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Belieze Itinerary

Mar. 31st, 2011 | 06:26 pm

Rudimentary Travel Plan: Belize

Saturday: Sleep Corozal, Cerros Beach Inn


~ Pick up Rental Car
~ Drive to Corozal
~ Check in: CERROS BEACH INN
P.O. Box 317, Corozal Town, Belize, Copper Bank Village, Corozal District (http://www.cerrosbeachresort.com)
Phone: (011) 501 623-9763 or 501 623-9530
~ Cerros: Coastal Mayan Site
~ Corozal Town
~ Bacalar Chico Marine & Wildlife preserve ? (Lagoon/Barrier reef on mainland, science center)

Sunday: Sleep San Ignacio, Martz Farm Treehouses Cabanas

~ Drive to Cayo District
~ Belize Zoo
~ Thousand Foot Falls - Mountain Pine ridge reserve
~ Check In: Martz Farm Treehouses and Cabana’s LTD
8.5 Mls. Hydro Road, Benque Viejo del Carmen
P.O. Box 161, San Ignacio Town, Cayo District
Phone: (011) (501) 614 6462 or (011) (501) 663 3849

Monday: San Ignacio, Martz Farm Treehouses Cabanas

~ Xunantunich: Mayan city trading site Consider horse back riding
~ Caves Explorations
+ Barton Creek (easy to reach)
+ Caves Branch (Rivers, exertion required) $75 for 8 hours at http://www.midasbelize.com/activities.html
+ Che Chen Ha (Mayan art scattered throughout, ladders, maize staples, hard to get to)
+ Rio Frio (Easy to get to, well lit with falling sun)
+ ST. Herman’s (One of few open without a guide, miles under earth, pottery, human remains)

Tuesday: Sleep San Ignacio, Martz Farm Treehouses Cabanas

~ Tikal in Guatemala: All day trip, $80 per person, Includes guide, lunch, transportation, park entrance fee. Doesn’t include Belize border departure tax of $18.75 http://www.midasbelize.com/activities.html

Wednesday: Blue Belieze in P.G.

~ Drive to Stann Creek District
~ South Water & Tobacco Cayes explorations!
~ Snorkling/Barrior reef: South Water Cayes Marine Park

Consider Kayaking/Boat tours of the area

Thursday: Sleep Blue Belieze in P.G.
~ Drive to Toledo District (Rain Forest!)

Friday: (Sleep Punta Gorda)
~ Begin Journey to Belize City
~ Return Rental Car?

Saturday: Sleep Belize City

Sunday: Belize City to Home

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Psych stuff

Mar. 30th, 2011 | 10:51 pm

IQ testing has courted much controversy in recent years. Some people think that IQ test use a very narrow framework to analyze the intelligence of a broad group of people. To understand why measuring intelligence is so controversial in the first place, we must examine the history of the test itself.

Sir Francis Gaulton in his 1869 book Hereditary Genius claimed that intelligence is an “inherited mental constitution” which stems from good genetics and can be traced within a family (Psychology : The Science of the Mind and Behavior (Fourth Edition), P. 330).

While Galton’s method’s for testing intelligence fell out of favor, the idea found practical application in France at the turn of the 20th century. The French Ministry of Public Education commissioned Alfred Binet to develop a test that would identify children with special needs so that they could be placed in the appropriate programs. Binet created the test by surveying experienced teachers to find out what types of problems children should be able to solve at ages 4,5,6 etc. He processed their answers to develop a standardized questionnaire given to children that would determine their mental age. One example that our textbook gives of mental age is if an eight year old child can solve problems at the level of a ten year old, the child would be determined to have a mental age of ten. Conversely, if a twelve year old could only solve problems at the level of an average eight year old, the twelve year old would be said to have a mental age of eight (Psychology : The Science of the Mind and Behavior (Fourth Edition), P. 331). Children would then be assigned a particular type of education based on their mental age.

German Psychologist William Stern expanded on this idea by providing a relative score or a common yardstick of intellectual achievement for people of varying chronological ages. Stern’s device for determining IQ was to divide mental age by chronological age and then multiply that number by 100. A child performing at his or her exact age level would have an IQ of 100.
Since the introduction of the Binet testing system there have been a whole host of other tests that have sprung up : the Stanford-Binet test, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (or WAIS), the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence and various revisions of each. So many variations of the intelligence test have been created that a whole new area of psychology called psychometrics has been created solely to study the statistics of psychological tests. (Psychology : The Science of the Mind and Behavior (Fourth Edition), P. 333). There are several reasons for the variety and quantity of intelligence tests. The first reason is that the standards for measuring adult intelligence versus child intelligence are very different. Fluid intelligence which is the measure of one’s ability to deal with novel problem-solving experiences is what is commonly measured in children. Reasoning abstractly, thinking logically and managing information all affect a child’s IQ score. Crystal intelligence of the ability to apply previously acquired knowledge to current problems is more applicable to adult IQ scores, as adults would have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from to answer the test questions.

Intelligence tests have been called into question as researchers reevaluate cultural and language biases present in these tests. IQ tests also measure only very specific abilities(analytical intelligence) while ignoring others (creative and practical intelligence).

Perhaps in the years to come, children will receive an education that does not simply mirror their ability to perform well on written tests but also encourages positive growth and development toward more creative and practical applications of their intellect. This can only be achieved through a greater understanding of what shapes intelligence and how we can best use these measures to benefit humankind.

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Hitchcock's "Rebecca"

Mar. 30th, 2011 | 10:48 pm

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 masterpiece “Rebecca” is a testament to filmmaking in the classic Hollywood style of the 1930’s and 1940’s. The combination of the Hitchcock touch and producer David O’Selznick’s dogged insistence that the movie remain as true to the book as possible make “Rebecca” a stylistic achievement. While Hitchcock will always be known as the unrivaled Master of Suspense, O’Selznick was a producer nonpareil. Together, their work won them an academy award for Best Picture of 1940 (against such formidable competition as “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Kitty Foyle” and “The Great Dictator”).

Hitchcock, much later in his career in an interview with Francois Truffaut, would rebuke “Rebecca” as being the least favorite of all of his movies. He cites the film’s lack of humor as the main reason (Robey, T. 2009). In truth, O’Selznick did not give Hitchcock the kind of artistic control that he was used to. While it must have been difficult for someone like Hitchcock to be kept on such a short leash, O’Selznick did add some of the touches that make the film memorable. For example, Hitchcock used economy when filming and only did as many takes as he needed until he got the right one. O’Selznick, on the other hand, loved having a plethora of takes to rummage through. His insistence on using master shots (much to Hitchcock’s chagrin) can be credited with some of the most memorable scenes in and around Manderley. The image of the new Mrs. DeWinter meeting the servants at Manderley for the first time is almost certainly helped by the the master shot in the large foyer. Also, the largeness of the house as it looms in the distance and then springs to life in full view helps the viewer to understand how intimidated and dwarfed the new Mrs. DeWinter feels.

It is hard for the average moviegoer to imagine why humor is an element that Hitchcock thinks “Rebecca” needs. The filmed version of Daphne Du Maurier’s book is quite simple and unfolds thus: A shy young woman of nineteen (we never learn her real name) is the paid companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an American traveling in the South of France. On one of her rare moments away from Mrs. Van Hopper she wanders away from town where she sees a man who looks as though he is about to throw himself off a cliff. She intervenes and he gruffly tells her to mind her own business. Later that evening in the hotel, Mrs. Van Hooper directs the girl’s attention to the newly widowed and very handsome Maxim DeWinter who is walking through the lobby. The girl recognizes Mr. DeWinter as the gentleman she saved from attempting suicide earlier that day. Mr. DeWinter and Mrs. Van Hopper exchange greetings and he is formally introduced to the girl. Later, through a series of secret meetings, he romances the girl, proposes to her, and takes her back to his country estate called Manderley. The girl is quite insecure and worries that she will not fit into Maxim’s world. This fear is confirmed and preyed upon by the severe Mrs. Danvers, the head housekeeper who seems driven to keep Rebecca’s memory alive at any cost. She takes advantage of the girl’s inexperience to emotionally browbeat her into thinking that Maxim cannot and will not love her. It is only later revealed that Maxim actually despised Rebecca because she had many illicit affairs in their boat house, including one with a favorite cousin of hers named Jack Favelle. Maxim follows Rebecca down to the boat house where she reveals that she is pregnant and that she has no idea who the father is. She and Maxim quarrel and Rebecca hits her head on a large piece of tackle laying in the corner of the boat house. In a panic, he deposits her body in her sail boat, drills it full of holes and pushes it out to sea, hoping that it will appear as though she drown in a boating accident. Authorities later discover the boat full of holes and Maxim is called to testify at an inquest into her death. Mrs. Danvers is devastated by the news that Rebecca was murdered. When Maxim is acquitted of Rebecca’s death, Mrs. Danvers flies into a rage and sets the house on fire. The last scene is of Mrs. Danvers running from room to room in the west wing of Manderely (Rebecca’s old rooms) as the house collapses around her. The final shot is of Rebecca’s hand embroidered pillows going up in flames, the letter “R” being the only part of the pillow still visible.

The Master of Suspense does not disappoint in Rebecca. From the time the new Mrs. DeWinter arrives at Manderley until the country house burns to the ground, Hitchcock keeps the tension taut. The very first moments of the film open with Mrs. De Winter recounting a dream of going back to Manderely after the fire. Hitchcock uses one long, continuous track shot to take us down the path that leads to the ruins of Manderely. Much like Orson Welles would do later in Citizen Kane, we see the ruins of the estate from the outside only. We are temporarily barred from going in. Only later will we be enlightened as to the mansion’s tragic end.

Before the new Mrs. DeWinter comes to Manderely, we see her being dwarfed by her employer Mrs. Van Hopper. The fact that the new Mrs. DeWinter is physically much smaller than Mrs. Van Hopper underscores her demurring personality. Even the hotel she is staying in dwarfs her. It is only when she and Maxim meet for “tennis lessons” that she is allowed out in the open, escaping the confinement of the hotel and Mrs. Van Hopper. In her first months as Mrs. De Winter, her and Maxim honeymoon in Europe. They are shown scamping outdoors, enjoying the open spaces that will soon be denied to them.

Hitchcock establishes Manderely as a place of confinement. Though one of the finest show houses in the English countryside, it is a tomb of memories of the first Mrs. DeWinter. Hitchcock uses master shots when presenting the house to the new Mrs. DeWinter. Indeed, the viewer is overawed by the house when it is finally presented to us. We enter through the front door with Maxim and Mrs. DeWinter and are greeted by a gigantic entryway and a line full of servants. Before we have time to fully assess the situation, a figure clad in black from head to toe with stark white skin and a severe black bun glides into the shot. I use the word “glide” because Mrs. Danvers (Danny) comes into the shot from the left side of the screen. We were not aware of her presence and we only see her from the knees up. This adds to her otherworldly aura.

Hitchcock never uses a medium of long shot of Mrs. Danvers in this film (Nesbit, J.). She always enters the frame unannounced in much the same way that a ghoul or spirit would enter a room. Part of her ability to torment the new Mrs. DeWinter is her seeming omniscience. She knows everything about the house and she knows everything about Rebecca. These are two things that the new Mrs. DeWinter can’t and won’t know.

Hitchcock also uses the camera to convey the ghost of Rebecca particularly well in two scenes. I suppose that both would be considered track shots though the camera only sweeps up and down and side to side. The first scene is where Mrs. Danvers takes the new Mrs. DeWinter into the West Wing which were Rebecca’s former rooms. As Mrs. Danvers walks from the closet to the dressing table to the bed, she talks about how Rebecca used to like her hair arranged, how all of her clothes were the finest in England, how she had the softest, most delicate footsteps as she walked. Her descriptions are eerily matched as the camera places the ghost of Rebecca just in front of her and trails a little before her the entire time. It seems as though Mrs. Danvers is walking right behind Rebecca while relaying her habits to the new Mrs. DeWinter.

The second time that Hitchcock simulates the ghost of Rebecca through his camera work is when Maxim meets the new Mrs. DeWinter at the boathouse and describes the events of the night Rebecca died. As Maxim unfolds the story of Rebecca’s wicked ways, the camera closes in on his face while the high contrast lighting emphasizes his torment. Maxim describes where Rebecca stood that night and the camera tracks several feet away from him. Maxim describes her tilting her head back and laughing. We can almost conjure up her image in that empty space. She comes very close to Maxim to tell him that he is not the father of her child. The camera slowly pans back to Maxim. He strikes her and she stumbles and hits her head. The camera slowly, painfully pans over to the corner of the boathouse where she hit her head. It is an inventive ploy that is not used enough in modern movies. To have the camera taking simple steps to help highlight the narrative lets the viewer recreate the scene in their own mind. Without any visuals to distract, we can conjure up a scene that is far more chilling than simply being shown an image of the event.

The use of lighting in “Rebecca” is another way the Master of Suspense holds the gothic mood. The film is full of low key lighting that adds a powerful shroud of mystery to the proceedings. I can’t imagine that this film would have been nearly as powerful in color. The shadows are part of the story as much as the light. The secrets that Manderely holds would not be nearly as intriguing if the viewer could see the yellow sun coming through the Morning Room or notice the color of the embroidery on the new Mrs. DeWinter’s dress that she wears to the costume ball. The control of light and shadows gives Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” an edge over newer versions. How can a color film hope to compare to black and white when it comes to building mood and suspense?

“Rebecca” has stood the test of time. While Mr. Hitchcock may not have enjoyed the process of making this movie, audiences continue to thrill to the secrets of Manderely and jump whenever Mrs. Danvers appears on screen. David O’Selznick’s insistence that the movie remain as true to the book as possible has made fans of many people who originally read the book. In a line-up of classic suspense movies, “Rebecca” will always stand out due to its high production quality, phenomenal cast and director, and universally scary villain. It remains one of the true classics of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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Psychological Warfare and Marriage in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?

Mar. 30th, 2011 | 10:47 pm

Mike Nichol’s 1966 film adaption of Edward Albee’s “Whose Afraid of Virgina Woolf” offers a disturbing and thoroughly compelling glimpse into the psychological warfare waged by George and Martha, a couple whose violent relationship reveals the destructive nature of a mutually unfulfilling marriage. Director Mike Nichols employs standard Hollywood techniques like the long shot to capture the sustained movement and unpredictability of the characters. Like George and Martha’s guests Nick and Honey, we never know when the verbal assaults will erupt into physical violence or spill onto us.

George is a history professor at a prestigious New England university of which Martha’s father just happens to be the president. After a party one evening Martha invites a young biology professor named Nick and his wife Honey over for drinks. As the night wears on, the group becomes increasingly intoxicated. This is when George and Martha really lash out at each other both verbally and physically.

The first part of the film takes place within the confines of George and Martha’s large house. As the visiting couple and the audience learn more about their dysfunctional relationship, the space grows claustrophobic. Medium to wide shots at the beginning of the film become close ups as the fighting turns vitriolic. The camera compels the viewer to continue watching even though we are witnessing human behavior at its worst. Director Mike Nichols heightens the intensity of the fighting by shooting long takes with no cuts. The viewer is only given a temporary reprieval when the camera cuts away to the young couple or closes in on the face of either George or Martha.
The camera zooms in George and Martha each time they start verbally sparring. Martha operates on the surface; her teeth are bared in an animalistic display of ferocity while her eyes are wide and wild. George is more controlled and mops his hair back from his eyes while hurling barbs meant to crucify his wife. Both use body language ranging from obvious and subtle to underscore the anguish and hurt in their speech. Mike Nichols builds the tension by ensuring that none of the action takes place off screen. In fact, George and Martha very are very rarely shown apart. This strategy creates a feeling of battle weariness in the viewer. Indeed, we feel rather as though we had been sitting in their living room, drinking their bourbon while nervously eyeing the exit as they go another round.

One scene in particular highlights the crisis point that George and Martha have reached in their relationship. After publicly humiliating her husband in a café by dancing seductively with the Nick, George uses private information that the biology professor has given about his marriage to humiliate both guests. Martha chastises George that he has “really done it now” and leaves the café. George chases after her and confronts her in the parking lot in a scene that defines the rage, frustration and disappointment inherent in their marriage.

“SNAP! It went SNAP! I'm not gonna try to get through to you anymore. There was a second back there, yeah, there was a second, just a second when I could have gotten through to you, when maybe we could have cut through all this, this CRAP. But it's past, and I'm not gonna try. I looked at you tonight and you weren't there...SNAP. And I'm gonna howl it out, and I'm not gonna give a damn what I do and I'm gonna make the biggest god-damn explosion you've ever heard”.

The snap that Martha is referring to is the final release of tension in a relationship pulled taut with anger, fear, confusion and, surprisingly, love. Like a rubber band, their pathologies have stretched their marriage to its breaking point. Having no ability to extricate themselves from an arrangement that both feel powerless to control, they have fallen into roles so distasteful that they ply themselves with alcohol. Two very intelligent people are trapped in a marriage that they regret but that also take provides them with some level of comfort. It is the snapping of the silent agreement to mutually endure this emotional abuse that Martha is voicing.

This scene is different from the all of the previous scenes in the film as it is the first one that takes place out in the open. No longer confined to a space that one or the other can dominate, both characters must face each other alone and out in the open. Martha paces up and down what appears to be the corner of a football field during her “snapped” speech as though she has finally found words to express feelings that have previously gone unnamed. Again, Mike Nichols employs one sustained shot for this speech. George is, for the most part, viewed in profile during the proceedings. The only times we see him standing face forward at his full height is when he threatens to put Martha away for alcoholism and mental derangement. Here, Nichols conveys George’s short lived power through making him appear tall and dominant. In Martha’s snapped speech, George is seen slouched and rumpled.

The entire movie takes place at night. The late evening into early morning setting conveys the murky realities that each character fears facing about themselves and their relationships. Like George and Martha, Nick and Honey have a less than perfect marriage. Nick and Honey are initially portrayed as innocent bystanders to George and Martha’s rage. However, we discover that the young couple is in the early stages of contending with the anger, jealousy and dishonesty of the older couple. George and Martha can be seen as the future incarnated for Nick and Honey.

The exterior shots in the film are set in total darkness which underscores the dubious nature of truth and sanity in relationships. In love as in one’s self reflection, choosing to remain in the dark is both frustrating and comforting. Only in the light of morning will long held illusions be shattered and the promise of reconciliation blossom with promise. Until then, each couple must face the squalid truths that the night has forced out of them.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” still carries as much force as it did in 1966. While the characters of George and Martha operate as extreme examples of unhappiness and delusion, pieces of this relationship ring true in the greater scheme of human relationships. We all have the potential for the same emotional violence that makes George and Martha tick. Through conventional filming techniques director Mike Nichols brings the turbulent, roiling world of George and Martha to life and challenges the viewer to examine the nature of sanity, love and emotional responsibility.

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World Millennium Goals (aka We're Not Meeting Them)

Mar. 30th, 2011 | 10:45 pm

In the year 2000, world leaders at the United Nations headquarters in New York came together to draft the United Nations Millennium Declaration which challenged the world community to address eight specific issues by the year 2015. The United Nation’s Millennium Development website (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals) outlines the eight goals as follows:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Target 1A: Reduce by half, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than USD 1 a day. Target 1C: Reduce by half, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.
2. Achieve universal primary education. Target 2A: Between now and 2015, give children everywhere, boys and girls alike, the means to complete a full course of primary schooling.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
4. Reduce mortality of children under five.
5. Improve maternal health. Target 5A: Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.
6. Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases. Target 6A: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
8. Develop a global partnership for development.

With only five more years until the target date, the world is stepping back to assess its progress. According to the World Health Organization’s website (http://www.who) improvements have been made worldwide in the following areas:

• Child mortality (age five and under) has fallen 30% since 1990 to 8.8 million.
• New HIV infections have decreased by 16% globally between 2001 and 2008.
• While the world population still does not have adequate sanitation, safe drinking water is more readily available. The world community on track to meet the safe drinking water target by 2015.
• More women have access to skilled midwives, doctors and other health aides for childbirth. However, in Africa and South East Asia, less than 50% of all childbirths are attended by a trained health worker.

While these are positive signs of improvement, there are still many countries that will fall short of their millennium targets. The success stories in the reduction of rates of poverty, hunger and infectious diseases in Central, West and East Asia and North Africa are countered by the struggles of countries in Sub Saharan and Western Africa and South Asia.

Asia and the Pacific

Asia, which is home to 60% of the world’s human population, is the largest and most heavily populated continent. Countries like China, Japan, India, South Korea and Indonesia have helped contribute to Asia’s overall standing as having the third largest GDP in the world. Along with Japan and South Korea, the cities located along the Pacific Rim (Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong) make up what are called the Asian tigers or highly developed industrialized economies. These industrial centers have a ready supply of skilled and educated workers.

The years following World War II saw the Japanese economy grow to become the largest in Asia and one of the largest in the world. Only in recent years has the Japanese economy slowed due to the global recession in the 2000s and the devaluation of the yen.

The economies of China and India have done especially well in the past ten years, growing at a rate of more than 8%. Other economies in Asia have seen high rates of growth, particularly mineral rich nations like Kazakhstan, Iran, Bahrain and Brunei. China has the fastest growing economy in the world and will have the world’s largest economy in 2027. This is due to China’s market based economic reforms in the late 1970’s including the establishment of special economic zones where free market enterprise was encouraged. China’s increase in wealth has also meant a decrease in poverty. The percent of China’s rural population living on less than one dollar a day has dropped from 9.6% in 1990 to 3.8% in 2009 (China).

Central, West and East Asia have seen the largest drop in childhood malnutrition, each going from 19% in 1990 to 7% in 2007 (Chatterjee). Vietnam has reduced the number of underweight children from 45% to 20% (Global Development).

The story is not a positive one for South Asia. While India has seen economic growth in the past decade, the number of people without sufficient nutrition dropped only 2% from 24% to 22% between 1991 and 2005 (Global Development). Access to potable water is still a challenge for rural populations and urban populations do not have enough water to sustain their growth rates. The number of poor in India’s rural heartland (states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh ) is currently at 64% but will probably rise to 71% by 2015 (India’s). However, India as a whole is making strides to reduce the number of its extremely poor population by 188 million people (Millennium).

Seventy seven percent of Southern Asia’s population is employed in the informal sector which offers no formal work arrangement or benefits. Though the number of people living on less than $1.25 dollars a day in South Asia has fallen by two thirds since the 1990s (Hinshaw), this region still has some of the highest rates of child poverty and malnutrition in the world. Also, inequality in education is mirrored in an unequal work force (Millennium). Pakistan’s troubles (socio-political, war on terror, security issues, slow economic growth and recent flood) have all deterred the country’s ability to meet their target goal.

The most disturbing new for South Asia is their child mortality rate. In 2003, 2.3 million children died in India and 481,000 died in Pakistan. Afghanistan has a staggering 257 deaths per 1000 births with one child in four dying before they reach their 5th birthday. In Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh child poverty and hunger rates have reached 48% (Asia-Pacific).

South Pacific

The Island nations the make up Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia are in a unique position. Though they too are working to better feed and employ their populations, they are facing the threat of disappearing under rising seas. The nations of Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tuvalu will be the first nations affected. The entire costal village of Tegua in Vantu has been forced to move to higher ground as huts have been flooded by the influx of water (Singh). Rising tides will cause the disappearance of many of these tiny countries.


Africa

It is difficult to talk about the history of the African continent over the past twenty years without calling to mind political violence and war atrocities. Africa has been riddled by dictators, some supported by western and eastern commercial interests in diamonds and precious metals. While many African dictators have grown extremely wealthy by plundering their countries (like Charles Taylor of Liberia whose personal fortune is said to outweigh the GDP of Liberia) the populace has suffered from drought, disease and unsanitary conditions. The history of Africa in the 20th century is very complicated. Between 1879 and 1888 Europe divided and conquered most of Africa. The French, English, Spanish, Germans, Belgians, Portuguese and Italian powers set up a variety of administrations, based on varying degrees of ambition and power. After the Second World War, European began dismantling their African colonies as a result of increased resistance and independence movements in Africa and push back from within their own countries. Some countries fared better than others.

Northern Africa has fared much better than Sub Saharan Africa in terms of meeting the millennium goals. Composed of seven nations (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara), North Africa benefits from its location along the Mediterranean. Its proximity to Southwest Asia and Europe has made North Africa a thriving area of commerce along Trade Routes in the Middle Ages. Fishing resources are plentiful and a wide variety of crops thrive in this area, particularly in the historically fertile Nile Valley.

Though the conflict in Darfur has claimed the lives of several hundred thousand since 2003 and displaced millions of refugees, Sudan has still managed to achieve economic growth. Natural resources like petroleum and oil make the Sudanese economy among the fastest growing in the world. Countries like China and Japan are the primary export partners with Sudan. The Algerian and Libyan economies have also benefited from the discovery of oil in these countries (CIA).

The overall infant mortality dropped by 42% between 1990 and 2007 and the overall rate of hunger dropped (though under 5% of the population is considered undernourished). Adolescent birth rates have dropped. Clean water access improved from 54% to 64% between 1990 and 2006 (Progress).

The outlook is less optimistic for Sub Saharan and Western Africa. On the positive side, Ghana has outperformed all other countries in the world to reduce hunger from 34% to 8% between 1990 and 2005. In Ethiopia, hunger dropped from 71% to 44% between 1991 and 1995. In Tanzania, enrollment in primary school has risen from 50.7% in 1991 to 99.6% in 2008. Similarly, Rwanda saw an increase in school enrollment from 67.3% to 95.9% and Malawi went from 49% to 88% (Global Development). However, the Democratic Republic of Congo has backslid due to civil war. School enrollment dropped from 87% in 1991 to 59% in 2007. Poverty and starvation have risen from 29% in 1990 to 75% in 2004. Access to clean water and sanitation will be in very short supply. Only Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, South Africa, Angola and Botswana will have met that challenge (Africa). Lack of clean water can be attributed to desertification (due to global climate change), erosion from excessive damming on the Nile Delta and high population growth.

Sub- Saharan Africa will meet none of the millennial goals. Most of those deemed “food insecure” live in sub-Saharan Africa. They face additional challenges because of more virulent pests and diseases, continuous droughts and nutrient-poor soil. This region lacks scientists to manage and conduct agricultural research. Still, according to World Savvy.org:
“The number of people living on less than $1 a day is beginning to level off; the proportion of people living in extreme poverty fell from 46.8% in 1990 to 41.1% in 2004.” (Millennium).

Sub-Saharan Africa is at 70% enrollment in primary school. While this is one of the lowest rates of enrollment in the world, it is an improvement from 1999 (Millennium).


Latin America and the Caribbean
Improvement in this area has been mixed. Latin America and the Caribbean are marked by social inequality. “Out of a population of approximately 222 million, 10% of the region’s inhabitants receive 48% of all income, while the poorest segment of the population has access to a mere 2% of total earnings.” (Poverty)

While progress toward reducing poverty in Latin American and the Caribbean will not be on target, the number of people without food will has dropped by half between 1990 and 2015. Brazil and Chile have made great strides in halving the number of people who live on less than one dollar a day. Colombia and Nicaragua have increased school enrollment from 70% to 90% (Global). Mexico and Costa Rica are well on their way to reducing their impoverished populations. In Venezuela, rates of extreme poverty were at 29.8 percent in 2003, but dropped to an all-time low of 7.2 percent by 2009. Peru has cut poverty from 24 percent in 2002 to 11.5 percent in 2009. The region is close to halving the percentage of underweight children by 2015. The population of undernourished children dropped from 11% in 1990 to 6% in 2008.

Haiti leads the way in terms of national poverty where 57 % of the population is considered poor. Nicaragua has the second largest population of impoverished people at 40%. Bolivia, Honduras and Guatemala come in 3rd, 4th and 5th place (at 38%, 32 %, and 26 % respectively), making them the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere (Millennium).

Environmental sustainability in this region will be tough to meet as degradation of natural resources impact health and quality of life.

Middle East

The Middle East is made up of countries in the Arabian Peninsula, Eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia and Iranian Plateau. Home to numerous ethnic groups including Arabs, Turks, Jews, Kurds, Persians, Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians, the Middle East is rich in ethnic diversity. This diversity of language, culture and ideas may be why Judaism, Christianity and Islam all began here.

The economies of the Middle East range from very poor (Yemen) to very wealthy (United Arab Eremites Saudi Arabia and Iran). While some nations depend on export of only oil and oil-related products, others have a highly diverse economic base (Israel, Cyprus, Turkey and Egypt). Industry in the Middle Eastern region extends beyond oil and oil-related products to agriculture, dairy, cotton, textiles, leather products, and defense equipment Banking is also an important sector of the economies, especially in the countries of the United Arab Eremites and Bahrain (CIA).

Conflicts in Palestine and Iraq have contributed to the lag in progress on some of the Millennial Development Goals, especially those related to the development and advancement of women. Women in these countries still have a long way to go especially in terms of gaining access to contraception and education on family planning. Laws about marital rape and spousal abuse are largely absent and “honor killings” persist. However, women can now vote and run in elections in Kuwait, can obtain a passport without male approval in Bahrain and are serving in parliaments in a number of countries (Discrimination).

Their successes have too often been achieved in the face of strong resistance from clergy and governments. Women's rights groups in Jordan spent years advocating for protections against gender-based violence. The Syrian government proposed legislation to increase religious influence over family law until women's rights organizations pushed back. And a regulation forbidding young women from leaving Libya without a male relative was rescinded only after a public outcry that included criticism from even the state-owned newspaper. In Yemen, female protestors have rallied the government to set the marriage at 18. Currently, there is no formally enforced marriage age for girls in Yemen. The cause was strengthened in 2008 when a 9 year old was granted a legal divorce from her husband (Holmes).

Conclusion

While the world will not hit the targets set back in 2000 for the Millennial Development Goals, areas in Latin America, North Africa and East, West and Central Asia have all proven that change is achievable in fifteen years. As the world assess the impact of global climate change on many already suffering areas, there will be much creativity and diversity of ideas needed to counterbalance the affects. Access to clean water, sanitation and healthcare for mothers and children are critical to keep an upward progress in South Asia, Western and Sub Saharan Africa and Haiti, Bolivia, Honduras and Guatemala. The Middle East and North Africa must focus on promoting the education and empowerment of women in their country which involves offering more laws to protect women and girls from abuse at the hands of male relatives and neighbors, ending child marriage and genital mutilation and giving women access to contraception other family planning methods. These goals are not unforeseeable. I hope that when the United Nations reconvenes in 2015 to discuss the Millennium Development Goals, they draw development plans for the next 15 years and continue doing so until these goals are met. Through routine and detailed assessments of how countries are developing, the United Nations raises the challenge not only to the nations in question but to the rest of the world. Being able to understand our part in the successes and failures of developing nations (pollution, supporting corporations that work with corrupt governments) will help us make informed decisions on how best to take action. With the help of the world community, I believe that we can meet the goals outlined in the United Nation’s Millennial Development Initiative before the middle of the century. It will simply take a strong unification of all nations to implement creative and useful strategies to end global hunger, poverty, reduce environmental damage and support women and children around the world in their bid for health and freedom.

















Works Cited

Asia and the Pacific
"China to Meet Millennium Goals.” Fin24, South Africa’s Biggest Source of Financial, Business and Economic Information. 21 Sept. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. <http://www.fin24.com/international/china-to-meet-millennium-goals-20100921-2>.

Chatterjee, Shiladitya. "Approaches to Combat Hunger in Asia and the Pacific." MDG in Asia and the Pacific. ADB Sustainable Development Working Paper Series, Aug. 2010. Web. 7 Dec. 2010. <http://www.mdgasiapacific.org/>.

"Global Development : MDG Interactive." The Guardian - Guardian.co.uk. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/mdg/interactive#/>.

"India's Progress on Millennium Development Goals Found Tardy." The Economic Times. 8 Sept. 2010. Web. 8 Dec. 2010. <http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/news-by-industry/et-cetera/indias-progress-on-millennium-development-goals-found-tardy/articleshow/6519732.cms>.

“The Millennium Development Goals Report." United Nations, 23 June 2010. Web. 8 Dec. 2010. <http://www.un.org>.

Hinshaw, Drew. "Top 5 Millennium Development Goal Success Stories." Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com. Web. 9 Dec. 2010. <http://www.csmonitor.com/world/global-issues/2010/0922/top-5-millennium-development-goal-success-stories/southeast-asia>.

“Asia-Pacific Not Expected to Meet Millennium DevlopmentGgoals:Report.” UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre. 08 Sept. 2005. Web. 10 Dec. 2010 <http://www.undprcc.lk/publications/media/ap_gulf.pdf>.


South Pacific

Singh, Shailendra. "Global Warming: South Pacific More Vulnerable Than Thought." Common Dreams | News & Views. 11 Feb. 2007. Web. 11 Dec. 2010. <http://www.commondreams.org/headlines07/0222-06.htm>.

Africa

"Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals - African Economic Outlook." African Economic Outlook - Measuring the Pulse of Africa. 29 July 2010. Web. 9 Dec. 2010. <http://www.africaneconomicoutlook.org/en/outlook/progress-towards-the-millennium-development-goals/>.

"Africa to Fall Short on Water Millennium Goals." Yahoo! News. 26 Nov. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. <http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20101126/wl_africa_afp/africaenvironmentunwater>.

"Millennium Development Goals." World Savvy. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. <http://worldsavvy.org/monitor/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=348&itemid=540>.

CIA - The World Factbook." Web. 11 Dec. 2010. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/>.

"Global Development : MDG Interactive." The Guardian - Guardian.co.uk. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/mdg/interactive#/>.

Latin America and the Caribbean

"Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals." UNDP | United Nations Development Programme. Web. 09 Dec. 2010. <http://www.undp.org/latinamerica/poverty.shtml>.

"Global Development : MDG Interactive." The Guardian - Guardian.co.uk. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Web. 10 Dec. 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/mdg/interactive#/>.

“The Millennium Development Goals Report 2010.” 09 Dec. 2010. <http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/mdg%20report%202010%20en%20r15%20-low%20res%2020100615%20-.pdf>

Middle East

CIA - The World Factbook." Web. 11 Dec. 2010. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/>.

" Discrimination Against Women and Child Abuse in Arab States and Iran." MEI – Middle East Regimes, Islamic Totalitarianism and Terrorism. Web. 11 Dec. 2010. <http://www.middle-east-info.org/gateway/womenchildabuse/index.htm>.

Holmes, Oliver. "In Yemen, Women Protest Delay on Child Marriage Ban.” The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com. Web. 11 Dec. 2010. <http://www.csmonitor.com/world/middle-east/2010/0323/in-yemen-women-protest-delay-on-child-marriage-ban>.

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Film As World Ambassador (Cheesy title, I know)

Mar. 30th, 2011 | 10:41 pm

In the 21st century, our worldview is primarily shaped through popular media. While books, magazines and music each contribute to our understanding of other ways of life, film is arguably the medium that reaches the largest, most diverse audience. The moving picture is an anomaly as it is free from the restrictions of language yet allows each viewer a personal and unique experience. While other forms of media can effectively convey the mystique of far off lands, the moving imagine has the most immediate impact by engaging the senses and emotions simultaneously. This mish mash of stimuli allows the viewer to develop a temporary intimacy with the subject at hand. Whether the information has been presented accurately is rarely called into question. Movies don’t so much teach as they do enthrall. Because moving pictures are so captivating it is easy for viewers to inaccurate stereotypes. For example, most of the major studio releases set in Africa in the 2000’s focus on war and bloodshed (Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland). While these are all excellent films, they have chosen to project only one aspect of the African experience.

Film is unarguably the world’s most popular and colorful ambassador. Marshall McLuhan’s famous utterance that “the medium is the message” is apt in explaining why the motion picture has such a huge impact on shaping our world view. We are reassured and comfortable with the familiar faces on screen and so we follow their journey into treacherous terrain. We gasp as the actors dodge the poacher’s bullet, ward off the most foul inhabitants of the jungle and manage to come walk into the sunset unscathed, and marvel at how well fed and groomed they are after having undergone such trying circumstances. And why shouldn’t we trust that the images that engulf us for 2 hours of our life are anything but accurate? We will never live the scenarios that have just played before our eyes and, most likely, will never see any of the exotic places in the story first hand.

Film and the Collective Conscious
It is not unusual for a scene or actor from a film to become so deeply emblazoned in the popular imagination that even people who have not watched the movie can immediately identify the image. For many westerners it is impossible to imagine the Arabian Desert without recalling Peter O’Toole riding across the shimmering landscape accompanied by Omar Sherif and an unforgettable score by Maurice Jarre. And what image is more iconic than John Wayne riding off into the sunset or Clint Eastwood outsquinting his opponents as he squares off before the final gun battle? One could argue that these stereotypes only last as long as the collective memories of the moviegoers themselves. The internet has all but obliterated the shared experience so that images are consumed in an isolated and highly controlled environment. Whether the internet will obliterate long held stereotypes created by Hollywood is yet to be seen.

What we do know is that the motion picture can convey almost any idea regardless of the accuracy or basis in reality. Movies have been used as propaganda pieces with the intent of forwarding a political agenda (as with Leni Reifenstahl’s Triumph of the Will) and to gain popular support and boost morale in times of war (as with Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series, which was created in direct response to Triumph of the Will). While the modern viewer might find these films boring or sanctimonious, they neatly convey salient points of each ideological argument. There is no question in the viewer’s mind that Reifenstahl took great pains to portray Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich in a favorable light. The grand, sweeping shots of military drills and parades, the crowd’s reaction to Adolph Hitler speaking and the imagery of Nazi banners and monuments all cement the terrible power and authority of Hitler and his regime. Without so much as firing a single shot, the Nazi’s effectively showed the world who they were and what they stood for and they did it in less than two hours.
Fortunately, most movies are not made with the same questionable intent of Triumph of the Will. Though movies have often perpetuated harmful stereotypes (as in the case with the portrayal of African Americans in cinema up until the mid 1950’s) they have also been responsible for introducing audiences to foreign cultures and ways of life.

Mother India and Gandhi
Released in 1957, Mother India became the highest grossing Bollywood film of the time and the first Indian film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Often called “India’s Gone With The Wind”, Mother India tells the story of the hardships faced by Rhada, a woman who has fallen into a crippling cycle of poverty due to a loan that she must repay to a dishonest moneylender. Rhada is given the chance to have the loan forgiven if she marries the moneylender, but she spurns his advances. Rhada’s dignity is repaid by even harsher treatment from the moneylender and the loss of both of her sons. Her circumstances are tragic, but Rhada is shown as a respected figure in her village. She is able to convince the other villagers to stay and help her rebuild after a flood sweeps through, killing her youngest children.

Filmed in Technicolor with elaborate dance numbers and sumptuous art direction, Mother India was the first Hindi movie to receive worldwide distribution. The director, Mehbob Kahn, was a pioneer of Hindi cinema who directed and produced over 20 films. A true stalwart, “Mother India” is a remake of the 1940 film Aurat which was also directed by Mehbob Kahn (A Salute). World movie audiences could experience the sights and sounds of rural India, including the filmi score (Indian popular music written specifically for films) from the comfort of their neighborhood theater. The film also exposed audiences to the hardships faced by women in rural India both at the hands of their families and town officials.

India is also the setting of Richard Attenborough’s 1982 epic Gandhi. Ben Kinglsey’s portrayal of the Indian political and civil rights leader Mohandas Gandhi earned him a well deserved Academy Award. From pioneering the nonviolence movement to working toward and finalizing independence from the British, Gandhi’s life and work unfolds beautifully under Attenborough’s direction. While there has been much written about Gandhi the man and Gandhi the political leader, Ben Kingsley’s portrayal allows a first hand glimpse into the life of a 20th century icon. A historical biography come to life, Gandhi allows the viewer to experience the turmoil of India in the early 20th century.

The fact that both actor Ben Kinsley and director Richard Attenborough are British does not throw the story into obsolescence (in contrast with, for example, the use of black face by white actors in the early 20th century). It is simply a side note to illustrate how rapidly history is made, recorded, mythicized and remade. Film is better at exploiting the temporal structure of popular morals and attitudes better than any medium before or since. Consider films that are made solely to exploit the changing cultural phenomenon, such as the cinema of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Many of these productions were little more than hastily churned out exploitation pieces, greedily cashing in on the nation’s changing attitudes toward promiscuous sex and drug use (Film).

Lawrence of Arabia
Mythicism is king in the world of the motion picture. If the mention of the Arabia Peninsula immediately conjures up white sand dunes stretching into flat, letterboxed infinity, it is not a mere coincidence. The epic Lawrence of Arabia has, for better or worse, provided the film going public the choicest desert outcroppings and most lavish government buildings with which to entertain their fantasies of the Middle East. That all of the building exteriors were shot in Seville, Spain is the cinematographer’s well kept secret (Film Locations).
David Lean’s 1962 masterpiece follows the life of T.E. Lawrence during the First World War. Lawrence has been selected by the British government to meet Price Faisal and assess Faisal’s impending revolt against the Turks. Lawrence, however, is not a man to simply assess. From the opening minutes of the film, we come to understand that T.E. Lawrence is something of a rebel. He earns Faisal’s trust by proposing a daring attack on Aqaba, a coastal town in Southern Jordan that will serve as a supply point for the rebellion. Crossing the Nefud Desert (a high point of drama in the film that highlights Lawrence’s dogged determination) Lawrence persuades the leader of a powerful local tribe to join he and Faisal on their mission. Eventually, Lawrence succeeds in helping push the Turkish out of Damascus, thus (temporarily) securing the city for the Arabs.

Peter O’Toole was a newcomer to film when he won the chance to play T.E. Lawrence. Much taller than the real Lawrence (at a difference of about eight inches) O’Toole’s blue eyes, blond hair and flowing white garb all contribute to his character’s messianic aura. Lawrence is portrayed as an eccentric English savior who is torn between his loyalty to Britain and his friendship with his Arabian allies.

The Last King of Scotland, Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamond
In the 2000’s, three major Hollywood films focused on the bloodshed and political turmoil in Africa. Hotel Rwanda (2004), Blood Diamond (2006) and The Last King of Scotland (2006) each recount the recent, tragic history of a continent.

The Last King of Scotland tells the story of Idi Amin, Uganda’s infamous dictator and mass murder, from the perspective of his Scottish personal physician Nicholas Garrigan. Nicholas moves to Uganda in pursuit of adventure. While there, he befriends and becomes the personal physician to Idi Amin. The viewer watches Uganda unravel through the eyes of Garrigan. Shootings and executions in Kampala are explained away by Amin as being necessary to secure lasting peace. It is only when Garrigan becomes involved with Amin’s youngest wife that he begins to question the atrocities taking place in Uganda.

Hotel Rwanda, set in1994 during Hutu – Tutsi genocide, is a biographical account of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel owner who saved the lives of over 1000 people by hiding them in his hotel. As the political situation in the country worsens, Paul and his family watch as neighbors are slaughtered in ethnic violence. Paul gains the favor of influential officials in his town, bribing them with money and alcohol in an effort to keep his family safe. When civil war breaks out and a Rwandan Army officer threatens Paul and his neighbors, Paul barely negotiates their safety. He hides refugees in the hotel, many who arrive from the overburdened United Nations camp. Paul’s story is a show of strength in the face of extreme daily violence. It is an act of redemption in a chaotic and brutal environment.

Edward Zwick’s 2006’s Blood Diamond is set in Sierra Leone during the 1996 – 1999 Civil War. Blood Diamond is the story of white mercenary Danny Archer who trades arms with African warlords in exchange for diamonds that he then sells to a well known diamond company in South Africa. Danny is imprisoned in Liberia and where he meets Solomon Vandy, a Sierra Leonian fisherman who has been enslaved by a local warlord to work in the diamond mines. Vandy knows the whereabouts of a large diamond that has just been discovered and Archer arranges for their release from prison and uses the promise of reuniting Solomon with his family in exchange for locating the diamond. Along the way, Archer has a change of heart and allows Solomon and his family to escape with the diamond while he holds off encroaching rebels in a dying bid for redemption.

These films show the greed, violence, chaos of countries that have fallen into the hands of greedy men. They also highlight the strength of personal character in the face of adversity. In the 21st century, these are increasingly becoming the popular images of Africa broadcast around the world. Villagers suffering at the hands of rebel groups of military juntas who perpetuate unspeakable acts of violence.

In its role as world ambassador, film shapes our knowledge of people and places. It has the ability to reveal, teach and challenge. If used in a critical and objective way, film can be an invaluable tool in helping us sort out the world around us. The motion picture reaches its highest form when it can both entertain and enlighten and do so in an emotionally profound way. However, if used incorrectly, it can simply reaffirm stereotypes and foment hatred. So much propaganda has relied on the emotional components of film that one wonders how the Nazi movement may have fared without Triumph of the Will. Films reflect not only our personal wishes and desires but they help us to better understand the loves and lives of people worldwide.




Works Cited
"A Salute to Mother India and Poetic Justice." TheBollywoodFan. Web. 08 Dec. 2010. <http://thebollywoodfan.blogspot.com/2008/08/salute-to-mother-india-and-poetic.html>.
“Film Locations for Lawrence of Arabia (1962)." The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations: Film Locations around the World. Web. 09 Dec. 2010. <http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/l/lawrence.html>.
“Film and Culture." Web. 11 Dec. 2010. <http://www.framepoythress.org/frame_books/tatm/chapter2.htm>.

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More Political Science School Posts Drafted at Ungodly Hours

Mar. 10th, 2010 | 05:52 am

As this course draws to a close, I feel more strongly than ever that the United States government has a solid foundation in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and in the three branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial) that counter balance each other. With this framework in place, our model of government can be and has been an inspiration to other countries around the world. Our founding fathers were enlightened, forward thinking individuals who were more interested in building a government from the ground up than they were in playing party politics.
For the United States to continue to fulfill its promise as the political experiment that succeeded, our political leaders need to exercise a similar bipartisan work ethic. As we have seen with the recent health care reform bill, each political party is more interest in pushing forward their respective agendas than they are in working toward a bill that will pass in both houses of Congress. If politicians could put aside their differences to pass legislation that would honestly address poverty, crime and education the people of the United States would benefit tremendously.

Another means by which the U.S. can fulfill its latent potential is through the use and exploration of alternative energy sources. Unfortunately, the oil companies and many large corporations have dominated the U.S. political landscape for many years, altering its ability to create policies that would reduce our reliance of foreign oil. As innovators in the research and development, the United States should be leading the way in developing alternate sources of energy. This would not only be a boon to the environment but would end our extended military involvement in oil producing countries. If corporations were not allowed to play any part in the American political system, we would already be using these alternate fuel sources instead of spending billions of dollars to protect our dwindling oil reserves overseas. The human life lost and the money squandered on foreign oil in the 20th and 21st centuries make me wonder if Exxon Mobil will one day have to face a Nuremburg like tribunal for crimes against humanity.

Of course, the only way that the United States will see any change in the way government operates is if the voting public takes it upon themselves to elect leaders who will work for the interest of the people. Voters need to remain educated, interested and active in politics from the local to the federal level. Americans need to understand which items are real issues that will impact their everyday lives and which are simply smokescreens. There are many divisive non issues played out in the political arena (Terry Schiavo, anyone). I don’t wish to offend or criticize anyone’s religious beliefs, but religion needs to be left out of politics all together and the sooner the voting population realizes this, the sooner politics will stop playing to these types of issues. It is time for voters to become serious in protecting their constitutional rights and stop worrying who does what and with whom in private.

I have named at least three things that I would like to see changed. Ending partisan politics when it becomes a hindrance in getting progressive policies enacted, removal of the influence of large corporations from government when they hinder social and economic progress and educating and interesting voters (and attempting to convince them to leave religion at home when they go to the polls) are the three biggest changes I would like to see in the American political landscape.

Now for the three things about the U.S. that I can’t get enough of? Well, I’m pretty fond of all of the religious, personal and social freedoms that we enjoy. I love the idea that all naturalized citizens (unless you are a convicted felon) can vote. I like knowing that, in theory, The Supreme Court is made up of enlightened individuals who deliberate on the meanings of the laws that are passed. Public education is great and I wish we could extend it to the college level. I like having nice roads to drive on, sidewalks to walk on and clean water to drink. I like knowing that the government cares enough about my health to make sure that the food I am eating and the products that I am putting in my body are safe and will cause me no unnecessary harm (to the best of their knowledge). I like being able to travel pretty much anywhere in the world without restriction. That opens up a whole lot of doors for me. These are just a few of the privileges that I enjoy as a citizen of the United States.

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Because You Care

Mar. 10th, 2010 | 04:11 am

Ooh, politics. Very deep.

INTEREST GROUPS

If the description of politics by political scientist Harold Lasswell is correct, deciding “who gets what, when and how” is a delicate process that requires constant vigilance by the people affected by these decisions. In this case, the political system in question is the American system as created by the Madisonian model of government. The executive, legislative and judicial powers of government are separated so that one branch does not dominate the authority of the other branches.

The U.S. Constitution and the subsequent Bill of Rights were created to uphold the principles of a democratic republic. They guarantee that each citizen (barring those in prison) has a right to elected representation through a democratic voting process. They also outline a federal government that is to act in the interest of the people. Sometimes this means that the federal government must repeal legislation made at the state level if it violates constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Interest groups in the United States are advocacy groups that hope to influence law and policy making. These groups have been instrumental in acting on the behalf of many citizens that may have been barred from normal channels of politics. For example, The National Women’s Suffrage Association was responsible for mobilizing the political momentum needed to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920. Similarly, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, NAACP and Urban League independently and collectively represented the desire of African American citizens to get abolish segregationist politics. These organizations culled the energy of the African American communities most affected by segregation and organized protests, sit ins and bus boycotts. These efforts ushered in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent anti discrimination legislation both at state and federal government levels.

I used the above social movements to illustrate how interest groups have traditionally come to fruition. Interest groups are born out of a need for representation in higher levels of government. As the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close, a shift can be detected in the types of lobbying done in Washington, D.C. Lobbyists are no longer emerge from grass roots social movements. Indeed, political activism has given way to the capitalist “donation box”. Instead of volunteering time, many people choose to give money to their favorite interest groups. While money is a valuable tool for lobbyists, it also underscores a lack of personal involvement. Monetary contribution is the new face of political activism. This means that the interest groups influencing law making happen to be those with the deepest pockets.

The poor in this country do not and cannot have equal representation under this kind of system. If the only lobbyists with clout are the ones that are funded by the wealthiest interest groups (whether they are pharmaceutical companies or corporations) it stands to reason that the impoverished will not have equal representation. Unfortunately, this goes against the constitutional rights of all citizens to have access to equal representation.
Currently, health care reform and the economic stimulus plan stand to lose the most from imbalanced lobbying. A good discussion on the big money behind healthcare reform can be found online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec09/healthcare_12-22.html. These pieces of legislation will touch every citizen in the United States. The hope is that congress will do what is best for their constituents regardless of how much money is spent lobbying them to do otherwise.

PARTY REALIGNMENT

The United States has a two party system that dates back to the creation of the American political system. The Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans represent the earliest political parties in this two party system. Throughout American history, there have been times when one party has dominated the other (such as the Era of Good Feeling from 1816 to 1826 when the Republican Party had no real challengers in the political arena until 1828).
However, starting in 1824, the two party system was revived when the Republican Party split and the fledgling Democratic Party was born. This new party was the conservative party of the day and The National Republicans or The Whig Party took on the more federalist concerns of internal improvement including road building. When the Southern Whigs split parties over the slavery issue, the Northern Whigs joined antislavery Democrats to form the modern Republican Party.

In the early 1900’s, progressive politics were born out of a spirit of fear as corporations grew out of control and a belief that honest, bipartisan government could regulate the economy. Theodore Roosevelt formed the Bull-Moose Party in 1912 which split the Republican ticket and allowed Woodrow Wilson and a Democratic Congress to take the White House. This was the first time that Democrats became as open to big government and government action in the economy. It wasn’t until Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal policies that the modern Democratic Party was born. It was at the time of Roosevelt that African American voters and former liberal Republicans in New England and the upper Mid West joined the Democratic Party. In turn, many socially conservative voters, especially in the South joined the Republican Party.

From 1968 to the present, the political parties have remained evenly matched. From 1968 until 2000, it stood that a Republican president would be offset by a Democratic congress and vice versa. Only in 2000 did this trend end, when a Republican president was paired with a Republican congress. In 2010, we may see another Republican congress under a Democratic president (as indicated by the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts for United States Senate).

There is nothing new about a shift in state loyalty to a political party. The maps showing the political alliance of each state during presidential elections was almost totally transposed from the late 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. By the 1960’s the states that would have voted Democrat in the election of 1896 had voted Republican. The same can be said about those states that would have voted Republican.
There are also realignments in the political allegiance of voters based on changes in their social views. For example, Arab Americans traditionally voted Republican based on culturally conservative principles. This changed in 2004 as the Bush administration enacted policies that violated Arab American’s civil liberties. Similarly, many of the “working poor” often associated with the Democratic party began moving toward the Republican Party in the late 1990’s as they became more culturally conservative.

Today, party loyalty is beginning to shift again as more Americans identify themselves as independent voters. This demographic tends to be younger and better educated than the average American. They are usually anti-ideological and though opposed to big government, still demand federal government action in global issues (such as global climate change and sustained renewable fuel production). For the first time in the political history of the United States, Independent voters are a demographic that candidates of both parties must appeal to in order to “seal the deal” at election time. This makes loyal party voters unhappy as candidates tend to become too centrist to appeal to these voters. There is a danger that as candidates become ideologically less aligned with the politics of their parties, the parties themselves might lose the identifying factors that have distinguished their politics. However, if a third party of significant strength emerges, it could simply leave the faithful of the Democratic and Republican parties to strengthen their platforms and reinforce their ideologies.

As mentioned before, the “working poor” who would have traditionally voted for a Democratic candidate in the 20th century are now find themselves on the conservative and independent side of the voting lines. Today, these voters have a unique dilemma: they support economic liberalism and cultural conservatism. That is, they support the social programs that fund and sustain their communities while opposing cultural liberalism.
The 21st century will be an interesting time to study new alliances in the American political arena. It seems inevitable that we are destined to be a nation of three major political parties vying for supremacy. As we round the corner in the next chapter of American politics, my biggest hope is that any new political party will be a responsible body, able to uphold the democratic tradition laid out in our constitution.

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More music on my computer - Thank You, Jay!

Feb. 7th, 2010 | 09:02 am

My friend Jay Devin is the coolest. He runs a site called CTIndie.com which chronicles all of the musical goings on in Connecticut. He also armed me with about 15 CDs last year, all of which I am loading onto my computer this morning. Here they are, in no particular order:

Delta 5 - Singles and Seesion 1979-1981
Crystal Stilts - Self Titled
Crystal Stilts - Alight of Night
Come On - New York City 1976 - 1980
Swell Maps - Jane from Occupied Europe
Theoretical Girls - Theoretical Record
Wire - Chairs Missing
Red Krayola - God Bless the Red Krayola
Swell Maps - International Rescue
IVG Vol 1 - Future Anterieur France 1975 - 1980
Essential Logic - Beat Rhythm News
Coughs - Secrect Passage
The Glove - Blue Sunshine

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Saturday Night/Sunday Morning

Feb. 7th, 2010 | 04:54 am

This thing is becoming a time capsule, isn't it? Hello Livejournal. It is 4:03 a.m. on a dark Sunday morning. I am currently writing from my bunker in Windsor, Connecticut where I awoke several short hours ago after putting down Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald's thrilling "This Side of Paradise". It takes F. Scott to shake me from my year long, anti-novel funk. I think that he can be credited for doing so twice. The first time was in 2006 after taking a long hiatus from reading. I think it was in Book Trader where I picked up F. Scott's "Tender is the Night". After that, I began a reading frenzy which culminated in finally plowing through "Crime and Punishment" in November 2008. Since then I have been a sporadic reader, picking up a novel or short story here or there, but never really settling on anything solid (except thoroughly enjoying rereading Frankenstein last spring). Until now. Actually, one of the great things about Frankenstein besides how beautifully the emotions of the monster (mostly alienated, human hating ones)are the descriptions of Dr. Frankenstein's travels through Switzerland. Though he is pursuing a beast of a man that he created from grave robbing the limbs of murders (that has just murdered his adopted sister who he is planning on marrying. Don't ask), Mary Shelly paints as lovely a picture of the Swiss countryside as any travel channel special.

Whenever I read anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I get that heady feeling readers sometimes get when an author's voice has been transplanted into their brain. It is this perfect union of image and idea and makes the reader forget that they have a body that may have needs independent of the brain. When reading F. Scott Fitzgerald the brain is everything: it becomes the only piece of equipment in the skeleton reclining quietly in the living room that has any pressing needs. Bathroom, food, exercise and outside world are all forgotten when the skeleton containing a brain dives into F. Scott. Of course, I don't want to give my human form a complex. It's nice enough. Hell, sometimes it even forgets that it houses an organ devoted to controlling the whole operation and just jumps into whatever pleasure seeking activity it can find. And there's nothing wrong with that. Just like there's nothing wrong with wearing the same pair of socks three days in a row. Trust me, no one will ever know the difference.

Since I have this newfangled computer (as in, I've had it for the past seven months)I have been loading a small fraction (meaning 8 CDs) of my music to it tonight.

Here is what I have so far:

Billie Holiday - The Commodore Master Takes
J. Retard - Retard Blood
The Buzzcocks - Another Music in a Different Kitchen
Marvin Gaye - Anthology
The Ravonettes - Pretty In Black
The Inclined Plane - I Am Pants
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles - The Ultimate Collection
Billy Bragg and Wilco - Mermaid Avenue
Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Self Titled
Luciano Pavoratti - 20th Century Masters
The Decemberists - Crane Wife

None of these are on the list of music I cateloged way back in 2006. Oh how time flies! I guess I'll have to add these to my new catelog of music (or as I like to call it, version 7.2). I don't know why it should be version 7.2. Maybe it's because it sounds really technical and geeky, like anything that happens post 7.2 is going to be a tremendous boone to mankind.

And since I meantioned geeky, here is one geeky thing I can do, which is to add my Netflix queue to this post which will greatly benefit humanity. The movie descriptions are courtesy of Netflix.

Population : 1 - Rene Daalder writes and directs this hard-hitting, punk-rock history lesson that telescopes 200 years of the American experience into a rock musical that will both shock and delight. The Screamers' Tomata Du Plenty stars in this twisted, sci-fi psychedelic gem, which also features Sheela Edwards, Vampira, Holly Small, members of Los Lobos, Al Hansen, Steve Hufsteter, Nancye Ferguson, Mike Doud, Beck and more.

Time Bandits - In Terry Gilliam's fantastic voyage through time and space, a young boy escapes from his gadget-obsessed parents to join a band of time-traveling dwarves. On their journey, they visit Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese) and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery), among others. It's a giddy, visually outrageous fairy tale, a revisionist history lesson and a satire on technology gone awry.

If - Rebellious private school student Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) and his friends like to break the rules. Their minor infractions lead to cruel punishments from the faculty, prompting a bloody student uprising against the school system. With its controversial counterculture message, this British satire created a stir at the time of its release. The film received BAFTA nominations and won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.

Notorious - Government agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) recruits American beauty Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) to spy on her father's influential Nazi friends in this top-notch Alfred Hitchcock espionage thriller that builds to an incredibly suspenseful climax. As part of her cover, Alicia marries one of her father's associates (Claude Rains), but she finds she's falling hopelessly in love with the man who hired her.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot - Shot in 1986 in the parking lot of a Maryland arena before a Judas Priest concert, this cult classic captures some of the most devoted metalhead fans in all their unbridled, mulleted splendor. In addition to its quotable musings on the rock 'n' roll lifestyle's allure, the profanity-peppered film also serves as a time capsule of bad 1980s fashion, complete with acid-washed jeans, Spandex, teased-out perms and badass muscle cars.(Personal note : I watched this about 10 years ago and thought it was hilarious. I'm sure I will be equally thrilled when I see it again).

Class of 1984 - Mark Lester's 1980s cult classic pits high school music teacher Andy Norris (Perry King) against a gang of punkers. Norris has no idea what he's in for when he's assigned to lead the band at inner-city Lincoln High. The idealistic teacher soon becomes the target of gang leader and musical rebel Peter (Timothy Van Patten), culminating in a brutal showdown. Seasoned actor Roddy McDowall co-stars, and the cast includes a very young Michael J. Fox.

Le Mans - A classic auto-racing movie, Le Mans is a 24-hour pedal-to-the-metal jaunt through the French countryside. Steve McQueen plays an American driver locked in an intense grudge match with his German counterpart, even as he wrestles with his guilt over causing an accident that cost the life of a close friend. McQueen comes through with a penetrating, stoic performance, and the racing sequences are nothing less than thrilling.

Three Days of Condor - Robert Redford stars as Joe Turner, a New York-based CIA researcher who returns from lunch to find all his co-workers murdered. In the next 72 hours, everyone Turner trusts will try to kill him, in this conspiracy thriller by director Sydney Pollack. Double-crossed and forced to go underground, Turner kidnaps a young woman (Faye Dunaway) and holds her hostage as he unravels the mystery. Max von Sydow and Cliff Robertson co-star.

Mildred Pierce - This potent mixture of melodrama and film noir was nominated for six Oscars and features a standout performance by Joan Crawford. When police interrogate restaurateur Mildred Pierce (Crawford) after finding her second husband dead, will her obsession with her selfish oldest daughter (Ann Blyth), cause Mildred to sacrifice herself to protect her child?

The Singing Detective (Pts 1 and 2) - Mystery writer Philip E. Marlow (Michael Gambon) is suffering a debilitating bout of arthritis in a British hospital. Unable to move without pain, he escapes into his imagination, plotting out a murder tale in which he's both a big-band singer and a super-sleuth. Mix in flashbacks of Marlow's youth and his unhappy marriage, and you have a gripping murder mystery and a lavish musical rolled into one.

That's it for now. It's almost 5 a.m. I am listening to the Decemberists, burning my friend Sue a copy to give her when I see her at breakfast in a few hours.

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