Tuesday, February 27, 2018

         Since my last blog post, I have completed Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. I have also gotten about a third of the way through Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. I don't know yet whether I want to complete the book, because while it is funny, a lot of the book has not been verified, and it could all simply be exaggerations. The Benjamin Franklin biography was a significantly more challenging read than Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House because of the significant number of topics mentioned. There were so many things going on, and often they were grouped not in chronological order, but in big buckets, like science, printing, and politics.
         Again, I tended to read a lot in a short amount of time, and read fairly little the rest of the time. I have not decided what book to read next, but am leaning toward reading Robert Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas.
         Benjamin Franklin: An American Life is a book about a truly fascinating man. He did so many things: he was one of the greatest writers of his time, one of the greatest scientists, and became arguably the leading voice in the call for Independence. He devoted his life to trying to help improve the lives of his countrymen. He once wrote that what "The good men may do separately is small compared with what they may do collectively" (Isaacson 102). He advocated so strongly for community organizations that he ended up starting a subscription library, a fire brigade, a hospital, a militia, and a college. All of these things he did, not out of a desire to make money, but because he believed that everyone was better off when communities helped each other.
         Advocating for communitarianism was not the only way Franklin helped to improve the life of his countrymen. Franklin dedicated a lot of his adult life to trying to make Pennsylvania a Royal Colony. He thought it would improve the lives of the citizens by taking away the power of the proprietors, who refused to pay taxes equally. However, after realizing that becoming a Royal Colony was not going to improve life for Pennsylvanians all that much, he put his life on the line to Criticize the Stamp Act and the British Government. He said, "I have never heard any objection to the right of laying duties to regulate commerce. But a right to lay internal taxes was never supposed to be in Parliament, as we are not represented there" (Isaacson 230). He knew the risk he was taking, he gave up his lavish life as one of the most respected Americans in Britain in order to protect the rights of his countrymen. He put himself in a leading role in the fight for Independence. He made himself a target because he believes that his fellow citizens would be far better off without Britain in charge of them.
         Another person who fought to improve the lives of his countrymen was Nelson Mandela. This article tells his remarkable story. Mandela spent twenty years nonviolently protesting to end the racist policies of the South African Government. Mandela was jailed for 27 years, but upon his release, he continued his fight, advocating the end of Apartheid in South Africa. In 1995, he became the first black president of South Africa and began to actually end Apartheid. Thanks to Nelson Mandela service and sacrifice, the lives of black South African have improved significantly. Both Mandela and Franklin devoted their lives to improving the lives of their countrymen. Both were extremely successful in that both had a profound positive impact on the lives of millions. The world today would be unrecognizable if not for people like them who devote their lives to improving the lives of others.

Works Cited
Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. Simon and Schuster, 2003. Print.

"Nelson Mandela," Biography.com. https://www.biography.com/people/nelson-mandela-9397017. Accessed: 27 Feb 2018

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Brave People in Very Tough Situations

         Since my last blog, I started reading Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson and finished reading All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. It became evident to me fairly early on that with the amount of time I was spending rereading sections that I did not quite grasp, I was not going to finish Walter Isaacson's book on time, so I simply put it off and picked up another book. Again, I had not been maintaining my reading outside of class steadily but managed to catch up in the days preceding this blog post. In my version of the book, there are 336 pages and about 118,000 words. This was a fairly challenging read simply because there were so many names and so many things going on. After finishing it, I am still not sure what some of the characters actually did. For my next blog, I plan to delve back into Walter Isaacson's book about Benjamin Franklin. It will definitely be more challenging than my current book.
         All the President's Men is the story of how two reporters from the Washington Post exposed the criminal acts by the Nixon Administration during and before the Watergate scandal. After each article, Nixon's administration would attack the Post and claim that everything in each article was completely false. However, time and time again, the Post backed up their arguments with facts and interviews from credible sources. These sources were often being followed or watched and were risking their lives to come forward with valuable information. One source, nicknamed "The Bookkeeper" put her life in danger to reveal the truth. When she first sees Carl Bernstein, she says, "Oh, my God...You're from the Washington Post. You'll have to go, I'm sorry" (Bernstein & Woodward 63). She is obviously very scared of what could happen if the talks to the reporter, but she gets over her fear to get the truth out. What she reveals is the first real big evidence that the Post acquires regarding Watergate. They use her story to fact-check a lot of the statements made by other witnesses. She was the first domino to fall in the investigation.
         While "The Bookkeeper" was the first domino, a man by the nickname "Deep Throat" was the biggest domino. He worked high up in the executive branch of the White House. He was the guy confirming all of their theories. Because he was so high up in government and thus close to the President, if he was caught it would have had very bad consequences for him. One time, when "Deep Throat" did not show to a meeting, Woodward got very worried, "Deep Throat rarely missed an appointment. In the dark, cold garage, Woodward began thinking the unthinkable...Maybe Deep Throat had been spotted? People crazy enough to hire Gordon Libby and Howard Hunt were crazy enough to do other things" (Bernstein & Woodward 172). "Deep Throat" faced extreme danger, but decided that risking his life to expose the criminal acts would be worth it. He turned out to be the most important source that Bernstein or Woodward ever talked to. (In 2005, it was revealed that "Deep Throat" was actually Mark Felt, associate director of the FBI)
         Both of these people risked their lives to bring the truth about the administration's wrongdoing to light. Without them, these criminal acts would have continued under Nixon and might have been a staple of US politics for quite a bit longer.
         This was not the only time that brave witnesses came forward despite dangerous possible consequences to expose illegal and immoral activities, just under three weeks ago, the Washington Post reported in this article that Leigh Corfman had come forward to accuse the Republican nominee for the Alabama US Senate seat, Roy Moore, of initiating sexual encounters with her when she was fourteen and he was thirty two. Without her coming forward, the numerous other women who were also affected by this man would never have had the courage to come out. Also, a lot of people would vote for him without knowing his troubling past. She faced bad consequences in that a large portion of Alabamians liked Roy Moore and would hate her because she humiliated him possibly cost him the election. She, just like the previous two, exposed criminality and immorality and took a huge risk in doing so. All of them are heroes.

Bernstein, C., & Woodward, B. All the President's Men. Simon and Schuster, 1974
McCrummen, S., Reinhard, B., & Crites, A. "Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32" Washington Post. Accessed 28 Nov 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/woman-says-roy-moore-initiated-sexual-encounter-when-she-was-14-he-was-32/2017/11/09/1f495878-c293-11e7-afe9-4f60b5a6c4a0_story.html?utm_term=.b4fdfe3f8985

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Victim of Alienation or Judgmental Teenager

        Over the last six weeks, I have started and finished one book, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Until about two days ago, I have not been reading outside of class as much as I should be, but I might have made up for all of that in the last two days. The e-book that I used had about three hundred and eighty-five pages, and the book features about around 73,400 words. This book was not a hard book to comprehend, nor was it a book that took a long time to read.  I definitely could have challenged myself more, and I plan to do so. The book I plan on reading next is Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. Having read one of Walter Isaacson's  books before, I know that it will be a lot harder to read than The Catcher in the Rye
        The Catcher in the Rye is narrated by a boy named Holden Caulfield, who gets kicked out of his school, Pencey Preparatory Academy, for failing too many classes. He seems to possess an apathy for life that you don't see very often. He does not like anybody, save his sister, Phoebe and his dead brother Allie. Close to the end of the book, when Holden sneaks back in to talk to his sister Phoebe, she confronts him about his dislike of everyone. She says, "You don't like schools. You don't like a million things. You don't!....Name one thing" (Salinger 306-307). It might sound harsh, but it is the reality, Holden does not like anything or anybody. I know that Holden was idolized as a sort of innocent boy in a heartless society back when this book was really popular a while back, but after reading the book it seems to me that he is simply an extremely judgmental teenager looking to find fault with the people around him. He has something bad to say about every single person in the book. Even Phoebe, the only (living) person he likes in the whole world, he almost hates her for a brief moment in the end. Another line in the book was when Holden writes, (or thinks, or speaks, it is unclear), "I can even get to hate somebody, just by looking at them, if they have cheap suitcases with them" (Salinger 199). You would think that this is a joke, but it isn't, this is the way his life works; he comes up with some reason to hate everyone, no matter how absurd it might sound to most people. I really tried to understand why Holden is glorified by so many, but I simply cannot. It makes no sense to me. I also have read about how this book is controversial for its liberal use of profanity and references to sex, but both of those aspects play a crucial role in portraying just how much Holden feels he is alienated from the world.

        One of the main issues that this book touches on is the alienation that teenagers feel while growing up. This is an issue that still exists today. A lot of teenagers grow up feeling like they don't fit in anywhere. This issue is a lot more prevalent in people who rate their "class standing" as below average". According to a Gallup poll, only 9% of people who rate their "class standing" as above average wish that they were somebody else, compared to 27% of people who say their "class standing" is below average. Also, Gallup found that among people who said that they ponder their existence, 25% say that they do marijuana, compared to only 8% among people who say that they see a reason for being on Earth. What all of this says is that people who consider themselves to be inferior to their peers often feel alienated and wish they could be somebody else. They are also at an increased risk to do drugs. (That is not to say that all people who do drugs feel inferior to their peers)

Lyons, Linda. "Growing Up Lonely: Examining Teen Alienation." Gallup News. Accessed 12 Oct 2017. http://news.gallup.com/poll/10465/growing-lonely-examining-teen-alienation.aspx
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Little, Brown and Company Version, Little, Brown and Company, 1951.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Judging People

         Well, as usual, I gave up on a book in the middle of it. But, in my defense, A Tale of Two Cities is a book that is extremely hard to read. I had to read things multiple times, at an extremely high focus rate, for them to make sense, and it was making the book a chore to read, so I stopped. I read The Great Gatsby and was not the biggest fan. You see, when I first picked up the books, for some reason I thought that The Wolf of Wall Street was based on The Great Gatsby. Now, I never actually watched The Wolf of Wall Street, but this book certainly was not what I imagined it to be. I did not want to read a depressing romance novel, I was expecting an action book with lots of partying. I was disappointed, to say the least.
         As for my reading goals, well, I am on track, but not by as much as I wanted to be because that biography on Steve Jobs took a while to read. It was by far the longest book I have ever read, and most of the information was irrelevant unless you wanted to study him extensively. But, all things considered, it was a good story about a very inspirational man. After I finished The Great Gatsby I started reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It is still too early for me to tell if it is a good book, but I have heard very good things about it. In addition, I have finally acquired a copy of Robert Kennedy's biography, which I have been wanting to read since I read Obama's book Dreams from my Father.
         It was very hard for me to find a quote to write about from this book because most of the really good quotes from the book are about love, which is not something I want to write about. So I chose to use a quote from the very beginning when he is talking about how he became the man he is. He remembers advice that his father once gave to him, " 'Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.'" (Fitzgerald 3). This quote does not really have much to do with the story, it is simply one of the pieces of advice that the main character, Nick, tries to live by. It is a very true statement. We often judge people who are in situations far worse than our own. I once heard a story of a single mother who, in order for her kids to eat, would go to stores to buy food and give them a check that she knew would bounce. Now, I am not going to argue that anyone should do that, but how can you judge the mother for doing it. She has no choice, either she does it, or her kids starve. It is easy for someone who has never gone through anything like that to judge her, but if they were in her position, they would be doing the exact same thing.
          It is very easy to judge people. It is something that humans love to do. How can we judge refugees and illegal immigrants? People living in this country won the genetic lottery and we should have sympathy for the people that did not, because we are no better than them.
          This book was not my favorite. It is a bit like the book I read for my summer reading, 1984, in that the book starts depressing, you get a bit of hope, and then, in the end, you are depressed again.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Changing the World, Giant Leaps at a Time

So far reading goals are still largely intact. I will admit, I slowed a bit down this time. The reason for this is that I began to read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I read it for about a week, and realized, that because I kept having to go back and reread for understanding, I would not have read a large enough portion of the book in time to do this blog. So I quickly decided to grab Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, and put Charles Dickens' book off until after Christmas Break. In hindsight, I probably should have a shorter book as this one is nearly six hundred pages hardcover. I have read about half of the book as of now, and plan to finish it before picking back up my reading of A Tale of Two Cities. 
So far, I have found the book extremely fascinating. Steve Jobs was a very interesting figure. He was a genius, yes, but he was also a control freak, and quite frankly, a dirtbag. There was one point in the book that was really interesting. Steve Jobs had been working for Atari. He had been challenged to create a game with as few chips as possible. He enlisted the help of his close friend, Steve Wozniak, to help him build the game, promising him half the money. Steve Jobs just happened to leave out the facts that he would get paid more from Atari if Steve Wozniak managed to make the device in less than 50 chips. Steve Wozniak did manage to make the device in 45 chips. But Jobs still never told him about the substantial bonus, deciding instead to keep all of that money for him himself. I think this story really paints the true picture of Steve Jobs, a man who was a genius, but also a dirtbag who would treat most people like trash.
As for the quote I selected from the book, it is actually a tone poem he wrote,

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do." (Isaacson 302)

This poem was made into a commercial, a very popular one at that. This is the kind of person that Steve Job's was. He was crazy, insane, but he was a genius. He changed things, he pushed the human race forward. I wrote in one of my earlier blogs about Obama, about how he urged all of us to try and change the world, in whatever little way we can. There are a few people that can do much more, who change the world dramatically. Steve Jobs was one of those people. Steve Jobs also tries to urge others to change the world. But he goes about it quite differently. than Obama. He tries to convince us that every single thing we see around us was made by someone, someone no smarter, or better than us. Why can't we change the world?
It is true, so many ordinary people, created so many amazing things. They all made the choice to change the world. They could have sat back and let other people do it. Someone like Malala actively had to make the choice to stand up to the Taliban. She could have just as easily stood back and let someone else take the stand. It is always a lot easier to stand back, but there is a reason that she will have books written about her, and 99% of Pakistan's school age girls will be forgotten in a generation. We have to do the same thing. We have to take a stand, or make something new, or do something that pushes the world forward.
Steve Jobs might be remembered a crazy person, as someone who was utterly insane, but one thing is clear, he pushed the world forward, he changed things, and for us to truly honor his legacy, we have to do the same.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Your Conscience

         Since my last blog post I have finished Dreams From my Father by Barack Obama,  I also read Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I am on track as far as how many books I wanted to read this year, but I am finding that the types of books I want to read have shifted a lot since I wrote my first blog here. I don't think that is a bad thing, because it means that I am discovering new things about myself as I read new books. As I have read books this year, I have discovered that I want to read more memoirs and realistic/historical fiction.
         I thought Go Set a Watchman was a fairly decent book. I didn't think it was the greatest piece of writing in the world. But it's message was especially important, it is a message that I think we could all really use.
         In Go Set a Watchman, Jean Louise, the main character, discovers her father is a racist. She takes this very hard, as she has looked up to her father her whole life. You see, her father had been perfect, he never did anything wrong, as far as she could see. So when she discovers that her father is not perfect, he is racist and supports racist organizations and people, she is extremely angry.
         In her anger, she travels to her uncle's house, who gives her some advice. He tells her, "Every man's island, Jean Louise, every man's watchman, is his conscience" (Lee 264-265). You see, Jean Louise, growing up, had attached her conscience to her father's. She had never seen her father mess up, so she assumed that he was always right. She thought of her father as God. What her uncle is telling is that she needs to establish her own "Watchman" that tells her right from wrong, instead of relying on her father.
        This is true even now, we cannot rely on other people to tell us right from wrong. That is the only way that we get rid of things like racism and sexism. Just 60 years ago, the world was a dramatically different place than it is now. But new generations are born, and while they still have a lot of same views as their parents, they were born in a different time, in a different world. Thus, some of their views change. People who grow up now have very different views on gay marriage than the generation that grew up 60 years ago. That is because they established their own conscience, they did not just accept what past generations told them is right and wrong. Whether you agree with the example given or not, this is how society changes, for better or for worse. New generations establish their own conscience, and since they grow up in a different world than generations before them, their views are going to be different.
       We can also see this in the presidential elections. We know that Trump won among the general population. But if millennials were the only ones that voted, Hillary would have won the election 504-23 electoral college delegates among the 46 states where data is currently available. The world is changing, young people are forming a conscience independent of their elders, and that how society changes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Changing the World, a Tiny Bit at a Time

         Hey Guys! Since my last post on this blog I have done a good bit of reading. I have read America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't. It is a political satire book by Stephen Colbert (The Comedian). It was a pretty good book, a bit boring at times since he would go on rants about things for quite a long time. But the rants were always extremely funny so it made the book very enjoyable. After that book, I started reading Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama, which I am currently a little more than 3/4th's done with .
         Since my last post I would say I am speeding up with my reading, but not fast enough. I took forever to read Stephen Colbert's book and then crammed to read my new one. I read all but about 20 pages of Obama's book outside of class. What I need to work on for the rest of the year is reading at a more constant pace, and powering through the book, even when it gets boring.

         Now about Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama. It is a memoir about his life and him confronting the truth about his father's life and making good with his mixed inheritance (Black Dad and White Mom). I have loved this book story so far. Whether you agree with him politically or not, just about nobody argues that Obama has a way with words, and he demonstrates that beautifully in this book. He talks about growing up. He grew up in Hawaii, moved to Indonesia for a couple years, and then continued his schooling living with his grandparents in Hawaii. He was a bit of slacker in high school, He was one of only 2 or 3 black kids in his grade and because of this, he felt he didn't really fit in. After high school, he went to college in LA, then transferring to Columbia and eventually going to Harvard Law School. After that prestigious schooling, you would expect someone like him to go work at a bank, or become a lawyer, but no, he becomes a community organizer, a job which pays just about nothing. For the next few years he spent all of his time working with churches to try and improve living conditions for black people on the south side of Chicago. The book later goes on to vividly describe his trip to Kenya after his father's death to try and understand his/ his father's story. This is too complicated to try and explain in a few short sentences, and since it does not affect the quote that I want to write about, I won't even try.

         There was a conversation in the book that really stuck out to me, it was when he was still in college, he was just starting to get politically involved. He was hosting a rally to try and educate people on Africa. He was convinced that nobody cared about what he had to say, that he could never impact the world in any way (Ironic looking back on it). His friend Regina had something to say to him about that.  She says, "Let me tell you something, Mr. Obama. It's not just about you. It's never just about you. It's about people who need your help. Children who are depending on you. They're not interested in your irony or your sophistication or your ego getting bruised" (109). This makes him realize something, "You might be locked in a world not of own making, - but you still have a claim on how it is shaped." (111). What he is talking about here is fighting unfairness in our world. Our whole lives we are worried about ourselves, that we don't belong, that we don't fit in. What he is saying is that life is a whole lot more unfair to other people. We have a responsibility to try and help them. I think this is one of the of the most important lessons we can take from this book. You might feel that what you are doing is having no effect, that whatsoever you do, no change will come about from it. But we have a duty to keep going, to keep trying no matter what. It is a bit like a charity trying to change something in the community, like community organizing. It might seem like you are achieving nothing, no matter what you do. But we have a duty to those whose lives we are trying to change. We can't sit back and do nothing. No matter how small a change it seems to you it could change someone else's life completely.

It is all pretty nicely summed up in a quote by Obama from a speech when he was running for president the first time.
"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."