Why the Birth of Shakespeare Is the Birth of Modern Art

April 22, 2014, 9:50 PM
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April 23, 2014, marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers of all time and an inescapable influence not just on literature, but also on every form of culture since the 19th century. Although the canon of plays was more or less established with the publication of The First Folio in 1623, Shakespeare had to wait for larger acclaim until the Romantic era of the 1800s, when critics such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and August Wilhelm Schlegel first spread the Gospel of Will which would soon blossom into full bardolatry. In many ways, the Romantic era never ended and we are the “last” Romantics, full of ideas of individuality, imagination, and even love that would be totally foreign to the classical world. Even those who accept that the Romantic era’s over see it as a Post-Romantic era, a time defined by what it can no longer be.  This Romantic or Post-Romantic world gave birth to Modern art.  So, by an almost Biblical series of begats, you can say that the birth of Shakespeare is the birth of Modern art, the birth of how we see the world within and the world without today.

During Shakespeare’s own lifetime he was known best as the “honey-tongued” poet of such works as Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, in which he used classical and ancient characters to his own artistic purposes as well as practical purposes of making money during the plague-forced theater closures of 1593-1594. Readers literally read published copies of these works to pieces, making surviving copies extremely rare today. People went to see the plays, of course, but the emphasis of the theaters was on making money as much as making art. Publishing plays never became a priority because it never seemed profitable enough. It was Shakespeare’s friend and rival Ben Jonson who believed that publishing ones works in a collected way could serve both practical and artistic purposes. Jonson published his own collected works in 1616 and pushed for the posthumous collection of Shakespeare’s works in 1623, both of which served as templates for collected works of contemporaries such as Beaumont and Fletcher and others that essentially established the study of “modern” (that is, 16th century) literature as an art form as worthy as that of the already well-studied classics. Yes, Jonson deserves credit for making the initial push, but it was the inspiration of Shakespeare, as well as the lasting success of Shakespeare’s works in print, that set in motion what we know as literature today.

Once the Romantics got hold of Shakespeare, however, they turned the 16th century author into a 19th century “modern” contemporary. T.S. Eliot later complained about this trend in his 1920 essay “Hamlet”:

These minds often find in Hamlet a vicarious existence for their own artistic realization. Such a mind had Goethe, who made of Hamlet a Werther; and such had Coleridge, who made of Hamlet a Coleridge; and probably neither of these men in writing about Hamlet remembered that his first business was to study a work of art.

While Eliot felt that the “first business was to study a work of art,” Goethe, Coleridge, and others felt that the reason behind that business was to make those works relevant to living, breathing people, even if that “made of Hamlet” the critic himself. Some argue that Shakespeare’s critical lull period during the 17th and 18th centuries owes something to the neo-classical tastes of the time in which individuality took a back seat to more communal ideals.

Once the modern taste for the individual took hold, however, Shakespeare found a home beyond England’s shores. American colonists staged plays by Shakespeare as early as 1750. “There is hardly a pioneer’s hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835 in Democracy in America. From the very beginning of the American experiment in democracy, Shakespeare and his individualized characters inspired a government of, by, and for the people, to paraphrase the Gettysburg Address of that notorious Shakespeare lover Abraham Lincoln. As kings fell and democracies rose throughout Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, Shakespeare (often in vernacular translation) showed the way, sometimes in the form of music, as in Giuseppe Verdi’s operas Otello and Falstaff, which provided the popular soundtrack to the political movement by which modern Italy was born.

Modern, democratic societies longed for art that reflected their ideals and anxieties. So much modern art comes from the psychoanalytic ideas of Sigmund Freud, who mined ancient characters such as Oedipus for the infamous “complex,” but also plumbed the human psyche in the fictional person of Hamlet. The “-isms” of the 20th century also soon found new artistic uses for Shakespeare. German Expressionism, Russian Futurism, and European Marxism all explored new ways of staging the Bard to make the people understand their goals. More recently, art steeped philosophically in feminism, anti-colonialism, and sexualism views Shakespeare as friend or foe, but either way cannot escape the cultural gravitational pull of his massive influence.

Although the pedantic women of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” “come and go/ talking of Michelangelo” as a badge of cultural knowing, Eliot alludes in that poem to no less than three Shakespeare plays (Henry IV Part II, Twelfth Night, and that old Coleridgean favorite, Hamlet). Even Eliot couldn’t avoid Shakespeare in the making of modern poetic art. So, as we wish the Bard a happy 450th (the last round number anniversary some of us, including me, will likely see), we can wish him many, many more with the knowledge that we can join Ben Jonson’s tribute in that First Folio that Shakespeare “was not of an age, but for all time!”, including ours.

[Image: The “Chandos” Portrait of William Shakespeare (detail).]

What We Lose When We Rip the Heart Out of Arts Education



It’s National Poetry Month, but if the Common Core has its way,
our children will hardly know what poetry is.

Photo Credit: Aaron Amat via Shutterstock.com

“No, no. You’ve got something the test and machines will never be able to measure: you’re artistic. That’s one of the tragedies of our times, that no machine has ever been built that can recognize that quality, appreciate it, foster it, sympathize with it.” —Paul Proteus to his wife Anita in Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano

“So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens” is, essentially, a grammatical sentence in the English language. While the syntax is somewhat out of the norm, the diction is accessible to small children—the hardest word likely being “depends.” But “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams is much more than a sentence; it is a poem:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

A relatively simple sentence shaped into purposeful lines and stanzas becomes poetry. And like Langston Hughes’ “Harlem” and Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” it sparks in me a profoundly important response each time I read these poems:I wish I had written that. It is the same awe and wonder I felt as a shy, self-conscious teenager when I bought, collected and read comic books, marveling at the artwork I wished I had drawn.

Will we wake one morning soon to find the carcasses of poems washed up on the beach by the tsunami of the Common Core?

That question, especially during National Poetry Month, haunts me more every day, notably because of the double-impending doom augured by the Common Core: the rise of nonfiction (and the concurrent erasing of poetry and fiction) from the ELA curriculum and the mantra-of-the-moment, “close reading” (the sheep’s clothing for that familiar old wolf New Criticism):

We have come to a moment in the history of the U.S. when we no longer even pretend to care about art. And poetry is the most human of the arts—the very human effort to make order out of chaos, meaning out of the meaningless: “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” (Sylvia Plath, “Daddy”).

***

The course was speech, taught by Mr. Brannon. I was a freshman at a junior college just 15-20 miles from my home. Despite the college’s close proximity to my home, my father insisted I live on campus. But that class and those first two years of college were more than living on campus; they were the essential beginning of my life.

In one of the earliest classes, Mr. Brannon read aloud and gave us a copy of “[in Just-]“ by e. e. cummings. I imagine that moment was, for me, what many people describe as a religious experience. That was more than 30 years ago, but I own two precious books that followed from that day in class: cummings’ Complete Poems and Selected Poems. Several years later, Emily Dickinson‘s Complete Poemswould join my commitment to reading every poem by those poets who made me respond over and over, I wish I had written that.

But my introduction to cummings was more than just finding the poetry I wanted to read; it was when I realized I was a poet. Now, when the words “j was young&happy” come to me, I know there is work to do—I recognize the gift of poetry.

***

As a high school English teacher, I divided my academic year into quarters by genre/form: nonfiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels/plays. The poetry quarter, when announced to students, initially received moans and even direct complaints: “I hate poetry.” That always broke my heart. Life and school had already taken something very precious from these young people:

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew…
                              (“[anyone lived in a pretty how town],” e.e. cummings

I began to teach poetry in conjunction with popular songs. Although my students in rural South Carolina were overwhelmingly country music fans, I focused my nine weeks of poetry on the songs of alternative group R.E.M. At first, that too elicited moans from students in those early days of exploring poetry (see that unit on the blog “There’s time to teach”).

Concurrently, throughout my high school teaching career, students would gather in my room during our long mid-morning break and lunch (much to the chagrin of administration). And almost always, we played music, even closing the door so two of my students could dance and sing and laugh along with the Violent Femmes.

Many of those students are in their 30s and 40s, but it is common for them to contact me—often on Facebook—and recall fondly R.E.M. and our poetry unit. Those days meant something to them that lingers, that matters in ways that cannot be measured. It was an oasis of happiness in their lives at school.

***

e.e. cummings begins “since feeling is first,” and then adds:

my blood approves,
and kisses are better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter….

Each year when my students and I examined this poem, we would discuss that cummings—in Andrew Marvell fashion—offers an argument that is profoundly unlike what parents, teachers, preachers, and politicians claim.

I often paired this poem with Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” focusing on:

I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling your puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

Especially for teenagers, this question, this tension between heart and mind, mattered. Just as it recurs in the words of poets and musicians over decades, centuries. Poetry, as with all art, is the expressed heart—that quest to rise above our corporeal humanness:

               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
                                           (Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats)

***

I have loved a few people intensely—so deeply that my love, I believe, resides permanently in my bones. One such love is my daughter, and she now carries the next human who will add to that ache of being fully human—loving another beyond words.

And that is poetry.

Poetry is not identifying iambic pentameter on a poetry test or discussing the nuances of enjambment in an analysis of a Dickinson poem.

Poems are not fodder for close reading.

Poetry is the ineluctable “Oh my heart” that comes from living fully in the moment, the moment that draws us to words as well as inspires us toward words.

We read a poem, we listen to a song, and our hearts rise out of our eyes as tears.

That is poetry.

Like the picture books of our childhood, poetry must be a part of our learning, essential to our school days—each poem an oasis of happiness that “machines will never be able to measure.”

***

Will we wake one morning to find the carcasses of poems washed up on the beach by the tsunami of the Common Core?

Maybe the doomsayers are wrong. Maybe poetry will not be erased from our classrooms. School with less poetry is school with less heart. School with no poetry is school with no heart.

Both are tragic mistakes, because if school needs anything, it is more heart. And poetry? Oh my heart.

This piece originally appeared on the Becoming Radical blog.

Obama Is About to Get a Lot More Cozy with the Corporate Education Racket



The fight over public education is about to get even more heated.
 

Photo Credit: spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

The nomination of Californian Ted Mitchell to the number two position at the U.S. Department of Education is the latest indication that proponents of school privatization are continuing to gain influence over the Obama administration’s education policy.

“He represents the quintessence of the privatization movement,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, tells Capital & Main. “This is a signal the Obama administration is committed to moving forward aggressively with transferring public funds to private hands.”

In education “privatization” refers to the contracting out of traditional public education services to for-profit companies or to charter schools that are set up as nonprofit organizations. In many ways, the Mitchell nomination reflects the ongoing battle being fought in Washington and in school districts across the country. It’s a battle that pits the views of teachers, their unions and community groups against a movement that is backed by wealthy philanthropists and corporations.

Mitchell is a former Occidental College president who had previously served as then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s president of the California State Board of Education. He was nominated by the White House to become Under Secretary of Education last October. Mitchell is also the founder and chief executive of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit whose stated goal is “to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed.”

But critics like Ravitch say that Mitchell and NewSchools Venture Fund are in the forefront of a movement to privatize public education, a radical transformation that would benefit technology, testing and textbook companies such as Pearson, the London-headquartered multinational publishing and education giant.

Furthermore, the website of Students Matter names NewSchools Venture Fund as a supporter of Vergara v. California. This lawsuit, currently being tried in Los Angeles Superior Court, is aimed at scrapping teacher seniority protections in California. Vergara’s sponsor, Students Matter, is a nonprofit created by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch – whom Business Week identified as a NewSchools investment partner.

Sabrina Stevens, the executive director of Integrity in Education, says in an interview that “[Mitchell’s] nomination is an example of the kind of thing we are worried about – corporate influence at the U.S. Department of Education.”

Stevens, a former teacher who worked with students in low-income communities in Philadelphia and Denver, says that she has been disappointed that pro-privatization views have gained a stronghold in the education department.

“It doesn’t look like there are any voices representing the views of ordinary school stakeholders: everyday teachers, students and their families,” she says.

“There’s a lot of high level policy talk about reducing education to numbers, with an overemphasis on tests,” Stevens continues. “That’s not how learning works. We don’t want to have the Pearson Department of Education.”

Mitchell’s nomination was approved by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions [in January]. He still must be approved by the full Senate. Mitchell did not respond to requests from Capital & Main for comment.

Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says that Mitchell, whom he has known for 15 years, is highly qualified to be Under Secretary of Education.

“Ted Mitchell is an incredibly smart and even-tempered guy,” Hess tells Capital & Main. “He’s got a ton of relevant experience. He’s thoughtful and he likes to listen, he is somebody very used to people disagreeing and giving them a fair hearing. I think it’s a terrific choice. It’s very much consistent with the open-minded approach the administration is taking.”

Jeffrey Henig, a political science and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and an expert on the dynamics of education policy, says that the Mitchell nomination appears to send a strong message about the direction of education policy.

“This does look like a signal that President Obama is continuing to place more bets with the reform crowd,” he says.

An investigative reporter for more than three decades, Gary Cohn won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 1998 for his series The Shipbreakers, detailing the dangers to workers and the environment when old ships are dismantled. Reach him with comments or story ideas at gcohn@fryingpannews.org.

 

http://www.alternet.org/education/obama-about-get-lot-more-cozy-corporate-education-racket?akid=11713.265072.tA9zef&rd=1&src=newsletter981271&t=23&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Global Rankings Study Depicts an America in Warp Speed Decline

From access to healthcare and education, gender equality, attitudes toward immigrants and minorities, the U.S. looks like a second-rate nation.

http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/images/stories/2014/news1/social-progress-index.jpg

If America needed a reminder that it is fast becoming a second-rate nation, and that every economic policy of the Republican Party is wrongheaded, it got one this week with the release of the Social Progress Index (SPI).

Harvard business professor Michael E. Porter, who earlier developed the Global Competitiveness Report, designed the SPI. A new way to look at the success of countries, the SPI studies 132 nations and evaluates 54 social and environmental indicators for each country that matter to real people. Rather than measuring a country’s success by its per capita GDP, the index is based on an array of data reflecting suicide, ecosystem sustainability, property rights, access to healthcare and education, gender equality, attitudes toward immigrants and minorities, religious freedom, nutrition, infrastructure and more.

The index measures the livability of each country. People everywhere depend on and care about similar things. “We all need clean water. We all want to feel safe and live without fear. People everywhere want to get an education and improve their lives,” says Porter. But economic growth alone doesn’t guarantee these things.

While the U.S. enjoys the second highest per capita GDP of $45,336, it ranks in an underperforming 16th place overall. It gets worse. The U.S. ranks 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation and 31st in personal safety.

More surprising is the fact that despite being the home country of global tech heavyweights Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Oracle, and so on, the U.S. ranks a disappointing 23rd in access to the Internet. “It’s astonishing that for a country that has Silicon Valley, lack of access to information is a red flag,” notes Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, which oversees the index.

If this index is an affront to your jingoistic sensibilities, the U.S. remains in first place for the number of incarcerated citizens per capita, adult onset diabetes and for believing in angels.

New Zealand is ranked in first place in social progress. Interestingly, it ranks only 25th on GDP per capita, which means the island of the long white cloud is doing a far better job than America when it comes to meeting the need of its people. In order, the top 10 is rounded out by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Denmark and Australia.

Unsurprisingly these nations all happen to rank highly in the 2013 U.N. World Happiness Report with Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden among the top five.

So, what of the U.S? In terms of happiness, we rank 17th, trailing neighboring Mexico.

We find ourselves languishing for the very fact we have allowed corporate America to hijack the entire Republican Party, and some parts of the Democratic Party. This influence has bought corporations and the rich a rigged tax code that has redistributed wealth from the middle class to the rich over the course of the past three decades. This lack of shared prosperity and opportunity has retarded our social progress.

America’s rapid descent into impoverished nation status is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. Not a single U.S. city is included in the world’s top 10 most livable cities. Only one U.S. airport makes the list of the top 100 in the world. Our roads, schools and bridges are falling apart, and our trains — none of them high-speed — are running off their tracks.

With 95 percent of all economic gains funneled to the richest 1 percent over the course of the last decade, and a tax code that has starved the federal government of revenues to invest in public infrastructure, America will be a country divided by those who have and those who have not. In The World As It Is, Chris Hedges writes, “Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods, and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty.”

This week the Republican Party rolled out its 2014 Ryan budget. Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, noted that under the Ryan budget, “[affluent] Americans would do quite well. But for tens of millions of others, the Ryan plan is a path to more adversity.” Greenstein pointed out that the plan would leave millions without health insurance through repeal of the Affordable Care Act and changes to Medicaid funding.

Greenstein also criticized the budget for its impact on anti-poverty programs, estimating that it would slash basic food aid provided by SNAP by at least $135 billion and convert the program to a block grant, make it harder for low-income students to attend college and make massive unspecified cuts to domestic non-military spending, which means cuts to social welfare programs.

The countries ranked highest in social progress are doing the complete opposite. They’re investing in schools rather than drones. They’re expanding collective bargaining laws rather than busting unions. They’re providing their citizens with universal healthcare and education rather than selling these basic human rights to the highest bidder.

“Those who care about the plight of the working class and the poor must begin to mobilize quickly, or we will lose our last opportunity to save our embattled democracy. The most important struggle will be to wrest the organs of communication from corporations that use mass media to demonize movements of social change and empower protofascist movements such as the Christian Right,” observes Hedges.

It’s your move, America.

CJ Werleman is the author of “Crucifying America,” and “God Hates You. Hate Him Back.” Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Am I My Brother or Sister’s Keeper?

http://www.rifuture.org/wp-content/uploads/inequality.jpg

The Unequal Divide

by JOHN K. WHITE

One could imagine that inequality has been around forever, part of a natural process whenever people or groups compete. Today’s obscene levels of inequality, however, suggest that the divide is not a natural condition of human existence, but a product of how we compete, with the rich always getting richer. In any competitive society, there will always be winners and losers. In a stacked, speed-of-light trading society, big winners and big losers.

We see it everywhere. Fewer children from poor backgrounds go to university, higher levels of incarceration for those in bottom-income brackets, death rates among the less well-off much higher than average. In fact, increased poverty is directly related to increases in cancer and stroke, a correlation unchanged since the late 19th century and the start of modern economic practice.

In The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Wilkinson and Pickett cited the greater likelihood of health problems the greater the divide between rich and poor, including depression, heart disease, and drug addiction. In case after case, they show how health and social problems are a function of zip code, alarmingly depicting how mortality rates are almost double for the poor (~90 per 10,000) compared to the rich (~50 per 10,000).

The effect on the economy is devastating, where wealth instead of merit determines who succeeds and fails, ripping apart lives and communities. In the process, the rich get richer, because a leg up at the start magnifies the discrepancy between winners and losers. In Stock Buybacks and Margin Debt (April 1), Mike Whitney noted that the top 20 percent own over 85 percent of financial assets. All because of a financial feedback loop, stacked in favour of those in the know.

We are all familiar with feedback loops, from the screeching sound of a microphone held too close to a speaker to the snowballing effect of exponential doubling. Division over a small number, excessive bank leverage, or the focusing power of a lens, which magnifies the output relative to the input, is similar.

Feedbacks loops apply especially to markets: VHS beating Betamax in video recording, despite being a poorer technology; Microsoft topping Apple in the operating system wars; Donald Trump buying his own book to make the best-seller list. A small advantage leads to a dominant market share. The rich profiting more and more from cheap, disenfranchised labour.

Think of a movie that became a summer hit. Why did it succeed when others failed—word of mouth, advertising, poor competition? It isn’t always down to merit. As noted by Frank and Cook in The Winner-Take-All Society: Why The Few At The Top Get So Much More Than The Rest Of Us, “In all these processes, small differences at the early stages of competition can prove decisive.”

The basics of a feedback system can be seen in a simple game from evolutionary theory, which shows how one player (or side or gene or species) ultimately ends up dominating another when in competition (or reaches “fixation” in evolutionary parlance). The computational rules are easy: Put 50 red and 50 black marbles into a bag, double the number of each, then randomly select 100 from the new 200. The number of red (or black) marbles is observed over a series of trials (double the 100 to 200, randomly choose 100 from the new 200, etc.), showing the evolution of each marble “species.”

As one might expect, one colour (or side or gene or species) eventually dominates the other (100-0), despite the randomness of the selection process, and sooner than later if the original balance is biased. A little push at the start makes a huge difference, highlighting the winner-take-all nature of a feedback loop.

Capitalism, however, is meant to reduce prices with increased competition, where companies adapt to create viable alternatives with competitive prices. An enlightened, supposed Christian society is also meant to help those who haven’t climbed aboard the life train. Everybody knows not to leave friends and family behind.

It would seem that competition itself is the problem, where the irony is that the more successful a venture, the more market share it realizes, which creates an advantage or monopoly position for some and, thus, less competition. In the process, we become losers in the race to pay more as our world becomes swamped with profit-only-minded junk and inefficient consumption. Without controls and intermediation, such success overheats the system. Always.

Indeed, the levels of inequality are becoming greater. Economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have been reminding us for decades about the widening income gap and the missed opportunities for the talented to succeed. Instead, our failed financial system has created swaths of unemployed with marginalized lives. Another Nobel economist, James Heckman noted that “skills beget skills” and “motivation begets motivation,” showing a tenfold return for every dollar invested on the very young. According to Heckman, it is much better to help the disadvantaged at the earliest age possible, because a later, albeit well-intentioned intervention is much less effective. If only to stop the unfair feedback loop from feeding back to those who need it least.

The numbers really are shameful. Oxfam recently calculated that 85 people have as much wealth as half the world. In The Harder You Work, the Richer They Get (March 28), Peter Dolack noted that the world’s top billionaires have “an aggregate net worth of US$6.4 trillion, an increase of $1 trillion in just one year.” Yet minimum wages for workers keep decreasing, making it harder for many families to survive. Dolack noted that the minimum wage in 1963 was less than $2 or $15.25 in inflation-adjusted dollars, yet the minimum wage today is only $7.25. Relatively speaking, we’re going backwards. A more dignified and appropriate $15-rate makes sense, to get people working in authentic ways.

Sadly, modern economics is a zero-sum game with money as its measure. The billionaires should be ashamed. We’re meant to be building societies with shared goals not gated communities under a pretend umbrella of liberty.

Imagine if Warren Buffet received only 50 cents on each dollar he invested. If Berkshire Hathaway kept losing like everyday workers are, Buffet would be out of a job, possibly ending up collecting food stamps with the 47 million other “unfortunate” Americans. I doubt it, but maybe then the needed politics would follow.

But at every turn, the system is stacked, rewarding those with insider knowledge and privileged access. Turning a small advantage into a huge advantage. Major corporations and multi-millionaires pay less tax than you or I. For example, Apple paying 0.5 percent on its Irish profits of over $7 billion. Others shelter their money because of preferred access to a members-only financial system. Michael Lewis even stated that the stock market is rigged in favour of the technologically elite, further separating the winners and losers.

Of course, when those same elites crash the system, the public pays. Fines are never appropriate, burdening the rest who end up “socializing” the costs. Fines related to the 2008 meltdown were only a small fraction of holdings—less than 0.2% to settle charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against Citigroup, or roughly one week’s profits. Goldman Sachs paid only $550 million or 2 weeks’ profits to settle charges that it sold subprime investments secretly designed to fail, while no senior executives were charged.

In today’s ultra-fast wired world, winners become bigger winners, sheltering more, paying less, receiving more advantage, getting better access and extra privileges at every stage. The haves and the have nots have become the good and the bad as labelled by the wealth-obsessed game players.

To be sure, many are still mired in a Social Darwinist past, thinking that money is the only measure, believing in failed “trickle-down” economics, claiming that a rising tide raises all boats, a common refrain when talking about economic investment and growth.

But it just isn’t so, when some don’t have boats. Or if they do, a leaky raft compared to a luxury yacht, without access to state-of-the-art protection, insurance, radar. Even an engine. In fact, a rising tide destroys many boats. It may be fun to imagine, but tides aren’t a useful comparison. If they were, it would be more apt to say that an economic tsunami has been wiping out our world.

It’s hard to believe we are still arguing over basic ideological differences between left and right, when it is greed that is to blame. But imagine a world where people and not bank accounts were used to determine wealth. Imagine a world where the very rich recognized their complicity in the pain of others. Martin Luther King summed it up best 65 years ago when he noted that truth could not be found in either communism or capitalism:

[C]apitalism is always in danger of inspiring men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life. We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity. Thus capitalism can lead to a practical materialism that is as pernicious as the materialism taught by communism.

Or new Federal Reserve chairwoman, Janet Yellen, who in her first public speech, told the story of three unemployed people: “They are a reminder that there are real people behind the statistics.”

We have to end our basest obsession, the money game. We cannot all be rich, and if we’re not careful, the whole system will come crashing down. Am I my brother or sister’s keeper? Sadly, that seems to depend on who I consider my brother or sister. The human family has become divided by the cruellest of measures: our own selfishness. What a crying shame.

JOHN K. WHITE, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Physics, University College Dublin, and author of Do The Math!: On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking (Sage, 2013). Do The Math! is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at: john.white@ucd.ie.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/02/the-unequal-divide/

 

Mood Science and the Evolutionary Origins of Depression

The Unaddressed Business of Filling Our Souls

by

What language and symbolism have to do with mood and how light exposure and sleep shape our mental health.

“Depression is a disorder of the ‘I,’ failing in your own eyes relative to your goals,” legendary psychologist Martin Seligman observed in his essential treatise on learned optimism. But such a definition of depression, while true, appears somehow insufficient, overlooking the multitude of excruciating physical and psychological realities of the disease beyond the sense of personal failure. Perhaps William Styron came closer in his haunting memoir of depression, Darkness Visible, where he wrote of “depression’s dark wood,” “its inexplicable agony,” and the grueling struggle of those afflicted by it who spend their lives trying to trudge “upward and outward out of hell’s black depths.” And yet for all their insight into its manifestations, both the poets and the psychologists have tussled rather futilely to understand depression’s complex causes and, perhaps most importantly in terms both scientific and humanistic, its cures.

That’s precisely what psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg sets out to do in The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic (public library) — an ambitious, rigorously researched, and illuminating journey into the abyss of the soul and back out, emerging with insights both practical and conceptual, personal and universal, that shed light on one of the least understood, most pervasive, and most crippling pandemics humanity has ever grappled with. (A sobering note to the hyperbole-wary: At any given point, 22% of the population exhibit at least one symptom of depression and the World Health Organization projects that by 2030, depression will have led to more worldwide disability and lives lost than any other affliction, including cancer, stroke, heart disease, accidents, and even war.)

Rottenberg takes a radical approach to depression based not a disease model of the mind but on the evolutionary science of mood — a proposition that flies in the face of our cultural assumptions that have rendered the very subject of depression a taboo. He puts this bind in perspective:

Because depression is so unpleasant and so impairing, it may be difficult to imagine that there might be another way of thinking about it; something this bad must be a disease. Yet the defect model causes problems of its own. Some sufferers avoid getting help because they are leery of being branded as defective. Others get help and come to believe what they are repeatedly told in our system of mental health: that they are deficient.

[…]

People still feel inclined to whisper when they talk about depression. Depression has no “Race for the Cure”; this condition rarely spawns dance marathons, car washes, or golf tournaments. Consequently, the lacerating pain of depression remains uncomfortably private.

 

 

Illustration by artist Bobby Baker from ‘Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me.’ Click image for details.

 

Rather than subscribing to this broken deficiency model of depression, Rottenberg argues that affective science — the empirical study of mood — lies at the heart of understanding the condition. Defining moods as “internal signals that motivate behavior and move it in the right direction,” he argues that our bodies are “a collection of adaptations, evolutionary legacies that have helped us survive and reproduce in the face of uncertainty and risk” and paints the backdrop of understanding depression:

The mood system … is the great integrator. It takes in information about the external and internal worlds and summarizes what is favorable or unfavorable in terms of accomplishing key goals related to survival and reproduction.

[…]

Once a goal is embarked upon, the mood system monitors progress toward its attainment. It will redouble effort when minor obstacles arise. If progress stops entirely because of an insuperable obstacle, the mood system puts the brakes on effort.

Under this model, mood has an evolutionary function as a mediator of survival strategies. Rottenberg cites a number of experiments, which have indicated that negative mood incites one’s psychoemotional arsenal when a task becomes too challenging. For instance, when study participants are deliberately put in a negative mood and asked to perform a difficult task, their blood pressure spikes — a sign that the body is being mobilized for extra alertness and effort. But if the task is made insurmountably difficult, so much so that success stops being possible, the spike no longer occurs and the mood system dials down the effort. In that sense, mood — the seedbed of depression — isn’t an arbitrary state that washes over us in a whim, but a sieve that separates the goals worth pursuing from those guaranteed to end in disappointment.

Rottenberg argues that our relationship to the mood system is shaped by the way we talk about it and is mired in toxic cultural constructs that bleed into our language:

One of the amazing things about the mood system is how much of it operates outside of conscious awareness. Moods, like most adaptations, developed in species that had neither language nor culture. Yet words are the first things that come to mind when most people think about moods. We are “mad,” we are “sad,” we are “glad.” So infatuated are we with language that both laypeople and scientists find it tempting to equate the language we use to describe mood with mood itself.

This is a big mistake. We need to shed this languagecentric view of mood, even if it threatens our pride to accept that we share a fundamental element of our mental toolkit with rabbits and roadrunners. Holding to a myth of human uniqueness puts us in an untenable position. For one thing, it would mean that we deny mood to those humans who have not yet acquired mood language (babies) or have lost mood language (Alzheimer’s patients). Toddlers, goats, and chimps all lack the words to describe the internal signals that track their efforts to find a mate, food, or a new ally; their moods can shape behavior without being named. Language is not required for moods. All that is needed is some capability for wakeful alertness and conscious perception, including the perception of pain and pleasure, which is certainly present in all mammals.

Still, Rottenberg cautions, “what we say about our feelings is only one window on mood” — we need, instead, to examine a variety of evidence in the mind, brain, and behavior to paint a dimensional picture of mood and depression. In fact, part of the puzzle lies in the crucial difference between feelings, or emotions, and moods — emotions are more instantaneous and short-lived responses compared to moods, which take longer to germinate and longer to wither out. Moods, Rottenberg explains, “are an overall summary of the various cues around us [and usually] are harder to sort out.” Our deeper reliance on moods rather than feelings is one of the things that make us human and different from other species, a difference empowered by our use of language and symbolism:

Our heavy reliance on symbolic representation also makes the precipitants of low mood more idiosyncratic in our species than in others. We become sad because Bambi’s mother dies, because there are starving people a continent away, because of a factory closing, because of a World Series defeat in extra innings. Though there is a core theme of loss that cuts across species, humans’ capacity for language enables a larger number of objects to enter, and alter, the mood system.

 

 

Illustration by artist Bobby Baker from ‘Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me.’ Click image for details.

 

And yet for all our emotional sophistication, we remain strikingly blind to many of the real triggers and causes of moods, instead falling back on our penchant for psychological storytelling. Rottenberg ties this back to depression:

Despite our deep yearning to explicate moods, the average person cannot see many of the most important influences on mood. As the great integrator, the mood system is acted on by many potential objects, and many of the forces that act on mood are hidden from conscious awareness (such as stress hormones or the state of our immune system). Left to our own devices, the stories we tell ourselves about our moods often end up being just that. Stories.

[…]

We must understand the ultimate sources of depression if we are ever to get it under control. To do so, we need to step back and replace the defunct defect model with a completely different approach. The mood science approach will be both historical and integrative: historical because we cannot understand why depressed mood is so prevalent until we understand why we have the capacity for low mood in the first place, and integrative because a host of different forces (many hidden) simultaneously act on people to impel them into the kinds of low moods that breed serious depression.

But before we are tempted to file away low moods as an affliction to be treated, Rottenberg offers a necessary neutrality disclaimer, pointing out that both high and low moods have their advantages and disadvantages:

We are born with the capacity for both high and low moods because each has, on average, presented more fitness benefits than costs. Just as being warm blooded can be a liability, high moods are increasingly understood as having a “dark side,” sometimes enabling rash, impulsive, and even destructive behavior. Likewise the capacity for low mood is accompanied by a bundle of benefits and costs. Seen this way, depression follows our adaptation for low mood like a shadow — it’s an inevitable outcome of a natural process, neither wholly good nor entirely bad.

So what might be the evolutionary advantages of low moods? Several theories exists. One proposes that low moods help dampen agitation in confrontation, thus de-escalating conflicts — when a loser yields rather than fighting to the death, he or she is able to survive rather than perish. Another paints low mood as a “stop mechanism” that, just like the task studies suggested, prevent the person from exerting effort towards a goal that is either unattainable or dangerous. A different theory conceptualizes low mood as a tool for making better decisions, putting us in more contemplative mindsets better suited for analyzing our environment and solving particularly hard problems.

In fact, the latter is something repeatedly confirmed by experiments, most notably in the pioneering work of psychologists Lyn Abramson and Lauren Alloy, who termed this role of low mood depressive realism. Their work has inspired multiple other experiments, including this 2007 study:

Australian psychologist Joseph Forgas found that a brief mood induction changed how well people were able to argue. Compared to subjects in a positive mood, subjects who were put in a negative mood (by watching a ten-minute film about death from cancer) produced more effective persuasive messages on a standardized topic such as raising student fees or aboriginal land rights. Follow-up analyses found that the key reason the sadder people were more persuasive was that their arguments were richer in concrete detail [suggesting that] sad mood, at least of the garden variety, makes people more deliberate, skeptical, and careful in how they process information from their environment.

These positive uses of negative moods may seem at first counterintuitive, but Rottenberg reminds us that “multiple utilities are the hallmark of an adaptation.” He puts things in perspective:

One way to appreciate why these states have enduring value is to ponder what would happen if we had no capacity for them. Just as animals with no capacity for anxiety were gobbled up by predators long ago, without the capacity for sadness, we and other animals would probably commit rash acts and repeat costly mistakes.

In support of this conception, Rottenberg cites a wonderfully poetic passage by Lee Stringer from his essay “Fading to Gray,” found in the altogether fantastic 2001 volume Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression:

Perhaps what we call depression isn’t really a disorder at all but, like physical pain, an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong; that perhaps it is time to stop, take a time-out, take as long as it takes, and attend to the unaddressed business of filling our souls.

(What gorgeous language, “the unaddressed business of filling our souls” — rather than an affliction, isn’t that the ever-flowing lifeblood of human existence?)

 

 

Cover illustration for P.M. Hubbard’s ‘Picture of Millie’ by Edward Gorey. Click image for details.

 

Still, Rottenberg is careful to point out that severe depression, far from being evolutionarily beneficial, is absolutely crippling, marked by “distorted thinking that appears to be the polar opposite of depressive realism.” In fact, what is perhaps most perplexing about the condition is that scientists don’t yet have a litmus test for when low mood tips over from beneficial to perilous, no point on the mood spectrum that clearly delineates the normal from the diseased. Rottenberg proposes that mood science is the key to honoring the nuance of that spectrum. He differentiates between milder periods of low mood, which he terms shallow depression, and periods wherein the low mood is both long-lasting and severe, which he calls deep depression, and writes:

Shallow depression is adaptive, whereas deep depression is a maladaptive disease.

The strongest evidence for this spectrum model, rather than a binary division between wellness and disease, comes from the fact that shallow and deep depression share a set of risk factors, suggesting that mood, which varies along a continuum of intensity, is the common denominator. Rottenberg puts it elegantly:

Ignoring this would be like a weather forecaster using separate models to predict warm days and very hot days rather than considering general factors that predict temperature.

So what, exactly, seeds low mood? Rottenberg points to three distinct but interconnected triggers: explainability, evolutionary significance, and timing. He writes:

Modern psychological theories postulate that we recover more quickly from a bad event if we can readily explain it. We would expect, then, that events that generate mixed feelings and/or confusing thoughts would be a powerful impetus toward persistent low mood.

[…]

Events that present irresolvable dilemmas on themes that have evolutionary significance — like mate choice — are fertile seeds for low mood.

When the bad things happen also matters. Extensive research demonstrates that early life traumas, such as physical or sexual abuse, lay the groundwork for a slow creep of depression and anxiety.

He cites the example of a middle-aged woman suffering from lifelong “low-grade depression” and anxiety, who grew up with an alcoholic father in a household that vetoed any discussion of feelings. When a neighbor molested her at the age of thirteen, she kept the trauma to herself, believing that her mother would blame her and her father would explode in a rage. Rottenberg explains how these early experiences provide the psychoemotional backdrop for our adult lives:

Jan’s chronic feelings of anxiety and sadness are natural, the product of an intact mood system. In a world in which a child’s primary attachment figures — parents — are emotionally unavailable and unable to help when a trusted neighbor turns into an attacker, the mood system is ever forward looking. It assumes that, if the worst has already happened, it can and will happen again. Best to be prepared. Anxious moods scanning for danger (especially in relationships) and sad moods analyzing what was lost and why serve as the last lines of defense against further ruin.

 

 

Illustration by Edward Gorey from ‘Donald and the…’ Click image for details.

 

Triggers notwithstanding, Rottenberg points out that individual temperament is an essential component in people’s mood responses to the same events. He cites a study conducted after the 9/11 attacks which found that a month later Lower Manhattan residents who had been there on September 11 experienced wildly different degrees of depressive symptoms, ranging from crippling major depression to hardly any symptoms compared to their respective state on September 10.

This variation, once more, can be traced back to early childhood. Rottenberg cites the work of psychologist Jerome Kagan who has spent decades studying infants and found that temperament can be detected as early as in nine-month-olds, who exhibit “reasonably consistent and strong fear reactions to a variety of potentially threatening situations.” These early differences in temperament, Rottenberg argues, are likely to be heavily influenced by genes.

And yet, just like the mood spectrum, temperament isn’t a black-and-white game but an evolutionarily wise strategy:

Experiments by evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson also demonstrate that there is no “single best temperament.” In one condition, Wilson dropped metal traps into a pond containing pumpkinseed sunfish. A subset of the fish showed boldness and interest in investigating a novel object. This was a really bad move, as they were immediately caught, and had Dr. Wilson been a real predator, it would have meant the end of their genes. Another group of fish were wary and stayed back from the traps; they were not caught. This situation favored the wary fish.

In a subsequent condition, all the fish were scooped up, brought into a new environment, and then carefully observed. Here the previously wary fish had great difficulty adapting to novelty. They were slower than their bold compatriots to begin feeding, taking five more days to start eating. In this situation the survival of the bold fish was favored.

Noting that the single most indicative depression-prone personality trait is neuroticism, Rottenberg adds:

Like depression itself, temperaments that seed depression are neither wholly good nor wholly bad.

Pointing to two distinct sets of influences on mood — forces that make us vulnerable to long periods of shallow depression and ones that deepen existing shallow depression — Rottenberg makes a poignant observation about our culture’s growing fetishism of happiness:

Our expectations about happiness have changed dramatically, and as they rise, ironically, are making low moods harder to bear than ever before.

 

 

Illustration by Edward Gorey from ‘The Green Beads.’ Click image for details.

 

In fact, a number of our modern fixations have taken a toll on our vulnerability to depression, including our cult of productivity, which accelerated after the invention of artificial light. But while routines may be the key to creative discipline, they may also put us at hazard for depression:

Mood is about the mundane. Day-to-day routines — how we spend our time, how we care for our bodies and minds — continually shape our moods and can have a strong influence on whether low mood persists. Routines that build up physical and mental resources can raise mood. Other routines, woven into the fabric of modern life, are grossly misaligned with evolutionary imperatives and have the potential to seed low mood. Many of our most familiar routines seem almost perversely designed to wreak havoc on the mood system.

We already know that REM sleep is intimately linked with depression and that insufficient exposure to natural light is perilous to our well-being. Rottenberg sheds light on the scale and intensity of the problem:

One mundane influence on mood is daily light exposure. After all, mood evolved in the context of a rotating earth, with its recurrent twenty-four-hour cycle of light and dark phases. Our species is diurnal, and the best chance of finding sustenance and other rewards was in the light phase (think about the challenge of identifying edible berries or stalking a mammoth). Consequently, we are configured to be more alert during the day than at night. Consistent with the link between light and mood, some clinically serious low mood is triggered by the seasonal change of shorter daylight hours. The onset of seasonal affective disorder, a subtype of mood disorder, is usually in winter.

Our newfound reliance on indoor light has effectively turned most people into cave dwellers. Artificial light is much fainter and provides fewer mood benefits than sunlight. When small devices that measure light exposure and duration were attached to adults in San Diego, one of the sunniest cities in the United States, it was discovered that the average person received only fifty-eight minutes of sunlight a day. What’s more, those San Diegans who received less light exposure during their daily routines reported more symptoms of depression.

(My reliance on this light-therapy device, which has gotten me through many dreary New York winters, suddenly seems less trivial and less of a placebo effect.)

 

 

Illustration by Alessandro Sanna from ‘The River.’ Click image for details.

 

As a champion of sleep, I especially appreciate the sobering evidence Rottenberg cites from a number of sleep studies:

Mood is lower after even one night of sleep deprivation. Moreover, brief experimental sleep restriction induces bodily changes that mimic some aspects of depression. It’s important to ponder the consequences of sleep deprivation now happening on a mass scale: more than 40 percent of Americans between the ages of thirteen and sixty-four say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on weeknights, and a third of young adults probably have long periods of at least partial sleep deprivation on an ongoing basis. Over the last century average nightly sleep duration has fallen. In 1910 Americans slept an average of approximately nine hours; that average had dropped to seven hours by 2002.

Part of the answer to the riddle of low mood, then, lies in contemporary routines that increasingly feature less light, less rest, and more activities that are out of kilter with the body’s natural rhythm.

In the rest of The Depths, Rottenberg, who has battled depression himself for much of his life, goes on to explore how the multiple seeds of the condition cross-pollinate each other, why other species may hold the key to understanding human depression, and what we can do, both as a culture and as individuals, to loosen the grip of this unrelenting oppressor. Complement it with this simple and effective exercise to increase your well-being and lower depression from Martin Seligman, founding father of Positive Psychology, then revisit this provocative read on how antidepressants affect identity-formation.

Thanks, Amelia

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/03/24/the-depths-rottenberg-depression/

Google Sued For Data-Mining Kids’ Emails in Its Education App

 


DO NO EVIL?

Google admits scanning millions of student

emails to serve targeted advertisements.

Photo Credit: Michael Jung/Shutterstock.com

Google has been rocked by another scandal – this time, it’s our children’s privacy under attack. The company is facing a lawsuit over data-mining student emails in a bid for advertisements in the company’s Apps for Education tool suite for schools, Info Docket reported.

The U.S District Court for the Northern District of California is currently hearing the complaint, in which nine plaintiffs allege the data-mining practices behind Google’s Gmail electronic messaging service violates federal and state wiretap and privacy laws.  Gmail is a key feature of the Google Apps for Education which is used by schools and institutions of higher education through the world for free, boasting some 30 million users worldwide.

Google admitted in a sworn statement that it scans millions of students’ email messages to compile keywords for advertisements, despite not displaying any visual ads on its app. The company has also come under fire for allegedly using information from the scans to build “surreptitious” profiles of users that could be used for such purposes as targeted advertising.

The new developments raise major concerns about the compatibility between US child protection laws and “big data,” Education Week reported prompting major calls for the company to be more open about its policies.

Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with EPIC, a Washington-based advocacy group said the case was highly troubling and likely to ignite concern that our children’s right to privacy is at risk.

“This should draw the attention of the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Trade Commission, and state legislatures. Student privacy is under attack,” he said.

Likewise, Peg Tyre, director of strategy at Edwin Gould Foundation, which advocates for better public schools in New York, expressed her concern that students’ educational data should not be used for commercial purposes.

“Education needs to be a safe space,” she said. “If schools walk into this and aren’t fully aware that Chromebooks that google ddonated’ to kids in the 9th grade are collecting data on those kids–and parents find out– you are going to see a flash over of negativity– and a ton of pushback — on the part of parents.”

Google was able to gain access to student emails following revised regulations of the  Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)  by the Education Department, which weakened this  primary legislation guarding student privacy law. It has been argued that Google’s practices violated FERPA and contravened the Education Departments “ best practices” for online educational service providers.

The plaintiffs are seeking financial compensation for millions of Gmail users for the breach of privacy as well as calling upon Google for greater transparency with respect to its data-mining practices.

 

 

‘Life, friends, is boring’: A drink with legendary poet John Berryman

03.19.2014
06:34 am

namyrrebnhojteop.jpg

He signed his earliest poems as John Allyn McAlpin Berryman. The name was a marriage of his father’s and his stepfather’s names. It was then shortened to just “John Berryman,” but this, he began to believe, was a terrible betrayal.

“What I should have done,” he told his first wife Eileen Simpson, “What I cannot forgive myself for not having done, was to take the name John Smith. This act of disloyalty I will never, never be able to repair. To ‘make a name’ for myself…Can you see how ambivalent my feelings are about this ambition?”

His father was John Allyn Smith, a banker whose suicide, when Berryman was eleven, was to have a major influence over the poet’s life. His father shot himself outside of his son’s window.

His mother claimed his father was too cowardly to kill himself, and that it had been an accident. She remarried quickly to a man she may have been having an affair, John Angus McAlpin Berryman. The surname was adopted and John Smith became John Berryman.

His father’s death robbed the young poet of a strong mentor, leaving Berryman too much in awe of others. He was influenced by T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden and Saul Bellow, and it took him time to filter these writers out of his work. He also had an uneasy relationship with his mother, who dominated much of his life. He was haunted by his father’s early death, and feared he would fail in life as his father had. There was a premonition of what the future would bring at the party for his engagement to Eileen Simpson in 1942. Berryman was getting drunk, and an argument was simmering between him and his mother, as Eileen later recalled in her memoir Poets in their Youth:

Soon after the party broke up. John and I were staying with his mother [...] He was, as he said, high as a kite. Never having seen him either high or boisterous before, I was amused. [...] The vodka had done its work; he was not merely high, he was drunk. I was just taking this in when there was an exchange between mother and son to which John reacted with a flare-up of anger such as I’d come to expect whenever they were together for too long. I entered the kitchen at the moment when he turned from her, threw open the door to the terrace and with the skill of a gymnast leaped over the ledge of the shoulder-high wall that enclosed it. The ledge was wider than a foot, but not much. Below was the cement sidewalk. As Mrs Berryman shrieked, John started walking, slowly putting one foot in front of the other: the drunk giving himself the test he always fails. It was this scene, and the moment of paralysis I felt before going to him, that remained framed in my memory.

Thirty years later, in January 1972, there was no one to save Berryman jumping from the ledge of the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He landed on the edge of the west bank that flanked the ice-covered Mississippi River.

In his song “We Call Upon the Author,” Nick Cave declared:

Bukowski was a jerk! Berryman was best!
He wrote like wet paper-maché
But he went the Hemingway

Berryman and Bukowski both wrote from the turmoil of their lives. Both were drunks, had fractured relationships with others, and mythologized their lives in writing. But Cave is right, Berryman was a better poet than Bukowski, and his poetry demands more from his readers. Perhaps because of this, Berryman was never as fashionable as Bukowski, and only truly received the acclaim he rightly deserved after his death. His greatest works are Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956), 77 Dream Songs (1964),  His Toy, His Dream His Rest (1968), The Dream Songs (1969), Love & Fame (1970), Henry’s Fate & Other Poems, 1967-1972 (1977).

This is John Berryman filmed in a bar in Dublin, 1967, discussing his Dream Songs, his alter ego “Henry,” his biography on novelist Stephen Crane, and reciting his poem “Dream Song 14”:

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.” I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored….

This year marks the centenary of Berryman’s birth, which is to be hoped will bring a new generation of readers to his life and work.

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/life_friends_is_boring_a_drink_with_legendary_poet_john_berryman

Libraries are an American success story that shouldn’t die.

 


America is About to Lose One of Its

Best Public Resource: Public Libraries

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ValeStock

As an American librarian I am glad to be living in the European Union where library funding isn’t under attack to the extent that it is back home in the United States, because readership, literacy and an open based knowledge system that is publicly funded is still valued. In America, library budgets have become low hanging fruit for conservative local and state politicians. Louisiana is the worse case in point where Gov. Bobby Jindal has eliminated state library funding all together. Not only does it beg the question will your state be next but it asks the question what will you do  when they come for your library and your kid’s summer reading program? Do you really know how many books it’s really going to take to make that special child or grandchild in your life a lifelong reader. Do you think you have anywhere near those numbers of books in your private collection?

Please let’s remember the voluminous studies that have been done year after year, decade after decade that show us that prison inmates for the most part are functionally illiterate and that teen pregnancy is directly linked to literacy rates.

Christian Science Monitor:  November 18, 2013
Louisiana residents choose libraries over jail to receive funds  Residents of Lafourche Parish in Louisiana recently voted down a proposal that would have used money currently going to local libraries to build a new prison.

Literacy statistics and juvenile court85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.

More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.

Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.

According to UNICEF: “Nearly a billion people will enter the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names and two thirds of them are women.”

People who don’t grow up as lifelong readers grow up in an America living under a form of de facto censorship and what it means is that the censor, by withholding library funding, limits access to reading materials to children from a young age. So they don’t get to see the other side of the coin and wind up developing a one-sided point of view which has been historically associated with sexism, homophobia, racial bigotry and other forms of intolerance and hate. If we don’t support libraries, we support going backwards in a type of devolution of the past which is exactly what the Tea Party types mean when they say they want their country back.

My question to you Mr or Mrs Progressive America, just how far back in time will you let the haters take us? Will you let them take us back to a point in time when women didn’t have the right to choose, a time before the civil rights movement would let anyone who chose to sit at the lunch counter, or when a time at the back of the bus was reserved, a time when people were hated for who they are or for who they loved or for what God they believed in, that is their America.  But it’s not our America, it’s not the progressive America that we’ve come to love and aspire to, because that America is supported by your neighborhood library as an open knowledge learning center, where everyone is treated the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s the mayor or a homeless person, you can expect to receive the same level of service. You can expect to have access to a collective repository of everyone whose ever thought and everyone whose ever written, that’s why I became a librarian and a reader and a listener and someone who you can count on to resist censorship in all of its guises. That includes false arguments related to library funding.

Source: From the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy – U.S. Illiteracy Statistics (as of 2013)Percent of U.S. adults who can’t read: 14 %
Number of U.S. adults who can’t read: 32 Million
Percent of U.S. adults who read below a 5th grade level: 21 %
Percent of prison inmates who can’t read: 63 %
Percent of high school graduates who can’t read: 19 %

The library is a public good. It belongs to everyone but only for as long as you’re willing to defend it. Public libraries due to budget cuts are cutting their operating hours, their services and yes too many are shutting their doors. Therefore this action diary asks you in support of your local library to write a letter to the editor today and to do it for yourself and do it for the special children in your life. Do it for your community and tell them that you support full community library funding today, tomorrow and forever.

*    *    *

Updated information regarding the functioning of the library as an adult education center, made at the request of a reader.

The library as a children & adult learning center
One of the best parts about being a librarian is the information sharing. So I am pleased to have the opportunity to share with you my experience of working in the library as a children’s and adult education center. You always hear these wonderful stories about adults who have come into the library, people of great skill and are essentially completely self educated. Though many librarians hold multiple graduate degrees and often PhDs as well, particularly in academic libraries. I can honestly say some of the most educated people I have encountered were self-educated lawyers. I am from Washington State back when I was living in the U.S. and Washington is one of those states that allows you to be a lawyer without having to go to law school. So I worked with a number of lawyers who were basically self-educated people who served under an apprenticeship under another lawyer who helped them. So they came to the law library with their learning contracts and we worked with them. I have to tell you this was one of the most fulfilling experiences in my working life. So you see libraries really do work. They really are great adult learning centers. They always have been. Let’s not lose that, because libraries are an American success story. Please support your community libraries. Thanks.

I’m an American expat who is a business librarian living in the European Union. As such I hold a graduate library degree MLS and a graduate degree in business MBA in marketing. I support unions and health care reform. Email: democratsramshield@yahoo.com

Google’s Schmidt worried about Bay Area class tensions

http://resources2.news.com.au/images/2011/01/21/1225992/117330-eric-schmidt.jpg

 

“Speaking at an SXSW panel, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt emphasized that Google is ‘very, very worried’ about the class tensions that underlie recent Bay Area protests, where high-salaried techies have driven up rents. ‘Ninety-nine percent of people have seen no economic improvement over the last decade,’ he said, adding that ‘the data suggest that the problem gets worse’ and will become the ‘number one issue in democracies around the world.’ Schmidt’s solution to this displacement? Foster conditions — e.g., better education, looser immigration laws, and deregulation in strictly-controlled areas like energy and telecommunications — that encourage the creation of fast-growing startups (‘gazelles’) that generate lots of jobs. When interviewer Steven Levy noted ‘gazelles’ like the 50-employee WhatsApp which was acquired by Facebook for a reported $19 billion seem to lead to more inequality, Schmidt brushed aside the apparent contradiction. ‘Let us celebrate capitalism,’ the tax-us-if-you-can Schmidt said, opening his arms. ‘$19 billion for 50 people? Good for them.’ Eric, meet Tom.”

~Slashdot~