Healthcare and the AHCA

I can’t find words to describe the inhumanity of the GOP’s idea of a good healthcare bill. Yes, the vote has been delayed, but that doesn’t mean it’s over. It seems very probable to me that it will pass. And when it does, it’ll cause huge harm to our most vulnerable people.

The Canadian healthcare system is far from perfect, what with it not including universal pharmacare and dental. There are other systems in the world that are better. But compared to the US, its closest neighbour, Canada’s seems like a dream. I grew up there. I know the flaws. I also know that the flaws American politicians claim exist in the Canadian system either don’t or aren’t nearly the problem rhetoric would claim them to be.

The GOP has a lot to say about freedom and individual responsibility and liberty from a tyrannical government that oversteps its bounds, but when it comes down to it, this bill shows us pretty clearly what their values actually are, what they really believe – that life is a privilege that should only be afforded to the wealthy.

The Affordable Care Act was a step towards a greater goal. It was flawed and imperfect, but it was something. We can debate its effectiveness, and we can debate how to improve it, and we can debate whether other systems would be better, but what we shouldn’t debate is whether or not the goal was a worthy one. Health care shouldn’t be up for debate. What conservative value is there to justify this?

By crying socialism whenever someone suggests universal coverage, by claiming that it’s a violation of individual freedoms, the GOP demonstrates that they are more afraid of a word than they are of living in a country where people get sick and die because they cannot afford insurance. If affordable health care is a socialist ideal, then so be it. I’d rather live in a socialist country than one where our leadership is cruel and regressive enough to allow something like this to pass.

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Things About Majoring In Engineering that Always Seemed Like Jokes But Are Actually Painfully True

A repost from my deleted blog, edited with updates.

1. The overwhelming male majority

Yes, I knew going in that electrical engineering is a male dominated major. But there’s a huge difference between knowing something intellectually and being able to comprehend what that means. My intro to electronics class was maybe fifteen percent female. The ratios in my engineering classes since then haven’t gotten better.

2. Forgetting how to write

My sister is four years older than me. She majored in neuroscience during her undergrad, and for years, she’s been making fun of me for wanting to go into engineering and telling me about how all the engineering students she knows have terrible grammar and can’t write anything comprehensible. I always thought that was just a stereotype.

I placed out of the freshman writing and research course, and the writing components of my gen eds up until second semester sophomore year were not remotely strenuous. As such, when I started writing my final paper for my Geography of Globalization class, I realized that I’d begun to lose any writing skills I ever had, a year and a half after starting university. If it’s already gotten this bad, I can only imagine it’s going to get worse when I have even fewer classes involving writing.

3. Feeling like you may have just joined a cult

At my school, the ECE building is pretty much the northernmost building on campus. It’s far away from everything else. It has its own coffee shop and its own store. People are there at all hours of the day and night. Most of my friends are other people in ECE, because for several reasons, despite next semester being the first in which I’ll have more than one actual ECE course at a time, these are the people I end up spending the most time around.

The Great Outdoors

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Michigan should really get more credit than it does for being gorgeous. I took these probably about two miles from my house. This state has a lot of places that make for beautiful runs, and I should really get out and appreciate them more.

History, Hamilton, Music,and Pop Culture

I may not always love taking history classes – there’s a reason I’m in engineering – but reading about history is a lot of fun. When you choose a historical topic you want to know more about, you get to read stories about it that people found interesting or important enough to document. And maybe that’s less significant in recent times, since the advent of recording technology and the Internet – everything is documented – but you’re still reading about events that shaped the world as we know it today.

I went to see Hamilton last Saturday, and I loved it. I’d heard the soundtrack, of course, but that doesn’t compare to actually going and watching it. Something that struck me both when I first listened to the soundtrack and again when I was sitting in the theatre watching the show was that I was legitimately surprised at how much I was enjoying it. I was born in the US, and at this point, in total, I’ve been nearly as long here as I have in Canada, but I spent the formative years of my life in Ontario. I still consider myself Canadian above all else. This is an incredibly American production – not just the subject matter, but the focus on the individual rather than the results.

This kind of topic is something that could very easily come across as dry, not so much because of what it is – I wouldn’t consider that boring at all, because it’s a significant part of how this country got to the point it’s at today – but because of how dense it is. There’s just so much information that condensing it to a two and a half hour musical would be a daunting task. Lin Manuel Miranda did an excellent job doing that, keeping a lot of important information while glossing over details that weren’t directly related to what he was talking about and having an engaging story that didn’t drag at all.

As a musician, I adore soundtracks – whether they’re strictly instrumental or have vocals – and this was incredible to hear. I had heard the recording of the original New York cast before, so I got thrown off a few times by the different voices, especially the woman that played Angelica, but it wasn’t a bad surprise at all, just different. I haven’t gone to many musicals, and this was a wonderful one to go to. The music stood on its own so well that I never once felt like there needed to be something else going on on the stage.

I’m generally wary of people getting historical knowledge from pop culture. I’ve found that it leads to vague knowledge of a topic, but no more.Of course media and works of fiction have a role in piquing a person’s interest in a topic or a person, but it’s important to read. To question the conventional wisdom, to form your own opinions. To listen to what other people have to say, but focus on the facts and the argument, not the mythology.

In this regard, one of my opinions that’s furthest from conventional wisdom is mine of Jimmy Carter. I think that he was and is a very good man whose flaws included micromanagement and being loyal to a fault. I still think he did as good job as could be expected under the circumstances.

Carter took responsibility for failures. He brought back the confidence in the presidency that had been lost with the Vietnam and Korean wars, with Watergate. He had the courage and strength of character to tell people the blunt truth and not what they wanted to hear. And for all the complaints people have about him, it’s undeniable that he was squeaky clean ethically, and in 1976, the US really needed that. Just like how in 2008, it needed Obama’s message of hope and change, in 1976, it needed the peanut farmer and nuclear engineer from Georgia that believed in the goodness of the American people and had no scandals or controversies to speak of.

I only got this opinion from reading, from being fascinated by Carter and wanting to learn more. His presidency was over long before I was born. I don’t remember how long I’ve been interested in him, his presidency, and his post-presidential work, or how that interest was first sparked, but it’s been years now. I read everything, all sorts of articles, even if I have to sometimes have to grit my teeth to get through a piece of rhetoric that I can counter easily, just to know what people are saying. So many people, even if they do their research for current events and politics, accept what’s generally accepted about the past as true.Had I just considered the image of Carter presented in popular culture, I’d be one of the people considering him a complete disaster. I didn’t, so I’m not.

Hamilton is one thing. For all that it’s a positive take on Alexander Hamilton, it doesn’t gloss over his flaws to the same extent as a lot of fiction focusing on a historical figure does. It was also vague enough to pique a person’s interest without giving them misinformation. In most similar works, however, the writer’s biases come through even more clearly, altering the perception viewers or readers have of whatever historical figure is the topic at hand. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, but I do think people should keep that in mind when consuming media.

Food Elitism

I really can’t stand when someone complains about the “Americanization” of food, because so often, that’s used as the sole justification for why it’s not good. Inauthentic is not always synonymous with bad, and Americanization is being used as a blanket term for something as simple as catering food for regional tastes.

I’ve seen it a lot with regards to Italian food. While I personally may find some aspects of the traditional Italian more appealing than I do Italian American, I think it’s important to remember that food in America is very different from food anywhere else, because the restaurants have been built by immigrants. Oftentimes, the food can be classified as authentic – it’s just become something entirely different than what it was originally. Italian American food is now something that has Italian roots, but is distinctly American, and something good. Thick, rich, deeply flavourful tomato sauce that’s been cooked for a long time and smells amazing? That’s not traditional, but it’s delicious. Authenticity isn’t always better. It may not even exist at all – how could it, when today, everyone all over the world has easy access to ingredients and cooking methods that didn’t even exist a hundred years ago?

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Sauce I made a couple months ago
Some of my favourite things to cook are hearty, tomato based pasta sauces. I don’t like chunks of tomato – I really am not a fan of raw tomatoes at all – but I love the taste of them when they’re roasted or slow cooked. So a tomato sauce with garlic, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and a tiny bit of cream? Sign me up.

Something I find strange though is that people tend to complain about the Americanization of European food more than anything else. Tex Mex is pretty universally acknowledged to be its own thing separate from traditional Mexican. A lot of Asian foods are never seen outside of whatever country they come from. In the US, there’s a narrow range of foods from non-European countries that’s considered acceptable and worth eating.

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Spinach and mushroom enchiladas I had in Chicago
Indian food sold in American restaurants is heavy and rich, based on the dishes commonly served in the north of India. It’s not even close to representing the entire range of Indian cuisine, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m Indian. I like traditional Indian food. My mother’s family is Tamilian, and that type of food is something that you can find in Toronto and New York and a few other major cities, but very few places aside from that in North America. I also enjoy the standard fare served in just about every Indian restaurant in the country that no one ever complains about being inauthentic, despite it being so. Would it be nice if more authentic food was available? Sure. But not everything has to be authentic to be tasty.

This fixation on authenticity only in regards to certain cuisines ties into the idea that cuisines such as French and Italian are somehow intrinsically superior to foods from other parts of the world. I’m not a fan of French food. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with French food or that it’s not good, it’s just not to my personal tastes. I like Italian food, I do. But I don’t find Italian better than, say, Thai or Lebanese. I think it’s ludicrous to claim that Italian or French cuisine requires more skill or effort than dishes from other parts of the world, and in fact, it’s demonstrably false. There’s nothing special about authentic Italian that isn’t also true about authentic food of any culture. Food can and should evolve because of new tastes, to use new ingredients, or even from just experimentation and trying something different. It’s both pretentious and ridiculous to never stray from a set of recipes that have been declared authentic just because anything else would be inauthentic. Italian food purists don’t recognize that.

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Pasta I had in Michigan with mushrooms and fava beans
This double standard extends to the cost of food as well. We still view food from non-Western cultures as inherently inferior, as something that, while tasty, isn’t worth a lot of money or time. They’re considered poor countries, meaning that the food should be cheap. I’m thinking about things like small Vietnamese restaurants – no matter how much effort each dish takes, people get upset and call it overpriced if a meal is more than, like, ten dollars, even if it is a large amount of delicious food. These same people don’t bat an eye at paying the same amount for a meal at Panera, despite none of what’s offered there being remotely difficult to prepare at home.

Food is amazing. There’s so much to enjoy about it, no matter where what you’re eating comes from. But it becomes much, much more enjoyable when you let go of the idea of doing it “right”, and instead focus on what tastes good.

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Chocolate chiffon with browned butter and caramel

ABC’s Quantico And Why It Matters

I’ve had my share of issues with Quantico in the past – the constant soap opera drama sometimes overshadowing the plot, lots of plot threads that never went anywhere, unsatisfying conclusions to some subplots, excessive focus on certain characters and relationships at the expense of the story. But despite all of those issues, Quantico still mattered to me.

This is a story where the main character is an Indian American woman that’s a non devout Hindu, and the first season was about her being used as a scapegoat for a domestic terror attack. Because it was easy to frame the brown girl. Alex Parrish is an incredibly important character. She’s smart, she’s tough, she’s beautiful. People are attracted to her throughout the series, but her ethnicity is never fetishized or even brought up in that aspect of the show. She’s a beautiful brown woman. But people aren’t attracted to her because she’s brown or despite it.

I stopped being excited about the season three renewal when I learned that Nimah and Raina won’t be in it, because aside from Alex, the Amin sisters were the other main reason why the show mattered to me. These were two Lebanese immigrants from a Muslim family. They were twins. And as Simon put it, they may look alike, but they were very different people.

This show mattered because their minority characters were never tokens. Nimah and Raina were allowed to be vastly different. Nimah was the more outwardly rebellious one, but Raina was just impulsive and would do whatever she thought was right without wasting time arguing about it with anyone. Raina was religious, Nimah wasn’t. In the first season, Nimah spent most of her time with Alex, Shelby, and Natalie, while Raina was closer to Simon and the other male trainees.

Quantico mattered because despite how often the white characters – Shelby, Caleb, Clay, even Harry, a little – got excessive focus and irrelevant sideplots, the women of colour still got to be characters and not stereotypes or racist caricatures. This was a show about terrorism where the terrorists weren’t the Muslim characters or the brown characters. Where Raina was probably the most moral character on the show while still allowed to be flawed and human and real.

Simon and Raina’s relationship was one of the most poignant ones written in recent shows, and certainly the most important in Quantico itself, despite how little screentime it got as compared to Shelby and Caleb, or Alex and Ryan, or even Alex and Drew. These were two people from different backgrounds, different races, different faiths. But their story never tried to be an “accepting others” Aesop. It was just a story about two people that loved each other, and as such, it was a step towards normalizing interracial relationships in fiction, to getting a romantic relationship featuring a person of colour that’s more than just the token minority couple. There wasn’t drama for the sake of drama. They got to be characters, not cheap storytelling props. They were the characters through which both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict were criticized, but their relationship was never about that.

The representation in the first two seasons was far from flawless. But it was a product of people that tried. It was a result of people wanting to make a show about people, not stereotypes. It clearly came from people that cared about not being racist or subscribing to hurtful cliches. It was unapologetically liberal, and it pointed out clearly, and often through actions and not words, that the statistically most dangerous demographic in the United States is the white male. The writers and the showrunner proved themselves to me in the first season, proved that they were doing their best and that I should be forgiving of missteps because they were trying. It let me be much less wary while watching season two.

am nervous about season three. Two of the main characters are going to be gone. There’ll be a new showrunner. I have no way of knowing whether or not the season while remain true to the spirit of the first two seasons. I’m not asking for perfect – the first two seasons weren’t perfect, but they still good, still clearly trying. So until I see an episode and see that it’s not the show I enjoyed, the one that treated its female minority characters with as much respect as they would any white male one, I’m going to say that Quantico still matters.

Justice League, Anticipation, and Geeking Out A Ridiculous Amount

When Wonder Woman came out, it felt surreal. It didn’t feel like it was actually happening until I was sitting in that theatre. It felt like a movie I’d been waiting for forever that I was in shock I was actually getting to see. Justice League? It’s going to be that feeling times ten.

The movie isn’t coming out until November. That’s five months.  That’s still a long time to wait. But compared to how long I’ve been waiting to see it, it’s no time at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly excited to see Wonder Woman. And I loved it. But that was just Wonder Woman. Justice League is going to have her, Superman, and Batman together again in the same movie, like in Batman v Superman, except there’ll be more, because she’ll be more than an extended cameo, she’ll be a character. It’s going to have Aquaman and the Flash and Cyborg, for the first time ever on the big screen. It’s going to have Mera. The League is going to fight Parademons together.

Thinking about this movie – and the fact that we’re getting another trailer in a month – makes me grin like an idiot. It’s going to come out on the anniversary of the Justice League cartoon first airing. The Justice League is finally going to come together, and we’re going to get to see all of them together. I’m going to be there opening night.

Even aside from the this is so awesome geeking out, it’s going to be so satisfying to watch this movie. It’ll be the epic conclusion to a three part story. We’ll finally get to see the entirety of Zack Snyder’s vision brought to fruition. Wonder Woman was excellent, and Suicide Squad was entertaining, even if it was a bit messy compared to the other entries in the DCEU, but Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Justice League are/will be the core of this universe. Superman is the heart, and he was the catalyst for the formation of the League.

…Can it be November yet?