Seeing as it’s Halloween, I’m hardly in the right mindset to crank out a poignant, philosophical blog post. Like the typical trick-or-treating fare, this entry to the blog can be considered candy — (hopefully) enjoyable, and providing little of real worth.

Without further ado, my best joke:


Three guys are walking through the woods when they spy a lamp lying at the foot of tree. Intrigued, they walk over and, half-joking, decide to give it a rub like in Aladdin. To their surprise, a genie immediately shoots out of the lamp’s spout and sinks into a deep bow.

“Three wishes each, I can grant you, my saviors. Three wishes for your kindly actions,” the genie booms.

The first guy, never one to pass up an opportunity, steps up and blurts, “I want a million dollars!” The genie snaps his fingers. The first guy pulls out his phone to check his bank balance and watches as the total goes from $13,057 to $1,013,057.

The second guy thinks for a minute before stepping forward. “I wish to be the richest man in the world.” Again, the genie snaps his fingers and produces a copy of Forbes magazine. The second guy is listed at the top of the wealthiest people in the world, above even Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

The third guy ponders what he’s seen and then clears his throat. “I wish for my left arm to rotate clockwise for the rest of my life,” he says clearly. The genie hesitates for a moment, but snaps his fingers and the guy’s arm starts to windmill.

The first guy says, “For my second wish, I wish to be married to the most beautiful woman in the world.” Snap. A stunning redhead appears at the genie’s side and immediately runs over to the first guy and puts her arm around his waist.

With a sly smile, the second guys says, “I wish I could get with any woman in the world.” The genie snaps his fingers and the first guy’s new wife starts making eyes at the second guy.

The third guy screws his brow up, thinking really hard before saying, “I wish that my right arm would rotate counter-clockwise for the rest of my life.” The genie just kind of looks at him, but eventually snaps his fingers and, sure enough, the third guy’s arms are now spinning in huge, opposing circles.

“These are your final wishes,” rumbles the genie. “Think carefully as to how you wish to use them.”

“I want to feel as good as I did when I was 22,” says the first guy. With a snap, his hairline thickens, his waistline slims down and his arthritic hip feels good-as-new.

Always one to one-up, the second guy says, “I wish to never age another day.” The genie snaps and, though his appearance doesn’t immediately change, the second guy is now immortal, impervious to the aging effects of time.

Both the first and second guys look to the third, curious as to what he’s been planning. Slowly, confidently, the third guys says to the genie, “I want my head to nod up and down for the rest of my life.” With a snap, the man’s head begins bobbing back and forth violently and the genie disappears in a puff of smoke.

The three guys go their separate ways, each with their respective spoils, before they meet up in a bar a few years down the road. They catch up briefly, before the conversation turns to the genie’s wishes.

“Well, I invested my million dollars,” says the first guy. “My kids will never have to work, I feel 20 years younger than I really am, and my wife an incredible lover.” He smiles at the beautiful redhead still by his side.

With a smirk, the second guy, impeccably dressed, says, “With my money, I purchased multiple Fortune 500 companies. My children’s children’s children will never work and we’ll be pseudo-royalty for the rest of our lives. I haven’t aged a day since we found the lamp and yeah — your wife is a pretty incredible lover.” He shoots a wink at the first guy.

The first and second guy turn to the third guy who has remained quiet until now.

“Guys,” he says, head nodding wildly, arms flailing in wide circles, “I think I messed up.”

While last summer provided me with the incredible worldly experiences of visiting both Austria and Mexico (both through programs affiliated with the University of Oklahoma), this summer I hope to spend my time with an experience that will be just as transformative — if considerably less international.

Since 1972, Drum Corps International has been providing a nonprofit outlet for young adults (often 17-21) who are incredibly invested in marching music. Thirteen marching bands (or “drum corps,” as they are referred to) joined together and established a league of competitive outdoor musical ensembles that would spend their summers competing against one another in touring tournaments around the country. As the activity has expanded, there are now 24 World Class corps (the highest distinction) and countless other “Open Class” organizations which provide a more local, accessible opportunity for dedicated members of the marching community to further pursue their art.

For the past month or so, I’ve been preparing audition materials — comprised of various etudes and visual prep-work — to submit video auditions to a number of corps. My primary interest lies in the Boston Crusaders organization, a corps based in the titular city of Boston and specializing in rigorous, thematically-charged shows.

A tasty shot of the uniforms from the 2015 show…
…and from the 2017 show, respectively.

If selected (or “contracted,” as the vets say), I’d spend one weekend a month, starting in December, traveling to the corps’ home base and rehearsing the show for the coming season. Spring training starts in mid-May, a month-long process consisting of 12-hour rehearsal days as the corps gets the foundation of the show solidified. Following spring training, the meat of the season — “tour” — begins in earnest. The corps boards charter buses and begins a two-month-long circuit of the country, performing at various high schools and colleges along the way.

The average day on tour looks a bit like this:

6:00 — up

7:00 — breakfast

8:00 — rehearsal block

12:00 — lunch

1:00 — rehearsal block

5:00 — dinner; pack/load buses

6:00 — leave for competition site

7:00 — performance

10:00 — board buses; drive to next high school/college

X:00 — unpack; sleep in gymnasium

— REPEAT —

It’s an incredible sacrifice of time, but the caliber of musical enrichment that the activity exposes you to appears to be bar-none. I’m quietly optimistic about my chances to receive a contract and I’m really hoping to be able to march a spot with Boston this summer.

More info/pictures to come!

 

¡Adios, México!

Looking back, my trip to Mexico was undoubtedly a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. There were certainly low points (here’s to you, food poisoning) but for the most part, these were matched and surpassed by opportunities to experience a culture that otherwise would have remained largely unknown to me.

Summing up the entirety of three weeks in a foreign country is difficult, so I’ll instead give a rundown of the most impactful moments of the trip and what I’ve taken away from them.

In no particular order, here are the high points of Puebla and what they meant to me:

New Foods and Culinary Classes: I came to Mexico determined to be the most adventurous eater in the group. I didn’t have to like everything that I tried, but I had to try it — how else was I going to experience anything new? I was not going to be the gringo that ordered a cheeseburger at every restaurant we went to. Though this reckless abandon was probably a primary culprit behind a nasty bout of food poisoning, I can honestly say that I’ve tried things I never wold have known about.

Chile en nogada; a fairly indescribable dish featuring a pepper stuffed with everything from smoked meats to pineapple to nuts and covered in goat cheese and pomegranate seeds

We also had the privilege of taking a number of culinary courses through the UPAEP school of Gastronomía. Of all the dishes we made, pan de muertos (a traditional sweetbread made for Day of the Dead celebrations) was probably my favorite.

Pan de muertos

However, I think the neatest thing about my cooking lessons is that I can bring them back to mi familia. My mom and I love to cook together already–what better way to share my trip with her and the rest of my family than by cooking the things we ate in Puebla?

Los Miserables:  In the 8th Grade, I fell in love with Boublil and Schonberg’s “Les Miserables.” I probably saw the 25th Anniversary in Concert edition of the show no fewer than 30 times and I still have the show memorized word-for-word to this day. When I heard that we were going to see “Los Mis” at the theatre in Mexico City, I was thrilled. After all, it’s always easier to pick up on another language when you already have an idea of what’s going on.

Our seats were terrific; I’m four rows back from the stage

Suffice it to say that “Los Miserables” was far and away the most rewarding, engaging application of Spanish that I’ve gotten to experience in my four years of studying the language. I’ve never felt more confident in my listening and comprehension abilities, I picked up all sorts of new words and I was utterly blown away by the talent onstage. This has given me all sorts of new confidence to tackle my last year of my Spanish minor and incorporate the language into my life in new ways (e.g. showtunes).

New Friends: Sure, it’s cliché. That being said, thee weeks in a foreign country would have been almost impossible without finding a great group of like-minded Sooners that I could lean on as a support system. College can be a pretty lonely place even when you’re in the States, so having our little Puebla group in invaluable. We’re still communicating in our groupchat even after the trip finishing and I’m confident that I can count on them to be solid friends when I get back to Norman this fall.

The gang at the ancient city of Teotihuacan

I got to be closer with other members of the marching band, kids on the track team and all sorts of people I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know.

The Pride of Oklahoma takes on Puebla. (Alternate caption: A trombone, a saxophone, a mellophone and a synth player walk in to a foreign country)

Regardless of social circle or extracurriculars, however, we certainly have one thing in common: thanks to the College of International Studies, we shared a fabulous experience together.

Come find any one of us in Norman this fall–we’d love to tell you more about it.

 

Salsa–Not Just a Sauce

I’m not much of a dancer. Well, I wasn’t much of a dancer before Puebla.

I was fully prepared to get invested in the culinary and cultural aspects of my trip to Mexico, be it in the kitchen, touring markets or interacting with locals; I was not prepared, however, for authentic Mexican dance classes.

Sure enough, after getting our schedules, we saw that we’d be spending Tuesdays and Thursdays after class at the UPAEP School of Bellas Artes to learn a variant of salsa dancing called “cumbia”.

Twice a week, we’d troop down the street, into the the Bellas Artes building and squarely outside my comfort zone.

Cumbia dancers in their traditional regalia

While cumbia originated in Colombia, the genre came to Mexico around the ’50s and has been a staple of the culture ever since. We each paired up with an UPAEP student enrolled in the dance class we were attending and started learning some of the basics.

As we worked our way through four-bar musical phrases, something became very apparent: cumbia is very open to interpretation. All around me, my fellow OU students were toiling to get through the few moves we knew while the natives whirled through pretzel-like maneuvers as if they were nothing. Not a terribly heartening first experience.

The next week, I decided that I was going to make the most of my cumbia experience–after all, you get out what you put in. Filled with street tacos and immeasurable determination, I threw reservations aside and danced with reckless abandon. A real máquina de baile, if you will.

It was far from perfect, but I started picking up on more and more of the moves that the locals were throwing out. We’d dance for an hour, rotating partners every four minutes or so, and I even started to develop certain rhythms with certain partners. By the end of the trip, dance class had become one of my favorite parts of each week.

When we left Puebla, it was a little sad to say goodbye to UPAEP and the Bellas Artes school. However, there was another surprise in store for us; upon arriving in Mexico City, we ate a welcome dinner at El Lugar del Mariachi, a restaurant that featured traditional live music and dancing while we ate. At one point, we were even serenaded by a singing luchador wrestler.

By the end of the meal, the dance floor had cleared and our OU in Puebla class was able to practice what we had learned–we danced the cumbia like pros in the middle of the restaurant while a live mariachi band provided our soundtrack.

I certainly never would have pursued an experience like this without the prodding of my teachers in the program but now that I have, I am extremely grateful. Who doesn’t want to be able to tell a story like that? I’m grateful to GEF and OU Study Abroad for helping me to broaden my horizons…and to my dance teacher for helping get rid of my two pies izqiuerdas. 

U.S. vs. China Relations: Misconceptions

Continuing my penchant for attending OU’s “Lunch and Lecture” series, today I listened to a seminar presented by Georgetown University’s Dr. Andrew Scobell.

Scobell gave an interesting lecture over some common misconceptions about the current U.S.-China interactions.

It is no secret that the United States fosters a guarded attitude towards China. While many security deals and agreements went into place in 2017 and are planned for 2018, Scobell posits that the friendly relations are largely a gilding.

In fact, the current U.S. security doctrine defines China as being the single greatest long term threat to the wellbeing of the U.S. The Pentagon currently subscribes to a “4+1” view of national threats: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea + VEOs (Violent Extremist Organizations). However, while Russia rates as the most imminent threat in the near future, China is still considered to the be the greatest liability through the long haul.

This rivalry is not one-sided. China holds a four-pronged view of national security, categorizing their interests into concentric rings of territory:

  1. Homeland: The most prevalent Chinese security interests are domestic. This starts with the streets outside the policymaker’s window and extends to all lands controlled by Beijing.
  2. Periphery: China lives in, as Scobell put it, a “rough neighborhood”. Of the 14 countries that border it, China has gone to war with five years and many more are fragile, threatening collapse.
  3. Regional: There are six geo-political regions surrounding China. Think of this as the general Pacific-Asian “zone”.
  4. Global: China entered the global conversation in the 1990s, primarily in the realms of commodities, new markets and overseas investments.

There’s only one country that China feels can threaten it in all four of these “spheres”–the United States.

Interpreting the relations between the United States and China is tricky. There are three major schools of thought amongst Chinese leaders–opposition to Western thought, global hegemony, a resurgence of Confucianism, etc.–but they can be difficult to translate into the American political understanding.

As for the future, Scobell isn’t sure what’s to come. In fact, he doesn’t believe China knows exactly what they want either. That being said, he believes that taking steps to better understand the other nation’s mindset is essential to achieving international prosperity in the long run.

GEF Day 2018: Peace Corps Prep

It’s Global Engagement Day!

Though I was only able to attend a single session today, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a lunch/lecture presentation by Sarah Griswold and Jonathan Freeman — students involved with the Peace Corps and the Fulbright Scholarship, respectively.

I’m most interested in a future with the Peace Corps, so that’s what I’ll cover.

I’ve toyed with the idea of spending two years with the Peace Corps after undergrad and before enrolling in law school. I like the idea of pursuing something definitively “larger than myself”. It sounds cliché, but there really is an appeal to knowing that you’ll have a markedly positive effect on the lives of scores of people.

This thought was reinforced by a panel of high-scoring LSAT-takers that I sat in on during a Pre-Law Society meeting. One of the speakers adamantly recommended taking a break between undergrad and law school. He was in the middle of his time with Teach for America and spoke highly of its effects in his personal and professional development.

Ms. Griswold talked to us about her realm of expertise — Peace Corps Prep. Obviously, securing a place in the Peace Corps is competitive. OU offers the preparatory service to help Sooner applicants stand out amidst a sea of impressive candidates.

The program takes three semesters to complete and helps guide participants through prerequisites in the applicant’s chosen sector (Community Economic Development, Health or Environment), language requirements, intercultural studies and professional development.

As a realist, I know just how daunting the process for applying to the Corps can be. The world is filled to the brim with ambitious, impressive scholars who are just as interested in serving as humanitarians as I am. Fortunately, OU offers this valuable service to assist humanities-oriented Sooners in getting to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Crafts and Curries”

Tonight I headed over to the Honors College to participate in HSA’s “Crafts and Curries” nights. The student organization put together a night full of cuisine and culture as we spent our evening painting and sampling some (delicious) Indian foods.

I met Carson and Advika, both of whom are freshmen at OU like me. What we lacked in formal art experience, we made up for in gumption and shared love of musical theatre (I was wearing my Hamilton shirt) and our friendship was quickly forged in the fires of watercolor painting.

We were technically supposed to be recreating Monet’s famous Waterlilies, but–seeing as that was a bit ambitious for most of us–they turned us loose with the command “just go crazy”.  Finding artistic inspiration right here on campus, I decided to craft a bold, abstract representation of the Biz.

Breathtaking.

Half an hour into our endeavors, we took a break for some dinner. The HSA catered the event with some traditional Indian fare. I’m not terribly familiar with many different Indian dishes, but they were exceptional. Paneer tikka masala, naan, mint salsa and jasmine rice featured heavily in the meal.

Paneer tikka masala
Naan

Advika was especially helpful–having come from an Indian background, she was able to help us identify what salsas go where, give us a heads up on the spicy foods, etc. I gladly went back for seconds after finishing the first round.

“Crafts and Curries” served as  yet another example of the principle that Global Engagement has helped illustrate for me. Regardless of background, ethnicity or heritage, we can all come together over a night of art and fellowship.

Because, after all, aren’t we all just college kids looking for a good plate of naan bread?

 

Dr. Samuel Perry: “Porn-Again Christians”

Last night, on a recommendation from my Comparative Religions professor, I attended a lecture about the impact of pornography usage on the mental stability, faith and quality of marriage for Evangelical Christians. The results themselves might not surprise you–porn usage exhibits negative effects on all of these aspects of Christian lives. The trends support the societal connotation: porn is bad. That being said, the differences between porn’s effects on Evangelical users and non-Evangelical users is where the point of interest lies. Porn affects the lives of viewers who believe it to be morally wrong (typically Christians) much more adversely than it does those whose feelings on the subject are a bit more neutral. Dr. Perry refers to this as the Moral Incongruence Theory or “MIT”.

MIT posits that porn’s negative impacts lie not in the viewing of explicit material, but the voluntary violation of “deeply-held, sacralized and socially-important values”. It’s not what Christians see that bothers them, it’s the fact that they deliberately cross moral boundaries when they sneak a peek at some adult content.

Why though, is porn so much more detrimental for Christians? Well, it looks like the answer–like most problems in the church–boils down to stigmatization. A 2017 survey was conducted at Baylor University asking students to identify what activities their church was most likely to forbid. The language left nothing to question–it was a matter of black and white, right and wrong, undoubtedly off-limits. Over 70% of students answered with pornography–the highest ranked of the options–making it a more out-of-bounds commodity than traditional Evangelical evils like premarital sex, homosexuality and abortion. More students at Baylor considered watching virtual copulation to be a greater sin in the eyes of the church than actually having sex.

Additionally, studies in 2006 and 2012 show that weekly church attenders are far more likely to consider porn wrong. However, that same group of Evangelical Christians has the highest tendency to view porn despite holding the belief that it’s morally unacceptable. Dr. Perry believes that this violation of personal beliefs leads to the figures of pornography-related depression, sexual dissatisfaction and divorce that we see in Evangelical communities.

The “porn shaming” that is inherent to Evangelical life is somewhat astounding. Until the lecture, I had been unaware of “accountability software”; programs that send messages to chosen contacts to alert them that your recent browsing history has been less-than-holy. This means that, in theory, your mother could receive in-depth emails detailing your forays into the sinful side of the search engine. Not only does this sound utterly horrifying, it seems immensely unhealthy. Studies show that this stigmatization of pornography alienates Evangelical porn users and, in some cases, drives them away from the guilt of the church.

CovenantEyes, a popular online accountability software.

Dr. Perry doesn’t really know what to make of the Evangelicals’ plight. It’s clear that we have a problem on our hands, but he isn’t sure how to solve it. It’s the old question of unstoppable force meets immovable object. Sex sells, and trends don’t show pornography drying up any time soon. That being said, Hell hath no fury like a good Christian woman and I certainly don’t see them relinquishing their position on the matter.

Mark Singer: “Trump and Me”

Mark Singer, writer for The New Yorker and author, recently spoke at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History about his most recent work, “Trump and Me”. Mark is a longtime friend of Dr. Charles Kimball, renowned scholar of religion and my Comparative Religions professor, and made a stop in Norman on his way through his native Oklahoma.

Though the title of Mark’s lecture (“Somebody’s Lying”) probably tips his hand on his stance regarding POTUS No. 45, I’ll attempt to keep my political leanings out of my synopsis. Here’s a run-down of what we covered:

Mark met Donald Trump in the fall of 1996. This was before the talk of externally-funded walls and “Little Marcos” and Russian meddling. The Trump of 1996 was a man of business; a “performance artist”, as Mark bills him. According to Mark, no matter what Trump is discussing, he’s giving you a sales pitch. Mark set to work on compiling the information he needed to craft his biography.

The two men took a drive to one of Trump’s in-construction golf courses in ’97, and Mark attempted to get to know the man behind the business dealings. Donald Trump sleeps approximately four hours a night, rising each morning at 5:30 a.m. to shower, shave and read the paper. Interestingly, when Mark posed the question, “What do you see when you look in the mirror?” Trump was at a loss for words. Mark believes that Trump conducts himself as a persona, not a real person. Because of this, he’s unable to “peg” himself–Trump is unsure of who he really is when the world isn’t watching.

Mark also threw out some staggering numbers in regards to Trump’s penchant for “alternative facts”. The Trump administration has frequently been defined by easily-refuted statements. In fact, The Washington Post once calculated that, as of Jan. 10, Donald Trump was uttering an average of 5.5 falsehoods every day. Mark believes this to be a manifestation of Trump’s tendency to rattle off statements until he “makes the sale”. He’s more worried about getting what he wants than how he accomplishes his goals.

Mark’s advice to the press? “Ignore the shiny object.” As a journalist himself, he warns that Trump is distracting the media from their true purpose.

“Mythical State”

 

Mythical State

I had the privilege of attending Dr. Nathaniel Greenberg’s iteration of the “Lunch and Lecture” series hosted by the Arabic Flagship Program. While I’m not a member of the program itself, the prospect of analyzing the communications and aesthetics utilizes by the Islamic state instantly piqued my interest. Throw in the fact that the event was catered by Panera and the deal was sealed.

Dr. Greenberg’s lecture focused heavily on what he referred to as the “digital caliphate”–that is, the new format that Islamic communication and counter-communication have taken over the past few years. For example, it is reported that ISIS generates tens of thousands of tweets every day. That’s a staggering amount of web presence. However, it’s also estimated that the terror organization fields somewhere between 500-2,000 social media operatives. Most of those tweet are coming from bots, spewing their content into the void and hoping that something takes root.

As ISIS grows in presence online, so do those who satirize their message. Macabre “parody” videos that make mockery of ISIS actions, proclamations and media have begun to surface. Most famous is the Iraqi TV program ‘Dawlat al-Khurafa’ (State of Myths). The show aims to diffuse the aura of fear created by ISIS through sketch comedy; an approach that not everyone found appropriate. Dr. Greenberg stated that the show was received poorly by Iraqi citizens who felt that it made light of the situation and legitimized the terrorist group by further acknowledging their presence. The show’s trailer is certainly polarizing: It portrays the wedding of the devil and a Jewish woman, overseen by a whiskey-swilling cowboy. A fledging ISIS member is shown hatching from an egg a short time later and the trailer ends as divisively as it began.