It’s amazing how this absurd anti-dark skinned mentality is so prevalent across the globe. Whitening creams are huge in China and India, among both girls and guys. It’s an abhorrent practice from the cosmetic company’s part. They take as much advantage possible of these insecurities created by the media, sometime in the most detestable manner. Look at this ridiculous commercial from South Asia where the girl is self conscious of her tan hand!

There are many resources on the Internet that explain this screwy phenomenon. But I’m not in the mood to preach, solve problems or raise concerns. But perhaps inspire? Actually, I just want an excuse to play this song that actually sounds real good. I heard it play on the radio today when I was running to veggie-friendly Baja Fresh during lunch. It’s India Arie featuring Akon, “I am not my hair.” I know you’ll enjoy it.

New_Year

I stopped making tangible new year resolutions only a few years ago. Because I often never fully accomplished these goals I set for myself (or in some cases, I couldn’t even remember them at year’s end).

I didn’t learn to speak Italian in 2005, I didn’t become a nature photographer in 2004, and despite what I used to tell you in tenth grade, I’ve never done ollies past 2 feet.

It was until (truthfully, May of) 2006 when I had a resolution I actually felt strongly about adhering to consciously throughout the year. Probably because it was simple — “put most focus on my career.” Now that wasn’t a slogan I chanted everyday the second I woke up, and every night right before I went to sleep. It was a mindset with which I delegated my everyday life.

And a sense so simple proved to be an extremely powerful force that helped me accomplish titanic achievements I never imagined I would. It’s not my nature to brag, so I won’t reveal them in an explicit manner on this post. But, you know, it’s on my resume.

Then in (this time, in February of) 2007 I had made yet another seemingly vanilla resolution — “take control of my life.”

At this point you’re thinking “no sweat,” right? But believe me, this was a difficult task. Because if you think about it frankly, many outside factors determine aspects of your life. These include obligations (to family, to friends, 9-5 work, television shows), vices (drugs, alcohol, gambling), bad habits (laziness, ignorance, submissive personality), or good habits (jog in the morning, blogging, reading). And if you let these factors go out of hand then you’re essentially a string puppet to them.

Just realizing so changed me as a person. But acting on it to the best of my ability — because we all have obligations and habits — made me most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my skin. I won’t mention personal specifics again, but I must say I’ve never felt freedom like today before.

So what is my simple resolution for 08? I am not sure just yet. I think I’ll figure out for certain in a few weeks. But tentatively, I have two. One is to “be time conscious.” The second is to be like the first subject in this study by psychologist Laura A. King, who I believe has an outlook I’d like to reflect.

Here is how a woman from Dallas described the impact of an early and devastating divorce, in one of Dr. King’s studies:

“I feel fortunate in a backhanded way to have experienced misfortune as a young woman. I feel it taught me humility … and the ability to regroup. … Life is good but not lavish. It’s hard work and we have to give each other a hand once in a while.”

Another woman in the same study, who had scored lower on a measure of complexity, described her life after divorce: “What good is anything without someone to share it with? My current goal is only to make enough money to make my monthly bills without withdrawing money from my savings account.” (NYT)

A Dominican nun, a freelance writer and a principal of a prestigious school founded the International Community School in DeKalb County, Georgia to address the cultural and language barrier that many children of the refugee immigrants faced after arriving there in the late 1990’s.

In the last ten years, thousands of refugee children have come to DeKalb County, bringing not only gifts and talents but also the deep physical and spiritual wounds of war. Today the county is home to the highest percentage of refugees in the southeastern United States. (ICS)

Student population here represents over 40 nation and over 50 languages are spoken in the hallways. But children of refugees only compose half of all pupils. The other half is diverse in a socio-economic manner.

Parents from low-income families tend to choose the school over other nearby public schools because it is safe and has small classes. More affluent parents seek it for the potential benefits of exposure to so many cultures. Most of the middle- and upper-middle-class parents are social progressives from Decatur, a liberal enclave. (NYT)

Understandably, the community school faces expected challenges specific to each refugee student’s experience from the emigrated country.

Two sisters from Afghanistan seemed terrified as they arrived each day. As refugees in Pakistan, the children had worked making carpets. Exhausted, they regularly dozed at school, which drew beatings. The sisters had assumed such beatings were standard at every school.

A Sudanese girl was so traumatized from war and relocation that she insisted on sitting on the floor beneath her desk each day.

Fortunately, the school staff is as diversely represented as the student body. Which helps faculty understand or, in some cases, relate to their students.

Naza Orlovic, a teacher’s assistant from Bosnia, said her experience as a refugee allowed her to recognize and to soothe hurt feelings that frequently arose out of cultural misunderstandings.

“I constantly remind them how lucky we are,” said Hodan Osman, 27, a tutor separated from her parents at age 10 during the civil war in Somalia.

“We could have been killed,” she said, “and not only are we here, but we’re in a place where we’re celebrated. I tell them they can take everything away from you, but your knowledge is in your head, and it makes you brave.”

Presently, there are strong plans to add a middle school to the institution. And a founder desires to open a health clinic for the refugees there.

Maybe not apparent at first glance, but the location of the school is a bit ironic.  The region used to be a Ku Klux Klan haven.

I live in one of the more diverse state in the United States — New Jersey. And the creed of many my acquaintances reflect the same. I won’t lie to you. The conversation on the topic of religion more often than not actually ends on an uncomfortable note. We can’t agree on origin of life, we argue if certain actions are moral or immoral, and, of course, we believe our God(s) is more powerful than the others’.

The funny thing about these disagreements during our talks is that none of us are truly that religious to begin with. We just argue for argument sake — you know, to fill the time gap between downing “Coors Light.”

Regardless, though, of whatever religion we identify ourselves with, we usually don’t squabble about Karma — what goes around comes around. E.g.: do good for others, good things will happen to you, and vice versa.

But such a basic similarity of all beliefs creates doubt in my mind of existence of God (or necessity of religion) when I hear news of model citizens facing acts of violence from complete strangers. According to the rules of Karma, these unselfish individuals’ actions deserves the very opposite of such horrendous outcomes.

Take for example the case of psychologist Susan Barron, who was stabbed multiple times by a deranged man when she was walking her dog.

Screaming at her, the man chopped, hacked and stabbed her head and arms, straddling her after she fell to the street, picking up a new knife when he lost one from the force of his blows.

To those who witnessed it, the violence seemed to be a crime of toxic passion; they could not fathom the truth, that one total stranger had simply and suddenly set upon killing another. (NYT)

Of course, no one deserves this treatment. I wouldn’t want that to be a punishment for the terrible of crimes. But you will agree Barron, of all people, should be regarded as a saint on earth.

She was a fixer — the friend who hunted down a kidney for someone in need of a transplant, mentor to a man starting his own therapy practice, regular volunteer on winter coat drives and at holiday soup kitchens. “That Jimmy Stewart character in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ had nothing on her,” said one friend, a self-described cynic.

A case in the same sense takes place in Fort Qu’Appelle, Canada. Where 61-year-old Christina Cook gets shot at by young men when she attempted to dial 911. Only to witness her husband of 17 years catch the bullet on the face and chest when shielding his wife.

With a calmness that belies the calamity of the night and the enormity of her loss, a woman who would often open her home to troubled young people recalled Thursday how her companion of 17 years took a bullet she figures was destined for her and died while shielding her on the floor.

“I don’t know where my hubby came from, but he took me and he threw me on the floor and put his whole body over me. Next thing I know, he was gone,” Cook said. (CP)

The funny thing is that neither Cook nor Barron become bitter after the incidents.

“I just hope that they can find a solution to stop this gang violence or whatever the violence is that’s causing this because the children are lost,” Cook said.

“They need love and understanding and that’s what I’ve always tried to do with my life – make room for the kids.”(CP)

“Yes, I feel what happened to me is pretty terrible. People can complain about the smallest things, but that is their pain. Hopefully, they will never have something terrible happen to give them context,” Barron said. (NYT)

Lately I’ve watching quite a lot of this special series running on the BBC World Channel called “Happiness Formula.” Coincidentally, The show began around a time I was making a few major modifications in my own personal life, right after realizing what I value most — happiness and close ones.

First I started with getting in touch with all those that have had an impact in my life, throughout my lifetime. I spontaneously e-mailed and phoned a lot of folks from middle school and high school, old family friends, old professors, and family members from the motherland. Almost all of them responded with the same enthusiasm I reached out to them with. We agreed it was unfortunate that we’ve lost touch — which was mostly due to laziness and life getting in the way — but to have spoken to each other again was a genuine delight.

Secondly, I quit my job. And replaced it for a one that pays less, makes me work harder for longer hours, and is a further commute. But all of my new colleagues are so incredibly cooperative and fun to be around, that to be in their presence, it’s truly a pleasure.

Mind you, I don’t have any negative feeling towards my previous coworkers. Rather, some of them have become, what I believe, long term friends. I’m really referring to the complete work environment that existed there. Sure, it paid more. And I was recognized by thousands. But to not have a peace of mind was proving to be detrimental to my well being.

Going back to the BBC special mentioned above. I learned that Bhutan measures its progress based on the country’s gross national happiness, contrary to the traditional measurement — gross domestic product.

While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH claims to be based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. (Wiki)

And the BBC series also mentioned that

Britain is less happy than in the 1950s – despite the fact that we are three times richer. (BBC)

Strange, isn’t it? But it makes sense though. I just wished I realized this perspective a few years earlier. I would’ve not had any gray hair at such a young age.

Regardless, I’m glad I know now to make decisions weighing in what I treasure most: sanity, happiness and the company of good people.

43-year-old Jorge Muñoz’s sister, Luz, says his brother has “got no life.” But what Luz really means by that comment is that Jorge’s life is dedicated to serving others, leaving little time to indulge in for himself.

The people he serves are undocumented immigrants — often homeless and always hungry — who seek jobs on the cold streets in Queens every morning. Folks in whom he likely sees himself only a few years ago reflected in.

Muñoz drives to the same location every night in his white pickup truck at 9:30 p.m. to feed these individuals in desperate states with a warm meal.

“Every single night, Jorge is here,” said one worker, his leathery face peering out from a hooded sweatshirt. “Doesn’t matter. Rain, thunderstorm, lightning. He do that from his good will, you know.

“He feeds everybody, make the stomach happy,” the worker added. “He’s an angel.” (NYT)

Ms. Zapata, Muñoz’s mother with whom he prepares the meal everyday in the small apartment they live in, said that his son displayed this altruistic trait since he was very young. She cites a time when Muñoz was only 7 and a stranger requested the family something to eat.

Ms. Zapata told the visitor they had none. “But Jorge gave him his plate,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Jorge, you have to eat for school.’ And he said, ‘No, I’ll just have bread.’”

Although his devotion to the welfare of others might seem selfish at the superficial, Muñoz claims he gets compensated more than appropriately with gratitude.

“I know these people are waiting for me,” he said. “And I worry about them. You have to see their smile, man. That’s the way I get paid.”

I swear that ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, must be the most unconstitutional federal agency ever created in the United States. They keep getting away with violating basic human rights everyone agrees we’re born with.

What’s worse is that local police assist them in doing so. When was border patrol added to their job description?

The latest of these unlawful violations in today’s Times. I was left with a knot in my stomach after reading the first paragraph.

It was still dark the morning of Sept. 27 when armed federal immigration agents, guided by local police officers, swept into this village on the East End of Long Island. Within hours, as the team rousted sleeping families, 11 men were added to a running government tally of arrests made in Operation Community Shield. (NYT)

The details of this ordeal is most horrifying. The agents arrested

Omar Lopez, 25, a Shelter Island landscaper, who had been asleep with his fiancée and infant son. Valentin Rudy Escobar Montenegro, a Guatemalan carpenter, also was with his wife and baby.

But first a little back ground on this “Operation Community Shields” from the official Web Site.

In February 2005, ICE began Operation Community Shield, a national law enforcement initiative that targets violent transnational street gangs through the use of ICE’s broad law enforcement powers, including the unique and powerful authority to remove (deport) criminal aliens, including illegal aliens and legal permanent resident aliens. (ICE)

“Broad law enforcement power?” Damn. ICE seems to me to be the most connected gang. I mean isn’t their tactics illegal? and the organization itself, too? Where do I go to report them? Then deport them?

“We’re not here stomping all over anybody’s rights,” said Peter J. Smith, the special agent in charge of the Long Island operation. “We’ve got immigration powers.”

Maybe I’m a bit harsh with my criticism. I know they are just doing their job. But wait…

Only one of the 11 men taken away that morning was suspected of a gang affiliation, according to the Southold Town police. The 10 others, while accused of immigration violations, were not gang associates and had no criminal records.

Possibly, the argument half of you reading this will back is that, “well those arrested were still breaking the law. They were here illegally.” Or something close to it. Am I in the ballpark?

Omar Lopez, his fiancée, Yanci, and their son, Kevin, born in May in Greenport. With Marvin still missing, Omar surfaced eight days after the raid in a call from a jail in New Jersey. “I cry here inside prison, just thinking about Yanci and what she’s doing to survive,” he said. “And then I think about my son, and it’s very painful.”I understand what you’re saying. But tell me something. Had they broken any other law, let’s say, dealing couple of kilos of cocaine, wouldn’t the government still need a warrant to enter their home? These folks’ “illegal activity” isn’t the least bit comparable to dealing hard drugs, but they’re treated worse.

If some of you still remain lost for compassion, I understand. I can’t change your mentality if you’re set on your beliefs. But you couldn’t possibly disagree that something is wrong when someone legally can break into a house in the middle of the night and break up families sleeping together.