It was pretty alarming to read that ISIS destroyed the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, and killed an archaeologist who had looked after it for 40 years. To be honest, I had never heard of the ancient city of Palmyra. I didn’t know that the Temple of Bel was almost 2000 years old and dedicated to a Mesopotamian god. It withstood the Roman empire, conversions to Christianity and later to Islam.
But now that I do… it’s genuinely upsetting. This area was along the Silk Road and its history seems to be an example of different cultures vying for power and somehow living together as well. Most cultures don’t exist in a vacuum. Things definitely have to change. If you live in the United States particularly, our cities are a testament to changing times, but we need cities like Palmyra to continue existing.
In “The Monuments Men“, Frank Stokes a.k.a George Clooney, says this:
“You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed.”
The movie was about a group of art experts who were enlisted by the U.S. army to find and preserve art that Hitler was destroying as he blasted through Europe. It wasn’t the best movie, but I really loved this speech. Art represents culture. Sometimes it’s both history and progress. Without it, we would not be the same world despite all of our wonderful scientific and technological achievements.
ISIS is not unique in what they did. There’s a reason that dictators burn books. It’s to erase ideas and attempt to rewrite the past. Aren’t we better as people if we learn from the past rather than destroy it? Aren’t we better people if we CHOOSE to do something and learn it ourselves, instead of being forced into it?
Why do people prefer to study classics and history instead of technology? There is something in human nature that’s guided towards it. I think we need both progress and history, art and technology. We need both for the human race to survive.
I don’t know what the solution is to a problem as big as ISIS (and other groups who want to destroy the world). Obviously I have more questions than answers, but this is a reminder that there are people in this world who risk their lives to protect even a seemingly small part of our humanity.
Let’s remember the people — like archaelogist Khaled al-Asaad — who have.
Two young journalists and a woman they were interviewing were shot on live television on August 26, 2015. I started writing this in anger on a Wednesday night, the same day it happened, and decided to wait before publishing. My gut reaction was strong. I thought about this tragic story obsessively for a few days because of the way it was first broadcast in public, and then done again and again online.
If you haven’t read about it by now, a guy came shot three people during a live morning interview. Initially he got away and had time to post a his own, first-person video of the crime. To top that off, several media outlets shared the video that the murderer recorded and posted online.
By Thursday morning, some newspapers and TV stations were using stills (if not whole clips) from the incriminating video. With one article after another, whether it was Reuters or some other reliable source, I found myself watching an “edited” version of the shooting video. I had waited to calm down but a week later, it still makes no sense.
We will never stop trying figure out “what happened?” Why did he do it? Maybe that’s why the Daily News thought it was a good idea to publish a front page photo of Alison Parker being shot from the killer’s perspective. Many other newspapers did the same.
We read about murders and horrible crimes every single day. We look at statistics and try to grasp at what they represent, but somehow even the most violent images can’t force us as a country to react.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence wrote recently about how effective even relatively small changes to gun laws can make a huge difference in the number of people killed every year. One example they used was the state of Missouri and its repeal of a 80-year old law that required a background check and license to buy handguns from any type of seller.
“Johns Hopkins researchers determined that repeal of Missouri’s background check requirement was linked to a 14% increase in Missouri’s murder rate through 2012 and a 25% percent increase in firearm homicide rates. These researchers estimated that in tragic human terms, the law’s repeal translated into an additional 49 to 68 murders every year.”
That number is not just a number. Each one is a person whose life was taken by a gun. Not by a mentally ill person or a “disgruntled employee,” but by a gun that was available to them.
A few months after last year’s tax day, my mom told me that she got a call from an abrasive IRS agent saying that my dad owed money on his taxes. This man called their home phone and demanded to speak to my father. He told her that they had not paid the government and that there would be officers at her door soon. What did my mom do? She hung up on him!
Somehow she knew that it was a tax scam.
A Fake IRS Tale
I’d heard this story before… Not too long before that my mother-in-law told me about a friend who received a similar call. The difference was that this person was (understandably) frightened by the fake IRS agent’s threats. She didn’t want her home taken away or to be arrested. So when the person on the phone offered a “settlement,” it seemed in her best interest to just pay it off immediately.
Fortunately, they called an accountant who set them straight.
And before that… The IRS puts out a list of the worst scams for the year. I can’t pin point when this particular one started, but this type of money-making scheme is quite popular. It’s so intrusive that it catches people off guard. They might have some reason to worry about their finances, their tax forms or their business. I can think of a ton of money-stealing situations off the top of my head that I have either read about or heard about from others. Some people had to deal with years of fighting to regain their stolen identity, while others transferred money that they will never get back. What’s important is that you know what your moves are: before, during and afterward.
Why do scams work?
So you get a call from someone who tells you threatens you as an official (police, FBI, IRS, etc) or reads your personal information back to you. They threaten you with your worst fears — debt, jail time, deportation. These people are good.
“But I’m smarter than that,” you might say. I believe you, I do, but these people SOUND pretty legit for several reasons:
- They say they’re from the IRS
- They give a name & IRS badge/ID
- They have an office number you can actually call back
- Your caller ID says “IRS office” or something similar
- You get a “follow-up” call from a different agent, department or agency (ex, a police officer)
- You get an email that supports the call
- It sounds like they’re calling from an office (background noise)
- They state your full name, social security number or other personal information
Just in case you missed it: THIS call is not from the IRS! Nor, will it ever be. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which is responsible for collecting taxes, will not call, text, or email you if there is a problem with your taxes. IRS agents will not knock on your door to chat, or do anything without letting you know by mail. Don’t take my word for it. This is straight from the IRS website:
The IRS will always send taxpayers a written notification of any tax due via the U.S. mail. The IRS never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
Remember your rights
Before you do anything, remember that there is no harm in verifying an official’s identity. Given the prevalence of this kind of tax scam, I would even call the IRS to check out a letter you received in the mail. I’d imagine that real officers or agents will recognize that you are trying to be safe. So do just that.
Do not share any personal information or meet anyone unless it is at a police station or a real IRS office. Call a police station or other relevant office to confirm whether or not there is a problem. Do not click on any email links or follow messages without verification. It’s as simple as that.
After receiving this type of call, you can do the following things:
- Report it to the IRS: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Report-Phishing
- Report identity theft if they use your SSN: http://oig.ssa.gov/report-fraud-waste-or-abuse/what-cant-oig-investigate/identity-theft
- Call your local police department if someone comes to your house, or if money is stolen
Though it might seem obvious to you, many people do get caught up in tax scams every single year, especially the elderly and those who don’t understand English well. In fact, these scumbags will target those people specifically. Let your friends, parents or grandparents know what to look out for and what their rights are.
When I was about nine or ten years old, my grandmother came to live with us. I had never met her before. For all this time she was a distant relative living with my uncle in Uzbekistan, where we had immigrated from several years before.
It wasn’t easy for my parents, both working full-time, to take care of an elderly woman, plus two young kids in a small apartment in Queens. It’s a situation many immigrants and their children experience. I was so happy to meet my grandmother — to celebrate my birthday together and hold her hand — that I didn’t notice something more difficult was happening.
Our life with Parkinson’s Disease
My maternal grandmother passed away last year after a long decline from Parkinson’s Disease. There were a few incidents with my grandmother’s health that scared me, but as a kid I thought it was just a part of getting old. The hand tremors would’ve been the most obvious sign that she had Parkinson’s, but I was too excited about my grandma to notice.
She suffered with the disease for almost 20 years. It’s a disease with no cure, though many treatments options exist with medication and surgery. My grandmother likely felt the first symptoms of PD in the early 90’s when she was living in Uzbekistan, a former state of the Soviet Union. By the time she immigrated to live with my family in the mid 90’s, we were seeing her symptoms and she had not received adequate treatment.
Parkinson’s degenerates cells in a person’s central nervous system (the brain and spine). Though tremors (shaking hands) are identifiable to most people due to the media attention it has received in recent years, the disease causes a severe reduction in quality of life. My grandmother went through bouts of depression both because of the disease, and anxiety from the process of finding the right medication. She ultimately was diagnosed with dementia. PD patients are six times more likely to have dementia than the average person. Some people suffer from psychosis (hallucinations) and decreased impulse control as well. There are other physical complications that result in a person being unable to care for themselves. This leaves family members and other caretakers in a difficult position. It’s also these people who don’t always get the proper recognition, not to mention the mental, emotional and financial support they deserve.
Though my grandmother lived with us for several years, my uncle took charge of her care upon his own immigration to the U.S. It’s for him, my mother , her home aides, and also for this country that I am grateful. She received 24 hour care for many years of her life and lived to the age of 91. Her aides became part of our family. We watched Russian t.v. channels together after school, gave grandma haircuts and sang songs that she once loved on her birthdays. Though it’s hard to talk about old age with an incurable disease, her life was truly the best it could be under the conditions.
I checked my phone on the morning of December 2, to find out that it was “Giving Tuesday.” It was started by the 92nd St. Y and the United Nations Foundation in 2012 to encourage you to share causes you care about and have donated to with the hashtag “#GivingTuesday”. I had looked into the Michael J. Fox Foundation many times and decided to donate in my grandmother’s memory that morning.
#GivingTuesday falls on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving (and after the notorious shopping craze that follows).
My donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation is in honor of her, as well as our family and her caretakers. Every donation made on Giving Tuesday in 2014 was matched by MJFF in an effort to reach their fundraising goals. I hope that there is a future where no one has to suffer and struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, nor worrying about the prognosis of a diagnosed family member.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation gives grants to labs researching a cure for Parkinson’s, and treatment and care for those affected. If you decide to donate toward Parkinson’s research, feel free to do so in honor of my grandmother, Zinaida Kogan, and my family. The MJFF spends 89 cents of every dollar raised directly on research, and only .06 cents are spent for bringing in one dollar of donations. They have an amazing score on Charity Navigator, almost perfect on accountability & transparency and financials. You can check out their ratings here*.
If you’re interested in this foundation specifically, sign up for their newsletter, as there are many times during the year where donations are matched (sometimes doubled and tripled!).
There are so many charities and non-profits out there who ask for money. Charity Navigator is a good resource, as well as CharityWatch.Org and Give.Org, to check an organizations effectiveness, transparency and legitimacy. Even your local organizations should be registered as a non-profit or charity before accepting money. Please do your research.
If you’re considering donating, here are some causes I’m interested in:
Any of the highest-rated Alzheimer’s and dementia researchers —
Two national org’s that work for tolerance and civil liberties —
A new friend of mine is fundraising on behalf of ‘Embrace Kids’, which supports families of kids with cancer and blood disorders. Donate here.
What cause are you passionate about? Leave a comment to share.
Here I am sitting on the famous Japanese bullet train (Shinkansen). Just a few weeks ago, I was at home thinking about what exciting things waited for me in this country. Tuesday will conclude two weeks of travel in Japan.
While some sights and customs turned out to be what I expected, there’s so much that did not — for better or for worse.
I’ll be writing about two weeks worth of wonderfully Japanese things including fashion, traditional customs, and food, when I’m at home and can download photos from my camera. For two more days, I’ll be part of the hustle in Tokyo. Then back to the other East Coast!
Meanwhile, you can see some updates from me on Instagram, @yevi_.
I hope you’ll stay tuned for more! Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see or read about!
Yours Truly in UTC+09,
“Twenty-six years ago, you played a game with a little boy down the street. A game with drums.” (Jumanji, 1995)
I can remember watching Jumanji as a kid, and getting really into the “horrors” and surprises of the story. Floods! Stampedes! A man trapped in the jungle because of a game!
Robin Williams didn’t stand out much to me at the time — I was only 5 when the movie was released and didn’t care about people in movies one way or another. What I did remember all those years ago, and even now, was his quirky smile and laugh. He voiced Genie in Aladdin, which was unforgettable. There was Mrs. Doubtfire — unforgettable in a totally different way. I remember him in Good Will Hunting, Flubber, Jack, Hook, Bicentennial Man, and many more. Williams was known as a comedian but he was also unforgettable in dramatic roles.
Once I start thinking about everything he was in, I realize that not only was he an icon but also a big part of my life through movies.
“Our job is improving the quality of life, not just in delaying death.” (Patch Adams, 1998)
This year I watched “Angriest Man in Brooklyn”, where he starred alongside Mila Kunis. There was also the “Crazy Ones” on CBS, which I was looking forward to watching again in the Fall. When I read the news on Twitter, my first thoughts went to this show. How could someone who was still relevant, still funny, still talented take his own life?
I’m sure there will be a lot of speculation in the week ahead. As an audience, we don’t know Robin Williams’ mental state, his financial state, or his physical state at the time of his death. We know him as the actor, and I know it’s hard for me to separate him from his on-screen personalities. You may have heard that he had a history of drug addiction, and may have been bipolar. What I do know is that he brought laughter, wisdom and energy into the world of entertainment.
Robin Williams’ movies will live on, and in that way so will he. Many more people will find joy in his work. He deserves that.
I hope that this moment will also be a reminder that even relevant, funny and talented people can be depressed. They can need help and be lost when they don’t receive it. They can commit suicide.
“It’s not your fault.”
I hate to sound cliché but “in this day and age” a lot of us are only friends behind screens. It’s easy for us to believe that we are doing our best to make a connection with someone through social media. But if someone simply disappeared off Facebook, would you know how to reach them? Don’t leave any one who you believe is depressed or suicidal alone. Reach out to them. If you are talking to the person online you can try to find someone who knows them or in a worst-case scenario: call the police. Don’t be embarrassed to do something that could save their life.
Dr. John Grohol, founder of PsychCentral.com, shared one of the most well-written posts regarding Williams and his mental health I’ve read so far. Similar to my own point, he writes this:
Suicide is an insidious choice due to the lies that depression tells us. When a person is suffering from severe depression, as apparently Williams was, it can tell that person, “Hey, you’d be better off dead. Life isn’t going to get any better.”
And sadly, sometimes people listen. Even brilliant, accomplished individuals such as Robin Williams.
Let your friend know you’re listening. Listen without judging is difficult, but try to do it. Ask them what they might need help with. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re considering suicide. A lot of people want help but don’t know how to ask for it.
Tell them that it’s not their fault. What they’re feeling does not define them, and that there is help available. Mean what you say and be there for them. They might tell you that they’re “ok” or that you’ll embarrass them, but think about what the other options are.
Depression and other mental health issues are extremely stigmatized. Remember that. Depressed people may feel that their seemingly small problems are taking over, meanwhile their friends or their parents will not validate their pain and fears. This can drive them away from real help in order to seem “normal”. Encourage the people you know to seek professional help.
It’s only fair to you and to them. There are plenty of free, confidential and easy ways to talk to someone.
Here are some resources I hope will be helpful:
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
If you’ve lived through what feels like an endless winter haze (like we’ve seen here in the Northeast), the beginning of summer requires a celebration. Even on the sunniest days, it was just too hard to think that a new season was coming, but finally it’s July and the weather is fabulous.
The Science of Summer
Sunshine is actually good for you. Your body needs Vitamin D to encourage healthy growth in your bones and muscles. Generally, people who get less of it over their lifetimes are more likely to develop heart-related issues and osteoporosis. If you’re outside midday for just a few minutes (without sunscreen) your skin will convert UVB rays into just the right amount of Vitamin D. This is just an approximation, and depends on several things like where you’re located and the color of your skin. (Please talk to your doctor before skipping sunscreen or making any other sun-related changes!) A lack of sun during the winter months also brings out depression, anxiety and insomnia for some people. (It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Being inside all day isn’t just preventing you from getting a nice tan. Some studies have shown that the human brain will produce more serotonin — a chemical that increases confidence and happiness —when you’re exposed to the sun. It’s one of the chemicals produced by drugs such as LSD or the anti-depressant, Prozac. You can imagine (and probably feel) what happens in the absence of sunlight in your life. There isn’t a scientific consensus on how sunlight stimulates serotonin production during this season but what we feel is real.
Of course this doesn’t mean you should skip your sunscreen and lay out in the sun. There are obvious and proven risks with doing that. What I’m sayin’ is simple.
You need a break.
You need some sun, and some food. And maybe a cold drink.
Prescription to Party
When the weather starts to warm up it’s no surprise that people jump at a chance to grill some food outside or just to put on a t-shirt and take a walk. My husband’s birthday is in the middle of the summer, and we always take advantage of that. This year, as several others before, we headed outside for a barbecue with our family and friends. Combining all of these things made for a great day.
If you’re looking for something to do this summer that will bring together the people you love, this is what you need.
It’s a given that the sun should be out and shining this month but sometimes Mother Nature does her own thing. We had intense lighting storms and threatening clouds over the July 4th weekend. This dissipated when our party came around, but it’s always wise to keep tabs on those clouds. It might be organic, but rain will NOT make your steak taste better.
I’m always one to encourage people to mingle and get to know each other, but you still need something for them to do. This could be as simple as planning something at the beach. If you decide to go to a park or a similar location, you should think about bringing some things: soccer ball, baseball and gloves, frisbee, football. I’d also suggest a speaker to play music from your phone or other device. If you don’t have these things, ask your friends to bring what they have. We were lucky to have all of these things around and they were definitely useful.
We also had a pinata for the birthday boy (er… man). Let me tell you, it stole the show. My sister-in-law had the great idea to get one for a party that would have more adults than children. She filled it with things like floss, soap, lotions, and Hot Wheels cars. Everyone was surprised, including myself. The kids reactions were priceless. Sorry guys, maybe next time!
Location, location, location
If you have a chance, scope out your location of choice to decide on the best spot to have your party. Look for things like walking distance to bathrooms, water fountains, and ability to get under the shade or trees. Parking space is important if your friends are driving. If they’re not, consider walking distance from public transportation. Bring a stand-up umbrella or ask your friends to do so if it’s going to be very hot. We had blankets and beach chairs, and again, asked people to bring their own. There were picnic benches at the park, but a lot of people chose to relax on something more comfortable.
Food and drinks
Bring a cooler, fill it with ice, juice, beer, and water bottles. Bring more water than will fit into your cooler. This is really important, especially if you’re going to be running around or constantly in the sun. We bought four large jugs of water, plus sodas and juices, but after several hours we started to run out. This happened right in the middle of a sweaty soccer game and people were happy to drink some of the warm water we had left.
We had one regular cooler and one of these freezer packs. If I did it again, I’d get a second cooler with ice. First to bring more cold water, but also because the [ice pops] we had to put in the pack were mostly melted by the time we were done with the food. It was a great tragedy, in my opinion. Don’t forget to keep any perishable foods out of the sun or in a cooler, especially dairy-based dips.
About 30 people showed up. This included families with toddlers and some older kids. We bought about 15 pounds of chicken and beef (combined) for the grill. We also had veggies on skewers, dips, and a giant bowl of fruit salad. Considering my parents also brought some more food, I think everyone was satisfied. We probably had enough leftovers for about a week.
Check out bbqplanner.com for an approximate estimate of how much food you should get.
At the end of the day, my husband and I were very happy with how the day went. We’ll probably plan another when we have the time.
How you plan a party depends on what you and your friends or family like. In the end it’s about enjoying the sunshine in good company!
For years and years and years, I kept saying that I would spend some time interviewing my grandparents. They have a tremendous history both in their lives together, and separately. I won’t get into all of it here, except to share a part of an interview with my grandfather. They spent 68 years together and I think my grandpa does a great job of communicating what went on between them. Unfortunately my grandmother isn’t part of this, as she passed away in 2018.
This is a huge project with a lot of editing to go, and a totally new medium for me as well. Enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts or suggestions.
A special shout out to my parents for checking my translation. And to my grandpa, who doesn’t use the Internet — you’re the best. Now everyone knows.
When I discovered Chris Hadfield’s tweets last spring, I was obsessed. Seriously, I turned into a one woman fan club when I emailed new photos to my family, probably with the subject line: SO AWESOME.
Hadfield, who was commander of the International Space Station at the time, gained popularity when he started sharing photos and videos from orbit straight into the Twitter-sphere. Though his mission was to study human biology in space, he had time to create a lip synced video to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. You know, the one about floating around in space and coming home. Apparently he only had rights to the song for one year and that ends today. Watch the video on YouTube before it’s gone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo.
What’s up there?
Isn’t that the big question that makes humans want to propel into space — a less than favorable environment? I was always fascinated by the mysteries of life. And it felt like some of those mysteries were explained the time I got to high school. I was fascinated by flying. By the sky. The more I learned, the more I felt that I really knew nothing. Perhaps that’s what keeps me so interested. Even when I was studying the sciences, I never thought that could be me up anywhere near the stars. I belong on Earth, but I still want to know, both what the stars are made of and what compels someone to keep going up there to find out.
What’s down here?
What Cmdr. Hadfield gave the world is not only a view of the stars, but a look at ourselves. We love looking up, but we have to come back down eventually just like astronauts. I loved the fact that he was in space. It was mind-boggling, but these photos reminded me of just how much we have going on right here on Earth. There’s so much beauty to learn about and preserve. Even just on a global scale, looking at ice caps, deserts or city lights makes individual problems seem so much less pressing. Yes, it’s cliche, but I know I need a reminder once in a while. Feeling small doesn’t scare me. Even small things add up. I know people are important. Just look at what we can do on Earth and in orbit.
Athens, Greece. The Parthenon at the heart stands out from orbit. pic.twitter.com/PqOElsXplO
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) April 24, 2013
Tonight's Finale: New York City, incredibly clear, before the trees have filled with leaves. pic.twitter.com/sjZc7oyw4w
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) April 23, 2013
Ancient Saharan stone, burnished by eternal sand and wind. pic.twitter.com/2Gr4MOd2ky
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) April 28, 2013
The other night I picked up a phone call from a number that I’d been avoiding. I knew it was my former university calling for donations.
A polite freshman introduced herself and asked me about my time there. What was memorable about my college experience? What was I doing now? Afterward she asked if I would be willing to donate toward the university’s freshman scholarship fund. She was sweet so I chatted with her for a few minutes. When I asked whether I could think about her request, and donate later (or online), her answer was vague and basically sounded like no.
I don’t blame the girl for trying to pressure me with her response. I’m sure she was just following a script. It’s exactly what I expected when I ignored that call many times in the past few years.
The fund I would be donating toward is solely for freshman, and funded exclusively by students and alumni. I remember getting emails before graduation and seeing the fund advertised with motivating reminders. Seniors received a pin if they donated a small amount and showed that they cared about incoming freshmen. The annual sums were relatively small compared to the large donations that are usually recognized. I always found it strange that they targeted students with loans, books to buy and probably, low-paying jobs.
I wanted to consider the request again so I watched a video on the university website. But the sad, adopt-a-puppy music didn’t do it for me. Neither did reminder that a school’s rankings increase when alumni give back and participate.
I have always been on the fence about donating to my university. I really value the fact that the fund goes directly to student scholarships. The reason I’m so hesitant is that I assume that a large university, which essentially runs like a business, could spare a couple thousand dollars in scholarships a year. There are personal reasons that are definitely less relevant. One is that I don’t feel that my school helped with my career path. Of course I’ve heard a million times that I shouldn’t have expected too much. I should’ve picked a better major or knocked on more doors. Universities are businesses after all.
I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I’ll put off donating this year.
What would you do?