The Great Tilefish Die-Off: Lessons from a Turbulent Past about a Changing Ocean for an Uncertain Future
Zachary Leiter '21
The Unknown World from the non-straight non-male Black perspective includes many things that are often overlooked due to the overlapping structures of identity, formally called ‘intersectionality.’ To identify as more than one oppressed group, such as your sexuality, race, and gender, is to constantly walk a double-edged sword with your back to the wall. Notice the combination of metaphors. It is to be the bottom of the barrel and in between a rock and a hard place, unable to climb out.
When so many of your identities intersect it can feel as if you have no allies – as if you have enemies on every side and they are all advancing on you, plucking, prying, pulling, and destroying each of your weaknesses. The parts of yourself you hate the most only because they made you hate them.
When you’re a Black woman, you are a woman, but you will always be Black first. When you walk through the halls of Hearst and are not so subtly reminded every day that NCS believes in the power of “women” you can’t help but wonder if NCS really does believe in that power. Because all women are white, right? Because all women need to be empowered the same way? And then you’re reminded that no, no that is not the case, not that you’ve ever forgotten. Because then your classmates start to argue with you about feminism, and misogyny, and you struggle to feel a kinship with those arguments, because simply put: the 19th Amendment was only for white women. They lead the charge, the fight, the conversation, and often leave their peers behind. You are them. You lead the charge, the fight, the conversation because you have power – privilege – due to the fair color of your skin. Maybe you don’t know it, maybe you truly do believe that we are equals in the classroom, on the walk across Woodley, or down to the Athletic Center, but every minute we interact I am working two times harder for half of the recognition. For half of the acknowledgement.
It’s not just you, because being a Black woman, means that you are a woman second. It means that the Black man can call you a monkey, a gorilla, prying on your deepest insecurities. It means that you are so separated from the only people on the Close that truly understand what it means to be ‘Black at,’ because they “don’t date Black girls.” It means the constant gas lighting, because straight Black men refuse to acknowledge their privilege and instead “make their words seem like gospel,” (Mekhi Love ‘21) and you the angry black woman. It means staring at yourself in the mirror, prodding at your nose as you harshly wipe your tears with those rough, cheap paper towels, because your nose is your biggest insecurity – and your lips, and your hair, and your beautiful brown skin. And someone who looks just like you, who you thought experienced things the way you did, decided to tear you down to pull himself up. But maybe they truly believe that it is all jokes, that these sacrifices – these wounds they’ve left in someone – is going to get them somewhere. Maybe they truly believe that they are just trying to survive in a world that is determined to see them fail – but the Black woman is trying to survive, too. And you’ve killed her, in hopes of seeing the finish line.
But maybe you find your home amongst other women who like women, but you will always be Black first, again. It is not something you can wash away, it is not something you can hang up in the closet (I do, indeed, recognize what I have said) and pull it out later. You remember that you have enemies on all side – white gays who steal from Black gay culture, who vulture off it and make you feel insignificant for using terminology your ancestors have died for and then you have mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters all of whom you can’t tell your deepest and darkest secret because they would hate you for it. And you carry that feeling, that weight pressing down on your heart, all the way up to the fourth floor. And you pause in front of H420 before turning away, because you don’t really feel at home there.
That is the Unknown of the Close. That’s what your peers are feeling every day, every time they smile at you as they hurry to class (or now as they enter and exit the Zoom room). That’s what they feel every time they aren’t invited to a dance, or to dinner after practice. That’s what they feel every time you pass them the ball but don’t give them a pass into the life they so desperately want – that life where all these identities don’t cause them to feel trapped in a box so small that they can’t breathe. We created the box on the Close, every single day we reinforce its walls.
And the worst Unknown of all is that your peers have been stripped of their childhoods in front of your very eyes – and you were the ones peeling it away, layer by layer until there was nothing left but someone hardened by the world too soon, and too deliberately.
Shreyan Mitra '23
There are many ways to solve the problems our world has. People come up with solutions every day, and their ingenuity is often recognized in some way or the other. The real question we must ask, however, is which solution really works? In how many ways can we apply the solution in a risk-free and efficient way? One area of science which abounds with these questions is biotechnology – the marriage of biology and engineering. By solving biological problems at their molecular origin, we can learn more about our inner workings while solving some of the world’s most serious issues. Today, I present to you a method in its adolescence that could perhaps be expanded to hundreds of different applications, finding real solutions for problems we once thought were unsolvable and unmitigatable.
Many seemingly terminal and incurable diseases, such as many cancers, stem from some accident or faulty machinery within our bodies. This faulty machinery stems from malfunctioning genetics or liability to said fault. The question we must ask here is whether to prevent this liability by modifying our DNA to become less error-prone. To determine how to edit our DNA, we must identify the site of change and the effects of making such changes. Several universities and research institutes around the world have asked this question and for the last few years have worked on a strategy to identify the optimal location. The name of this strategy is SCRaMbLE, or Synthetic Chromosome Rearrangement and Modification by LoxPsym-mediated Evolution. The strategy makes use of a system named Cre/LoxP, which (in its commonly used form) randomly recombines, or changes around, the DNA in the two synthetic yeast chromosomes, 14 and 15. Explicitly speaking, Cre/LoxP snips a section of DNA and shifts it a few nucleotides. Following this recombination, the researcher will then take the yeast sample and subject it to their test condition of choice. After about two days, the researcher will then be able to observe which groups of yeast have managed to survive the test conditions. If the petri dish is set up correctly, the yeast that is more fit will reproduce and grow colonies. The researcher takes a small sample of the surviving yeast cells and performs a serial dilution to improve the accuracy of observation. They may then choose to retest the colony to confirm that the latter’s survival was not random, or take it straight to sequencing to identify the change.
The major advantage of this mechanism is that nearly all, if not all, yeast cells have their own unique DNA following the SCRaMbLEing, differentiated only by the slight modification of a certain gene. Hence, the system provides a much more diverse sample space and therefore a higher chance of obtaining the desired genome to overcome a certain abnormal condition. The keyword here is abnormal condition. How many different types of abnormal conditions could we possibly manufacture? We have the technological potential to model a leukemic environment, a Parkinson’s environment, influenza, or even COVID-19. With a few cells, we could find the key to preventing Alzheimer’s or melanoma without introducing foreign substances before we were fully sure that we would not come to harm. The seemingly endless possibilities are what makes SCRaMbLE and biotechnology so exciting, but this openness is also a drawback. Every step we take, we must look back and check that no new action we take affects an older one. In fact, an important principle in biotechnology states that each change taken must not affect other changes. The mystery of this unknown path will take us time to solve, but once we travel it, a whole new world will open up before us.
Willa Spalter '21
At People’s Park in Berkeley, California, history is repeating itself.
In 1969, during the height of radical political activism in the city, UC Berkeley announced its plans to develop a vacant lot in the heart of downtown into student housing. They were met with mounting resistance by local residents who hoped to turn the unused lot into a park and a free speech area. The People’s Park Committee was formed, and with the help of over 1,000 people, they constructed this park before the university could begin to build the housing.
Local landscapists donated trees, shrubs, and flowers, residents brought food to volunteers, and the Berkeley community donated money to ensure that the community build would be successful. Despite the new park being done, the university decided to go ahead with their plan. Their bulldozers were met by thousands of protesters who began a standoff. Tear gas was fired, the governor called a state of emergency, the National Guard was deployed, dozens were hurt, and a student was fatally shot by the police. In the end, the people won. The university backed away from their development plan, and People’s Park was officially born. Ever since that fatal day in May 1969, the park has been a symbol of the power of the people in Berkeley, as well as a well-known established encampment for houseless people in the East Bay.
Flash forward to 2021, the university has decided to reclaim its rights over this 2.3 acre greenspace and has begun their plan to build a sixteen-story student housing complex in the park. The university acknowledges the history of the park and the implications of taking it away to build student dorms which is why they’ve committed to building 75 to 125 units for houseless residents of Berkeley as well as incorporate a mural honoring the history of the park. This project is part of a larger initiative to add 7,500 campus housing units by 2028, as the university severely lacks in students’ housing needs, especially compared to all other UC campuses. Berkeley’s mayor, Jesse Arreguin, fully endorses the project saying, “we can honor [the park’s] rich history, while re-imagining it as a place where all people can come together, where we can shelter our homeless and provide needed housing for our students.” But, for many, this isn’t enough. Local community organizers and current residents of the park are concerned that there is no guarantee that these units for houseless people will be given to those currently living in the park and that everyone in the park will be pushed out long before the building is finished, leaving them with no place to stay. Additionally, these community activists see the new development plan as the latest way UC Berkeley is gentrifying the city, and they are fighting back.
On January 29th, the university put up fencing in areas of the park in order to test the soil for their environmental impact report, and they were met with hundreds of protesters who tore down the fencing and voiced their concerns over the project. Over the past two weeks, around 65 UC Berkeley students have begun occupying the park to protest their university and stand in solidarity with the houseless people currently living there. Protests have continued as well. Aidan Hill, a student activist who ran for mayor this past November talks about the importance of this occupation saying, “Right now, the people of People’s Park, they are fighting for this land. They are taking the space and making it their own. The people here care about the land of the unhoused residents of People’s Park. That’s what drives this movement forward.”
The university supports their students exercising their first amendment rights, but they are not planning on backing down as they did in 1969. A UC Berkeley spokesman, Dan Mogulof, says that the university “will spare no effort to have people understand how urgent and dire the student housing crisis is and thus how urgent and dire the need is for student housing on property the university owns, including People’s Park.”
But, just like the university, the people are standing their ground. The occupation and daily protests continue and the People’s Park Committee have set up mutual aid funds for the houseless people currently living in the park as well as looking forward towards legal paths to halt the development. The park, a longstanding symbol of anti-development activism, is at serious risk of reaching its final days, but the community activists hope that the ending to this story is written in the same way as 1969’s ending.
Sophie Andersen '21
Nauru is a tropical island country in Oceania in the Central Pacific. It is the third smallest country in the world: eight square miles of raised coral. 10,670 people inhabit this tiny area, 25 miles south of the Equator. Its landscape is characterized by a fertile belt, a shallow inland called the Buada Lagoon, and coral cliffs.
It has had a surprisingly eventful history for such a small country: It was first settled in 1000 BC by people from Micronesia and Polynesia. 12 clans lived in relative peace until the Nauruan Civil War, which took place from 1878 to 1888. Deserters from European ships began to live on the island and introduced firearms to the people, which they traded for food. These firearms were used between the forces that were loyal to King Aweida and those who wanted a different leader. After 10 years and 500 deaths (a third of the population), the German Empire intervened and confiscated 791 rifles from the Nauruans. Germany then proceeded to claim it as a colony. It was occupied by Japanese troops during World War II, which led to a bombing and deportation of Nauruans to work in the Chuuk Islands. After being liberated by the Australian and the Royal Australian Navy, Nauru entered the United Nations trusteeship. In 1968, Nauru gained independence and became a member of the Pacific Community.
The plateau is composed of mineral deposits of rock phosphate, which is leached from bird droppings. Upon discovering the phosphate, Nauru’s economy flourished, but this unprecedented success was short lived as phosphate is a finite resource. The mining of phosphate, which was Nauru’s sole export for decades, decimated the majority of the island: four-fifths of it are inhabitable. While the phosphate was once the highest quality in the world, the remainder is not economically viable for strip mining, leaving the country with no consistent source of income. Furthermore, “cadmium residue, phosphate dust, and other contaminants” pollute the island and only 10% of the island is suitable for farming. The once beautiful nature of the island is now a wasteland.
In order to earn income and save its floundering economy, Nauru became a tax haven and a center for illegal money laundering for a brief period. It has accepted aid from the Australian government, and in return become an offshore Australian immigration detention facility, the “Nauru Regional Processing Centre.”
Wealth distribution and inequality is significant on Nauru: “only one in 10 Nauruans who are classified as poor, have access to basic household items, such as a refrigerator.” It is hard to believe that Nauru was once the second richest nation by GDP per capita. Nauru also suffers from the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world: 40% of the population is affected, while 71% of the population is obese. So how exactly did this happen? When phosphate was discovered and the citizens became unexpectedly very wealthy, they stopped exercising as much, and the exposure to the Western world meant they started consuming processed foods. While this lifestyle was once one of luxury, it is now due to necessity: the collapse of their economy and lack of access to fertile land has left cheap processed food as the only option.
So what will happen to this tiny island? The future is seemingly bleak, but the locals are “upbeat as they can be.”
Hugh Barringer '21
Every ten years, a census occurs. This occurred last year. While the census is important for many reasons, perhaps none are more consequential than congressional redistricting and reapportionment. Some states will gain seats in the House of Representatives, and some states will lose seats, with the biggest winners being Texas and Florida, which will gain three and two seats, respectively.(1)
However, given population shifts, every state will have to adjust its districts due to uneven population growth. For example, in Virginia, all eleven districts contained 727,366 people in 2010. By 2018, though, these numbers varied greatly, from 710,980 in VA-9, which includes the westernmost part of the state, to 826,493 in VA-10, which includes Loudoun County (2). The biggest changes to districts, however, will be in Texas, which has experienced massive population growth and seen once-safe Republican seats flip. How will the Texas Legislature, and all other politically-driven map makers, shift the map in one party’s favor at the expense of the other? Through a process called gerrymandering.
There are two types of Gerrymandering: cracking and packing. Cracking occurs when one party spreads the constituency of the other party across many districts so that their candidate always wins by a comfortable margin. For example, my own congressional district, Maryland’s 8th, places voters from rural, Republican-leaning areas in Carroll and Frederick Counties in the same district as the heavily-Democratic Montgomery County.
On the other hand, packing occurs when the party in control puts as many members of the opposite party into a few districts so that they are represented there--and nowhere else. A great example of this is North Carolina’s 12th Congressional district, or at least it was until 2017.
That’s because, in 2017, courts overturned North Carolina’s map on the basis that it was racially gerrymandered. Similar processes occurred in Florida and Pennsylvania. If these maps had not been declared illegal, Republicans would probably be in control of the House today. That is why redistricting is so important, especially next year, when Democrats will have to defend a 9-seat majority in the House of Representatives.
Benjamin Acosta '23
The growth and development of holometabolous insects is quite predictable – that is, the development of those insects that undergo complete metamorphosis, the kind you’re familiar with: larva, pupa, and finally, adult. Take flies for example. They hover thickly around the reliably periodic trash cans and the even more reliably frequent dog feces, returning the foul to its living state.
Idolga Park was indeed as alive as one could possibly hope for from a place so constantly steeped in the urban fumes; verdant and busy. In its midst, a corpse stared at her with maggoty eyes. God, how long has he been here? Curious, she thought to herself, why don’t I feel frightened, or sick; I’m just glad I didn’t find a child…
As she waited for the police, she sat next to the body and observed. “Hello, I’ll call you Morty,” she said with melancholy. “I’m Carrie.” While Morty was rather decomposed in the chest, his cold waxy hands were intact, caked with blood. His face was eerily serene, apart from his eyes, though his front teeth seemed bashed in and dried blood streamed from his nose. On the ground were little dark pellets, almost like rat dung. Unbuttoning Morty’s shirt, Carrie discovered more maggots in his stomach.
Within the hour, the police had a specialist on site. “Hello ma’am, I’m here to find out when this man was killed. Hopefully will help figure some other aspects of the murder.”
“Are you a detective?”
The specialist chuckled. “Close. I’m an entomologist.”
She stared blankly.
“I study insects,” the entomologist said. “Quite a few here. Maggots; to be expected.”
The larva – wormy baby – has its own development. Depending on the species of insect, the larva molts between a number of growth stages known as instars, before pupating.
Like I said, development of maggots between these instars is predictable. They are cold-blooded, poikilothermic, dependent on the ambient temperature to a ridiculous degree, so precisely that development can be measured. The larva won’t even make any developmental progress below a certain threshold temperature.1
Consider the graph of the day’s temperature. It goes up and back down with the sun, and approximating with a sine or even double sine graph, one can use a little calculus (see, it’s not irrelevant; thanks Mr. Kelley!) to measure the area between the temperature graph and minimum threshold and thus the day’s accumulated degree-days (ADD), or heat units, that build up towards molting into the next instar. Slightly less accurate but still effective max/min temperature averaging and triangular methods can be used as well.2
Due to the fact that flies are heavily temperature-dependent, they require a certain ADD count to move on in life to the next instar. Seems straightforward enough. Yet, one hurdle obstructs all simplicity: speciosity. That is to say, insects comprise well over half of the Earth’s eukaryote species diversity, and each one is unique in its own way. This is partly what makes the class so beautiful. However, in their uniqueness, the problem arises of their similarity. There are well over a thousand members of the blowfly family Calliphoridae. Each has a unique lower threshold temperature (and an upper) and its own heat requirements for development between each instar, but boy do all those different maggots look like the same wiggly white blob. So the most important part of measuring with insects is knowing what kind you’re dealing with. While the maggots’ breathing spiracles are really their only distinguishing feature, the imago gives a fuller picture (literally, imago is Latin for image). So raising the maggots to buzzing adulthood is a common method of identification.
The number of larval instars is species-dependent, as well as the heat requirements for each instar. Thus, having identified the species and consulted a database, the entomologist could say with certainty, “the oldest maggots were found in their pupariums – which look a bit like rat poo – just on the verge of eclosion, so they must’ve lived through their three instars and most of pupation so its been at least 812 degree-days since their mommas oviposited them on the carcass. Considering the recent local temperatures and this particular blowfly’s 52-degree minimum threshold, 812 degree-days for these guys has accumulated over the past 42 days, so they’re about that old,” and the entomologist adjusted the bug-eye glasses. “Exactly that old.”
Carrie was lucky enough to have found Morty then, for once the initial colonizers leave the body, the post-mortem interval becomes more difficult to determine. The order of succession postulates that the Calliphorid blowflies come first – they almost always come first – and oviposit within minutes, closely followed by droves of necrophagous representatives from across the Dipteran order, also to eat and oviposit. Later, predatory insects, perhaps including some beetles, ants or wasps, come to feast on the plentiful array of maggots and flesh. Eventually, the maggots pupate and most of the flies give way to a variety of beetles, along with non-insects like mites and vultures, until only the tiny dermestid beetles are left to finish up with the skin and hair (of course the species and details vary region to region and season to season). If Carrie had found him much later, none could have known exactly how long absent were the initial maggots, though one could still guess based on the order of succession.
“Thank you for this estimation,” the police officer said to the entomologist, “it will certainly help in the case. We already have several suspects.”
“Hold your roaches, officer, I’ve not exhausted my usefulness yet.” Indeed, medico-legal forensic entomology is not purely PMI estimation. “I know the body may have been difficult to examine, being pretty decomposed and all, but I noticed how the chest was more decayed than the head even, and the head had more maggots. Make sure the coroner knows there was probably a wound there in the chest, because the maggots always go to the orifices first, unless there’s a wound.”
The officer said, “Sure, they probably know, but I’ll tell them.”
“That’s not all,” the entomologist interjected. “Though the particular species of blowfly I found in this man is, geographically speaking, quite widespread, there were also specimens of flesh fly that is not native to this area, indeed their closest native region is over beyond Calliphornia, and based on an analysis of some of the beetles present, I believe that the body was killed 42 days ago, left to be infested, and 20 days later was moved the few hundred miles to this park, for whatever reason.”
The officer stroked his chin ponderously. “Wow! That’ll really change things. Thanks.” He turned to leave.
“Oh, and one more thing,” the Entomologist noted, “the maggots showed traces of heroin, perhaps as a painkiller, though it might be unrelated.” 3
Three weeks later, a judge concluded, “Based on evidence from the condition of the flies and beetles inhabiting his corpse, plus corroborating testimonies, Caden “Cad” Avery has been determined to have been killed by this man here, Hector Crowe,” and she, she who found the body in the beginning, said, “Dear Morty,” and he lived forever in her memory as a friend.
The entomologist returned to obscurity, to find killer and murderer. Medico-legal forensic entomology is perhaps one of the most intriguing applications of one’s knowledge there is. Insects are more than creepy crawlies; they keep the world in balance, and if understood correctly, can lend a hand to even our human constructions of justice. They are predictable, yet they are always showing us new things. Come with me to reality, a world beyond what you’ve ever seen.
Note: Degree-day models are also used to time the optimal deployment of pesticides in agricultural crops, as larvae are more vulnerable during certain instars.
Note: Forensic entomology has been applied in various situations as far back as 13th century China, but became common practice beginning in 19th century France.
Interesting inspiration: Dead bodies: People who find corpses and body parts | UK news | The Guardian
1 It might also be worth noting that other factors, such as diet, do contribute to the growth rate of larval insects, though none nearly so much as temperature.
2 If you like the technical stuff: Degree-Days: About Degree-Days--UC IPM (ucanr.edu)
3 Even if there’s no testable flesh on the victim, any drugs or poisons within the victim will bioaccumulate in the feeding maggots, which can be analyzed.
Christopher Nash '22
Today, children are given access to technology at younger ages than ever before. All human knowledge, achievement, and failure is now at the fingertips of a twelve-year-old—power that our ancestors could only ever dream of. But instead of learning about the world surrounding him, the twelve-year-old plays video games. Instead of exploring our solar system, the twelve-year-old watches television. Instead of researching a project for school, the twelve-year-old dodges an age restriction and registers for Instagram.
But this article is in no way designed to renounce technology, to spurn it as devil’s spawn, or to take the phone out of the hands of the newborn. It is merely a commentary on the way social media is used and how it will be used in the future, whether you read this article to its conclusion or toss it aside now in condescension. I claim no moral high ground on this issue whatsoever, and so I acknowledge the complete hypocrisy of even thinking that I might be in a position to write this piece in the first place. But I am going to continue on with brazen confidence and return to my story.
The twelve-year-old, at this point in his life, has not seen much. The world that he sees every day is the only world he knows (it's 2021, no one reads books anymore). The vocabulary that his friends, teachers, and parents use is the only language he understands. His first social media account changes that. His perception of life, which was before a narrow pinprick, is widened to the entire spectrum of human existence. The shock exhilarates the twelve-year-old; it makes him feel cultured and worldly, it elevates him from the mundane and oftentimes boring existence that he now realizes was his life before. He posts about his interests and the accomplishments he’s proud of, and his life is, seemingly, a happy one.
But as the twelve-year-old enters his teenage years, he begins to notice something. His classmates receive more likes than him on their posts, and their number of followers begins to climb. So the fourteen-year-old begins to imitate their content. He deletes the old posts of his cat purring in its sleep and posts a picture of himself at a sports game. He hides the award he won for playing the violin and shows himself at the beach with a hat on backwards instead. And as the fourteen-year-old’s followers increase, his likes and comments pile up.
Now, the seventeen-year-old’s account looks the same as all his classmates’. No difference can be spotted save the username at the top. The passions of that wide-eyed twelve-year-old have long been lost or hidden from view. In the widening of the boy’s world, the scope of his life has been narrowed.
This phenomenon is here to stay—human nature all but necessitates a constant search for validation. I’m aware that this article isn’t providing you with the realization of how social media corrupts every corner of your existence. But what’s important for you to realize is that social media destroys and has destroyed every shred of self-identity that you once possessed.
Corbet Darden '22
In October of last year, the New York Post published an article documenting the exploits of Hunter Biden, son of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden. The article concluded with allegations against both father and son in regards to ties to Ukrainian businessmen. Naturally, readers wanted to know from where the Post received such potentially-damaging information about Biden’s presidential campaign. It could not possibly be from a credible source—perhaps from a Russian disinformation campaign or a gasping attempt to discredit the Bidens by President Trump.
People everywhere were quick to point out the suspicious timing of the article. Twitter, as expected in this situation, banned the newspaper’s account to prevent readers from accessing the information. Sarcasm aside, it is hard to imagine those responsible for this incredible breach of public trust were in a normal frame of mind when they misconstrued the information.
As with so many current “scandals,” the actual event can be blown way out of proportion without further investigation. In this case, Twitter blocked a media company’s access to their readership, and mainstream TV anchors used Twitter’s claims of disinformation as sufficient evidence to neglect further research into the story and presented it to a larger audience as an unsubstantiated hit-piece. These events demonstrate a growing issue at the heart of mainstream media: narrative at the expense of facts. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with opinionated anchors, or writers, or networks. Watching five minutes of Fox News or MSNBC will let you know exactly where each network lies on the political spectrum. The problem arises when an opinion becomes a dismissal of truth.
Oh, by the way, the source that provided the New York Post with its hit-piece was, you guessed it, Hunter Biden. Well, Hunter Biden’s laptop. Once the article regained traction, the media again tried to destroy the story. They had to pivot—as they could no longer claim the laptop didn't exist, or that the entire thing was made up by Russian agents—and chose to call the story an attempt to derail Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. This line is not wholly untrue, but it is irrelevant. It is not up to the media to decide what information about presidential candidates will influence voters; their duty is not to tell you what to think. It is okay for pundits to live in political echo chambers if they wish, but it is not okay for them to coerce on-the-fence voters into these echo chambers. The reality is this: journalists who are upset at attacks on their integrity should remind themselves that their job is to ask questions first and shoot critics later.
As if to prove critics like myself right—and I don't want to be right—media outlets are already lobbing softballs in the direction of the Biden administration. After four years of doing fine work keeping up with the erratic Trump administration, it is painful seeing major outlets and “breaking news reporters” go from not asking President Biden questions on the campaign trail to broaching such dramatic topics like who is responsible for feeding the Bidens’ dogs. As long as media outlets refuse to cover major stories, for insignificant pieces do not lead people to vote for their chosen candidate, they will continue to lose viewers’ trust.
Ariana Thornton '24
Orchids have a reputation of being notoriously difficult to grow. When I was little and my mom kept a garden both in and outside our house in Ashburn, Virginia, the orchid was by far our favorite flower. While my favorite features are the arching stems and bright colors, my mom is particular to the symmetrical petals and simple shape of the leaves. We both love to watch our orchids bud and blossom, and curl their way into the sunlight. It’s enchanting to observe the transition from brown to green to gold, purple or white, and the varying flecks of color within the flower. Since moving to DC as I started sixth grade at NCS, our family of orchids has continued to thrive, and they always brighten the room.
Orchids’ blooms appear dainty and delicate, and maintaining the plant may seem daunting. In reality though, orchids are adaptable and resilient. In the wild, they grow in all kinds of diverse corners of the earth, from the Russian tundra to treetops of tropical rainforests. Many varieties grow just as well indoors; while growing orchids is different, they are not demanding. All they need is consistent care and a friendly environment. A well-cared-for orchid can be in bloom for months each year and live for generations.
I’ve picked up the main steps for maintaining an orchid from my mom: 1) Most orchids only need watering once a week; simply pass the pot over a stream of water or place ice cubes on top to melt into the soil. 2) Keep the orchid by a windowsill with just enough natural light. 3) Trim the stem after the orchid has finished blooming to allow it to grow back and rebloom. 4) Every couple of years, repot the orchid so it has more room to grow.
To me, however, orchids don’t just represent resilience and beauty, or a series of steps to produce that beautiful flower. They represent the connection I share with my mom, and the memories made possible from that connection.
On one occasion, I was so excited to visit the Hillwood Museum with my mom and a family friend whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. The previous resident of the estate, Marjorie Merriweather Post, was enamored with beautiful, finely-crafted objects. While this is shown with the art displayed throughout the mansion, she also had a greenhouse constructed to house her extensive collection of exotic orchids, and included them in flower arrangements in various rooms. It was therapeutic and relaxing to walk in the aisles of the greenhouse with my mom and friend, surrounded by warm air and flowering orchids on all sides. And in the lavish halls of the house, seeing a familiar flash of my and my mom’s favorite flower made the tour all the more interesting.
Growing out of mere tree bark and moss, and in other environments no matter how harsh, does not detract from the orchid’s elegance and allure. On gloomy days, I look to the orchid sitting on the bright windowsill, and find a sense of inspiration and hope.