Sunday, February 28, 2016

Capital Punishment in America

Capital Punishment in America is older than the founding of our nation, the first case being the execution of George Kendall in 1608 at Jamestown. As long as there have been settlers from Europe, there has been capital punishment in America. Ironically, capital punishment has been abolished in all of Europe except for Belarus and Russia. More than 100 countries have abolished capital punishment. But why, in the twenty-first century America, do we still use such a barbaric and immoral form of justice?

While some states such as Illinois and Wisconsin have abolished the death penalty, they are in the minority. Thirty-one states still have the death penalty. The reason for such a divide in the states is because the Supreme Court has never declared Capital Punishment completely constitutional or unconstitutional, thus never abolishing it or establishing it for good. Although the Bill of Rights does protect people in America from cruel and unusual punishment, our nation has been unable to come to a consensus on whether or not executing a prisoner is cruel and unusual.

There have been protests against capital punishment since before the civil war. Although in 1846 Michigan became the first state to outlaw capital punishment, there is still a large portion of the U.S. that continues to use capital punishment. The reasons for this could include the possibility that the notion of the death penalty has become a fixed part of the culture of part of America, instead of a relic from our past. For now, not enough people see it as barbaric or as a stain on our justice system to abolish it from our nation.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Nickle and Dimed: The Invisible Effects of Poverty

Being a member of the lower class of society has many visible effects, such as a lower income, poorer housing and food quality, and even poorer health. However, when Barbara Ehrenriech takes a number of minimal wage jobs across the nation, she experiences many invisible effects from poverty as well.

Ehrenriech comes to realize that one unforeseen effect of poverty, especially when working with a maid service, is not being seen. After working with a maid company for a little while, she finds that what she really wants to be is, "...above all, noticeable" (99). I think in our society we tend to pass lower income workers by with out noticing them. Imagine you have just arrived late at night at your hotel, and you are waiting for the elevator to arrive when a maid scurries by. Would you stop and say hello, or even make eye contact? Or would you just stare off into space and continue to wait for your elevator? I believe most Americans would choose the later option.  Being unseen is undoubtedly a problem most low income workers have to deal with, and one that we as upper class Americans don't notice, even when we are the ones ignoring them.

Another hidden and negative effect Ehrenriech experiences is revealed by during her long long shifts at Wal-Mart. She has an argument with a short co-worker. Later that night, as she watches the shorter worker climb a ladder, Ehrenriech  feels: "A surge of evil mirth...hoping to see her go splat" (168). This mirth, at the prospect of another person's misfortune is obviously a bitter, and even cruel response. However, Ehrenriech is not as mean as her thought suggests. She believes when you work at a job considered demeaning by society, it makes you bitter. There are a wide variety of demeaning and subservient jobs lower income people are forced to fill. The mental toll this can have on a worker is impossible to see physically, and most likely stored away inside for only the worker to brood over. That is a hidden burden none of us would want to carry.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Nickel and Dimed: The Meaning of Poverty

The United States Government says that to be poor is to live at, "The point below which a household of a given size has pre-tax cash income insufficient to meet minimal food and other basic needs" (The Federal Poverty Guidelines). So you are poor if your income before taxes are taken away does not provide you with enough money to but a minimal amount of food and other basic needs. We all need food, but also a place to live, or shelter, and if it is a place that gets cold, we have to pay for heat, and of course at least basic clothing and shoes. people with children have more needs and costs, and sometimes the most important cost is healthcare. Perhaps others assumed or usually thought of the poor as unemployed people, many work, and many work very hard. These people are often referred to as the the "working poor." These people with jobs also usually need additional money for transportation to work. Figuring out how much income real people need to not be poor, or to survive is complicated. In Barbra Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed, she examines the real lives of people struggling at the poverty level about fifteen years ago. She does this by taking low-paying jobs, and finds that even having a job does not guarantee that someone is not poor, and that being poor is more complex than just reading the Federal Poverty's guidelines. 

Ehrenreich's perception of poverty is similar to the United States Government's perception in that both would agree poverty means a person is unable to meet basic needs, such as shelter. When Ehrenreich first meets some of her fellow low-paid employees, she finds out right away, "Housing, in almost every case, is the principle source of disruption in their lives" (25). Being able to afford a house or decent apartment or not makes the a huge difference for the people she meets. For many of them, shelter is the difference between making it and not making it. 

Ehrenreich's views changed during her experience. She started her project thinking the working poor were less intelligent than she was, or maybe less intelligent than more successful people in general and that to the she was special. But when reflecting back on the whole excursion, she thinks, "The only thing that really made me 'special' was my inexperience" (8). From being around poor working class members of society, she changes her opinion that there is something special in her, and comes to realize that the only significant difference between them is that she has not been exposed to minimum wage jobs as much. Some people can be smart and work hard, and still be poor and struggling.

I struggled with the idea of the "working poor"and the fact that someone can both work hard and still be destitute. If you come to school from a nice warm house, and have plenty of food and clothing, and if you are reasonably intelligent, it is easy to assume that poor people are different from you, so you don't need to worry about ever being poor. The whole idea about poor people is not threatening if they are different from us. However, in Ehrenreich's experience the people she works with are not dull or dim-witted and still struggle with finding a place to sleep at night. This challenges the whole notion of what I thought it meant to be poor, and also does away with the old notion that hard work pays off. Some times it doesn't.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Artifact analysis

.    I was first introduced to jazz through my older brothers. The music seemed to flow like nothing I had heard before. I felt like anyone could grab hold of it and make it his or  her own. This music was also unlike the classical music I had been listening to sense I was a little kid. Unlike classical music, jazz did not conform to any ones ideas except the person playing the music at that moment.
     I had my first opportunity to play classical music in grade school. I choose to play percussion. The music was difficult, and I had to always try to be listening to the conductor, my fellow musicians in order to play together. I enjoyed this music very much, but it was not as free and flowing as the music I had heard coming from my older brother's guitar.
     Finally, once I reached junior high school I got the chance to play in a jazz band. I choose to play the jazz drums, and bought my first full drum set soon after. In some ways jazz was like classical music, as we still had sheet music to read off of, but our director also introduced improvisation to us. This is a part if the chart where we have open space to solo, or create our own ideas. This was the experience I had been waiting for. I had no one to tell me what to do, or how to play. I could express myself however I wanted, whether or not the band director even liked it. No more sheet music to read off of. My first performance was in the auditorium at Wilmette Junior High School. Although I was excited, I also felt nervous about soloing I front of the packed auditorium. If I sounded bad, the only person to blame was myself. When the time did come to solo, my anxiety was washed away by my sense of freedom; I felt as though I had been given a glorious opportunity to express myself and not have to conform to any one else's ideas. I did not want to throw away such a wonderful experience. With this thought in mind a pushed through my solo and let my creative side shine.
       As I moved to high school, I continued to play jazz drums in the jazz program at New Trier.  At New Trier, jazz is a class taken everyday during the school day. Being in high school also meant that we where expected to play at a higher level. in my first performance we played in a packed Gafney auditorium. As I sat down the director began to count off the tune. I felt I had a bigger responsibility than before. I had to lead the bad through the chart, keep good time, and keep track of the form. And then I had to solo. With all these new responsibilities I felt even more nervous than before. But nothing had changed about how I felt about soloing. I was simply doing it on a higher level than before. When you strike all of the keeping time and outlining the form, I still have a job to make this music my own. When the time came to solo, I let all of my worries go and just focused on creating music that was uniquely my own. When the concert was over, I was mentally exhausted but thrilled.  I felt like I had found something that would allow me to express myself freely no matter what. I was free from other people's ideas and could write my own.
      Today I continue to learn more about drums from my teachers, from listening to professionals, and from watching others play. Although I have continued to grow and developed, my thrill of playing and soloing in jazz has never changed. To me, my drum set represents an instrument that I can use to shape music that is uniquely my own, and does not conform to any other person's ideas other than my own.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Unity with Russia

In the past few months, the U.S. and other countries such
as Britain, France and Russia have all suffered attacks 
from terrorists and other extremists. A complete list of all 
of the attacks are here. World super powers such as the U.S. 
France, and Russia have been discussing a treaty against the 
war on terror. There have also been parallels drawn between
this proposed treaty and the one that the U.S. Great Britain
and Russia all formed to defeat Hitler, the Tehran Conference

Just like the time period when these great leaders met, tensions are high. Each nation has competing views, and wants to ensure that theirs will prevail. This understandably causes conflict. But I would also like to bring to light another conflict. Russia does undoubtedly have other reasons for wanting to co-operate with the west, such as lifting the sanctions we placed on them for invading Ukraine. Russia also openly persecutes homosexuality. By joining hands with Russia, are we acknowledging these injustices? Shouldn't we stand strong against such discrimination?

 I think that the present threat of terrorism is not as great as the threat the Nazis posed to our country in WWII. Thus we should not have to sacrifice our ideals by joining forces with Russia, we should hold Russia at arms length and not forgive there wrongs. However, as the threat continues to grow, a treaty in the future is not inconceivable. If one did become necessary, I believe it should be a broad one that will not involve too many policy changes in how we regard Russia. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Controversial Puppies

From Cornell University comes a new dog. Scientists have successfully bred the first IVF puppies. This has been attempted by many scientists as early as the 70's. IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization) is when scientists surgically implant frozen embryos into a mother. More information about IVF can be found here. This modern fertilization technique has been used in Humans and now dogs, with much controversy.

Controversy first arose when scientists figured out how to do IVF on humans. The main argument against using IVF is the freezing of live embryos. Religious, and other human rights activists consider this to be an unjust treatment of a living person or dog. Other arguments include whether or not this is too similar to playing God: determining the fate of what embryo lives and what embryo dies, like the scientists in the movie Gattica. Although these are valid concerns, I believe the pros out weigh the cons.

Much can be learned on the scientific front by studying diseases in humans and now dogs, as well as helping endangered dog species. IVF also offers another chance for couples to have children who are other wise unable to. For those who argue that it is an unfair treatment of a living thing, the idea that these embryos should even be considered alive is a whole topic up for debate today. By choosing not to do IVF, we would be saying no to couples who only want to have their own children, or research that could help prevent the next dog or human related disease. Although the loss of some of these embryos can be seen as tragic, what we can gain as a society is much more significant.

A hidden Mona Lisa

A recent discovery by Pascal Cote, a French scientist, has introduced the possibility that under the famous Mona Lisa lies another painting. Pascal has designated 10 years of his life to study data from state-of-the-art technologies that scanned the Mona Lisa in 2004. Could the painting we have always known be hiding another?

(original Mona Lisa on right, digital reconstruction on left)

I am not convinced yet. The Louvre Museum (which holds the Mona Lisa) has failed to comment on the new discovery, other than to mention that Pascal Cote acted alone in his research, not part of any scientific team. Martin Kemp, a professor at the University of Oxford, considered this new discovery "Untenable." Although the technology used in this discovery is state-of-the-art, Cote's analysis of the data from the technology may  not have been. No one should jump to any conclusions from one scientists discovery. Already there has been talk about renaming the painting, and that it is the discovery of the century. However, Cote's theory has yet to be backed by any other scientific study. I think more research is required before we determine anything for sure.