California Fires Cause Unprecedented Destruction and Loss of Life

Wildfires have been active in California since mid-July and have been responsible for the destruction of thousands of acres of land, including property and homes. The death toll from the recently contained Camp Fire has been reported at 85 people, according to a news release by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 24, 2018. However, other fires have contributed to a total number of 97 civilians and 6 firefighters who have lost their lives. The 2018 wildfire season is reported to have had 7,579 fires burning over 1,667,855 acres of land, a record-breaking season for California.

The new batch of wildfires began spreading in November after winds picked up the previously remaining fires, which have now threatened thousands of homes, hospitals and shelters holding displaced residents. Many Californians have been urged to stay indoors whenever possible and to wear air masks in areas where the oxygen quality has been compromised due to the pollutant chemicals given off by the wildfires. California residents have been posting selfies on social media with their air masks to show off the tragedies that continue to take place.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Barry Muchnick provided comments in response to any possible environmental factors that could be causing the fires to spread more rapidly by noting that human activity could contribute towards the “intensity and destructive potential of fire across the landscape.” He added that “commercial and residential development in high-risk fire zones also changes fire management strategies, reducing practices like controlled burns that could mitigate fire intensity or spread.”

Organizations such as the EPA have rushed forward to aid those combating the wildfires and provide support to those affected. Muchnick mentioned the likelihood that legislative changes made by the current administration could influence the quality or quantity of aid provided by environmental agencies during the wildfires after citing a recent report released by the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

 

He noted that “climate change is already affecting every sector and region of the United States,” and that the wildfires “are a case study in the impacts of a changing climate. Without an appropriate response from the administration, climate change will disrupt our infrastructure, jeopardize lives (especially for already marginalized communities), and cripple the economy.” However, Muchnick is grateful that “leaders at the state and local levels are taking climate seriously despite setbacks at the federal level,” which is a hopeful step for agencies who continue to provide aid to residents that have been affected by the wildfires.

 

Beautiful sunsets are a common indulgence at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), although the smoke of wildfires raging in California has polluted the sunsets in areas as far as New York City according to reports by CNN and the New York Post. When asked about the possibility of SMCM being contaminated by pollutants or air quality changes caused by the smoke, Muchnick replied by saying the most likely consequence from the smoke could enhance sunsets, adding that there “might be more spectacular sunsets as light refracts off of smoke particles in the upper atmosphere.” Muchnick also noted the “possible air quality dangers” that are attributed to “particulates from the California fires to the east coast.”

Migrant Caravan Makes Its Way to U.S/Mexican Border Fleeing Unstable Countries

Migrants hailing from several Central American countries including Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are travelling in large groups to the U.S.-Mexico border and seeking asylum from extreme poverty, gang violence, and terror that is rampant in their home countries. A group of 160 people left the city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras on Oct. 12, 2018 and by the early hours of the next day’s travel, the group had gained over 1,000 members also committed to make the journey.

Two other groups have since formed and are taking a similar path to the border as the first caravan. These groups decide to travel in large numbers due to the unsafe nature, especially for women and children due to the possibility of facing danger along the trip. The size of the group acts to deter possible threats but other challenges, such as severe sunburn from relentless sun exposure, constant dehydration and lack of proper footwear make the journey grueling.

For a majority of migrants, this journey offers a rare chance to escape several hardships, and yet the treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border has been less than welcoming. The journey leading up to the border threatens danger through human trafficking and robbery, although organizations aware of the caravans have come together to provide the migrants with necessary food and shelter. At the U.S.-Mexico border, many migrants have pleaded for access to transportation by buses after making much of the journey on foot, with 200 individuals marching to a U.N. office to petition for support.

President Donald Trump made several comments regarding the migrant caravan which have caused controversy, with Trump mentioning “tent cities” that would be built to hold those seeking asylum. Trump also warned what he called the “invasion” of migrants by stating they would be greeted at the border by the United States military and on Oct. 29, a statement announced that 5,200 troops would be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border. These remarks are under close watch, as Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 featured promises to curb illegal immigration. Comments made by previous U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who resigned from his job on Nov. 7 2018, surrounding the credibility of migrants fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence got media attention, along with Session’s emphasis of his “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration into the United States.

 

Hurricane Michael Devastates Florida Panhandle

The Category 4 storm Hurricane Michael left thousands of people devastated throughout the Carolinas, as well as other states including Florida, Georgia and Virginia, where the 155 mile-per-hour winds destroyed homes and, in many cases, the lives of those living in the affected areas. The hurricane reached North Carolina on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018 and according to statistics posted by CNN, over 30 million people were under a hurricane watch or warning as well as a tropical storm watch or warning in some areas.

Hurricane Michael is reported to be the first Category 4 storm to hit the Florida panhandle and images of cities such as Panama City are plastered on news stories to show the debris that has been left in wake of the storm. Until Oct. 12, CNN continued to post updates online to track Hurricane Michael’s path of destruction as well as videos and images of the destruction. In one update, CNN published remarks made by the U.S. Senator for Florida, Marco Rubio (R) who stated “Look, this is as bad as it gets,” referencing the flooding and damage to nearby homes. “It is hard to envision it worse than this.”

Downed trees, extreme flooding and property damage are serious concerns for those affected after Hurricane Michael moved along Florida upwards into the Virginia and Maryland region. In Burkeville, Virginia, an image was posted online of a small bridge after the structure collapsed after taking a beating from the storm’s powerful winds and torrential downpour. Vehicle accidents involving Hurricane Michael’s journey have also been reported and in an incident in North Carolina, two car accidents occurred within moments of each other because of a tree that had been blown over by strong winds and suddenly fell into the roadway.

Along with the destruction that comes along with many tropical storms, five tornadoes were also reported in five Virginia counties along with “300 traffic crashes and 230 calls for blocked roads and high water” being called in, according to the Virginia State Police. Search and rescue teams have been put together across several states to continue looking for individuals who may be trapped under rubble from collapsed houses or other dangerous situations.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced disaster assistance for victims of the hurricane after Florida sustained severe weather damage to help those affected get back on their feet. Many communities are slowly returning to their former homes to find buildings without roofs, lacking windows or walls as well as no electricity. However, since Hurricane Michael has passed through, many areas have already begun doing necessary construction and other services such as Tallahassee, which began reopening businesses and restoring electricity the Friday following the storm. Communities that have been badly affected are working together to rebuild morale as well as physical items that may have been damaged in the storm.

First Lady Melania Trump Tours African Countries Alone

First Lady of the United States Melania Trump departed for her first solo trip on Oct. 4, 2018 to tour four African countries for the promotion of her Be Best campaign, which focuses on early childhood education as well as cyber bullying and healthy lifestyle choices. Trump visited Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt on her tour of the continent to give speeches alongside the United States’ own governmental foreign aid organization, USAID. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) noted problematic comments made by Trump’s husband, who has been criticized for racist remarks by referring to the continent in a negative light during a private discussion earlier this year. After hearing about the negative remarks, the African Union asked Trump’s husband to apologize, which was ignored. An article by The New York Times, as well as other news outlets like CNN and BBC, flagged this issue as a possible source of tension but also referenced Trump’s personal motivation for her trip.

An article by The New York Times cites Trump’s communications director Stephanie Grisham who spoke for Trump before her departure, saying “she is interested in Africa because she has never been before and knows that each country will have its own unique history and culture.” Trump spent her trip visiting schools, hospitals and tourist sites with minimal interaction over her presence from the public, according to BBC. She watched infants being weighed in local hospitals to show the importance of adequate nutrition as well as touring classrooms.

Nevertheless, Trump hopes to shine “a spotlight on successful programs and organizations that teach children the tools and skills needed for emotional, social and physical well-being,” while also stressing the importance of promoting “an environment in which all groups of society—including women and religious minorities—can lead productive and healthy lives.”

Trump recognizes that younger children are likely to be targeted by factors such as “education, drug addiction, hunger, online safety or bullying, poverty or disease,” she said in a speech. “It is too often children who are hit first, and hardest, across the globe.” Following in the steps of her predecessors, Trump is not the first first lady to make a visit to the continent but the general public response is not as enthusiastic towards her efforts. Some remarks on Trump’s arrival, provided by BBC, show a mixed review of the first lady with some fans praising her and calling her an inspiration, while others say she is not particularly inspiring,instead mentioning the trips of Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton in past years.

Spoken Word Poet Katie Wirsing: A Review

St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) was lucky enough to have spoken word poet Katie Wirsing as a guest, along with her very well travelled, adorable baby, on Oct. 1, 2018 at Cole Cinema. Wirsing’s poetry is vivid and touching, reminiscent of fond memories with her father and her not-so-tolerant grandmother, along with recent memories of her husband and her journey with her queer activism. Wirsing’s poetry also allowed her develop her own identity as her high school’s infamous “lezbian,” incorrectly spelled out by Wirsing for dramatic effect.

Wirsing’s strained father-daughter relationship was a subject she referenced often, especially when it came to her sexuality, but she did highlight the special moments they shared when he attended the gay pride parade with her while visiting Colorado despite being sick with cancer. She is honest in her work, recognizing that life is not always easy or perfect, but manages to craft her pain into her work, intertwining the good and bad into a mini-masterpiece she performs while she travels.

Wirsing admits that the poems she chooses to perform change as she travels, yet still engaged her audience by storytelling the memories she grew up with while setting up the introductions to her poems. Wirsing felt more comfortable in comparison to other presenters that have visited the College by posing questions for the audience to answer inside of her performance.

Instead of feeling like a presence that demanded your undivided attention, Wirsing openly engaged with the emotions and responses from the audience and allowed herself to deviate from a schedule. She admitted to going on tangents leading her astray from the original topic of her poems, but the pieces she presented packed a punch with her struggles with big topics such as religion and family as well as the unwelcome, intrusive scrutiny she faces from friends on Facebook who view her life from afar.

Wirsing has a unique sense of humor, telling her listeners about how her eight-month-old baby has been on over twenty airplane trips across the country to attend the presentations she gives. She is still adamant though about entertaining the excitement of the flight attendants when they assume it is the baby’s first plane ride. She joked that the amount of little plastic airplane wings they give to newborns is starting to clutter her house, comparing her excessive amount of wings to the one or two that typical families get when flying with a baby. Wirsing also admits to hopelessly signing up for contests and always checking her phone despite not knowing the caller identification, hoping to someday win a grand prize— or just for the sake of not missing out on possible life events.

Wirsing ended her presentation with validating her own emotional vulnerability and recognizing that every person deserves to be loved fully and completely, stating that she “isn’t fragile,” although the very nature of her career demands it of her. Her honesty and friendly nature, such as asking audience members to add her as a contact on social media, made watching her performance worthwhile and inspired me to take more time reflecting on my own experiences with similar topics.

Kanye West Goes On a Pro-Trump Rant in White House and SNL

Kanye West made a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live (SNL) on Sept. 29, 2018, to perform his music for an enthusiastic audience. After his set, he turned the focus from rap to a rant, addressing those who seemingly “bully” him for wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat in support of the current presidential administration.

The cast of SNL stood awkwardly behind after West called them onstage as he preached a pro-Trump message, which made some SNL cast members like Pete Davidson raise their eyebrows and even exit the studio at the uncomfortable situation. West took to Twitter and made a tweet about abolishing the 13th amendment, which received massive media publicity, but also tweeted about “no longer” outsourcing to other countries while providing “jobs for all who are free from prisons,” all written above a selfie inside a private jet and wearing his iconic MAGA hat.

After criticism from around the world, West has since decided to delete his Twitter account. The world watched as West took a stand on SNL and criticism has taken place about the situation. Davidson says he is speaking on behalf of similar “crazy” people when he says the entire situation was ridiculous, referencing his own experiences with mental illness and also adding, “What Kanye said after we went off the air last week was one of the worst, most awkward things I’ve seen here, and I’ve seen Chevy Chase speak to an intern,” adding humor to alleviate the awkwardness of the events.

Even news channels such as ET Canada are following the West scandal and on Oct. 1, 2018, host Roz Weston stated that the message of West in “a private jet, wearing a hat made in China, and wearing clothes that are not made in Milwaukee” is a direct contrast to what he is advising while co-host Graeme O’Neil states that although West provides “philosophical” and “grandiose ideas,” his arguments are not “concrete” and lack a political agenda. Some spectators think West is using this event as a publicity stunt, but regardless of West’s need for attention, he is using his large media following to preach pro-Trump messages.

West and President Donald J. Trump met on Thursday morning where West, surrounded by paparazzi and the expectant president across from him, rambled about access to mental healthcare and providing jobs across the nation. West references these things as a “trapdoor to the thirteenth amendment,” then addressing his previous act on SNL by adding, “I did say abolish with the hat on,” noting his choice to present with a politically charged MAGA hat, and following with, “because why would you keep something that is a trap door?”

In a publicized video of the interaction, Trump seemed to be trying to follow the information being presented by his radical supporter while West jumped between topics and jumbled, incomprehensible sentences. He rambles about the “four gentlemen who wrote the thirteenth amendment” and then stops, mid-sentence, to philosophize about the universe and its many floors.

West also met with presidential son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, during the visit, press secretary, Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “Topics of discussions included manufacturing resurgence in America, prison reform, how to prevent gang violence, and what can be done to reduce violence in Chicago,” Sanders said.

Meet Dr. Daniel Yu, Visiting Assistant Professor of English

The Point News had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with visiting Assistant Professor of English Daniel Yu, Ph.D., who started teaching at St. Mary’s College of Maryland as of Fall 2018. When asked why he chose the College out of other possible contenders, Yu mentioned the “intimate culture” that was a factor in his decision, along with the personal relationships that students and professors share in a smaller school setting. He says the appealing relationships between professors and students is “something that isn’t always typical in a college environment but is really valuable for learning, with everybody learning from each other.”

Yu explained his interest in literature beginning in the early eighteenth century. He also spoke of his interest in researching several topics that intersect with literature throughout history, such as “economics, religion and philosophy”, which Yu studies along with the “rise of novels in the eighteenth century.” Yu says he tries to make his work intentionally interdisciplinary, and references his Comparative Literature degree from Emory University that pushed him to further his studies in other languages, and made note that he studied “specifically French”, but also learned German and Latin while completing his graduate studies.

Although Yu is passionate about his studies, he mentioned different hobbies including an interest in basketball, as a Lakers fan growing up in Los Angeles, Calif. He mentioned LeBron James’ recent contract with the team, saying he “keeps up” with current events relating to the team. Yu said he is also excited to spend time at the beach because he was not as close to water where he studied in Atlanta, Ga.

He talked a bit about his previous studies before coming to the College and how his degrees help him to write poetry, another one of his interests. When asked to describe himself in a few words, Yu briefly noted himself as a son, a brother, a husband, a professor and a writer. When asked about his transition in preparation for the school year, Yu said it has been “challenging but really rewarding,” touching on the change of scenery since his move to Maryland and commenting on students’ tremendous efforts in his classes but also referring to the beginning of the semester as “something like a hurricane.” Adjusting to the new environment has been “fast-paced”, says Yu, but he is excited for the rest of the year.

When asked about any possible ideas for activities or courses in the English department that he could bring to the College, Yu mentioned an interest for a theory reading group, where critical theory fans could meet and read texts that provoke thoughts or discussions. Delving back into Yu’s interest in poetry, he answered questions on his own work and said he is currently working on the form of his poems. Right now he is focused on iambic poems, with unrhymed iambic pentameter  being one of the challenges he is interested in mastering as well as free verse poems. He is interested in the “patterns of rhythmic language” within texts and plans to continue his education with his hopeful upcoming publication on gift giving in works of literature such as “Robinson Crusoe,” a topic that Yu has written about before.

The Dangers of Stricter Alcohol and Noise Policy Enforcement

At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) announced changes to the enforcement of alcohol policy, raising public outcry both from current and former students who find fault in the protocol. The stricter enforcement changes pertain to open containers, open door parties, and efforts to reduce noise.

The new adjustments were introduced at a Resident Assistant (RA) meeting on Aug. 26, where students and staff were given time to review and discuss the modified policy. The changes in policy state that if a student is found in possession of a clearly labeled alcoholic beverage, such as a can or bottle, the RA must write up the offending student and record the student’s SMCM identification number. In the case of a party that is not being properly contained inside of a residence, the RAs are instructed to break up the situation.

Students are irate over the new enforcement tactics for music, which encourages Public Safety and RAs to document students who project music out of their windows. The consequences for violating this policy include having a noise complaint filed if the noise pollutes surrounding areas.

Students from the College, both current students and alumni, are raising concerns over the justification of the policy changes through social media outlets such as Change.org. Cameron Keyani, ’16, began a petition online to address the faults in the policy, stating that the policy is “diverting institutional resources and focus away from educating young minds, and towards micromanaging campus life.” Keyani also claimed that Public Safety has a “cavalier” attitude when handling situations on campus. “We will not be donating a single cent to our beloved alma mater,” Keyani promises with the support of peers in agreement, “as long as this sorry state of affairs continues.” The petition also chastises the administration for buying an unnecessary squad of Dodge Chargers for the Public Safety office instead of focusing on more important issues such as the safety and well being of the student body.

Another student, senior Hannah Roe, posted a note on her Facebook timeline addressing her concerns to the recently policy changes, recognizing that “Restricting drinking to closed door parties is not harm reduction for binge drinking like the St. Mary’s administration seems to think,” and going on to speak about the discrepancies between what the policy promises and how the actual handling of situations will be affected.

Roe notes that the fear of being written up will threaten the relationship between the students and RAs as well as Public Safety members, saying “pushing people into private parties is a good way to ensure sexual assault with fewer witnesses happens, people don’t seek help from RAs or Public Safety for fear of being written up, and the younger students who will still inevitably wander into random parties will not be as safe as they would be outside in public.”

This statement directly contrasts with the ideals of the policy, but also draws attention away from another pressing issue. Students have speculated that the College’s administration is pushing for a tighter grip on the alcohol and party policy to turn the focus away from the College’s president, Tuajuanda C. Jordan, Ph.D., and her suspected DUIs alleged mismanagement of College funds.

Editor’s Note: As of Tuesday, Sept. 11 speakers projecting music outside of residences are permitted on Friday and Saturday nights as long as notice is given and permission is obtained from neighbors.