Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings: Not People ‘Over There’

On one fine afternoon in the summer of 2017, my cousin treated my mother and I to lunch at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel during a visit to Colombo, Sri Lanka. The smell of the warm sea breeze greeted us as we stepped out from our vehicle while out past the hotel grounds lay that briny cauldron of foam we call the Indian Ocean. My cousin and I settled down to catch up over recent events and we chit-chatted away, her telling me about her two daughters’ antics at swim class.

It was by all means, a pleasant afternoon.

But no post goes on about the pleasantries of one quaint little afternoon meal by the sea.

This morning, as worshipers came together in prayer for Easter Sunday services, three churches and five hotels across Sri Lanka were subject to a series of terrorist bombings. The Cinnamon Grand was one of the hotels bombed. The bomb went off meters away from where my cousin and I were seated two years prior, discussing trivialities of the day.

On a related note, I have an eye for plants; they’re usually among the first things I spot when I arrive someplace new—and one of my favorite plants is the frangipani tree. I’ve always thought that their awkward, spindly, grey branches made them look a little alien-like. In season, they bloom modest but charming five-petaled flowers that range from white and yellow to deep pink and red. The Cinnamon Grand had a gorgeous frangipani tree that littered its flowers around on the grassy opening in front of the building.

I currently attend an international school in Malaysia whose gorgeous campus also looks out over a stretch of ocean—the historic Strait of Malacca. It’s far more placid and tranquil than the mighty cauldron of foam that greeted me two years ago in Sri Lanka, but it’s still part of the same ocean system.

Dotted about near the ocean-side of my campus are a splattering of frangipani trees that greet me every day as I make my way down to my school’s seaview cafeteria for lunch. They wave their spindly, grey-ish alien arms at me as I try my best to get to the front of the lunch queue.

But why talk about trees and bodies of water?

As I write this, the death toll in Sri Lanka grows higher and higher. When I began this post a half-hour ago, the death toll was reported at 207. As I write this line, the death toll stands at 215. Those are numbers—and numbers often seem to mean little. A tragedy an ocean away in some foreign country may concern you a little. You see it on the news, you shake your head, you mutter something under your breath about the cruelty of life, and you go on your way scrolling through Facebook.

Six months before sitting down with my cousin at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, I visited Colombo to attend a wedding reception at the Intercontinental Hotel—now named the Kingsbury Hotel.

To be brutally honest—I absolutely hated the event. I knew hardly anyone there, and was averse to the generic reaction of older relatives talking down to me, telling me they remembered seeing photos of me when I was four years old.

By far, the highlight of that night was seeing my cousin’s baby boy and getting to pinch his chubby little cheeks. I try to play the calm and collected teenage boy who has better things than babies to pay heed to—but I can’t help but dork out over babies with a full face just ready to be squished.

This morning at the Kingsbury, a bomb went off just one floor below where that wedding reception was held. Alongside the Cinnamon Grand, the Kingsbury was one of the five hotels targeted in the Easter bombings.

Fortunately, none of my family was harmed in this morning’s attacks. But it sure does make you think—why not my family? Far too often we subconsciously succumb to the just-world fallacy—the unconscious tendency to believe that the natural course of the world is for good to be rewarded and bad to be punished. I think it’s part of the reason that numbers mean so little. It’s just a natural psychological tendency of thought.

It takes something visual to snap us out of our ingrained group-thinking apathy. A photo of relatives tearfully mourning the dead. An image of an effigy of Christ splattered in the blood of worshipers. Whatever it is—something needs to remind you that those victims far away aren’t really all that far away from you. For me, it was the thought that there’s absolutely no reason those killed this morning weren’t my family. It was the idea that this morning, before they were so brutally killed, worshipers and travelers looked out towards the same vast expanse of water that I too had looked out upon two years prior. The idea that as my friends returned from their Easter morning services, somewhere in Sri Lanka, the same couldn’t be said.

Numbers are distant. The world becomes a far smaller place when you can think of the faces of babies whose cheeks you pinched, of the trees that waved their branches at you, and of the oceans whose shore wake called out to you.

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A Very Opinionated Rant: A Look At Some Worrisome Aftermath

Think of him what you may, Brett Kavanaugh is now an Associate Justice in the highest court of the land. To many Americans, the notion that a man embroiled in allegations of sexual assault can attain such office is a most reprehensible predicament—symptomatic of deep-running problems in the fabric of American society.

Continue reading “A Very Opinionated Rant: A Look At Some Worrisome Aftermath”

If Dems Don’t Win the House in November, Can They Kiss 2020 Goodbye?

YM: Today I am allowed the mighty pleasure of featuring an analytical piece from Mark Sasse—a jack of many trades; master of all—but a man I recognize firstly as an early impetus for my interest in politics and related matters.

Mark W Sasse is a novelist and award-winning playwright who loves to dabble in the frivolity of political speculation when not knee-deep in the creative arts. His new novel The African Connection is book two in his low fantasy thriller series The Forgotten Child Trilogy. In his former life, he taught history and English in both Vietnam and Malaysia. He currently teaches theatre in Saudi Arabia. When he’s not writing or teaching, he’s cooking spicy Asian food or watching baseball. Check out his work on mwsasse.com

Mid-term elections are volatile. Almost always. They historically display the cantankerousness of the American electorate with pristine clarity. Mid-term elections are like the shiny new Christmas toy that finds itself dunked in an April mud puddle simply because you’ve become bored with it. That’s what happens. Two years after a presidential election is just enough time for the euphoria of “change” and “hope” and “greatness” and all other election slogans to wear thin to such a degree that the populace brutally penalizes the president’s party to let the other jokers have their turn messing things up. It’s a cynical cycle without question. The numbers back this up very clearly. Let’s take a look at the data before conjecturing their meaning for 2018.

Continue reading “If Dems Don’t Win the House in November, Can They Kiss 2020 Goodbye?”

Florida: The Name of the Game

In what looks to be the most expensive Senate race this election cycle, incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson seeks to retain his seat amidst Class I elections that pit the Democratic Party against the worst Senate map any party has seen in the last half century—facing what looks to be his stiffest electoral competition yet.

The Rhetoric and Play

Nelson’s re-election campaign pivots largely on a combination of appealing to moderates and popularity among the more politically energized youth. As a southern Democrat originally elected in 1978, Nelson has never been very liberal or progressive like many of his Senate colleagues, so the threat of base turnout is very real.

Rather than an attack specifically against Trump and Capitol Hill Republicans, Nelson’s message gives off old-school vibes of “Washington isn’t doing enough”. Through campaigning on a purportedly poor federal reaction to natural disaster and Scott’s poor track record in a state where the environment is a crucial factor, Nelson seems to have covered a bit of ground with the new progressive Democratic base as well as not turning away moderate or otherwise undecided voters.

Speaking of undecided voters, Scott doesn’t seem to be doing very well with them. Though the governor has a massive edge in terms of name recognition among constituents, this may in fact be the decisive factor that acts against a Scott victory. Close affiliation with Trump and unpopular flabbergasts in past years decidedly put off still-undecided voters (yes, they actually do exist in this race). Surmising that this is a notable factor, Scott could counteract this by running to rile up turnout among his conservative base, which seems to be the case in his cautions of the fate of America if a Democratic majority Senate were to come to power.

What You Clicked For

Florida Senate 2018 Map

But enough talking. You’ve waited. And here they are. Lone Umbrella’s county outcome prediction maps for the Florida Senate race are complete!Outcomes involved in creating these maps:

  • 2016 Florida Senate election—Murphy vs. Rubio
    • Rubio won this one with the largest raw vote in Florida history and a margin of eight points.
    • Opponent Patrick Murphy was a relatively popular and charismatic Democrat, but name recognition put the ball in Rubio’s court—along with his incumbency advantage.
Florida Senate Race 2018

County Prediction Map | Population Adjusted
  • 2012 Florida Senate election—Nelson vs. Mack
    • Early polls indicated Mack with a lead over incumbent Senator Nelson.
    • Progression of the race showed a vulnerable Nelson with a three to seven point lead.
    • Election night showed Nelson very comfortably cruise to a victory by well over a million votes and a margin of 13 points.
  • 2016 Presidential election in Florida—Trump vs. Clinton
  • 2014 Florida gubernatorial election—Scott vs. Crist
    • very tight race. Scott won by a mere sixty thousand votes; a margin of less than a percent.
    • Though a tight margin for an incumbent governor, Crist was a notable opponent well known among Floridians as Republican-turned-Democrat former governor of the state.

Opinion: No, Everything’s Not On Fire

OPINION: The world in this decade is a better place than it’s ever been beforeThis shouldn’t even be controversial, but it is.

Sadly, this opinion isn’t a popular one—especially among the youth of today. The whole world’s ending, and *insert latest news story* will be the cause of it. Oh God no, racism’s on the rise, everything’s on fire and immigrants/corporations/terrorism/guns/the alt-right are to blame.

With cable news increasingly run like sports commentary, it’s not surprising that contemporary outlook on the future is bleak. Today, only 6%[1] of Americans believe that the world is getting better.

Yet the facts overwhelmingly indicate otherwise. The world is better than it’s ever been and is continuing to get better and better.

Point 1: Numbers are numbers

Racism isn’t on the rise, it’s just that today nearly everyone has a pocket-sized camera-computer on them to document instances of it.

In the grand timescale of civilized history, the share of people in poverty has plummeted virtually overnight. In the 1950s, the decade and world my own father was born into, 75% of the world’s inhabitants were still living in extreme poverty. Today, less than 10% live in extreme poverty.

The situation with the world’s literate population looks just as optimistic. From going from a world where only a select lucky few were literate, now 4 out 5 of global inhabitants are able to read and write.

Political freedom has consistently gone up, more people inhabit democracies than ever before, and the long legacy of colonialism is beginning to be forgotten.

Unfortunately, “OBESITY EPIDEMIC PLAGUES AMERICA” is more of a catchy headline than “For The First Time In History, More Die From Eating Too Much Than Too Little.” “Inequality in America At ALL-TIME HIGH” is more eye-catching than “Between 1981 and 2008, 600 million Chinese Lifted Out of Poverty.” Heck, misrepresentative reporting has led to 2/3 of Americans[2] wrongly believing that the share of those in extreme poverty has doubled.

What’s going wrong will always be more alluring than what’s going right (which tends to be most things).

“News is about stuff that happens, not stuff that doesn’t happen. You never see a journalist who says, “I’m reporting live from a country that has been at peace for 40 years,” or a city that has not been attacked by terrorists.” – Steven Pinker

But media isn’t the tell-all problem with our skewed perception of global affairs.

The problem stems from the way our minds are wired to handle information. News is business, business is market-driven, and the market is subject to the whims of supply and demand. With a virtually infinite reservoir of information as our supply, the entity behind trend-specific demands is the human psyche. Rather than media creators being the cause for a skewed perception of human progress, media creation reflects humanity’s own implicit negativity bias.


For much of the youth of this day, it’s easy to become complacent and bitter about the modern state-of-affairs. Much of the news the average citizen consumes pushes the narrative that the fate of the future; the fate of democracy hinges on what the incumbent political regime is doing, whoever that incumbent may be. It’s far too easy for the left to sour up over the notion that conservatives are dismantling the post-war global order, and it’s easy for conservatives to get riled up over the notion that the left is doing away with the stability that traditional values have seemingly afforded the majority. Regardless of the political discourse, numbers are numbers.

Point 2: Numbers are just numbers

But while numbers are numbers, it’s still important to remember that numbers are just numbers. They aren’t good at making observers care or take in the trends and patterns displayed. All the databases needed to convince the general public that the world is, in fact, getting better and better are right at hand. The problem with data in today’s fast-paced world is that it’s often behind a paywall, or just plain boring. With little to no personal ties to humanity’s great progress, it becomes difficult for many of us to care much about the decline of war and child mortality. Men well-versed in the fields of statistics or visual cognition like Steven Pinker[3] and the late Dr. Hans Rosling[4] may attempt to bridge this gap, but the fact of the matter remains: numbers are just numbers.

I find it difficult to be complacent about the world of today just because of how much progress has been achieved in only a generation of my immediate family. The world my father was born into and the world I was born into are vastly different.

My father was born into a newly independent former crown colony: 8-year-old Ceylon. Democracy in the nation was still in its infancy, my father was a member of a minority ethnic group that faced marginalization just because of his language of common discourse, and the life expectancy in the country was a meager 54 years.

Amidst ripe ethnic and religious tensions, his country was plunged into a civil war that lasted a quarter of a century and faced a diaspora of opportunity-seeking men and women. Today, nearly a decade after the war’s conclusion, the nation is at peace, the average life expectancy is 77 years, and democracy is strong with peaceful transitions of power being observed between incumbent governments and former oppositions.

I, on the other hand, was born into a pleasant suburb of Miami a year into the millennium. Unlike the peers of my father in his youth, I grew up with access to all the amenities a growing child might ever need, and then some. I’ve never faced enmity from anyone on the basis of ethnicity, race, or first language like my father did before me, and I have access to nearly unlimited information about the world around me. It’s a world I sometimes fear I take for granted and a world that I wish my father was still around to enjoy.

Perhaps the problem of complacency is one that will never be solved, for so long as progress is made, there never will be a time where a child born elsewhere that doesn’t succumb to illness makes us as glad as losing one of our own makes us sad.


This post was inspired and adapted from an answer I wrote on Quora.com in response to:  What are your most controversial or unpopular opinions?


Footnotes

[1] OurWorldInData.org

[2] Survey – Gapminder.org

[3] Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers | Steven Pinker

[4] The best stats you’ve ever seen | Hans Rosling