Friday, June 8, 2012

Musician’s Notes: As You Like It

JLK2012-06-15183-MThe reason we decided to incorporate music with Shakespeare’s As You Like It is because music is the right hand of love; everything humans do is done to music. We marry to music, we watch movies to music, we party to music, we graduate to music, and we fight to music. In Shakespeare’s time a play was not simply a two-hour period where audience sat in rows and clapped politely like today. In Shakespeare’s time, a play was six hours long stuffed with musicians, entertainers (not cast), and great amounts of food. It was an event carried not only by a story, but also by food and music.

So a couple of us started looking for music a few months before As You like it started rehearsals. We needed music that had words that helped tell the story, as well as music that gave the right mood. We watched romance movies like 500 Days of Summer to get inspiration from their soundtracks, and we searched through a variety of artists from Mumford and Sons to Ella Fitzgerald, and even Elvis. We also experimented writing our own songs. Each song in the play, no matter how famous, has our own unique spin. We love not just replicating songs, but, instead, making them our own. Playing the jazz song “Paper Moon” with folk instruments is quite different than how it’s usually played with a full jazz band. This is our third year of Shakespeare in the park, and it is also our third year including the song “Horace Staccato” at the beginning of our play and “Le Festin” at the end of our play. The last words in “Le Festin” are what the entire play builds up to: “Une vie à me cacher et puis libre enfin Le festin est sur mon chemin,” which translates to: “A lifetime of hiding; I’m suddenly free! My dinner is waiting for me!” No more hiding is a metaphor for no more disguises; Rosalind reveals herself and there is only one thing left—freedom—or as we like to call it—marriage. The dinner is the marriage—a banquet!

We use music in many different ways in As You Like It; one such use is as a device for transitions. For example, “Look for Me Baby” is a song during which all the characters move from the court to the forest. It’s a fast-moving tune about escaping, which parallels what is happening in the scene. The second way we use music is to integrate it into a scene. When “Loving You” is played, the music stops and starts with the scene; the musicians aren’t just the soundtrack, but are actually in the scene with the lovers. And the last way we use music is, of course, to create mood in the background. For instance, when Touchstone and Audrey enter a scene we play a particular tune, which is merely to set a mood about certain scenes or a set of characters. The music is the soundtrack to our play; its intent is to make the viewers want to dance when the characters dance, feel adrenaline when the characters fight, and to make their hearts skip when the characters fall in love. Love and music carry us from the opening scene through the most important scene in the play—the wedding. After all, love and music cause us to dance.

Lyrics Translation of Le Festin(The Feast)

Dreams are to lovers as wine is to friends
Carried through lifetimes, (and) spilled now and then
I am driven by hunger, so saddened to be
Thieving in darkness; I know you’re not pleased
But nothing worth eating is free

My hope is a banquet impatiently downed
Impossibly full, now I’ll probably drown
Many thieves’ lives are lonely with one mouth to feed
If giving means taking, I’ll never succeed
For nothing worth stealing is…

Free at last; won’t be undersold
Surviving isn’t living; won’t eat what I’m told
Let me free, I’ll astonish you; I’m planning to fly
I won’t let this party just pass me by

The banquet is now underway, so…
Bring out the bottles; a new tale has spun
in clearing this table, my new life’s begun
I am nervous, excited; (oh) just read the marquee!
A lifetime of hiding; I’m suddenly free!
My dinner is waiting for me

A lifetime of hiding; I’m suddenly free!
My dinner is waiting for me

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Director’s Notes: As You Like It

IMG_1651eLove is merely a madness…

As You Like It is an interesting play in that there isn’t any true villain. Yes, Duke Frederick is a villainous character, but his villainy is not at the center of the play’s conflict, nor is Oliver’s. When the characters arrive in the woods at the end of Act II, we basically forget about Duke Frederic and Oliver until the end of the play. Why then doesn’t the play end at the end of Act II? When Rosalind meets Orlando in the woods, why doesn’t she simply strip off her manly attire and marry Orlando? Why the long, painful chase? It reminds me of the old screwball comedies where an entire play revolves around a simple misunderstanding and in the end the characters’ worst enemies are their own sillinesses. Rosalind suggests, as if it’s bingo or knitting, that they take up falling in love. In the first scene, Rosalind thinks that falling in love is just a game—a ridiculous stupid game. One scene later, Rosalind falls in love. Of course, every person who’s not in love thinks lovers are silly, and they are silly, but it doesn’t seem silly to the people in love. People in love are mad but thankfully, as Rosalind reminds us, the madness is pretty common.

As Ganymede, Rosalind continually mocks people in love—she makes fun of Orlando as she’s falling for him. Jaques says about the fool, “And they that are most galled by my folly, they most must laugh. And why must they? He that a fool wisely hits does very foolishly not to seem senseless of the barb.” Or to speak plainer, when the fool unknowingly insults the smart man, the smart man must pretend not to understand the insult and therefore protects himself from humiliation. In another sense, this is exactly Rosalind’s tactic. While falling in love, she pretends not to be falling in love. Rosalind can see her own silliness clearly, unlike the other character’s, who are blind to their own giddiness.

Actually, Rosalind and Jaques both see the folly of love—and yes, there is folly in love. So much stupidity goes on when people fall in love (take Silvius and Phebe for example.) Jaques thinks that lovers are stupid and he’s partly right, but Rosalind sees the stupidity and yet decides that it’s all worth it—she’s the smartest character in the play.

Jaques—the Eyore of As You Like It

Is he just an old sourpuss or does he have a point? It’s easy to see Jaques in different ways. Many productions portray Jaques as this old grump who we’re happy to see leave at the end of the show. Some productions show him as an arrogant snob who thinks he’s better than everyone else. In our production, we chose instead to show Jaques as a bit more complicated than that. He’s a little bit of everything. He’s cynical, proud, blunt, funny, and intellectual, but not necessarily wrong in any of these things. He has, as Sweeny Todd puts it, “Seen the world and all its wonders, but the cruelty of men is as wondrous as Peru.” He is sad and for good reason; he sees the barbarity and hypocrisy in the people around him (who are good people, too), and yet barbaric and hypocritical. The play is about characters who are supposed to love and trust each other—brother and brother; father and daughter; uncle and niece. But they only pretend to do these things. Isn’t a bit strange that after Duke Frederick banishes her father, Rosalind lives at the court and they talk as if everything is peachy keen and happy. That’s awful; no wonder Jaques is upset about a world like that. And yet isn’t that the kind of world we live in too? Is it wrong to be cynical about a world where potlucks and bake-sales are illegal (because of health restrictions), but where we can kill unborn children with pride. So when Jaques sees Touchstone, who’scertainly not a decent person, he’s happy to meet someone who is at least not a hypocrite, like the others. Touchstone does his sins out in the open where everyone can see. At the end of the show, though, even Jaques is taken over by Rosalind joy. Yes, the world is stupid and evil, but let’s fall in love and be married. Jaques goes searching for his own love too, by going to become a monk. He wants to find joy in a better life than what he had before. The play, after all, is called As You Like It. We all get there a different way, but we all come to the same end.

“Peace, ho! I bar confusion. ‘Tis I must make conclusion.”

Throughout the play we see four different couples. Oliver and Celia--love at first sight; everything goes extraordinarily smoothly. There’s Touchstone and Audrey—she’s cute and available; what more could one want? Then there’s Phebe and Silvius—where there’s certainly not equal affection on each side. Their love does not come easily, but very stupidly. Finally, Rosalind and Orlando—love at first sight that has not run very smoothly. They have wooed, lied, hidden, escaped, and played a very strange game to end up together. And yet, through all the different circumstances, all of the couples arrive at the same conclusion—marriage.

In the last scene, the Goddess of Marriage suddenly arrives, which seems funny for a play that’s been pretty realistic throughout. Greek gods don’t randomly show up in our chic-flicks of today. Why is Hymen suddenly in the play? Hymen says that reason will diminish our wonder and confusion about falling in love—about how in the wide world each ended up with each other. Hymen enters and blesses the couples. “Oh wonderful, most wonderful, and out of all whooping!” It’s not the Goddess of Love that fixes everything, but the Goddess of Marriage. It’s a play about the confusion and folly of love and in the end the answer to the problem is marriage. Because however hard you try, love doesn’t make sense—In the game of love there are no rules, because love isn’t really a game. If love were a game, Orlando never could have won. If love were rational, Orlando never would have deserved Roslind. But love is merely a madness. Love is a dance. The answer to the madness of love is marriage, which binds them together because, “It’s not good for man to be alone” and so we remember that love is never a mistake because, “Hymen from heaven brought her.”

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ten Favorite Books

To Kill a Mockingbird. There’s only one kind of folks: folks. To truly understand someone, you must put yourself in their situation.

  • I will open my eyes.

Peter Pan. It is children’s freedom and their belief in the impossible that allows them to fly.

  • I will remember what it was like to fly.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Trees can grow up out of cement. Life blooms even in the darkest places.

  • I will hope always.

Heckedy-Peg. Never let a witch into your house or she will kidnap you and turn you into egg-pudding.

  • I will listen to my mother and beware of cloaked strangers.

Jane Eyre. If you must, pass up every happiness life offers in order to stay true to yourself, and never settle.

  • I will hold to my convictions.

Winnie-the-Pooh. We’re all silly and foolish sometimes, but to love and be loved-- that is a wonderful life.

  • I will laugh at myself.

Harry Potter. Bravery is just a fancy word for having guts.

  • I will be brave and passionate.

A Christmas Carol. Money cannot protect you from suffering; it can only chain you down to a miserable, lonely life.

  • I will give freely.

The Tale of Despereaux. Don’t complain about your ears, no matter how large they are; you will need them.

  • I will use my head.

Till We Have Faces. The fruits of the King are seen in the land; the King’s power can as easily corrupt as it can save.

  • I will lead mindfully.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Batman: the Dark Knight, is a movie that explores the aspects and roles of both the “official Hero, and the “outlaw hero.” It is the story of two “knights,” or heroes of sorts. It is about Batman, the outlaw hero, fighting off a crazy murdering psychopath and how he loses everything in the process because he pushes the criminals into retaliating back  by paying the Joker to kill and terrorize. The other character is Harvey Dent, who is the “official” hero, and he similarly loses everything to the Joker, but instead of pushing forward like Batman, he goes insane and starts killing people.

Harvey Dent from Batman the Dark Knight is, at the beginning of the movie, an official hero. Harvey Dent is in fact, a nearly perfect image of an official hero.  He is the district attorney for Gotham City, and is known by the city as “Gotham’s White Knight.” His job is to do the same thing that The Batman does, which is to catch criminals.  Harvey Dent’s physical appearance even gives off the sense of a bright shining hero with his young healthy person, his blond hair, and even his honest blue eyes. However, he also has some “outlaw hero” in him. He breaks the rules when he lies to the city and he says he is Batman so that the Batman has a chance to catch the Joker, or when he takes one of the Joker’s men and threatens him in an alley, which he does when he finds that the Joker has threatened the love of his life. He says near the beginning of the movie when defending Batman that, ">When their enemies were at the gates, the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city. It wasn't considered an honor, it was considered a public service.” When Rachel says, “Harvey, the last man who they appointed the Republic was named Caesar and he never gave up his power.” He replies, Okay, fine. you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” Which is a foreshadowing of what is going to happen. Later in the movie, when Harvey Dent loses Rachel, his girlfriend, he lets the Joker convince him that he should have revenge, and so Gotham’s “white Knight,” is turned into a villain. At the end of the movie he dies and they cover up his murders so that Gotham doesn’t lose hope in Harvey Dent’s initial fight against the crime in the city. He does both the things that he says a hero does. In reality he becomes the villain and kills people, but in the eyes of Gotham, when batman covers up for him, he dies a hero and is remembered for his noble cause.

Bruce Wayne, or as he is known by the criminals of Gotham city, Batman, is an “Outlaw” hero. Bruce Wayne is witty, intelligent, and dangerous. He is childish in the fact that he seems to enjoy his little game he plays by pretending to be a snobby, selfish, unintelligent playboy by day and The Batman by night. Robert B. Ray says that an outlaw hero has a distrust of society, which is shown by the fact that Bruce Wayne doesn’t think that Gotham’s police force is adequate enough to take care of Gotham without The Batman. So, just like an outlaw hero does, Bruce Wayne decides to take the law into his own hands to try and stop crime in Gotham city. One thing that suggests that maybe Batman might wish that he was able to fight crime lawfully is when the Joker says, “Don't talk like one of them, you're not. Even if you'd like to be. To them, you're just a freak, like me. They need you right now. But when they don't, they'll cast you out, like a leper. See, their morals, their code... it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you, when the chips are down, these... these civilized people will eat each other. See, I'm not a monster, I'm just ahead of the curve.” So it brings up the question of whether or not Batman really wants to fight crime masked and secret, but by the end of the movie he makes the decision of being Batman and taking not glory, but hate, because Bruce Wayne, or Batman, is there for the people, not for himself.
           
What is the difference between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent? In the movie, they are almost partners of sorts. Harvey Dent is the “White Knight,” and Bruce Wayne is the “Dark Knight. They help each other when Harvey protects Batman from Gotham by telling Gotham that he is Batman, and then Batman saves him from the Joker after that. Even their appearance is symbolic, in that Harvey has blond hair, blue eyes, and Bruce Wayne has dark hair and green eyes. Also the same thing is dearest to both of them, and that is that is that they are both in love with Rachael Dawes. When she dies however the two men have very different reactions. At the end of the movie, Harvey Dent’s statement, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” comes true when it happens to both him and Batman at the end of the movie. Harvey sees himself become the villain at the end of the story by threating and killing people, but in the same breath, when he dies by falling off a building, The police commissioner Gordon, and Batman decide to cover up Harvey’s crimes so that all the good work he did doesn’t get erased, therefore, Harvey dies a hero in the peoples’ eyes. Batman makes a choice and decides to take the blame because as he puts it, “I can do those things because I'm not a hero, not like Dent. I killed those people. That's what I can be. I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be. You'll hunt me. You'll condemn me. Set the dogs on me. Because that's what needs to happen. Because sometimes the truth isn't good enough. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” Batman decides to take the heroic blow because he is the not the “official white,” knight, but the “outlawed dark knight.” One interesting thing is that Batman also has the both of Harvey’s said possible ending for a hero, he dies a hero, “he stops being Gotham’s secret hero Batman by taking the blame for Harvey’s actions, and he lives long enough to see himself become the villain in the eyes of the people. This gives an interesting spin on the “official” and the “outlaw” hero.

You Talk Good, Mr. President

If you want people to trust you, talk to them, and talk to them good. Ronald Reagan, as a former movie actor, knew full well that the key is communication, earning himself the nickname “The Great Communicator.” Interestingly, Reagan, hailed as one of America’s best-loved presidents, took on the White House equipped not with outstanding political experience, but with storytelling experience. Some people suggest that Ronald Reagan was not one of our smartest presidents, and, in fact, he did not have one of the top IQ scores, especially compared to presidents such as Eisenhower, Clinton, or Wilson. Perhaps Reagan wasn’t as book smart as some of his predecessors, yet he was certainly one of our wisest and cleverest presidents, because he knew how to play his strengths and how to be honest with the country he was running.

Known as a highly committed conservative, Reagan’s politics broke the stride of the moderates that had served for the last several years. His plans, which came to be known as Supply Side economics, were to raise taxes in order to promote economic growth. Surprising many left-wingers, Reagan seized on issues that Democrats had long regarded as their own, including the issues of economic growth and personal consumption, but taking a different strategy to achieving it. He proposed to lower taxes immensely. Some people scoffed at this idea, predicting that it bring an economic heart attack rather than expansion. For the first couple of years after these policies were adhered to, there was a sharp economic downturn. Thankfully, things were merely getting worse before they got better. In 1983, the U.S. economy experienced a dramatic rebound, producing 17 million new jobs and causing inflation to drop about ten percent, landing at about two percent. Although these policies later proved controversial because the large expenses that were built up by the government, including huge expenses for the military, it is certain that Reagan got the U.S. out of a deep economic slump and that the military expenses surely had a lasting effect for America in regards to the Soviet Union.

 One thing that Reagan had in common with his all of the presidents from the thirty years prior to his presidency was that he was strongly anti-communist, stating that, “The Soviet Union is an Evil Empire, and Soviet communism is the focus of evil in the modern world.” Unlike Johnson, Nixon, Kennedy, and Eisenhower, though, he sought different methods to defeat communism. When talking about America and specifically the Republican Party Reagan said, “All of a sudden, Republicans were not defenders of the status quo, but creators of the future. They were looking at tomorrow with all the single-mindedness of an inventor.” The words from Reagan’s own mouth also apply well to himself. Reagan’s approach against communism was far more aggressive than his predecessors in this sense: Reagan was not always on the defensive, attempting to “roll back” communism—containment. Instead he focused mainly on challenging the Soviet Union with the U.S.’s military buildup, whose budget increased nearly thirty percent in four years. Yet, for all these expenses, it was not Johnson, Nixon, Kennedy, or Eisenhower who saw the end of the Cold War in their White House years, but Ronald Reagan, who achieved it at the tail end of his second term.

One advantage Reagan had was that, as America’s oldest president he had acquired a different kind of wisdom. Just as he knew his strengths, Reagan knew what he could not do. He understood that he could not, and should not, run the country single handedly, kinging every area independently. He learned to delegate, a skill completely underrated and regarded as an incompetent man’s safety blanket. Some people thought because of this that Reagan was only posing and wasn’t really in charge. They thought he really had no clue what was going on. However, I feel that his ability to delegate was Reagan’s greatest asset, which dovetailed perfectly with one of his major priorities which was to reduce the governmental regulation structure. Reagan himself said frankly, “Government is the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

In everything he did, Reagan brought hope to America, spreading his message, “It’s morning in America.” In this, he was very similar to FDR, who was one of his heroes as a child, yet Reagan was far more honest than FDR. People trusted Reagan, and they still do. Even in his professional life he hid little and openly laughed at himself and the government. He didn’t take himself too seriously, commenting once, when talking about his C-average grades, “But there are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret.” People also trusted Reagan because he wasn’t afraid of America or what they could do to him, and most importantly he had faith in the American people. He believed that the American people were good, full of brilliant ideas that could change the way America was run.

Paradox of The Dark Knight

batmanI’ve never been able to keep up with Hollywood’s constant stream of movies releases, preferring instead to wait three months until the movie is released on video. I distinctly remember my friends going to the midnight opening of The Dark Knight when it was released in 2008 and the continuous raving for the next couple of weeks. Even so, it was three years until I finally got around to watching this movie, which I’d heard so much about. Cynical because it was an action flick, and a super-hero film to boot (I’d seen the Spider Man movie and was less than impressed), I sat down hopeful to be surprised, yet prepared to be disappointed. As I watched The Dark Knight, I was entranced, my stomach in knots and my blanket up to my eyes. I kept thinking to myself, “I know this story. I know this story!”

There are particular stories out there that, for some reason, pull at human heart strings in very singular ways. Specifically, these stories play, whether consciously or unconsciously, on the fact that every human being lives the same story, that we the human race are fundamentally made up of the same stuff, that there are some things that hold true for us all. These stories are myths.

Recently reading Robert Ray’s essay “The Thematic Paradigm,” in which he explores the idea that American films do not merely entertain, but reflect “fundamental patterns and contradictions in our society’s myths and values,” I wondered what a movie like The Dark Knight about our society. Ray says that there are two kinds of heroes in our movies. Firstly, there is the official hero, who is an outstanding citizen, upright, wise, and just. He is accepted in his community and usually has a stable professional and personal life. The second is the outlaw hero, who does not abide by the law, but instead makes his own rules for the good of others or himself. He is often daring, unreliable, and almost childlike. However, Ray points out, we usually cannot seem to choose between these two heroes, and instead merge them together into one character. He suggests that this is because America has always been ambivalent of the value of civilization. This ambivalence is revealed by the heroes of our movies, as, at the cinema, we play The King’s Speech in theatre 7 and Pirates of the Caribbean next door in theatre 8. We simply cannot choose whether to root for the “official hero”, such as King George VI or to root for the “outlaw hero,” such as Captain Jack Sparrow. The outlaw hero: brave, independent, and totally free, and the official hero: decent, just, and full of wisdom are in a continual tug-of-war with each other. On the one hand, the glamour and freedom of the outlaw hero are alluring to us. There’s a reason they’ve made four Pirates of the Caribbean movies; there is something so wonderfully tempting about Captain Jack Sparrow—he is friend to no one, feels indebted to no one, and considers only himself in every choice he makes. At the other extreme, however, what could be more heroic than George Bailey’s choice in It’s a Wonderful Life to stay home and run the Building and Loan to keep the town from going to ruins in the hands of Mr. Potter. And so the tugging rages on. In The Dark Knight this paradox of the official hero and the outlaw hero is evident in the characters of Batman and Harvey Dent, and the movie reveals a much about the ambivalence and yet absolute faith that our society has in civilization.

The Dark Knight joins this tug-of-war too, but what stopped me in my tracks, was that this duality is found not only within the film, but within the main characters. Bruce Wayne, as Batman, takes on this duality, which is the basis for entire movie. He is, in essence, both the official hero and the outlaw hero. By day, he is Bruce Wayne, Gotham City’s richest, most influential businessman, who owns close to half the city’s businesses. Like every businessman, Bruce Wayne wears a suit and tie, goes to meetings, and has his own secretary. He is highly regarded in the eyes of the city officials and is known for his philanthropy. After a fundraiser with Bruce Wayne, any politician won’t need another cent for his campaign. Fitting the bill of the official hero, Bruce Wayne is in a place of power in the city and is extremely smart with his resources and position. By night, though, this man dons the mask and armor of Batman, a secreted vigilante, who single-handedly put Gotham’s criminals behind bars, without aid or connection to Gotham’s police force. Truly, Batman himself is a lawbreaker, operating outside the rules of the common people. Even so, Gotham’s police force does not try to stop Batman, because, with crime flourishing in the city, they need Batman desperately. The incredible strength in Batman is not that he is lawless—he is not—but that he replaced Gotham’s laws with a law of his own. Because Gotham’s laws hold Batman back from bringing justice to the city, he must ignore them. Batman only has one rule: he will not kill. He must uphold this rule because he knows that when he breaks it, Batman loses his power. As his butler, Alfred, says, “He can make the choice that no one else can make—the right choice.” By holding to this law Batman makes himself more than a man. In the words of Henri Ducard, “But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely—a legend.” Batman inspires people; he brings them hope of justice. Gotham depends on Batman. It does not love him and it is not loyal to him, but it does depend on him. The genius of The Dark Knight is that the duality of the official hero and the outlaw hero in one is so blatant. Bruce Wayne struggles throughout the entire movie. On one side of the coin, Bruce Wayne wants nothing more than to be done with Batman and he does everything in his power, including helping to lock up the entire mob, to prepare Gotham to no longer need Batman. On the flip side, however, Bruce Wayne cannot give up Batman because Batman is his true identity, and it is Bruce Wayne that is the mask. Rachel sees this struggle in him when she writes in her letter, “When I told you that if Gotham no longer needed Batman we could be together, I meant it. But I'm not sure the day will come when you will no longer need Batman.” Batman holds a mythical position of this strange dichotomy of the melding of the official and outlaw hero.

In strong parallel to Batman, Harvey Dent is the secondary hero of The Dark Knight. Much more so than Batman, Harvey Dent is an official hero. He is the district attorney of Gotham city, has neatly combed blonde hair, and is going steady with the beautiful Rachel Dawes. He is known by the people as Gotham’s White Knight. Harvey Dent is a very likeable man who is smart, clever, good, and decent. Unlike Batman, he works with the police openly to fight crime, but is also very adept at it. Harvey Dent is, in many ways, similar to Batman, sharing a passion to fight crime, a symbolic image of justice in Gotham, and even feelings for the same woman. He is a brave man, explaining to Rachel, in one scene, that he’s far less scared of the mob than of the members of the Fire Brigade at his campaign fundraiser. In his first scene, during a court session, the criminal on trial pulls out a gun and points it at Harvey’s face. Without hesitation, Harvey knocks the gun out of the criminal’s hand and punches him in the nose. Totally unfazed, Harvey retorts that, “If you want to kill a public servant, I recommend you buy American.” From the start, we learn that there is a rebellious side to Harvey Dent. In this scene, he did not do the “responsible” thing and let the criminal escape, but instead, risks his own life and takes matters into his own hands. It isn’t until later in the movie that we discover Harvey’s reputation for having two different sides to his personality. Here comes that inescapable dichotomy. In addition to his nickname Gotham’s White Knight, Harvey has another nickname, which is far less pristine—Two Face. Suddenly, the official outlaw hero dichotomy is revealed. Although we never knew the exact reason Harvey earned himself this nickname, we know that he, just like Batman, has two very different sides. He is both the official hero and the outlaw hero.

To further entangle this hero paradox, it is interesting to examine the character of Batman and Harvey Dent a bit further. Ray says in “The Thematic Paradigm” that although America cannot choose between the official hero and the outlaw hero, we have a tendency to lean towards the outlaw hero. There is something completely enticing about the freedom and courage the outlaw hero brings, which are values that America itself is built on. Batman’s existence, this ideal of Bruce Wayne’s creation, fundamentally depends on Batman’s lawlessness, or in other words, on his outlaw-ish heroism. Just as Alfred reminds Bruce Wayne, as soon as Batman cows to the demands and laws of the society, Batman ceases to exist. Diametrically, Harvey Dent is the exact opposite; he cannot exist without the law. The moment he sets foot outside the law, he is corrupted. As Harvey Dent says at the start of the movie, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Fulfilling his own words when he tries to take justice into his own hands, he turns to murder and betrayal. Harvey kidnaps Gordon’s, his former partner, family and threatens to kill his them in the name of justice. Blaming Gordon for Rachel’s death, he claims that is only fair that Gordon share his pain. Without the law, Harvey Dent becomes another villain. That is why, at the end of the story, Batman is the true hero—the outlaw hero.

The zenith of the paradox is that after all is said and done, Harvey dead and the city on the brink of disaster, Batman too must fulfill Harvey Dent’s words. Batman shoulders the blame of Harvey Dent’s villainy and give up his title as Gotham’s hero. He becomes Gotham’s scapegoat and by “dying a hero”, saves the city. He receives no glory, no love, no admiration, yet that is not his place. Gotham depends on him. It is this story’s mythically paradoxical nature that makes me, every time since my first viewing, think to myself every time I watch The Dark Knight, “I know this story! I know this story!” I know it because I’ve heard the story many times before and because I know these heroes well. The Dark Knight is a blatant and brilliant picture of the tug-of-war between the official hero and the outlaw hero, between glory and humility, and between the dying and rising of a hero.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Grades Prevent Education

gold-stars-box-color

From the moment a child enters kindergarten, he is told that if he performs well, he will receive a gold star. The school system keeps on giving “gold stars” all through grade school, high school, college, but the gold stars become grades. Ironically, grades destroy children’s innate love of learning, which is the very opposite of what they’re supposed to do. By giving grades, adults communicate to children that since they must get a bribe for learning, it must be something that they don’t want to do. Although this love of learning is natural to all children, it takes only a year or two for the grading system to be drilled into a child’s mind. It is embedded in students’ minds, from the time they are children that the goal of learning is to gain a good grade, not to learn. Education should be a way of exploring what a person feels about the things he sees and experiences, so that he can form ideas about what he believes. The purpose of education is to teach students to think for themselves, not so they can earn a good grade, but so that they can understand, discuss with, and love others better. Giving grades in school completely prevents true education. With a system of education that is so strongly set in our society, many people assume that grading is the best or only option available today. The two most common questions people have about reforming this system are, firstly, why are grades unnecessary and detrimental to students’ motivation and, secondly, what would a reformed system look like, and more specifically, how would teachers track students’ progress and how would colleges conduct admissions.

Are gold stars necessary? Can students be motivated to learn without the promise of a reward? In Tom Sawyer, Tom tricks the other children into doing his chores for him by making them believe that the chore is an honor and demanding payment for doing it. The children assume that if they must pay to do it, it must be what they want to do. This concept goes the other direction, too. If a person is being paid for doing something, then he doesn’t want to do it. If we must give a student a reward—a grade—they must be doing something they wouldn’t without the reward. This discussion is one of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Simon A. Lei describes these two temperaments as follows, “Intrinsically motivated individuals have been able to develop high regards for learning various types of course information without the inclusion of external rewards of reinforcements. In contrast, extrinsically motivated individuals rely solely on rewards and desirable results to act as a catalyst for their motivation” (153). In his essay, Lei maintains that intrinsically motivated students work on academic tasks because they enjoy them, and not explicitly because of a promised reward, but that extrinsically motivated students will often not complete an academic task, regardless of their competency, if there are no incentives present (154). Many experiments have been performed to explore the differences between these two motivations. One of these experiments, done by Susan Harter, tested the hypothesis that children receive the most pleasure from optimally challenging tasks by giving a group of sixth graders were given four difficulty problems of differing complexity. Half of the group was instructed that the task was a school assignment which would receive a letter grade and half or the group was instructed that the task was a game. The children who viewed the task as a game chose and showed a preference for optimally challenging problem. On the other hand, the group who viewed the task as an academic assignment chose significantly easier problems. These children respond below their optimal level, and also exhibited less pleasure and verbalized more anxiety. Harter states that the findings within the study can be interpreted within the cognitive-evaluation theory, which argues that extrinsic rewards can negatively affect intrinsic motivation by decreasing a student’s sense of self-determination and competence (788). Clearly, grades are not only unnecessary for motivating students, but detrimental to students’ educations.


If grades were not given out in school, how would teachers track the progress of their students? In schools today, grades are the scale which students are measured by. Without grades, determining if a student should continue on to the next course would become a more difficult matter and would put much more pressure on teachers to know their students, their students’ work, and their students’ progress in the class. Many concerns would arise such as would a student pass a class only if they had a theoretically ‘A’ involvement in the class and wouldn’t every teacher regard a persons’ work differently? With much concern, people argue that students who were completely unqualified to pass courses could be passing left and right. Let us consider two things, however. First, with our present grading system, there are multitudes of unqualified students passing courses, which either have not effectively tested their mastery of a subject or have allowed them to cheat the system in many ways. Illustrating this point to perfection, hundreds of high school students enter college composition classes every year without the basic knowledge of how to use commas correctly, regardless of the fact that they have taken twelve years of English and grammar courses. The second essential consideration is to ask why a student should be allowed to pass a course with anything less than an ‘A’ grade or complete mastery of the skill.


If the student has not accomplished the course work to the teacher’s satisfaction—if a student can further improve, why should they continue? The point of education is not ability compared to others, but mastery of a skill. There are ways for teachers to keep track of their students other than grades. These ways are much more time-consuming and more complicated, yet altogether more effective. Demanding much greater commitment from teachers, marking progress without grades would consist of teachers knowing their students personally, letting go of control over grading students’ performance, and spending time giving constructive criticism in the form of notes or a conference on how a student is doing. Necessarily, is would demand that students care about the subjects they are learning—not care about the grade they would be receiving, but the knowledge they take in. This reformed system would mean a reconstruction of the school system from kindergarten forward. The truth is that true education is not easy because it necessitates the care and commitment of all involved.


If grades were not distributed, there would be a completely different system for college admissions. The system could conceivably consist of three different things. First off, it would consist of an extremely detailed portfolio of essays written by various teachers commenting on the particular student’s abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, which would resemble a letter of recommendation, except far more honest and revealing. The student would also write an essay about himself and his educational experience explaining such things as what subjects were most important to him and why he wants to attend college. The third section of the college admission would be an interview between a college representative and the student that would give time for any remaining questions the college might have for the student and allow the college to get a feel for the kind of person they’re admitting. Alfie Kohn elaborates on grades by explaining that “Contrary to popular belief, however, admissions officers at the best universities are not eighty-year-old fuddy-duddies, peering over their spectacles and muttering about “highly irregular” applications.” He elaborates that often these people are just a few years out of college themselves, and, after hundreds of identical applications from average good students, they’re refreshed to look at something unconventional (110). Today, the most renowned schools, including Harvard and Yale, applications demand not only a high ACT or SAT score, but also a testimony from two teachers and an essay written by the student. These colleges know that a grade point average is not enough. Harvard’s admissions page states:


Applicants can distinguish themselves for admission in a number of ways. Some show unusual academic promise through experience or achievements in study or research. Many are “well rounded” and have contributed in various ways to the lives of their schools or communities. Others are “well lopsided” with demonstrated excellence in a particular endeavor—academic extracurricular or otherwise. Still others bring perspectives formed by unusual personal circumstances or experiences. Academic accomplishment in high school is important, but we also seek people with enthusiasm, creativity and strength of character. Most admitted students rank in the top 10–15 percent of their graduating classes, having taken the most rigorous secondary school curriculum available to them (“Applying to Harvard”).


Certain students today do have “highly irregular” applications, most specifically homeschooled students. Commenting on this phenomenon, Kohn says, “Given that the most selective colleges have been known to accept home-schooled children who have applicants would be rejected if, instead of the usual transcript, their schools sent along several thoughtful qualitative assessments from some of the students’ teachers, together with a form letter explaining cultivate intrinsic motivation rather than a performance orientation. Indeed, admission officers for two of the country’s most prestigious universities confirm that they do receive, and seriously consider, applications that contain no grades” (110). This individual reformed and grade-detox system for college admissions would succeed in determining the brilliant students suited to each school.

In schools across the nation today, grades are thwarting true education, which has been diminished to a counterfeit puppet show of true education. Contrary to widespread belief, education does not depend on grades. Students can be motivated without grades, teachers can track progress without grades, and colleges can accept applicants without grades. So why do grades still exist? Because, ridding the education system of grades would not be a systematic piece-meal restructuring, but a radical reformation in which everything that people take for granted in schools—grades, extra credit, pop quizzes—all of these which contradict education, would be banished in one fell swoop. It would utterly change the mindset of students and professors, by creating an environment that encourages a love of learning and exploring, rather than a system that promotes performing and accomplishing the minimum. This reformation would change this country’s culture more than almost any other decision possible, and that is a terrifying though. Change is always terrifying, especially when the change calls for exchange of easily followed rules for more ephemeral and subjective methods, as is the case with the exchange of grades for specific feedback and intrinsic motivation. Yet this change would benefit the school system incomparably. Most importantly, without grades students would learn to think for themselves, would learn to learn for the sake of learning, and would learn to become self-motivated people, who are determined to discover the world around them for themselves. Grades keep students in chains, but with reform they can be free.

Works Cited
“Applying to Harvard.” Harvard.edu. Harvard College. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.

Boggiano, Ann K., and Diane N. Ruble.
“Competence and the Over Justification Effect: A Developmental Study.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37.9 (1979): 1462-1468. PsycARTICLES. EBSCO. Web 16 Oct. 2011.

Harter, Susan. “Pleasure Derived from Challenge and the Effects of Receiving Grades on Children’s Difficulty Level Choices.” Child Development 49 (1978): 788-799. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.

Kohn, Alfie. Punished by Rewards. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.

Lei, Simon A. “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Evaluation Benefits and Drawbacks from College Instructors’ Perspectives.” Journal of Instructional Psychology 37.2 (2010): 153-160. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Great Society

JohnsonPlaying shadow to Mr. Celebrity president for two and a half years, Lyndon Johnson knew he would have to establish an iconic administration all his own after Kennedy’s unforgettable assassination. Following up such a man as Kennedy would not be easy, as he was adored by the public. Johnson got the presidency by default, as opposed to by the people’s vote. Johnson had never possessed the charisma or media-friendly personality that Kennedy had been known for. Yet, Johnson was determined to wield his power over America, which had so long been stifled by his background position during Kennedy’s fruitful years in office. Although he lacked Kennedy’s silver-screen looks and personality, Johnson was a master at wheedle his position, whether by flattery, persuasion, or threats.

Johnson both urged for passage of legislation that had been proposed by Kennedy’s administration and for much grander proposals of his own, concentrating namely on three domestic issues: tax cutting, civil rights, and economic inequality. It turned out that Kennedy’s death was very beneficial to Johnson in some regards. Johnson pressed congress to respect Kennedy’s last wishes by passing the legislation he had fought for in the last months of his life. By 1964, Johnson obtained the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in July 1964. Although, the act surely would have been passed eventually, the emotional pressure placed on the congress by Johnson quickly made up their minds on the case. Not only this, but between 1964 and 1965, nearly 200 new laws were passed. Although he used Kennedy’s assassination as sure-footed leverage, Johnson also made clear that it was time to close the New Frontier. He forged a new policy and called it the Great Society. He said that it was time for America, “to build a great society, a place where the meaning of man's life matches the marvels of man's labor." Johnson wanted a society where things were “fair” and where no person was very poor, and so he pushed for welfare. Johnson also cared a lot about the image of the nation. Poor people were distasteful; they made a nation look bad. Similarly, the conflict of the Civil Rights Movement made America look divided and unorganized, and so he pushed for Civil Rights. On the other hand, Johnson believed that tax cuts would promote huge growth in the economy, and so he pushed for tax cuts. Many of Johnson’s policies, such as Medicaid, Medicare, and social security reflected his need to control America’s image as an unrelentingly anti-communist, economically unprecedented world power. However, the measures Johnson took to do this went awfully far. 

When Johnson took office immediately after Kennedy’s assassination, he was hesitant to get highly involved in the war in Southeast Asia, but he feared that his associates might find him a pushover towards communism. This was one thing he couldn’t have, so when Johnson gained the presidency, he sought to deepen the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. This was a step into quicksand, and getting out would take America twenty-five years. The war stretched on, yet even after Johnson felt sure that the U.S. would not be able to preserve an anti-communist in South Vietnam, he was torn over the consequences that would occur from a U.S. pullout and hestitated. This epoch would brought the death of over 58,000 Americans and two million Vietnamese. All this for one man’s reputation.

The Vietnam War was both our longest and our most controversial war. If you ask most people today why we fought the war, they will shake their heads in confusion. We lost millions of lives for absolutely no reason. Lyndon Johnson once said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a good carpenter to build one.” What he didn’t realize is that this is exactly what he did in Vietnam—he kicked down a barn. Because of the Vietnam War, Johnson lost lives, resources, and the trust of his people. He couldn’t even face another presidency and determined not to run again in 1968. It seems that Johnson’s idea of a “Great Society” turned against him, for America was far from this ideal at the end of the Vietnam War. Truly, it was not a Great Society.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mr. Celebrity President

jackie kennedy John F KennedyJohn F. Kennedy served one of the shortest terms of any of the presidents of the United States, yet he holds as one of the American people’s favorite presidents. Why did this man who served only two short years loom so large in the hearts of the country? John F. Kennedy—Jack—as he was usually called, grew up the son a multi-millionaire business man in Brookline, Massachusetts. With ambitious dreams for each of their nine children, Jack’s parents urged him to make something of himself, especially in the academic realm. JFK was an extremely driven person.

Paradoxically, JFK was one of the most unique presidents and yet one of the most traditionally “American” presidents. He was a picture of “newness”, as both the youngest man and the first Catholic president to be elected. He captured the attention of the public with his tanned good looks, including a head full of hair, his snappy dressing, and his beautiful wife. The baby boom was slowing down, yet the idolized images of a healthy-wealthy family of the 1950s were still flourishing, and JFK, his wife Jackie, and their two children were the epitome of this image. Jackie Kennedy embodied the decade’s values for women; she was put together, dressed in French-designed dresses, and supported her husband tirelessly in his career. Achieving celebrity status that greatly contrasted his predecessors in the presidential office, JFK also possessed a mysterious and enchanting side. He was known to have strong connections to the media and to the glamorous celebrities in Hollywood. Still today, rumors of an affair with Marilyn Monroe are commonly believed to be true. The president was known for mixing with many lovely ladies other than his wife. As well as his appeal of newness, JFK also appealed to people because of his traditional American values. As the son of an influential businessman, and the grandson of two extremely influential Boston businessmen, JFK’s heritage was grounded steadfastly in the American culture. He attended Harvard University, the U.S.’s first college, which was built in 1636. In addition, JKF staunchly opposed Communism, which was the gripping fear of the 1950s, and which the nation had little forgotten. People felt that they could trust this through-and-through American. Balanced with charm, intellect, and American values, JFK won the trust and admiration of America.

Tremendously skilled, JFK possessed the power to talk to people. America listened. JFK was extremely eloquent and was the third president to use television to speak to the public. His short yet memorable sayings are what he is remembered by today, namely, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” JFK was the first president to effectively use the medium of television to speak directly to the American people. This phenomenon made the people listen, and JFK made them listen.  When he appeared on television, he strategically wore a dark blue suit, so that he would show up clearly on the black and white screen, which was in direct contrast to Nixon’s dull gray suit. Former Senator, Bob Dole recalled in a PBS interview, “I was listening to it on the radio coming into Lincoln, Kansas, and I thought Nixon was doing a great job.  Then I saw the TV clips the next morning, and he ... didn't look well. Kennedy was young and articulate, and ... wiped him out.” Next to Nixon, JFK was a picture youthful health. Most importantly, it wasn’t only what JFK communicated to the people, but how he communicated.

Even JFK’s political stances spoke of this exciting newness, with his most famous political catch-line, “The New Frontier.” He also wanted to confront the demons of the past like poverty, war, and ignorance in order to provide for a brighter future.  This included his strong push for the civil rights movement.

Shockingly, only two years into office, JFK was assassinated. No single other event could have made him more famous then he was in his lifetime. His death transported him from celebrity status to martyr status. Just as in his lifetime, television played a great role in this. His assassination was shown in homes all over the country.  Even the image of Jackie’s bloodstained pink dress has become iconic to America. Because many people watched the assignation and saw pictures of the murder scene, the president’s death became very real to them. It’s very difficult to hate a man who’s been unjustly murdered. With flamboyant youthfulness, swirling myths, and a dramatic assassination, JFK holds the interest of America still today. JFK had the whole package; he was our celebrity president.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Abortion is Harmful

Abortion is harmful in every instance.  Whether it is legal or in an early stage of the pregnancy, it harms the women in physical, mental, and spiritual ways, and it does not help restore rape victims back to their former way of life, and it also kills helpless unborn babies. In many instances, people state that there are logical reasons to have an abortion, but all the reasons that are given, including that they are too poor to have another child can easily be countered with options that do not produce death. For example a poor woman that is pregnant can easily give her child up for adoption, which would mean giving different couple the chance to enjoy and love the life that she has created. A woman without the means to support a family should also have thought twice then before taking part in the activity that is specifically designed to produce children. An abortion disregards a gift that was given to a man and a woman.

The first reason abortion should be illegal is that it harms women. Leslie Carbone says in her essay “Abortion Harms Women,” that studies have shown that women who have an abortion are three times more likely to commit suicide than the general population of America and six times more likely to commit suicide than women who have given birth to babies (165). In most cases, women admit that they think about their unborn child daily and grieve on every birthday that might have been if they had not killed their child, and when they see other women with children they are reminded of their children would have been if they had not taken the life of their baby. (Carbone 165)  Abortion also harms women physically. Many mothers have become infertile, very sick, or even died from the abortion surgery.  There is also a new found link between abortion and breast cancer. When carrying a baby a mother has hormones that are released in her body so that she can produce milk and a short time before she gives birth these hormones fully develop and mature so that her body can take care of the child. However when a woman then has an abortion, these hormones do not reach their last “maturing” stage and therefore can be very dangerous to the woman and increase her chance of breast cancer or even initiate breast cancer (Carbone 166). Some say since abortion clinics are now legal, abortions are safer. However, all it has done is allow doctors who performed illegal unsafe abortions in the past, the ability to perform legal unsafe abortions.

One prevalent argument for abortion is that if a female is raped she should be allowed to have an abortion. One of the most horrible things that the pro-abortion advocates have achieved is in convincing people that the babies of rape victims are unwanted and somehow disgusting because of the origin of their conception. People are often deceived into thinking that an abortion will erase the memory of being raped or that a baby will be a daily reminder of a horrible event in the victims’ lives.  William Norman Grigg reports in his essay “Rape Does Not Justify Abortion,” that studies have shown, however, that the women who have had an abortion after being raped have even more psychological problems, some of which they never recover from because of the traumatic experiences of both rape and abortion (136). Is it better to choose an abortion over adoption? No. Even though a girl may still have to carry a baby for nine months a human life is still the one natural and good thing that comes from rape. Aborting a baby that was conceived by rape simply perverts the unnatural situation even further. Rape is a terrible thing, but a baby is still a gift no matter what the circumstances.

The last and most important problem with abortion is that it kills people. When a sperm meets an egg the immediate result is fertilization. Neither a sperm nor an egg is considered a living organism, because they cannot sustain life and they do not grow. However the moment the sperm comes in contact egg to fertilize it, the embryo is a living organism, because a fertilized egg is a living growing organism (Gargaro 37).  Abortion is genocide. Every time a woman has an abortion she is murdering her baby, her own flesh and blood. People say that a baby in the womb is just a part of the mother and not a separate being, however even inside the womb a baby has its own blood type. If the mother’s blood mixes with the baby’s blood, the baby dies. How then can we say that a baby is not a human being? It is often said that abortion is not genocide because genocide is a “hate crime,” and abortion clinics do not dislike babies--they just have the mother’s best interests in mind. However according to Gregg Cunningham in his essay “Abortion is Genocid,e” the fact that abortion clinics do not dislike babies does not seem to be the case with clinics of South Dakota and Minnesota which have published the newspaper ad: “BABIES ARE LOUD, SMELLY, AND EXPENSIVE, UNLESS YOU WANT ONE. 1-800-230-PLAN”(57).  This is obviously a degrading statement about babies. In some states contradictorily, if a pregnant mother is killed in a car crash, the person who initiated the crash is charged with two deaths, but these states also declare that babies are not people. If a woman doesn’t want her baby then a woman that is pregnant can easily give her child up for adoption, which would mean giving different couple the chance to enjoy and love the person that she has created.

Abortion is unnatural and harmful to both women and babies. The American culture has come to undervalue life. If abortion is allowed to go on like this, it will make a gateway that might make other disgusting crimes seem less sinister, acceptable, or even encouraged. As explained above, babies are humans from the moment of conception, and to take the life of a human is wrong and repulsive. The line is too fine to say when a collection of cells is actually a baby or not; therefore, a baby is a human from the moment of conception. The abortion clinics also do not inform women about the consequences or effects of having an abortion which often causes great regret in a woman’s life. The abortion clinics also wrongly convince rape victims that their children will be a horrible reminder rather than a beautiful little baby that was created under unfortunate circumstances. In all, women need to be warned before they are undervalued or harmed by the severe effects of abortion.


Works Cited

Carbone, Leslie. “Abortion Harms Women.” Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Mary E. Williams.
San Diego: Greenhaven press, Inc., 2002. 164-168. Print

Cuningham, Gregg. “Abortion is a Form of Genocide.” Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Mary E.
Williams. San Diego: Greenhaven press, Inc., 2002. 54-57. Print

Gargaro C. Carolyn. “Abortion Violates Human Rights.”  Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Mary E.
Williams. San Diego: Greenhaven press, Inc., 2002. 36-44. Print

Grigg, William Norman. “Rape Does Not Justify Abortion.” Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Mary E.
Williams. San Diego: Greenhaven press, Inc., 2002. 135-141. Print

Monday, November 14, 2011

Portrait of a Male Nurse

SONY DSC                       Jerked from my own thoughts, I suddenly looked up and asked, “Hey, Dad, what’s the best choice you made when you were young?” Without a pause, he answered me, “I joined the Air Force” and laughed at himself a bit. Coming from my father, the answer I expected was a long-drawn out-pondering-each-side-and-not-making-judgments-quickly sort of an answer. I was surprised at his rare succinctness.  When reflecting on it later, I realized how connected my dad is to the Uniformed Services of America, and how his partnership with them has been a foothold in our family all of my life and has guided my dad in many of the important choices that he’s made in his life.

Kevin Elker was an eighteen year old boy from Moorhead, Minnesota with a high school diploma in one hand and few options ahead of him. He determined that he wanted to go to college, but his family was not well-off, and he knew that he would have to earn his own way. Like many teenagers, the obvious choice was to join the army, which offered to repay on his school loans. Kevin had always been a quirky person, and when he joined the army he told them that he had really enjoyed cooking in home economics class, so they appointed him as a cook. He was also a cook at a pancake house in town and worked his first nursing home job. After a year of hard work, Kevin packed up and made the short journey to Bemidji, MN, to study at Oak Hills Bible College, a tiny private school, where Kevin received an associate’s degree in Biblical studies. He told me that at the time he wanted to learn about what he believed, and he did—some, but in some ways, more importantly, he confided in me that he learned how to discuss things with people, understanding their thoughts about the world and how to explain your own thoughts to others. Funny enough, when he was studying meticulously for his nursing degree at Winona State University, one of his professors asked him in amazement after a long class, “Kevin, where did you learn to think like this?” My father answered candidly, “At Bible College, Professor."

After three years of hard studying in Winona, Kevin and his wife, Kristi, hopped into the car on graduation day and drove north, back to Bemidji.  Kevin strove determinedly in the winter wasteland of Bemidji, but when talking to me, he reminisced about his discouragement and discontent with his job as a nurse at the local hospital. However, several glorious things did happen during this time—the birth of his two children, Mackenzie in 1995 and Isaak in 1996.

Two and a half years later, the armed forces reentered his life, offering a new chance as a nurse in Dayton, Ohio. He took a leap, packed up his small family, and turned towards a new chapter of life. Kevin and his family lived on Air Force base housing, a grouping of small disheveled townhouses which formed close-knit, if very temporal, communities of people from many different races, jobs, and walks of life. Kevin explained a bit about the wonderful atmosphere that the Air Force can foster, saying, “In the Air Force, there are people of all different races and religions, yet people first and foremost consider themselves to be ‘army people.’ Because of this people view each other differently and put many of their personal prejudices aside.” During this time, Kevin met and worked with many different kinds of people, expanding his experience with people greatly. Although He lived in Ohio for only five years, he received two promotions, advancing from second lieutenant to first lieutenant and then again from first lieutenant to captain. Although Kevin’s time in Ohio was very valuable, it was not a permanent way to live. Kevin and his family made many close friends, but people never stayed put for long in the Air Force, and after five years he decided to move back to Minnesota where his family lived. The Air Force had helped him to make great strides in his career and would continue to do so back in Minnesota, if in an absolutely unexpected way.

When Kevin returned to Minnesota, settling in Rochester, a city known nationwide for it medical community, he did not apply for a job at the renowned Mayo Hospital. Nor did he take a job at St. Mary’s Clinic or Olmsted Medical Center. My father took a job at the prison.

Kevin’s current job, which is still a branch of the armed forces, The Uniformed Public Health Services, as a Wound Care Specialist at the Federal Medical Center, though a far departure from his other jobs at nursing homes and in care units, was perfectly suited to him. He has always had a great sense of humor, which he uses daily when dealing with difficult patients. My father said his favorite part of being a nurse is that, “It’s a wonderful blend of science and compassion.” At the prison, this takes on a whole new meaning. Many times, humor is his compassion. One of his most common responses to unresponsive patients is, “I’m not your mama.” Hardly a week goes by where a conflict is not resolved by singing some crazy song, such as “You just call, and I’ll be there...” Kevin’s methods are far from traditional, and yet strangely effective. The convicts always know what is expected.  Although his job has its quirks, it is also very rewarding to see a patient, who has had a very destructive diabetic foot ulcer or a pressure ulcer, heal after a long, grueling treatment.

Kevin has worked extremely hard to get to his current position, studying for three years in graduate school before receiving his Master’s Degree of Science in nursing as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. Because of his work in this area, he gained the expertise to do research in the field, which he has been able to apply to his practice. Kevin is definitely a man interested in learning more about his field, whether or not he’s studying for graduate school or doing personal research. His focus as a nurse is to help his patients to heal and help his staff to learn to do their job better. Most importantly, he knows that he doesn’t have all of the answers and keeps pushing for improvement at the Federal Medical Center, by communication clearly with those around him, sometimes firmly, sometimes humorously, but always with compassion, and this is what makes him, in his own humorous words, a priceless “male nurse.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Unshackled

Come with me back in time two-hundred years. We’re standing on a busy cobble-stone street in Maryland.  Do you see the little black boy kneeling on the pavement, persuading some poor white children to teach him to read a few words in exchange for bread? Imagine again the boy in his master’s library, sneaking to read a forbidden book. Now watch him with his fellow slaves, laboring through the alphabet, risking punishment. Will you whisper in his ear, “You’re wasting your time”? Years pass, and now you lean over his shoulder to see the papers of a free man in his hand—a confident and literate free man. This former slave is Frederick Douglass, one of the first renowned African American speakers and writers.

It’s so tempting to take for granted the things that we have never been denied. Education is one of those things. Today, people forget that education is a privilege, not a prison. True education teaches students to think for themselves and to communicate those thoughts. If the purpose of education were only to get a diploma or degree, it would be a waste of time and money, but education isn’t a stamp on paper; it’s a pathway to freedom, opening our eyes to the world around us, to goodness, beauty, and change and also to poverty, injustice, and death. Unshackled from ignorance, we possess the power to improve our communities and, together, our world. Thankfully, education is within our reach today. I plan to seize it with gusto!  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Artists vs. McCarthyism

The Red Scare was on the rise! After World War II, the anti-communist sentiments were raging as a political stance known as McCarthyism, after Joseph McCarthy, led the charge. McCarthyism was first described as the widespread sentiment of anti-communism in the United States during the late 1940s through the 1950s, but today it has come to mean generally the practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion without sufficient evidence. During a span of about fifteen years, hundreds of innocent people were blacklisted. Some were imprisoned, while others were suspended from their work. One of the only valuable results that came from the McCarthyism was the influence it had on some of the great artists of the day, who, inspired by the accusations made against them and their fellow artists, created significant works that are still held in high regard today.

One government organization spurred on greatly by McCarthyism was the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was established in 1937 for the purpose of investigating subversive and un-American activities. During the 1950s, HUAC began an investigation into the Hollywood motion pictures industry, and created a blacklist of 320 people, including geniuses such as Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, and Arthur Miller, who were suspended from their jobs, some for ten years. In the case of these three artists, some good did come of this terribly frustrating and unjustified act against them. Inspired by the events caused by McCarthyism, their art reflects vividly the experiences they had.

In September 1947, Charlie Chaplin was summoned to appear before the HUAC. Little did he know that the FBI had a 1,900 page file on his political activities. When getting ready to return from a stay in London in 1952, he found that his entry permit had been revoked, and that he had been denied the right to live in the United States. Chaplin wrote in his autobiography, “My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non-conformist. Although I am not a communist I refused to fall in line by hating them." He responded to the blacklist by making the film A King in New York, a satire starring Chaplin as a deposed king of “Estrovia” who flees to America where he is persecuted by McCarthy style investigations. Unsurprisingly, the film was not released in the U.S. It wasn’t until 1959, when the accusations were lifted, that the film was released to the American public.

On June 22, 1950, a pamphlet called Red Channels was published with the names of 151 writers, director, and performers whom they claimed had taken part in subversive activities before the Second World War. Criticized for his work in the 1930s with Marc Bliztstein, a Marxist composer, on The Cradle Will Rock, Orson Welles’s name was on in the list. He didn’t make another movie until 1958.

Although Arthur Miller, like Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles, was blacklisted by the HUAC, this did not stop his plays from being performed, since Broadway, in contrast to Hollywood, did not impose the blacklist. Miller was distressed to see his friends’ careers being rent apart by the accusations of communist involvement, especially when friends betrayed information about other friends.  He determined to write a play based on these events. At the time, Miller was reading The Devil in Massachusetts, a book about the Salem Witch Hunts of 1692, which brought to his attention the many similarities between the Salem Witch Hunts and the Red Scare—or the Communist Witch Hunts. Out of this idea was born The Crucible. Because of its background, the play was not well received. Miller reminisced years later, “"I have never been surprised by the New York reception of a play. . .What I had not quite bargained for, however, was the hostility in the New York audience as the theme of the play was revealed; an invisible sheet of ice formed over their heads, thick enough to skate on. In the lobby at the end, people with whom I had some fairly close professional acquaintanceships passed me by as though I were invisible." Ironically, The Crucible still won the Tony Award at the end of the year and is still performed all of over the world today.

Overall McCarthyism brought the Red Scare only more fear, injustice, and chaos, but there were a few glimmers of light that came from it. The work of Chaplin was surely affected by the McCarthyism, when his career in America was put on a temporary halt, after he was accused of subversive activities. Similarly the work of Arthur Miller, namely The Crucible, might never have been accomplished if it had not been for the McCarthyism blacklisting. If nothing else came from the ridiculous, inadequate, and unjust measures taken during the Red Scare, at least we gained a few great works of art from these artists and others like them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What’s a Woman?

Deborah Tannen suggest in her essay that there is no unmarked woman. Women cannot escape the judgments and classifications made on their sex. Although Tannen herself is not a feminist, I feel that many feminists share this frustration about the marked woman. I wanted to respond towards feminists and their relation to this particular topic.
I have no problem with the view that a woman’s role is in the home. I do not believe that this is an oppressive view. Women should have the freedom to vote and have the career that they choose, but it cannot be denied that a woman’s role traditionally is as mother, and women are naturally endowed with nurturing and comforting gifts. Women’s bodies are built for having children. Men can’t have children. That’s the woman’s job. Not all women are meant to be mothers, yet as women, they bear a collective responsibility and joy. There are obvious differences between men and women, both physically and emotionally. I find it silly that feminists try to deny this. Of course, as a woman, I think that women should be treated fairly, but I still understand that men and women are different. I think it’s far more offensive to say to women that they are exactly the same as men.
With that being said, I feel that a certain view of women has developed over the last few decades especially. So often today, women are viewed as packages—they are viewed solely by their appearances. Men can pick out their preferred prettily-colored boxes conveniently, just as they pick out a new car. As Tannen says in her essay, there is no existing hair style or footwear for a woman that is unmarked—that is free of attached assumptions and symbols. Ever heard a man say that he has “a thing for blondes?” At a glance, people make assumptions about women according to their hairstyles, makeup, and clothing. These objects have become chains for women, and the media and consumer market trains them to willingly submit. Will women ever be unmarked? I feel as though a lot of it has to with women who feel that they have to be different than other women, to be attractive or to find satisfaction. Perhaps this issue is born because women aren’t finding satisfaction in their roles in life whether that is as wife and mother or doctor or chef.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hattie Bush: Joining the Ranks of Rosie the Riveter

Just as the roaring twenties rolled around the corner, my great-grandmother, Hattie Simmons Bush arrived in the world on May 10, 1922. Growing up the middle child of nine children, Hattie was an easy going girl, who worked hard and played harder. She grew up on a farm in Pisgah, Iowa, where her family raised sheep, pigs, and cows. When Hattie was small, she and her older sister, Delores, loved to ride their pony, Dixie, who had a crippled foot, but still gave the girls plenty of excitement. Before Christmas, they would go out to the pasture and pick out a tree, which they would decorate with candles.

Hattie graduated with a class of eighteen students from Pisgah High School in 1940—one year before the United States joined the war—with aspirations of becoming a hair stylist. The next year, while she was attending beauty school in Sioux City, Iowa, she met Frank Bush at a social dance in town. Before the year was out, they were planning to get married. However, when tragedy struck at Pearl Harbor and the United States jumped headlong into World War II, Frank was drafted into the Army Air Force Ground Troops and sent to California to the Air Base in the mountains near Victorville.

Loathe to be separated from her newly found beau, Hattie packed her bags and made the long trek to California to live with her aunt. In Victorville, Hattie met Joellen and decided to move out of her aunt’s house and rent an apartment with her new friend.  Not long after, Joellen informed Hattie of a job opening at an airplane factory. When I asked my grandmother why she chose this job, she answered with a laugh, “Well, I had to support myself!” Hattie and Joellen worked there for good wages, in a group of women assigned to put parts on the lower section of the airplanes. Because many men were drafted into the army, there were many opportunities for women to acquire jobs that were usually reserved for men. Who would imagine that twenty-year old girl from a small farm in Iowa, who had graduated from high school only two years before, would be in California helping to build airplanes?

Too soon, news came that Frank was to be deployed to England were he would be stationed at an Army Air Force base. Before he flew out, Frank and Hattie were married in January of 1944. They made their vows before a priest in the chapel on Sheppard Army Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, a decidedly non-frilly affair, with only one other friend of Frank’s present and without any wedding dress or veil. My great-grandmother reminisced that she wasn’t disappointed by the ceremony, but was simply ecstatic to be married before Frank left. It would be two years before she saw him again.

The newly-named Mrs. Hattie Bush moved back to Iowa, and because of her experience at the factory in California, was lucky to get a job working at another airplane factory in Sergent Bluff. She passed the time while Frank was in England by keeping busy. She still went to dances with her girlfriends, where there were plenty of soldiers to dance with. Hattie also went to the movies, although she was always disgruntled that the films were so often about the war that she was trying so hard to forget. She worked hard to support herself while Frank was away and waited impatiently for his return. Like many women, she waited for news of the war’s end, listening closely to her radio and watching every headline. When the news arrived in September, 1945, Hattie was overjoyed. It wouldn’t be long before her husband, Frank, would be home, and they could begin their marriage together, unfettered by war any longer.

The course of my great-grandmother’s life was significantly altered by World War II. If America had never joined the war, Hattie almost surely would never have moved to California, worked in an airplane factory, or been married on an Army Air Force Base, but like so many women of the 1940s, she established her independence during the war by joining the forces of “Rosie the Riveter.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

Teacher of Imagination


As my mother turned from her digital scrapbooking to answer my question, she looked around the room, which had poetry on the walls, important sayings on the bulletin board, pictures, a feather theatre mask, and witty postcards, and thought over my question, “What’s something interesting about you mom?” before she answered with, “I guess I like to be creative!”
          
I decided to interview my mother because she is one of the most interesting people I know. One thing about my mother is that she loves to write. Actually she loves anything and everything that takes imagination to enjoy. When I wake up in the morning, she is oftentimes working on some project on her computer, and when I go to bed at about midnight, she is usually downstairs working on some other creative hobby. She has two main creative periods in her life: her creative hobbies as a youth and her present imaginative projects as a stay at home mom of two children.
            
When she was a small child, my mother’s favorite activity was arts and crafts. While she explained to me about what she did on Valentine’s Day, one of her favorite days of third grade, her eyes lit up as she told me what she did that day. She woke up to walk two blocks to the Harney Elementary, where she made a Valentine’s box by covering a shoe box with construction paper and making little tissue paper flowers and little pink and red hearts to cover the box with, and when she was done with her Valentine masterpiece,  she chose her favorite glitter glue and wrote her name in huge sprawling letters. So even as a young kid, my mother has always had a passion for expressing herself with the things she can make.  As a freshman in high school,  my mother decided to attempt theater as one more way to enjoy her love for being creative. She explained that the first play she auditioned for was the musical The Wizard of Oz, and she grinned to herself as she told me that loved dressing up in her green munchkin outfit and singing in a high pitched, squeaky voice as the munchkins welcomed Dorothy to their world. Auditioning for Harvey in her senior year, my mother then experienced her favorite part in a play when she received the part of Myrtle Mae, who is the spoiled niece of Elwood P. Dowd the main character in the play. She finally found a thing that she most passionately enjoyed doing while she was attending Winona State University to become an English major. This thing was poetry. From then on she was writing poetry in her free time and even began to present it at poetry readings on and off campus, and she got some of her poems published in a small poetry magazine. She then told me then began to tell me about one of her most exciting nights as a student at Winona State was being asked by the English department faculty to introduce Maya Angelou, author of the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and future poet laureate of President Bill Clinton.  Before my mother introduced Ms. Angelou, she met her backstage and visited with her briefly.   Then when she left Winona and became a mother, her creative hobbies became more private.
            
One of her new hobbies became scrapbooking. She loved and still loves to preserve and show other people her family and their favorite memories. When she moved to Dayton, Ohio in 1997, she was the happy wife of an Air Force nurse and the mother of a two year old, my sister, and a one year old, me.  From then on, all of her creative juices were put towards teaching her kids to be imaginative. Whether it meant making Halloween costumes for her kids, building with Legos, or decorating eggs on Easter, she loved to do fun, artistic things with her two children, and she still does. Four years ago she also found a new hobby—blogging. In the last few years her thoughts, her feelings, her desires, and her experiences have made it on to her blog. Her face then lit up as she told me she found a way to print her blog off the internet so she can have her very own book of her very own writing. Diligently keeping a prayer journal in the last few years, she also explained that she loves to write her thoughts to God down on paper so that she can look back on what she has written and see how her beliefs have changed about life. Currently, she has one big creative project going on—the play A Christmas Carol.  She is currently is working on making display different Christmas “eras” to set up in the theatre, which means lots of shopping for things from lots of different eras, everything from a Victorian era to an 1970s era. She will also be playing the part of Agnes, the charwoman, in the production of The Christmas Carol this winter season, which she is quite excited about.
            
This is my mother in a nutshell. She is a passionate teacher, and she has a passion for learning from poetry and other arts. When she was young she loved to make crafts and her favorite birthday present as a child was a journal that she could write her thoughts down in. In high school she loved theatre and in college she loved poetry and creative writing. As a mother she has loved blogging, prayer journaling, stamping, scrapbooking, and teaching her kids about the importance of being curious. As she sat there and got more caught up in the story she also stated one of the most important things to her is “not just liking a story, but discussing what makes it a good story, and looking at a writer’s style of expressing himself.” With that, she sat back and said, “Isaak, I really need to get back to my project!” This is my mother who has been the most passionate, creative, brilliant teacher I have ever had.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Huey Long: A Wrangler

“‘It is a far greater thing that I do now than I have ever done before.’  That man was beheaded.” . . . “I’m not surprised.”  --The Fantasticks

Huey Long’s prediction of his own death came true on September 10, 1935, when he was shot in his side by an eye doctor. Long knew he was a loudmouth, and he was proud of it, saying without flinching that when his time was up, he would be killed. And so it happened. Huey Long was a man adored by many and loathed by many, but he was too bold to be regarded by anyone with neutrality. Many people feared him, for he was a powerful man who stuck to his promises. Politicians always make big promises to the people, but few ever plant their feet and follow through—they’re too safe, too cowardly. Long wasn’t safe, and he wasn’t cowardly. His policies were radical, with a desire to “break up the swollen fortunes of America and . . . spread the wealth among all our people.” Long said adamantly, “I'm for the poor man—all poor men, black and white, they all gotta have a chance. They gotta have a home, a job, and a decent education for their children. 'Every man a king' — that's my slogan."*

Huey Long cared about the poor. There was a good deal of George Bailey in him, whatever his other faults. However, George Bailey, though a fictional character (It’s a Wonderful Life), of course, got something done. Huey Long wrangled tirelessly for his policies, but did any great good come from it? Long retorted when critics criticized his methods,

“They say they don't like my methods. Well, I don't like them either. I really don't like to have to do things the way I do. I'd much rather get up before the legislature and say, 'Now this is a good law and it's for the benefit of the people, and I'd like you to vote for it in the interest of the public welfare.' Only I know that laws ain't made that way. You've got to fight fire with fire."*

Long called for people to share the wealth like a mother screaming at her child, “Be nice to your sister!” Making a law which requires people to share their money will not create a good community between rich and poor. The rich will always try to hold on to their money, and the poor will always resent the rich. Huey Long’s motives were certainly admirable, but his methods would never have succeeded, had he lived for a thousand years.

*Quotes from Huey Long found at

http://www.hueylong.com/perspectives/huey-long-quotes.php