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Archive for Current Events

I Love You, Orlando.

Attempting to somehow artfully describe what took place in my city on Sunday morning is a fruitless endeavor. The response is visceral and jarring. The idea that 49 of my fellow Orlandoans were brutally gunned down by a depraved coward is not one that I can currently reconcile. I’m at a loss for words—I’m at a loss for the place I call home.

Orlando, a global destination for fun, family and fellowship, has had her innocence ripped away. The LGBT community, one of inclusion and support and camaraderie has experienced a crushing and horrific trauma. There are the clichés and banalities about “Never truly understanding until it happens in your backyard” or “This type of thing doesn’t happen here” that get tossed around.

But it did happen here. It happened in a thriving part of downtown Orlando. A place full of cafes and eateries, small shops and family-owned businesses. It happened mere blocks from my old house.

While this community—my community—will take time to heal, it’s immensely important to note the immediate, positive responses from the people of Orlando. The heroic first responders who saved countless lives in spite of the direct risk to their own. The citizenry flocking in droves to the local blood center to donate blood and supplies. Those individuals sitting with complete strangers, comforting them in their time of unimaginable grief.

This is the Orlando I know—resilient, caring, hopeful, strong—not the victims that this madman has sought to define us as.

To the victims and their friends and family: We stand with you. We grieve with you. Our hearts break for you. We are all Orlandoans, and no effort to divide us will ever prove successful. We live in one of the most beautifully diverse states in the country, and, together, we will emerge from this tragedy stronger than before.

Please, keep your thoughts and prayers with all of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting:

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old


Destination: Iowa

Hold on to your hats, everybody. We’re less than a week away from the crucial Iowa Caucuses, which means we’re about to be beaten over the head with politics (for those in Iowa, I feel for you.) In this final sprint to the first state to cast ballots in 2016, candidates ramp up the rhetoric; the mud flies from all angles and the talking points get a bit more bizarre as politicians get a bit more desperate.

Ah, democracy in action.

The Republicans square off on Wednesday in the final debate before Iowa, so the lead up to Monday’s vote should be chock-full of…moments. Following social media during these events is always entertaining, and with a still-crowded Republican field you can bet the candidates will pull out all the stops in an attempt to score last-minute points. There will be some Twitter fodder for sure.

Things are a bit simpler on the Dem side of the aisle, but Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders appear to be polling within the margin of error in Iowa. There’s also Martin O’Malley, but when you’re the inspiration for the best-television-show ever’s-worst-mayor-ever, it will reflect in your numbers the entire campaign. The Hillary/Bernie mud fight will definitely get dirtier this week.

So what is the winning strategy as the days tick away? Is it making the most noise, or making substantive policy appeals? Is it going on the attack or taking the high road? One thing’s for sure, you need to dominate the news cycle—and one oddly-coiffed man has shown he’s the guy to beat in that department.

So buckle up, folks. Things are about to get real, real quick. No one knows for sure who will emerge victorious, but I think we all know it’s going to be entertaining.

Facebook’s “Safety Check” Activated for Paris

Friday’s attacks in Paris are another reminder that the world, at times, can be a terrifying place. The images and first-hand accounts coming out of France are simply horrific, and have truly shaken society to its core. Our thoughts are with the victims, their families, and the survivors who have experienced such unconstrained evil.

During such a confusing time, conflicting reports and a lack of information is rampant. For those in Paris, Facebook activated its “safety check” feature, which allows individuals to let their friends and family know that they are alright. It’s the first time the feature has been employed during an act of terrorism—all previous uses were the result of natural disasters. It’s a big step for Facebook, showing that it can pivot on the designed purpose of its technology to support its user-base during a time of crisis—natural or manmade.

But it’s not all positive reviews. There’s been some online backlash about why Facebook chose Paris to utilize this feature, when there was also an attack on Beirut, Lebanon on Friday. There was an option to put a French flag filter of a Facebook user’s profile picture, but not one for Lebanon.

“We chose to activate Safety Check in Paris because we observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding,” said Facebook’s Vice President of Growth, Alex Schultz.

“In the middle of a complex, uncertain situation affecting many people, Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones. We talked with our employees on the ground, who felt that there was still a need that we could fill. So we made the decision to try something we’ve never done before: activating Safety Check for something other than a natural disaster. There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris.”

There will always be a political debate after events like this, but we can all agree that Facebook’s “safety check” is a fantastic idea and feature. In a fluid situation like we saw in Paris, the number one priority for many people is to ensure the safety of their loved ones. We can only hope this is the first and only time it will need to be activated for such an event.

Water on Mars!

How fantastically coincidental that in the week the new Matt Damon film The Martian opens nationally, NASA makes a major announcement: there’s flowing water on Mars! Long theorized but lacking proof, the space agency announced yesterday that they have confirmed the existence liquid water on the Red Planet.

What’s the intimation here? Martians!

This discovery is massive for the future possibility of manned missions to Mars, as liquid water increases the possibility of extraterrestrial life—even at the microbial level. Back in July I wrote about the absolute need to continue funding NASA, and this week’s announcement is even further proof that a well-backed space program benefits humanity as a whole.

The Martian, the upcoming film, was originally a science fiction novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars and forced to forge his own survival until help arrives. Creating shelter, farming food on another planet—think Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet in space. NASA’s discovery of water on Mars makes this work of fiction seem ever closer to reality (hopefully without all of the getting stranded on Mars stuff.) It’s an exciting time to be a fan of science.

Hopefully the announcement of flowing water on Mars fast tracks future projects and missions to the Red Planet, because it shows that no matter how much we think we know, there’s always more to explore.

The Dislikes are Coming

Facebook cynics, rejoice! Your years of social media discontent have been acknowledged, and the Great White Buffalo of Facebook features is finally coming: the “Dislike” button.

After years of ignoring the groups and petitions of thousands of users, Mark Zuckerberg finally announced that a dislike button is in the works. But before you malcontents begin to jump for joy, take a moment to read the fine print. The aim of the Facebook’s “Dislike” button will reportedly be to clear up any confusion on “liking” negative posts, such as deaths and natural disasters.

“We lost Scruffles today, he was a great dog.”

Facebook User Likes This”

Maybe that clears up the projected purpose of the new-but-long-desired function. It’s to convey empathy, not disagreement. An awkward situation always presents itself when “liking” a post that isn’t positive.

As expected, there has already been some backlash after the announcement. In an age where cyberbullying is a serious issue, many wonder if the “Dislike” button will foster an online environment that promotes it. That’s why Facebook needs to tread lightly with this rollout, and cover all its bases so that a feature designed to show compassion isn’t used to display displeasure on photos or status updates.

What are your thoughts on Facebook’s “Dislike” button?