several tried. No one officially, successfully escaped, according to the FBI. As a high-security prison, Alcatraz served its purpose: keep dangerous people behind bars.

Alcratraz closed in 1963 for a few reasons. At the time, it cost $10 per prisoner per day to operate Alcatraz—due to its unique location—compared to $3 per prisoner per day at other high-security prisons. By the late 1950s, the salty air and strong wind had eroded away at the prison’s exterior and infrastructure, requiring millions in repairs. Questions arose about the humane quality of the prison. Evil as they were, the prisoners were still human.

Similar questions about the US prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba arose recently. The prison is very expensive to maintain. The Miami Herald reported in 2011 that it costs taxpayers $800,000 per prisoner annually to maintain the navy base. Guantanamo is in an awkward place too, located in a country which the US has a historically strained relationship. Unlike Alcatraz though, location and cost take a backseat to the more sensitive issue of who lives there.

Ever since 9/11, Guantanamo Bay is the prison where hundreds of alleged terrorists have lived without trial, some over a decade. Over the past few months, convinced they will never receive a fair trial, Guantanamo prisoners began a hunger strike. They have refused to eat, becoming incredibly emaciated. Now the US military has ordered 40 extra nurses, corpsmen and “specialists,” to the prison to assist the current staff with force feeding prisoners at least 21 prisoners. One hundred of the 166 prisoners are reportedly participating in the hunger strike.

Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a Guantanamo prisoner, wrote an op-ed in the Times last week, via an Arabic translator and his lawyer. Assuming he’s telling the truth, his experience is horrifying.

“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.”

Moqbel pleaded with nurses to stop feeding him once, but they refused. Two months ago, he was tied to his bed for 26 hours and had an IV forcibly put in his hand. He couldn’t go to the bathroom.

El Ateneo, a theater turned bookstore.

At his press conference this week, President Obama approved the use of force-feeding. He also re-sparked his years-old initiative to close Guantamo, saying “It’s not sustainable,” to keep the prison open. Obama tried to close the prison in his first term but came up against heavy Republican opposition and Washington gridlock. With the deaths of Osama bin Laden and several other high-up al Queda operatives, Obama has bigger stick to swing this time, and can prove he’s no lightweight on terrorists.

Despite Guantanamo’s overwhelming maintenance cost, it’s not on Congress’s list of potential budget cuts. Taking an educated guess, I suppose lawmakers are worried that moving Guantanamo’s prisoners to the US would ignite some long-held fear of 9/11 terrorists on American land. There is credence to that concern. There would be a public protest of some size against the importation of Gitmo prisoners.

I used “importation,” because these prisoners, however evil they may be, are treated as sub-human, like stale products. Even worse, some prisoners may be innocent, having lost years of their life. Their imprisonment raises the suspicion that if they are never tried in court, perhaps the US has no criminal evidence against them, and is hoping the humane watchdogs of the world will forget about them.

One of the messages that resonated after 9/11 was that the United States, and its values, are stronger than ever, not weakened but enhanced by the attacks. We persevered through adversity, using our resolve to overcome the horror of that infamous day. I believe holding these self-starved men in prison without trial, some for over a decade, counters the American principle of a fair trial. Critics of Guantanamo’s closing say the prisoners don’t deserve to be treated with the rights of a US citizen. They’re right: Guantanamo prisoners aren’t US citizens. On the other hand, if we’re to be the global leader of justice, we must set the tone for the treatment of terrorists. How do we take the higher road over terrorists when we torture and imprison them without criminal charges? Wouldn’t the world opinion of the US gain some defenders if we treated these men in a humane manner? I think that’s proof that 9/11 didn’t compromise our values.

The prisoners’ hunger strike forces the US public and government to look in the mirror. We could say, ‘Fuck’em, keep them there till they die.’ But then we can’t say we’re a role model for justice. It’s one or the other in my view: either give them a fair trial—probably imprisoning most for the rest of their lives and freeing some—or relinquish our status as the gold standard of due process.

Additionally, the longer these men are held without trial, the more convinced I am that Washington and the intelligence communities don’t want to admit they made a mistake with some men. I’m confident they’ve imprisoned some men responsible for the 9/11 attacks or other planned attacks. For that, our military and intelligence experts deserve commendation. It’s hard to believe though that everyone in that prison is absolutely guilty of an act of terrorism.

Despite the recent uproar of inhumane treatment at Guantanamo, I suppose, like Alcatraz, the real game-changer will be money. At some point, the cost of Guantanamo will outweigh its benefit. The prison’s place in history will be dissected by historians for decades, casting it as a symbol of post-9/11 American foreign policy. And who knows, maybe the US embargo on Cuba will be completely lifted one day and Guantanamo will be turned into a museum, just like—wait for it—Alcatraz. I wonder if Moqbel’s story will be told on those tours.

Los Bosques de Palermo

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Facebook Never Forgets

Street Art in San Telmo

During my time in Buenos Aires, I’ve worked for a company called the Buenos Aires Pub Crawl. The name is self-explanatory, but it’s a company that organizes bar crawls for Porteños and tourists. Before each “crawl” begins, the staff conductor advises everyone not to drink too much because the staff photographer will be taking pictures all night, and posting them on Facebook the next day. “You may not remember tonight, but Facebook never forgets,” the conductor says to a mixed reaction of laughs, confused Argentines and people who think the line is stupid.

The line hints at a new truth in today’s world: what is put on the internet about someone can have long-term, damaging consequences. Maybe that statement seems obvious, but consider this anecdote. A woman pleaded with a New York Times editor to remove a story from its archives that was published thirty years ago. The woman, then a toddler, mistook her twin, newborn siblings for dolls, pulled them out of their cribs and inadvertently killed them, according to a smart column by Bill Keller of the Times. Now, the woman is a teacher and when her students Google her name, the first thing they find is the Times story about the deathly accident.

Keller’s column discussed a growing trend in state legislatures during the internet age: eraser laws. In Connecticut, my home state, the eraser clause is being put to the test in a court case. The eraser law officially terminates any criminal record if a court case is dropped. In the eye of law enforcement, the crime never happened. To paraphrase Keller, Lorraine Martin, a nurse from Greenwich, was arrested in 2010 after her home was raided by police, who found a small amount of marijuana, scales and plastic bags. Martin agreed to take drug classes and the police dropped the case and erased her criminal record.

Hundreds of thousands of protestors walked in a rally against President Kirchner

Martin is now suing Connecticut newspapers who will not erase their stories about her from their internet archives. To Martin, if her criminal record was expunged, the crime articles should be too. And if they’re not, they now constitute defamation, in her eyes. The crime never “officially,” happened, so there shouldn’t be any record of it in the media either. Of course, when the stories were first published, they were factual, but Connecticut’s eraser law may test what media outlets can hold in their archives.

Whether Martin wins her case, the lawsuit represents the larger issue of internet information and its perilous, eternal life. Social media isn’t the worst. You can ask pubcrawl to take pictures off their Facebook page. In fact, Facebook will forget. Statuses can be deleted and those one-liners on Twitter and Facebook poof away.

But news articles are a different animal. Print articles don’t sound so bad anymore. Sure, you can’t change what’s already been printed, but you can make it awfully hard to find that year-old article when applying for a job. The internet doesn’t offer such a cover up.

With eraser laws, a story was true, and after the criminal record is deleted, well, the truth becomes a malleable idea. Is the story still true? That’s the question Martin’s lawyers will hack away at with the jury, I suppose.

Love or hate it, a news organization is an agent of history. The media provides the public its first draft of important events. Deleting articles about singular events—a murder, a drug raid, etc.—from internet archives is equivalent to erasing history. It counters the notion that the media must document daily life. Some people, such as the teacher who requested the Times remove the story about her, seem victim to this principle of journalism. Others—Lorraine Martin—are taking advantage of the momentum for digital privacy.

Another pillar of journalism is fairness. Does journalism’s fairness extend to these people who live good, honest lives and don’t believe their past mistakes should label them for the rest of their lives? It’s a “slippery slope,” as Keller points out. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a black-white line between deleting an article and keeping it posted. That would be too easy. I see journalism’s fairness helping subjects in a case-by-case basis.

Eraser laws indicate how influential the internet has become in every aspect of our lives. I imagine there’s a certain, underlying fear in American society, especially among recent college graduates, that the internet will suspend people’s mistakes in the rafters of Google searches for everyone to see forever. Despite the phenomenon of social media—so, tell us about yourself—people may actually crave their privacy more than ever, instead of sharing their information. Now, we’re entering an era where what once was history may not be today. When a person makes a mistake worthy of the press, a new question lingers in my thoughts. The internet may not forget, but will society forgive?

My apartment terrace, which I’ll miss dearly

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My Two Bullets On the Senate

David Gregory of ‘Meet the Press’ poised the question to NRA chief Wayne LaPierre in December: “If it’s possible to reduce the loss of life, you’re worth trying it, correct?” La Pierre said yes to the question, but then no to all of Gregory’s suggestions on gun control measures, such as magazine capacity reduction. But the question has lingered with me, and I hoped with Congress, since that interview. If something could save a life, why not try it?

Today, the Senate voted against a new, bipartisan-crafted bill introducing gun control measures. Gun rights lobby groups spent $500,000 on Wednesday alone to campaign against the bill. Gun right activists flooded Senate offices recently, according to the New York Times and Washington Post. It seems Gregory’s moral question was trumped by a political one: if something could risk your political career, would you do it? 46 senators today said no.

I’m pissed. Despite being so far away from Newtown right now, the tragedy resonated with me. My 5-year old cousin lives in Newtown. My mother is a special education teacher at a nearby public high school. The Newtown shooting was the only time I cried since I arrived in Buenos Aires. I felt the deep hurt that day, and that hurt has manifested into an anger today. How many tragedies will it take for Congress to act? How can you honestly think some gun control measures won’t make an ounce of difference? How can you convince me that you didn’t cave to the NRA? How do you look up at Newtown families in the Senate gallery and vote no? I thought 20 murdered first graders and 6 educators would be enough to change the status quo on gun laws. I’m shocked.

As tweeted earlier, perhaps the only reassuring thing for me today is that President Obama was just as frustrated. His remarks had a raw, unfiltered quality—a rare display for Mr. Cool. His promises to continue the pursuit of gun legislation are a small band aid on a big fresh wound. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas poured some salt in that wound when he tweeted: “Assault weapons ban fails. #2ndAmendment prevails #Protect2A.” Touting the bill’s defeat as a victory is like laughing at the gun-victim families who lobbied for measures to be passed. He didn’t reply to my tweet to explain his decision.

Gregory’s question—a goddam softball for politicians—is somehow a forkball-cutter-slider mixed into one for them. If it’s possible to reduce the loss of life, it’s worth trying, right? Why not try? 54 senators tried, six short to make the effort worthy.

When Obama visited Newtown days after the shooting, he asked a different, rhetorical question. “Are we to say that the politics are too hard?” An answer that once seemed obvious now draws about a split response from the US Senate. But not enough Senators overcame the politics. Only six more senators needed to say “no” to Obama’s question to make a difference.

Unfortunately, I worry the next legislation up for voting could wash away today’s bitter feelings in Washington. The immigration overhaul bill, which I support, has major support from both Republicans and Democrats. With a major legislative victory for both sides—gotta get those Latino votes in 2016!—I wonder if the Senate will passively forget about today’s gun bill. “Well, we got something done,” I can imagine some Senator arguing.

The sad truth is that two things will happen, either one or both: the gun control issue will fade into the periphery of the American conscious and news media, and at some point, be completely out of sight. And/Or, another shooting tragedy will occur, and then the debate will be reopened. It shouldn’t have to take another tragedy. This issue shouldn’t fade from our priorities. With today’s verdict, it’s very possible gun legislation will become yesterday’s news quite soon, and then another tragedy will occur. I guess the debate over the next tragedy is fruitless since 46 senators weren’t convinced by Newtown that new laws needed to be passed.

In his interview with Gregory, LaPierre, the NRA chief, suggested putting armed police officers at schools as a way to protect school children. Mr. LaPierre, I fully agree with you. It’s a great idea. No satire here at all, great suggestion. On top of that, lets make it harder on the “bad guys” to buy guns and lots of ammunition, tackling this gun issue from both sides. NRA gets cops at schools, and liberals get stricter gun measures. Everyone wins and is, in theory, safer. Months later, Gregory’s question—symbolically answered by those who voted no—remains relevant, and stings today. If it’s possible to reduce the loss of life, it’s worth trying, right?

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Classroom Knowledge

The Konex Theater in Abasto, where La Bomba de Tiempo plays every Monday

David Brooks curiously speculated on the effects of online education for American universities in a recent column. Using a philosopher’s format, Brooks essentially breaks the college learning experience into two factions: technical knowledge and practical knowledge. He argues that online classes will master the delivery of technical knowledge—formulas, problem solving steps, mathematical scenarios. It’s the kind of knowledge that offers one answer to most problems.

Practical knowledge handles the more intangible things. How to analyze a political decision, build an argument in a persuasive essay, justify an economic policy or interpret an author’s message. “It can only be imparted and absorbed. It is not reducible to rules; it only exists in practice,” Brooks writes.

The uses of practical knowledge in the workplace are endless: from conducting a group meeting to understanding when to be quiet in the same meeting. These examples are practiced a lot in the humanities—the subjects that appear to be dwindling most in student popularity and university’s priorities, at least from my experience.

I’m not tone deaf. I understand even President Obama, a liberal arts product, is constantly emphasizing improvements in math, engineering and the sciences at the university level. I know the stats on first-year salary and employment are better for business and engineering students than English majors. The future looks bright for the business, science and tech whizzes of the next decade.

Analytical thinking applied to the workplace can have a profound career impact. For some people, how they conduct their business—whether in a newsroom, on a trading floor or in a hospital—may influence their ascendance up the job ladder. In general, solid communication skills go a long way. Going with Brooks’ theory, it seems like university’s are investing in the programs—the technical knowledge—that will soon be outsourced to digital classrooms. No need to build multi-million-dollar business buildings when those fundamentals can be taught online for free, or at a substantial discount. I’m looking at you, University of Delaware.

I see two scenarios arising from online education. 1: technical knowledge will be sequestered to online classes, making classroom work an exercise in practical knowledge. The humanities will reverse their decline and become relevant majors to a new crop of college students. Simple narrative, all hail English and Philosophy!

Or 2: technical knowledge will gradually be sequestered to online classes, but universities, reluctant to cave on their investments, will continue to teach such knowledge in the classroom, arguing classroom exposure is better. Universities will come to an awkward cross road where they either jump for the profits of online classes or maintain an “old school” approach of classroom teaching. The ones who jump for online classes will seek elaborate public relations campaigns to ensure their university maintains its prestige while reaping in profits from online classes. Humanities may gain some momentum, but overall they’ll continue their second-tier status to business, science and engineering programs.

Speculation aside, Brooks makes an important observation. The lessons we learn in college classrooms are changing, and perhaps the most important information isn’t tangible, but lingering in the classroom air, waiting to be absorbed. College may be one test to see who snatches that abstract information and runs with it.

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Good News is…News!


The cliche that the news is always sad may become extinct. In general, the nation’s largest newspapers haven’t changed their priorities of coverage. But then again, newspapers today don’t have much say over what the priority is anymore.

Researchers at universities across the country conducted a study to find out—in this new era of news gathering and sharing—what news people prefer. Using a list of New York Times articles, researchers found that the study’s participants shared positive or awe-inspiring news more often than negative, sad news via email and social media—Twitter, Facebook, etc. Participants even shared “bad news” as long as it aroused strong feelings, such as anger or anxiety, over “sad news” that was merely depressing and boring.

When the participants talked about the NYT stories, the area of their brain associated with social cognition lit up most when the story was about other people—not themselves. Although Twitter and Facebook have ramped up the Polly Positive stereotype, with users typically complimenting themselves and dissing others, stories about other people and other people’s ideas stimulated the participants’ brains.

This study, along with many others, could fall off the map, and only claim to have been a did-you-hear-about-it current events moment. That’s boring though, no one wants to share that idea. Assuming journalists are just as much news junkies as their customers, the study’s suggestions may influence newsrooms—and the principle already has. Small newsrooms, struggling with profits, like to produce stories that have positive appeal, get web hits and help pitch their case to advertisers. Lifestyle sections have expanded while hard news and investigative stories have waned on small city and community papers. Don’t take my word for it, read the grim State of the Media report from the Pew Research Center.

On the other hand, major news outlets historically have set the news agenda. When the Times covers an issue in-depth, many others follow with localized story versions. If the Times, or say the Journal, become inclined to tailor their news—especially their website layout—towards stories with more cognitive appeal, journalism’s future would be redirected. Instead of hard-hitting social-issue, enterprise journalism, the big news will be about new scientific discoveries that draw on people’s awe. Science features weigh equally to social issue stories, so in my opinion, there shouldn’t be a tilt towards either one, but there probably is.

The lofty, and often debated, ethics of journalism could be reconstituted in a news world dictated by readers’ desire for positive, exciting news. To what extent do news organizations cover weddings and gossip in greater detail than court hearings and breaking news? Where does the responsibility to report and investigate complex stories outweigh the need for web hits? And can those great, investigative stories that define journalism somehow compete for hits with the latest bit on Bieber? As with many mind-stimulating stories I come across, I’m left with more questions than answers on this issue. Perhaps, despite my crusade for social-issue journalism, I’m already like the participants from the study: sharing a scientific story with an overall positive tone. It certainly kept me thinking.

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Can Iraq’s lessons cross the Syrian border?

Last week marked the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War’s beginning. After thousands of lives lost, billions of dollars spent and many more questions raised, last week marked a fitting time to analyze our decade-old declaration of war. David Sanger is my go-to source on foreign policy analysis. When I read his breaking story on the Obama administration’s cyber attack on Iranian uranium facilities, I realized the man knew his stuff.

Sanger’s recent column on the lessons we should take away from Iraq exemplify the confusion we first faced entering it. In short, what conclusions can we draw? Opinions are split between CIA, former Bush and Obama officials.

For one, the CIA appears determined to avoid providing any politicians with confirmation-bias intelligence. The agency certainly wants to avoid being another piñata for criticism after it claimed Iraq had WMDs in 2003. More importantly and relevant is how, if at all, our history in Iraq can shine light on our decisions in Syria’s civil war.

President Obama—and former Sec. of State Clinton—showed incredible caution with Syria the past few years. How to identify the Syrian rebels—and their sentiments about the West, or ties with Hezbollah—challenged the administration initially. More than a year into a bloody civil war conflict, the consensus now believes the US should aid the rebels with violent (guns) and nonviolent (food) aid. Such an olive branch is kind, but could backfire.

A very quick side story. When black South Africans were protesting against apartheid in the 1960s and 1970s, many whites came to help them in their movement that eventually created the African National Congress. But two realities became clear to ANC leaders. One, if they were to achieve equality, it must be done without white leadership, fearing that their movement’s success would be discredited for having white help. Second, hypothetically, if white leadership remained in the ANC and its affiliate organizations, to what extent were the white leaders willing to help blacks achieve their civil rights? How much were whites truly willing to give up for the majority of the country? History showed the sympathetic Afrikaans in South Africa had their limitations.

The same principle can apply with US-Syrian opposition relations—albeit an odd comparison. If the US offers aid to the rebels, how much are they really willing to help the opposition—assuming it overtakes Assad’s regime—rebuild Syria? Can the US government truly garner enough support from its citizenry to convince taxpayers we must occupy another Middle Eastern country? Where does rhetorical sympathy meet action, or inaction? The Obama admin. apparently ruled out landing any US troops in Aleppo. Doing nothing subjects Obama to be labeled a lazy villain, and his critics will say we missed a huge opportunity.

But just as the ANC leadership concluded, the Syrian opposition probably recognizes that if they do defeat Assad, they must remake Syrian on their own. That’s not a literal comment—almost everyone accepts international aid. But to make a country the way the people who endured envisioned it, no foreign sculptor can participate. I’ve never been to Baghdad, but I can’t imagine almost a decade of American occupation left the country with a rejuvenated sense of identity.

There is one clear lesson from Iraq that both sides of Washington can agree on. Learning how to tight rope the fragile line between aiding a potential ally and intervening in their affair is awfully difficult. Syria doesn’t provide the relatively simple, low-risk attack option Libya offered. Then again, as Presidents always remark, if the problem was easy, it wouldn’t get to their desk. I wonder, given the duration of Syria’s conflict, how does this problem get off Obama’s desk?

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