Michael Ashton

Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

Putting One Foot Ahead of the Other

In Features on December 16, 2012 at 4:03 am

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How does one come to grips with his HIV+ status with himself and his family? “It feels like coming out all over again.”

After meeting Joseph Johnson III through a mutual friend almost five years ago, I have come to refer to him as a very close friend. We are very much alike: love for astrology (he’s a Virgo, I’m a Libra), a deep affinity for Asian cuisine and a common excitement over the newest phones and technology. An aspiring designer with dreams to be successful within the fashion industry, his down-south drawl added color to his inviting, charming personality. It was made funnier when coupled with his quick one-liners and uncanny delivery. To others, we seemed like polar opposites. Despite some similarities, he is the more outgoing and brash type, while I tended to be the more reserved and easy-going. Being fierce romantics that we have always been, our experiences in dating and relationships, both good and bad, always gave us much to talk about.

Within the gay community, the city of Atlanta, among other major cities, has grown an unfavorable reputation for having an increasing amount of HIV cases in gay and bi-sexual men of color. Men are considered unsuspecting and highly promiscuous, participating in gross amounts of unprotected sexual activities with both men and women. After moving from Southern California to Alabama before settling in Atlanta, Georgia, I had my reservations about Joe moving into his new surroundings. Before every date that Joe was telling me that he was about to go out on with some interesting dude of the moment, I would always say “wear a condom” mid-conversation, reminding him to be prepared just in case something were to happen.

On August 17th 2011, Joe went to a local Atlanta clinic to be tested for HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases, his first test in almost 18 months. Though he had not been tested since late 2009, he felt confident that his status would remain negative. When he came back for his test results five days later, Joe was taken into a separate office room before his results were revealed that he was, in fact, HIV+. “In my head, I felt like this couldn’t have been real. I was confused. I was lost. I was scared. I didn’t want to believe the clinician who told me. I wanted to see the paperwork. I needed to see the results with my name on it in order for it to transfer and register in my head.” Remembering the clinician, “she was very sweet. She held my hand, offered me a box of tissues before writing down some information for me about a HIV counseling center nearby. I didn’t call because I was getting ready to move back to California a few weeks from that time.” When asked about whether or not a visit to the counseling center would have helped the matter, Joe replied, “Probably. It would have helped to some degree being around people who know where my head was. But I couldn’t make sense of things at all. You never imagine that this could actually happen to you, so when it does, it’s…shocking. That’s really it. I just wanted to go home, stay home and deal.”

According to Joe, he believes he knows who transmitted the disease to him. “I have a pretty good idea who it is. I’m about 90% sure. He was the only one I had unprotected sex with in years. I don’t know why it happened that way, but I can’t take it back. I addressed him about it but, naturally, he didn’t want to talk about it. I felt that was disrespectful. He felt like I was looking for someone to blame.”

Joe’s mother recently relocated back to Los Angeles, California and his grandparents, retired, remained in Mobile, Alabama. Coming from a religious and close-knit family (who still affectionately call him by his childhood nickname “Lil’ Joe”), he knew that breaking the devastating news to his family would be very hard, but equally necessary. His mother, Monique Edwards, an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles, was the first to find out. “She just cried. She cried like it was happening to her, like she was in my shoes. She was upset that I was in Atlanta by myself. She prayed and cried and went on and on. But I couldn’t stay on the phone for too long. No one ever wants to hear their mother suffer like that. I had just stopped crying that morning and I didn’t have it in me to start crying again because I was afraid that I wouldn’t stop.” He went on to explain, “I didn’t want to feel alone. I felt like my family needed to know so that I could get the support I needed. I had to get it off my chest because it came to me as such a shock. But I knew in doing that would be an even bigger shock to them. I couldn’t keep this secret bottled up inside of me. My family needed to be aware because it was a lesson learned for me. I know most people in my family didn’t know anyone close to them who had HIV. Some of them don’t even know what HIV really is. But I needed them to know that it wasn’t just a colossal myth going around in the world. This affects real lives on a large scale and it is now affecting me.”

One would imagine the first few days would be the hardest, even unbearable. “I felt like Carrie when she was supposed to go on her honeymoon”, referring to a pivotal scene in 2008’s Sex and the City film. “That part when she was all alone and slept through what was supposed to be her honeymoon – that was how I felt. I was planning a backyard cookout for my birthday and getting ready to move back to California the week after. Your birthday is supposed to be a happy time for you. But I was numb. I was empty. All I wanted to do was smoke some blunts, drink liquor and listen to Anita Baker ballads in the dark,” he says after taking a deep and arduous breath. “I was so miserable. I felt like a part of me died that day. I couldn’t sew. I couldn’t draw. I didn’t want to do move. I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I couldn’t sleep. Since then, I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. I’ve been so drained and tired because it was so much for me to take on at once.”

Upon returning to work as a waiter at Red Lobster (he had called in sick for the first few days), his co-workers noticed a significant change in his demeanor. The usually upbeat and personable Joe was more reserved and almost devoid of any personality. His eyes had seemed to be puffy from crying. “Everyone was asking me if I was alright. They were so used to me joking and fooling around that they didn’t know how to take me being so stiff. I literally had a wall up. They knew something was wrong but I didn’t want my problems to be their problems.”

“It feels like coming out all over again”, he says, correlating his current situation to his experience as a sophomore in high school. “When I came out in back then, a lot of people looked at me in a different light. It was hard to deal with. You know who’s meant to be around you after something life-changing like that happens. Being gay is one thing and I’ve done pretty well with that. I’m comfortable with it now being that I’m on the other side. But now it’s being black and experiencing racism, being gay and experiencing homophobia and now finding out that I’m HIV+. It’s just another hurdle that’ll making things that much more difficult.”

When asked how he currently approaches the issue of sex, he responds “The way I see it, I can’t see myself at this point doing something that put my health at risk. HIV is sexually transmitted, meaning sex that brought it on. Once you equate that, you totally lose interest and you want that aspect out of your life. What was supposed to be pleasurable is now petrifying. I can’t imagine having sex with anyone right now. It’ll come up one day but I’m not comfortable yet. It’s all still fresh.”

Joe recently completed his transition of moving from Atlanta to Los Angeles in September 2011. He currently lives in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles with his mother and his two younger siblings. He plans on taking fashion marketing courses at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College for the upcoming Spring 2012 semester as well as building and strengthening his clothing portfolio.

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Album Review: “The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1″ by Jill Scott

In Reviews on December 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm

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Typically, a compilation release of unreleased material features unremarkable outtakes and half-finished demos with varied quality compared to that of an official studio record. The opposite proves to be true with The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1 by Jill Scott, the first (of hopefully, several) contractual fulfillment albums following her quiet departure from Hidden Beach Recordings and subsequent signing to Warner Bros. Records. Impressively, the tracks are unfailing and on par with every release in her revered catalog, likely due to her involvement in the song selection process. Unlike her uneven 2011 release The Light of the Sun which featured some formless and even half-baked compositions, The Original Jill Scott… is consistent, with some of the material being recorded as far back as the conception of her first album.

After a brief introduction, Jill flirts coyly on the bombastic and shuffling “I Don’t Know (Gotta Have You)” produced by Carvin & Ivan. In contrast, “Wondering Why (You Don’t Talk to Me)” finds Jill cooing with distress from miscommunication amid a mid-tempo track, complete with a gooey live bass line and background vocals by Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men for some additional color. The funky bounce of “The Light” (produced by Dre & Vidal, who also supply a “piano mix” of the track) and the Southern soul of “Wake Up Baby” both play off of Jill’s impeccable strengths as a versatile lyricist,while the breezy “I’m Prettier” and “Comes to the Light (Everything)” highlight her multi-textured vocals.

Two of the most exciting inclusions are found with “Running Away (Suite)”, a twelve-minute, seemingly free-styled studio jam is complete with adlibs, giggles and hollers from Jill and members of her band, all of whom perform to pleasurable perfection. The other, “Holding On”, is a slow burning torch masterpiece in which Jill mournfully envelops her voice around each instrument as she reminisces about her lover during the wee hours of an early morning.

The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1 may not get the attention it properly deserves from audiences but those who have followed Jill will have their perception of her musicianship and perfectionism enhanced by each of this compilation’s songs and their varying moods.

Album Review: “Biophilia” by Björk

In Reviews on December 15, 2012 at 11:41 pm

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Björk has always been an eagerly forward-thinking artist, consistently challenging the conventional definition of “pop” music. Each of her iconic musical moments since the mid-90s has contained a specific sonic identity.  Microbeats and music boxes, vocal babbles and manipulations, 1950s Sci-Fi brass accompaniments – her mission statement to explore everything possible manifests itself to be more and more high-concept on every album in her catalog. Partially recorded on an iPad, she fuses her past sounds with new flavors and discovers the human’s relationship with the universe on 2011’s ambitious Biophilia. Interestingly, this isn’t just an album – it is a multimedia exploration album in collaboration with Apple, with each of the ten tracks featured as its own singular app designed specifically for Apple operating systems.

Björk embraces her love for nature and technology, connecting her compositions to a much larger scale as the songs reaching high extremes and low subtleties. Biophilia explores sounds and instruments, such as the  “tesla coil” featured as a bassline on the mesmerizingly brooding “Thunderbolt”, the creation of “gameleste” on “Crystalline” and a pendulum harp on “Solstice”, compiled to create patterns with the Earth’s movements to evoke the sound of a harp on a handful of other tracks.

On “Crystalline”, the album’s first single, Björk revels in the “sparkle you become when you conquer anxiety” against a wall of punchy synthetics and glassy rhythms before erupting into a frenetic Aphex Twin-like breakbeat. The centerpiece “Cosmogony” finds Björk quietly contemplating creation over a slow-building brass section and harmonious choir. The gargantuan “Mutual Core”, a metaphor for attachments in human relationships, pairs her unique vocal phrasing to a somber organ before rumbling, menacing beats (courtesy of British production group, 16bit) and swooping choir vocals erupt together.

Some Björk’s past few albums have included experimental songs that may be perceived as unlistenable or too peculiar. Biophilia continues this trend, thus bringing down the ceiling of one of her most audacious and fearless moments in her musical career. “Dark Matter” seeks to “connect breath, the human soul and the cosmos”  with gibberish improvisations over beat-less electronic drones and swirls. The aforementioned “Solstice”, one of a few songs written with longtime collaborator and poet Sjón, is so eerily intimate and intricate that it is almost without discernible melody to be even remembered. Contrarily, the adventurous “Hollow” and the stunning “Virus” both return individually with breathtaking results. Biophilia becomes her most expertly varied set of songs since the 90s, proving what is so compelling about Björk: her willingness to outdo herself time and time again.

Determination: A Profile of Nivea Jackson

In Features on December 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm

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As a Crown Heights, Brooklyn transplant settling in Long Island, New York for the next four years at SUNY Old Westbury, Nivea Jackson is enjoying herself and her new surroundings. “Brooklyn is dirty. I don’t like it. In Long Island, you can smell the fresh air and the difference. It’s more my speed. I want to live out here in the future.” Her eyes wander around the Campus Center building before settling upon a group of students walking up a flight of stairs. She doesn’t usually “click with females” but she finds herself easily relatable. The proof is evident by her infectious personality and engaging conversational skills.

Nivea Jackson is majoring in Psychology at SUNY Old Westbury as a backup for pursuit of success in the Mortuary Science industry. She currently has notched three mortuary internships and definitely plans to add more to her impressive history. She tends to keep to herself, but is fascinated by observing human behavior; how they operate and think. She admits that she is the second in her family to go to college. One would imagine that she would feel a certain level of pressure? “Nah, not at all. I’m determined”, she quips, exuding a quiet confidence that matches her statement.

After the death of her mother at age one and not having contact with her father, Nivea went through a series of failed adoptions before becoming a ward of the state of New York. While this may be seen as an extra hurdle to some, Nivea has added that to her will to succeed. “It just makes me that much more focused. When it comes to me, there can’t be any excuses for failure.”

Album Review: “Lotus” by Christina Aguilera

In Reviews on December 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm

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In the two years since Christina Aguilera released the commercially and critically maligned Bionic, she went through a divorce and received poor reviews on her performance in Burlesque. Since then, she rebounded as a coach on NBC’s The Voice, scored a #1 hit with Maroon 5 and began work on a new studio record. It would go without saying that this next release would chronicle this chapter in her professional and personal life. Her newest album, Lotus, is the culmination of these experiences.

With a discography of albums individually dedicated to throwback soul and futuristic electronica, Aguilera has always (sometimes, arrogantly) prided herself on being an artist ahead of the curve compared to her pop star peers. In most cases, the tracks on her fifth studio prove otherwise, relying on safe and familiar sounds. The album begins with promise on the “Lotus Intro” – an experimentation of layers of chanting vocals and chilled-out electro where Aguilera likens herself to a rising, unbreakable flower. Though “Your Body” is arguably her best single in years, it and the neon pulse of “Let There Be Love” align her with the faceless, homogenized Top 40 songs that newer artists have conquered many times over in Aguilera’s musical absence.

With her intentions to regain footing on the charts are obvious, she enlists mega-producers Lucas Secon, Max Martin and Shellback. Unfortunately, they supply her with sloppy, slapdash productions that are so busy and overstuffed that Aguilera herself sounds lost trying to keep up with their pace. Alex Da Kid, who has previously produced for Eminem and Skylar Grey and helms nearly half of Lotus, provides Aguilera with tepid and uninspiring tunes. Aguilera has proved to be a competent songwriter since her second album Stripped, but it seems here that she has run out of ideas. She assumes the position of a soldier waving her white flag on “Cease Fire”, rewrites a less interesting version of her 2002 hit “Fighter” into “Army of Me” and takes aim at her unnamed haters on the bonus track, “Shut Up”. The worst offender on the 13 track set is the abrasive Supa Dups-produced “All Around the World”, where Aguilera runs down a laundry list of cities and countries where she would like to make love in. It eventually winds up being as sexy as a root canal. Even a much-hyped collaboration with Cee-Lo on the retro-sounding “Make the World Move” never fully takes off, eventually crumbling under its own weight.

In contrast, there are bright spots on the album, but they too are not without flaws. “Red Hot Kinda Love” is a summery jam that winds up being the album’s standout track, likely due to its vocal modesty. When she pulls in the reins during the verses of power ballads she demonstrates excellent use of her vocals. But when she reaches to the end of her range on ballads like “Sing for Me”, “Blank Page” and “Just a Fool” (featuring Blake Shelton), they are ruined by Aguilera’s penchant for shouts and pointless over-singing that threaten to overtake the entire song for the worse.

For all of its intents and purposes, Lotus renders to be disappointing because it’s to on the nose for what it sets out to achieve. When the pretenses are down, the results are refreshing. Being her shortest album since her debut, there is less filler but too many songs that abandon Aguilera’s instincts that made her earlier releases work so well.

Movies Aimed at African American Men and Women

In Features on December 15, 2012 at 11:26 pm

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In today’s culturally diverse, politically correct society, it is hard to believe that at one time racism was not only accepted as the norm, but enjoyed for its entertainment value. African American characters have long appeared in Hollywood films, both directly and indirectly, for as long as motion pictures have been produced. In the beginning, the hiring of African Americans for inclusion in a film was something of a rarity. When feature roles required a black character, producers would instead hire a white actor to portray that character in blackface. At the close of the 1960s, African American performers began making some headway by merging into Hollywood’s mainstream.

After the momentum of the Civil Rights movement had died down in the early 1970s, producers and film directors began developing movies aimed to appeal to the African American audience. Through the decade, there were a number of low-budget produced films named “Blaxploitation” movies. These movies were the first to release soundtracks featuring soul, funk and rhythm and blues music as well as a predominantly black cast, hereby breaking the traditional mold . Blaxploitation contributed a lot to black entertainment by leading the way for actors and actresses in today’s entertainment business. The Blaxploitation genre showed the world that it was time for something different. It significantly changed the way people perceived the black experience in the United States. Although violence is highlighted and there is a general lack of character depth and development, this genre nonetheless contributed a great deal toward redefining the perception of African American Actresses, breaking traditional African American male and female stereotypes. This laid the groundwork for black figures, who would later appear on film in the future.

According to America on Film, a “woman’s film” is a Hollywood film formula that focuses on alleged “women’s issues”. These issues include, romance, courtship and parenthood. In typical Hollywood films, the woman’s film carries these that involve moral dilemmas and conflicts that are associated with the issue of sexuality and home and family life. Women’s films tend to take place in a middle-class setting, carrying stories of the fates of the individuals who play crucial roles in the storyline. Within the setting of the family, issues that may be seen as of a particular concern to women are explored. At the same time, a typical plotline of the woman’s film carries the story from a woman’s desire, though her stepping outside of the “appropriate” codes of female behavior and the subsequent temporary happiness, through her retribution for her transgression and her renunciation of desire and the final capitulation to dominant moral codes.

A great example of a woman’s film can be found in 1995’s Waiting to Exhale, directed by acclaimed director Forest Whitaker and adapted from the 1992 novel written by Terry McMillan. Recommended by America on Film under the “Further Screening” suggestion section, the film revolves around four successful female friends in Phoenix Arizona, in the midst of unsuccessful or less than ideal positions with their spouses or boyfriend. They are essentially “holding their breath” until they can feel a sense of relief, commitment and reassurance from their significant others. The film is notable for having an all black female cast, featuring luminaries such as Angela Bassett and singer Whitney Houston. The film relates to the definition that America on Film states. Waiting to Exhale exemplifies demonstrates the definition of a woman’s film because of the perceived notion of “women’s issues” was present through the duration of the film. All of the major characters experienced the pitfalls of romance in varying aspects: the difficulties of life after a bitter divorce, being the other woman in a love triangle with a married man, and being a single parent raising a rowdy and sexually active teenager with the absence of a father or father figure.

Waiting to Exhale was helped by critics who gave it credibility, as well as by a sense of urgency in the African American audience” says Tom Sherak, the senior vice president of Fox. WeNews correspondent Carla Thompson points that also points to the film’s “refreshing departure from Hollywood’s struggling depictions of black women, the central character played by Angela Bassett is upper middle class. When her husband leaves her for his white secretary, she drowns her sorrows in champagne, not cheap wine.” The film garnered great success, prompting one to believe that scores of women who have watched the film can immediately identify with one or more of the characters and correlate them to their own life experiences.

In contrast to Waiting to Exhale, which was geared toward a female audience, 1991’s Boyz N the Hood offered a realistically complex representation of black males and masculinity the early 1990s. Directed by acclaimed director and producer John Singleton, the film portrays the rampant social problems in South Central Los Angeles. The film centers around three male friends growing up together in trying times as well as their personalities in the face of their harsh life experiences. While fictionalized, the film explores the black experience in an honest, gripping and fascinating way, summarizing some of the most important problems plaguing America in the mid-to-late 1980s to the early 1990s – racism, poverty, drug abuse and violence. Boyz N the Hood singlehandedly takes the viewer into its story of growing up in a surrounding that is rife with trouble at every angle – where everyone’s lives are struggling to get through the day and where survival is an everyday task. The film also showcases the presence of the “black buck” – the stereotype of a hypersexual and hyper-masculine black male. The most important and arguably the most interesting aspect of Boyz N the Hood is the difference that the presence of a strong father figure and how it can influence the life of a young black male significantly. Of the three main characters, the father of Tre (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.) plays a great role in the difference between his life and his two close friends, Ricky and Doughboy (played by rapper Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut, respectively). His decision not to participate in avenging the death of Ricky through retaliation illustrates the strength of moral standing instilled in a man through strong parental guidance. In a review released shortly after the film’s premiere, critic Roger Ebert analyzes this aspect:

“Furious Styles (Tre’s father) also knows the dangers for his son – of gangs, of drugs, of the wrong friends. He lays down strict rules, but he cannot be everywhere and see everything. Meanwhile, Singleton paints the individual characters of the neighborhood with the same attention to detail that Spike Lee used in Do the Right Thing. He’s particularly perceptive about the Baker family – about the mother and her two sons by different fathers, Doughboy and Ricky. Both live at home, where it is no secret in the family that the mother prefers Ricky.”

Both Waiting to Exhale and Boyz N the Hood are just two of the many examples of cinematic images geared to appeal to African American men and women. They attempt to show African American males and females in a different light and in varying aspects. There is a significant level of progress from the struggle of equal representation of both male and female African Americans.

Floral Industry expecting a boost from Valentine’s Day shoppers

In Features on December 15, 2012 at 11:17 pm

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(February 10th, 2012)

With Valentine’s Day being a few days away, floral companies are reporting sizable boosts in sales this year in the midst of a fractured economy. Florists are prepping for the holiday which will see a high  number of orders. The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, estimates that the average customer will spend nearly $126 on Valentine’s Day this year – an is an 8.5 percent increase from the $116.21 spent by the average person in 2011.

This year’s Valentine’s Day gives florists a great opportunity to generate sales. Because the holiday falls on a weekday, florists are likely to scan more fresh-flower purchases during the week. This gives extra time time for bigger, more elaborate rose and flower presentations to be made as well as deliveries to homes and offices. Nicole Vecchione, a sales manager at the Terranova Florist in Baldwin, New York says “classic red roses are the big sellers – most definitely. Red roses never go out of style. They run for about $75 to $80 for a single dozen. We get orders for complex arrangements as well as yellow and white roses, which are a little less costly. (Other types of flowers, like tulips for example, sell close to $40) The week before Valentine’s Day is always hectic. At the moment, we have a ton of orders for them all so we’re fairly busy getting our orders together before the holiday.”

Despite the downturn in the U.S. economy in recent years, Valentine’s Day has always maintained a veritable “Black Friday”-like status for the floral industry. According to AboutFlowers.com, an information resource on the floral industry, Valentine’s Day ranked as number one in regards to fresh flower purchases in 2011, capturing 36% of all holiday transactions as well as 40% of the holiday dollar volume. It is also the number one holiday for florists, beating out Christmas, Hanukah and Mother’s Day. Florists are expecting similar results in 2012.

Interestingly, while men tend to buy flowers for romantic reasons, women use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to express care and gratitude to mothers, daughters and friends in addition to their significant others. Additionally, they use Valentine’s Day to treat themselves to flowers, even if they are or aren’t involved with a mate.

Based on these predications Valentine’s Day should be a huge opportunity for you to turn romance into commerce.

Spotlight On: A Profile of Caitlin Henry

In Features on December 15, 2012 at 11:07 pm

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Caitlin Henry is sitting Indian-style in her desk in a college classroom. She peers closely into her MacBook while flexing her research skills on Google. Her piercing eyes are accented by Revlon eyeliner, her nails are neatly manicured and her hair is tied back, highlighting her face’s youthful glow. She is dressed comfortably in sweats and comes to class prepared, with many of her belongings featuring what is likely her favorite color – pink.

“Education is extremely important in my family,” explains the 21 year-old junior at SUNY College at Old Westbury. “My father always stressed that I need a good education to be successful. He’s one of the reasons I want to complete college.” Her motivation began early at home, but she admits college has its difficulties. “The worst aspect of college is the amount of work due. I have a job too so I have a tough time juggling them both.”

Growing up in Virginia until her parents divorced, Caitlin subsequently moved to Long Island with her mother and younger sister while her father remained in Virginia. “I see him every couple of months but I wish I was closer with him.”

Commuting from home in Massapequa to school, the Media and Communications major is wide-eyed to career possibilities after graduation. “Maybe public relations or something behind the scenes on television or movies. There’s about behind the scenes work really interests me. I just want career path that affords me an opportunity to support myself and my family,” she reveals.

Off campus, Caitlin is relatively simple and fun-loving young woman with depth and character. She speaks her sentences with confidence and charm and ends them with warm smiles. She stays active, maintaining fitness while indulging in favorites like fast food, and French onion soup and tequila. “Of course nothing healthy,” she quips jokingly.

While jotting down her lecture notes with a furious intensity, one easily notices one of her tattoos – “breathe” – on her right forearm. “I deal with anxiety,” she explains. “Sometimes, I think I overreact to certain situations and I have to remind myself to just breathe. Also, my dad’s youngest sister died of lung cancer about two years ago. I watched her suffer with her breathing a lot and it really made me realize you can’t take something as simple as breathing for granted.”

She looks to her future with great optimism. She dreams of traveling to Italy, Ireland and Australia. But above anything, Caitlin dreams of family life. “It’s so cliché, but being happy and having a family of my own. That’s what I dream of. If I have that, I think I’ll be happy.”

Mitt Romney: Profile of a Businessman

In Features on December 15, 2012 at 11:05 pm

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Mitt Romney is a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. He is a businessman as well as a former governor of Massachusetts. His accomplishments include signing a statewide health reform program into law which gave most residents access to health insurance. As a frontrunner for the 2012 nomination as president, he was among nearly a dozen Republicans who sought the party’s nomination to run against Democratic President Barack Obama, who was seen as vulnerable amid relatively high unemployment and the lingering effects of a recession from the Bush administration. But Romney’s campaign has received a significant level of criticism from people who feel that the background in business that he proudly touts on the trail could have a particularly negative effect on his presidential aspirations.

According to his biography published on Biography.com, Mitt Romney was born Willard Mitt Romney on March 12th 1947 and raised in the affluent town of Bloomfield Hills Michigan. He is the son of George Romney, a contender to be the Republican candidate for presidency who was defeated by Richard Nixon in 1968.

Though Romney grew up with wealth and privilege as the son of a Michigan governor, he has tried to downplay his early advantages and said in a speech that he took “an entry-level job” after graduating from Harvard law and business schools with a joint J.D. /M.B.A. degree in 1975. Mitt Romney began his career in business, working at Boston Consulting Group, which was one of the world’s top-three management consultancies. After two years, he entered a management consulting position to Bain & Company, hired personally by the head of the company, Bill Bain. Bain would later say of the thirty-year-old Romney in a New York Times article that Romney “had the appearance and confidence of a guy who was maybe ten years older.”

With Bain & Company, Romney learned the “Bain way”, which consisted of immersing the firm in each client’s business. In 1983, Bill Bain offered Romney the chance to head a new venture that would invest in companies and apply Bain’s management techniques to improve operations. In the face of doubt from potential investors, Romney and his partners spent a year raising the $37 million in funds needed to start the new operation, which had fewer than ten employees. Romney worked there turning around struggling businesses until 1984, when he co-founded Bain Capital, which became Bain’s private-­equity spin-off. When Bain ran into trouble in 1990, it asked Romney to become the CEO and restore the firm to financial health for the next two years. He continued at Bain Capital until he left to pursue a career in public service, eventually running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

According to an article by Politicol News published in February 2012, Mitt Romney’s position as the President and CEO of the Winter Olympic Games is indicative of his lack of direction when it comes to budgeting and could be symptomatic of how he would act in office. Romney cites his running the Olympics as a success story when it was the federal government that came to the rescue with taxpayer dollars by injecting $600 million into the Olympic purse strings. “I led an Olympics out of the shadows of scandal,” he states in a Washington speech but he does not acknowledge the fact that the government bailed him out. Romney actually persuaded his friends in congress to give more money to cover the costs of the Olympics in his self-proclaimed turnaround of the endeavor.

Nonetheless, Romney parlayed his experience with the Olympics and translated it into politics when he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2003. During Romney’s term as governor, he oversaw the reduction of a $3 billion deficit. Romney also signed into law a health care reform program to provide nearly universal health care for Massachusetts residents.

Shortly after failing to get the Republican nomination for the 2008 presidential election, Romney began a devising a strategy for the 2012 presidential campaign. He began building up a political infrastructure for what would become a $1 billion campaign. He formally announced his intention to run for presidency on June 2, 2011, while continuing to give speeches and raise campaign funds on behalf of fellow Republicans. His campaign slogan, “Believe in America”, was criticized heavily for being the same as one John Kerry used when he ran as the Democrats candidate, a Democrat who ran for president in 2004.

As explained in a piece in The Atlantic Magazine from December 2011, Mitt Romney cites his long-term relationship with the private sector as the reason why he understands “how jobs come to America and why they go. I’ve competed with companies around the world. I’ve learned something about how it is that economies grow. It’s not just simple—wave a wand and everything gets better.”

As job creation and the flailing economy have become a hot issue for candidates in the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney is placing hopes on his background as a successful businessman to position him as the most qualified contender to jump-start the nation’s economy.  His frequent appearances before conservative groups and in the news media have given Romney multiple opportunities to seek conservative support after his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination in 2008. During that bid, some conservatives were skeptical of his convictions. Romney’s leadership of Bain Capital was supposed to be the basis of his candidacy, something that would present him as an attractive alternative to a novice president struggling to right the economy. Instead, it has become a liability. It was inevitable that Mitt Romney’s involvement with Bain Capital as well as the staggering wealth he amassed with them would become a political issue at some point in 2012.

From the early stages of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, he has publicly criticized President Barack Obama’s record on job creation. He has taken many opportunities to paint the picture that Obama’s administration have made it more difficult for small businesses in this country, vowing extreme changes should he be elected in November 2012. “Small business has really felt like it’s been under attack over the past several years,” Romney told a crowd of local fishermen and residents on a pier in Portsmouth, New Hampshire during a televised speech. “If I become president of the United States, I am going to be a pro small business president and fight for the rights of small business people.” Acknowledging the recession contributed to a drop in small business start-ups, Romney placed a large portion of blame on President Obama’s policies, including an increase in regulations put in place by Washington. “Regulators are just multiplying like proverbial rabbits and making it harder and harder for enterprises to grow and to understand what their future might be,” Romney said.

Although his supporters believe his business background make him a more viable candidate, his detractors are highly skeptical of his track record and how it could translate into the future as the president of the country.  According to the Service Employees International Union, Mitt Romney:

  • Favors big corporations and businesses to receive higher tax breaks
  • Was responsible for keeping one of the worst job growth rates as the governor of Massachusetts while the national economy was thriving, ranking 47th out of all 50 states.
  • Accumulated vast sums of money made a fortune by acquiring companies and laying off thousands of workers.
  • Believes that workers should pay for their own unemployment benefits through individual savings accounts. Romney even said it’s an “indisputable fact” that extending jobless benefits only discourages people from finding employment
  • Proposes scaling back unemployment insurance costs by paying benefits for fewer weeks; similar to plans enacted by Tea Party governors such as Rich Scott (Florida) and Scott Walker (Wisconsin).
  • Vetoed $11 million in job training funds for employees

According to the article “Obama Seeks To Define Mitt Romney As Insensitive, Out Of Touch” by Jeff Mason published by The Huffington Post in April 2012, Obama’s campaign has worked steadily to construct an image of an insensitive and patrician Romney even before he wins the Republican nomination, hoping to create a caricature that sticks with voters once the election officially becomes a two-man race.  As pointed out by The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Romney’s net worth is up to a quarter million dollars would end up being one of the richest presidents elected into office. Romney has spent much of his campaign defending his personal wealth in the face of mounting criticism from the president and his re-election campaign as they work to paint the former businessman as out of touch with most Americans. “If we become one of those societies that attacks success, one outcome is certain – there will be a lot less success,” Romney said during a speech at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. “You’re going to hear a deafening cacophony of charges and counter-charges and my prediction is that by Nov. 6 most of you are going to be afraid to turn on your TV.”

As pointed out by Mark Maremont in “Romney at Bain: Big Gains, Some Busts”, an article published by the Wall Street Journal in January 2012 , the piece discusses the progress Mitt Romney has made on the trail and was quick to highlight how his rivals have sought to turn his Bain tenure against him. Rick Santorum, one of Romney’s early opponents, who dropped out of the race, was critical of his background. “We need someone who can talk and relate to folks battling in this economy, not someone talking about being a CEO of a company and making jokes about firing people,” Santorum said. Rick Perry ran an ad saying Mr. Romney “made millions buying companies and laying off workers.” Newt Gingrich has said Mr. Romney should “give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain.”

Though Mitt Romney has beaten many of his fellow running mates and is the presumptive nominee, his campaign will have to work hard at making sure his business background connects to voters in a positive way. Voters will have to truly believe that Romney has not exaggerated his record and that he is not a wealthy elitist.

Album Review: “P R E S S U R E” by Rochelle Jordan

In Reviews on December 15, 2012 at 11:02 pm

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Released independently as a free download in 2011, Toronto songstress Rochelle Jordan released her debut EP, R O J O – an adventurous, multi-layered joyride showcasing promise and an equal footing in the R&B of the 90s and the future. She makes a clear step forward with her second EP, P R E S S U R E, released digitally in August 2012.

As implied by the title, P R E S S U R E underscores conflict and tension, specifically in romantic relationships. Written entirely by Jordan and intricately produced by PROTOSTAR producer KLSH, the record closes in on a specific vibe, both sonically and vocally. Her influences are obvious – the fluttery coos of Aaliyah and the slick vocal layering of Amerie’s heyday, among others. Yet, Jordan manages to fuse them into a singular style and sound that is uniquely hers throughout the record’s twelve tracks. Meanwhile, KLSH’s minimalist and atmospheric productions are approached completely with swirling synths, pulsing bass lines and menacing, snare-driven drums. This provides ample room for Jordan to explore textures and rhythmic patterns of her detailed and impassioned lyrics.

The first e-single, “Losing”, is a downbeat lament to the sacrifices made in the name of a strained relationship. Equally alluring as it is chilling, it is a tender and deeply intimate moment that very few unsigned artists are willing to display in their early musical offerings. Elsewhere, Jordan aims to please her lover on the frenetic up-tempo title track, reminisces on a past love on “Could’ve Been” and is haunted by that same former love in a new setting on “Somebody”. Elsewhere, her frustrations with insecure and dismissive men are laid out with serious bite and sass on “You Ain’t My Man” and “Too Long”. However, it is on the spare “Shotgun” where Jordan wallows in the beautiful anguish of the end of a relationship, brilliantly winding up with what is the record’s best vocal performance.

Hailing from Toronto, home of fellow artists like Drake and The Weeknd, Rochelle Jordan is a welcome addition to those following independent R&B music and is sure to delight fans with her distinct sound.