Benjamin Atwater's Posts (43)

When I was in seventh grade, my sister had just gotten back from her first Birthright Trip (Birthright being the trip meant for Jewish adolescents to experience the State of Israel).  I thought it was the coolest thing in the world she got to go, as I had always heard about the historical significance of the country both in ancient and modern times, having been exposed to it from movies and shows like Ben-Hur  and Lawrence of Arabia.  As one does when going to a foreign country, she brought me back a shirt, with the Israel Defense Force logos.  These are common gifts to get people.  Being seventh grade, where gym was mandated and we had to change clothes, it so happened one week my gym shirt I brought in was that very shirt. Now, at the same time, we had a new student who had just immigrated from the West Bank named Mohammed. Even at that age I had a fascination of other cultures, and though his English was limited, I always took the chance to talk about life in Israel and built a friendly camaraderie with Mohammed.  

Now, once I put on the IDF shirt for gym that week, the gym teacher pulled me aside and said that I would have to bring in another shirt for the next day as he was worried that the IDF shirt might offend Mohammed, who never indicated anything to that effect.  I understand the teacher’s logic, as he was merely thinking of the clash between the IDF and the Palestinian terrorists. Yet I will never forget how I was told by a school teacher representing an institution that I had to take off a shirt my sister bought me from Israel, completely harmless.  I have always been a proponent of freedom of expression, and to me wearing a shirt of my choosing that has no offensive meaning or incites violence or hate is freedom of expression, similar to people wearing US military shirts or Italian soccer jerseys.  The issue was resolved when I brought it up to the school counselor who came to the conclusion that I did have a right to wear what I wanted so long as nothing was blatantly offensive but to be “sensitive” to Mohammed, with whom I already had a deeper camaraderie with then most other students. Now, I do not wish to write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the protection of the First Amendment in schools.  No, I am writing about the liberalization of contemporary American campus life and the silencing of the right.

Alot changed with the 2016 election.  Trump’s angle to be as politically incorrect as possible upset many of the vocal left slanting apologists, with 60% voting for Clinton compared to the 37% who voted for Trump. Admittedly, Trump’s tactic of bringing working man concerns to the forefront in plain speak was successful, as he appealed to their needs in a way traditional career politicians could not.  That aside, no one expected Trump’s victory, yet apparently his plain speak strategy worked and he won the election.  With the argument of the electoral college being different from the popular vote, the electoral college has been functioning for over two hundred years, and was actually endorsed by Alexander Hamilton (whose bio-musical’s cast booed the vice president when he attended). Yet what happened after Trump won was the start, or rather escalation,  of the silencing of the right. Inauguration day saw the streets of DC lined with protesters like never before. While every president is going to have protests against them, senseless vandalism and destruction of private property, such as that Star Bucks window we’ve all seen on TV, sounded out a call across the nation to start protesting the president. Yet let us consider the microclimate of the University of New Haven, as to write about the entire country’s reaction could take several books worth.  

After either the election or inauguration (I can’t recall which), the Charger Bulletin, UNH’s official newspaper, published a special edition on the reactions, with the main cover of a campus news source  being a girl in tears at the results of the election.  While both sides should be represented in a newspaper, that seems to skew the initial perception one has if it is clearly a negative lighted image of the implications of our new president. However, the silencing the right goes far beyond the general campus population’s lack of representation on campus. To me, being a libertarian leaning conservative, I view government programs as being funded by the entire population who pays taxes, myself included. As I pay into the system, I believe I should be able to get just as much out of it as everyone else, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation. Private institutions can do whatever they please, but it seems unfair that my Puerto Rican friend Thomas who has sinced transferred schools got a higher financial aid package then me just on the basis of his Latino heritage, and Thomas’ family is far better off then me. Yet that aside, it seems that those who don’t feel the need to be apologists for what some consider “underprivileged” groups are being marginalized at UNH, going straight up to the administration. President Kaplan has many times sent out campus wide emails challenging the Trump administration and blatantly putting it plainly that he has a certain agenda. After the executive order that put in place a temporary vetting process from seven foreign countries that many mistakenly called a Muslim bam,  President Kaplan addressed the whole campus expressing sympathies which is fine, and also mentioned “You may remember that in November I joined more than 600 college and university presidents from across the country in signing an open letter urging the preservation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Federal law which allows undocumented children to be educated in U.S. schools through college”.

Now, paying an arm and a leg of funds I do not have to receive my education here is worth it to me as getting a college degree will clearly be beneficial.  Yet including this clause in a mostly unrelated email expressed that the highest position of faculty at UNH was supporting and endorsing a leftist agenda at a campus that he many times refers to as “open and diverse for all”.  On the topic of diversity, in 2016 the University established the Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Doing so culminated in the removal of a dining option on campus, of which there have been several student polls expressing that there are not enough choices given the ever growing campus size. Anyways, one of the first programs sponsored by the Myatt Center was funding World Hijab Day at UNH. The World Hijab Day movement has been criticized by prominent Muslim activist Asra Nomani and Maajid Nawaz as contrary to the representation of Muslims in Western culture, as the idea behind it is flawed in promoting the idea that all Muslims must conform to strict observance in wearing hijabs when the majority of Muslim women do not, as there is varying levels of observance as in any religion., as well as “spreading the idea of political Islam (rather than keeping it a personal choice as religion should be in a free society).   The Myatt Center sponsored World Hijab Day at UNH by paying for hijabs for any student to come and receive. Upset that the money my $700 student fee was going to a politically skewed event, I reached out to the director Juan Hernandez. Below is the email I wrote him:

Good Afternoon Juan,

I hope this email finds you well.  I am reaching out as I am concerned over the Myatt Center's support for World Hijab Day.  From my understanding, the Center is funding the purchase of several scarfs for students to wear in support of Muslim students who might face bigotry on campus.  With no metric or Clery act reported of acts of exclusion and bigotry towards my Muslim peers at UNH, one must wonder what is the purpose of endorsing an initiative that seems to have a very left slanted agenda behind it.

With the mission to promote inclusion and diversity, I fully understand making our Muslim friends at UNH feel welcomed. Yet I have not seen programming to educate the UNH population about other faiths, such as Hinduism, Christianity, and Judaism.  Why has the Center not sponsored programming around Yarmulke Day? I am just concerned that programs like these are reactive to certain vocal groups of students with particular views on politics rather than being proactive to include and educate all through diverse programming.

With very expensive tuition at UNH, institutions like the Myatt Center cost a lot of money to build and run, as I am sure you are aware.  As we have no choice in where our tuition goes regarding programs outside of academics, it is deeply concerning to see funds being allocated to a Center that, at least from my perspective, has had programming focused on particular groups rather than all.

 

Juan responded explaining that the center was in its infancy and they were indeed making efforts to have future programming for other populations on campus, which is great. I was happy that he answered my concerns. However, the next week during my meeting with my supervisor from the Office of Residential Life, he mentioned that the office was notified of my email and that while I was not breaking any rules it was considered inflammatory and to just be careful of tone in future. I still fail to see what was unreasonable or out of line about a paying student bringing up a concern to a University employee about a program that might not be perfect, as Juan concluded his email “Don’t hesitate to continue reaching out and I look forward to continuing this conversation.” I soon came to learn that my email conversation had been reported to the dean of the CJ school (of which I am not in or have any affiliation with), and it had been passed along to many of the faculty. Again, I did not get in any trouble for raising amy concerns of allocation of my funds, but I do not understand why a concerned, non-contentious email was brought to the forefront of upper faculty when they have an entire university to run. In “continuing the conversation”, I asked Juan through email why my actions were made aware to the administration. Three months later and still no response. So with no response, it seems that this action was an attempt to silence me in expressing my own views by “scaring” me about doing this again by reporting this to my places of employment, one of which viewed it as a negative. Perhaps it is that one can interpret that I am going against the establishment, yet I have been a part of programming for the establishment in many positions. Furthermore, does President Kaplan not go against the larger national establishment in emails to the entire school where he condemns the vetting process that is a federal executive order, or very openly opposes the federal government’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord? We are a school that receives federal funding and enforce federal law, and it seems that many times President Kaplan has made his views against the current administration plain through emails to the entire student body, many of whom support the administration. I only bring this up again now as in the past few days, I have been subject to ridicule by many fellow UNH students I thought were my friends.

Being an Eagle Scout, I attended the 2010 Jamboree, an event that brings together hundreds of thousands of Boy Scouts in one of the biggest gatherings of youth leaders in the country. The Jamboree happens once every four years, and it is customary for the POTUS to make an appearance. This appearance means the world to Scouts, who are reaffirmed by the President that the hard work, service, and leadership that go into scouting are worth it as scouting has certainly proved to yield better leaders of tomorrow, despite the organization's institutional flaws. President Obama was announced to come until the day of the Jamboree mega-event, he cancelled the appearance to appear on The View, which he had been on a few months prior.  This large, seldom occurring event where national values and service could have been commended by the POTUS was clearly not as important to President Obama as joking about living with Michelle and daughters in the White House with Whoopi, which could have been easily rescheduled unlike the Jamboree. When his pre recorded address came on, boos resounded across the thousands of scouts present, who had all been shown by the Head of State that fame and press coverage is more important than inspiring and reaffirming leaders who put countless hours into serving the nation. Now, the Jamboree is occurring once again this year, right now as a matter of fact. Still remembering the disappointment at being teased with seeing the POTUS and then cancelled on last minute for a non-crucial event, I shared Trump’s live feed of his Jamboree address with the following comment:

At least President Trump came to Jamboree...I recall the 2010 Jamboree when Obama was planned to come and speak to the hundreds of thousands of scouts yet cancelled last minute to appear on The View ...just shows how priorities are different for President Trump who knows the value scouting brings to the nation's future”.

 

Now, to me this post does not mention a blatant support of Trump yet rather showcases that at least a President chose to honor a national tradition of Jamboree appearances.  Personally I think his speech was less than inspiring, yet as Woody Allen said, “80% of life is showing up”. While his speech indeed politicized a scouting event, any politician would have and has done the same at the Jamboree. Thousands of young leaders can say they got to see their president live in person, which only a handful of Americans can say. Yet based off that post, here are some of the comments I received:

Not showing up is much better than what Trump did. Why do you feel the need to justify his actions with a harmless choice Obama made? The two men are not the same and comparing them is just ignorant.”

 

“You aren't worth the argument. I've already unfriended you because I'm tired of you speaking as if your opinion is fact. The point is, people shouldn't be attacked for having opposing opinions. Lately, this is all I have seen from you. I'm sorry you don't see it, but I'm not going to waste my time proving it to you.”

 

These comments are from someone who used to be a close friend who I would go to movies with or get food.  The fact that I had a different opinion or supported one of the many things the POTUS has done for an organization I put a lot of time into upset me at first. But in thinking about it, there has been a trend for my whole life of having to walk on eggshells to be careful to not offend anyone, and yes anyone.  It is to the point of inconvenience, and while it seems institutions I am in aim to quiet me in expressing the idea that everyone should be equal with no advantages, and people should be able to do and express whatever they want within reason, is sickening to me.  So, moving forward in the era of the silencing of the right, I would behoove anyone, including what culture calls “snowflakes” to continue expressing their views.  

 

No one is going to stop me from wearing an IDF shirt while SJP’s around the nation incite hate and violence rather than liberating an oppressed people from extremist regimes that do not value the lives of its citizens.

 

No one is going to stop me bringing up concerns about allocation of MY tuition while I am paying through taxes for programs that in no way could possibly benefit me, such as DACA (this falls in line with the idea of taxation is theft).

 

No one is going to stop me expressing appreciation to MY president for supporting an organization that has served the country for over a hundred years while it is completely socially acceptable to call the democratically elected leader of our country some of the worst insults in humanity.

Of course Trump is not perfect, as no president is. And of course everyone should be treated equally. Yet in this bubble of the liberal Northeast, it is very easy to feel outspoken as a right leaning educated cisgender White male. As both my Facebook post about the Jamboree as well as my earlier review of Dunkirk (which should be right below this) seems to have cost me friendships, I do not doubt that this editorial will as well.  Yet if I have to worry about preserving friendships through questioning expressing my views while it is the norm to object actions of the president and support giving my tax dollars so illegal immigrants can stay here on my dollar, then I have no interest in preserving such friendships. Let us keep on debating using facts and not subjective, cleverly edited Buzzfeed videos or Occupy Democrats logic. Keep on clashing as debate makes a healthy society when everyone, including the right, can speak their mind openly and freely. Let the floodgates open.     

 

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Dunkirk: Nolan's Big Summer Dissappointment

Christopher Nolan has been hailed by many as one of this generation’s best film makers. Now, that narrative certainly has it merits. The Dark Knight trilogy made the common film community take superhero movies seriously. Inception too was a truly unique take on sci-fi that has not been seen before, which was topped with Interstellar in 2014, an epic large-scale space adventure that while still divisive, gets better each time upon repeat viewings. Nolan clearly has stories he wants to tell. However, there are certain tropes he employs in his films that are quite frustrating to the viewer, and these tropes and faults come to a culmination in his latest film, Dunkirk.

Nolan’s first World War II movie is about the true story of the evacuation of British troops from Nazi occupied France during the phony war phase, when the Allied forces soon realized they were not at all prepared for battle like the German aggressors, who had already been battle tested in Poland and Austria.  To tell the story of the evacuation, Nolan focuses on three separate angles and characters. From the land, the focus is on Tommy, a normal solider waiting for the ships to evacuate.  Being a last effort evacuation, there are not nearly enough ships and the beaches of Dunkirk, the French town, are filled with British soldiers waiting to evacuate as one ship at a time leaves and comes back across the English Channel. Another story point is on the air men patrolling the Channel for German bombers which are picking off the evacuation ships. Tom Hardy, the main pilot, is an ace pilot who is constantly running lower and lower on fuel. The third storyline (and probably the most interesting one) is focused on Mr. Dawson, a private mariner who is one of several boat owners commissioned by the Royal Navy to sail for Dunkirk to pick up soldiers, as the Navy is severely underequipped and cannot take everyone on their boats.

Dunkirk admittedly has some excellent shots best experiences in IMAX. Every shot of the pilots in the air and the soldiers lining the immense beach is incredible and breathtaking, filmed with IMAX cameras rather than going through a post conversion process like most IMAX releases.  In an interesting move, the screenplay must have only a few pages worth of dialogue.  With very limited talking, the story is mostly told through excellent audio mixing of plane engines and machine gun fire. All the actors do well, especially Mark Rylance (known for playing Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies) as Mr. Dawson, who conveys the goodness of pure humanity at its best. Dunkirk is notable for the screen debut of One Direction singer Harry Styles, yet he is in the film for perhaps thirty seconds of screen time and I do not recall him ever speaking a word. They might as well have cast a nobody with a lower pay grade, but surely some fan girls will see this film just to see their crush on screen, and they will surely be disappointed by his low presence.

While Dunkirk is a competently made film with great performances, it suffers in the department of Nolan-esque clichés that get in the way of coherent story telling.  Of course, the three-story lines take a different amount of time to play out, but the time scale is not made clear and is quite confusing to the viewer as the climax occurs. In Interstellar the black hole’s time relativity which effected the time perception is clearly explained: in Dunkirk, the differing story times are implied and just lead to confusion. Present throughout all Nolan films is choppy editing, where action in a scene is shown as the camera jolts to the side of the view, making what the viewer really wants to see not apparent in an incredibly frustrating manner. Without spoiling anything, a scene where a random soldier gets shot is executed so poorly it appears the scene of him getting shot was cut but the reaction of the other soldiers is shown. Perhaps this is a product of Nolan’s well-known refusal to utilize CGI.  Shots in the air are often implied through sound effects and reactions. While I am not saying that every film must be the same, it just seems that these scenes were filmed and it is naturally what a viewer would want to see, yet it is not present in the film at all. Unlike Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, which came out sixteen years prior, the attack scenes are not well executed or portrayed and make it appears an amateur is filming an expensive production after sneaking onto set. Yes, I compared Nolan to an amateur.

Perhaps one of the most annoying traits in Nolan films that is worse than it’s ever been is when the Hans Zimmer soundtrack is cranked up to maximum volume and the dialogue is muted as a result, leaving it uncomprehend able.  This Hans Zimmer soundtrack is likely one of the weaker ones he’s done, with no memorable melodies like in The Dark Knight or Inception.  Also, the lack of blood is quite jarring.  If Nolan insists on everything else in the film being hyper-realistic to the point of using very little CGI, then the lack of blood takes one right out of it. Of course, there can still be great PG13 war films like Pearl Harbor (yes, I am saying a Michael Bay film is better than a Nolan one), in an age of Logan, Hacksaw Ridge, and Deadpool, it seems that to be taken realistically, blood and guts would have made Dunkirk far more engaging and built on the tone Nolan was clearly trying to go for.

Alas, Dunkirk is hard to evaluate. There are many great things about it, with top class performances from Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh. Yet Nolan’s faults in style seems to have finally caught up to his ambitions, as the faults outweigh the ambition here unlike Interstellar where the faults in style were less noticeable due to the grand scale of story.  All, if ever a movie was to be viewed in IMAX it is Dunkirk, as some of the camera work is truly breathtaking.  Yet about thirty minutes in, these errors get too annoying to overlook anymore.  This is not trash like The Mummy, yet pales in comparison to the previous week’s War for the Planet of the Apes, a true triumph in storytelling mixed with breathtaking action and visuals that is edited far more competently than Dunkirk. Overall, I’d still recommend this film as a mere spectacle, but expectations must be tampered as it is by far Nolan’s worst film and not worthy of the hype or the 93% it holds on Rotten Tomatoes. As the internet memes say ironically, Bravo Nolan.

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Summer Update

Hi All,

First off, here are my pictures from my travels this summer: http://unheconomicscollective.ning.com/photos

Been a while since I've posted.  Busy working on my SURF project with A Rod, where we are running a naive bayes analysis to predict box office performance of upcoming movies. Actually, this is based on a previous study A Rod and I did for the Oscars last semester, and it proved right!

Speaking of movies, a ton of great ones are out in July.  Starting out with Spiderman Homecoming, the webslinger has never had such a truly high school based tale.  Anything Marvel will be good at this point. The week after that saw War for the Planet of the Apes, the final installment in the reboot trilogy. Similar to the second film, Dawn, I have never been so captivated and invested in story telling in a long time.  Everything about War, from the smart script, acting, and needless to say flawless rendering and motion capture of the apes, was superb. I'll write my full review later, but War might challenge Logan for my favorite movie this year. And next week sees Dunkirk, Nolan's first movie since 2014's Interstellar.  Nolan doesn't produce mediocre films, and bringing Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Harry Styles (yup, from One Direction) together will truly be a cinematic experience best seen in IMAX.

Truthfully this has been rather a hectic summer.  Doing SURF, an internship, lifeguarding weekends for extra cash, keeping up on movies, planning West Fest and feeding my travel bug has left me quite busy.  Yet that is how I like to operate. 

From June 15-25, I returned to the Holy Land to staff a Birthright trip. Being a participant in 2015, interning in Israel in 2016, and staffing younger adolescents this summer has given me a fairly visceral experience.  I no longer feel a stranger in a strange land, which does partially take the novelty out of it, yet I have so many friends from my experiences there it is hard to feel far away from home in the far reaches of Western Asia. 

The tour of Birthright is admittedly bias and super pro-Zionist, which has pros and cons. Yet going in with an open mind is key to getting the most of the experience.  Israel is more or less the same as last summer, with an added super Wonder Woman phase sweeping the nation after Gal Gadot became the first Israeli to reach mainstream Hollywood stardom in Wonder Woman, which might be the second good film in the DC Universe, giving them a 50% success rate.

Israel was another great trip full of memories, sights, friends, food, and home, and I plan on returning to staff another trip in Winter and extend to see Jordan, home to Wadi Rum and Petra, both used as filming locations. The former is an otherworldly canyon that looks so much like Mars that The Martian was filmed there, as well as David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. The latter is a world wonder, an ancient Nabatean city where The Last Crusade concluded.

Right after Israel, I took the opportunity to go sailing with Professor Pete Peterson, in charge of the sales program at UNH.  A 33 foot hunter, we left from Westbrook to go to Bermuda.  Unfortunately, the crew fixing up the boat took some short cuts and we were forced to turn back.  Yet we still go five days at sea, which is nothing like I have ever done before.  

The stars were absolutely incredible, and at night, the trail of the boat in the water lit up as phosphorescent plankton shimmered. Several times a day flocks of dolphins and porpoises would visit us, another amazing experience. I certainly got my sea legs, as 33 feet is not a lot of room for four people to not help out with the boat. I am incredibly thankful to Professor Peterson for the opportunity. 

Well, stay posted for the SURF project results.  I am attaching many pictures, yet as always, pictures never show the full depth and detail of the beauty of nature. Please ask me any questions you may have about Israel, sailing, movies, SURF, or life. 

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2017 Summer Movies: Get Hyped

In an age where everyone is stressing about finances, school, equal rights, diversity etc., sometimes the best ailment for these stressors is to sit back and forget all of those things for three hours and get engulfed in a quality film in the dark and absorbing recesses of the cinema. And luckily, summer 2017 has some good looking films to do so.

2016 was admittedly a disappointing summer for film.  Other than a select few gems, like Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory, most of the big anticipated blockbusters like Independence Day: Resurgence, Suicide Squad, The Legend of Tarzan, and Ghostbusters were at most forgettable and at worst barely even films, with terrible plots and direction.  Yet it is looking like 2017 will rectify the disappointing blockbuster season of year’s past. 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 (May 5th)

At this point, any film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is guaranteed to be a fun adventure at the least. The studio has not put out a single bad installment in the boldest experiment of a shared film universe, and this film’s 2014 predecessor is among fan favorites.  With director James Gunn returning from the original Guardians of the Galaxy, the entire cast comprising of Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana are returning, along with newcomers, particularly Kurt Russel as Star Lord’s father.  At the time of publication Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 will be a mere two days away from release, so be sure to join in the cultural phenomena of Marvel opening weekends.

Alien: Covenant (May 19th)

No one would have thought that Ridley Scott’s 1979 space horror Alien would blossom into one of the most iconic sci-fi franchises of all time, second only to Star Wars.  After three sequels that lessened in quality and two spin offs putting the iconic xenomorph against the Predator, this newest installment is the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus.  Following on Prometheus’ narrative of discovering a new race of Engineers who created humanity, this next chapter will follow up on a new crew finding the home world of the Engineers as they encounter predecessors of the xenomorphs who have brought an end to the Engineer society.  Moving closer to the timeline of the original Alien, the original director Ridley Scott returns once again, hot off a streak of the critically acclaimed The Martian.  Blending sci-fi horror with existential creationism, Alien: Covenant is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated and epic films of 2017. 

Wonder Woman (June 2nd)

While it will be hard to be optimistic about any DC film, after the disappointments of Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, there seems to be some hope behind the first ever big screen adaptation of Wonder Woman.  One of the first female superhero films, also being directed by a female director in Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman is the final installment in the DC Extended Universe before Justice League hits theaters in November.  While previous films in this franchise have suffered from studio meddling resulting in several incisive plot lines, Wonder Woman might be safe from extraneous studio meddling due to it being set in the past like Captain America: The first Avenger.  Set in WWI, Wonder Woman must reenter the human world to aid in the war efforts alongside Steve Trevor, played by Star Trek’s Chris Pine.  This concept could be a fun war romp like the first Captain America film, yet if Wonder Woman goes the same route of past DC films in focusing on building a universe instead of telling a fulfilling narrative in one film, then the DCEU might be done for.

Spiderman: Homecoming (July 7th)

Once again, Marvel has proven itself in putting out consistent quality films, and after this new incarnation of Spiderman appeared in Captain America: Civil War, there has been much public anticipation for the sixteenth film in the MCU.  Focusing on the high school aspect of Peter Parker, where the other films have failed to do so, Homecoming seems to promise a more contained story with Tony Stark mentoring Peter to be a super hero.  With veteran Batman actor Michael Keaton playing the Vulture, Spiderman: Homecoming is shaping up to be the fun high school romp that everyone has wanted from a Spiderman movie.  And given the studio’s reputation, Spiderman: Homecoming will surely be another entreating superhero movie this summer.

War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14th)

The second monkey movie this year, after Kong: Skull Island, the third film in the Apes reboot series looks to be far different in tone from the campiness of Kong.  After the last installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes transcended the genre of sci-fi to be a dramatic, intense and biting war film that gave humanity and empathy to both sides of the conflict between apes and humans, War looks to take the conflict even further to an all-out war to determine the future of the planet.  Whether War will lead into the reversed society seen in the Charleston Hesston 1968 film or if there will be another film remains unclear.  Yet the special effects again look to be the best in the industry, with photorealistic apes that are far above the uncanny valley of realism.  What director Matt Reeves did so well in the last film was keep the emotional attachment to the human and apes while maintaining the spectacle of the intelligent monkeys.  War is sure to do the same.  And even if it does disappoint, another war film is just around the corner the week after.

Dunkirk (July 21st)

While it has been three years since Christopher Nolan’s last film, Interstellar, Nolan is known to take as much time as he feels is needed to have the best film possible, justifying the long wait time between.  Having tackled epic sci-fi, superhero, crime thrillers, and period pieces, Nolan is now delivering his first WWII film.  Notable for the cast of Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, and One Direction’s Harry Styles, Dunkirk will tell the true story of Allied forces stranded on a French beach as German forces advance by air, land and sea.  As with all Nolan films, the marketing has kept the precise story a mystery.  Yet the IMAX preview prior to Kong: Skull Island suggests that this film may be more suited for IMAX presentation than any other film before.  Shot using IMAX 65 mm film cameras, Dunkirk will surely be an epic to end the summer on a high note. 

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We Never Get Tired of Monkeys

One of the most classic American films of all time, King Kong has been adapted many times since 1933 when the original came out.  After the stop motion, black and white original came a disappointing reimagining in 1976, set in the 70s as well.  Remade for a third time in 2005 by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, Kong 2005 brought the giant gorilla back to his 1933 roots in an epic drama that is still vastly underrated.  Outside of straight remakes, the pinnacle American monster has fought the pinnacle Japanese monster in the Toho 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla.  Unfortunately, studio rights kept the two monsters from brawling it out again, as Kong was owned by Universal.  Flash forward to 2014, and Warner Brothers/ Legendary produced the second American reboot of Godzilla to general financial and critical success.    

            When Legendary moved its home to Universal, there was instant speculation that this would lend way to produce a new Kong movie within a shared universe of Godzilla 2014.  Lo and behold, two years later to this day this has been confirmed, as Kong: Skull Island is the second entry is Legendary’s kaiju-verse.  In that regard, Kong: Skull Island can be viewed as a prequel to Godzilla, as it is set in the 1970s right at the end of the Vietnam War.  Stripped away from the classic Kong story of Carl Denham seeking out to get a location shoot for a monster movie on an uncharted island, the new plot is about an expedition led by Monarch, the secretive organization in Godzilla, and an expedition to find a brand-new ecosystem on Skull Island, which is only legend.  It turns out to be proven a real place through satellite scans, so Monarch scientists and a military escort set out to chart the last unnamed place on Earth.  They soon find all that one would expect to find on Skull Island, most of all Kong. Bigger than ever before, Kong is also deadlier than ever before. 

            The narrative is rather simple, and does not expand beyond the cast of characters having to escape Skull Island in a time constraint.  Kong: Skull Island boasts an impressive cast, with Tom Hiddleston, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Brie Larson, and Samuel L. Jackson all leading the show.  The charm of Kong: Skull Island is dual.  On the one hand, all the monsters look terrific.  Building upon the monster ecosystem established in Godzilla, the monsters go far beyond traditional dinosaurs seen in past King Kong movies.  Some of the fauna is a wooden made giant insect, a terrifying giant scorpion, and even a giant octopus, which is a clear reference to the octopus in the 1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla.  Kong’s main rivals are scull crawlers, bipedal reptilian giants who have terrified the human inhabitants of Skull Island for thousands of years. The design on the skull crawlers is reminiscent of other Godzilla monsters from Toho films, and hopefully is a predecessor to upcoming monster designs.

            The fights are not dim lit like in Godzilla, nor are they limited and rather are indulgent from the first fifteen minutes of the film to the very end.  The motion capture on Kong is excellent, and brings him back to the bipedal colossus that he was in the original film rather than the life like gorilla from Jackson’s film.  The aesthetics of Skull Island are very interesting as well.  There is a sepia overtone on the entire film while they are on the island.  Perhaps this is to keep in tone with the sepia of the original King Kong film.  There always seems to be spores floating through the air, which has a cloudy sunlight feel the entire time.  The night time skies are filled with bright stars and aurora borealis, making the island truly feel otherworldly. 

            Asides from the visual appeal of the island and the monsters, the human characters are so card board cut out it is satirical, and any plots involving the humans are laughable-yet in an entertaining sense.  Samuel L. Jackson’s military colonel is perhaps the best representation of this, as it feels more as if Jackson is playing the Snakes on a Plane/ Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson archetype that he created himself.  Completely out of place, it makes each scene a fun ordeal that is not taken seriously yet very enjoyable to watch amidst the backdrop of the fantastical island.  Truthfully, none of the human’s names can come to memory- they are that one dimensional.  Yet this is probably for the best, as Godzilla’s key issues were focusing too much on humans and not enough on the fun monster brawl everyone wanted to see.  In an age where movies like Batman v. Superman and Independence Day 2 utterly fail at a basic formula for a fun action movie, Kong: Skull Island succeeds at making a stylized, fast and entertaining monster movie that amply sets up the future shared universe for Godzilla 2 and further down the line Kong vs. Godzilla. This is no deep character study, but a much-needed light hearted fun romp after the depressing and punishing experience Logan was earlier in the month. Two great films on the opposite end of the spectrum, not to count the nostalgia filled Beauty and the Beast remake-it’s shaping up to be a great month for film!

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Logan: Superhero Meets Western Meets Sci Fi

Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Extended Universe revitalized the comic book film industry as the most profitable film genre, Bryan Singer put out the first modern comic book film, X-Men in 2000.  Starring Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine/Logan, the then unknown Jackman attained world class stardom along with his costars Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Since 2000, there have been ten installments in the X-Men series that range in tone and subject matter drastically. There have been three sub trilogies within the series along with last year’s Deadpool, yet the latest film Logan completes the Wolverine trilogy. While Logan has been the star of the first trilogy and Days of Future Past, these stories always displayed a canvas of the larger world of mutants including Professor X, Magneto, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, and dozens of others. The Wolverine trilogy has always told smaller scale stories focused on Hugh Jackman’s journey outside of his membership of the X Men. The first Wolverine film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is almost universally accepted as the worst X Men movie. Hugh Jackman still brought his all to the performance in a script that made very little coherent sense. The second Wolverine film, The Wolverine, brought Logan to Japan where he got entangled with corporate scandals and had to protect an heir to a company from Yakuza. The Wolverine was a far better film than the first one, and Logan’s fish out of water in Japan was a very enjoyable experience. Finally, the third and alleged final appearance of Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine has come with Logan.

                Directed by The Wolverine director James Mangold, Logan propels the story into 2029 when most mutants have died out due to a manufactured virus by the Transigen Corporation. Logan’s mutation of his healing factor has kept him alive past the virus, yet the adamantium bonded to his skeleton is slowly poisoning him as his healing factor diminishes. With his X Men days behind him, Logan works as a chauffeur and cares for a senile Charles Xavier, portrayed for the last time by Patrick Stewart who originated the role in 2000 before James McAvoy took the role for the prequel trilogy. Xavier too has lost much of his control over his power of telepathy and is confined to living inside of a protective tank, cared for by mutants Logan and Caliban, surprisingly played quite sternly by The Office creator Stephen Merchant. Rather than going out with a bang, the trio is rather fading out of the world rather quietly as they all succumb to the unnamed virus.

                Not everyone has forgotten about mutants, as Logan soon is found by a nurse who pleads for his help to protect a child from Transigen. Soon Transigen too finds Logan, and pressures him to cooperate with them to recapture this child that they have experimented on. Named Laura, she represents the new breed of mutant that is factory raised by Transigen and not given the chance for self-determination. With similar powers to Wolverine of enhanced healing factor and adamantium limb extensions, she soon meets Logan and Professor X much to Logan’s dismay.  Soon after Transigen finds the band of mutants as well, and from there Logan, Charles, and Laura must traverse the US Midwest with Transigen forces hot on their tale.

                As always, Hugh Jackman brings his all. This rendition of Logan is a much deeper and comprehensive understanding of the character than ever before. Logan’s aging and depressed state lead to a darker movie than ever before. Like last year’s Deadpool, Logan is the second-wide reals R rated film, and it relishes in the rating. Never have we seen Wolverine’s claws literally tear through people with as much depiction of the blood and gore which that would entail.  Limbs are a flying, and unlike Deadpool where the violence was put in for comic effect, here it has the full levity and impact that one would want.

                Performances from everyone are top notch. Dafne Keen holds her own as the young Laura, and Stephen Merchant truly shines outside of his comedic home in Logan. Patrick Stewart may well be the show stealer as the senile Professor X, bringing to the role a new sense of identity and compassion that we have not seen before from Stewart. Boyd Holbrook even holds his own against Jackman as the head of the Transigen forces perusing the mutants as a relentless villain who channels the motivation of the sinister company while maintain a menacing presence on screen.  Logan is not the fun mutant clash that was seen in last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse, nor is it the irritant comedy that Deadpool was despite the R rating. On the R rating, seeing Jackman and Laura cut through their pursuers is a brilliant way to put a character we have known for 17 years in a different setting that completely reinvents our perception on him.  The claws do not look cartoonish for a second, nor does the blood that splatters all over the screen.

One of the best parts of Logan is Mangold subtly putting in elements that suggest a very realistic sci-fi future that is not too farfetched. Set in 2029, the landscape is not too unlike the real world, yet components like automated trucking containers on wheels with no drivers, as well as commentary on the corporate farming industry. An entire subplot is a family farmer defending his corn farm from the muscle of a large corn syrup producer that neighbors and shares the water supply, leading to unethical cut offs that are very reminiscent of the Monsanto phenomena to monopolize the market. Even drones are heavily utilized for surveillance, as well as Google Glass like glasses.  These subtle elements represent the best of sci-fi: saying something meaningful about modern society while adding in the fantastic sense, yet Logan is not too over the top making it more believable, in an analogous way to the subtle sci-fi elements of Children of Men.

 While there are rumors that Jackman may appear in a future Deadpool movie, if this is the last appearance of Hugh as Logan, he has earned this retirement in a film that may well be the best of the genre.

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The LEGO Batman Movie: Bricks Build a Great Film

Batman is likely the most iconic superhero of all time, dating back to 1941 when the character was conceived by Bob Kane in Detective Comics. The Caped Crusader soon went from being an adult dressed as an animal to a deadly assassin who used his skills for good.  The Batman comics also lent way to the creation of several villains and sidekicks, some almost as iconic as Batman himself.  

            The character lept off the comic pages as early as the 1940s black and white serials. Brought to mainstream attention with the corny 1960s Adam West TV show, Batman came to the silver screen in 1989, when Tim Burton ushered in the modern superhero film era with Batman, starring Micheal Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Jack Nicholson as the Joker.  While the sequels to Batman were disappointing, and the fourth film in the series, Batman and Robin considered to be one of the worst films of all time, the film version of Batman took a dramatic turn in 2005 when Christopher Nolan rebooted the series with Batman Begins,  a dark retelling of Wayne’s origins. Spawning one of the most critically and financially successful trilogies of all time, The Dark Knight trilogy was followed by another reboot of Batman in the new DC Expanded Universe. 2016 saw Batman v. Superman, which was a disappointment by any stretch of the imagination. The grim and murderous Batman who acted a complete fool for the entire movie forecasted a poor iteration of the character for the future DC movies like Justice League, coming this November. Yet no one suspected that before Justice League, cinema would receive perhaps the best Batman movie of all time in The LEGO Batman Movie.

            Batman was a key supporting character in 2014’s The LEGO Movie. Voiced by Will Arnett, The LEGO Movie showed a Batman that captured the arrogance and over the top flashiness of the character, with fast paced dialogue that drew on decades of cinematic Batman.  Now, 2017 has brought both a follow up to The LEGO Movie as well as a solid Batman film, perhaps the best yet ( yes, this superlative considers The Dark Knight). Set entirely in Batman’s universe rather than the multiverse setting of The LEGO Movie, this new film has LEGO incarnations of all of Batman’s supporting characters, including Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, Robin, and all of Batman’s villains (there is even a montage showcasing the dozens of Batman’s adversaries).  The main adversary is the Joker, as should be the case in any quintessential Batman film. Without delving into the plot too much, the core narrative is about Batman dealing with the lonely nature of being an orphaned billionaire assassin. While The Dark Knight and Burton’s Batman touched on these themes, The LEGO Batman Movie features Wayne’s clash of inner ego with the desire to be loved by others. As every incarnation of Batman involves his parent’s death at a young age, it is natural that the dramatic weight is about Batman redefining to himself what it means to be a part of a family.

            As in The LEGO Movie, the animation in LEGO Batman is superb. The stop motion appearance of the lego sets and figures is incredibly impressive. This medium is far more engaging and fun to look at than the overused generic CGI found in Disney and Dreamworks films recently.  One must wonder how all of the sets were story boarded. LEGO brand has always had a certain humor in adapting real life activities into the LEGO world.  Mundane activities such as cooking food or throwing out trash is some of the most pleasurable and humorous things to watch in the film. The conception of action scenes are incredible, and this film is even better in IMAX despite its animated format.  One of the largest strengths of the LEGO brand is the legal ability to bring in licensed properties and put them all together.  Never would I have thought I would see a film on the big screen that pits Batman against not only the gang of DC villains, yet King Kong, Sauron, Lord Voldemort, the Daleks, and many others. Overall, The LEGO Batman Movie is one of the most fun experiences I have ever had in the theater. The cliche of appraising animated films as adult films is admittedly overused, but never has it been more true than in The LEGO Batman Movie.  Similar to Deadpool with less violence and nudity, the self referential parody and references to the entire comic book movie industry make this film one that only people with a broad knowledge of film in general can appreciate the comedy to the fullest extent.  Hopefully The LEGO Batman Movie will not be snubbed by the Academy like The LEGO Movie was at the Oscars. Yet Oscars or not, The LEGO Batman Movie is superior to its predecessor and worth the full price of admission at least twice.

 

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Much of the appeal of film is the ability to tell stories that reflect real life contemporary issues. Forrest Gump is considered an amalgam of 1970s-1980s issues. Inception is a commentary on corporate brain washing present in recent.  Historical events inspire the fictional characters to act as a result of these actions, characteristic of an entire age, making these films extremely powerful.

            In 1954, nuclear testing was more prevalent than ever. After Japan had suffered the only nuclear attacks ever just nine years prior at the end of WWII, the Japanese people were naturally afraid of the testing going on in the waters not too far from their home. Yet the US had to keep testing locations confidential. As a result, during one test a Japanese fishing boat, Lucky Dragon 5, was exposed to a test that they did not know was occurring so close to them. The ship returned with radioactive sickness ill crew members and poisoned fish. This sparked a whole new nuclear scare in Japan. As a result, the film Gojira served as a commentary by director Ishiro Honda. Gojira told of an ancient dinosaur awoken and mutated by nuclear testing. The monster, Godzilla, comes to land on Tokyo and causes mast devastation.  The nation is hesitant to use nuclear testing after having just been devastated by nuclear weapons less than a decade before.  Eventually a new weapon is developed to defeat the monster, but this new weapon brings about a whole new danger, calling into question the ethics of weapon making.

            From a dark, solemn, and socially reflective allegory of a film, Godzilla went on to be featured in 29 sequels.  Yet unlike the political undertones of the first film, the following movies were much cornier sci-fi flicks full of over the top giant monster fights and cliché aliens. Asides from the Japanese films, there have been two American adaptations of the monster. Godzilla in 1998 is considered a disaster, and Godzilla in 2014 has successfully started a Hollywood shared universe with King Kong set to appear in a crossover scheduled for 2020. In the meantime, Toho Studios, the Japanese studio who produced all of the other Japanese Godzilla films, has just put out another modern take on the monster that put Japanese cinema on the map. Shin Godzilla was released in July in Japan, and for a very limited release in North America. Unrelated to the Legendary Pictures American Godzilla, Shin Godzilla ignores all previous Godzilla films for its continuity, allowing the monster to be completely unprecedented in the film’s continuity.  The film centers on the efforts of the Japanese government to deal with the new threat of a giant tadpole creature that appears in Tokyo Bay. It soon rampages into the city, where it evolves into the more recognizable bipedal Godzilla.  From there, Godzilla unleashes horror upon Tokyo, reminiscent of the fire bombings of World War II, which killed twice the amount of civilians as the nuclear bombs.

            The story of Shin Godzilla is not about the monster, but rather the human stories of how people would deal with the conflict.  There are no shortage of characters, with every government and military actor having a name captioned over the screen.  What the film does very well is to show the Japanese bureaucratic process and the problems there in.  By the time the military gets approval to attack the creature, Godzilla has already destroyed three wards of Tokyo.  The military is incredibly inefficient at taking down the creature. After WWII, Japan swore an oath to never enter war again. So having to defend the homeland is unprecedented, leading to an unsuccessful operation where Apaches, tanks, and fleets of missiles don’t even make a scratch on Godzilla as he progresses through the city.

            Shin Godzilla might be the best Godzilla film made since the 1954 film. Shin is certainly the most similar in tone and execution.  The political environment is very heavily present. Rather than nuclear weapons giving Godzilla his invulnerability, this Godzilla has fed of nuclear waste dumped into the waters of Tokyo Bay, bringing in a whole new timely issue.  This element makes it a strong commentary on the recent Fukushima disaster, where an earthquake caused the biggest nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl in 2011.  With this nuclear threat still felt by the Japanese people, Shin Godzilla is incredibly timely, just as Gojira was after the Lucky Dragon incident.  The characters of the government arte very well fleshed out, as each person is working on different ways to bring Godzilla down as well as crisis management and evacuation plans, which were needed for the Fukushima response. 

            On a technical level, the film is excellent. The creature design reinvents Godzilla from a dinosaur in a rubber suit to a transformative abomination, which is far more terrifying.  Godzilla’s trademark atomic breath is reinvented, unleashing more destruction than ever before. The score is reminiscent of The Force Awakens, in that it incorporates themes from Akira Ifukube’s 1954 soundtrack with new compositions as well. This blending of the old and the new reminds us that this is the true Godzilla moving forward. While Legendary did a fine job in 2014 reintroducing the monster to American audiences, and will surely make very entertaining sequels, Shin Godzilla is the true rebirth of the monster and has already made bank playing in a limited release across the US. Be sure to check it out before it’s out of theaters. 

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NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT-The Jewish Community Center of the Greater New Haven region has once again made progressive strives to build a sustainable future for Connecticut.  In July of 2015, the first set of solar panel car ports were installed at the parking lots of the JCC of New Haven, also home to the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation. 

The installation of the aforementioned panels came after years of JCC Executive Director Scott Cohen finding ways to save money for the nonprofit. “I was working to find funders and sponsorships for this innovative project for years” said Cohen about the solar panels. It turned out that the key to getting solar energy implemented at the JCC was not through a donor, yet rather the government of Connecticut.

C-PACE is an initiative run by the Connecticut Green Bank, the nation’s first bank with the primary focus of making green energy available to all through loans and financing.  If a business qualifies for C-PACE, then the business works with C-PACE as well as contractors to find financing for projects. In the JCC’s case, the project was the solar car ports. “Deutsche ECO came to us and recommended we apply for C-PACE, and we’ve had a rather smooth process since” said Cohen. Deutsche ECO is a German contracting company that configures solar systems. So, after much writing and applications, C-PACE determined that the JCC qualified for the program and Deutsche ECO soon go to work configuring the system.

By going through C-PACE, the panels themselves are owned by the state yet the JCC is able to buy the energy produced by the panels rather than from the grid.  Annually, the JCC uses about 1.8 million kilowatts of electricity.  With solar energy, only 1 million of these kilowatts comes from the grid. To put this in perspective, a kilowatt from the electric company costs 12.5 cents, whereas a kilowatt from the solar panels on the car ports cost 10 cents. Annually, this difference makes a huge difference in cost.

Installing the solar panels were at first met with trepidation by the stakeholders. The biggest negative perception of solar energy comes from the aesthetic appeal issue.  Yet by installing the solar panels on car ports above the parking lots, the panels also create shaded parking lots, which has been met with positive reception by patrons. “Currently, there are 2900 panels installed across 5 car ports, making this the biggest car port solar facility in New England” said Cohen, who is just as enthusiastic about the pricing model. “We are buying out energy from the C-PACE panels at a fixed rate for the next 20 years…historically energy rates rise by 3% a year, so we really got a steal here”. 

C-PACE’s solar panels are one of many new green initiatives in play on the JCC campus. A cogeneration system that utilizes natural gas has been in place for several years, providing cheaper, more efficient energy than the grid provide. The JCC is also currently working on installing its own solar panels on the roof of the building as well, independent from C-PACE. Roof renovations are currently in operations, with an expected completion date of mid-October. 

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Howard Moskowitz Can Save Trump's Campaign

For anyone still riding the Trump train, one must admit things have started to get a little bit ridiculous. From calling Obama the literal institutional founder of ISIS to comparing his business empire to serving our country in the military, the Don has made some questionable PR moves. Our old friend Howard Moskowitz, whom the Economics Department hosted last year for a talk, has some ideas as to how to save his campaign, particularly among the African American community. Howard's technology, materialized through Mind Genomics, crunches data to find the best possible outcomes based off certain preferences. For instance, Howard found that Black voters respond strongly to notions of lowering taxes and creating jobs, yet talking about repealing Obamacare would be a disastrous move. Right now, 45% of the Black community supports Clinton while 5% supports Trump. To capitalize on the huge population of Black voters, perhaps Donald should lend an ear to Mr. Moskowitz:

 http://www.businessinsider.com/howard-moskowitz-donald-trump-2016-8

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New Israel Vlog!

Greetings Econ fam-

I hope you all had a good summer. I am recently home from two months spent in Israel. Here is another travel vlog I made. I have two more in the works but I decided that the limited time spent there would be better spent experiencing it all rather than editing footage on my laptop. Also, there are outlets on campus that I am sure I can convey more of my trip in which we can announce at a later date. For now, enjoy the video!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZbVRtJvIJw

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Competitive Business in the Shook

As many of you know, I am currently interning in Beer Sheva, Israel for the summer. Working at Carasso Science Park, my work includes preparing materials for potential donors to the nonprofit museum, as well as meeting with donors all around the country.  Considering the video updates I promised to many, those are coming within a few days as soon as I can update my computer to Windows 10 to handle the editing software. Finding a new RAM card should be no problem here.

Anyways, having been here for about a week at this point, I have already explored much of Beer Sheva. On of the unique features of Israel is the shook. Found in other Middle Eastern countries, the shook is an open market where produce, meat, and other goods can be purchased. Less regulated than Shop Rite, prices are very low, and some items can even be bartered for. The Beer Sheva shook is not nearly as expansive as Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem. Visiting that shook last Wednesday, I was able to barter on prices for a pair of sunglasses, talking it down from 45 shekels to 30 shekels. A shekel is around 3.8 USD at the moment to give perspective. Yet when entering the fruit section, I noticed something which made me ponder. There are dozens upon dozens of vendors selling the exact same products. Potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and peppers lined entire alley ways full of various vendors. Thinking from a business perspective, my education has instilled in me that to make money, value must be offered to the buyer that cannot be provided by other similar businesses. There was no reason to  buy potatoes from one vendor over the next twelve that were shouting in Hebrew to the throngs as all offered the exact same thing with no visibile benefit. 

Then I thought back to the days of Micro with A Rod. The shook is the rare purely competitive market, as the main offerings are agricultural. This means that prices between the vendors cannot be too different between the different vendors, as the offerings are the same so value cannot be substituted for higher margins. Remembering this economic principle in a place where I thought I would merely be a tourist made me appreciate the rare phenomenon of the shook. 

The rest of the experience has been wonderful to say the least. Having made a solid friend group with other interns, we are all learning what it is like to live in a totally different system then our own. Different buses, different products, and different traffic patterns are among the variations over here. 

Be sure to look for the first of many vlogs, which I will publish on here early next week. 

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Wage Gap: Alive at UNH?

Preface

Before reading, know that this write up was initially intended as a news article for The Charger Bulletin, the official newspaper of The University of New Haven. Submitted for publication as part of the regular article submission process, when Wednesday came and the fresh newspapers were made available, my article was not published for reasons that were never made clear. While writing about movies is great fun, there are important stories that are not being told. Without letting this piece go to waste, please read and share.

Wage Gap: Alive at UNH?

           While student focus often lies on UNH sporting results or Greek organizations, there is a whole other side of UNH operations that is seldom in the spotlight: the ever raging battle between unions and the institution for wages increases.

            Labor unions are deeply rooted in America’s history, first developing in the late 1800s as the railroad industry faced a lot of pushback form the workers about working conditions and fair pay. Since then, they have developed to be a central part of the American economy and have since created many jobs, while also restricting some.

            At UNH, the United Professional and Service Employees Union (UPSEU) represents the interests of union workers within facilities and clerical positions. Clerical positions include the workers in the Bursar’s office that students interact with, or department secretaries that serve an integral role in the organization of the University of New Haven.

            Every three years, negotiations between the UPSEU and the University of New Haven commence, aimed at getting better rates and compensations. In most union jobs, each year brings a certain percent raise for union workers. This raise can be in tow forms: the step system and wage percent increase itself. The step system refers to payroll structuring, so that each year brings employees up another step, which correlates to salary increase. By increasing the amounts at the steps, this raises salary. Wages can also be raised through GWI, which stands for general wage increase. This means increasing the wage by a certain percent. The GWI along with the step increase correlates to employees making more money and being rewarded for staying at the University of New Haven.

            This year, there has been a storm of controversy in the clerical sectors increase.  A new wage increase has still not been determined for 2015, and it is already the next year. Represented by Labor Relations Representative Liz Ditman, Liz interviewed  last week to share her insights. “Clerical is made up of mostly female workers. When we see facilities, which is mostly comprised of male workers getting higher wage increases percentage wise, we have cause to believe that the low offer for clerical is representative of institutionalized sexism”. The facilities wage increase refers to the 2.5% GWI offered to facilities workers, whereas clerical was offered 1% GWI in the first offer. Ditman went on to say, “While we (clerical workers) understand the budget crisis, this was forecasted at the time of the facilities contract negotiation, and should have been taken into account for a reasonable increase of living wages”. Ms. Ditman further went on to say “the reason we know that the lower than desired GWI is more than just a fiscal issue is the fact that President Kaplan told the entire staff in March that his main goal was to increase employee wages, while at the same time HR is refusing to budge on the issue and laughs our concerns out of the office”. The communication Ms. Ditman refers to is an email sent out to all staff on March 10th, in which President Kaplan said, “My main goal at this point is to provide our faculty and staff with adequate annual salary increases”. 

            Interviewed as well was HR itself, represented by Caroline Koziatek, Vice President of Human Resources. Koziatek led off by saying “all of these workers (clerical) are vital to the university and we cannot function without them. That being said, in order to be fair to students and parents paying thousands of dollars of years to come here, we have to pay what is deemed fair for a secretary. The consumer price index consistently rates wages at much lower than what we offer”. The consumer price index is put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and gives suggested rates on almost anything, including services like secretaries. Koziatek further commented, “In all of my decisions, I have to go off data so that I can be fair. And the data here just doesn’t lend way to a 2.5% GWI”. In comment to the facilities contract worked out, Koziatek said, “these negotiations are separate and independent from one another, and if you look at the numbers, we are actually have historically offered higher rates overall to clerical”. According to flow charts, every year since 2012 has shown a higher increase in the combination of GWI as well as step increases for clerical when compared to facilities. “It seems to boil down to a lot of miscommunication and misinformation. Whenever we go into negotiations, it seems that they (UPSEU) can’t see past the lower GWI number and look at the bigger picture of step increases as well”.

            So is this an issue of miscommunication between parties, or is there a larger, more sinister embodiment of institutionalized sexism? There is something to be said that every worker on both sides that interviewed  has been extremely present and transparent, wanting to help these workers get appropriate increase of wages. The issue is that these parties seem to have different meanings of what appropriate is. Whether it is Mindi Hill in OSA or Jamie Perkins in ORL, or the many workers that are in the Bursar’s office to help us through loan crises, this school would not run without the hard work that the clerical workers do. UPSEU is already planning to hold rallies on upcoming accepted student days to get their message heard. On the other end of the table, Human Resources will continue to play an integral part in helping with the budget crisis faced by UNH. Hopefully, these two groups and interests can come to a common consensus sooner rather than later. 

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