Thursday, June 16, 2016

The 19th Century Defines Modern American Society

posted by Rachel Tuley

Image result for NYC skyline

Today's American society is defined by technology, consumerism, and modernism; however, the current state of this country stands as it is today largely due to the effects of the 19th century. Inventions that resulted from industrialization paved the way for many of the commodities that we consider commonplace. Romanticism encouraged many of the religious beliefs found among US citizens today.

Without the 19th century, I feel confident saying that we as US citizens would not enjoy many of the comforts that we do today.

Thoughts About Petrarchan Humanist Philosophy for My Brother

Thursday, June 16, 2016
Dear Rhen, 

This semester, I have learned about the importance of making connections from the past to the present through self-directed learning. In my Rhetoric and Western Civilizations 2 class, Professor Gideon Burton encouraged us to dig into primary sources; experience time periods through a number of hands-on activities, like visiting museums, going to plays, baking food, creating art, or composing music (see Gideon Burton's post A Guide to Self-directed Learning for more details). 

One time period that particularly interested me was the Renaissance because of its humanist philosophy. One of the very first humanist thinkers was Petrarch, a 14th-century philosopher. Petrarch rediscovered Greek classics detailing the importance of human accomplishment but also enjoyed the teachings of recent Christian scholars such as St. Augustine. Petrarch asserted that individual accomplishment enhances rather than detracts from faith. In a world steeped with secular humanism, which asserts that the purpose of life is altruistic human accomplishment and the nonexistence of God, we can look to Petrarch to understand how individual human accomplishment can inspire us to live our faith rather than leading us to believe that God doesn't exist because we don't need Him. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Thought About Communism for my Sister

I know that you don't care much for socialist ideas that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels brought about.  I don't even agree with it all myself, but we need to recognize the ideas that have seeped into our own society that actually do work.  The Japanese would say "mottainai" if we completely ignored the ideas they came up with.  

Despite the historical figures like Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin using their "communism" to make themselves head of fascist states, Marx and Engels talked mostly about making the working class strong and not whole dependent on the the rich class that they refer to as the bourgeois.  Some ideas we haven’t adopted like the “Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.” and the “Abolition of all rights of inheritance.” as the stated in their manifesto.  We generally think of this redistribution of land when we think of communism.  However, a few ideas our country and many others have adopted readily.  

Ideas we had that we didn’t realize are communist:

A State of Mind for Peace


In your last letter you wrote about how you are having a hard time getting along with your roommate. While I can understand your point of view, I think that it would be good for you and Tanner to figure out how to better communicate and solve your problems together. Have you thought about why you seem to be getting into arguments? Let me share an insight from an Enlightenment philosopher about social order that will help you to think about your motives and hopefully help you reestablish your friendship on better grounds of communication.  

Please "Romanticize" Your World

Dear Kate,

Remember how you told me the other day about our cousin Sam’s comments during your walk in the woods? How she loved to be “one with nature” and how it made you want to barf? Well, maybe her words and actions don’t always line up, considering she always just wants to take a picture for Instagram and get out of whatever “nature” she’s experiencing, but I DID want to try to help you understand what she meant by her statements. It’s not something to be scoffed at. Nature, I mean. When “becoming one with nature” is done right, it does a lot of good. 

You might have heard of “Romanticism.” It was in full-swing in the early 1800s. Basically, during this time, people focused on being individuals, having new ideas, feeling strong emotions (of all kinds), reminiscing about the past, and loving nature. In my mind, it was a beautiful time of collective vulnerability. In 1854, a man named Henry David Thoreau published a book called “Walden.” It is about his life living in the woods by himself. He spend two years living in cabin near Walden Pond. Here’s what he said about why he did it:

Speak Out

Let Your Voice Be Heard

How many online petitions do you see swirling around social media these days. How many posts plead that we will like and share them so they can get their voice heard.

Why is this? it is because we believe that 
One Person Can Make a Difference

True Love and the Reformation

by Talmage Cromar

Anais mi amor,

I know how much you dislike studying history and reading about dead people who lived long ago because you feel that it has no relevance in your life. I feel differently and wanted to write and tell you why I love history and why I feel that it is relevant to our lives.

Specifically I wanted to talk about the Reformation. On the surface it may sound boring but hold on, it is really important. Before the 1500's, very few people knew what was in the scriptures, specifically the Bible. Literacy was low and the church's stranglehold on its canonical documents was firm. The very concept of religious freedom did not exist yet. Everyone was a member of the state church and had to believe what the priests told them.

All of this changed though when brave men, rebelled against authority to follow their consciences. Men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wycliffe and others protested against immoral church practices and sought to translate and disseminate the scriptures to the common people. Gutenburg assembled and invented the printing press and these scriptures were then spread among the people, elevating literacy and personal worship.

Today we enjoy religious freedom and thought and especially religious scholarship that would not have existed without these brave men in the Reformation. I have personally benefited from this as I have the scriptures in my language and additional resources to understand them and have received spiritual answers when I needed them. My personal worship is more sincere because I have studied the foundation of my faith. I am free to believe and exercise my religious beliefs as I choose because the reformation influenced the founders of our nation who established freedom of religion as a right for all people. My life is deeply enriched from all this.

So why does this matter to you? Because you are a deeply religious person and without these men doing incredibly daring things at a dangerous time, you would be unable to express your beliefs. You probably would not even have those beliefs as they would have remained inaccessible to you.

The Reformation was a critical period of time in our world's history. It opened up freedom of belief and thought. With this freedom of religion and thought, we were able to be sealed together in one of God's temples for time and all eternity. A blessing that wouldn't have existed otherwise. So, while you may feel that history has no relevence in your life, think again. Think about our little family and you will remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants.

With love from your husband,

Talmage Cromar

Dear Devon and Caleb, We should probably read the Bible.

Dear Devon and Caleb,

How are y’all doing? I miss you guys and I hope I can go down and visit y’all soon. I might come down for Father’s Day (just the day) but I’m still not sure.

Anyway, remember when I was down for the weekend and we watched that documentary about the coming forth of the King James Bible? (Caleb, I think you were in your room most of the time, but Devon you got most of it while you were awake) ;) It was all about how different translations of the Bible, like the Vulgate, John Wycliffe’s bible, Martin Luther’s German bible, etc. all led to the King James Bible as we know it today. All of these people were influential and we should be grateful for them and their contributions to get us the bible, but the person who I think we most have to thank for the Bible we have today is William Tyndale. He was the first one to translate the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible into English.

I could stop here and y’all would be like, “Yup. That’s pretty cool.” But guys, listen! Do you know how hard it is to translate something? I had to translate some stuff on my mission (more of it was interpreting) but here in Provo I volunteered at this place called Centro Hispano and every time I go there, all I’m asked to do is translate birth certificates and other important documents from Spanish to English. The first time I went, it took me probably two or three hours just to do one. And it wasn’t even to the bottom of the page! Then the lady who works there gave me one in French (which I don’t know, obviously) and said, “Good luck!” I managed to do it in an hour or two, but realize to do all of this I rely heavily on the internet. I have instant access to so much information from people who are experts, who have already done a thousand translations of this type of thing, and it still is a struggle.

So translating takes time and it’s hard. So what? Well, just imagine how long it would take me to get through Genesis. Yeah. It took him more than five years to do it, and he didn’t have this fancy thing called the internet, AND he was being hunted most of the time because apparently it wasn’t okay for the common man to be able to read the bible in his own language. Weird, right? That was what Tyndale wanted—for anyone and everyone to be able to study the word of God. He ended up dying for what he had done, and his last words were (if you remember from the movie) “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” Well, his prayer has been answered and essentially the whole world can read the Bible, but more importantly, we can have family and individual scripture study, we can learn of God’s will for us with such beautiful phrases like “consider the lilies of the field” (Matt. 6:28), in a Bible that is estimated to be 90% Tyndale’s translation.

Well, I love y’all. I suppose the best way for us to show our appreciation for Tyndale is by studying what he gave us and trying to live by it. I definitely need to work on that. I bet we all can.

Love from your favorite brother,

Kimball :)

With or Without Heels: steps in feminism

Though this post is primarily directed at my younger sister, the outlook on early examples of equality, specifically, gender equality, is still very relevant and I hope many of you will find it interesting. I do.

The first book I remember you loving is The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. You've never been much of a reader, in fact, you always say you hate reading, but love learning. You loved this book, though. I'd like to inspire you to do a little bit more reading by providing you with some of my learning about topics we both love: feminism and equality.

I was studying the Enlightenment and periods of revolution in the 18th Century and was very frustrated by the lack of women mentioned. With some further research I stumbled on the life of Olympe de Gouge, political activist, feminist, and abolitionist. She wrote plays about and against slavery and various political pamphlets. Initially in support of the French Revolution, she became disenchanted when equal rights weren't given to women and she was eventually killed by the revolutionists for speaking out against their policies. She was part of feminist groups, wanted women to have an equal say in marriage, and had a huge influence on people who knew her. My favorite thing about her is that when the French National Constituents Assembly put forth the document The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, she responded by writing The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen. She wrote of how women were able to be punished the same as men, yet had not the same rights by stating, "Women have the right to mount the scaffold, they must also have the right to mount the speaker's rostrum." You should read it. 

She reminded me of you, in a way. We were talking the other day about how neither of us likes to share our opinions, especially online, because we don't like conflict, but I've seen you post feminist memes and quotations with vehemence, so why not with things that aren't so safe?  I think we should try to be a little braver. I was proud of you for speaking your mind after the recent attack in Orlando. You are right. People shouldn't jump to defending their right to have guns when people are still in shock and suffering. No one is trying to take guns away, and let's not talk about it while people are just reacting to something terrible. Compassion should be our first move. I think de Gouge is a good example because she never backed down, and as a woman in that time period it was risky and not the norm. I'm not saying we should endanger ourselves (I certainly don't want to go to the guillotine, even if it is just figuratively), but wanting to honestly support a cause can only be done if we are willing to talk about it. I propose that when something is really important to us, we speak out, and if we're afraid, we'll speak out together. People will argue and disagree no matter what we do, especially on social media, so we may as well be honest with ourselves and authentic in our worlds.

What do you think? Is it worth it?

One teacher changes education and you won't believe what happens next...

Dear UninterestedStudent295, 

I too have been in your shoes. School can be the most boring thing in this world, where staring at the clock seems run your mind torturously through all of the things you could be and would rather be doing, yet the time drags on. However, I'm here to convince you that there's a homie who can change all of that: Gideon Burton. 
G-Burt for short.  

I'm serious when I say this man has got some ETHOS. Receiving a PhD in Rhetoric, Linguistics, and Literature from USC may mean nothing to you, so let me paint a picture:

A man sits in some picturesque giant
 dusty library probably looking exactly like this--> 
He then goes and reads every single book on ancient teaching methods IN. LATIN. and compiles the best, most effective way of teaching. 
Taking the great teachers and thinkers he goes ad fontes--back to the original sources, the methods, techniques and speeches that have proved the test of time and have worked. 
This man then takes what he learned and applies it to the way he teaches. You'll enroll in his class. 
He'll then require you to make a painstakingly detailed account of your time spent doing homework. Wait, what? Yes. It's hard, and at times annoying, but he'll open up your mind to different ways of researching. For one, you'll go to a museum, having just read all about not the artwork there, but the time period in which it came out of: what were the theories? What were people thinking? What were they talking about? You'll see those common, run of the mill paintings like Cranach's "Fall and Redemption of Man" in a whole new light because now you know that in the Renaissance the "what a piece of work is man" idea is revolutionary, and that in turn changes how you go to museums in the future. 

You'll be asked to go out of your way and start a conversation with someone about what you are learning. This is homework? Yes. And it's effective. You'll call up these friends, acquaintances, sometimes strangers and ask for their opinion on your research, sharing what you have learned as well, which in turn helps you more than them. One time you may even call up a neighbor you barely know, ask about a concept you are struggling with which happens to be her expertise, and have a very meaningful conversation which ends in tears and hugs and walk out with a brand new friend. 

You'll be asked to use sources other than Google and Youtube, and that will make you stretch, a lot. But you're asked to research a topic you actually care about, and that changes everything. You find out that there is a world beyond those two platforms that have taken over the world, and the information available becomes exciting, you look forward to researching, you look forward to homework--wait what? Yes. You look forward to homework because it's something you actually care about.

So when you're bored looking at the clock thinking it will never end in classes in the future, remember that it's all about how you approach your homework, find the element that excites you and take it and run. 

Your friend,


Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Hello little brother!

I'm sure you've struggled as I have in finding relevance in school to your own personal world. A lot of the academic is boring and dry, and with the exciting and fast pace of the digital world we now live in, it's easy to think of such things as irrelevant to our lives. History in particular is easy to discount as irrelevant- who cares about what happened so long ago, when our times are so different from then anyways? It's easy to forget how we have all this technology in the first place.

Curiosity Killed the Cat, But It Also Discovered Gravity

To a student younger than myself:

I’m sure you know who Isaac Newton is. I saw his grave at Westminster Abbey a year ago on study abroad, and it seemed rather magnificent and forbidding. Father of modern physics and calculus, mathematical genius, honored as one of the most influential men of the modern period. All of that is true. Newton was a mathematical genius. He did revolutionize physics. And he is as influential as everyone says. But did he start out as a genius? How did he get there?  

It turns out that Cambridge, where Newton was studying, was shut down for two years because of an outbreak of the Black Plague and so he had lots of time to do whatever he wanted. In this time, he studied physics, optics, and mathematics. This is when he made one of his earlier discoveries: white light breaks into colors when it hits a prism. (So in addition to the theories of gravity and laws of motion, we also owe that one Pink Floyd album cover to Newton.)

Curious about seeing his handwriting and the way that Newton learned and made so many discoveries, I looked up some of his papers. Studying his early manuscripts, I found this delightful page. It has a picture of a snowflake and several differently shaped flowers. It was one of the cutest things I had ever seen. I do a lot of doodling myself, in my spare time, and I was surprised by two thins. One, Newton is not very good at drawing. Some of his flowers are a tad lopsided. Second, I couldn’t believe that the same wigged and stern-faced man that had created calculus had doodled some flowers into his notebook. I started reading through the pages, curious what had prompted these drawings. Was it boredom? Did he get tired of math and take a break?

It turns out that Newton came up with all of his theories not by simply imagining that it had to be true, but by carefully studying the world around him. He was intensely curious. Many of his early manuscript pages, like the one I found, are long detailed descriptions of how nature works. He describes the motion of mills, the petals of flowers, the fractal patterns of snowflakes, etc. It’s no surprise that he was inspired to consider gravity by an apple falling on his head.

I realized Newton wasn’t a stuffy old genius, locked in a cupboard furiously scribbling out first second and third derivatives. He was really in the world, enthralled by what he saw around him. He wanted to understand everything, from the movement of the sun to the wind in the grasses. As I read I was inspired and humbled. Reading those pages made me realize that Newton wasn’t successful because he was smart, he was successful because he was passionate and curious.

The momument above Newton's grave, by an artist quite
frankly much better than himself. 
And lucky for us, he wasn’t alone. Europe in the 1600s and 1700s was experiencing a flowering of curiosity, intellectual thought, philosophy, education, and discovery. Men, and a few women, across Europe started using curiosity and questions to figure out how the world works. Today we call this period the Enlightenment, because people applied their minds to bring greater light and knowledge into the world. The Enlightenment was a movement created by individuals who were driven to learn. These people provided the basis of modern science, law, mathematics, philosophy, economics, and political theory. If those topics seem boring to you, imagine life without your cell phone, without car engines, or without property rights. These were all ideas and discoveries that took place because someone, a few hundred years ago, was curious.

I stood in front of this monument a year ago, and my perspective on it has changed a lot. I used to see it as a monument to a man who was as grandiose as this suggests. Now I see the human being, curious about flowers, that is behind this greatness. He wasn't so different from me or my friends. So learn about the world. Study what’s happening. Ground everything in life and its experiences, and great things will come from that. 

Feminism is Weird.....

Dear Former Roommate who thought 'women's power' was a bad thing,

When people hear the term 'feminist' today, the images that come to mind are not always pleasant. It can be associated with un-shaved legs, angry women, and the belittlement of men. However, the term feminism has been around for longer than this and is something that should be celebrated. The women's suffrage movement was an era that changed the course of American history for the better.

The Industrial Revolution


I hope all is well with you back at home. The purpose of this letter is not merely for casual written correspondence, but I feel that it is important that I inform you of the influence of a certain historically significant event has had on our contemporary society. In our day where we take technology for granted, mass production is a norm, and reasonable working conditions abide, I find it necessary to give historical precedent for these issues, all of which are rooted in the Industrial Revolution.

As you may know from your high school European and U.S. History courses, the Industrial Revolution was a 19th century phenomenon that gave rise to new technologies such as the steam engine, the cotton gin, the automobile, and several others. I have included a link to a timeline that I came across in my own study to illustrate the many different innovations that occurred during this time period. Bright minds combined with new advances in scientific discovery, which allowed for this surge of machinery to be integrated into 19th century society. When I learned about this time period during high school, I failed to see it in the grand scheme of things. I remembered names like Eli Whitney and Adam Smith and even certain inventions, but I did not comprehend the impact that this revolution had that pervades through our own day.

In my own personal study of the Industrial Revolution, I realized that this gave way to the rise of consumerism in our modern society. I myself have gotten caught in the trap of wanting to buy the next new thing, like the iPhone or X-Box game. I think this made me want to study the roots of the issue even more. I found that the ability to mass produce goods with machines and lower the cost of labor allowed individuals to have their own things like we do now. Also, because people were looking for more efficient ways to do things, this gave rise to the invention of computers and the advent of the Internet as a means of distributing information.

I also realized that, though we have made great progress in our society, some of the negative elements of the Industrial Revolution still exist today. In this article, Marton Jojarth critiques businesses that still provide unsafe working environments and require unnecessarily long shifts from their workers. Overall, however, we have made great strides as a nation to insure that the individual is treated with fairness.

It is my hope that as you learn more about the Industrial Revolution, you will recognize the contributions of intellectuals during that time period that make our digital society possible today. When you’re using your personal computer, work your part-time shift, or buy the latest trendy article of clothing, remember that all of these aspects of your life have been influenced by the innovations of the 19th century and the lessons learned as a result of industrialization.



Final Reflections: Mary Dias

Dear Grandchild,

I am writing this on June 15th, 2016. This November, the nation will select the next President of the United States. This political season has been one of much hearsay and, for many voters, who should be our next president is not a clear choice. The nation is divided on several issues and there seems to be no way to make a decision. As you are faced with deciding who your leaders will be, I encourage you to look to John F. Kennedy as an example of a leader who inspired those who followed and unified our nation.

John F. Kennedy (JFK) became President of the United States on January 20th, 1961.  In his inaugural speech, he spoke some of the most unifying and historically significant words of US history when he said "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country". In that speech he also emphasized the importance of unity and brotherhood between the US and foreign countries.  His presidency reflected that same spirit of unity and patriotism as he lead the nation through the Space Race, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the continued fight against communism. He was loved by citizens of the United States. This was made very apparent at the nation's reaction to his assassination in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd, 1963. The country mourned his death and rallied around his family.  An extensive investigation was set to be carried out regarding his accused killer, but the killer was gunned down before the trial could begin. The country was outraged by the killer's death because it left the country without answers or justice.

JFK was so loved because of his patriotism, his integrity, and his moral commitment. As you analyze the credentials of potential presidential candidates and leaders of other sectors, look to men who have the qualities John F. Kennedy had. A patriot, a person of integrity, and person with a moral basis is the best kind of person to follow. Learn from history and choose your leaders wisely.


Grandma Mary

The Wrights Were Right: Flying is Cool

(Written to my younger sister)


The First Flight
All of those years we lived in Cincinnati and we never went to the Wright Brothers Museum! Do you remember all of the times we drove up to Dayton for soccer tournaments or state track meets? I know at the time we didn't take great interest in historical museums, but sometimes I wish we did. Lately I have been studying more in depth about the Wright Brothers (Orville and Wilbur) and their process in inventing, building and flying the world's first airplane. I find it so fascinating that they were able to develop their mechanical skills as they worked with bicycles and other things such as printing press, motors and other machines in their shop. 

Delta Airlines
It has been over a hundred years since their first flight on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk. Orville Wright piloted the first powered airplane 20 feet above a beach in North Carolina. The flight only lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. During this time there were many different inventions being produced, which has ultimately led to where we are today. It is incredible to think that there was a time when you couldn't travel across the country in a matter of hours by plane. It could take weeks or month (depending on where you were going) to drive in a car, cross by train or by foot to your destination. Not only can we travel from state to state by plane, but we can fly across oceans and experience different countries and culture. Go back to our flight home from France: we were sitting first class, in seats that reclined all the way back, we were served food, and we watched several movies on the TVs in front of us. It is unbelievable to reflect on how far we have come. The Wright Brothers, and their invention of the airplane has allowed us to progress, grow, and experience places, things and people that we would have never had the chance to, if it were not for them. Next time we are home in Ohio, let's go to the museum and Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and see if they'll let us take a selfie by their memorial monument. I bet they wouldn't mind. 

Madeline Vance

Emily flying first class back from France

Works Cited:

Standing for What We Believe

This is a letter, addressed to my niece, who is about 9 years old.

Hi Eliza, I want to share a story with you! This story happened when you were about 4 or 5 years old. I was in high school—12th grade, in fact.

In high school I was really involved in musicals—just like how you like to sing and perform! My senior year came and I was places as the leading role in our Spring show. I was thrilled—the show had fun music, lots of dancing, and I had heard it had a funny story-line; plus, my younger sister Aubrea was in the show too! We met for our first practice and as a cast read through the whole story with all the lines we would have to say. As we read aloud together, a sick feeling swept the students. Remember that I went to school in a city where most people go to church and are Christians. As we read through our lines we realized that this story had bad words and some inappropriate scenes. Most, if not all of us knew this show didn't have the Christian beliefs of our families and community. It might have been easy to brush it off and say “It's just a show, and we're just acting; besides, people watch stuff like this every day in movies and on TV!” But I was afraid that if I chose to be in this musical I wouldn’t be able to invite you, or my other nieces and nephews to come see me in it. After a lot of talking between me, my parents, and the musical theater director, my younger sister and I quit the show. Ever since, my old high school has done appropriate shows.

Why do I tell you this? All throughout history there have been good people who changed the world by doing what was unpopular, because they felt it was the right thing to do. My example is nothing compared to all the people who have sacrificed their lives to bring about good change. I like to think about people like William Tyndale, Rosa Parks, Joseph Smith (to add a more personal example), or Mahatma Ghandi.—all people who looked for truth and tried bringing peace to the world. William Tyndale was a truth-seeker, and lived in the 1500s—a LONG time ago! He searched for truth in the bible and felt that the Catholic church had some untrue ideas, including the idea that only church leaders should be able to understand the bible. William had a big goal; he said “If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than [Catholic church leaders]!” I am grateful for men and women like this who stand up for the right things. I’m grateful that you have done that! I've heard a story about when you stood up for the right thing in school and I’m proud of you! I  hope you and I can always stand for truth! :)

Love, Uncle Grant

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Final Exam Spring 2012: Reflective Post

For part one of the final exam, compose a personal blog post in the form of a short persuasive letter written to someone you know (perhaps an underclassman or a younger family member) -- someone who has not shared your experiences with rhetoric and history. (The recipient can be fictionalized.)

I'd like you to convince this person about the importance of a specific event, period, or person from history. Being a good rhetorician, you won't fall into the trap of merely giving a report on something. Instead, you will adjust what you say to be of relevance to that person and in the context of life today. And, since this is online communication, you'll try to work in a personal angle to make it engaging.

Do this by drawing upon personal learning experiences that you recorded in your learning log or discussed on Digital Dialog, and/or upon social learning experiences you had outside of class that confirmed the relevance of your reading or research. 

  • Avoid repeating the historical component within your final project post (show you have some range in appreciating history). 
  • Make a meaningful title (Do NOT title your post "Final exam part 1")
  • Images or other media are not required, though you may visually design your post to make it interesting.
  • Keep this to 300-500 words.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Who Has Control, Our Government?

by Sam Derby

As a young boy, my dream was to join NASA and to go to other planets and explore new worlds. However, as time pasted and as I continued reading my Air & Space magazine I realized that NASA was becoming stagnant and underfunded.  Hopes of even witnessing the building of a base on the moon or colonizing Mars were not just diminishing for me but for a whole generation.  Then, years later came a new breakthrough.  A rocket that can not only take off but land fully intact.  This may seem minor but it is an unprecedented technological advance and all done by Elon Musk's SpaceX company.  A private institution and not the government's fallen NASA.

Just look at how appealing it is to support Elon Musk; in his biography is he is quoted to have said:

"I would like to die thinking that humanity has a bright future.  If we can solve sustainable energy and be well on our way to becoming a multi-planetary species with a self-sustaining civilization on another planet to cope with a worst-case scenario happening and extinguishing human consciousness, then I that would be really good." -Elon Musk

American Cultural Influence

Every nation has, to some extent, hard power. But which nations have soft power? How do they use it? Have nations used soft power in the past?

The Influence of Big Power

We all know that powers outside ourselves influence us; governments, corporations, and advertising all try and shape our worldview in varying ways and for different reasons. Our group is focusing on these three big powers and examining the way they influence us.

The Internet is Not New

Jordan Murray, Alec Parkinson, and Josh Olsen

The internet is full of sensationalism, dubious information, and inflammatory dialog. Because of the internet’s very nature, we are constantly exposed to these things in a way we never have been before. It is tempting to blame the medium for these problems - but none of these things are new. Although the internet is unlike past forms of communication in the speed with which new ideas can be created, disseminated, and fought over, it simply represents an amplification of issues which humankind has been dealing with for hundreds of years.

Slam Poetry as Activism

What is slam poetry?

"[Slam] poetry is not to glorify the poet, but rather to celebrate the community around the poet." 

Marc Kelly Smith is credited to have started what we now know as "slam poetry" in the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago in the year 1984. In his book, "Take the Mic: The Art of Performance Poetry, Slam, and the Spoken Word," he recalls his move to "enthusiastically embrace performance as an essential part of the poetic experience." While poetry has been performed orally for centuries, Smith's contributions have resulted in a unique genre in and of itself. He and the other "Ill-Bred Poets of the Get Me High," as they jokingly called themselves, agreed upon and abode by the following rules:

1) The poet on the stage is no more important than the listening audience
2) Performing is an art, as much an art as crafting the text itself

These rules, as well as others, provided the mold to shape the slam poetry of today. 

My Poetic Love

I've always loved reading and more especially writing poetry as a form of entertainment and I often write poems for close friends and family members on their birthdays or for other special occasions. I almost always stick with rhyming, rhythmic poetry, but lately I've gotten into the slam poetry movement, mostly from watching dozens and dozens of passionate YouTube slam videos of youth speaking out. It's changed my entire view of poetry as a fun hobby to a means by which we can effectively be a voice for social change. 

Now, I realized before that you can use poetry to express your views on any given issue. I wrote a poem for a poetry contest in the seventh grade entitled "The Negative Effects of Alcohol" in which, albeit in a roundabout way, I show the reader how alcohol could adversely affect his or her life. Here's the poem:

The Negative Effects of Alcohol
by Kimball Leavitt

As I strolled down in the morning,
I thought about my friends
And I contemplated, "Which large, serrated
Blade would mean my end?"

You see, I was a gladiator,
I had a battle that day
And if I had fought any worse
I would have lost the fray.

The brawl began at the crack 'o dawn
The combatant was colossal
And though he was the king's great pawn
I sought to win the tussle

I landed in his gut, a punch!
And, involuntarily,
He rejected all his lunch
And upchucked it on me,

Suffice to say, it was a dance
I was a great deal quicker. 
He might have stood just half a chance
If not for his drinkin' liquor.

Say what you will, but in my opinion, this poem has some mildly humorous content, as well as an unclear purpose. The title clearly states the purpose of the poem, but anyone reading it won't understand how it ties in until the last line. I suppose that could be a good thing--providing a little twist/surprise at the end--but however you feel about this poem, I think you'll agree with me that for many rhetorical situations, slam poetry can be a much more effective medium than, say, words alone.

(Written) Poetry: An Agent for Social Change in History?

It could and has been said that John Milton's Paradise Lost (1660) is the best piece of poetry ever written. Though many now dispute its greatness with that claim largely because of how religious it is, its theme was extremely appropriate for Milton's time and situation. For those of you who haven't read it, it's essentially Milton's retelling of the premortal war in heaven, the fall of Adam and Eve and their subsequent salvation through the Son of God. Though biblically based, Milton takes the liberty to narrate far beyond the scope of the Bible in his recounting of these events that took place "in the beginning." Reflected in the epic is the idea of ad fontes, a going back to earlier sources for knowledge, creating a fusion of biblical and mythical.

In the poem, Milton sets out to "justifie the wayes of God to man;" in other words, he tries to explain why God does what He does, and why He did what He did. He (Milton) achieves his objective by engaging the reader with sophisticated and elevated language and causing him or her to think deeply about the about the argument. The world Milton lived in was not secular, and most people were intricately familiar with the story of Adam and Eve from the Book of Genesis, but Paradise Lost had quite the new twist on it. Milton expresses and hints at his personal religious, social and political views throughout the epic, such as his view of women as beneath men in the social heirarchy, problems with which arise when that order is reversed (Adam subjecting himself to Eve); his questionable ideology concerning the Holy Trinity (the Son as a separate being from God Himself); and his support of Oliver Cromwell and desire to see Charles I executed, reflected in Satan's questioning God's right to rule. All of these views along with his primary purpose, could be considered his "call" for social change: a call to question the government's power, a call for people to believe in God and obey Him unquestioningly, etc. I would willingly put Paradise Lost under the label "activism" but with the admission that it lacks the vigor, velocity, protest and speaking out quality that has pervaded activism since the term's birth in the early 1900s. Slam poetry is a more suited medium to call for social change.

Why Slam Works

"Slam poetry carries the oral tradition forward, encouraging today’s poets and performance artists to address the modern human condition by bringing to life (and the spotlight) personal, political, social, and spiritual concerns while knocking the socks off an audience through the artful and entertaining application of performance." This short segment from Marc Kelly Smith 

The internet has enabled slam poets' voices to echo millions of times after their initial delivery. It allows for a much larger, asynchronous audience not possible at a formal poetry slam event. Even someone ranting a spoken word poem about how much he hates social media can attract tens of thousands of viewers.

One of the reasons slam poetry works so well is the way it brings people together. "It strives to bring together divergent communities of people, not drop out from society to form a hipster elite" (1). Sure, sometimes slam events can get competitive, but it’s not about the prize or who “wins.” I was moved to tears by a slam poem done by two Muslim girls about what it’s like for them living in America and I got a little look-see into their world. It made me look inside myself and rethink my set of beliefs about Muslims, not that I’ve ever been intentionally prejudice against them, I've just never had that kind of experience before. Most of the Muslims I’ve met have been women and all were really timid, so it was a new experience for me that showed me how our views of others can change so quickly. Now I feel a connection with the two girls and I want to see them and other Muslims for who they are, not for what a stereotype defines them as. I guess it took a slam poem to change my mind.

Let's face it, there are myriad societal issues that confront us today. There are things that go on every day that are wrong on so many levels that need to be stopped. Some are very personal and others are more widespread. You know what I’m talking about. Most of us know someone who’s had an eating disorder, who struggles with depression, anxiety, OCD, All of us have witnessed or at least are aware of different kinds of injustices, prejudices and mistreatment toward people and/or groups of people. I’m talking racism, sexism, violence, abuse, rape, discrimination because of someone’s beliefs, etc. We know these things are happening. We hear about them on the news, on Facebook and other social media, but I’m not sure how much we actually do to help change the world around us.

That’s easy to understand. For a lot of these issues, we may feel they don’t affect our lives or that our influence is too insignificant to make a real change. But these slam poets, many of them youth, are making a difference by changing the way people think and feel. One evidence of their influence are the content in the comments of their videos. Here is Blythe Baird's "When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny" slam poem, followed by a few of the comments on her YouTube video I thought were extra special.

"I'm currently in treatment for anorexia and this really inspires me to work harder and beat this disease"
"I feel this so so much. I've been dealing with anorexia and bulimia since I was 15, and at 19 and even after fainting at school, in a concert, and at work, I've never gone to the hospital. "If you are thin to begin with when you get an eating disorder, you go to the hospital. If you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story" is so damn true. At one point I was 150 lbs under what I started at, cold in the warmest electric blankets I could find and not taking down a single calorie for days, I didn't go to the hospital. I went to therapy once every two weeks and was told to figure it out on my own. It's not fun to be fat and anorexic. It's a nightmare."
"Every time I feel myself slipping i listen to this again and I remember why i dont want to go back"
"all the words I've never been able to speak"

"This should be shown in schools. People don't realize how often you get congratulated when you have an eating disorder. It's fucking mind bending to have your treatment center telling you you're dying when everyone else says you look so good, they're jealous you can fit into that size, they want dieting tips, they talk about it like that's all that matter about you, people who never noticed you compliment you. It feels like being congratulated on being thin when you're going through chemo. You can feel that you're dying. You feel depressed, angry, anxious, and lonely as fuck all at once.
You know what's awful? Being told it's "such a shame" when you go to treatment because you're "wasting" that skinny body. If you want it so bad fucking take it, along with the hair loss, dizziness, fainting, bleeding throat, stomach pains, shaking, freezing cold, clouded thoughts, aching muscles, constantly getting sick, heart palpitations, liver failure, and more."

When I first watched this video (and every time after that), I felt compassion. I wanted to tell her and every other person who struggles with eating disorders and distorted body image to stop doing what they are doing, they are hurting themselves. I felt sympathy. My aunt died before she reached 50 because of bulimia and anorexia, and it's so hard to watch that. It's horrible to think that we could be perpetrating this idea that to be accepted, you have to have a perfect body. Blythe Baird is trying to tell us that being skinny, being complimented, having people praise you and have interest in you isn't worth dying. Society doesn't decide what you need to be, you get to be whoever and whatever you want to be. If you want to see more of slam poetry check out all the accounts I follow on my YouTube channel, as well as some playlists I organized by topic.

Works Cited

John Milton, Paradise Lost. Link

Leavitt, Kimball. The Negative Effects of Alcohol, taken from my blog

Smith, Marc Kelly; Kraynak, Joe. Take the Mic: The Art of Performance Poetry, Slam, and the Spoken Word (A Poetry Speaks Experience) (Kindle Locations 600-602). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Early 17th Century: "Paradise Lost in Context" link here

-of Taking the Mic: Performance Poetry, Slam and the Spoken Word from, found here
-of John Milton found here
-of anorexic woman found here

Comments taken from the YouTube video entitled "Blythe Baird - When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny (NPS 2015)"