Friday, May 29, 2009


Here I go again with deliving into science fiction... I just finished reading Feed, a dystopian novel by MT Anderson. The cover of it drew me to it; it also looked pretty new and innovative, so I thought I would give it a try. I was awfully surprised!

Feed takes place some time in the future where humans are able to travel to different planets just as a vacation. People also live above the Earth (sort of like in Star Wars), and they drive up cars (above Earth) and down cars (those down on Earth). The world is overrun by consumerism by this thing called the feed.

What is the feed? Basically, 60% of the population has this device called feed installed into their brains. The feed is basically a computer that becomes a part of your brain. It gives you pop up ads when you're shopping or stressing interest in purchasing something; it allows you to telepathically speak with one other person, similar to AIM chatting; it allows you to save all memories, and you can even send them to people if you want; it allows you to watch television programs. Basically, the feed provides the same functions of a computer, but it's attached to your brain. The only problem is that it can be hacked into by external parties--even the government.

Since this takes place in the future, Anderson imbeds a lot of commentary on his vision for the future. For example, he has America overrun by consumerism with the feed. He has the United States in a state of panic and chaos. Nations of the world are constantly at arms with one another, even threatening possible total anniahlation. The environment has gone to hell; animals and plantlife are basically at their ends, or are a thing of the past. Humans are shallow and stupid; they rely on their computers for their intelligence, and, without them, they would really just be shells.

Feed contains two main characters: Titus, the narrator who enjoys having the feed, and Violet, the girlfriend who does not like the feed. Hearing their discussions on having or not having the feed is very interesting. Violet represents the "older world" that does not like computers, consumerism, and technology overstepping its boundaries. Titus represents the new age of computers and technology making life easier (or even too easy to dumb down things). Violet tries to convince Titus to resist the feed, but he does not end up being able to do so. Violet's feed ends up destroying her (basically killing her) which is kind of ironic when you think of the symbolism.

Wikipedia offers a very cool explanation of the characters' symbolism:

"Though Titus is largely unaware of it, the America of the book is rapidly collapsing, a decline that mirrors that of Violet. In some ways, Violet represents what the author believes America should stand for. Just as Violet does not quite die in the book (the last chapter being called 4.6%), it is never explicitly stated that America ends, though the damage, like the damage to Violet, is likely completely unrepairable. The world may also end as a result of America's actions, with the severe damage to the health of the general population and enormous ecological disasters. Meanwhile, Titus, the consumer, and Anderson's image of what America is becoming ignores and distances himself from Violet to avoid hearing what she has to say. The book ends on a very pessimistic note."

I also did like how the novel didn't end so wonderfully. I think it sets the tone for how Anderson sees us heading. He also doesn't have the wonderful love story work out in the end, because it doesn't always. It's a tragic ending, and Titus really is a stubborn, arrogant teenager. I hated him towards the end, but that behavior is typical of male adolescents. It's so realistic and so frustrating all at the same time!

The book also includes this function called "in mal" where teenagers purposely have their feeds malfunction to stimulate pleasure and joy. It's basically the equivalent of doing drugs. But, I think it's interesting because drugs essentially shut down or malfunction in the brain, so it's cool to compare the two because people don't often always see it that way.

Overall, Feed was a great book. Boys could really get into this piece. It acts as a great means to discuss the future, technology, drugs, and consumerism. And, it's easy to read. They just kind of have difficult language (made up language to imitate changing dialects in the future), but you catch on after a while.

So, what do you think of Feed?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cancelled Shows 2009

I was surprised to recently come across the list of cancelled shows or shows that are not returning for upcoming seasons. This must have been a tough years for shows to survive. Does the financial crisis have anything to do with these shows cancelling? Are funding and survival rates highly dependent on the economy?

Here is a list of shows that were either cancelled or are not returning for the upcoming season:

My Name Is Earl
Samantha Who?
Kath and Kim
Boston Legal
King of the Hill
Without a Trace
Prison Break
In the Motherhood
Sit Down, Shut Up
The Unit
Eleventh Hour
According to Jim
America's Toughest Jobs
American Gladiators
Deal or No Deal
Dirty Sexy Money
Frank TV
Howie Do It
Knight Rider
Kyle XY
The L Word
Last Comic Standing
Life on Mars
Lipstick Jungle
Momma's Boys
My Own Worst Enemy
Osbournes: Reloaded
Pushing Daisies
The Shield
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
The Unusuals

Check out reasons as to why these shows are cancelled here or here.

And to be honest, I didn't even list ALL of them. These are the ones I think the general public would be familiar with. Some of these really trouble me (My Name Is Earl, King of the Hill, American Gladiators, MADtv, Last Comic Standing, Deal or No Deal). Maybe I'm living in a bubble or something, but I thought that a lot of these shows got some decent ratings. I thought they were fairly popular. Now, don't get me wrong, a lot of these shows were destined to fail. I was surpirsed some lasted as long as they did. Others were first year shows that got the cut early on (no surprise). I am just shocked at HOW MANY are cancelled.

Do this many shows normally get cancelled every season, or am I just seeing one season and going a little overboard here?

I guess I'm just trying to figure it out, and there are just so many! A lot of these were pretty good shows (or there names were just widely recognized). What other shows are they going to put on in their place? It seems like they have to create a lot of new ones to make up for these old ones. New shows are hard to pitch and sell to an audience. Let's see how the networks do...

So, what do you think of these cancellations?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

So, So It Begins Means It Begins

I saw this poem appear in The New Yorker a few months back. It caught my attention, but I was sort of confused by its meaning. After pondering it for a few more minutes, I want to explore what it might possibly mean. Any other means of interpretation would be very helpful.

So, So It Begins Means It Begins

by Mary Jo Bang

And so it begins, Mickey, birthday cake (party), special
Night, whoops, and take a box.
So it begins, take a bow, hold your head up,
Scowl now. That is your own guitar.

Stop and see a movie.
Stop and see whether the eagle holds up at the end.
I'm leaving. See how I pull the door to.
The door is the floor and it's rising up.

Below is a dungeon. It's all you can see in the dark.
There is graffiti on the wall.
The bugle has ceded its call to power.
It's the time when we are waiting to be told.

Nothing is getting better. And nothing is getting worse.
A duck and a mouse. A house and a hat.
Having lunch and having a medal of honor.
Let's put our culture on a cartoon's.

Why not? Have the mouse answer the phone.
Have the receiver click. Then the real comes to
Its awful end. That point where, as he said, all came in
"With the shoutmost shoviality. Agog" Agog.

So, so I think that it starts out at the beginning of life, when everything is simple and excitement comes from a simple birthday cake or Mickey Mouse. This "mouse" and "cartoon" thread seems to go throughout the poem.

The rest of the poem seems to show the dullness of growing up. Nothing is exciting anymore like it used to be. Our lives are even kind of like cartoon's--not too deep, not really changing, always there, pretty dull: "Let's put our culture on a cartoon's." Our culture is somehow mirrored through this cartoon, and we sort of live it ourselves too. It never leaves us even as we age.

There are smaller bits and phrases that I'm not really connecting with: bugles, medal of honor, movie, the door and its rising. I bet they connect somehow, but it's not coming to me. And what's with agog?

And what's with the title? So, so it begins means it begins. Life begins right from the start (in some kind of state or with some kind of impression or mood) at an early age? We start out as children with this idea she's trying to get across and it stays with us through adulthood? I don't know if I'm really connecting with this.

What do you think of the poem? Any suggestions or meanings?

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Is the What

Being a Dave Eggers fan, I was found myself interested in picking up another one of his books. I was quite reluctant to pick up his newest book What Is the What. I'm not very knowledgeable or very interested in Africa, so this book was not very appealing to me. However, I did come to like it because it taught me a lot about the Sudan that I really had no concept of before.

What Is the What is really titled What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a novel. The prologue to the book explains that Eggers met up with the real life Deng and wanted to tell his story. He didn't know how to actually portray it though, so he interviewed Deng exstensively on his life story. In order to avoid much criticism and to be allowed more freedom with the story, he decided to make it a novel so he could add dialogue and perhaps dramatize certain characters and relationships. However, most of the novel is true and based on real situations that Deng experienced.

What Is the What is about Deng's life in Sudan during their civil war. Deng wakes up one morning as a young boy when his village is being attacked (it is eventually destroyed). He is separated from his family (never to see them again) and follows a group of boys (called the Lost boys). They walk to Kenya for what seems like months. Many boys die along the way from starvation--they simply lay against the trees and slip into a deep sleep. They scrounge for food, finding eggs in trees or eating carcasses. They are attacked by hungry mosquitos and are even pecked at by vultures and other surrounding animals. They have to fend for their lives, and they're only BOYS.

Deng eventually makes it to a refugee camp in Kenya where the novel discusses his venture into school and adolescence. But what a different life it is over there. It really makes you appreciate what we have over here and how they see us. It's really interesting to hear how Deng first saw white men. He was told that they were so white because they communicated with God and the heavens. They could communicate to him and make good things happen. How crazy. And this is when he was young, in the 1980s. How insane.

Deng eventually makes it over to America where the story continuously flashes back from his present, living in Atlanta, to his life in the past in the Sudan. He is robbed, beaten, and held hostage. When he finally contacts the police, they do nothing for him. It's pretty sad. Deng then goes into his trek to get a college degree and the difficulties of getting accepted. No colleges will accept him and they keep making up excuses as to why. Even though his life is hard here in America, he still faces different problems, and these problems are much better than those he faced in Africa.

Eggers has a gift for storytelling: Even though I didn't have much interest or background knowledge on the subject, he was very engaging. He provided a lot of background knowledge that I didn't have while telling a very interesting story. His flashbacks were great because they kept me hooked while providing further detail on his past. He makes the characters very likeable, especially Deng himself. Eggers has received some criticism for making Deng's character quite similar to his own persona, but I didn't mind very much. Deng was such an honorable man that your heart goes out to him. I thought he was portrayed very well, and it would be interesting to read interviews with the real man (I'm sure that I will in the future).

I just felt so sad for Deng most of the time. He faced hardship after hardship after hardship, but finally he was able to leave Africa and come to America, which was his dream. He used education to get there, which is really inspiring. He lost his parents and his famiy; he lost his young boy friends; he lost his lover in America from a murder (his musing on the changes of African men to America is astounding, on how they soon become violent and petty); he lost his possessions from robbers; he was not taken seriously by the police; he was denied many college admittances. It's just depressing, but he's such a good man. The system just doesn't work for him, and he doesn't really have a place to call home. I feel bad for the man, but he is now getting publicity out there for other Lost Boys like him. I hope that more can be done for them!

For those interested in the Sudan and Darfur, this would be a great novel to pick up. I think this book would be great for someone to read who was like me and didn't know too much about Africa. It was fascinating from a learner's standpoint. Eggers is a great read, no matter what the content or subject matter.

I highly recommend this book--Eggers is one of the best writers of our generation. He needs to be widely read!

So what do you think of What Is the What?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Road

Science fiction has been growing on me lately. I had to tutor a student in this course, and I really wasn't into the material in the beginning. However, reading some texts in this genre are starting to turn me around. Science fiction can really make some solid statements about the way things are going in the world and where they might go if we continue to head on certain dangerous paths. Overall, it's pretty cool.

Specifically, I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which was phenomenal. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006. That impressed me right off the bat. There's even a movie out starring Viggo Mortensen. I haven't seen it yet, but I will be interested to.

The Road is basically a post-apocolyptic novel that takes place after some kind of nuclear bombing or war. Basically, the Earth is dessimated and covered in ash. All vegetation and animal life has been destroyed (for the most part). Bands of people live around the country, but most have them have turned evil in order to survive. Many people have turned to cannibalism, taking prisoners hostage and feeding on their flesh (sometimes holding them in basements and removing limbs for meals). Babies are even roasted on spits. It's disgusting.

The book focuses on a man and his son (both unnamed which is significant). The boy and the man/father. They carry around one gun with two bullets which are ready to use on themselves in case they end up in a situation where they will be taken as prisoners. The mother has already killed herself because she didn't want to live in this sick world. The father has lung problems (probably from this disaster) and coughs up blood. They both have to wear masks to prevent further damage.

Both the man and the son are on a mission to travel to the south where it will be warmer for them. They come across some random people who shed light on the aforementioned disaster or who could be the "bad guys." Some try to steal from them, others are killed immediately by the man. All of these episodes make it very hard for the boy to cope or understand life.

The boy was born after this disaster, so he has no concept of what human life was like when the man was alive (like it is now). When the man finds common items like Coca Cola or Tang, it's a really big deal to share them with the son. Flares too. The man tries to not speak about the past as much as possible because he believes that the son will be stronger and happier if he does not know how good it used to be so that he can't acknowledge how terrible it is for him now. It's kind of sad.

The whole book is pretty dreary and depressing, and you wonder where it will lead in the end. Since it's so bleak, can they have anything uplifting in the end? Isn't the point that humans can be savages, especially when there is no law? SPOILER: Even though the ending is quite depressing with the father dying, I think there still is hope with the family that the man encounters. They have a young girl (which suggests possible copulation and reproduction in the future). They seem nice and giving, unlike other guests. It suggests that there might be some sort of positive future for some people in this world. But, again, this is implied.

No more spoiler: The writing style really interested me. It was very short and choppy, very much to the point. It was written with no chapters--basically just short paragraphs of his thoughts along the road. I think the choppiness and the shortness adds to the book. That's really all their life is. Fragments and bits and pieces. Bleakness. To the point. Short.

That's why I wonder how the movie will be. Since the book was so many fragmented thoughts, I wonder how they will convey that with thoughts and images and dialogue. There really wasn't much dialogue, and when there was, it was extraordinarily brief and repetetive. "Are we the good guys?" "Yes." "Will you ever leave me?" "You know I won't." Very brief.

There were very poetic moments too, especially when they come across an old man in the road. He offers very wise advice about the world and why it is the way it is. That is an interesting passage to revisit on a different date.

Overall, it was like nothing I had ever read before. Even though it was pretty dark, it really got your mind thinking about different concepts. It stuck with me too as I read it. It followed me and made me want to read it. It's a great book to pick up, if you're into the whole sci-fi thing anyway.

Hey, and believe it or not, it's in Oprah's book club. Just check out some pictures from the movie. They're tattered in rags and bone thin from starvation. It's just a WILD story.

So, what did you think of The Road?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recently, I listened to The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. on audiotape. Surprisingly, the audiotape recently won a Grammy. Not surprising because of this piece of work, but I didn't know they offered Grammys to audio tapes.

The book won the Grammy because, constantly inserted throughout it, it has audio clips of soul singing and his speeches. I couldn't believe how many speeches they have on record. They had at least partial footage of the following speeches and other recordings:

Letter from Birmingham Jail
Address to SCLC
On Rosa Parks
The Eulogy of the Child Martyrs
Freedom is Demanded by the Oppressed
On the LA Riots
On High School
Remaining Awake through a Great Revelation
On Black Power
Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool
Unfulfilled Dreams
Nobel Peace Prize Speech
On Vietnam
Rediscovering Lost Values
I've Been to the Mountaintop
I Have a Dream
Why I Must March
The Drum Major Instinct

It was really cool to hear about Martin Luther King Jr. from his own personal accounts. I'm surprised I've never even heard that he has such a book; it's so cool that he was able to record his experiences pretty much up until his death.

I think I enjoyed hearing his speeches the most. He would rise up so much energy from the crowd. People would be responding to every line he said, and sometimes they would be cheering and hollering. To see that one man could cause so much response and so much hope is overpowering. It's a beautiful thing. He's very inspiring, and you can tell his intelligence from his writing and his speeches.

And, he was so bold even after so many threats. I knew that he was threatened, but hearing him talk about the many times that his life (and his family's) would be threatened, it's hard to bear. I am impressed that this didn't stop him on his quest. Actually, he would speak openly about it in his speeches (this probably angered his oppressors). You would think that one might avoid the topic to save oneself, but he was on a mission to make change, and he needed his followers to know that they were not going to bring him, or his mission, down.

I think it is inrcredible that he was offered the Nobel Peace Prize while he was still alive and while so much racism was prevalent in our country. What is really crazy is that, very shortly after he accepted the award, he was thrown in prison. Ironic. He's such a legend but our country throws him in prison. He got his message across and out there, but it just shows how outrageous times were in the south during his lifetime.

Additionally, I think it's honorable that Dr. King decided to dedicate his life to improving conditions in the south. After he graduated college, he was able to accept jobs in the north, where he knew his life would be easier, or in the south, where he knew his life would be harder but he could make more change. King chose the harder path to make more of a difference even though it ultimately lead to his premature death. I would definitely say that is honorable.

King writes all the way back to calling his childhood and pretty much up until the time of his death. They end the audiotape with a recording of him talking about death. He got the message across that he didn't fear death and he was ready to accept it. He had a journey on earth, and he had accomplished very much while he was still alive. He got the ball rolling, and change did happen (even though it is very far from ideal today). If anything, he helped instill hope in his people and he did cause some change in legislation.

What I didn't know and I learned is that King was fascinated and inspired by Gandhi. King took many principles of Gandhi's work and incorporated it into his own. It's pretty obvious that he took his passive resistance method, but I was fascinated to learn that. It makes so much sense!

If anyone is at all interested in King, listening to the audiotape was well worth the time. For History teachers out there, import some of his speeches. He talks about his relationship with Malcolm X, his childhood, the SCLC, and many other famous speeches noted above are quite valuable for the classroom.

So, what do you think of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

SNL Season 34 Finale

Will Ferrell was a perfect guest to finish off an excellent season on Saturday Night Live's 34th season. This season was extraordinarily strong, creating multiple catch phrases, jokes, and sketches that became immediate successes in pop culture. This season finale though lived up to the reputation of its season.

Arguabally, Will Ferrell might be the most successful cast member to come off of SNL. I know that other cast members had much success, but he seems to have built the greatest reputation, almost having cult-like followers, and being an absolute sensation that produces so many films, comedy sketches, and television programs. More than any other cast member, he can make you laugh without him putting in too much time or effort into the delivery or the jokes. He is just a natural.

Being that he is a previous cast member, SNL played up a lot of his old sketches on this finale. They had him do a Harry Carey bit on Weekend Update; they played an old commercial sketch with Chris Parnell where Ferrell played Wade Blasingame, an attorney to put down dogs for heinous crimes; they had him act as President Bush with Darryl Hammond as Dick Cheney; and most importantly, they had him play Alex Trebek on Celebrity Jeopardy. Featured in this Celebrity Jeopardy was Kristen Wiig as Kathie Lee Gifford, Tom Hanks as a stupid version of himself, Darryl Hammond as Sean Connery, and a guest appearance by Norm McDonald as Burt Reynolds. It was absolutely hilarious. The new catch phrase: Catch These Men = Catch the Semen.

Ferrell is always classic when he appears on this show, whether it was meant to be that way or not.

Does anyone know if this is Darryl Hammond's last season on the show? It seemed like he was in the show a lot more this episode than he has been all season. This could be his final farewell after his long commitment to the show.

Other great surprises: Amy Poehler came back to join Seth Meyers on Weekend Update. I wonder how her show will go...

Maya Rudolph made a guest appearance during a funeral sketch where people kept rudely interrupting the speakers. She sang a crazy song around the tune of "America the Beautiful" to sing about Sasquatch.

The best surprise must have been the last scene: Will Ferrell, Darryl Hammond, Kenan Thompson, and Bill Hader all sat around a table at a restaurant. Ferrell went on a singing tangent (accompanied by a band) about some random love affair in Vietnam. (Apparently he was on vacation and the whole dramatic song was kind of silly). Cast members and guests played instruments. All cast members were on stage with an instrument. Tom Hanks, Artie Lang, Paul Rudd, Anne Hathaway, Maya Rudolph, Norm McDonald, and Green Day (the musical guest) came on stage to play their instruments as well. With them all on stage pretending to be goofy, it was an end scene to the season that was absolutely phenomenal. Absolutely astounding.

So what will next season bring? Hopefully more Kristen Wiig. Apparently she has signed on to be on Weekend Update with Seth Meyers. I don't know how I feel about this. I think she's a GREAT leading role for their cast. She really is their strongest member. I don't think she HAS to go there and dominate too. It's like when Amy Poehler did it. She was their strongest member, and then she jumped on that set with Tina Fey and then Seth Meyers. She wasn't the best at her delivery, but she got used to it. It didn't seem to be her strong suit. Just save her for other things.

And I think Seth Meyers does a fabulous job by himself. I think they should have a season or two where they just keep one person doing it alone. That's how it used to be for most of their seasons. It might not be a bad idea, but they can't get enough of Wiig.

If you missed the finale, go to SNL's website and watch some of the video clips. They're worth watching. They're hilarious. Check out some digital shorts while you're at it (specifically the newest one, "Motherlover").

So, what did you think of Season 34's finale on SNL?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Solitary Confinement

Recently I read a harrowing article in the last March issue of The New Yorker on solitary confinement. The article just blew me away. It's called "Hellohole" by Atul Gawande. I mean, I knew what solitary confinement was, but this article explored it in depth and analyzed the negative consequences that can come from it.

Basically, solitary confinement is a form of imprisonment used in the United States where prisoners are allowed no contact (or extremely limited contact) with any persons. They have their own cells, they have regimented times when they can use a bathroom, and some prisons might not even have a window for any light source.

Can you imagine being locked up in a place like this with no human contact for days on end? Wouldn't you feel like you lived a purposeless life? Don't all humans need some source of contact and socialization?

Gawande explores the psychosis experienced by most prisoners in solitary confinement. He explores the side effects of returning to life after being in solitary confinement. He interviews some who have went through it and survived it, as well as the damage on their psyche after the exprience was through.

The article begins with the argument that humans are social beings. We just are. Taking that away is most certainly a form of torture. Gawande then discusses a study done on monkeys where they were put through forms of isolation. Monkeys were kept alone as infants, without their mothers. They put in two dolls, one made of wire and one made of cloth with a heating device. The monkeys would curl up to the warmer doll, run to it when frightened. They ignored the other fake doll. Once the isolated monkeys were later returned to a group of nonisolated monkeys, they didn't know how to interact. They went into shock. They rocked and whined. One refused to eat and eventually died. But even with this disturbing information, we still put some of our criminals in solitary confinement. Are we that cruel that we can put some people through this treatment, even if they have committed horrid acts? When they come out, they'll be worse off than they were before, which is scary to think about.

Certain individuals interviewed explained that they actually started to feel like they were going insane. Days blended together. They felt no motivation to do anything. Not to read, not to write. Solitary confinement prisoners are left with minimal supplies, but they do have pen and paper if they wish to write. They felt as if their brains were turning to mush. One prisoner grew so insane that he started to bash his head into the wall until the guards pulled him off. It sounds horrific.

Another person was a hostage who was held in solitary confinement for a long stretch of time. He could start to feel his sanity slipping away. He would often start trembling from time to time for no reason at all. He would often sleep for twelve hours. He would think back on all his mistakes and drive himself bad over all of them. He would watch the day wane away. He said that he would rather have had a bad cellmate than none at all. This makes sense. We are human beings, so this makes sense. We just need at least one person to converse with, otherwise we would go crazy. When he was eventually released, he felt he was walking around in a fog. His brain was mush and he looks drugged, his eyes without their normal light.

John McCain is often noted in this article as he was put into solitary confinement as a POW. McCain is the only noted person in this article that looks back on his experience as a time of growth. In his book, he mentions that he used this experience to help him grow stronger. Other individuals struggled with getting back their sanity and social edge. McCain's argument seems a bit fishy to me, but I'll leave it at that.

The main argument for using solitary confinement: "It provides discipline and prevents violence." Makes sense. When prisoners break the rules, this is their form of discipline. This could even acts as a scare tactic to get prisoners not to do certain things. However, going through long periods of solitary confinement are psychologically damaging, not to mention costly. Prisoners getting their own cells? Costly. Aren't their other forms of punishment that are less cruel? After all, we're all human beings, and I know the people going in solitary confinement are not the finest of our species, but do they deserve this amount of torture? When is torture okay, and why is it okay in this circumstance? Isn't there another way to punish that is not this severe?

A good alternative: In Britain, instead of punishing this severely, they created a prison prevention program that has worked. What they did is this: They gave their worst prisoners more control; they reduced isolation; they offered them chances to work; they offered them education, basically options to better themselves instead of going down the same criminal route. They put respect in their criminals so they could turn their lives around, not simmer in the anger and turmoil that sent them in there. These are called "Close Supervision Centers." They can also earn themselves rights like having visitors, phone calls, exercise, etc. The results? There are now fewer prisoners in this corrective care than in the state of Maine. I think they're doing something right.

Here are some quotations and other information from the article that I find fascinating:

"Long distance solo sailors commit themselves to months at sea. They face all manner of physical terrors: thrasing storms, fifty-foot waves, leaks, illness. Yet, for many, the single most overwhelming difficulty they report is the 'soul-destroying loneliness' as one sailor called it."

"Astronauts have to be screened for their ability to tolerate long stretches in tightly confined isolation, and they come to depend on radio and video communications for social contact."

"A US military study of almost 150 naval aviators returned from inprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than John McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered."

"EEG studies going back to the 1960s have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement."

"In 1992, 57 POWs, released after a period of 6 months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were exmained using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render themselves unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement."

"Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incured a traumatic injury."

"Almost 90% of solitary confinement prisoners had difficulties with irrational anger, compared with just 3% of prisoners in the general population."

"After months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind--to organize their own lives around activity and purpose. Chronic apaty, lethargy, depression, and despair often result. In some extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving."

"According to Navy POW researchers, the instinct to fight back against the enemy constituted the most important coping mechanism for the prisoners they studied."

In 2003, a study was done to see if supermax prisons reduce violence. They used 3 prisons in Arizona, Illinois, and Minnesota. "The study found that levels of inmate-on-inmate violence were unchanged, and the levels on inmate-on-staff violence changed unpredictably."

"In 1890, the US Supreme Court came close to determining the punishment to be unconstitutional."

Solitary confinement has really grown in the past 20 years, starting in 1983 in Marion, Illinois.

"America now holds at least 25,000 inmates in isolation in supermax prisons."

"An additional 50-80,000 are kept in restrictive segregation units, many of them in isolation, too, although the government does not release these figures."

By 1999, these states had 5-8% of their prison population in solitary confinement: Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Virgina. In 2003: New York.

"Evidence from a number of studies has shown that supermax conditions--in which prisoners have virtually no social interactions and are given no programmatic support--make it highly likely that they will commit more crimes when they are released."

"Most prisoners held in long term isolation are returned to society."

This is a lot of information, and it can be kind of heavy. I think Gawande presents very interesting information and arguments. I can see the damage it inflicts on its individuals, and it doesn't seem to be helping what its purpose states. It seems to be making matters worse, if anything. It just doesn't seem right or just. How can we continue like this?

So what do you think of solitary confinement?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Shame of the Nation

For an education class I'm taking, I just read Jonathan Kozol's The Shame of the Nation, and it was filled with some pretty interesting ideas on urban schools and the concept of resegregation. Yes, resegregation, not desegregation.

Kozol visited a bunch of schools (perhaps not enough surburban or rural schools) to examine the problems existing within them. His focus is really to determine the inequalities of schools and educations for minority children, especially African American and Hispanic children in inner city schools. Kozol focuses mostly on elementary schools, but looking at middle and high schools might have made his book a little more rich in substance.

Kozol definitely seemed to be trying to expose "the shame of the nation" by dramatizing certain points and by playing on our emotions through telling stories of certain students. All information that he included obviously proved his point, but is he a bit extreme with being one sided and biased? I guess if he's trying to prove a certain point, then he is not.

I felt pretty hopeless when I was reading it. He'd show a glimmer of hope and light in education, and then he would shatter it with some detail or fact. I see how this is how it is, and his point is to show the failures and struggles in trying to make education equal, but it was pretty gloomy for a while. Towards the end of the book, Kozol finally offers some sort of advice and help, showing slight glimmers that offer some sense of direction to head.

His main points for how to end this resegregation and this state of unequal educations are the following. He thinks that schools should have much more integration, so schools should bus students to mix them together. Funding is big. Schools with more money perform better (as he argues). There needs to be a revolution to make big changes, just like there was one during the Civil Rights Movement, but there was no follow through. Nothing really happened with segregation. If anything, he says, things are probably worse than then. And, he believes that single teachers can try to make the effort to instill the best education they can for their students. Some teachers are burned out, but some of them really do care and put in the extra effort to make up for what the schools are lacking.

Here are some quotations from the book that I found kind of interesting:

"Not the place but the path, not the goal but the way."

"Numbers do not tell us all we need to know about our children."

"Over two thirds of Americans believe 'desegregation improves education for blacks,' and 'a growing population is convinced' it has a positive effect for whites as well. In surveys among young adults, 60% believe the federal government ought to make sure that public schools are integrated, while the same percentage of black respondents do not merely favor integrated education but believe it is 'absolutely essential' the the population in the school be racially diverse. (Only 8% of blacks and only 20% of whites say that this is not of much importance.)"

"Some of the children seemed to have accepted these conditions or, at least, did not appear to feel they had the right to question them."

"What saddens me the most during these times is simply that these children have no knowledge of the other world in which I've lived most of my life and that the children in that other world have not the slightest notion as to who these children are and will not likely ever know them later on, not at least on anything like equal terms, unless a couple of these kids get into college."

"I also think we need to recognize that our acceptance of a dual education system will have consequences that may be no less destructive than those we have seen in the past century."

"The desegregation of black students, which increased continuously from the 1950s to the late 1980s, has now receded to levels not seen in three decades... During the 1990s, the proportion of black students in majority white schools has decreased... to a lower level than in any year since 1968... Almost three fourths of black and Latino students attend schools that are predominantly minority, and more than two million, including more than a quarter of black students in the Northeast and Midwest, 'attend schools which we call apartheid schools' in which 99 to 100 percent of students are nonwhite."

"There will be no renaissance without revolution."

It's not a terrible read. I could see how some people could have a backlash or would react negatively to what he has to say, but he presents some interesting information to ponder about. It's not a dense read anyway. It's written at a pretty easy level to undertand. Not the worst read in the world by any means.

So, what do you think of Jonathan Kozol's The Shame of the Nation?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Madness: A Bipolar Life

After reading Marya Hornbacher's first memoir Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, I picked up her follow-up memoir Madness: A Bipolar Life. Yes, she's had both struggles. Hard to believe. Some people's cards just don't fall as easily as others.

Once I read Wasted, I sort of pieced together that fairy tale ending in my head. She taught me that anorexia and bulimia can be a state of mind that is very hard to break (and sometimes never can). The end of the memoir left me thinking that she was still very messed up with it, and she might relapse a few times, but she would be okay overall for the most point.

Little did I know that she would soon discover her bipolar which would complicate her life even more.

I also picked up this book because I didn't know much about bipolar disorder anyway. I really just knew the basic facts, nothing too substantial. Hornbacher shows the highs and the lows, the struggles, the drugs and their side effects, the acceptance, the denial, the chemicals and substances that alter bipolar, the treatments, therapies, etc. It really gives a well-rounded perspective of a life filled with understanding, coping with, and battling with bipolar. Again, this is something that needs to be adjusted and is with the person for their lifetimes (similar to the mindset of an eating disorder). She has a lot to conquer here.

What baffled me was when she was describing herself writing Wasted. She sounds clear and coherent when you read her writing so it's hard to picture her being so messed up and "crazy" as she often calls herself. When she was writing Wasted, she was dealing with her bipolar and her alcoholism. I never saw that coming either. An eating disorder case turned alcoholic? That seems strange, because they wanted to purge everything and now they want to take it all in? Quite a case.

Madness reflects a very long span of her life where she realizes the tell tale signs, her in and outs of hospitals, her diagnosis, her many boyfriends and how they deal with it. Marya now lives with her husband Jeff whom I give a lot of credit. He stuck with her when she was in and out of the hospital, when she was in her manic episodes. When she felt like leaving him on a spur of the moment and then take him back. He's been through a lot with her.

In all of her pictures, she appears so normal. She appears so above everything. It's hard to imagine. After her last book, she spiraled out of control in her life. How do we know that she's not doing that now? Maybe a new memoir will come out soon with a new challenging problem. It's a great money-maker, if anything.

I was also extraordinarily surprised with how open and honest she was. She didn't hide anything. Everything was right out there in the open no matter how embarassing or humiliating it was to anyone portrayed in the book. Now, I guess it's admirable to be honest, but I am just shocked that she would do that to herself. I guess it gives the disorder a more accurate portrayal, or we can think so, but I was just astonished at how candid it was. Maybe I'm the only one. I found Wasted to be the same way as well.

Hornbacher does have some talent as a writer though. I found myself cringing at parts, making faces at others. The part where she slits her artery on accident just stuck with me. The descriptions she used were just so vivid that I was squirming. That will stick with me maybe more than anything. That was a great way to open the book. It gives me advice on how to mix up and arrange a memoir of my own.

The whole book was basically a rollercoaster ride up and down the highs and lows of bipolar. Most of the time, I felt like no light was coming at the end of the tunnel. It was a bit depressing. It seemed that, no matter what she did, she would always relapse into the hospital or would need to be heavily medicated. It seems ridiculous that people live with this all the time. Are there more drugs and treatment now? I know this was only published a year ago, but I hope that more can be done and more awareness can surface because I can't even imagine going through this myself or if someone I knew did.

I'll put this out there: I bet these books (either separate or combined) would make a great movie (or movies). She looks a lot like the actress Brenda from Six Feet Under. She would cast well. So would Winona or Juliette Lewis. Maybe something to think about...

So, I have learned that bipolar is something that can come to the surface later on in life (20s) and is very hard to treat. It can push people to make rash decisions, overwork themselves, or go-go-go and crash all the time. I couldn't imagine feeling that so psychotic and not being able to control myself.

Madness is a really eye-opening book. It's worth reading if you're into memoirs or learning about disorders/diseases. It's coming of age too. It deals with a lot of relationship issues and drug addictions, which were also really interesting angles to explore. I just wish that she got more creative with her titles. They could be a little bit better, in my opinion.

So, what do you think of Marya Hornbacher's Madness?