Tag: ryan hill

Westworld Review

 

Imagine, a world in which you may enter and explore every depraved and honorable desire that has ever seized your attention. An arena in which the execution of such desires comes as easily as breathing, and your peers similarly indulge their own unwound imaginations so that they cannot cast judgement upon another’s method of satiation nor have it cast upon them. A place where fantasies of all colors and avenues can be exacted. An escape where you may appease impulses of lust, crime, heroism, avarice, vices and virtues and all roads in-between without consequence or lasting responsibility. A haven of sin so that it cannot exist. And then you can leave, returning to the real world and its mundane normalcy.

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That type of world is Westworld. It is explored in the HBO drama Westworld, based off of the 1973 movie of the same name. The show explores a near-future historical reimagination that wonderfully blends the crisp stylization of a modern world with the natural awe-evoking grittiness of the western era. Westworld itself is an adult theme park set in the Wild West and populated by the hosts, hyper-humanoid animatronics programmed to adhere to certain narratives. The guests, once they pay an expectedly exorbitant admission fee, immerse themselves into park and engage in the scripted narratives that each host is looped on or create their own adventures in the lawless land. The premise, of course, is genius and allows for an incredible analysis into the boundaries (or lack thereof) of consciousness and humanity in both the android and human characters.

The stellar cast—headed by the incredible talents of Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Ford, the creative director and creator of the park), Eddie Harris (The Man in Black, a mysterious guest who is a veteran of the park), Jeffrey Wright (Bernard, a programing specialist and Head of Behavior for the park), Thandie Newton (Maeve, a host who breaks her narrative of running a brothel)—is lauded highly and for good reason, for their intriguing portrayal of complex characters whose motivations and histories are largely a mystery from us is a task not often completed let alone done with such mastery. As expected for such a renowned television program, the writing and directing are superb; whereas some shows turn to spectacle to engage an audience, the creators of this show turn to cerebral, thought-provoking dialogue that strikes both poles of the soul—the mind and the heart—often at the same moments. The technical side of Westworld is also of a high caliber, for while the aforementioned practitioners of their craft received merely (but well-deserved) nominations from the just-concluded 2017 Primetime Emmy’s, those behind the magic of sound mixing, hairstyling, make-up, production design, main title design, cinematography, sound editing, picture editing, and casting were additionally nominated and (for the first three categories) a few garnered the winged award. There are certain classes under which series’ will fall under, and despite there only being one season (season two premieres in 2018), Westworld is of a distinctively higher quality than most.

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The core of the story, as alluded to earlier, is the enthralling exploration of the search for and result of what is referred to as “The Maze” (the path to consciousness). Dolores Abernathy (played by the captivating Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve Millay, two hosts in considerably disparate narrative loops, each have arcs that deal with the realization that there is a maze. The former is aided by two guests, William (played by Jimmi Simpson, a first-time guest hesitant of the park at first but later resolved to help Dolores) and Logan (played by Ben Barnes, a frequent guest well-acquainted with the indulgences there are to be had), and is centered in the park. The latter is (reluctantly) assisted by two low-level host cleaners (they essentially refurbish the hosts after they are killed as a product of their narratives or of guests). There is another who searches for the maze, however, and that is the Man in Black, an incredibly mysterious and stone-cold stockholder of the park who aims to find the secrets left behind by Arnold Weber, Dr. Ford’s friend and co-creator of Westworld. Dr. Ford, Bernard Lowe, and the other high-level officials that run the park, on the other hand, are preoccupied with assessing and rectifying the causes of malfunctioning hosts (those who had somehow gotten too close to the center of the maze and were unable to comprehend their own comprehension of their own self) that no longer followed basic protocols such as the inability to hurt any non-host intentionally. Behind the ostensible world presented before us, however, there are subtle hints that there is a greater game behind the scenes—a sort of maze that the storytelling builds for us.  The center of the maze for the audience, then, cannot be consciousness but may be a greater understanding of such consciousness; we may come to realize, as the Man in Black said, that we are most ourselves when presented with trauma. Trauma is a recurring theme throughout the episodes, lurking in plain sight as the answer to that which cannot be solved. The unique presentation and scrutiny of such intelligent concepts and themes that the premise and exceptional cast and crew allow for are what distinguishes Westworld from the expanse of narratives already concerning themselves with the pursuit of introspection and understanding.

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And the marvelous ideas and the underlying answers and hidden revelations are all wound up in this elaborate bow that we begin to untie in the first episode—confused but enticed—until the final two episodes in which we succeed and learn the truth behind the secrets that taunted us while finding another, more elaborate bow as the present inside. The twists of this show—while one will attempt to guess them and often will succeed—are so satisfying. A good twist is not crafted on unpredictability alone, but mostly plausibility. The seeds are planted in the early episodes and we practically tend to their growth throughout until we realize, just as the storytellers usher us to, that we’ve been watching a sunflower seed birth an African elephant; two binaries that we are given and reminded are separate entities are revealed to be one whole, shattering our illusions and awakening us to the reality the maze offers. And that is the point of the show: to awaken us to this “maze” as we follow the characters who try to do the same. To display a world in which this maze is the foundation and purpose, where despite locked destinies the effect of trauma is as visceral and far-reaching as it is in the real one. To show that the random and all-encompassing nature of trauma is not something to fear but rather appreciate, for it grounds us in a consciousness greater than that of the bicameral mind. Imagine, a show in which the very acquisition and functionality of consciousness is depicted through the interconnected plots of real, human characters whether programmed or not while still maintaining the conventional purpose of any show: to entertain.

That type of show is Westworld.

Rating: 4.6 Violent Ends for 5 Violent Delights

By: Ryan Hill

Photo Credits to HBO

One Year After: The Remains of the Rio Olympics

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A little over a year ago, the approaching Summer Olympic Games hosted by Rio de Janeiro grasped the globe’s attention for more than just the spectacles of gold medals and famed athletes. The 2016 Rio Olympics always seemed plagued by controversy, and many doubted that the city was going to be able to construct the necessary venues in time and under budget while still balancing all the other issues that either came with the Games or already afflicted the country. For example, many observers were shocked by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to accept the city’s bid for the Games because of the trash-filled waste that was Guanabara Bay. Brazil was also suffering from a shrinking economy—the recession was the worst that the country experienced in over 80 years, raising concerns about the nation’s ability to host the Games—and a mounting health crisis—the Zika virus spurred international worry over an outbreak among the athletes. The state, too, was under deep scrutiny as it felt the tremors of record-breaking crime in nearly all categories ranging from robbery to homicides, prompting further skepticism about both the municipal and provincial Rio de Janeiro’s capabilities to welcome the competition. Despite all the many factors that seemed to doom the first Olympic Games held in the South American continent, however, the two-week festival was remarkably without disaster. But through a retrospective lens, how successful or rewarding was the Rio Olympics for the city, country, and its people? Unfortunately, not much.
Exceeding the established budget and estimated cost of the Games, Rio’s Olympic experience carried a hefty price tag of $13 billion USD. While this number, especially when compared to the dumbfoundingly extravagant expenditures that accompanied the 2008 Beijing and 2014 Sochi Games—a whopping $40 billion USD and $50+ billion USD, respectively—actually appears somewhat frugal, one must remember the circumstances under which such money was spent. As aforementioned, the nation was in a state of financial crisis unknown to them since the 1930s. Doling out any number of billions, even for the global competition, would prove damaging to Brazil’s state of affairs. Furthermore, the seeming nonchalance with which such money was given to a fleeting, arguably superficial event raised alarm bells for many. Numerous critics have pointed out that pensions, teachers, hospital workers, and even the police forces that would be securing the host city during the event have gone months at a time without any payment, yet there seemed to be ample funds present to exceed the budget for the already wallet-cringing expenses. This dissonance was further recorded in the disparity between the funding for the Olympics and the funding for the endemic Zika virus; only $780 million USD were allocated for research and prevention of Brazil’s worst health crisis since the influenza pandemic of 1918 struck the nation, meaning that nearly seventeen times more was spent on the Olympics. These facts are troubling for obvious reasons, and in a sense, it shows that the Olympics bring out the worst in humanity even as unites it in global competition. But perhaps such shortcomings of the host country and city were forgivable if the promises they made during their bid for the 2016 Games—to introduce wider public transport opportunities, to revamp the infrastructure for the famous low-income favelas of Rio de Janeiro, to remain environmentally cautious and emphasize sustainability in constructing Olympic facilities—were kept. Well, it has been a year since the flame left the village. What has come of these promises?
Disappointment. While billions were spent on the expansion of subways, many areas have not felt the tangible results of these promises. Certain attempts for renovation of impoverished districts were made but will not diminish the dominance of favelas in the poor city. As for the promised sustainability of Olympic facilities, dilapidation and abandonment have already rendered many such venues useless after only a year has elapsed since their use. The Deodoro Olympic Park, one of the two clusters of venues for the 2016 Rio Games, sits shuttered and closed. The Aquatics Center that housed Michael Phelps’ triumphant leave is drained and abandoned. The Barra Olympic Park was offered to private investors in a bidding, but with no takers the expected $14 million USD needed to maintain the park defaulted back onto the government. The Rio Olympic Velodrome, located in that park, recently was damaged by a fire initiated from the landing of an illegally released Brazilian lantern. The Maracana soccer stadium—where the opening and closing ceremonies took place—has largely been run-down, vandalized, and left abandoned; the venue no longer has power because of the exorbitant electrical bill: $950,000 USD. The $20 million USD golf course struggles to find players in the soccer-oriented country. The 31 towers in the Olympic village that housed the athletes—meant to be converted into luxury condos—sit mostly vacant. The Future Arena, which was used for handball and Olympic volleyball, was a temporary venue meant to be converted into four schools after the 2016 games; as of last month, Rio’s mayor has cancelled these plans. Apparently, the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee attempted to pay off its $40 million USD debt to its creditors through air conditioners. They then asked the IOC for help in their debt and were promptly ignored. A 16-month study commissioned by the Associated Press found readings of infectious illness-causing viruses at 90 percent of the test sites for waterways; Guanabara Bay was no doubt home to many of those viruses as well as pollutants and trash. In the city’s 2009 bid for the Olympics, they promised to reduce and treat the sewage streaming into Guanabara Bay by 80 percent; just before the games, the number was only 51 percent. Following the games, all efforts furthering the minor progress has ceased. The most aching part of all of it, though, is that from 2009 to the summer before the Olympics began, 4,120 families were evicted and removed from their homes due to reasons related to the Olympic projects. Thousands of families removed so that billion-dollar venues and stadiums can have a two-week shelf life, rotting away for all the time after their purpose expires as though they are beacons of senseless grandeur and perverse profligacy.
This now-clear outcome of Rio’s tenure as host of the Olympic Games was never by any stretch unimaginable. It is now just one exhibit in a trend that every host of the Games has adhered to and endured. In fact, the trend was established by the inaugural 1896 Olympic Games in Athens; the predicted cost by founder Baron de Coubertin was a modest quarter of a million drachmas, but the actual cost was about 3,700,000 drachmas (an equivalent to around $12 million USD). Furthermore, a 2012 study by Oxford University found that from 1968, every one of the Games studied has experienced budget overruns. Note that not all of the Games were able to be studied because of the lack of reliable public data on the subjects of budget-at-bid and official final costs. It should also be stressed that the final costs used in the study came directly from the estimates the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games for each city were willing to admit; limiting their study to the official rather than total costs, the Oxford researchers presented these staggering budget overruns as the best-case scenario. The average cost overrun for the Games studied was 179 percent, significantly higher than cost overruns in other types of megaprojects such as transportation systems (average of 33 percent overrun) and major IT projects (average of 27 percent overrun). One could extrapolate this data and infer that, while there is no data to confirm, every Olympic Games in its 120-year history so far has exceeded the proposed budget. What’s more, only two Olympic Games—the 1984 Los Angeles Games and the 1992 Barcelona Games—have garnered profits from their endeavor. It is evident that Rio will not be joining those two cities as the exceptions to the crippling financial debt that comes in wake of hosting the Games.
The overruns also do not include the regaling that host cities perform for the International Olympic Committee while making their bids. These “gifts” and “celebrations” that act as licit bribes can add millions onto the prospective host’s expenditures and means that cities who are not selected have paid millions to lose. It recently came out that former Rio governor Sergio Cabral paid $2 million USD to an IOC member in order to secure his lobbying for the city in the selection process. It would be an understatement to say that such illicit briberies are rare. One would have to question why Rio’s governor would be adamant enough about securing the 2016 Games that he would commit a crime, and the reason is because of the extensive corruption that plagues Brazil’s governmental hierarchies. Corruption—characterized by large contractors bribing politicians at various levels for lucrative contracts—has been entrenched within Brazil for years and has been gradually revealed in recent times, so it is no wonder that the Olympics were looked at by corrupt officials as an opportunity for gain. Massive construction entities like Odebrecht, OAS, and Andrade Gutierrez received most of the contracts for the Olympic projects, a move which no doubt lead to much reward for the conglomerates that dominated Brazil’s construction industry for decades. Perhaps sparked by the recent sentencing for Rio’s corrupt former governor Cabral—14 years in prison—federal prosecutors are looking into the very apparent funding irregularities in projects for the 2016 Olympics. Just earlier this month, Carlos Nuzman, the president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, was subject to a house search. The result of which was public acknowledgement by the federal prosecutors that the Rio Olympics were a breeding ground for corruption. For the people of Rio, the Games were disastrous and imprudent, but for the contractors and officials, they were lucrative and beneficial. Perhaps that was the intent of the initial bid…
Knowing all that is knowable about the 2016 Rio Games, what is to be learned? What is the message to take away from all this? It could be that the Games have never been justifiable from a financial point of view unless most of the venues that are to be used are already present (the way in which the only two successful host cities garnered their profits), something not possible in most cities. Or, it could possibly be that citizens of prospective host cities should be cognizant of the monetary burdens that they would place on themselves, for more might follow in the footsteps of the Bostonians who protested indebting their city in order to accommodate the necessary spending for the Olympics and achieved success (Boston withdrew their bid for 2024 Olympic Games, which will be held in Paris). Perhaps it is that the faults apparent in the Rio Olympics should serve as a warning to cities and countries who would spend, rather than on the welfare of their people, billions on venues to entertain the world for less than a month only for them to become the skeletal remains of white elephants. Perhaps it is that the Olympics should only be held in the same cities every few years, or maybe a plethora of cities at the same juncture, in order to mitigate and avoid such financial recklessness. Perhaps it is all of them; perhaps it is none of them. But what is certain, out of all of this, is that there needs to be a reevaluation of what it is the Olympics does and should stand for. Whether or not change will come, however, is dependent not on these Games past. No, it is dependent on where the Olympic flame has yet to come.

By: Ryan Hill

Photo: The Irish Times 

 

Review of Thrones

With the seventh season of the phenomenon at a close, it is still accurate to say that the little screen adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic is one of the greatest television shows of all time. HBO’s behemoth of a show began in 2011, and has since then risen to become an icon of popular culture. To date, Game of Thrones has been nominated for 612 awards and has received 212 of them; the show holds the title for the most Emmy’s for a primetime television show at 38, and it is conceivable that the two seasons of the show yet to be scored will overtake Saturday Night Live’s 45 wins to become—according to that standard—the most accomplished show in television history.

The story of Game of Thrones is not one that can be constricted down into a few-sentence recapitulation, for the complexity and intricacy of its numerous plots and subplots would not be given its due. From the first episode to the most recent season finale, plot threads have woven characters’ connections and personal arcs to each other’s in nearly unfathomable ways, sparking and furthering the growth that every character has undergone that exemplifies the richness of this world. The show transports its audience to a world in which mystical fantasy, medieval brutality, and timeless politics merge seamlessly into a brilliantly written story; mirroring the blights on our own world, the characters that have captivated the audience with their quirky wit or vicious savagery and imbued them with passions of hate and love must face an unforgiving society that cares not for justice and fairness. This show will capture the intrigue of its viewers while it sends on an emotional journey to euphoria or heartache or both many times over. It will incite laughter, evoke tears, inspire shock, and demand cheers of triumph or curses of anger, but most of all Game of Thrones will bestow upon its audience—notoriously without remorse and with great frequency—senses of utter awe. Whether they be crushingly heart-wrenching character deaths or unexpected plot-twists or realistic depictions of violence or incredibly intelligent dialogue or breathtakingly immaculate scenery or powerful character moments, this show will consume the mind with its genius and leave the viewer breathless.

The acclaim for television show is entirely warranted. The acting for the show is at a standard worthy for the spectacle, and it is no wonder that the actors and actresses who appear on the show are instantly perceived as skilled practitioners of their craft. Notable actors who propel the work to its highly-lauded status are those who play Ned Stark (Sean Bean), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Caster-Waldau), Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), Olenna Tyrell (Dianna Rigg), and Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). The show is an ensemble cast, but each of its actors excels in making each scene palpably important in relation to the characters presented. Furthermore, the other technical aspects of the show are impeccable. HBO has endowed the show with an increasingly large budget, which has furthered the quality of large-scale battles and the rendering of the dragons. Ever since season one, however, all of the aspects that make the show a technical marvel—the thorough costume design, adept makeup and lighting, discernibly superior sound design, beautifully potent music and scores—were present. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the showrunners of Game of Thrones, have distinguished their show into a class of its own.

It is not a far cry from the truth to say that Game of Thrones is the greatest television show that has thus far been created. Not faultless—the recently concluded penultimate season was a mixture of Game of Thrones at its best and its worst—but as much a masterpiece as a show can get. It is hard to find an entertainment-inclined person unfamiliar with certain quotes and aspects that come from the world of Westeros and Essos, and it seems unlikely that the show’s endgame—which will be revealed in the six episodes of the eighth and final season—will not become another facet of popular culture. Understanding that fact, do not let the end to what truly might be the greatest show ever be spoiled for you before you endeavor to indulge in this fantasy world. Before it is all over and you cannot unknow that which you learned, experience the phenomenon. Follow the honorable Ned Stark and the triumphs and misfortunes of his Northern House. Cheer for Jon Snow, the bastard of Winterfell, as he finds that qualities of an honorable leader are direly needed. Laugh with Tyrion Lannister, the drunken dwarf, as he discovers what the game is and why it must be won. Witness the transformation of Daenerys Targaryen from a helpless princess to the Queen Mother of Dragons. Their stories have not yet ended, but come the final season all their fates will be sealed and known. The threat of the White Walkers is still dominant, the mysteries of Jon and Dany still present. If you watch the show years from now, you will be but an observer of the world of Game of Thrones, but if you watch now, you will be a part of A Song of Ice and Fire. Winter is here, but it won’t last forever.

Rating: 5 Comings of Winter out of 5

By: Ryan Hill

2017 Student-Faculty Basketball Game

On March 30, students gathered in the gymnasium to experience the annual student-faculty basketball game. Similar to those of previous years, this close game produced numerous spectacular moments. This time, it was the students who prevailed.

The first quarter saw a steady and proportional increase in the two teams’ points; both teams entered into a rhythm that produced a score of 22 (students) to 21 (faculty). In the second quarter, the faculty exchanged their lineup for a less aggressive approach. The students, however, had exchanged their lineup to include proficient, varsity level players. Such a change meant that the students dominated the faculty in the second quarter, bringing the score to 29-43. The third quarter was the complete opposite: the faculty dominated the students after bringing back their all-star players. At the end of the third, the score was tied at 57. This produced a nail-biting fourth quarter. Neither team was capable of creating a comfortable lead on the other; the changing lineups could not break this trend. With less than thirty seconds left, the score was 81 to 79 (students lead). Each time the faculty came close to the basket, the crowd fell silent and rose in anticipation (a prospective three-pointer at the sixteenth second compelled the entire audience to their feet). When the fourth quarter finished, the scoreboard offered a tie at 81 points.

Overtime would allow only three minutes of playtime, and it was imperative that every shot was a success. Once again, the score displayed an evenly matched set of players. The faculty, however, were not employing their best lineup (the one that tied the game in the third quarter). An issue affecting both teams was that the time on the clock was inaccurate because timeouts and free throws in the tense few minutes remaining caused confusion. The score was at 90 to 87 (students lead) when a faculty player was fouled while taking a three-point shot. Should this player make all three free throws, the faculty would tie the game. Should he miss two, the game was all but over. Should he only miss one, he could intentionally miss the final shot so that his team can rebound and earn the conventional two points from a shot. The first was a miss. The second went in. There was an uncertain amount of time on the clock because of the aforementioned confusion, but the faculty team would have to secure the ball and complete a shot in practically no time. The player purposely missed the final free throw, rebounded, and shot. He missed. A teammate of his rebounded that and shot again. He missed. Another teammate rebounded that and, as the buzzer went off, released the ball toward the hoop.  Unfortunately, he missed. The game ended there, in overtime, with a score of 90-88. The double overtime, possible if that shot was successful, would have produced even more edge-of-the-seat moments. No matter which team an observer was rooting for, everyone acknowledged how great a game the event was.

Overall, the 2017 student-faculty basketball game was well worth the cost. Though there were issues with the clock and a lackluster halftime event, the outing created a fun, competitive, and safe environment for students and faculty to interact. Members of SGA and all participants of the event should be proud.

Lake Howell High School’s 2017 student-faculty basketball game may be over, but there is still much to look forward to for the 2018 incarnation.

By Ryan Hill

A Month in Trump’s America

Contrary to what some thought—and perhaps more hoped—the Trump administration has not imploded. The transition of power is complete, and Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States for at least four years. The month can be checked off the calendar in relief or satisfaction, but its importance in history should be reflected upon no matter the emotion one feels. Trump undeniably committed himself to swift executions of some of his staple campaign promises (the ones he did not backpedal out of as president-elect); a portion of the public unsurprisingly offered repudiation and protest in wake of these measures. From the Women’s Marches around the world that just happened to coincide with the inauguration to Shia LaBeouf’s “He Will Not Divide Us” mantra to the Berkeley fiasco to sad(!)der tweets about fake news, the first thirty days contained adequate entertainment and horror and shock and joy all at the same time.

First, Trump’s approval ratings are of particular interest. Being one of the most unpopular presidential candidates of all time does not produce healthy expectations for approval in office. In accordance with this understanding, Trump’s ratings are underwhelming. Forty percent of Americans approve of Donald Trump and his policies at this juncture, down five points from when he became Commander-in-Chief. What are the concrete reasons that these numbers are so low (historically so for both this point in the presidency and in any point of presidencies)? Mostly they come from Trump continuing to be Trump.

The most controversial aspect of the new administration thus far has been the executive order implementing a travel ban on seven Middle Eastern, predominantly Muslim nations. The order also put a halt to the acceptance of all refugees for 120 days while outlawing acceptance of Syrian refugees indefinitely. Despite being an improvement on his campaign promise of a Muslim ban, the order was impugned for its constitutionality among other flaws (an overlooked one being that other Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that were not included in the ban happen to have business ties with Trump). A Seattle judge put a temporary ban on the order, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld this ruling. Trump took to twitter to proclaim his intent of taking these court-dwelling judges to court. Trump has since conceded pursuing further litigation to challenge his ruling, but the hold on the ban came too late for hundreds of heartbroken refugees.

While that controversy has received a successful conclusion (those against the executive order have defeated it, those for it await a revised version), the true impact of Trump’s White House on the country is not yet set in stone. Numerous secretary picks alarmed citizens and politicians of any affiliation (namely Betsy DeVos—the now Secretary of Education who had one of the worst confirmation hearings in history, has not more than a couple of hours of presence within any public school, has defended the need for guns in schools as a contingency against “grizzlies,” and has admitted to partaking in the corrupt process of machine politics willingly and happily—and Scott Pruitt—the now head of the Environmental Protection Agency who has sued the EPA over a dozen of times, openly committed to being an advocate against the EPA, and denied the overwhelming consensus among scientists that climate change is real and heavily affected by humans). The “Drain the Swamp” president has ironically constructed the wealthiest cabinet ever. He has also punished Kellyanne Conway, his former campaign manager who does…something in the White House other than illegally provide free promotion for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line following Nordstrom’s removal of the brand from their stores, with essentially a talking to.

Another concern of many is the odious expenditures required for Melania Trump to maintain her residence in her golden penthouse; the number is projected to be about $182 million if she and Barron Trump remain there for the entire year. She is also shaping up to be a far more reserved First Lady than those before her, not yet endeavoring to achieve anything (perhaps she should take more beats from Michelle Obama in a fashion similar to her rather inspired speech during the Republican National Convention). Furthermore, multiple, yet anonymous, sources from within the White House depict an administration in shambles—confusion and contradiction reign supreme while Mike Pence is alleged to be the glue keeping it all together. A more recent development that contributes to the mounting concerns of the Trump administration’s condition is National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation; he had been in contact with his Russian counterpart prior to inauguration, violating laws and raising eyebrows. He lied about the event and was forced to resign, but the situation brings to the forefront the suspicion of an administration overly tied to Russia. Trump is claimed to have extensive dealings with Russia (that would be revealed through his tax records), and the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was a chairman of Exxon while the corporation collaborated with a Russian oil company. Vladimir Putin ultimately awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, Russia’s highest award for foreign citizens.

Then there is that beautiful press conference on February 16. It was Donald J. Trump alone in a verbal wrestling match with the media for over an hour. It was in this atmosphere that Trump continued to exaggerate claims about his electoral college win (it was one of the more smaller margins) and inauguration attendance (far less than Obama’s, no matter how many times Kellyanne Conway thinks of falsehoods as “alternative facts”). He continued to admonish the media as fake news (employing probably the greatest quote of the century: “the news is fake because so much of the news is fake news,”) while positing that “Russia is a ruse.” He both commended and condemned Mike Flynn’s actions, expressed his desire for friendly reporters, brushed off a Jewish reporter’s concern over anti-Semitism, and presumed that a black reporter would be able to plan a meeting involving African-American congressional representatives because all black people must know each other.

Despite all the negative of Trump’s first month in office—which, while not falsely reported on, is overwhelmingly the focus of news media—there are some points of positivity and comfort. He carried out his campaign promise of withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership. He has chosen a relatively sane Supreme Court nominee. He signed an executive order freezing the hiring of government employees in certain areas in order to reduce taxpayer expenses (although this is criticized for actually lowering the efficiency of federal agencies, thus requiring greater expenses to hire contractors). He has demonstrated an effort to combat terrorism (the first operation he approved, however, was unacceptably risky and resulted in the death of a Seal and an eight-year-old American girl among a dozen alleged terrorists). But perhaps the most incredible testament to the anomaly that was the Trump candidacy and will be the Trump presidency is his commitment to his people. I mean not the American people in this context if only for the rejection of Trump by a majority of those people, but the diehard Trump supporters who truly believe in his message of making America great again. On January 18, Donald Trump held a political rally. Some jokingly say it was the first campaign stop of the 2020 election cycle, but Trump said neutrally, “life is a campaign.” He surrounded himself for a time with not insults from Democrats and fellow Republicans, animosity by the opposition, obligations of the oval office, or the dishonest media but the praise and applause of adoring citizens emboldened and encouraged by what Trump stands for to them. It would not be surprising to see more retreats by the President into these crowds who will hear his words and take them with rejuvenated hope and patriotism, gifting courage and boldness right back to him. Surely this empowered Trump will be willing to take on greater, riskier, and more controversial tasks. So, the first month may be over, but a long four years still wait. Here’s to knowing it will be tiringly eventful.

By: Ryan Hill

Dismantle the Electoral College

Although the election of Donald Trump is not the sole reason to doubt the abilities of the antiquated electoral system of the United States, it has greatly re-energized intense scrutiny of the College. Rightly, regardless of their motivations, many have concluded that the epitome of democracy and freedom should not abide by a system capable of muffling the will of the majority of its people. In remembrance of the radical ideals conceived and adopted by the fathers of our nation, to preserve and augment the core virtues that distinguish and empower, the nation should endeavor to see this Electoral College laid to rest.

The Electoral College was created by the Founding Fathers and codified in the Constitution, yet this fact alone does not inhibit fault in the system. The same quill that gave ink to the College determined anyone of dark complexion forty percent lesser. Furthermore, alterations to the Constitution were pioneered by the Founders themselves with the Bill of Rights. Archaically, amend means to “put right.” The Thirteenth put right slavery. The Nineteenth put right suffrage. The Twenty-eighth can put right elections.

The Founders implemented the College in order to prevent the concentrated peoples in cities from overpowering rural Americans. There were clear divides of interests between the urban American and the rural American, the Northern American and the Southern American. In an effort to balance these interests, the College was devised. As America aged, this decision seemed eerily astute. The Southern and Northern sections of “these” United States of America, catered to by sectional parties, harbored two disparate cultures and societies. The emerging urban culture of the industrialized city in the North conflicted with the westward extension of slave-based agriculture. To compensate, neither could overshadow the other in the College (although a clear horizontal divide was imminent each election). Not until Lincoln’s election in 1860, name absent from all Southern ballots, did the flaws of the College become apparent.

Today, there is no profound gash afflicting the United States of America. Farms and factories can be found in all states—service occupations, the principal job in the U.S., dominate the humblest towns and the greatest cities. No issue like slavery pervades; no polarizing force persists. If this noble facet of the College, the checking of politically parted regions, has become obsolete, should the system itself not become obsolete as well? In pursuit of inalienable freedom and in recognition of a more homogeneous America, should our presidential election not become one person, one vote?  

A far more compelling piece of evidence to support the dismantling of the Electoral College is the intrinsic unfairness of proportioning populations to votes. Essentially, some voters in America have a more weighted vote, meaning that they influence the election more. For an individual in a sprawling city in a large state, the sheer scale of the population reduces the impact of their vote. An individual in a rural hamlet in a state with low population density holds a greater vote share than the city dweller, thus affecting the election more so. The College’s compensation is to minimize the small state’s whole impact in the election while maximizing larger states’ impact. In other words, it aims to fix an unjust disparity with another unjust disparity. Every individual in a state should have a distinct say. No disparity would exist between voters, causing no disparity between states.

Further accentuating the mounting reasons to rectify the undemocratic method of electing America has endured is the understanding that voters in swing states have infinitely more power than those in cemented states. In essential swing states like Florida and Ohio, an individual voter is not silenced by a preset inclination in the state electorate. Indeed, the swing state voters are catered to by candidates and contribute more to the election simply because their state is volatile. In concrete states like California and Texas, dissenting votes are worthless. The intense political leaning of the majority of voters creates a futile atmosphere around voting against the current. What’s more, candidates are not imbued with determination to campaign in these states. The amalgamation of individual votes into the electoral system disproportionately affects the weight of a singular vote—in extreme cases, it silences them permanently.

Finally, some will argue that the Electoral College adequately and effectively maintains its original purpose today in protecting localized interests. They say that the College preserves one’s ability to vote for what is compatible with their walk of life rather than another across the Plains. Besides the aforementioned counters to this argument, one crucial clarification must be made. The Senate was instituted to pursue the interests of the state. The House of Representatives was conceived to pursue the interests of the districts within the state. They appease localized demands and wishes. The president upholds and extends and manifests and preserves and consolidates and augments national interests and demands and wishes and virtues. The president should not be elected by an anachronistic system that compensated for a long forgotten fault in America. The People—unweighted, unsilenced—should enjoy the liberty of selecting their leader in a true, just, and democratic fashion. One American, one vote.

By: Ryan Hill

Death Penalty Divided: Against

The death penalty has always been a contentious topic in America. The matter pertains to the ending of a life in order to punish the taking of a life. This debate has reached a particularly pressing crossroad. According to a 2016 Pew Research survey, support for the death penalty has fallen out of majority favor. Despite there still being more support than opposition, this new revelation impugns the fate of capital punishment in America. It brings into question the extent of the role the penalty should have, if any. The proper role of the penalty, however, is clear: zero role.  

In order to understand the current opposition to the penalty, former opposition must be studied first. The support for the death penalty—49 percent—is at the lowest in forty years, meaning that forty years ago support for the penalty lapsed. Both the practice and popularity of the penalty subsided in the years leading up to 1972, the year the Supreme Court decided the landmark case Furman v. Georgia. The case was dealing with a black man, Furman, who believed that his sentencing was racially biased. The Court agreed and struck all capital statutes across all nations, but did not outlaw the penalty itself. States revised their statutes and they were validated in the case Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. Because of the ostensibly infallible aura now encompassing the penalty after the racial bias issue was “solved,” the states were swift in use and the public passionate in support. Support dramatically rose in the 80’s and 90’s, peaking in the 1995, and the penalty cemented itself in the political realm. It was vigorously supported by both sides of the aisle, uniting George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the otherwise divisive 1992 election. However, the more recent elections have seen less adamance for the penalty. While 20 years ago it was that politicians either supported the penalty and were tough on crime or did not and were practically criminals themselves, tentativeness and outright rejection regarding the penalty is more acceptable today. The penalty is no longer a litmus test; it is no longer the manifestation of America’s resilience to crime. So, what has caused this sudden falling out between the public and the penalty? Well, it stems from the realization that the position held by advocates of the penalty has grown entirely indefensible.

A primary argument by penalty proponents is that the penalty effectively deters crime and incapacitates criminals. This, however, is not the case. Studies compiled and analyzed by Michael Radelet and Marian Borg, two sociological professors, show that at a certain point criminals do not feel more threatened by greater severity of a punishment. In essence, life imprisonment without parole—the alternative to the penalty—is just as deterring as a death sentence. Furthermore, the Death Penalty Information Center offers the opinions of criminologists, 88 percent of whom concur that the penalty does not affect homicide rates. In fact, the DPIC found that in the past thirty years, non-penalty states have had lower murder rates than death penalty states. As for incapacitation, while death does ultimately incapacitate a person’s ability to commit crimes, life imprisonment provides substantial incapacitation given that there is no legal means of reentering society. The illegal means, breaking out, is incredibly rare. To accommodate such a concern, these inmates would be placed under high supervision at maximum-security prisons.

Gregg v. Georgia was the supposed confirmation of the rectification of arbitrary sentencing in capital cases. But when America’s entire criminal justice system is being rebuked for injustice along racial lines, the argument cannot be made that its highest punishment is exempt. For executions of those convicted of interracial murders since 1976, 20 had black victims. For white victims, the number is 282. This whopping discrepancy illustrates the irrefutable presence of racial bias in capital sentencing. If our nation cannot ensure with invariable accuracy that bias and discrimination do not exist in its courts, those courts should not have the power to end the life of an American.

These findings, these refutations to conventional arguments put forth by death penalty supporters, shed light and provide clarity for the dramatic decline in popular and political support and clamor. But to supplement these findings, to undeniably demonstrate the necessity of ending the penalty, capital punishment’s complete lack of economic sensibility must be looked at. The long trial process—added to the extensive appeals process—and cost of lethal injection have made the capital punishment unjustifiably costly across the country (millions are being spent per execution). The money used to execute could be put back into the community or put toward more effective law enforcement. In addition, the long process of sentencing and appeals found uniquely in capital punishment counters the conviction that the penalty provides closure to victim’s families. Continual exposure to a person guilty of committing an atrocity on a loved one does not so much provide closure as it does reopened wounds. Furthermore, lethal injection and the electric chair are imperfect methods of administering painless death. When veins are missed, the arm’s muscles are literally corroded. When the volts miscalculated, a man burned to death. These incidents surely contradict the Eighth Amendment of no cruel and unusual punishment.

Based on the absolute impractical, unrighteous, unconstitutional, unjust, and biased nature of the death penalty, the only reasonable role it should play in America is none. More and more Americans are beginning to see it. All civilized nations have seen it. The final entity deserving of capital punishment is the death penalty itself.

By Ryan Hill

To view the opposing article, click here.

Sources Below:

Pew Research Center. (2016, September 26). Support for Death Penalty Continues to Fall. Retrieved from pewresearch.org: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/29/support-for-death-penalty-lowest-in-more-than-four-decades/ft_16-09-28_deathpenalty/

 

Death Penalty Information Center. (2016, November 9). Facts about the Death Penalty. Retrieved fromdeathpenaltyinfo.org: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf

Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Death Penalty. Retrieved from law.cornell.edu:https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/death_penalty

Radelet, M. L., & Borg, M. J. (2000). The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates. Annual Reviews of Sociology, 26, 43-61. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/223436

Dieter, R. C. (1994, Fall). Millions Misspent: What Politicians Don’t Say About the High Costs of the Death Penalty. Retrieved from deathpenaltyinfo.org: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/millions-misspent

Virginia’s lethal injection costs set to skyrocket to $16.5k. (2016, September 30). Retrieved from seattletimes.com: http://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/virginias-lethal-injection-costs-set-to-skyrocket-to-16-5k/

Shafdar, K. (2012). Legally Killing People Has Gotten A Lot More Expensive. Retrieved from huffingtonpost.com: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/30/lethal-injection_n_1391408.html

Pasta for Pennies

A girl of young body and mind crumples to the ground. The ring of peers around her release giggles, ebullient and innocent. The girl wishes to join in their laughter over her wayward feet, but her voice is constrained by a tightness inside her. Her contorted face hushes the escaped giggles. It was neither the fall nor the childish teasing which troubled her. It was the traitorous pain penetrating deep in her bones. It was the unrelenting spin her eyes gave the world. It was the betrayal of bone marrow in producing improper white blood cells. The formation and presence of a virulent internal disaster. The unwelcome introduction to a close death; leukemia. When the jolly subsided and alarm appeared, the soft faces turned toward inquiring adults. Among them: her parents. Concerned, the parents approached the confirming nods of doctors, and they showered her in love and joy and tears and hope as the grueling war against cancer was fought by another family. Despite prayer and medical expertise, a grim fate became ever the nearer.  But she lived. Resilience is a quality not easily stripped in survival, and survive she did. A consolidation of this resilience and dynamic treatment eradicated leukemia from her gentle body. Though hardened in spirit, she resumes the innocence of childhood.

Stories as this one are found among survivors of all cancers, but it is leukemia that often afflicts younger populations. It is a struggle that no child should have to die from or live through, but until total harmony blankets the world, cancer must be fought. All must come together, whether cancer scarred or not, in order to expunge cancer from the world. It begins with research and furthered by treatment, both inching closer to the dream of a world free of the plights of cancer. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is facilitating this process.

Seminole County Public Schools have supported the coalition between the non-profit Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Olive Garden—specifically their fundraiser program Pasta for Pennies—for nearly 15 years.  Every level of education participates in the program. It is commendable that SCPS lends its resources to the betterment of all mankind as well as some of its own students that suffer from the cancers. However, elementary and middle schools far outweigh high schools in terms of money raised. Last year, Lake Howell raised 600 dollars. While this money surely went to good use in aiding more stories like the one told above, a school of 2000+ should have raised far more. If each person gave a dollar, Lake Howell could nearly triple the donation from last year. A feast from Olive Garden is provided to the 7th period class that raises the most money, and National Honor Society promises purchasable items that add to the donation total. But money should not be spent in lust of food and bracelets. It should not be spent at all. Students should be willing to give mere pocket change for the simple intent of helping the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society achieve humanity’s collective dream.

Money raised from Pasta for Pennies goes toward the numerous tasks and responsibilities the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has undertaken. First, the money goes toward research. To defeat an enemy, one must know the enemy, and no enemy is more elusive than cancer. The money is also importantly spent providing co-payment for families troubled by cancer (travel and medical expenses). Additionally, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society provides families with information following a diagnosis. The LLS also advocates on behalf of cancer patients by spreading testimonies and calls to action.

With all the good that the LLS does, in addition to the Olive Garden food party and other incentives provided by National Honor Society, the Pasta for Pennies fundraiser is a fantastic method of precluding cancer and saving lives. The LLS, SCPS, and NHS all urge Silver Hawks to participate in this year like never before to show their compassion and to keep cancer patients everywhere Hawk Strong.

By Ryan Hill

How the Trump Stole Election Day

Whether it is the rejoicing Trump supporters, the lamenting Clinton supporters, or the flabbergasted rest of the world, absolutely no one perceived this outcome to the 2016 presidential election cycle. In one of the greatest—if not, the greatest—political upsets of modern times. A businessman entertainer, turned political rookie, precluded the ostensibly inevitable tenure of Hillary Clinton as Commander-in-Chief  after conducting the most disastrous campaign in American political history (that is, a fatally disastrous campaign for anybody besides Donald Trump). President-elect Donald Trump defied all expectations, all predictions, when he conquered the Electoral College. Numerous sources, including In-Flight News’ own article regarding the matter, placed a Clinton victory at a high certainty. The challenges that Trump faced seemed too insurmountable, and Clinton’s lead seemed too unreachable for him to overcome. Nonetheless, he did. And, as far as she is concerned anyway, Donald Trump stole the election right out from under Clinton. So, how did he do it?

In order to understand Trump’s victory at the Electoral College (Clinton has won the popular vote by about 2 million votes), one must analyze the demographics of the election. Surprises and clarity are found there. First and foremost, this election seemed to be dictated by ethnic race far more heavily than previous elections. In reality, however, the racial margins were quite similar to those of previous 21st century presidential races. According to Pew Research Center, Trump continued the Republican trend of achieving the white vote—he had a 21 percentage point lead over Clinton. Likewise, Clinton retained the minority votes with an 80 point margin among African Americans, and a 36 point margin among Hispanic voters. Clinton, despite the impressive margins, clearly lost votes among these ethnic groups.

Though it is not particularly shocking, the gender gap in voter choice this election surely provided Donald Trump with additional votes that Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, could not secure. By a margin of 12 points, women supported Clinton over Trump; by a margin of 12 points, men supported Trump over Hillary. And, as per usual, young voters failed to make a significant mark on this year’s election due to their perpetuation of low turnout. They, just as in 2012 (but by a smaller amount; six percentage points more young voters aided President Obama), supported the Democratic Party by a double-digit margin, 18 percent.

The single most striking alteration to demographic trends during election cycles this year is education level. In 2012, Obama was victorious among both voters with a college degree (two point margin) and voters without a college degree (four point margin). This year, however, college educated voters favored Clinton with a 9 percent margin while voters without a college degree favored Trump by an 8 percent margin. So, despite both candidates achieving a greater margin than the party’s previous nominees did, Trump benefited. Clinton gained about seven more points than Obama did in the college educated cohort, but Trump gained 12 more points than Romney did in the non- college education cohort. Furthermore, this disparity grows when only white voters are taken into account. Trump won among white college educated voters by a margin of four points (a ten point decrease from Romney’s margin of victory).

More important, though, is his victory in the category of non-collegiate graduates of the white race. His margin of victory over Clinton was a whopping 39 percent, a 14 percent increase from Romney’s margin four years ago. It is this demographic that opened the door of the White House to Donald Trump. Blue-collar workers, a group of voters that were treated with negligence by Clinton and catered to by Trump, dominate this category. These workers just so happen to live in the former industrial sector of America, now known as the Rust Belt, and this sector just so happens to include the Midwest. It was the key region of the Midwest, particularly the states surrounding the Great Lakes that leaned Democratic in previous elections (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio), that ultimately consolidated the Trump victory.  The enormous victory that Trump had among white blue-collar workers—who typically conglomerate in Midwestern states—and non-college educated voters (who tend to be blue-collar workers) gave him the edge in the three Rust Belt states, thus securing the election in favor of Donald Trump.

In a way, it is the greatest riches-to-more-riches story in history. And he lived it on the backs of the people he would be employing if he never ran for president—given that he wouldn’t have hired undocumented workers like he had done in the past, of course.

By Ryan Hill

Who Will Win the White House?

The conclusion of what will go down as the most absurd election in America is fewer than two weeks away. The year and a half journey leading up to election will end in a week and a half. Some of the students at Lake Howell will have the ability to influence this election, but all will be profoundly affected by it. Silverhawks will enter college, the bridge between basic education and the application of education, under the tenure of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Few of are joyed by that fact, but this article will not be discussing the implications of a candidate’s residency in the White House. This article will be determining which of the candidates will call the White House their home come January.

At this point in the election cycle, all three debates have occurred. Therefore, time most suitable to predict the outcome of the election is now. Presidential forecasts all have one thing in common: Hillary Clinton wins. The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and BBC all have Clinton above Trump in recent national polls. In eight out of the nine most recent polls observed by RealClearPolitics, Clinton leads Trump nationally. The margin of her lead varies from nine points over Trump, to as little as a single point, but she still leads. Fivethirtyeight.com projects Clinton’s currrent chance of winning at 84.5 percent based on the breakdown of state polling. What is most remarkable about this data is that exactly one month ago, when the first presidential debate took place, Clinton had an estimated 54.8 percent chance of winning. After the first debate, and through the second, her chance of winning skyrocketed. This percentage is expected to drop as Election Day approaches, but the message is clear; to the American people, Hillary Clinton won the first debate. She employed a  greater sense of restraint and composure than Trump. Regardless of one’s position on the policies, most can admit Trump has failed to eloquently audition for the presidency. The momentum carried through to the second debate because, once again, Clinton outperformed her opponent (not to mention the video leak depicting a very lewd and very unpresidential Trump). The third debate has not changed either of their standings in the long run, and only the impending arrival of Election Day can coerce a fluctuation in the polls.

A far more interesting, and more reliable, method of discerning who will win this game of votes is by taking into account the Electoral College. 538 electoral votes are up for grabs, and 270 are needed for the victory. Following the pattern set by the national polls, the projections of these votes declare Clinton as the winner. This is expected, considering she has taken a slight lead in the two most important battleground states: Florida and Ohio. But what is truly fascinating about these projections is the way she wins. Based on the most up-to-date polling data per state, both 270towin.com and RealClearPolitics discover that even if she lost every battleground state—including Florida and Ohio—Clinton would still gain enough electoral votes to clench the presidency. She would win by two electoral votes even if Trump could win every battleground state, something that is nearly impossible. Even more incredible is the forecast by fivethirtyeight should states swing to the candidate that they are currently leaning towards; Clinton would win with three hundred and thirty two electoral votes—the exact same number of votes President Obama received. For the first time ever, it seems that the White House will be headed by a matriarch.

By Ryan Hill