Monday, March 31, 2008
"Anyone who has never made a mistake
has never tried anything new."
- Albert Einstein
The treacherous course of life harbors many traps and pitfalls. Perhaps its most potent is the state of monotony and habitual perpetuation. To fall prey to such a state in a world where possibility and potential are abundant is not only saddening, but disheartening. It is for this reason that we here at the English Majors' Counseling Office implore you to expand your horizons, try new things, and dare you to seek out your dreams. We hope you enjoy as we share with you our ever expanding world of words.
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
or what's a heaven for?"
- Robert Browning
- The English Majors' Open Mic will be held on Thursday, April 3rd between 1:30-3:30 in the Student Center. Stop by to hear people from all walks of life share their creative works. If you would like to read at the open mike, please stop by 3416 and add yourself to the sign up sheet on the door.
- On April 6th, Brooklyn's largest flea market will be held across the street from Bishop Laughlin Memorial High School in Ft. Greene.
- The English Majors' Tea is May 6th.
- The Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival is being held at Tribecca Cinemas on May 9th and 10th. www.bhffnyc.com for more details.
The word ‘Bedouin’ - which derives from the Arab bedu, which literally means “inhabitant of the desert”- brings to mind images of Rudolph Valentino–esque robed men, striding across the desert sands, accompanied by the orchestration of a Metro- Goldwyn Mayer epic film. But Bedouins are more than just a romanticized people - they are members of a vast culture of nomadic pastoralists fighting to survive.
Spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, the Sinai and the Negev, Bedouins have existed for thousands of years, long before Islam. And in the region of the world that they inhabit, one can either settle near resources, or constantly move from one oasis to the other. The Bedouins chose the latter lifestyle.
Traditional Bedouin culture is an ancient and unique product of a nomadic way of life. Moving across the desert, they live in tightly knit, hereditary groups. A famous Bedouin quote that denotes the importance of the tight hierarchy of familial relations is "I against my brothers, I and my brothers against my cousins, I and my brothers and my cousins against the world." On the smallest level, Bedouins organize themselves into families, which they refer to as “bayt” (an Arabic word which literally means ‘tent’). On the largest level, each family belongs to a larger tribe, which is led by a sheikh.
Probably the most fascinating thing about Bedouin culture is that it has clear roots in the original Arab traditions of the ancient pre-Islamic past. Although tribes have incorporated the holidays and beliefs of Islam into their every day life, they still live much as they would have thousands of years ago and have held on to some practices that are forbidden by Sharia law. One of the most famous of these is the “trial by fire.” Because of their harsh environment, the Bedouins place an intense value on justice, a strict honor code (sharaf) acts of bravery and courage (hamasa). The ‘trial by fire’ is a last resort for deciding on a party’s guilt or innocence. A metal spoon is heated in a fire and then a defendant licks it three times. If his tongue is burnt (severity of the burn is meaningful) then he is guilty. If not, then he is innocent.
The Bedouin have a beautiful tradition of music, poetry and folklore that differs from other music in the region. Their music is usually sung poetry and there are often special songs for special occasions. The songs are accompanied by handmade Bedouin instruments, such as the simsimiyya, a five-stringed lyre, the shabbaba, a length of metal pipe fashioned into a sort of flute, and the rababa, a one-string violin. Vocals are extremely important. The primary singers are the women, who sit facing one another and sing out a sort of dialogue. Bedouins are renowned for the feasts they hold in honor of Ramadan and the days-long ceremony, music and feasting that surround a Bedouin wedding.
Traditional Bedouin dress is surprisingly close to what you seen in Hollywood films. Men wear a Jalabiyya, or hooded robe, and a head-scarf tied down by a black cord, an important symbol of manhood. Women are well covered and have distinctly separate gender roles from men. Just as men have an honor code, women have a code called Ird. Although Ird involves virginity, it is also emotional and conceptual and therefore it can be lost by ways other than sexual transgression. While a man’s honor can be lost and regained, a woman’s cannot.
The division of gender roles extends to the only form of residence a traditional Bedouin family would have – their tent. Tents are usually divided into two sections, one for men that also serves as a reception area, and one for women that also serves as a cooking area. Because Bedouins can go for quite a long time in the desert without seeing another human being, they have developed a tradition of incredible hospitality for those visitors that they do come across. Diyafa (hospitality) is part of their honor code. This code involves caring for the poor, tithing, giving gifts and even housing an enemy if he is in need. One can see how hospitality might be an important virtue in a harsh environment where to decline someone food and shelter might mean their certain death.
All of the traditions of the Bedouin are still strong – except that they are more and more frequently transplanted to an urban environment. The world is getting smaller and smaller and there just doesn’t seem to be room anymore to let the Bedouin roam the desert. Beginning in the 1950s, a combination of drought, government land reclamation policy and the desire on the part of Bedouins for a higher standard of living lead to more and more tribes settling down and assimilating into normal life in the Middle East. While this means that the traditional, romantic, nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouins is quickly becoming a rarity and tourist attraction (and also that it is almost impossible to estimate how many Bedouins there are left in the world), it does not mean that Bedouin culture has disappeared. The descendants of Bedouin tribes identify strongly with their past and take pride in their culture. No matter where they are, “a Bedouin sees bounty where you perceive barrenness and finds poetry in everything. It is more than a name, it is a way of life.”
This Week Rida Bint Fozi Shares A Book She Is Currently Reading
A few months ago I took a trip to Strand Books to search for a gift for my 11-year-old sister. I try my hardest not to be picky about what she reads because the simple fact that she is enjoying words brings me an incredible amount of joy. But when I look through some of the books she's borrowed from her school library, I begin to wonder why writers have started dumbing down their texts. Page after page I find that there are no interesting words to be learned, no exciting places to go, and definitely no new things to see. It seems that these writers are forgetting that children are fascinating people, and are more alive, awake and aware of the world than many adults. So as I searched the aisles of Strand for the “perfect book,” I kept in mind that I was thirsty for something that would be both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, expanding my sister’s mind and taking her to unexpected places. It sounded like an impossible feat, but when my hands ran across the cover of The Phantom Tollbooth I knew I'd found exactly what I'd been looking for.
Our journey begins with a young boy named Milo, possibly the most bored child in the world, who considers “the process of seeking knowledge [to be] the greatest waste of time of all.” He rushes from home to school and school to home, only to find that nothing is of interest to him here, there or anywhere. One day he returns home and finds a mysterious package containing a tollbooth sitting in the corner of his room. After some simple assembling he begins his trip into the Kingdom of Wisdom, beyond the land of Expectations (which no one seems to visit anymore), through the Doldrums, and eventually to the city of Dictionopolis, where all the words in the world are grown.
He learns the history of the Kingdom of Wisdom from Faintly Macabre, the Which, and then embarks on a journey to rescue Rhyme and Reason, the two princesses who have been banished to the Castle of Air in the Mountains of Ignorance. Milo encounters a slew of characters on his quest—King Azaz the Unabridged, the Mathemagician, the Awful Dynne, and the Soundkeeper, to name a few—and using the tools he has gathered from the Kingdom of Wisdom he goes onward to defeat the Demons of Ignorance. He returns home having gained a priceless lesson about the value of education and all that is around him. The tollbooth has vanished, and in its place is a note that tells Milo that he has completed his journey, and, if he really wants to, he can always find his way to Wisdom on his own.
The Phantom Tollbooth is for those who want to love reading, those who already love it, and those who are trying to rediscover why they once did. I’d share this book with my family, my friends, my fellow interns and my professors, and I’d feign shock when they informed me that they had all fallen deeply in love with Norton Juster’s clever tale. It’s hard to say just one thing that makes this the amazing book that it is, but I think Anna Quindlen, in a review for the New York Times, puts it best:
“I read [The Phantom Tollbooth] first when I was ten. I still have the
book report I wrote, which began ‘This is the best book ever.’”
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Edison Gets Outsung
17 years before Thomas Edison sang “Mary had a little lamb” into his phonograph, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville was recording french women singing folk songs.His 1860 recording of “Au Clair De La Lune” is believed to be the oldest known recording of human sound. The sound which was recorded by a “phonautograph” was never intended to be played back. The phonautograph etches sound waves into a paper covered in soot by a needle however, there was no method of playing the sound back until recently. Using what has been dubbed a “virtual stylus,” scientists scanned the paper and reproduced the sound recorded nearly a century and a half ago. Though Martinville’s sound supercedes Edison’s recording, Edison is still technically the first person to produce a sound and have it played back to him.
If Martinville’s invention was not designed to playback the sounds he recorded, what was its function? Did he plan to invent another machine to accomplish the task but never got around to making it? What else could he have recorded? Perhaps we’ll find scientific data that he dictated to the machine, or some other valuable information.
All I Want is World Peace
Beauty contestants are often asked what they would want if they could obtain anything. They usually assert that they want world peace. While some speculate that these responses are disingenuous, there is one beauty contest where such a reply seems appropriate. In an effort to raise awareness about landmines, the Angola de-mining commission is holding the “Miss Landmine Survivor” pageant on April 2nd. Eighteen girls who have been mutilated by mines will participate. The event coordinator says that the commission’s aim is to boost the confidence of all of the girls who have been injured, by showing that they are all beautiful. Thousands of Angolans have been, and continue to be injured by mines that were planted during a civil war that lasted 27 years. Even though the war ended six years ago, the UN reports that millions of mines remain scattered across Angola. While I am ordinarily against beauty contests, this is a type of beauty contest that I can definitely approve of. It demonstrates that an imperfect person is still beautiful, a message that the victims probably should hear.
Between the Wind and the Deep Blue Sea
Recently there has been a lot of interest in solutions to Global Warming, which is a very controversial topic. Despite the dispute over humans’ effect on the Earth, many are looking into different forms of energy. An issue with many of these solutions is waste of energy, not only cost. For example, if we have a lot of wind at night when most are not going to need energy, that wind would be lost.
Seamus Garvey, a professor from the University of Nottingham, believes we can store wind energy in bags at the bottom of the ocean. He feels that with the growth in interest of renewable energy sources that we have to create a system to harness and hold that energy. By holding the wind energy underwater, in large bags, we would also have the ability to gain energy from the waves in the water. His idea has been given the green light, and he’ll be able to set up his prototypes in a little over a year.
It is the first time, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre says, that an animal has been successfully treated with its own cloned cells. In a study published in Nature Magazine, researchers showed that mice with Parkinson’s disease had their conditions improved upon receiving therapeutic cloning. Therapeutic cloning is a process during which the nucleus of an adult cell is inserted into a nucleus-free egg. Then, the egg is allowed to develop into an embryo, at which point stem cells are collected. These stem cells, which have the ability to become any cell in the human body, become dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. The neurons that form must produce dopamine, because it is the chemical that allows for smooth, coordinated movement. The chance of rejection in this procedure is zero, because the stem cell is based off the recipient’s nucleus (and, in the case of females, egg). With such promising advances, hopefully it will only be a matter of time before Parkinson’s disease is a thing of the past.
-Amina H. Tajbhai
Diane DiPrima - The Beat Queen of Kings County
Though Diane DiPrima has been living for the past 30 years in San
Francisco, she was born right here in Brooklyn. A second-generation
American of Italian descent, DiPrima was an artist and an activist by
birth. Her grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, was a lover of opera and
the fine arts, as well as an active anarchist and associate of Carlo
Tresca and Emma Goldman, among others. As a young girl of seven,
Diane wrote her first poem, and by fourteen had committed herself to
the life of a poet.
DiPrima is most readily associated with the Beat movement, and about
her and her work, Allen Ginsburg said the following:
"Diane di Prima, revolutionary activist of the 1960s Beat literary renaissance,
heroic in life and poetics: a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated
and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity,
is exemplary in imagist, political and mystical modes. A great woman poet in
second half of American century, she broke barriers of race-class identity,
delivered a major body of verse brilliant in its particularity."
DiPrima has authored 43 books of poetry and prose, received numerous
awards, distinctions and honors, including the Award for Lifetime
Achievement in Poetry from the National Poetry Association in 1993,
and is the mother of 5 children. The following poem is dedicated to
her grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi.
April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa
Today is your
birthday and I have tried
writing these things before,
in the gathering madness, I want to
for telling me what to expect
no punches, back there in that scrubbed Bronx parlor
for honestly weeping in time to
italian operas for
pulling my hair when I
pulled the leaves off the trees so I'd know how it feels,
involved in it now, revolution, up to our
strangers on the street, filled with their love and
mine, the love you told us had to come or we
die, told them all in that Bronx part, me listening in
spring Bronx dusk, breathing stars, so glorious
blue eyes, rare among italians, I stood
a ways off listening as I pour out soup
young men with light in their faces
at my table, talking love, talking revolution
you would love us all, would thunder your anarchist wisdom
at us, would thunder Dante, and Giordano Bruno, orderly men
bent to your ends, well I want you to know
we do it for you, and your ilk, for Carlo Tresca
it, or thinking about it, as we do it for Aubrey Bearsley
Oscar Wilde (all street lights
shall be purple), do it
for Trotsky and Shelley and big/dumb
Eisenstein's Strike people, Jean Cocteau's ennui, we do it for
that they may look on earth
and not be ashamed.
knees and the tide is rising, I embrace
to me your white hair, your height your fierce
which is love, spelled backwards, how
for Sacco ad Vanzetti, without knowing
the stars over the Bronx
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
El Salvador is a country situated on the Pacific Coast in Central America, bordered by Guatemala on the west and Honduras on the north and east. El Salvador is roughly the size of Massachusetts, making it the smallest country in Central America.
Civilization in El Salvador dates back to approximately 1,500 B.C., as evidenced by the ruins of Tazumal and Chalchapa. The early inhabitants, the Pocomames, the Lencas; both related to the Mayans, and the Pipiles, who most likely descended from the Aztecs of Mexico, settled in the central and western regions. These cultures flourished up until the arrival of the Europeans in the sixteenth century.
In 1524 A.D., the Spanish landed and attempted to establish a new colony, but were forced to flee by the indigenous tribes who aggressively fought against them. However, the Spanish did not give up and returned a year later with sophisticated weapons. The tribes were no match for the revitalized Spaniards and were quickly overpowered, stripped of their land, and forced to live under Spanish rule. By the end of 1810, the Central American people were despondent and longed for freedom from Spain. On November, 5, 1811 Priest Jose Matias Delgado rang the bells of La Merced Church in San Salvador, marking the beginning of the revolution. After various conflicts, the Central American Independence Act was signed in Guatemala on September 15, 1821.
El Salvador has undergone many transformations due to civil war. Civil war raged between leftist guerilla groups and the Salvadoran government from 1980 to 1992. The United States backed the El Salvadoran government because they feared a leftist takeover. It was later revealed that the El Salvadoran government was responsible for various atrocities, including the murder of six Jesuit priests. The United Nations intervened and convinced both sides to sign the Peace Accords, a document which ended the war.
While there have been some improvements since the end of the war, unjust economic, social, and political relationships within El Salvador contribute to hunger, violence, poverty, and environmental destruction. A large percentage of the population cannot satisfy basic needs because of unfair wealth distribution. Jobs are scarce, and workers’ rights are unprotected. Although El Salvador is faced with problems, they have overcome challenges in the past and are sure to do so again.
I happened upon Totally Joe in Professor Natov’s bookcase, and was drawn to the book by its interesting cover photo. Though intended for the “tween” crowd, I began to leaf through, and by the end of the first entry I was doubled over with laughter and convinced that this would be the greatest book I’d ever read in my life. Joe Bunch, a twelve year old middle school student is given a class assignment by his English Professor, Mr. Daly, to write his “alphabiography;” an autobiography where each chapter is based on the corresponding letter of the alphabet and what Joe calls “so Oprah.” Joe is “unofficially gay” and this “alphabiography” explores his journey to becoming open, not only with himself, but with his family and friends, about his sexual preference. Accompanied by the “Gang of Five,” he fumbles and bumbles, but eventually gains his footing well enough to face the obstacles of coming to terms with his sexuality, and surviving middle school in the process.
In his “alphabiography,” Joe discusses an aspect of his life for every letter of the alphabet, ranging from “O is for OY” where he comes out to his grandparents, to “V is for Victim (NO MORE)” where he talks about finally standing up to his homophobic tormentors. Totally Joe is one of the most earnest, enlightening, and unpretentious novels I have read in a very long time. Joe is flamboyant, hilarious and most importantly real. At the end of every chapter, he leaves the reader with a “Life Lesson,” lessons we will probably never find in the pages of Nietzsche and Kant, lessons like “There’s no such thing as a wasted wish,” or “In real life (when you’re grown up and out of school) popularity doesn’t matter.” As simple and ridiculous as they might seem to some of you high falutin’ existentialist, I found myself amazingly affected. These were the lessons I had long forgotten and realized I needed to remember.
Some may deem this novel childish or unsophisticated, I call it a must read. James Howe perfectly captures the confusion and awkwardness of adolescence, the struggle with being ‘different’, and also, quite simply, the complexities of life. Joe’s feelings and experiences are not unique to kids in middle school or kids who are gay, they are feelings and situations we still experience even at this stage in our lives, and he handles it better than I do now. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time we all took a lesson from Joe.
Fear of War
Put away your viewpoints for a moment, and read this story from a human perspective. A man in the city of Nablus built a home with brothers to house their family. Not soon after the house was built, a knock is heard on his door and his life is changed for 6 years. Abdul-Latif Nasif says that Israeli troops invaded his home one night, taking over the upper storeys of the house and used it as a military observation post and base. They left giving the family relief, but they came back. He says for 6 years now, he and his family have lived in fear of when the knock will come on the door and his home invaded again. The Israeli army says that they have to raid the home because the city, which used to be where many people who bombed Israel came from, could still be planning more attacks. Mr. Nasif says he wrote to the late Yasser Arafat, telling of all the damages to his home as well as the situation he lives under; he received a check for $150 dollars (in Palestinian currency) to take of the damages. No matter your political views or allegiance, it is still sad that in a war, many people's lives are disrupted and have to live in fear. There must be many more stories about disrupted lives, on both sides of the war, which tell of people who live their days in fear.
- Mohan Bell
Convicted Sex Offenders Rape Pell
Let me paint you a picture, dear readers. It is the day before the deadline to pay your bill, and the Bursar’s office has already sent you two reminders. You are five hundred dollars short and wondering why you did not receive that Pell grant that could have solved your problems easily. Well, rest assured; even though you did not receive that grant, it has been put to good use. The convicted sex offenders in the US correctional system are getting an education, or possibly a television, with that Pell grant. Baffled, dear reader?
According to Ryan J. Foley, an AP writer, convicted sex offenders mandated to state-run treatment centers are receiving federal aid, specifically Pell grants, to take college courses through the mail. While this may seem perfectly fair and constitutional, it is the exploitation of the grants that presents a problem. The grants being distributed to the sex offenders are not being monitored and administrators cannot be absolutely sure that the grants are being used to actually further their academic endeavors. James Sturtz, one of Iowa’s most dangerous sex offenders, admits to misusing the grants claiming that two of the courses were “too hard,” and his lack of internet access prevented him from completing his assignments, so he dropped the courses. My question then becomes, why accept the grant if you are aware of the difficulties your status presents? He eventually used the remaining money to purchase clothing and is “saving” any leftovers in the case he decides to take more courses in the future.
Dr. Henry Richards, superintendent of the Special Commitment Center in Washington State argues that the sex offenders need to obtain educational skills in order to prepare them for their release; “I think the numbers of committed persons aren't so large they would significantly preclude other citizens from taking advantage of educational support. To preclude them seems mean-spirited to me.” While this argument may seem perfectly rational, the article also states that under a 1994 law, prison inmates and persons convicted of particular drug offenses are not eligible for Pell. Is it not “mean-spirited” to “preclude” them as well?
Reading this article, I could not help but be slightly biased in my opinion simply because the persons receiving these grants are sex offenders. I have managed to put my bias aside but am still quite annoyed. If the Education Department is going to distribute grants to sex offenders, other convicted felons should have the same options. Also, it is imperative that these grants are monitored when they are distributed. I don’t know about you, readers, but it burns me that while some students are forced to work two jobs to just cover their bills, these convicts are using federal aid to purchase televisions and clothing. I need a flat screen and Prada mules as much as the next convict, but I’d rather pay my bill first. Do you agree?
This week Alisa Kolenovic and Irena Bruza asked: "If you could live risk free in any city in the world, real of ficitonal, which city would it be and why"
“Kind of stereotypical/obvious for me, but here we go--I would love to live in Rivendell (Imladris), Middle Earth! It seems to be such a carefree happy sort of area. Not to mention the mystery that surrounds it is too tempting to pass up. I'd pick Lothlorien, but the forest is too enclosed for my liking.” – Amina Tajbhai
“Definitely Never Never Land. It’s a place where you get to keep your childhood innocence forever. Who could ask for more? And the fairies are awesome too.” –Tiffany Colon
“Paris in the 1920's, Shanghai in the 40's, Cuba in the 50's, New York in the 80's, Barcelona now. No glittering fantasy metropolis could replace real urban grit in my heart. Well, ok, on that note, I could stand maybe going to Gotham City for a while so I could go on a date or five with Batman.” –Ingrid Feeney
“I'd love to live in Oz, but Gregory Maguire's version.” – Dominique Gauvard
“Wonderland. Seriously, Alice did not make good use of that place. There is an opium-smoking caterpillar, that’s all I have to say. An opium-smoking caterpillar.” -Mohan Bell
"Willy Wonka's factory." - Jordan Roettele
"Atlantis, to see if Plato was right." - Julie Mikheyeva
Monday, March 17, 2008
Where do we find beauty? This question could be cliche, but it is a question we should ask. Where do we find beauty? Today, remove the make up off your face and look into the mirror, and smile, find the beauty there. Or walk slowly and look at the small things around you, like this picture taken by Brooklyn College Student Bushra Wazad. We at the English Majors Office wants to implore you to find beauty, not in the magazines or some other superficial source, but in the small parts of nature and yourself. Enjoy our Blog.
This week Mohan Bell shares with us the culture of the Maroon People
When I was a child, growing up in Jamaica, I had always heard about the people named the Maroons. This was a proud group, who during slavery times in Jamaica ran away and set up their own communities in the hills, modeled after their African homeland. I remember learning about Nanny of the Maroons, the female leader of her community, who we children used to joke at the myth that she caught the Red Coats (British soldier’s) bullets in her behind, as well as Tackie who led many revolts before being killed. Today, the descendants of these people continue living in their independent communities, practicing much of their ancestral traditions.
These people have been an integral part of Jamaican history. There were constant battles between the Maroons and The British—the Maroons attacking plantations or the British searching the hills for them. Fighting against the greatest army in the world was not an easy feat, but the Maroons used trickery and the well known Jamaican geography to their benefit. Ambush battle was their greatest weapon, surprising the Red Coats in guerrilla fashion. One mythical story that entranced me is the story of Nanny and how she lured the Red Coats to waterfalls and then attacking them, leaving them to fall in the water. However, many of these communities were destroyed after all the fighting with the British, which led to some Maroons being deported to Sierra Leone 1796.
The Maroons were brought from mainly West and Central Africa. The culture that developed reflected this merging of different African cultures and language. They made new spiritual practices, which mainly included calling to their ancestors. There are also many unique cultural creations such as the Abeng, a horned instrument that was blown into that is used for communication. Each note represented something different. Some Maroon communities offers tours to visitors, however, it is not advised to just drop in because of the isolation and the independence still maintained by these people. For any one who wants to learn more about the culture of these people, as well as reading a good book, a suggestion would be The Young Warriors
by V.S. Reid.
This week Nicole Lebenson shares a book by President John F. Kennedy
I don’t remember why I decided to pick up the book Profiles in Courage from the Brooklyn College Library; it’s one of those works that everyone refers to and that no one seems to have really read. But with presidential debates raging, and with the Kennedy-esque Mr. Obama running for office, I thought it might be relevant reading material for our times.
Profiles in Courage was written by J.F.K in 1954, when he was just a young senator. Bedridden because of serious back surgery, Kennedy, with the help of his aides (some say that he had a little too much help from his aides), set about compiling the stories of courageous acts of U.S Senators. They are inspirational not because they are the classic stories of courage from American mythology, but because they are obscure –many of the men discussed have been all but forgotten by history. In fact, many of the men are not even on what you and I would call the side of right. Kennedy singles out for praise those who followed their conscience and not popular opinion, men who, as Daniel Webster said, ‘spoke the truth rather than pleasing things.”
The book covers the three phases of the history of the senate of the United States, beginning with its early years, when Washington D.C was in the boonies, and the monumental heroes of the American Revolution were still stalking about the Senate floor. Kennedy does what only the best historian’s do; he makes the world of the past come alive through his love and attention to vivid detail. He describes a world where George Washington still roamed; an age when members of the House of represenatives “might sit with hat on head and feet on desk, watching John Randolph of Roanoke stride in wearing silver spurs, carrying a heavy riding whip, followed by a foxhound which slept beneath his desk”(26).
Although a few of the giants of American history cross the pages of this work, most of the men have forgettable names attached to unforgettably coruageous acts.In the same section, Kennedy praises both Daniel Webster, a man described as “ a living lie because no man on earth could be as great as he looked”(60), for destroying his political career by supporting the compromise of 1850 and the little known Thomas Hart Benton, a slaveholder who opposed the extension of that insitution into the territories and was almost shot for it by another Southerner on the senate floor.
Surprisingly, Kennedy skips the heroics of Araham Lincoln and goes directly to the post war period of reconstuction, when the senate was losing power as a legitimate legislative body and becoming a conglomeration of party bosses and businessmen. There were no more heroes of the revolution hanging around, which is why the men in this section in particular do not have familiar names. But those he discusses are the men who denied their political pasts, parties and sectional ties in favor of reuniting the union and upholding the principles of the American constitution.
The last section of the book relates the acts of those in more modern times, men who stood for peace during times of war and defended those beneath defense when it meant protecting a violation fo the American justice system. For those who like history, those who have any interest in the American political past, or those who simply want to read an entertaining book that will provide impressive bits of information to throw around at cocktail parties, Profiles in Courage is it. Written with a tremendous sense of humor by an author with an imitmate knowledge and love of history, Kennedy cherishes the rugged individuals that pepper the pages of American history. Although these tales of political courage may seem far removed from everyday life, Kennedy chooses to close his work by saying that “these problems do not even concern politics alone – for the same basic choice of courage or compliance continually faces us all, whether we fear the anger of constituents, friends, a board of directors of our union, whenever we stand against the flow of opinion on strongly contested issues. For - without belittling the courage with which men have died - we should not forget those acts of courage with which men …have lived.”
China Strikes Back
The US state department has come down on China in its latest report on human rights, and this time, China has retorted with a statement of its own. Labeling China as "an authoritarian state," Washington has accused them of denying its people their basic freedoms, many of which are guaranteed them under law. China, however, has called the report "tattering and shocking," referring to the number of human rights violations that have occurred under the watch of the United States.
Beijing’s report was based on various US and international news sources and also discussed incidents such as the Virginia Tech massacre. Pointing specifically to the situation in Iraq and the "war on terror," China has accused the US of using double standards in its report. Citing the invasion of Iraq as the cause of the “the greatest humanitarian disaster[s] in the modern world,” the report discusses the crimes committed by the United States that have yet to be properly acknowledged by the world.
While listening to the bickering of these countries, one is compelled to wonder if these reports are simply a means to deflect attention from each country's obvious human rights' violations. Perhaps the best route for both China and the United States would be to address allegations against themselves instead of hurling insults across the globe. Indeed it would make for a world in which the critical issue of human rights was not reduced to a few lines in a 100-page document that claimed to shed light on this serious matter.
- Rida Bint Fozi
Hey, That's Not Gold!
Just because it looks and feels like gold, does not mean that it is. This is a lesson that Ethiopia’s Central bank had to learn the hard way. This revelation came about after Ethiopia’s National bank exported a large amount of “precious” gold to South Africa. Upon its arrival, South African authorities immediately sent the “fool’s gold” back to Ethiopia claiming they had been cheated, and were actually sent gold painted steel.
After this discovery by the South Africans, the Ethiopian National Bank immediately put all of this gold under investigation. It seems that the Ethiopian National bank had purchased millions of dollars worth of counterfeit gold from an undisclosed supplier. The supplier was put under arrest after these shocking findings; however, the supplier could not be the only one to blame seeing as every piece of gold purchased had to go through a variety of tedious inspections. The bank had no choice but to look inward and place under arrest various national bank officials, business partners of the supplier, and chemists from the Geological Survey of Ethiopia, whose responsibility it is to check the legitimacy of the gold.
This one incident sparked further suspicion that caused the bank to inspect another batch of gold in their vault. They found that many of pieces of the gold were in fact counterfeit. This was deeply disturbing to Ethiopia’s National Bank because some of the gold in the vault had resided there for many years, after it had been confiscated from smugglers trying to export it Djibouti.
The Budget and Finance Committee of the Ethiopian Parliament has now ordered the bank to inspect all of its gold to see if more, or all, of the gold bars in their possession are indeed counterfeit. The Auditor General is expected to give a report of their findings to parliament during their next meeting. This incident not only puts various bank employees and The Geological Survey of Ethiopia members in trouble, but has cost the Ethiopian National Bank millions of dollars. Is this all the result of total incompetence by the bank, or was the gold that was purchased legitimate, then swapped for fake pieces by the bank’s officials? As usual only time will tell. This seems like a case for Sherlock Holmes, but then again he is probably as real as the gold is.
- Austin Noel
Native Americans Trace Ancestry to 6 Women
Researchers have found that nearly 95 percent of today’s Native American population (including North, Central and South America) can trace their genealogy to just 6 women. These 6 women left a particular DNA legacy that can be found in mitochondria, the power plant of cells, which is only passed along by the mother. The researchers formed a “family tree” that traces the different mitochondrial DNA to 6 women living between 18,000 and 21,000 years ago. None of the women lived in Asia, Perego and his colleagues from the Sorenson Molecular Foundation in Salt Lake City claim, because their particular DNA trace isn’t found there. They probably lived in Beringia, the land bridge that once stretched to North America, and is now submerged. The research was published this week by the journal PloS One.
- Carolina Alvarado
This week Rida Bint Fozi shares a poem by Harryette Mullen
When searching for a poem for this week's blog, I found myself torn between the number of poets that have long since found spots on my bookshelf and the ones that I have only more recently come to know. After some deliberation, I decided to go with a selection by Harryette Mullen, a poet I was introduced to in a creative writing class this semester. Mullen was born on July 1, 1953 in Florence, Alabama. She began writing as a college student, and her first book, Tree Tall Woman, was published in 1981. She taught at Cornell University and currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where she teaches courses at UCLA. Mullen employs the use of humor and wordplay to comment on politics and culture, and her work has been heavily influenced by the plight of African Americans, Mexican Americans and women in society. She has received numerous awards for her work, and Sleeping with the Dictionary, the book I have chosen to share a poem from, was a finalist for the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
What struck me about Mullen was her incredible grasp on the English language and her ability to manipulate words and sounds to create entertaining poetry with an experimental edge. The harmonious quality of her work demands appreciation from its readers. After unsuccessfully attempting to imitate the style of one of her poems for a class assignment, I discovered that there is a substantial amount of effort, intellect and skill that goes into each line. In “Denigration,” Mullen uses wordplay to create a piece that is both artistically innovative and politically charged. Her thoughts are witty, her words crisp, and her works provide us with a new lens with which to view the world of poetry.
By Harryette Mullen
Did we surprise our teachers who had niggling doubts about the picayune brains of small black children who reminded them of clean pickaninnies on a box of laundry soap? How muddy is the Mississippi compared to the third-longest river of the darkest continent? In the land of the Ibo, the Hausa, and the Yoruba, what is the price per barrel of nigrescence? Though slaves, who were wealth, survived on niggardly provisions, should inheritors of wealth fault the poor enigma for lacking a dictionary? Does the mayor demand a recount of every bullet or does city hall simply neglect the black alderman's district? If I disagree with your beliefs, do you chalk it up to my negligible powers of discrimination, supposing I'm just trifling and not worth considering? Does my niggling concern with trivial matters negate my ability to negotiate in good faith? Though Maroons, who were unruly Africans, not loose horses or lazy sailors, were called renegades in Spanish, will I turn any blacker if I renege on this deal?
This week Carolina Alvarado and Austin Noel did a little investigation.
After reading a London poll that reported an alarming amount of the people polled deemed Sherlock Holmes a historical figure, and Winston Churchill a fictitious one, we wondered what our Brooklyn College students thought of the following characters.
When asked, ‘Real or Fictitious’ about:
Johnny Appleseed – 8 answered ‘Fiction,’ and 5 ‘Real,’ while 2 ‘Never Heard Of’
Aunt Jemima – 4 answered ‘Fiction,’ and 7 ‘Real,’ while 4 ‘Never Heard Of’
Sherlock Holmes – 10 answered ‘Fiction,’ and 5 ‘Real,’
Tom Sawyer – 11 answered ‘Fiction,’ and 3 ‘Real,’ while 1 ‘Never Heard Of’
Paul Bunyan – 6 answered ‘Fiction,’ and 6 ‘Real,’ while 3 ‘Never Heard Of’
Paul Revere – 13 answered ‘Real,’ while 2 ‘Never Heard Of’
Sirhan Sirhan – 2 answered ‘Fiction,’ and 5 ‘Real,’ while 8 ‘Never Heard Of’
Monday, March 10, 2008
The school semester seems to be draining our schedules of free time. We have to completely devote ourselves to school, work, internships, and other responsibilities. Anxiety is high while we work to accomplish deadline after deadline. At the end of the day we should take some time for ourselves to relax. With that said enjoy a few moments out of a hectic schedule and feel free to enter our world of words.
This week Alisa Kolenovic shares the culture of Transylvania.
Transylvania is a region in Romania, a country situated in Southeastern Europe. It has been conquered by several empires throughout history but became a part of the Roman Empire after World War I. The region’s capital is considered to be, not Count Dracula’s castle, but Cluj-Napoca. The word Transylvania is referred to in Latin as ultra silvam, meaning, “covered with forests” and indeed, Transylvania is rich in forestry. The majority of people living in Transylvania are Romanian, while there are sizeable communities of Hungarians, Romani, Germans, and Serbians.
Count Dracula is widely known as the character from Bram Stoker’s infamous novel, Dracula. In the story, Dracula is a vampire and nobleman, who lived in a castle near the Borgo Pass of the Carpathian Mountains. It is said that the Count character was inspired by Wallachia’s Vlad III Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler. Stoker came across the name while reading about Romanian history and decided to use Count Dracula instead of Count Vampyr as the name for his villain. There are however, many characteristics of Count Dracula that do not match up with Vlad III. The only information that matches up to the story is that both Count Dracula and Vlad III fought many successful battles against Turks. A reason Vlad III may have been an inspiration is because he was known for his exceedingly cruel punishments. He was called the Impaler because impalement was his preferred method for executing his opponents. He was known to have created a “forest of the impaled” where it is alleged that he lined roadways with thousands of impaled Turks. Infants were even impaled. Death in this way always proved to be slow and painful, and the people of his land were always law-abiding because they were so afraid of his cruel punishments. (Source: Wikipedia)
Does Transylvania really have the ominous, Gothic castles with the wolves roaming around the Carpathian Mountains? Yes. There is also a yes to the fact that Vlad III was born in the town of Sighisoara in Transylvania, and that he was something of a madman. Yet, while Transylvania has these horrifying yet intriguing assets, it has even more to boast about what with its enchanting forestry and quaint Saxon towns. One destination may be the town Miklosvar, from which Vlad III’s Bran Castle is but 41 miles away, where bats fly at night, people cut hay with scythes, and the only traffic consists of horses and carts. It is a true throwback to ancient Transylvania and is located on its eastern edge. Perhaps while you are there, you may stay at one of Count Tibor Kalnkoy’s guest farmhouses. This count is a descendant of the feudal overlords whose roots go as far back as 1252. He and his family have been working to preserve this region’s wildlife and architectural heritage, as well as environmental beauty through the profits that come from their guest farmhouses. They offer not only accommodations but also tours for their guests, including horseback riding trips, excursions into the forest to see bat-filled caves or track bears and wolves, or to see rare birds such as the lesser-spotted eagle. All of the guest houses are different—one is a 19th century 2-story house and the other is a former serf’s dwelling simply decked out in blue paint (the color of houses belonging to the serfs). Besides the fact that there is an actual Count in this village, another reason to visit is because Miklosvar has retained much of its old ways. People still live off the fat of the land and there are still many castles, manors, and medieval churches to see.
Source: NY Times
Of the more important destinations in Transylvania, Miklosvar is an increasingly popular one, as well as Bran Castle, the Scarisoara Cave, and the Maramures region, which like Miklosvar, is a destination where time has not moved in decades. It is located near the Ukrainian border and boasts of its wooden architecture, specifically its wooden churches-- Poienile Izei, Ieud-Deal, and including the tallest wooden church in the world, erected in Sapanta in gothic style and painted hundreds of years ago. Another place to visit in Maramures is the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta. This cemetery is actually internationally known for its colorful tombstones, which describe in poetic paintings the lives of the people buried underneath them, and even specific, important scenes of their lives. It is refreshing to see that the Romanians celebrate a person’s life, rather than brood over the loss of this person in these tombstones.
Source: NY Times
Indeed Transylvania can be best described as a morbidly beautiful country throbbing with myth, history, war, blood, and romance. There are many reasons to go to Transylvania—whether you are simply intrigued by the horrific myths, or you are drawn to the gothic architecture, fairy-tale forests, or to the tall and ominous mountains. You will find much more in Transylvania than you bargained for.
This week Amina H. Tajbhai shares a novel by Phillip Pullman.
Although novels that become movies that become sensational controversial topics are not my usual cup of tea, I was assigned The Golden Compass for my English seminar class. I picked it up a few weeks early, since it is relatively lengthy, figuring I would read it at my own pace. Three school days later, I had finished the book and become a His Dark Materials fan (The Golden Compass is the first book in the trilogy; the other two are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass).
The first part of the trilogy is about the young Lyra Belacqua, who must go on an epic adventure to bring a mysterious object to her uncle, who is being held in the North by the armored bears, solve a mystery surrounding missing children and a concept called “Dust.” However, she is not alone. Her daemon, Pantalaimon, is with her always, and the two of them must face innumerable dangers together. Along the way, they are helped by the gyptians and an exiled armored bear named Iorek Byrnison, while being pursued by the General Oblation Board. Throughout the story, Lyra has to grow and use the mysterious object in order to survive.
The Golden Compass caused a lot of controversy after its movie release due to its possible anti-religion sentiment. However, that should not deter those interested from picking up this book. I, personally, consider it one of the greatest stories for children and adults in recent times. Pullman makes the fantastical probable, merging reality and fantasy to create a unique world similar yet different from our own. A beautiful text with brilliant descriptions and an active plot, it’s a book anyone will enjoy.
After Years of Oppression, Kosovo Gains Its
Throughout history, Kosovo has and has not been considered part of
When Milosevic came into power as President in
NATO took over in 1999, and the region has been run by the United Nations ever since. Western countries all support Kosovo’s claim for independence for a number of reasons: first it was never internationally recognized as part of
Right now, Kosovo has received recognition as an independent state from the
- Alisa Kolenovic
The Nose Knows
Scientists for a long time believed that offensive odors directly attacked the nerve endings in our noses. However, US researchers have recently discovered nose cells that tell our nerves when a place is just too stinky—and dangerous for us to stick around. They act as warning signals and are programmed to identify bad smells and equate them to danger. Most things that smell bad to human noses are potentially harmful, especially in large doses, so it makes sense for our bodies to develop an aversion to them.
The newly discovered cells are called “chemosensory cells.” They exist in various underwater creatures and scientists believe that they have been inside our (and other mammals') noses for a very long time. In most creatures the cells help to alert the brain of nearby predators, but in human noses the cells simply warn of smells that could cause harm. Sometimes an awful smell can trigger a reflex that stops breathing for a few seconds in order to give time for escape. This happens in only extreme cases, when the threat is much larger.
Knowing this, and understanding how our noses actually work, how much differently would you react now to an eye-watering smell? Would you allow yourself to be bombarded by it or run far away, perhaps to the nearest rosebush? I personally want to trust my nose on this one, apparently it “nose.”
- Irena Bruza
The Genocide Olympics
China's hosting of the 2008 summer Olympics was thought by many to be a symbol of the country's dramatic change from a poor and underdeveloped agrarian state to an economic powerhouse of the 21st century. The scores of people driven from their homes to make way for the Beijing Games, however, most likely do not see it that way.
The construction of facilities for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing has involved forced evictions of thousands of citizens in and around Beijing, often without adequate compensation or access to new housing. The pre-Olympic “clean-up” of Beijing has resulted in the closure of dozens of officially unregistered schools for the children of migrant workers.
Those who have dared to speak out have been tortured and jailed. More than 40,000 people, in fact, have been arrested for organizing or participating in protests at the way lives in China's capital have been destroyed. Many have been treated brutally by police. An estimated 200,000 have been left living on the streets while they seek new homes in towns and cities miles from the capital. This is yet another blemish on what has already been dubbed "The Genocide Olympics" due to China's support of the Sudanese government, which remains complicit with the perpetrators of the genocide in Darfur.
- Ingrid Feeney
This week Irena Bruza shares a poem with us by Mak Dizdar
I had not originally planned to use a piece by Mak Dizdar, simply because I had not been aware of him—at least not consciously. My first choice had been a Sarajevan poet by the name of Semezdin Mehmedinovic simply because his was the one book of Bosnian poetry that I actually own. Unfortunately, most of the poems refer to the war, something that I, and a slew of other young Bosnians, want to get past. So, I had found myself digging into the past to find Dizdar.
Mak is Dizdar's nickname, a sort of escape from the painfully monosyllabic nomenclature still extant in Bosnia. His real name is Mehmedalija. He was born in a small town in Bosnia but eventually moved to Sarajevo for study. During World War II, he supported the Partisans, Marshall Tito's Communist Army and he led a successful life both culturally and politically. Poetically, he is one of the most celebrated writers in Bosnian history.
The poem I am presenting is called “Dark Blue River” (“Modra Rijeka”) in both the Bosnian and English translation. I am also offering a link for you to listen to it as spoken by celebrated Serbian actor/singer Rade Serbedzija in its original language. This poem can mean a lot of things. What does it mean to you?
Nitko ne zna gdje je ona
Malo znamo al je znano
Iza gore iza dola
Iza sedam iza osam
I još huđe i još luđe
Preko gorkih preko mornih
Preko gloga preko drače
Preko žege preko stege
Preko slutnje preko sumnje
Iza devet iza deset
I još dublje i još jače
Iza šutnje iza tmače
Gdje pijetlovi ne pjevaju
Gdje se ne zna za glas roga
I još huđe i još luđe
Iza uma iza boga
Ima jedna modra rijeka
Široka je duboka je
Sto godina široka je
Tisuć ljeta duboka jest
O duljini i ne sanjaj
Tma i tmuša neprebolna
Ima jedna modra rijeka
Ima jedna modra reijeka –
Valja nama preko rijeke
Dark Blue River
None can say where it is found
We know little but 'tis known
Beyond mountain, beyond valley
Beyond seven, beyond eight
And still sadder and still madder
Over weary, over bitter
Over hawthorn, over thornbush
Over drought and over hindrance
Over dread and over doubt
Beyond nine and beyond ten
There below beneath the earth
Over yonder beneath the sky
And still deeper and still fiercer
Beyond silence, beyond nightfall
Where the roosters do not crow
And the horn's voice is unknown
And still sadder and still madder
Beyond mind and beyond God
For there is a dark blue river
It is broad and it is deep
It is broad one hundred years
A thousand summers is its depth
And its length not to be thought
Murk and darkness unrelenting
For there is a dark blue river
For there is a dark blue river
And that river we must cross
Please visit Spirit
of Bosnia where "Modra RIjeka" was taken from for more of Dizdar's and others' poetry and writings
"I can't really decide so I'd be the leech that took everyone else's powers." - Dominique Gauvard
"If there was a power to change back time. I would die for that power." - Blerona Sela
"Teleporting! The two-hour commute would become two seconds! (Plus I'd never have to wait for a bus / boat / train again!)" - Amina Tajbhai
"I'd want to be able to fly and take people's powers, or to be able to run really fast or, be indestructible like that girl from heroes." - Amna Abdus-Salaam
"I'd want the power to read minds, or telekinesis, or something to that effect. I wouldn't use it for good either. In my eyes, it makes me a God, why use it for good?" - David Post
"I am already a superhero. Duh." - Mohan Bell
"I would want the ability to just free up everyones mind of all of the nonsense that plagues us, for example:
4. Paris Hilton
5. Britney Spears
6. Flavor Flav
8. Religous Imposed Ideologies
10.The Govt." - Emanuel Bennett
"I'd fly. I would never be tempted to abuse that power, wouldn't have to worry about taking airplanes and would be able to scare the crap out of people by, every once and a while, stepping off the side of a building or jumping out a window." - Nicole Lebenson
"I would either want the power to heal anything I touched, or the power to read minds...I am, by the way, stealing unashamedly my "power" ideas from Heroes :)" - Krishna Sury
"The ability to snap smoothies out of the air, constantly, all of the time." - Carolina Alvarado