Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Getting Personal

To me, writing about myself is like writing a resume: it demands being boastful and showing off, something I'm not comfortable with. In fact, I value being humble and try to focus my conversations on other people's lives so much that I become awkward and uncomfortable when talking about myself--something which makes job interviews and intimate conversations very difficult. The upside is that I am able to learn immeasurable amounts about people who are already my friends, and it helps me quickly establish relationships with new people who enter my life--in whatever capacity that may be. The downside is that when you hold information back and keep most aspects of your life private, people can only guess or speculate about who you are and what you stand for. People are good at a lot of things, but giving one another the benefit of the doubt is not something many humans exceed in (see, I just assumed the worst right there).

I'll keep it nice and simple, point-form:

--I am 24-years-old, tall and lanky, and kind of an awkward looking dude. I should probably cut my hair more often than I do

--I work in a children's respite home, and have been involved in supporting individuals with cognitive/physical/mental delays/disabilities for over 5 years

--I embraced this line of work because I am an advocate for equality and the individuals whom I support are almost universally viewed as unequal; so I decided to put my money where my mouth is and lead by example. I have seen the positive changes in attitudes of people who used to literally be afraid of special needs individuals, and certainly viewed them as lesser--sickly, unequal, almost animal-like--solely through interactions I've helped come to pass

--I love the variety of my job and the things it teaches me, but I love even more the things I am able to share with other people who have prejudices against special needs individuals

--Each summer I volunteer at a camp for adults with special needs and have developed incredible relationships with so many wonderful people there

--I volunteer as a "Big Brother" for B.B.B.S. of Ontario, working in a classroom with a child who needs extra support getting through the school day

--I also work part-time for Extend-A-Family, where I help individuals learn life skills that will help them be fully independent one day; an included and integrated member of society

--I don't watch T.V. I spend most of my time at work or reading and researching about what is happening in the world

--I'm going to school to become a journalist so that I can further my fight for equality among all people. I plan to bring to light injustices that otherwise go unnoticed to most of Western society through travelling to places in the world where turmoil and chaos are everyday parts of life. Taking pictures and writing articles that will shock people to their core beliefs, causing them to pay attention, even if it isn't pleasant, will be my focus

--I've been published on several websites, getting about 8 million views total (outside this blog) since I started writing last November (2011)

--My personal blog (you're reading it now) gets 100,000+ views each month

--I think of myself as a pretty average person, with some skills and talents, but also plenty of flaws

--If video games are for geeks then I guess I am also one of those because I have always been an avid gamer

--I think people who take themselves too seriously, or are unable to laugh at their own behaviour lead terribly uninteresting lives

And now for the thing I catch the most flak for, my 'atheism':

--Although I am viewed by a lot of people as an atheist (because I lack belief in any god), I do not self-identify as one. Partly due to the fact that a lot of people who deem themselves 'atheists' are actually just pompous know-it-alls who value strident behaviour above open-minded conversation, but also because I believe atheism is just too narrow of a definition. I am a humanist: I believe civilization is a real thing and that it is the only thing that people have ever needed to be moral and hopeful. Religion can of course exist within civilization, but it needs to be made clear that society exists for the betterment of humanity, not for the purpose of perpetuating religious beliefs. Culture has existed in thousands of society's throughout history where religion has been absent or irrelevant. Art, science, music, dancing, cuisine, studying evidence, writing, speaking--all of these things are important parts of society. Some people may think religion is equally as important, and that is fine. 

The problem is when religious freedom turns into taking away other people's freedoms because they hold different beliefs or values. So when I write, or speak in criticism of religion, it isn't because I need to voice my opinion, or because of some innate desire for confrontation and to upset people; it's a reaction to religion (in one form or another) infringing on equal rights and freedom of civilization yet again, and I'm pissed off enough to speak up. If you're not pissed off, you're not paying attention. 

People have told me that I am too harsh, and that my jests and crude remarks about religion and the people spreading it are inappropriate. They are wrong, and this is why: The ability to laugh in the face of authority is an indispensable thing--it is the beginning of human emancipation to question, mock, and criticize the powers that be. I believe that religion as a political regime, as a constitution allowing people to abuse, destroy, hold back, dehumanize, and divide us, is dying. It will happen in my lifetime; I'll put money on it. My goal as a humanist is to make sure that religion serves its purpose (giving hope to the weak, the mourning, etc) and nothing else. My goal is to make sure people's equal rights are respected, regardless of how they love, or look, or what illnesses they were born with. 

The reason religion is a target of mine is because it consistently gives people permission to do and say wicked and evil things. I like to challenge people's belief systems and I have every right to do so. After all, they challenge mine everyday. Simply because I say "this religion needs to stop abusing women, and people who support this religion are pathetic for empowering it by following it" rather than "I love Jesus!" I lose friends, I have rude remarks thrown at me, written on my Facebook, Twitter messages, e-mails; and I am indefinitely viewed as a 'bad' person by a lot of people despite the positive things I do with my life. 

I'm actually okay with all of that, I can take it. I can deal because I am still a fully privileged member of society, with an amazing family who loves and accepts me and a uniquely awesome group of friends (and having a bunch of ignorant religious folk condemn me to hell is laughable because I don't even believe it exists). What I am not okay with is when good people, religious or not, have their rights taken away despite having committed no harmful offence--simply for believing differently. Or are laughed at in public for being gay or lesbian (Although I am straight, this injustice and the unequal treatment of LGBTQ individuals is something that causes my blood to boil unlike anything else). Religious people seem to forget that telling someone how to love is the same as telling someone how to listen to music; it's no one's responsibility to tell you how to view your own subjective experiences. 

See, I don't hate religion, I love humanity. The issue is that religion often gets in the way of humanity, and I will not tolerate that (and neither should you).

Thanks for reading a little bit about who I am and what makes me tick!

Monday, June 4, 2012

25 Powerful Photographs That Will Shake You To Your Core

Photography is an art form: It shouldn't be censored, and it certainly should not be filtered. These photographs, along with countless honourable mentions, depict the true power of what a photograph can be. No filters, photoshopping, or special effects can produce a photo more powerful than one that is taken raw of an extraordinary event--and capturing a rare instance of otherwise hard-to-imagine events is, to me, what true photography is about.

Haiti man disposing of bodies in a nonchalant fashion. After a complete breakdown of Haiti infrastructure, rapid body disposal was of the utmost importance to the health and safety of the general public.

A dog named 'Leao' takes his loyalty to the grave. This was taken on the second day in a row of the dog refusing to leave his owner's resting place.

A father stares at the hands of his daughter, which were chopped-off as punishment for him having produced too little caoutchouc (rubber) in Congo.

Christians protecting Muslims during protests in Egypt by forming a circle surrounding the group while they prayed.

A collection of wedding rings that were stolen from Jewish prisoners that entered the death camp, Bechaun. This is part of a series of photographs that depict the human depravity and devolution that allowed the holocaust to take place.

Evelyn McHale, who jumped 1050ft to her death on May 1st, 1947. This photo has been dubbed 'The Most Beautiful Suicide'. Taken by Robert Wiles a few moments after Evelyn jumped from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

A four-month-old baby who was missing for 4 days is miraculously rescued from rubble by Japanese soldiers after the tsunami that rocked the coast of Japan in 2011.

Apollo 11, in 1969, landing on the moon. The little guys on the blue planet finally made it to the gray one; among the greatest accomplishments in history.

Terri Gurrola reunites with her daughter after serving 7 months in Iraq. 

Defiance: A Chinese civilian who has been dubbed as 'Tank Man' refuses to move and let Chinese Army tanks pass at the infamous Tienanmen Square incident.

Helen Fisher kisses the hearse carrying the body of her 20-year-old cousin through Wootton Bassett, England. Overwhelmed with emotion, the grieving family member stepped onto the road as the convoy passed, carrying the bodies of 7 fallen soldiers.

Journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling reunite with their family in California, after having been arrested in North Korea and sentenced to 12 years hard labour.

Retired police Captain, Ray Lewis, arrested during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City in 2011.

John Lennon autographing a picture for Mark David Chapman, the man who would later go on to infamously murder Lennon outside his home in New York City on December 8th, 1980.

The child of a Klu-Klux-Klan member, out of innocent curiosity, touches the riot shield of a black State Trooper.

Jewish people being liberated after their 'Death Train' is stopped by US Army tanks on its way to a death camp, circa late-1944. Major Clarence L. Benjamin took this photo the moment the people in the train first saw his squadron's tanks and realized that they were being liberated. He later recounts: "Many of those close to the train are not yet aware of their liberation."

"If I don't photograph this, people like my mom will think war is what they see on T.V." - Kenneth Jarecke, photojournalist (Charred remains of an Iraqi Soldier with his final look of pain imprinted on his face.)

Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, setting himself ablaze in a final act of protest against the Vietnam War.

A Vietnamese girl plays dress up after being treated for severe burns.

'Falling Man'--A man jumps to his death from the World Trade Center after it is struck by a passenger jet that had been hijacked by Islamic terrorists on September 11th, 2001. 

Eight-year-old Christian Golczynski learns the horrors of war as he accepts his father's flag (Marine Staff Sgt. Marc Golczynski), who had been killed while on patrol during his second tour-of-duty in Iraq, which he had volunteered for. 

A vulture waits patiently for a young child to die. Photographer Kevin Carter took his own life after snapping this picture, claiming that overwhelming guilt put him into a severe depression because of the horrors he had seen while working as a photographer.

Robert Peraza pauses over his son's name at the 9/11 Memorial during the tenth anniversary of the WTC attacks.

Omaira Sanchez, one of 25,000 victims of the Nevado del Ruiz (Columbia) volcano, which erupted on November 14th, 1985. This 13-year-old had been trapped in water and concrete for 3 days; this photo was snapped shortly before she died.

Prisoner of War Horace Greasley defiantly stares down Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's right-hand-man, who was responsible for the Holocaust. Greasley's confrontation with Himmler took place during an inspection of the camp he was confined to. The inmates were ordered to remain seated, but Greasley refused. Horace Greasley also escaped the death camp, but sneaked back in to rescue a German woman whom he had fallen in love with.

An honourable mention goes to this 2007 Pulitzer prize winning feature photography series.

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