Help From the Heart

[help]The first week back to school after winter vacation is always one of the hardest. Waking up early, sitting through class after class, and standing in endless lines at the book store are only a few of the hassles the average MSU student must face. So, it’s no surprise that at the end of the week many seek to alleviate their stress by checking out some of the first house parties of the new semester. For most this tends to be a carefree experience, a time to simply unwind. But as several students ascended the stairs of a particular house on Elizabeth St. in East Lansing Thursday night, they were jolted back to reality with a sign on the door reading “Tsunami Relief Party: Drinks Are Free But Please Make A Donation Inside”.
In the aftermath of the devastating tsunami that ravaged South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia and has thus far claimed over 150,000 lives, a global relief effort has swung into full force. Yet, while international media highlights celebrities who’ve made enormous personal donations and countries that have sent ambassadors overseas; local East Lansing businesses, organizations and even individual students are also doing their part by fundraising and creating awareness for the tragedy any way they can.
Student organizations at MSU, especially those focused on Asian and Asian American students, helped initiate some of the first fundraising efforts in the East Lansing and MSU community. Beginning Monday Jan. 10, representatives from organizations affiliated with the countries affected by the tsunami set up tables at the International Center on MSU’s campus to collect money for the relief effort. Archie Soelaeman, president of the Indonesian Student Organization, said the various student organizations worked together to raise as much money as possible and encouraged other students and faculty to be aware of all the lives affected by the disaster.
“People were very supportive,” Soelaeman said. “Not only were they donating money but many even asked for information and contact numbers so they could help in any way we needed them. One professor even asked for a stack of fliers we had at the tables so that she could pass them out to her class.”
Together with the Indian, Thai and Sri Lankan student organizations, Soelaeman said the Indonesian student group has continued to work on several other fundraising projects. Some are predicted to begin in February, although nothing is finalized yet.
With encouragement from Asian American sorority Alpha Kappa Delta Phi, five local East Lansing businesses also agreed to help raise money by donating a portion of their sales last Thursday night to the relief.
David Lin, owner of Bubble Island on Grand River Ave. said that the group asked them to donate either 5 or 10 percent of their sales between 5 and 8 p.m. last Thursday, but because business is usually slow during that time, Bubble Island instead made a donation of $75, much more than would have arose from sales.
“This has been such a tragedy that has affected so many people,” Lin said. “We’re willing to help however we can.”
Other East Lansing area businesses are taking the initiative and asking customers to directly contribute to relief charities. MSU Federal Credit Union on Grand River Ave. has set out a giant plastic jar for donations that will be sent to the American Red Cross. The Great Harvest Bread Company on W. Saginaw Highway in Lansing also displayed a “tsunami victim” donation jar last week.
Community based organizations as well as individual Lansing area citizens have opened their hearts along with their wallets in weeks following the December 26 tsunami.
Members of the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing donated over $10,000 in aid in one night after 400 to 500 people attending a service Friday heard an announcement. And while “Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope”, a national telethon organized in part by actor George Clooney, aired across America last Thursday, Lansing-based WILX-TV helped organize a local telethon a week prior that raised $250,000 in three hours.
The outpouring of local support in recent weeks shows that Lansing, East Lansing and MSU area citizens and students recognize the tsunami disaster as a cause that cannot be ignored. When MSU student Clare Battersby decided along with her neighbor’s suggestion to throw the tsunami relief party she reminded us that the reality of this natural disaster is not something we can simply distance ourselves from with a night out.
“It’s weird to think that we can be out partying when there is this horrible tragedy going on,” Battersby said. “We wanted to do this because even though we can go on with our day-to-day lives we need to remember how many people have had theirs destroyed.”

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Give Thanks to Genocide?

The curtain opens and a stage decorated with brightly colored leaves and a long dinner table command the audience’s attention. Five children walk onto the stage dressed as pilgrims in long brown dresses and overalls, with hats and bonnets firmly secured to their heads. Simultaneously, five “Indian” children enter the stage from the opposite side, dressed head- to-toe in tan fringed clothing, complete with intricate beading, elaborate feather headdresses and moccasins. The pilgrim leader and Indian chief smile, shake hands, and invite everyone to a feast of corn, squash and what appears to be a genetically mutated 50 lb. turkey.[turkey]
It is an all too familiar scene in Americana, the first grader’s Thanksgiving Day play. Of course the 6-year-olds dressed in detailed historical clothing look adorable, but aren’t they grossly misrepresenting the real story behind Thanksgiving? Wouldn’t it be more accurate if the pilgrim children raped, tortured and murdered the Indian children, stole their land and food, burned their villages and drove them off to uninhabitable lands? Then, blood stained faces and all, sat down to rejoice in their “triumph” over religious persecution from England?
While it is not recommended that first graders take part in such a heinous and gruesome rendition of the holiday, it is important to realize the true history behind the yearly turkey and pumpkin pie feast. So how about a little history lesson?
Even before the Pilgrims celebrated their first winter without starvation in 1621 at Plymouth Colony, Native Americans held harvest rituals like the Green Corn Dance performed by Cherokees. Then in 1623 Dutch colonists brought the religious aspect to Thanksgiving, unlike the Pilgrims that resisted public religious display. In 1637, European colonists attacked and burned a Pequot village near what is now Mystic, Connecticut. In celebration of the estimated 600 killed, the governor of Massachusetts declared a “day of thanksgiving” to honor the “victory” over the Pequot.
A cherished national holiday based on murder? Kind of takes the taste right out of grandma’s cranberry sauce, doesn’t it?
Finally, after the American Revolution, George Washington declared November 26, 1789 as the holiday. Then after the Union victory, Abraham Lincoln revived Thanksgiving in 1863 after intense urgings from Sarah J. Gale, the editor of Ladies Magazine. Today the turkey we eat represents the four wild turkeys the Pilgrims had in the original 1621 feast.
Many Americans, however, fail to recognize the deeper meaning behind the first Thanksgiving: the beginning of the systematic white man’s genocide of nearly 15 million Native Americans.
“The word ‘Thanksgiving’ makes me think about spending time with my family and eating a great dinner,” said Michael Block, a journalism junior. “A little thought may pop into my head about what I learned in high school about what happened to the Native Americans, but I mostly try to focus on the positive holiday spirit and being grateful for my blessings.”
As Americans we are blessed. We live in the most advanced, wealthy nation in the world. Many have access to highly sophisticated technology, medicine and resources that many people throughout the world have never heard of.
But at what (or whose) cost have we acquired such things over the years?
At the onset of European immigration to North America in the late 15th century, the indigenous population was estimated at around 15 million. By 1890, that number had dropped to less than 250,000.
Not only did Europeans bring positive hopes for building a “free” nation with them on the Mayflower but also rampant disease such as smallpox and an ideology to rid the land of “inferior” and “immoral” races, beginning with Native Americans. The spreading of disease, relocation to destitute regions, and outright murder of Native Americans was not only acknowledged but also encouraged by the early settlers.
However it is ignorance, not necessarily denial, which may be the reason Americans have failed to acknowledge this horrific part of history.
“I’m sorry to say that most people know almost nothing about the history of indigenous peoples,” said Professor Philip Bellfy, an MSU professor of Native American history.
“Most Americans, especially, have little understanding of the genocide and dispossession in this hemisphere, and even less about the fact that this pattern has been repeated around the world.”
Instead of celebrating this day, many Native Americans fast on Thanksgiving, to recognize and offer solemn remembrance for what has happened to their people over the past 400 years.
While the massacres have stopped, the small Native American population in America is still rife with suffering. Life expectancy on American Indian reservations is estimated at 50 years, and nearly three-fourths of the adult population suffers from alcohol or drug addiction.
Thanksgiving should be a time for giving thanks and spending time with your family. But on the same token, it should also not be time to turn a blind eye to widespread Native American suffering since the onset of “white manifest destiny.” It’s not likely that Americans will put down their mashed potatoes and pecan pie any time soon, and children should certainly not act out the murder of their ancestors, but it is important to realize the disturbing history behind our national “day of thanks.”

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A Drunken Nation

Sitting atop a high bar stool at a local smoky pub you overhear the people sitting next to you discussing the latest military strike in Iraq, and as the bartender plops down a rich, dark amber colored beer with a 4 inch frothy head, you realize that you’re not the only one who can easily spot your typical American style. You begin to wonder, why isn’t loud pop music drowning out the conversations? Where are all the girls (if you’re not one of them already) with heavy dark eye makeup, halter-tops and micro mini skirts? And how come this beer is so dark that I can’t see through the glass? Can somebody please get me a Bud Light and a shot of Jack immediately?
When comparing the drinking culture of America to those of other Westernized countries such as Australia and most of Western Europe, it’s easy to see how lost an American; who’s used to keg stands, beer pong and body shots, might feel in a more laid back, social-drinking atmosphere.
“When you go out to the bar here [in the U.S.] most people dress and act like they’re either trying to hook-up, or at least get some drunken attention,” said Maggie Andrews, an international relations and German junior. While studying abroad last summer in Germany, Maggie noticed many differences in their drinking habits right away. “It wasn’t unusual to see people at a bar or pub in the middle of the afternoon having a couple drinks, and when we did go out at night the atmosphere was still just as casual as it had been at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.”
[beer] Words like “casual” and “social” are often used to define the drinking culture of other Westernized countries because of the way drinking has been socialized into their daily lives. For instance, meeting friends for one or two pints after work is a normal depiction of drinking in countries like England, while going to the bar to get “wasted” is more characteristic of American culture. While it is not uncommon to see men and women in business suits in European bars, you will rarely find boys with upturned collared polo shirts, or girls in thigh-high pointy black boots.
Excluding Great Britain and Australia, other Westernized countries, mostly European, rarely enforce drinking restrictions on teenagers and sometimes even children. In France, wine is commonly served with lunch and dinner to children as young as 6, and even offered in most schools. This could be one reason for differing attitudes about alcohol among Americans and other Western nations. Another possible reason has to do with the drinking age.
Since drinking laws in the United States say that anyone under 21 consuming, purchasing or in possession of alcohol is committing a crime, underage drinking is often associated with “taboo” or rebellious behavior. If kids are able to get their hands on alcohol then you better believe they aren’t going to pour themselves one or two leisurely drinks. The habit of drinking to “get drunk” often overlaps as American teenagers grow up and can legally drink in bars and clubs.
This stereotype tends to follow Americans as they travel outside of the country. Heather Grabowski, a marketing and supply chain management junior who is currently studying abroad in Australia, said she has been confronted with the stereotypes on several occasions. “Americans are perceived as loud, obnoxious and blunt…especially when we’re drinking”, she said. “Even though drinking is a huge part of Aussie culture, they still think Americans are the ones who party really hard.”
Americans aren’t faced only with this perception outside of the country, but foreigners visiting the United States also notice the reinforcement of the stereotypes. The behavior of (often underage) people drinking in the United States can also become dangerous.
“When you ban something or restrict its distribution you drive it underground,” said Gareth Clayton a 22-year old international student from England. Drinking is a part of the college experience but because nearly all university students are over the age of 18 (the legal age for drinking in the United Kingdom). In England kids aren’t getting arrested for underage drinking or feeling the need to binge drink, he said.
Drinking and driving is another issue he’s noticed since attending the University of Arizona. Instead of walking from bar to bar downtown, underage drinkers often drive from a house party on one side of campus to another on the opposite side, because the spread out nature of campus makes walking undesirable.
“Underage drinking has been driven into a very dark corner in the U.S.,” Clayton said. “Much of that can be attributed to the way drinking has been socialized into American culture.”
Of course there are plenty of people in Europe and Australia who go out drinking for the purpose of getting drunk, drive under the influence of alcohol and even get “loud and obnoxious” in bars. Stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. Even though the majority of a population is viewed under the “typical” behavior of their society doesn’t mean that many people don’t still choose to deviate from the norm. Who knows, maybe someday the stereotype of drinking culture in America will settle down and become more “laid back?” But for now throw on your mini skirt, pop your collar, and start double fisting those 40s because the “party-hard” atmosphere doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

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Bedridden in London

[bones]Imagine being overseas on a trip that you have been looking forward to for almost a year. In the midst of sightseeing, shopping and going out to clubs and bars, you realize that these experiences will shape how you view the world for the rest of your life, and the last thing on your mind is something ruining your trip.
That’s when it hits you: a 102 degree fever, chronic fatigue and aching muscles. Or, at least, that’s when it hit me. This past summer, on a study abroad trip in London, I got mononucleosis. [bed]
It did not take long to figure out that something was seriously wrong. I thought that the illness would keep me bedridden for a few days, but I never imagined that I’d end up in an emergency room and eventually admitted to a hospital that practiced socialized medicine: a form of healthcare completely foreign to the U.S.
Since I’ve grown up with chronic health problems and have been hospitalized for weeks at a time, I am very familiar with hospitals in the United States. I know exactly what to expect when I’m admitted for intravenous antibiotic treatments: a clean, relatively comfortable atmosphere where I can watch TV, talk on the phone and eat three relatively digestible meals a day. This was not the case at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, the hospital that has been described as the best in the United Kingdom.
For five days, I waited in the admitting ward for emergency room patients, but the standard of treatment still seemed sub-par to say the least. There were about 60 people staying on my ward and one bathroom (with one toilet and one bathtub) for the entire floor. I was luckily put into a sleeping room with one other person; however, about 16 people had a bed in a general area outside of the semi-private rooms.
The bed was a standard cot-like mattress with a metal grate at the top that could be adjusted for a head rest. There was a TV for every patient, but in order to watch one hour of programming, you had to buy cards worth 2 pounds, the equivalent of roughly four U.S. dollars. The phone was equally expensive: one minute of overseas calling cost one pound and 80 pence. Thankfully, the girls on my study abroad program came to visit me and brought me magazines, cards and candy, or else I would have been bored out of my mind.
This atmosphere is one of the consequences of socialized medicine– publicly funded healthcare provided in countries such as Canada, England and much of Western Europe. In socialized systems, the federal government subsidizes a portion of the costs, while taxpayers supplement the rest. The citizens of the country then receive free doctor’s visits, hospitalizations and medications while in the hospital.
The United States, on the other hand, operates on a privatized health care system. Each individual must pay a monthly premium to privately owned insurance companies in order to receive coverage when health problems arise. People without insurance are responsible for all costs incurred during routine doctor’s visits or medical emergencies. The U.S. does provide some aid for poor and older citizens in the form of programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, though both programs are criticized for not providing sufficient coverage.
Although health care in the United States comes under scrutiny for not ensuring all citizens are provided for medically, the best hospitals and doctors indisputably also reside and practice here. Since socialized medical systems are publicly funded, it is important to keep costs at an absolute minimum, which often means settling for doctors who are willing to work for lower wages and hospitals that are not equipped with the most modern services.
“Socialized medicine is great if you’re not sick or if you have a self-limited illness destined to get better by itself,” said Dr. Robert Stern, a pediatric pulmonologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, one of the university hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. “If you have a real illness, where sophisticated treatment makes a difference, socialized medicine is a problem. There are often very long waits to see a doctor. Without a profit motive the doctor is less inclined to work hard.”
Socialized medical systems do, however, have their benefits for citizens who need it. For instance, while I was in the hospital in London, I shared a bedroom with a woman in her late 60s who had to be perpetually treated for diabetes. She told me that without the free medical care, she would never be able to afford the monthly hospitalizations required to keep her healthy. In fact, these systems even cover medical costs for non-citizens while treated in the emergency room. I was told by hospital administrators, when I was extremely worried about paying for the 1,000 pound fee per night, that if the international insurance I had gotten before the trip didn’t cover the costs, I would not be held responsible for covering them.
Carol Bontekoe, a political science junior at MSU, had a similar experience with foreign health care while in Uganda last summer. After an infection in her foot made it nearly impossible to walk, she went to “The Surgery” (a British phrase meaning “hospital”) to have it treated. The nurses put honey on the infection and wrapped it in gauze, a treatment which actually cleared up the infection.
“The staff was very lovely, though maybe not as educated as American doctors,” Bontekoe said. “I saw people dying of AIDS and malaria who would have killed for the kind of attention I got there.”
Though socialized systems receive criticism, it is important to recognize both its benefits and downfalls, since American health care is slowly moving towards more and more government intervention. If you get sick in a foreign country, the best thing to do is seek immediate treatment and not put off what could be a serious illness. By knowing what to expect, you will hopefully be more comfortable and better prepared to ask the questions that will affect the health care you receive.

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