Issues Brief Idea

This might be the first time that I’ve written an RCL draft post where I’ve felt confident in my assignment topic’s direction. Usually, I end up discussing a few potential ideas in broad strokes, but in this entry, I hope to give a more robust, thorough outline of the arguments in my issues brief.

Topic: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

I’ve always been fascinated by civil rights and social justice/advocacy movements. In 11th grade, I wrote a research paper about Emmett Till and his lynching’s impact on the Civil Rights Movement, and last semester, my paradigm shift paper analyzed the role of social media in addressing police brutality. So after watching 13th in class last week, settling on mandatory minimums seemed to strongly align with my interests.

Paper Purpose/Main Idea – At this point, my paper’s main focus is still up in the air. However, there are two points that I know I want to convey in my brief:

  1. Mandatory minimum sentencing has severely harmed communities of color by fostering distrust between themselves and authority figures, and by stripping them of equal treatment under the law.
  2. Mandatory minimums have exacerbated the current conditions of the prison industrial complex, and must be redacted from U.S. law.


Historical Context – I want to introduce my topic by contextualizing current criminal/prison legislation within the events that have taken place since the 50s, including:

  • Propaganda, Media Efforts of 1950s
  • Nixon’s War of Drugs
  • “Cracking Down on Criminality”

Issues – There are clear ethical, judicial, and political problems with mandatory minimums. Below are some points of emphasis that I would like to discuss in my issue brief:

  • Unethical Ties to Corporate Interests
  • Criminalization of Black Communities
  • Failure to “Fit the Punishment” (mismatch between severity of crime and severity of punishment)

Plans of Action – The issues of mandatory minimum sentencing cannot be solved with one new law or initiative. Rather, it must tackled with a holistic, multi-dimensional policy approach. Here are some of my ideas:

  • Abolishing Mandatory Minimums
  • Reducing Recidivism Through Community Programs
  • Eliminating “Criminal Labor” through Legislation
  • Returning Authority to Judges


This I Believe Draft

Note: This draft is very much a work in progress, so feedback of any kind would be appreciated.

I can still vividly recall my first high school basketball game.

I remember sitting on the bench in front of the bleachers, waiting for the opening tip-off. I remember the bustling footsteps of students and parents entering the gymnasium. I remember how the dusty, traction-less floors felt against the soles of my new sneakers. But, of all the tiny details of that night, there’s one moment that stands out to me.

Amidst the frenzied cries of the crowd, the booming, raucous chants, I heard the fans shout my name.

Well, not exactly.

They were calling me Baljeet – Baljeet, as in the nerdy, unathletic, stereotypically Indian character on Phineas and Ferb.

At the time, I kind of just brushed it off and focused on the game. But after, I had this nagging, lingering feeling of insecurity that I hadn’t really experienced before.

Is this how people saw me?

Stereotypes and labels – like for many people – have been an unescapable reality of my life, particularly in sports. In high school, I frequently faced racially-charged taunting from opposing fans. Even now, when I go play pick-up games at the local rec center, I hear people tell me “hey man, I thought you’d be terrible, but you’re actually pretty good.”

I’ve always hated being categorized, or held to some arbitrary set of expectations from other people. Yeah, I’m a tall, skinny Indian who loves math, but that’s no excuse to ignore the intricacies of my personality. I also love sports, both playing and watching them – shout out Knicks – I love inappropriate jokes, I like hip-hop and rock music, and most importantly, I hate spelling bees. Why couldn’t others take the time to see that?

Yet, the same way basketball opened my eyes to certain prejudices, it also made me realize something about the nature of human perception: no matter how hard I tried, the world was going to have its opinion about me anyway. That year, I continued to encounter jeers from opposing teams and their student sections. And though I initially struggled to adjust, over time, I learned to tune out the outside negativity and focus on what I could do to change those opinions.

There are times where I’ve had to work twice as hard for half the recognition. But the extra work I put in to disprove those who doubted my skills never stopped me from pursuing what I love. Instead, it inspired in me diligence, perseverance, tenacity, and an enterprising spirit.

Scientists say that it takes about 7 seconds for the brain to form a first impression – I’d argue it takes even less. Stereotypes are inherent to the human experience; however, they aren’t permanent. They’re just another barrier, an extra obstacle, that I’ve learned to overcome on my personal journey.


Blogging Info

It’s official y’all (again): blogging season is back, and with the second semester upon us, I thought I’d update y’all, my loyal readership base, with some new blog-related developments.

Passion Blog

I briefly considered switching topics for my passion blog this semester, but after some careful thought, I decided to continue the critically acclaimed “E=mc^Buckets” series. I’m way too passionate about the intersection of sports and statistics to suddenly shift directions, and with the actual NBA season in full swing, I have some new, exciting content in store for readers.

Civic Issues Blog

Minorities and the Police – Social justice and historical trends have always fascinated me. The issue of police brutality is no exception. Last semester, I wrote my paradigm shift paper on the increased documentation police abuse against minorities, and, through my research, I realized the microcosmic nature of police and minority relations. In other words, by understanding the complex nature of the minority and police dynamic – who’s history spans from Nixon’s aggressive policing strategies to the controversial Black Lives Matter movement – we can better analyze “post-racial” America’s fractured infrastructure.

The Education System – School overcrowding. Poor resource division in impoverished, inner-city school districts. The failure of common-core. The de-emphasis of broad-based learning. The U.S. education system is currently facing significant, infrastructural issues that have yet to be addressed in education policy. We all seem to acknowledge the deficiencies, but why haven’t we taken tangible steps to fixing them?

Last, but certainly not least….

This I Believe Ideas

At this point, my ideas for the “This I Believe” podcast are fairly improvised – I’m having some trouble reconciling the need to be honest and insightful without writing an overly dramatic script – so feedback would be great.

(Un-) Safe Spaces – With the increasing awareness of PC culture in America, safe spaces have emerged as places where people can exist without the fear of discrimination, bigotry, or harassment. Yet, despite their honest intent, I believe have safe spaces have also created an environment that suppresses freedom of speech. Don’t get me wrong; I am in no way justifying intolerance or hatred. But I think that safe spaces encourage censorship, which contributes to the loss in creativity, the exchange of ideas, expression, human growth, and ideological progress. I guess in broader strokes, I’m touching upon the importance of the first amendment, but you get the picture.

Preserving the Past – I’m a firm believer of the idea that as humans, we have an obligation to remember the stories of our ancestors and transfer them to future generations. One of the most effective ways to learn is through story-telling, and examining the past is the best way to contextualize the human experience/narrative and identify our species’ mistakes, triumphs, and turning points. As the saying goes, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

TED Talk Outline

Update: I’ve changed my paradigm shift since my last blog entry- I felt that I wasn’t as passionate about my earlier ideas than I am about my current topic – but the overarching structure of my analysis/TED presentation is still the same. As always, feedback and constructive criticism would be dope.

Paradigm Shift: How improvements in technology (particularly with mobile devices and social media networks) have increased awareness social injustice and thus, become catalysts for social and political reform

Disclaimer: The following is a very rough outline of my TED talk. It will cover a few basic sections and preview some of my more nuanced, specific points, though it will not go into further detail than that. Outline is subject to edits and modifications. Viewer discretion advised.


  • Provide historical context – examples of racial injustice and racially charged crimes
  • Mention Rodney King and LA riots; significant example of crime during post Civil Rights era, noticed by whole country
  • Discuss “gap in history between 1992 and 2011 (death of Trayvon Martin)
  • Why does this gap exist?
    • What happened during this period that made us blind to these unfair practices? Why did it resurface?
  • Answer: lack in technology
    • Rodney King’s death received national attention because of protests and riots that followed from his death
    • Other cases, which were just as sadistic, did not receive media attention because there was no significant backlash/violent response
      • People didn’t care so they turned a blind eye

Improvements in Mobile Technology

  • Use of mobile devices has exponentially increased in last 5-7 years
  • 80 percent of internet users own a smartphone
  • In 2011, 35 percent of American adults owned a smartphone; that number has risen to 64 percent in the past few years
  • Similarly, 58% of Adults in the US have a facebook profile and 70 percent of millennials use snapchat (facebook and snapchat are viewed as two of the strongest social media platforms to film and share noteworthy events, including racial crimes)
  • Having these social networks allows citizens to broadcast/publicize new information as well as view other people’s new information (raise awareness of issues)

Note: for the proliferation and documentation sections, I will probably focus specifically on one particular case due to time constraints. If you think this does or doesn’t make sense, please let me know in the comments (I’m unsure on how I want to present these two ideas so feedback would be great here)


  • news regarding police brutality and injustice spreads rapidly on social media
  • phones have become a critical tie to life, particularly in lower socio-economic communities that are smart phone dependent (only access to high-broadband internet connection is through smartphone)
    • Most instances of racial injustices occur in poorer, urbanized communities – phone has become tool to disseminate information and knowledge about acts of injustice
  • Starting in 2011 (approximately), the internet became forum to facilitate discussion of social issues, largely with Trayvon Martin case
    • Again, incited by protests and assemblies against officer who shot Martin, George Zimmerman
    • However, with the backing of social media efforts, case reached a national stage
  • The petition to find justice for Trayvon on received 2.2 million signatures, the most in their history
  • Similarly, when Martin was killed, his name was retweeted 2 million times to raise awareness about his death
  • This series of events started a new movement
    • same practice was applied to other incidents as well, including Michael Brown and Tamir Rice


  • Phones and other mobile electronics have also been employed to videotape acts of injustice or improper police work
  • Earliest incident in recent history is Eric Garner case
  • Local man, Ramsey Orta, filmed Garner as he was choked about by police officers for illegally selling cigarettes
  • His case immediately gained traction in the online world thanks to this tape
    • Very difficult to argue with video evidence (far more difficult than cases of he said/ she said)
    • Seeing video galvanized people to take action and actualize reform
  • There was universal cry to justice on social media
  • People took photos of themselves protesting (in places like Grand Central Station) and formed community to address his wrongful death, as well as others (echo effect)
  • Analytics at Topsy found that Eric Garner hastags were retweeted at a rate of 69,000 posts/per following his death
  • As WSJ states, hastags were “centerpiece of activism” in bringing case to light

Where do we go from here?

  • Legislation is already in place to prevent further crimes of this nature
    • Some police officers wear body cams while on duty to ensure proper enforcement of law
    • Police also have to report all deaths that occurred during arrest
    • Regulations and reforms in racial profiling (end of racial profiling act)
    • In cases of officer involved shootings, special prosecutor must be available to conduct probable cause hearing open to public (police departments must comply with this to receive federal funding)
      • Passed in response to Michael Brown Case, allowed witness who was already discredited by FBI to testify
  • Understanding police-civilian dynamic: there have certainly been cases of racial injustice spurred by improper training/hiring of police officers, though majority of police are good people
  • Criminologists believe cop protocols and law enforcement are at its most professional levels in history (anecdote: my friends’ parents are great cops and great people, it’s unfair to label all cops as unfit for duty)
  • Talk about importance of citizens to realize that, just because police brutality seems to dominate headlines and sphere of information, media coverage is not proportional to reality (it’s kinda boring to talk about good cops who’re just doing their jobs)

Side Note: I chose not to provide images (I don’t have all of them yet, but I do have some) because I want to have a strong “shock factor” during my presentation.

Circle Blog 5

Well, we’ve finally reached the ending of the Circle, and my mind is still swirling from everything that just happened. I honestly never expected that Mae – a character that I low-key thought would be the vigilante hero that collapsed the Circle’s infrastructure from the inside – would end up thwarting a rebellion attempt. It just seems so unnatural that, in the end, the novel had no true protagonist, no sense of closure, no triumph. I mean, how could Eggers let Mae switch teams like that?!

But I digress. For the final installment of my Circle blog series (cue the world’s smallest violin), I’ve decided to discuss the symbolism of the Marianas Trench creatures. With the dawn of the Circle’s completionist movement finally coming to fruition, I thought this scene really helped reinforce some of Eggers’ main ideas, serving as a final warning of the dangers of open surveillance and diminished privacy.

Let’s break this down a little bit.

The Shark, to me, clearly represents the Circle. Both entities are unrestrained and relentless, dominating those who seek to occupy their respective kingdoms. In the tank, the shark ripped the octopus and seahorses to shreds, operating “like a machine going about its work.” (481) Similarly, the Circle is hungry for data, coercing people to participate in its virtual society in its pursuit of absolute transparency. In fact, the Circle is so intent on “complete” indoctrination that it’s willing to eliminate those who oppose its reign, either through incarceration (Congresswoman Williamson) or death (Mercer).

And that characteristic doesn’t even take into account that the shark itself is literally transparent. I’m pretty sure Eggers wasn’t going for subtlety when he crafted this allegory.

Despite these traits, though, what truly allows the shark to function effectively as an icon of the Circle is its ability to convey fear. Ty, who desperately wants to convince Mae of the totalitarian nature of the Circle, uses the destructive tendencies of the shark as a metaphor for the Circle. “Don’t you see that everything that goes into that tank, with that beast, with this beast, will meet the same fate?”

I’m a strong proponent of having public databases of certain types of information, but I could never support a company like the Circle. As I’ve said before, people have an intrinsic right to privacy, and the Circle aims to foolishly strip that right away from its users. Furthermore, monopolizing data control would dramatically threaten the foundation of our democracy. Just think of the ramifications. If the Circle wanted to eliminate a few bits of data from the entire world, it could. If it wanted to control the flow of information about politicians, it could. In the modern age, data is the new currency, and providing an organization with unfettered access to this resource would have catastrophic consequences.

Complete transparency simply cannot exist within society. So much of humanity’s complex structure consists of protected data, freedom of expression, and democracy, all ideals that rely on privacy to fully thrive. If there’s one thing that we take away from the Circle, it should be to always appreciate the value of personal space.

Oh yeah, and watch out for transparent sharks.

Paradigm Shift Essay Ideas

I’ll be honest – I haven’t had as much time as I would’ve like to reflect on and analyze my potential paradigm shift essay topics. I had four midterms over the past week, so the bulk of my free time was spent studying for exams. But y’all knew I wouldn’t flake out altogether and forget about this blog entry.

I don’t know whether my ideas qualify as a “radical change in ideological orientation,” but I think they have contextual merit in the way they’ve fundamentally transformed the we think about things as humans, which is why I’ve decided to include them. Of course, nothing mentioned in this post has been finalized… blah, blah, blah… feedback would be appreciated.

Impact Investing and Socially Conscious Capitalism 

When most people hear the word philanthropy, they think about some wealthy socialite who organizes fancy galas that fundraise millions of dollars. (OK, that’s a slight generalization but you get the picture). Quite frankly, it can be hard for the average American to donate money to charitable organizations, since many people don’t have the fiscal resources to make it viable.

Well, at least that’s how it used to be. Impact investing and socially conscious capitalism have dramatically altered the landscape and structure of charity, making it more feasible – in some cases, even lucrative – to finance institutions that seek to actualize social change.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of this model is that, from an economic perspective, it’s mutually beneficial to both parties involved.  There’s an inherent emotional utility to donating, but now it’s possible to reap tangible rewards just from investing in causes that people care about.

Who knew you could get rich by being a nice guy?

Advanced Statistical Modeling and Big Data Analytics

Y’all couldn’t have possibly thought that I’d forget about the paradigm shift that is the very basis of my passion blog. Advanced metrics have certainly revolutionized the world of sports statistics, but more importantly, they’ve played an instrumental role in big data analysis.

Big Data Analytics is an emerging field that deals with the organization, deconstruction, and evaluation of large sets of information. Using complex algorithms and computational programming, statisticians have developed ways to assess and track underlying patterns within broader data pools.

Just think about the applications. Through these statistical models, scientists have been able to better cure disease, identify population trends, create robust economic plans, and so much more.

Big Data has already changed the way we interpret the world around us, and it represents the future of scientific research.

Comments? Suggestions? Thoughts?

Circle Blog 4

So I went to Penn State’s “A Conversation with Dave Eggers” event last Monday, and something Eggers stressed that really resonated with me was the danger of virtual life – or at the very least, the danger of forming a social dependence on virtual reality. I think that’s an important idea to consider as we transition into a new digital age, and it’s a phenomenon we see manifest itself through Mae’s decision to go transparent.

With 2.1 million followers, Mae is constantly being watched by her fan base.  “[The SeeChange camera] saw everything that Mae saw, and often more… The audio was carefully engineered to focus on her immediate conversations… In essence, any room she was in was scannable by anyone watching.” (310) Her life has turned into a reality TV show broadcasted by the Circle, and as a result, she becomes fully absorbed in maintaining her social media presence.

This shift in Mae’s focus causes her to lose touch with her personal relationships. Her parents are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of “neurotic” messages they’ve received from Mae’s audience, urging her “to cease to contact them unless privately.” (374) And Mercer – who was already “exhausted by the deluge [she] unleashed” (370) – chooses to sever all ties with her. He is no longer able to accept the digital facade with which she interacts with him, instead opting to distance himself. “I can’t be your friend and also part of your experiment.” (369)

Mae’s inability to reconcile her personal life and online persona represents a major turning point in the novel. Home used to be, in some ways, a refuge for Mae; there was a sense of familiarity, a sense of routine, with her family that put her at ease. Yet, after integrating herself with the Circle’s views of transparency, home feels “chaotic” and “wretched,” a change in attitude that further insulates her inside the Circle.

In truth, Mae has become a prisoner to her online self.

It’s hard to see this trend happening in in the real world – mostly because the process by which it develops is so imperceptible to us – but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. Think about the last time you had a conversation with one of your friends. How many times did you check your notifications during that conversation? How many times did you lose track of what your friend was saying? Maybe some of y’all will answer none to both questions – kudos to you if you did, honestly – but I’ll also bet that a good majority of you felt this immediate sense of guilt when you read the above scenario. We’ve become so indulged in superficial gratification, so entrenched in the toxic shackles of online life, that we’ve started to forget about the meaningful connections around us.

That’s not to say that we should abandon social media altogether. Online connections can be a powerful tool to forge relationships and actualize social change. But, amidst the frenzy of digitization, we should not become so over-attached to our online profiles that we erode the very core of our humanity.

Confederates in the Attic

In the New York Times best seller Confederates in the Attic, author Tony Horwitz critically examines the ancestral, cultural, and philosophical ties Southerners have with the Confederacy and how these connections resonate in the South today. A Civil War enthusiast from his childhood, Horowitz’s journey begins when he meets Robert Lee Hodge, a “hardcore Civil War battle reenactor” from Virginia. Hodge invites Horowitz to join him and his men on a night campout one weekend and Horowitz immediately develops a fascination toward the level of commitment the reenactors have to their craft. This leads him to wonder how other areas preserve the memory and history of the Confederacy, and he decides to embark on a historical pursuit across the South to find some answers. Horowitz ventures through ten of the eleven previous secession states, documenting the insights of his southern peers in an amusing and thought provoking manner.

Circle Blog 3

It’s too late. Despite my initial hopes, Mae has become hopelessly ensnared by the superficial chains that bound her to the Circle. She no longer has the ability to differentiate between real and simulated life, and this change has allowed the Circle to further pursue its maniacal and data-driven agenda.

The online presence of the Circle is “predicated, to a large extent, on the input and participation of people” (179) at the company – or, whatever the Circle is at this point. Mae is frequently being told by her supervisors to update her profiles, post to Zing feeds, and like and comment on her coworkers’ latest social media in order to promote an environment of “Passion, Participation, and Transparency” (185) within the Circle. Yet, such a vast amount of online activity has created a false reality for Mae that has intrinsically affected how she functions in her daily life.

Mae develops a constant, almost addictive, urge to stay connected to her social media profile. When she doesn’t upload new content, “she [feels] ashamed” (190) as if it’s her obligation to keep her followers informed about her life. However, in her pursuit to fulfill these “civic” duties, she becomes engrossed in the ways of the Circle and prioritizes those commitments over her personal relationships.

Take Mae’s dinner with Mercer and her parents, for instance. Mae doesn’t even realize that Mercer’s hand-crafted chandelier was a private, personal gesture meant only for her family. Instead, it’s as if she thought that he’d appreciate the online advertisement of his gift more than her genuine gratitude.

As Mercer best explained the situation, “The weird paradox is that you think you’re at the center of things, and that makes your opinions more valuable, but you yourself are becoming less vibrant.” (262)

This transformation in Mae’s personality eventually reach a climax when she – the supposed “protagonist” of the book – agrees to embody the ideals of the Circle and become transparent*. In doing so, she forms an unbreakable, intertwining link between her real and online life, and further pushes for the non-stop documentation of everyone and everything.

In the real world, social media has become a pervasive force in modern society. We are constantly tuning into the latest trends, putting pictures and videos of ourselves online, checking out our favorite celebrity’s new twitter post, viewing our friends’ snapchat stories, etc. In some ways, we’ve become so integrated with this digital community that it influences how we live our lives. It’s even become a crutch; we find it unnerving when we forget our phones, and cannot last more than 10 minutes without randomly scrolling through social media newsfeeds.

Social media is a great tool to connect with others, but we should not rely on it so heavily that we lose sight of the intimate connections we have around us. Our lives are full of rich experiences, relationships, communities, and opportunities – let’s make sure to take advantage of each and every one of them.

*(For the record, this turning point, defined by Mae’s indoctrination as a full-on Circler, is what I thought best thematically held together Book I)

Civic Artifact Essay Ideas

Ok, I’m a little confused about the direction of my essay at this point, so I don’t really have a concrete outline prepared for y’all to read. Thus, I decided to use this blog to post some of my ideas for a paper topic. Also, since I really want to focus on the ideas themselves without getting bogged in the entry’s overarching flow and structure, I’ll be listing each thought separately with a short blurb of how it connects to my speech’s civic artifact.

As always, feedback is highly welcome and encouraged.

Confederate Battle Reenactments


Southerners take their battle reenactments very seriously.

Though they range in level of membership, legitimate reenactors normally convene every weekend and can each spend up to a fourth of their annual income on these gatherings (and I thought I spent a lot of money on sneakers). They also go to extreme measures to simulate war time conditions for the Confederate soldiers, including starving themselves and employing unconventional hygienic practices (i.e., not showering for days).

To most of us, this practice sounds like a waste of time at best, and a health issue at worst. Yet, there’s perhaps no better way to honor the  livelihood and hardships of Confederate soldiers than by actually modeling their lives after them. As Robert Lee Hodge, a famous participant within the reenactment community, puts it, “When you get into the grim details of war, you realize you’ve lived a soft life. I think we all have guilt about that.”

Confederate Flag atop SC Capitol Building

I’m definitely leaning more towards this one because honestly, what lends more credence to the Confederate flag as a civic artifact than an actual Confederate flag?

In all seriousness, what I really like about this particular flag is that it has an intricate, multi-dimensional narrative behind it. Initially, South Carolina legislation voted to hang the flag atop the Capitol building to protest desegregation in the South. However, the flag was eventually enshrined as a Southern relic in 2000 before it’s removal from the government property 15 years later.

I’ll be the first to admit that, to me, the flag is mostly a symbol of slavery and the systematic oppression of Blacks during both the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. But I’ll also admit that the flag’s meaning cannot be encapsulated by such a black-and-white perception; it requires a detailed historical lens to truly capture and rhetorically analyze what this specific flag has meant for South Carolinians, and the rest of the US.

What do y’all think?