Tree Hugging at Toomer’s Corner.

Today, I found out about the poisoning of the Toomer’s Corner trees, and if you haven’t heard about this story, let me break it down for you.

Toomer’s Corner is an intersection in the heart of Auburn, AL and after the Tigers win, it is tradition to roll the giant live oaks which hang over the street.  Like the Grove here at Ole Miss, one does not simply visit Toomer’s Corner, one makes a pilgrimage to this hallowed ground of SEC football glory and history.

On January 27,  a caller on the Paul Finebaum sports sho who identified himself only as ‘Al’ bragged he had poisoned the live oaks at Toomer’s Corner with Spike 80 DF herbicide.  The call can be heard here on youtube.

Aurburn officials followed up on this claim, taking soil samples (which were tested at Mississippi State, small world!), and confirming that indeed, the trees were poisoned with a lethal dose of Spike 80DF.  They do not have much hope for the trees’ survival.

Yesterday, police arrested Harvey Almorn Updike, a 62-year-old resident of Dadeville, AL and charged him with one count of first-degree criminal mischief.   If convicted, he could face 10 months in prison.  The full story with video is available here at ESPN.

One of the claims made by Updike in his call to Finebaum’s radio show was that on the day Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant died,  Auburn students rolled Toomer’s Corner in celebration.  The War Eagle Reader investigated these claims, going back into the microfiche from when the Bear died.  In this article, they find no evidence of such an event, citing headlines from major Birmingham newspapers, and lack of outrage from ‘Bama fans in letters to the editor from the time.  It appears that perhaps Updike’s bitterness may just be rooted in jealousy for the Tigers’ BCS National Championship, and not an ancient grudge as he purports.

A group of students have created a Facebook event called Toomer’s Tree Hug to show student and community support for the trees.  The creators say they will be holding the hug a safe distance from the trees to comply with university recommendations that no one touch or roll the trees in their declining health.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, this is a story which embodies the multimedia world journalism is becoming. It started on the radio, then was covered online, on air, and in print, and has spread to the world of social media.  Multimedia journalism is crucial to how information and activism operate today, so hug your computer, your newsstand, and a tree in support of Toomer’s Corner and the Auburn family.

The Who, not the What.

This is a blog post I wrote for my narrative journalism class. I decided to post it here after reading Thomas Friedman’s latest editorial in the Times. So often we are swept away by the NEWS of a situation, the WHAT that’s going on, and we don’t get the stories of WHO it’s happening to. That human element is possibly the most powerful thing in journalism, and only a few articles have honed in on it.

The narrative journalism story I found set itself apart in the way the author described the people, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the words on the streets of Cairo. It’s called “Street Battle over the Arab future” and is found here.

After reading this, I felt like I understood more than I have watching the news and reading stories for the past seven days. The author describes Muslim Brotherhood, “knelt in prayer at dusk, their faces lighted by the soft glow of burning fires a stone’s throw away.” This isn’t a self-serving protest backed by a power-hungry mob, this is a unified front searching for justice in a country which has heretofore denied its  people that most basic democratic right.

Not everyone in the crowds is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, the author explains, and there is no leader to front such a massive movement. They are united by ideas- dignity, revolution, freedom, hope. The uprising is, “distinctly nationalist,” the author says, invoking images of revolutions gone by. Another description of the crowd invokes a scene from the French revolution, a la Les Miserables: “Everyone seemed joined in the moment, fists, batons and rocks banging any piece of metal to rally themselves.”

Another article I read, though not necessarily a narrative piece, was about an uprising in Sudan which has come in the wake of the Egyptian protests. A Facebook group called Youth for Change brought together thousands of students across Sudan. The article says individual protests are small, only a couple hundred students, but are well-organized and spread throughout the country. Oh, the power of Facebook. That article is found here.

And finally, the Friedman editorial that caught my interest is this one. I love how Friedman talks about just letting his eyes take over and observing this once-in-a-lifetime event. The quote from the Egyptian professor at the end is my favorite- definitely a must-read article.

Half the Sky.

I originally wrote this post over the Christmas holiday, and meant to finish it and post it.  In the craziness of  leaving one country and coming back to another,  I forgot about it.

Then tonight, I sat in my car for the umpteenth time listening to an NPR story all the way through.  I wanted to learn more about the story, and thought it would make an interesting blog post.  Then I remembered, I already have a blog! And I could take stories like the NPR and turn them into entires in my poor, slightly defunct, blog!

So, here is my Chinese New Year’s resolution: a blog a week. About anything that has piqued my interest in the journalism world. I’m doing it partly for the writing practice which will come in handy for (fingers crossed) graduate school, and [partly to assuage the guilt I feel for having a blog and not writing in it.

So here it is, my first blog of the year of the rabbit:

I’m currently in the midst of reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” the 2009 book by Pulitzer Prize-winning couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

The book pulls at my heartstrings, it has lots of interviews and plenty of suggestions for how anyone can make a difference.

Once fact however was just mentioned once, without any followup by the authors.  Kristof and WuDunn mention that in October 2007, Joe Biden and Richard Lugar introduced S. 2279: International Violence Against Women Act.

This bill would provide $175 million a year worldwide to prevent and respond to threats to women and girls through existing programs such as USAID, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the US Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003,  The Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act of 1989, the FREEDOM Act, and others.   The bill would also create an Office of Women’s Global Initiatives in the office of the secretary of state, and a Women’s Global Development Office within USAID.

I did some research, because as a political science student I’m not satisfied when I hear about a great bill, I want to see it become law.  S. 2279 was read twice, and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.  The bill was then re-introduced by Howard Berman of California as HR. 5927 International Violence Against Women Act of 2008 in April of that year.  It was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Relations, and died.

In the 111st Congress, the bill was introduced in the House as HR. 4594 by William Delahunt of Massachussets in February 2010, and it was referred to the House Armed Services committee, and died.  Also in February 2010, John Kerry introduced the bill in the senate as S.2982 and it was again referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  This time, the bill’s text was revised and it was reported out, and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar in December of 2010.

The Senate Legislative Calendar is the list of bills and resolutions awaiting Senate floor action.  S. 2982 was placed in the General Orders section, which means it would be addressed according to the sequence in which is was added.  As item number 725 on the docket, this piece of legislation was not addressed, and once again, died.

Why is this an important piece of legislation? And in particular, why should Mississippi voters care?

First of all, women are the key in the developing world.  I won’t attempt to rehash the already solid arguments of writers such as Kristof and WuDunn, Greg Mortenson, and others.  Suffice to say that when women get an education and when  micro-finance focuses on women,  their families and their communities thrive.  The United States has a lot of intelligent, powerful women who change the world on the local, national, and international levels.  By passing S.2982, we would help women around the world reach the same level of empowerment, education, and economic success that women here at home enjoy.

Now the second question, why should Mississippians care?  Roger Wicker, the state’s newly elected Senate representative was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the 111st Congress.  He could sit there again, now that his party has the majority and he is a sophomore Senator.  This makes Mississippi voters a powerful voice to help move this bill further in Congress than it has gone yet.  By writing letters and calling Senator Wicker’s office to encourage him to make the bill a priority, Mississippi voters can help women around the world.

But it’s not just Mississippi voters who have a voice.  Sadly, most of the Senators who have sponsored or co-sponsored the bill have been Democrats, and not many Republicans are behind this important legislation.  By encouraging your Senator or Representative, regardless of their political affiliation, this bill could have more bipartisan support, which is what legislation needs in a split government like ours is  now.

A cause like this is Democratic, it’s not Republican. It’s not pro or anti-government. It’s just good sense. Invest in women’s futures, and you invest in the futures of their countries.  Invest in a developing country, and you invest in stronger ties between that country and the US.  It’s a brighter future for everyone, and it just makes sense.

In defense of Twitter.

Today the Daily Mississippian printed this opinion column by one of my colleagues which for once actually prompted me to write a letter to the editor.  I don’t know if I can actually be published writing a letter to the editor, since I’m on the DM staff, so I’ll elaborate on my letter here.

If you don’t have time to follow the link, the column outlined the author’s annoyance with social media, saying that it would ruin interpersonal relationships and our ability to experience things in the present, since we are always updating Facebook and twitter.

Yes, social media is contributing to vanity and disconnecting youth because we no longer consider the phone our primary link to others.  But ruining interpersonal relationships and ending verbal communication? The author went too far in his criticism of what really are powerful communication tools.

Technological advances mean that we will have to give up older forms of communication and information sharing in favor of others. For instance the CD has given way to the MP3 file, and the phone perhaps will be replaced Skype. More than that though, social networking is a powerful tool for citizen and professional journalists alike, as well as a flattener of society.

Yesterday, I was able to have lunch and take part in a small discussion with Eddie Avila, the director of Rising Voices, which gives small grants to community blogging projects as part of Global Voices Online.  He said that people, no matter their race, social class, nationality, or religion, were part of the larger global community as bloggers. Everyone can now communicate and learn about each other thanks to the internet, which helps us to better understand one another.  Global Voices Online is a great citizen journalism project; it humanizes world events since you can read what people are thinking (in their native language or yours!) and not just what a news organization is reporting.

Facebook and twitter may offer the cheapest and most effective forms of public relations and marketing available today, so it is not fair to completely disregard them.  At the click of a button, nonprofit groups can reach millions of people without spending a nickel.  Another click, and they’ve set up an event with a link to their Paypal account so people can learn about events and donate money to the cause.

Facebook can even serve citizen journalists, by putting writers in touch with people involved in a story.  For example when the police riots occurred in Ecuador last week, I checked online news sources but was unsatisfied with the information I was getting.  So I logged on to Facebook and asked friends in Quito what they were experiencing.  I had the story far before the news sources did, and the peace of mind that my friends were safe.

My fellow DM writer is justified in his annoyance with the way some people use social media, since we are all entitled to our pet peeves.  But as writers, we have to consider all sides of an issue, and if he could see all the good which social media offers the world, perhaps his column would have been different.

Save Crow’s Neck Environmental Education Center!

This past weekend I was a senior “mentor” (as I like to think of it) on the Croft Institute for International Studies’ annual freshman orientation weekend.  For the third year in a row, we went to Crow’s Neck in northwest Mississippi (up around New Albany) for group bonding activities and fun in the great outdoors.

We enjoyed great food, a campfire complete with s’mores and ghost stories, volleyball and cooperation activities at the nearby lake, and stayed in beautiful dorm-style cedar cabins.

Unfortunately the Crow’s Neck staff told us their funding was going to run out July 2011, not due to lack of attendance or interest in the center, but just because the stimulus money has run out.  The staff are coordinating a letter-writing campaign to urge Mississippi senators and representatives to save Crow’s Neck for years to come.

The staff are sending them all off this Friday, September 3rd, so hurry! Address your letters to  Sen. Thad Cochran, Sen. Roger Wicker, and Congressman Travis Childers and send them to:

Crow’s Neck Rescue

P.O. Box 254

New Albany, MS 38652

Or if you can’t make the deadline, send them independently.  Here’s the text of the letter I’m sending:

Senator Thad Cochran,

I am writing to inform you of an important issue which needs your attention.  The Crow’s Neck Environmental Education Center is one of many northwest Mississippi’s gems, providing exposure to Mississippi’s natural beauty and education about its native flora and fauna.  The center loses its funding July 2011, denying future generations the opportunity to visit Crow’s Neck and learn all of the valuable information the staff have to share.

Although I am a Colorado native, I am a registered Mississippi voter and student at the Croft Institute of International Studies at the University of Mississippi.  I visited Crow’s Neck this past August as part of the freshman orientation which the Croft Institute has held there for the past three years.  The area is pristine; reminding one of what Teddy Roosevelt must have seen when he visited Mississippi decades ago.  The cabins are filled with the aroma of the cedar planks they are made from and are the perfect respite from the summer’s heat or the winter’s cold.  A group of us sat out one night admiring the reflection of the moon on the lake, distorted by the gentle rippling waves, hearing only our voices echoing through the woods and the wind through the trees.  I am certain that if you could have been there, you would want to save Crow’s Neck as much as we do.

Even though money is hard to come by during these hard times, it is worth looking for to save Crow’s Neck.  More than ever, it is important that we strive to preserve our country’s natural beauty and educate the next generations about the environment.  We are all concerned about global warming and pollution, regardless of political affiliation and state of residence, and preserving places like Crow’s Neck is one way to save our environment for generations to come.   I urge you to help save Crow’s Neck Environmental Education Center so that we can all be proud of Mississippi’s natural beauty and commitment to the environment.

Now go write your own!

Networking, or, So THIS is what Facebook is for!

Social media is taking over all of our lives.

We upload photos, comment of the goings-on of others’ lives, peak at who our exes are dating, and tweet our opinions and feelings about everything.

While this  is a great way to keep in touch and share our experiences with others, social media has another, often overlooked, function.

Networking.

This is the “seven degrees of Kevin Bacon” method of knowing someone who knows someone who’s got a couch you can crash on, an internship opening, or a spare weekend to teach you how to change the oil in your car.

Facebook and Twitter open users up to a whole ocean of people with just one click. Instead of calling around for hours, I can post something like “Does anyone know a discount furniture store in North Alabama?” and friends can comment with their suggestions.

Connecting people with other people all over the world, Facebook and Twitter are, and I hate to say it, flattening the world.

Thomas Friedman, you win. Here’s how Facebook flattened my world and proved that it can serve as a useful networking tool.

My good friend and sorority sister Meghan is doing a summer program at the same university I studied at in Quito, Ecuador.  She was having some problems meeting people outside of the group from Ole Miss and asked for my help.

I jumped into action and sent messages to Ecuadorean and American friends still in Quito. Within a matter of hours, she had plans with Marcos, an Ecuadorean friend, and Ben, one of my fellow study-abroaders. A few  hours later she had connected with another Ecuadorean friend, Priscilla,  and had made plans to go out.

From across the Gulf of Mexico, I managed to connect Americans and Ecuadorians in only a few minutes of typing, without even picking up a phone.  Sure, this way is a little less personal, but I would give up the voice-to voice contact for speed any day.

We are really shifting into a more global, yet more connected society. I’m an exaggerated example, but my parents live in Shanghai, China, I have a cousin in the foreign service in Mumbai, India, and I’m in a major where my friends are constantly going to different countries.  Phones will never be obsolete, but clearly the internet will be indispensable in the next few decades as social media expands and changes how we keep in touch.

Rallying for the Gulf.

This past Sunday environmentalists, supporters of Gulf fisheries, and concerned residents gathered in front of St. Louis cathedral in New Orleans to voice their concerns about the oil spill moving its way toward the gulf coast.

Speakers included the president of the United Commercial Fishermen’s Association, local activists, an Environmental Studies professor from Loyola University, and a representative from Matter of Trust.

Matter of Trust is a non-profit which collects hair (both human and animal) and makes oil spill booms.  According to the speaker, the organization grew more in the month following the spill than in the past ten years combined.

The messages of the speakers varied, but they all agreed that it was time for BP to take responsibility and pay appropriate reparations for the damage incurred to the coast. Several speakers focused on the harmful effects of dispersants, pointing out that the harmful chemicals being used by BP were in fact worse than the oil spill itself.  According to one of the speakers Corexit, the dispersant being used by BP, is not approved by the EPA but is still being used in the gulf causing untold problems for the people and animals exposed to the chemical.

One of the speakers called the crowd’s attention to the loss of eleven lives when the rig exploded.  He led the crowd in clapping once for each life, which was then followed by a spontaneous round of applause and cheering.

Even though it rained on and off, the crowd never thinned and only grew more passionate as the rain stopped and the sun came out.

Colorful characters abounded at the rally.  A group of local musicians came decked out in Mardi Gras attire, playing trumpets, trombones, and tubas.  Another couple dressed as a pair of animals covered in the oil, and my friend Patrick put on a gorilla costume for the event.

For more information about the use of dispersants in the Gulf, check out this article from the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703406604575278662019860160.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLETopStories

For the latest new on the spill, the BBC has been doing a great job, here’s the article they posted today: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/10202162.stm

And finally, here are some of my pictures from the rally:

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