Sunday, August 25, 2013

Technology and Media Psychology

I fear the day that technology will surpass human interaction.  The world will have a generation of idiots. - Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
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In the past few years, we have become dependent technological systems to replace human contact and to record the events of our daily lives. As a culture, we have become dependent on instant messaging services, e-mail, digital cameras, and above all, digital cell phones. Cell phones are now attached to our ears, and for some, cell phones are the new normal. As a result,  we no longer feel connected to ourselves and have a decreased ability to understand and react to our inner selves. Technology has become our new spirituality and has replaced in depth thinking, human involvement,  meditation and relaxation. The end result of all of this is increasing instances of immediate reactions to complex issues rather than reasoned and thoughtful reactions to them.
Media psychology is a field of study which seeks to understand how the media and the growing use of technology impacts how people perceive, interpret, respond, and interact in a media rich world. Media psychologists focus on identifying the potential benefits and the negative consequences of various forms of technology and they promote the development of positive media. This field of psychology investigates the types of psychological impact on humans caused by a wide range of media such as social media, online education, virtual classrooms, entertainment consulting, traditional media interviews, in providing on camera expertise, virtual and augmented reality therapies, consumer products, brand development, marketing, advertising, product placement and game theory. The results indicate that there is a great deal of misinformation in the media. That in turn leads to false reality, false expectations, and violations of privacy. In extreme cases, all of this can lead to acts of bullying, outing, violence, death and suicide.
The promise of technology was for a better life and world, but in many ways, exactly the opposite has occurred. Rather than making life better, many people live dispirited and less-fulfilling lives. People’s spirits would be elevated if they as a group would recognize that technology is a means to an end and not an end itself, that bigger and newer is a marketing ploy and not an imperative.  In addition, it is no accident that the biggest money-making corporations and entrepreneurs are in technology. 
People would be much happier if they had more human contact, were more introspective, reviewed the past with an eye to a better tomorrow, and analyzed more completely and more objectively present problems. We have built a technological civilization so complex that we are now slaves to it but it should be the other way around.
Our culture has become too complex. People simply do not need to use technology to react to everything in life or to record each and every moment. Not every event is worthy of comment or should be recorded with a digital camera. Now that the technological genie is out of the bottle, we have become slaves to the genie. However, in the modern world, there is no such thing as a day without technology.  But, what would happen if we all stopped using our cell phones and went back in a time where neighbors visited each other and had a cup of coffee together? And, how amazing would it be if we went back to reconnecting with ourselves.
If we all took a step back from technology, we may become better, less isolated and more fulfilled people. And, we would no longer would the problem of being so technologically literate and be concerned with acquiring the latest high-priced  and soon-to-be-outdated technological gimmick or gadget.
There really is life without I-pads, Twitter and Facebook!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

News You May Have Missed, No. 52

Messiah: An Illegal Name
A judge in the U.S. has ordered a baby's first name to be changed from Messiah to Martin, arguing that the only true messiah is Jesus Christ, reports say. The parents of seven-month old Messiah DeShawn Martin had gone to court in Tennessee over his last name. But, Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew ordered the first name changed too. The judge said the name Messiah could cause the boy difficulties if he grew up in such a predominantly Christian area. It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is. The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ, Judge Ballow said. Instead she ordered that the baby was to be named Martin DeShawn McCullough, which includes both parents' last name. Dictionary definitions say the word "messiah" means someone who is seen as a savior or a liberator. Christianity refers to Jesus as the Messiah, while Judaism uses the term to mean an anticipated savior of the Jews. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration.  In 2012, more than 700 babies were named Messiah in the U.S.
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Autism Affects Males and Females Differently
Autism affects male and female brains differently, a study has suggested.UK experts studied brain scans of 120 men and women, with half of those studied having autism.The differences found in the research, published in journal Brain, show more work is needed to understand how autism affects girls, the scientists say. Experts said girls with the condition could be more stigmatized than boys and it could be harder for them to be diagnosed at all. Autism affects 1% of the UK population and is more prevalent in boys, so most research has focused on them. In this study, scientists from the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine how autism affects the brain of males and females. Male and female brains differ anyway because tissue volume is greater in males. The study looked at the difference between the brains of typical males and those with autism - and then females with and without autism. They found the brains of females with autism "look" more like but still not the same as healthy males when they were compared with healthy females. But, the same kind of difference was not seen in males with autism, so their brains did not show "extreme" male characteristics. Dr. Meng-Chuan Lai, who worked on the study said: What we have known about autism to date is mainly male-biased. This research shows that it is possible that the effect of autism manifests differently according to one's gender.Therefore we should not blindly assume that everything found for males or from male-predominant mixed samples will apply to females. Dr. Lai added that future research may need to look at males and females equally to discover both similarities and differences.
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Ethiopian Koreans
Two-thirds of a group of young professional Ethiopians who went for training in South Korea have stayed to seek asylum. Forty chose to apply for political asylum on the grounds of "gross human rights violations", while just 19 returned home, according to London-based  Ethiomedia website. The pro-opposition news outlet quotes one of the 40, Sisay Woldegabriel, as complaining of Muslims being "brutalized by police and government forces". The group is apparently staying at Henan Refugee Camp and Ethiomedia suggests they've been welcomed as a result of Ethiopia's support for South Korea in the form of thousands of troops during the Korean War. Three years ago, a 38-year-old Ethiopian became the first refugee to be awarded South Korean citizenship. While Ethiopia is regarded as one of Africa's most stable countries, tensions between the Orthodox Christian majority and Muslims (who make up a third of its population) have grown in recent years. The government has cracked down on what it sees as Islamic extremists, leading to protests. Thousands demonstrated last week after the arrest of 28 people on terror charges, leading to reports of police beatings and widespread arrests.
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Chevrolets Cause Stamped
Would-be motorists in Uzbekistan have been filmed stampeding to put a down payment on a new Chevrolet. A video uploaded by regional news website, Olam.uz, showed people falling over each other as they rush through the gates at a car sales centre in the Uzbek capital Tashkent. According to reports, they're trying to get hold of a contract to buy a vehicle that won't be delivered for another six months, for which they have to pay an 85% deposit and hope that the purchase price doesn't increase in the meantime. The buyers were accused elsewhere of losing their dignity and dismissed as people "dying for metal". Even Gulnara Karimova, eldest daughter of the country's authoritarian president Islam Karimov, thought the scenes were "chaos", telling her Twitter followers that car prices in Uzbekistan are "unrealistic". The buyers were rushing to get hold of one of around 250,000 Chevrolet cars which are built each year in a joint venture between America's General Motors and the Uzbek motor company UzAvtosanoat.
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The Jews of Iceland
With only about 100 Jews in Iceland, they can't support a synagogue - so it seems they'll be flying in a rabbi to preside over new year celebrations. Last year, 50 people (half the community) reportedly gathered for the Rosh Hashanah service that marks the first day of the Jewish calendar. And the American who leads the services has been talking of his hopes of beating that next month. Berel Pewzner from New York, told the U.S. newspaper The Daily Forward,  that he first travelled there in 2011. He said, I've always been fascinated with Jewish life in remote and unique locations around the globe... So when I came across Iceland, a country that seemed to have few Jews but a vibrant model of modern Jewish community, I was intrigued. Judaism has yet to obtain official religious status in Iceland and this year Pewzner conducted the country's first Passover meal to be held fully in accordance with kosher food rules. Today's Jewish population is made up of immigrants, most prominently Israeli-born Dorrit Moussaieff, who's married to President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. Meanwhile, Jews elsewhere will unwittingly remember Iceland at Rosh Hashanah. The holiday staple of herring is one of the country's main exports.
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Ancient Mayan Frieze Discovery
Archaeologists working in a Mayan pyramid in Guatemala have discovered an "extraordinary" stucco sculpture depicting gods and Mayan leaders. The frieze, which is 8 meters long and 2 meters wide (26 feet by 6 feet), shows three figures decorated with quetzal feathers and jade sitting atop the head of a mountain spirit. It was found at the pre-Columbian archaeological site of Holmul. Site director Francisco Estrada-Belli called it a once-in-a lifetime find. The frieze was found below a 20 meter high (65 feet) pyramid which was built over it in the 8th Century. The sculpture is believed to depict the crowning of a new Mayan leader in about 590 AD. It also bears an inscription made up of 30 glyphs, which was deciphered by Harvard University expert Alex Tokovinine. The inscription says that the carving was commissioned by the ruler of a nearby city-state, Ajwosaj ChanK'inich. The archaeologists said the frieze and its inscription shed light on a classical period of Maya rule in which two rival kingdoms, Tikal and the Snake Lords, fought for control of the region.
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Hiroshima
The people of Hiroshima, Japan, are never likely to forget the day in August 1945 when a US atomic bomb devastated the city, but it is becoming harder to preserve physical reminders of the blast. Twenty years ago Hiroshima council listed 98 buildings that survived within three miles of the epi-centre of the blast. It put up 75% of the money private owners needed to save them, but the number of buildings is now down to 86 as economic realities bite. I know it's important to retain remains of the atomic bombing, but I have to keep my workers on the payroll, container materials factory owner Shinichiro Kirihara told the Kyodo News Agency. He demolished a flat brick building at his plant last summer, as it stood in the way of a new warehouse, but kept a section of the wall as a reminder of the bombing. Yoshifumi Ishida is a city official who seeks to promote world peace through commemoration of the Hiroshima blast. He calls the remaining buildings "living witnesses", but acknowledges that they are expensive to maintain and not of much practical use. We want them to remain as they are, but we may be asking too much, he  said.
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9000 Year-Old Discovery in London
Rare evidence that humans lived on the River Thames 9,000 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists. The scientists said prehistoric Londoners were using the site to prepare river cobbles which were then made into flint tools. Concerning the tolls and the tool-making discovery, lead archaeologist Jay Carver said, This is a unique and exciting find that reveals evidence of humans returning to England and in particular the Thames Valley after a long hiatus during the Ice Age. It is one of a handful of archaeology sites uncovered that confirms humans lived in the Thames Valley at this time. The concentration of flint pieces shows that this was an exceptionally important location for sourcing materials to make tools that were used by early Londoners who lived and hunted on Thames Estuary islands. In addition,16th Century gold coins were discovered at its site in Liverpool Street in London. The archaeologists said they were mystified as to how such a precious and expensive gold item made its way to what was then regarded as a deprived area. They believe the gold coins were used as a sequin or pendant, similar to those worn by wealthy aristocrats and royalty. Also at Liverpool Street, a well-made Roman road has been discovered complete with a human bone found in the road's foundations. Next year, archaeologists will begin excavating 3,000 skeletons from Bedlam, a 17th Century burial ground close to Liverpool Street. The archaeologists are hopeful that when they start large scale excavations to remove the skeletons they will also locate more of the Roman road, along with foundations of Roman buildings that stood alongside it.
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The Leaning Tower of Pisa Straightens
The Torre di Pisa (Leaning Tower of Pisa) is continuing its slow but steady return to “straightness.”  According to an annual report by the Italian official surveillance group in charge of monitoring the famously tilting structure, the tower has recovered roughly 2.5 centimeters (almost one inch) of its vertical incline between 2001 and 2013. The small measurement may not seem like a lot, but it's good news for the team of monitors who began watching the Italian landmark back in 2001, after it reopened to the public. The bulk of the tower's total progress happened over an 11-year rehabilitation period, starting in 1992, during which the vertical incline moved from 4.5 meters (14.75 feet) to 4.1 (13.45 feet). The first of these “rescue” interventions, conducted by professor Michele Jamiolkowski  consisted of encircling the first floor with 18 steel cables as a temporary structural reinforcement measure.  More interventions followed but this time underground, as the terrain beneath the tower was frozen and ancient blocks of stone conglomerate dating back to 150 years ago were extracted. These blocks were then substituted with a girder and reinforced concrete, to which the tower was anchored using steel cables set at a depth of 52 meters (170 feet). In January of 1999 the final and definitive intervention to stabilize the tower was conducted: The earth beneath the tower’s foundation was excavated and removed, forcing the tower lower and reducing its vertical incline.  Ultimately, the 2.5-centimeter decrease over the last decade is a win for the Pisa community, but the slight progress allows the tower to retain its popular modifier because it is still leaning, after all. According to the experts, though, the monument can now be considered safe for the next two to three centuries.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Poem: Change Upon Change

Change Upon Change
Five months ago the stream did flow,
The lilies bloomed within the sedge,
And we were lingering to and fro,
Where none will track thee in this snow,
Along the stream, beside the hedge.
Ah, Sweet, be free to love and go!
For if I do not hear thy foot,
The frozen river is as mute,
The flowers have dried down to the root:
And why, since these be changed since May,
Shouldst thou change less than they.

And slow, slow as the winter snow
The tears have drifted to mine eyes;
And my poor cheeks, five months ago
Set blushing at thy praises so,
Put paleness on for a disguise.
Ah, Sweet, be free to praise and go!
For if my face is turned too pale,
It was thine oath that first did fail, --
It was thy love proved false and frail, --
And why, since these be changed enow (enough),
Should I change less than thou.  - Elizabeth Barratt Browning

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Myth of the Liberal Media

If you know anyone who still believes in a "liberal media," here are some things everyone would know if the media were really so liberal.
1. Where the jobs went. Outsourcing (or offshoring) is a bigger contributor to unemployment in the U.S. than laziness. Since 2000, U.S. multinationals have cut 2.9 million jobs here while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg as multinational corporations account for only about 20% of the labor force. When was the last time you saw a front-page headline about outsourcing?
2.  Upward wealth redistribution and/or inequality. In 2010, 20% of the people held approximately 88% of the net worth in the U.S. The top 1% alone held 35% of all net worth. The bottom 80% of people held only 12% of net worth in 2010. In 1983, the bottom 80% held 18% of net worth. These statistics are not Democrat or Republican. They are widely available to reporters. Why aren't they discussed in the "liberal" media?
3. ALEC. If there was a big corporate organization that drafted laws and then passed them on to legislators to implement, wouldn't you think the "liberal" media would report on them? The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is such an organization. Need legislation drafted? No need to go through a lobbyist to reach state legislatures anymore. Just contact ALEC. Among other things, ALEC is responsible for are: Stand Your Ground laws; Voter ID laws, Right to Work laws, Privatizing schools, health savings account bills which benefit health care companies, and pro-tobacco industry legislation. Many legislators don’t even change the proposals handed to them by this group of corporations. They simply take the corporate bills and bring them to the legislative floor. This implementation of The Republican Party agenda is the primary reason for so much similar bad legislation in different states.  
4. The number of people in prison. Which country in the world has the most people in prison? You might think it would be China (with its over one billion people and highly restrictive government) or former Soviets Union (Russia) which still imprisons dissidents. Wrong. The United States has the most people in prison by far of any country in the world. With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prisoners with over 2.3 million in its jails. China with a population 4 times our size is second with 1.6 million people in prison.
In 1972, 350,000 Americans were in imprisoned. By 2010, this number had grown to 2.3 million. Yet between 1988 and 2008, U.S. crime rates declined by 25%. The reason for the massive number of incarcerated criminals is because drug offences and unrestricted gun violence. Why isn't anyone in the so-called "liberal media" interested in why so many people are in prison when crime has dropped?
5. The number of African-Americans in prison. In 2009, non-Hispanic blacks, while only 13.6% of the population, accounted for 39.4% of the total prison and jail population. In 2011, according to FBI statistics, Caucasians accounted for 69.2% of arrests. The numbers clearly indicate racial bias in our criminal justice system. Why didn't the "liberal media" ever mention the bias while covering the Travon Martin story?
6. U.S. health care costs are the highest in the world. The expenditure per person in the U.S. is $8,233. Norway is second with $5,388. Total amount of GDP spent on health care is also the highest of any country in the world at 17.6 percent. The next closest country is the Netherlands at 12%. You would think a "liberal media"  report that.
7. The Glass-Steagall Law. Glass-Steagall separated risky financial investments from government backed deposits for 66 years. The idea is a simple one. Banks were prohibited from using your federally insured savings to make risky investments. This a good idea because risky investments should be risky. If banks can use federally insured funds, there is no risk to them. If they win, they win. But if they lose, the American people cover the losses. Insane, right? Why isn't the "libreal media" explaining all of this.
8. Gerrymandering. When was the last time you saw a front page headline about gerrymandering? Before the 2010 election, Republicans launched a plan to win control of state legislatures before the census. The idea was to be in power when national congressional districts were redrawn in order to fix them so Republicans would win a majority of districts. The Redistricting Majority Project was hugely successful. In 2012, Barack Obama was elected President by nearly 3.5 million votes. In Congressional races, Democrats drew nearly 1.4 million more votes than Republicans yet  Republicans won control of the House 234 seats to 201 seats. How is this possible? By pumping $30 million into state races to win the legislatures, Republicans redrew state maps in states such as Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, Florida and Ohio to place all of the Democrats into just a few districts. In this manner, Democrats win heavily in a couple districts and lose the rest. In North Carolina, the statewide vote was 51 percent Democrat and 49 percent Republican yet 9 Republicans won and only 4 Democrats. Where is your coverage of this vote stealing, "liberal media"? You're willing to cover voter ID laws, why can't you cover real vote stealing?
9. The number of bills blocked by Republicans in Congress. The filibuster has been used a record number of time since Obama was elected President. From 2008-2012, 375 bills weren’t even allowed to come to a vote in the Senate because Republicans threatened the filibuster. In 2013, during the first 6 months, Congress has only passed 15 bills that were signed into law. This is 8 fewer than in the first 6 months of 2012 and 19 fewer than 2011. But, the Republican-dominated Congress managed to vote to repeal heath care reform 40 times! Also, until the Senate recently threatened to reform the filibuster, the GOP had succeeded in holding up 79 of President Obama’s picks to the U.S. Circuit Court and Courts of Appeal. They’re blocking these appointments regardless of qualification. Where's the coverage? Where are the "liberal media" reporters asking why nothing is getting done?
10. The Citizens' United Supreme Court decision. In a 2011 Hart poll, only 22% of those polled had actually heard of the Citizens’ United decision before taking the survey. If 77% believe that corporations have more control over our political process than people, why isn't the "liberal media" concentrating more on the most biased, corrupt and out-of-touch Supreme Court in history and its Citizens’ United decision?
11. Nixon’s Southern Strategy. The Southern Strategy is a strategy for gaining political power by exploiting the greatest number of ethnic prejudices. Kevin Philips, Republican and Nixon campaign strategist, speaking about this strategy in a 1970 interview with the New York Times: From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that...but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
This strategy has been used since President Johnson and Democrats in Congress passed the Civil Rights Act to build the Republican party. Examples of this strategy were evident as recently as 2008 and 2012 as Republicans took up their assault on Medicaid, Social Security, labor unions, and Obamacare, programs which, though they benefit more white seniors, retirees, women, and children, have been sold to many Americans as handouts to lazy, undeserving blacks and minorities. Yet you never hear the "liberal media" talking about the use of this strategy. At least not like this: P (President Nixon) emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to. - from the diary of diary of President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff. H.R. "Bob" Haldermann.

12. Tax cuts primarily benefit the wealthy. A progressive tax program is designed to tax people very little as they are starting out and progressively increase their rates as they do better.
Republican plans seem designed to do exactly the opposite: shift the tax burden off of the wealthy and onto working people. For example, take the repeal of the estate tax. In Ohio, it was  repealed by Republicans. The benefit is only realized by people with estates larger than $338,000 (as the first $338k was exempt) and realized most by people with even wealthier estates. This also explains why Republicans want to shift the system from income taxes to consumption taxes. Consumption taxes are paid most by those at the bottom as basic consumption remains the same regardless of income. It also explains why capital gain taxes are so low. Income through capital gains is only taxed at 20% (increased from 15% in 2012) instead of at the rate of other income (closer to 35%). It also explains why Republicans were so willing to let the payroll tax cut expire. The payroll tax cut benefited people who were getting paid, not those issuing the paychecks. How much fight did you see to save this tax cut? While tax cuts are sold to us as benefiting everyone, they really benefit a select few at the very top. If everyone knew who tax cuts really benefit, would so many people vote for them?
13. What's happening to the bees? Between 40% and 50% of commercial U.S. bee hives were lost this year to colony collapse disorder. The Agriculture Department says a quarter of the American diet depends on pollination by honeybees. Dating from 2006, colony collapse disorder is a relatively new problem. More "liberal media" coverage might push the urgency of the issue. Instead here's a typical media story about bees: Thousands of Bees Attack Texas Couple, Kill Horses.
14. The impact of temporary workers on our economy. The number of temporary workers has grown by more than 50 percent since the recession ended to nearly 2.7 million. If freelancers, contract workers, and consultants are included, the number is nearly 17 million workers not directly employed by the companies who hire them. This equals 12 percent of the workforce. What's the impact of a "just in time" workforce on workers and our economy? How about that for a story "liberal media"?
15. Media consolidation. Six corporations - Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Viacom, Comcast, and CBS - control roughly 90% of the media in the U.S. These companies are in business to make a profit. This is why you'll find so many advertisements in the media. You will also find plenty of "if it bleeds, it leads" (sensationalism) stories designed to hook in especially to the news. There's also plenty of political bickering: Democrats said this, Republicans said that. We let you decide but we never weigh in with any facts or fact-checking. What won't you hear? You won't hear the "liberal media" discuss the corporate media.
Conclusion: If the media were "liberal," it would serve the public interest and shine a light on issues like the ones above. More people would also have a better understanding of global warming, peak oil, population growth, political lobbying, government's role in a functioning economy, how much we spend on the military, and countless other issues. What you are more likely to see in the media, however, are stories designed to get you to buy their paper, or watch their show, or listen to their radio station. If it bleeds, it leads. This is why the media is concerned with scandal, celebrities, gossip, and fear. If anything, our news consists of paid advertisements and outlets too scared of offending anyone to publish much of substance. Investigative journalism is also expensive; entertainment is cheap.
The way this corporate media behaves may not be surprising to you. I apologize if you feel any of this is beating you over the head. But, the very idea of a "liberal media" was a concoction of the political right in this country and is a sheer absurdity. Finally, one way to approach the topic of a "liberal media" is simply to ask: If we have a "liberal media," where are the liberal stories?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

American Exceptionalism

A statement by The Republican Party: Professing American exceptionalism, the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history, we proudly associate ourselves with those Americans of all political stripes who, more than three decades ago in a world as dangerous as today’s, came together to advance the cause of freedom….While the twentieth century was undeniably an American century, with strong leadership, adherence to the principles of freedom and democracy our Founders’ enshrined in our nation’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and a continued reliance on Divine Providence, the twenty-first century will be one of American greatness as well.

Democracy? The Founding Fathers? Divine Providence? American exceptionalism? The Republican Party statement is nothing more than a self-serving rhetorical lie .
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American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. This view of America's stems from its emergence from its revolution which lead to a uniquely American ideology based on freedom, individualism, democracy , republicanism and laissez-faire capitalism.

Although the term did not originally imply superiority, it has come to mean just that. Terms like "the greatest nation on earth", "the beacon of freedom", and the biblically-rooted phrase used by President Reagan, "the shining City upon a Hill", are used to re-enforce this idea. The term American exceptionalism has been in use since at least the 1920s especially during the the last half of the Twentieth Century during tense periods when confronted with the spread of Communism. But since the 1970s scholars and growing portions of the American people have rejected American exceptionalism. The scholars believe that the United States had not broken from European history and has retained class inequities and imperialism. And, the American people have become increasingly aware that the U.S. has a declining standard of living, ordinary people have very little power, and the nation is run by an oligarchy, by the corporations and by corrupt and self-serving politicians.
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While America pats itself on the shoulder and calls itself "exceptional", the truth is that the U.S.A., in reality, it has very little of which to be proud.

Whenever we feel excessive pride in being a citizen of the U.S.A, maybe we ought to be reminded that there is no evidence that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. We would do well to remember these facts and to contemplate how we can all improve them:
·       The U.S. persists in calling itself a democracy. Democracy means majority rule and the U.S. is not a democracy. There is no direct election by the people for President. In Senate elections, states with several million people and states which fall below the minimum population to be a state send the same number of Senators to Washington, two. There is unequal representation particularly for minorities because of gerrymandering. In three or more candidate elections, the one who gets a plurality and not a majority of votes can win.
·       The U.S. is 3rd in median income.
·       The U.S. is 4th in a productive labor force.
·       The U.S. is 4th in exports.
·       The U.S, is 7th in literacy
·       The U.S is 22nd in science education
·       The U.S. is 27th in mathematics education.
·       The U.S. is 49th in life expectancy.
·       The U.S. is  178th in infant mortality.
·       The U.S. is No. 1 in the number of its citizens in jails.
·       The U.S. is No. 1 in the number the number of wars it fought in the last 75 years.
·       The U.S. is No. 1 in military expenditure. (It is more than the next 26 countries combined.)
·       The U.S. is No. 1. in the number of adults who believe angels are real.
·       The U.S. spies on its own citizens.
·       The U.S. indefinitely imprisons enemy combatants without trial and tortures them.
·       The U.S. has secret courts.
·       In the U.S., unrestricted gun sales and use claims over 20,000 lives a year.
·       In the U.S., there is a political party that attempts to prevent minorities from voting.
·       In the U.S., politicians are bought.
·       In the U.S., The Supreme Court is biased and corrupt and it does not create judicial decisions based on The Constitution, past precedent or the common good..
·       In the U.S., racism and hate-crimes are common.
·       The U.S. committed a genocide against Native-Americans.
·       Native-Americans did not have U.S. citizenship or the right to vote until 1924.
·       The U.S. had slavery until 1865.
·       African-Americans could not vote until 1865 and are still the targets of voter suppression.
·       Women wanted to be able to vote since the Revolution but could not vote until 1919.
·       Japanese-American citizens were illegally sent to concentration camps during World War II.
·       The U.S. invaded Mexico in 1946 and annexed northern Mexico making it part of the U.S.
·       The U.S. illegally took over the sovereign nation of Hawaii in 1898.

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In the 1940's, 50's,  and early 60's, the U.S. was the most respected country in the world. The reason was that during World War II and its aftermath, we were a united country. Along with our allies, we managed to defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. The U.S. had ideals, rebuilt Western Europe through the Marshall Plan, was the moving force in the creation of the U.N., created the G.I. bill which ultimately created the most educated generation the world has ever seen, built the U.S. Highway system,  built schools, dams and bridges, etc. We fought for what was right, we stopped segregation, created the Voting Rights Act, and had a war on poverty. We were a Mecca for writers, composers, entertainers and artists- and we subsidized them. The rich paid 90%  of their income in taxes and no corporation got a way without paying taxes- and neither complained. The standard of living for America was on the rise, the U.S. had full employment because it did not ship jobs overseas and made in the U.S.A. meant quality.

Unless Americans stop patting themselves on the shoulder and telling themselves that they are a special and exceptional nation, they have no real hope of change and preventing their continuing decline. Just by putting "In God we trust" on money, does mean God will protect the nation  and it will not prevent the misuse of money by politicians, banks, corporations and ordinary citizens. And, just playing the National Anthem before every baseball game will not guarantee food on the table, adequate medical care, respect for diversity, tolerance and create "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all of its citizens

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reading Poetry

When was the last time you read a poem? You probably cannot recall when it was. My guess is it was not recently. Maybe it was sometime in high school or college. Unlike the Japanese and some European countries, Americans in general  neither respect poets or poetry. However, do you remember when you were a child how much you enjoyed nursery rhymes like Twinkle. Twinkle, Little Star?  When and why did the joy of poetry turn so sour?  It was likely when you in high school and because of your well-intentioned English teachers.
Let's start with a simple question.  How is it different from ordinary speech and prose?  The answer is that it is not radically different. The basic principles and word devises are in both and the same words are used pretty much in the same ways and orders.  Both rely on the denotation (dictionary definition) and the connotation (implied meaning or the feeling attached to the word when it is used) of words. Also, we often hear or read poetry and do not know it. Most song lyrics are poetry and portions of The Bible are poetry. For instance, take the opening stanza of  The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel.
Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.
The words are poetic and have all the attributes of a poem. When the words are not sung but just said, it is a poem; when it is combined with a melody, it becomes a song. So, simply put, a poem is  the words of a song without the music. And, like everything else in life, poetry runs from the very short and simple, like Twinkle. Twinkle, Little Star, to the very complex, like Willam Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis .
The word "poetry" is taken from the  Greek word poiesis  meaning a "making". Poetry was originally a learning tool to pass down cultural stories to people who could neither read nor write. It has a long history dating back to the to the Ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh from the 18th century BC. Other early poems evolving from cultural tales were the Chinese Shijing, the Sanskrit Vedas the Zoroastrian Gathas and the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. There have been many attempts to define just what poetry is starting with Aristotle's Poetics in 335 BC, but  most modern definitions view it as a creative act employing language, language devices which goes beyond literal word meanings.

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How to Read and Appreciate a Poem

Read through the poem, several times if you can, both silently and aloud . Then, react to it.  Determine whether you like it or not and why.   
Circle important, or striking, or repeated words. Draw lines to connect related ideas. Mark difficult or confusing words, lines, and passages.
Consider the title of the poem carefully. What does it tell you about the poem's subject, tone, and genre? What does it promise? (After having read the poem, you will want to come back to the title in order to consider further its relationship with the poem.)
What is your initial impression of the poem's subject? Try writing out an answer to the question, "What is this poem about?"--and then return to this question throughout your analysis. Push yourself to be precise; aim for more than just a vague impression of the poem. What is the author's attitude toward his or her subject?
What is the poem's basic situation? What is going on in it? Who is talking? To whom? Under what circumstances? Where? About what? Why? Is a story being told? Is something--tangible or intangible--being described? What specifically can you point to in the poem to support your answers?
What is the author's attitude toward his  or her subject? Serious? Reverent? Ironic? Satiric? Ambivalent? Hostile? Humorous? Detached? Witty?
Ask yourself, does the poem appeal to a reader's intellect? Emotions? Reason?
Try to determine the techniques  and literary devices used by the author to convey his ideas and to create the sound and mood. Among these devices are rhythm, rhyme, simile, metaphor, imagery, onomatopoeia, etc.
Finally, ask yourself, "So what?"
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Some Interesting Poems
Macbeth
(Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-28)
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
- William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
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The Great Buddha at Nara
Out of the hollow
Of great Buddha's nose
Flies a swallow -Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. -Robert Frost (1878-1963)
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Reflections on Ice Breaking
Candy
Is Dandy
But liquor
Is quicker. - Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
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The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. -Robert Frost (1878-1963
)
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Ozymandias
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away." - Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
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Lines Composed for a Christmas Card
May all my enemies go to hell!
Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!  - Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)
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The Naked and the Nude

For me, the naked and the nude
(By lexicographers construed
As synonyms that should express
The same deficiency of dress
Or shelter) stand as wide apart
As love from lies, or truth from art.

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;
The Hippocratic eye will see
In nakedness, anatomy;
And naked shines the Goddess when
She mounts her lion among men.

The nude are bold, the nude are sly
To hold each treasonable eye.
While draping by a showman's trick
Their dishabille in rhetoric,
They grin a mock-religious grin
Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;
Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometime nude! - Robert Graves (1895-1985)
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The Bells

I
Hear the sledges with the bells-
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

II
Hear the mellow wedding bells,
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And an in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

III
Hear the loud alarum bells-
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor,
Now- now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows:
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells-
Of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!

IV
Hear the tolling of the bells-
Iron Bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people- ah, the people-
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All Alone
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone-
They are neither man nor woman-
They are neither brute nor human-
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
Rolls
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells-
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells-
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells:
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells-
Bells, bells, bells-
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells. - Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)