by Peter Laffin
In recent months, major corporations have made efforts to co-opt social justice movements in order to sell products made by brown children in third world sweatshops. The ¨woke¨ left, a designation given to the subset of American liberals primarily focused on the politics of identity, has swallowed corporate America’s efforts whole. They praise, share, and retweet their advertisements while proudly donning their logos.
In late December, Nike began to run a television commercial called, ¨Just Do It,¨ featuring Colin Kaepernick, whose story came to prominence in social justice circles during the 2017 NFL season. Kaepernick led the widely-discussed ¨kneeling¨ protest during the national anthem before games, protesting police brutality against African Americans. This captured the imagination of social progressives and the ire of military members and their families. (It also resulted in one of the least productive national conversations of my lifetime, as President Trump took advantage of the tension by manipulating us into having a conversation about him instead of the real concerns on both sides.) The ad features Kaepernick in street clothes, as he has yet to be re-signed by an NFL team since the protest, and it ends with a close up of his face set behind the words, ¨Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
It's difficult for me to remain straight-faced at the notion of Kaepernick sacrificing everything for his beliefs, given the millions Nike paid him for the TV spot; but this irony must have dropped the jaws of Nike's third-world slave laborers. While Nike has publicly proclaimed to have cleaned up its grotesque business practices (at the turn of the century, Nike finally had to own up to its well-documented child labor practices in countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Pakistan), evidence suggests there is still plenty to be done. Reports as recent as 2017 indicate that Nike factories in Vietnam force workers to labor in temperatures well over the labor limit of ninety degrees, to the point where workers regularly faint. Nike has also recently been accused of closing factories in third world countries with ascendant labor movements, such as Honduras. Further, Nike refuses to allow independent monitoring of their labor practices, which would put suspicion to an end if their nose was clean.
But all of this is cool, and Nike is awesome, because it’s, like, woke, or something. So long as it continues to signal the correct virtues in its advertising campaigns, the American social justice left is happy and proud to brandish the ¨swoosh¨ as it marches on like good little corporatists. Child labor be damned.
As recently as this month, Procter and Gamble´s razor company, Gillette, released a ¨correct think¨ ad targeted at the woke crowd that instructs its male customers how to behave in the world. Seeing the wave of the ¨Me Too¨ movement, these corporateers hopped on in hopes of signaling proper virtues to people who would be horrified to find out about their animal testing practices. (Oh, and they have a teeny child labor problem, too). Much like with the Nike Kaepernick ad, the Gillette spot flourished on social media, cheered on by the social justice left, which should sue for some of that sweet child labor money, as they were the ones who really made the commercial successful.
The incongruence of the New Left Morality is confusing, dispiriting, and indicative of a laziness the type of which allows true evil to thrive. It champions easy virtue while ignoring complex injustice. It favors symbolic victory over actual victory: the end of American corporate malfeasance. You better believe it makes me angry.
by Emily Graf
Finally, it’s evening in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. We have spent this late spring day sweating. Chris and I worked with our haphazard crew of 8th graders to build walls from splintered, bowing 2x4s. We did our best to stack firewood by the sheet-metal trailer, alongside a rusted bathtub that floats like a capsized lifeboat amidst the yard’s detritus. With only hand tools and flimsy masks, our students demolished a burnt-out house so that the carpenters could get in to rebuild.
Service work on the Pine Ridge Reservation is frustrating, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at once, and by the end of the day, we’re pretty damn tired.
Maybe that’s why, during this particular evening meeting, I’m not able to “keep my cool.” Chris and I sit down with our service partner. Let’s call him Dave. The room is sticky. We perch on cheap polyester chairs and periodically swig from our Nalgenes, while dust and wind trouble the handmade curtains. Dave is a white man from suburban Colorado. He wears a leather cowboy hat, a beard, an austerely deep voice. He knows some Lakota words. He chastises our students for being “rambunctious,” and they find him intimidating. On day three, I have begun to notice in our “team meetings” that Dave mostly addresses Chris, makes eye contact with Chris, and has no trouble interrupting me when I voice an idea. For this reason, I’m not paying close attention to the conversation. But then Dave says, “Tomorrow we’ll be running power tools and chainsaws, so let’s make sure Chris or Adam is there to supervise.”
Rapidly, some realizations hit me. Adam is this man’s fifteen-year-old son. He has not yet graduated from high school, and I’ve seen him run a table saw without eye-protection or gloves, spraying himself in the eyes with sawdust. But by virtue of his maleness alone, Adam is more qualified than I to supervise 8th graders with power tools.
Next: what Dave doesn’t know. What Dave doesn’t know is that I worked for a season as a sawyer on a backcountry chainsaw crew in Southern Colorado. I completed a chainsaw safety certification course, and learned to fell teetering ponderosa pines that shake the ground when they crash-land. My saw weighed 18 lbs when fully fueled, and I carried it for close to 9 hours a day, kneeling, standing, wading through the Colorado River, hiking in the dark through moonlit sagebrush. Each morning I woke with sawdust in my ears, nostrils, and eyelids. I slept every night on the ground under clear desert stars. My hands were always brown and dirty, nails choked with black grease, and after one particular hitch, when we returned to Durango, I won my first arm-wrestling match. My story is winding and messy; it involves overcoming my fear of machines and sharp dangerous tools; sometimes I wanted to quit due to sheer exhaustion and frayed nerves; and you bet I was aware, every day I carried that saw, that I was a woman elbowing my way into a male profession.
But when Dave looks at me, he doesn’t see this story.
Perhaps some readers will think, “He just made a mistake. Cut him some slack. Why are you so upset?” Well, imagine you endure little brush-offs like this every day. Imagine your former boss points out that “as a young woman,” you need to be extra sure to maintain boundaries with your teenage students. Imagine, when you tell a group of Wyoming ranch hands that you guided backpacking trips, they say, “They let girls do that?” Imagine you have worked with male colleagues who call women well into their 30s “girls,” but would never refer to men of the same age as “boys.” Or that your former outdoor instructor, who you think is mentoring you in mountaineering, writes in a Facebook message that he “always thought you were more beautiful” than his other students and he’s “jealous” of your partner, throwing two years of mentorship into question. All of these, in aggregate, are a version of death by 1,000 cuts. Journalist Rebecca Traister calls this “the banality of daily diminution.”
Comments like Dave’s are complex. It’s possible that he thought he was doing me a favor, saving me the embarrassment of admitting my fear or incompetence. To that I say: let me speak for myself. Let me voice my fears, let me voice my strengths, and let that be a choice I get to make. Women are damn good at self-awareness (maybe too good.) Women are capable of saying “No,” although unfortunately at times that “No” isn’t met with respect. Rest assured, I am capable of letting you know if I don’t want to run a chainsaw. I want Dave to ask me, as he might ask his son, “What do you want to do?” then wait for my answer with patience and compassion.
What I said on that South Dakota night was: “Wait a second. I know how to run a chainsaw.”
by Jacob Wolhandler
by Cameron Hoeffler
Truck drivers in Maine take grammar very seriously. The Oxford comma may look like an insignificant period with a tail, but it is a powerful writing tool which recently played a vital role in a heavily contested ten million dollar lawsuit. Maine state law specifies that some services are not paid overtime; however, this law was unclear due to a lack of proper punctuation. This oversight left Oakhurst Dairy owing millions of dollars in truck driver overtime pay. Delivery people in Maine have proven that the Oxford comma is a crucial component of precise and legal writing.
In order to understand this entire lawsuit, you must first appreciate the comma at hand. Don’t know what an Oxford comma is? Not to worry, by the time you finish reading this paper, it will be permanently stamped into your brain. (You’re welcome.) The Oxford comma, also known as the “serial comma,” is used at the end of a list with three or more items. A classic example of this precise punctuation is, “The elephants, Winston Churchill and King George boarded the train.” Unless Winston Churchill and King George are elephants, in order to avoid embarrassing confusion, we need the Oxford comma: “The elephants, Winston Churchill, and King George boarded the train”. Most style guides in American English recommend the use of this controversial comma, and yet many major publications, including The New York Times, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as major law firms, do not recommend the use of this vital punctuation mark. I cannot figure out why. Gus Lubin, former Business Insider executive editor, explained the reasoning behind this anti-Oxford comma policy by declaring that, “The grammar snob's favorite mark is just a waste of space.” Truck drivers in Maine (and many other rational people outside of Maine) disagree with this opinion. If you find his remark offensive, please feel free to contact Gus Lubin through his social media, @twitofgus.
At this point, you may be wondering why this article exists at all. Well, I’m here to give you the answer to that question which is probably on so many minds right this minute. Who even cares about a little comma? Well, I’ll tell you: some truck drivers in Maine and I care.
In Maine, the law states that overtime will not be paid to workers for certain activities: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods” (Norris). A ten-million-dollar lawsuit was decided based on the fact that there is an Oxford comma missing between the words “shipment” and “or.” Without this comma, packing and delivery become one unit and, considering that truck drivers do not pack, they only deliver goods, they are exempt from this exemption. Thus, the Oakhurst Dairy owes them ten million dollars in backpay. The decision was appealed, but, on March 13, 2017, the case was decided in a higher court and, once again, it was settled in favor of the truck drivers. The decision serves as an excellent example of the value of this subtle little piece of punctuation.
A group of individuals who think that the use of the Oxford comma is pretentious and cumbersome does exist. There may have been a case for leaving it out when newspapers had to hand-set their print, and page space was limited. That is no longer true because one can now easily change font size. Surprisingly, the Maine legal Legislative Drafting Manual specifically says not to use the Oxford comma unless it is needed for “clarity” (Victor). In precise writing, is it not always best to ensure clarity? The ruling of both courts, in this case, would suggest that it is better to be pretentious and precise than to be ambiguous and open to interpretation.
There is no compelling reason to leave the Oxford comma out of any piece of written communication that would benefit from clarity. The serial comma separates the elements in a list so that the meaning cannot be disputed. The accusations of “pretension” and the “cumbersome use of extra space” (Lubin) do not hold a candle to the benefits of clear and concise communication. The Oakhurst Dairy lawsuit serves as a powerful example of what can happen if this extremely valuable punctuation mark is not correctly employed.
by Teo Schollmaier
I do not support the death penalty in its current form. The death penalty is an inhumane and dehumanizing punishment. The lethal injection can take up to two hours to work, which happened to Christopher Newton in 2007. The lethal injection is commonly viewed as “painless,” but there have been almost no studies on this. The few studies that have been released point to the lethal injection as being extremely painful, condemning the victims to silent suffering, unable to move under the high doses of anesthetic.
The main problem with the death penalty is the error rate. One PNAS study estimates the error rate death row convictions to be 4.1%, meaning that one of every 25 executions is performed on an innocent person. I would argue that this high of error rate is due to the mental and emotional separation between the judge, jury, and the actual execution. It is easy for a jury to send an innocent person into a back room to be executed. The only person who has to deal with the weight of killing an innocent person is the executioner, who is often a doctor that is legally required to carry out the procedure.
“Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.” This is a line directly from the Hippocratic Oath, an oath that historically doctors are sworn in with. Ironic, is it not?
The current death penalty has many problems, but I still support the idea of a death penalty. I dislike the idea of awful people being kept in jail for the rest of their lives. I see this as a pointless waste of tax money. The jail system was intended as a punishment to deter crime. In a perfect system, it would also work as a support network to rehabilitate criminals into functional members of society. Lifetime terms do not fulfill either of these demands.
I also believe that life terms are inhumane. Imagine living behind bars, in a building filled with criminals, gang members, murderers, etc., with no possibility of ever leaving. Does that sound like a life worth living? I think that many people would prefer a quick and painless death.
My idea of a perfect death penalty is medieval (and macabre). I support death by guillotine. I believe public execution in one of the bloodiest ways possible will fix many of the current issues of the death penalty.
Firstly, guillotines are quick. After decapitation, the victim will go unconscious in less than ten seconds due to a lack of blood flow to the brain. This is a painless process. If a guillotine is used correctly, it will almost instantly sever the brain stem, making it impossible for the victim to feel any pain. The process could be modernized—the victim could be given anesthetic beforehand—but even by itself, a guillotine is still far more humane than the lethal injection.
The problem of innocent people being executed and its applicable solution is more complicated. The judge and jury could be required to witness the execution, as a deterrent for using the death penalty when it is not warranted. Being required to witness a beheading would provide ample reason to only use the death penalty when evidence is in excess, and the crime is of a truly horrendous nature such that the judge and jury would feel confident enough in their decision to witness the execution themselves.
While it may seem extreme—or even crazy—I believe that bringing the guillotine back would be an effective solution to the problems presented by our current system of the death penalty.
by Reeves Ball
Last April, we brought you reviews of our favorite podcasts of many different genres and styles. (Check out the previous article here). As the creation and discovery of new podcasts never cease, however, I now bring you a second installment of podcast recommendations.
Description: “Gravy shares stories of the changing American South through the foods we eat. Gravy showcases a South that is constantly evolving, accommodating new immigrants, adopting new traditions, and lovingly maintaining old ones. It uses food as a means to explore all of that, to dig into lesser-known corners of the region, complicate stereotypes, document new dynamics, and give voice to the unsung folk who grow, cook, and serve our daily meals.”
- Southern Foodways Alliance
My take: Gravy by the Southern Foodways Alliance is a deep and explorative dive into minority southern cultures through food. Touching on fascinating cultural and political issues, it’s like if NPR ran the Food Network.
Description: “John Green reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.”
- WNYC Studios
My take: Anthropocene is a witty, funny, and somehow emotional look at random things.
Description: “ars PARADOXICA is a love letter to physics, fiction, and the future. It's a disorienting journey through spacetime and the Cold War. It's a tome of secret history you stumbled across in a library in the dead of night.” - The Whisperforge
My take: ars PARADOXICA is an excellent fiction podcast. It is one of my favourites due to its being well-written with believable characters. And it ended recently, so it's extremely bingeable.
Description: “WOLF 359 is a radio drama in the tradition of Golden Age of Radio shows. Set on board the U.S.S. Hephaestus space station, the dysfunctional crew deals with daily life-or-death emergencies, while searching for signs of alien life and discovering there might be more to their mission than they thought. Tune into your home away from home... seven and a half light years away from Earth.” - Wolf 359 Writers
My take: WOLF 359 is sadder and a little more mature than ars PARADOXICA, but it keeps the same momentum through all 4 of its seasons. Like ars PARADOXICA, it ended recently and is extremely bingeable.
Description: “The number one podcast for those involved or just interested in the production of beef animals and dairy herds.” - The Beef and Dairy Network
My take: The Beef and Dairy Network Podcast is hilarious and surprisingly immersive.
Description: “Scott & Forrest have been called the 'Click and Clack of esoterica' by their listeners. Their mission is to take a look at legendary strange and unusual events from throughout history and interview people who've had close encounters with the unexplained. They strive to bring you everything that's entertaining about those stories and remind you that it's ok to laugh at scary stories and respectfully, even the people that tell them.”
- Astonishing Legends
My take: If you like cryptids, urban legends, or conspiracy theories, this is the podcast for you. One word of caution, however: though extremely entertaining, it is also extremely long.
by Azilee Ball
“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Amendment II of the Bill of Rights
Little pigtails tied up with pink bows
Attached to a little head with eyes wondering
Little feet walking on the hardwood floor
Little hands grazing over death machines
A gun closet in a old house
A little girl the age of 6
This is where these horrific inventions enter her life for the first time
A house of the wild
Animal heads cover the walls
Animal bodies are skaters
Animal skulls line the shelves
There is softness under her
A brown bear
An old house filled with taxidermy
A little girl
No sight of guns but she know they did this
She is so high off the ground
He sits in a small chair next to her
He holds a gun
His eyes move fast
His finger pulls
Sound hurts her ears
The pretty deer is dead
An old hunting stand
A girl and her father
Dirt covers her
She looks at the fake animal
Her heart is racing
Tall men are watching
She pulls her finger
The tall men cheer
A young girl
A piece of paper with a deer on it
They wear invisible clothing
She has her weapon
As does he
Her camera shutter
He is mad
Sound scares away the food
A brother and sister
A hunting stand
She just wants to take pictures
She is a ball
A steel ball
But not protected
She sees his eyes
They look so cold
Man with a gun
This is where these horrific inventions enter her life for the last time
A weeping family
He looks around
He goes home
He wears orange
He hears his mother's cries
He leaves home
Then he yells
“Enough is Enough”
As he clutches his sister’s spirit
Enough is Enough
by Azilee Ball
Redbird, Wyoming. The definition of middle of nowhere, yet a place so dear. There are no other people or buildings for 25 miles, and the closest town is the least populated in the US. The solitude is tranquil, acres of land with only a barn, small house, and an abandoned cabin which was once a rest stop for a cowboy. This cowboy’s work was strenuous, and he dedicated his life to nurturing the cattle and protecting the land around him. Bunnies, deer, antelope, and horses roam free. Seeing how free these animals make me realize how free I am in this glorious place. Each way you look there is a whole new landscape. A mountain range that makes you realize just how small you are. A forest, an animal's home that is comforting. A prairie scattered with lone trees. An artesian goes to work every night to paint the sky with all the warm colors on the spectrum. There is coldness all around besides on my face where that last pure ray of sunlight hits it is warm. Then the sky is replaced with starlight, the Milky Way melts into your eyes as if it where the candy bar.
Sedona, Arizona. A place of true wonder. The geology is mesmerizing, and there is meaning behind all this geology, much more than your eye can see. The energy vortexes and ley lines are a wonder to the energetic world. The energy courses through the veins of everyone that has the privilege to live in this place, reflected in the culture of the city. These people chose this place to live in because they understood the value of the land and all it has to offer. The geography is still remarkable and any way you turn, there is orange and red. The mountains look like the first two layers of the rainbow. Then, when the day turns into night or night turns into the day, the mountains are reflected in the sky. They blur together like milk and coffee. I was sitting in awe, watching them blend together. I told my brain to take a picture of this moment because no camera could capture this all around beauty. The cup of coffee I held warmed my hands to fight to cold. The feeling was pure happiness; I wanted to see this sky forever.
Steamboat, Colorado. This place is so close to home, but it looks like a new planet. In front of me, the sky is pastel pink, blue, and purple. The enormous ridged mountains are no longer brown and green: they are dark gray skater with bright snow. The lake below the mountains is a mirror perfectly reflecting the grand mountains above. Behind me, the sky is a bright orange and green, and the dark blue fades into the pastel blue in the front. The hills that block the sun are pure black like a pulp. There is a raging fire which brings warmth to the faces of my loved ones. My brother is tending to the fire frequently, as though if it went out then so would his love for this place. My dog is snuggled up next to me and I hear the music that brings me right back to this magical moment.
Am I a Westerner? The sun is either setting or rising. That is what these stories have in common, and though I have seen the sun set and rise all over the world these are the ones that have stuck in my mind. The West has so much beauty and I have been amongst that beauty my whole life. I dislike the heat, so the initially West did not seem so appealing. But Redbird, Wyoming; Sedona Arizona; and Steamboat, Colorado—these are some of the places that have changed my perspective. The Pacific Northwest, like the true West, has a beauty that I feel drawn to. The lush forest, the deer and their behavior, the water, the flowers, the weather, the culture, everything draws me in. In truth, I don’t know if I am a Westerner. A true westerner seems so passionate, a cowboy tending to his cattle with so much love, and people who would do anything to live in the energetically rich Sedona. A boy at his happiest among the geology of the west. I can't imagine ever leaving the West, yet I can’t imagine staying here my whole life either.
by Liran Dor
Two months, 3 weeks, and 4 days ago, I left for Israel on scholarship called the Impact Fellowship to study Jewish history at a boarding school called Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). The organization that funded my trip is the Jewish National Fund, or the JNF. Their goal with funding my trip (as well as 4 others) was to create the next generation of Jewish leaders and ambassadors for the school. They did this by interviewing many Jewish students and seeing which of them showed leadership traits. They then selected these kids to go on the program. While on the program, we went through multiple classes designed for leadership training, public speaking, etc. Some of the things that I did and continue to do now for the Impact Fellowship include writing 1 to 2 blog entries a week, speaking at local Jewish communities about the program, recruiting students to go. Generally, I have a responsibility to spread the word about the school.
Though JNF had a goal of me spreading the word about the school and recruiting, they sent me for another reason that was more of an unspoken reason. They wanted me (and the other students) to experience, and in the end to love, Israel. This is because the people who are running the JNF are all Zionists. A Zionist is a person who believes in the unquestionable connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to return to and live in the State of Israel, including the development and protection of the Jewish people and state (Israel). Another example of a Zionist organization would be the people who run a program called Birthright. They send Jews from all around the world on a completely free trip to Israel just so that they can connect with Israel and its history, and Judaism. These free trips have been proven to work, and it absolutely worked on me.
While I was gone, and even though I had lived in Israel for a year before, I started to further appreciate Israel's culture much more than I have before, especially finding things that I like more about Israeli culture than American culture. I started realizing the large differences in the people that you would meet in your day-to-day life. The absolute biggest trait that stood out to me was the complete honesty that Israelis have and that Americans tend to lack. I started noticing that Israelis have less of a “social intelligence” and more of a “harsh” and sometimes even “brutal” way of conveying their message. Of course, when you first experience something like this, it seems like a big deal, but even though Israelis tend to come off as rude I started to really enjoy how I always knew what they thought of me or my opinions. You know where you stand. An American tends to be a lot more sensitive and less honest which creates an (in my mind) unnecessary struggle of trying to understand their opinion. Now, before your mind starts jumping places, remember that this does not apply for all people, but I found it to be absolutely true for the majority of people in each of these countries.
The second biggest thing that I noticed in culture difference was how accepting Israelis tend to be of any situation. When I was in Israel during the first week, I was at a Synagogue. While everyone was celebrating a holiday and dancing with the Torah, some person from outside the walls threw a rock into the very crowded area. When it became obvious that an act of hate had happened with the intention of hurting someone (most likely for celebrating Judaism, later published in the news) there was a slight panic in the crowd and I assumed that we would be going back to our campus to a more safe area. To my surprise, the crowd simply reported the crime to the police and continued dancing as if nothing had happened. I was really surprised about how a group of at least 100 people could so easily disregard a clear danger, but then I realized something. These people every day are under the fear of a rocket being shot at their home from the surrounding countries, Gaza and the West Bank (Arab-controlled areas). These people know how to not let a clearly uncomfortable situation affect how they are going to live their lives. It seems a little crazy to me, but I really admire how easily they got over such a thing vs. here in America. I have had experiences that have been much less dangerous and impactful that people even years later are still scared by or affected by. I really do believe that being able to get over something is important, having the ability to “move on” from a situation is vital. It's important to not let negative experiences affect you in the future so you can continue living.
These are just two of the many examples of reasons why I love Israel and its culture. My trip to Israel through AMHSI and the JNF was the most impactful and just outright amazing trip that I have ever been on during my entire life. Now, this means nothing to you if you don't know how many family and educational trips I have been on. But, between being a Watershed student and having a family that travels a lot, I have had a great deal of travel experiences. After this entire experience, I am just absolutely so happy to be an ambassador for the school and Israel and am really working hard to motivate kids to be part of it because of how amazing it was for me, regardless of my responsibility to do so. I learned to love Israel and its people while making amazing friends and traveling all over the country seeing and experiencing things that I could nowhere else. So please, if you read this and have someone in mind (absolutely does not have to be Jewish) who would be interested in going on this trip, refer them to me for more information or send me an email at email@example.com. I would love to be of help to anyone looking to have the experiences that I had.
by Izzy Cohn
To RSVP and for more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.