Category Archives: History

Declaration of Inde-What??

I love when somebody says something that gets me fired up enough to write an unplanned response.  When I write I usually have a pretty good sense of what I plan to say before I ever set fingers to keyboard;  however, my favorite pieces are the ones I didn’t think about before writing or even pressing send.  The following post is one of these Dionysian responses to a classmate’s post about freedom, happiness, and the so called “American Dream.”

English: A collage of Native Americans dressed...
English: A collage of Native Americans dressed in European attire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

D,

I have to respectfully disagree with your analysis of the Declaration of Independence as the pillar for the American dream, happiness, and freedom.  In my opinion, the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence is one of the most hypocritical statements ever written down.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

When the Declaration was originally written the term all men didn’t actually include ALL men and explicitly excluded women, along with slaves and Native Americans.  “Endowed by their creator” may sound like religious tolerance, but in practice it only applied to those men that worship one god, again excluding many peoples and their beliefs.  Unalienable Rights should mean rights that cannot be taken away or changed by man-made laws; however, this hasn’t held up for any culture within American society since.

Consider for example the right to freedom of speech and then consider censorship in modern America; the right to bear arms is another constitutional freedom that has been steadily manipulated to remove firearms from mainstream society; religious freedom is also listed, but yet monotheism was forced upon many tribes who never even believed in deities to begin with, simply the power of the natural world around them, and those of us today who are supposed to sit quietly waiting for others to finish their religious ceremonies before we can proceed with eating a meal or performing job duties.  Finally, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness is sardonically hypocritical, as the same men who wrote and signed this document participated in the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the native peoples here whose lives, liberties, and opportunities to pursue happiness were taken from them without a second thought about their rights and freedoms.

I am not anti-American, but I am anti-hypocrisy and as much as we like to tout about our freedoms and the righteousness and greatness of our country, our society is actually based on a sandy foundation of hypocrisy and self-interest.

Advertisements

Native Americans and the American Dream

A Brief Background:
I had an assignment for my Humanities class that asked us how we personally feel about the concept of the “American Dream” and to consider how other cultures view the concepts of happiness and freedom.   At the same time I was watching the PBS documentary series We Shall Remain, 6 episodes from their American Experience series about the atrocities suffered by the native tribes of this country at the hands of the invading Europeans.  The series presents an emotional history of several tribes and influential people in American history from the perspective of the native peoples’ affected.  You can learn more

We Can Do It poster for Westinghouse, closely ...
We Can Do It poster for Westinghouse, closely associated with Rosie the Riveter, although not a depiction of the cultural icon itself. Pictured Geraldine Doyle (1924-2010), at age 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

about the series and access a ton of cool resources at the PBS website.
These two topics, the idea of the American dream and the extreme suffering of the Native Americans, set the tone for the following post.

For me, the phrase “The American Dream” has always brought to mind images of baseball, apple pie, Rosie the Riveter, and immigrants lined up outside the Statue of Liberty with visions of streets paved in gold.  For many immigrants, America represented the epitome of freedom and happiness, but for the native peoples of North America, the “American Dream” was actually a nightmare of invasion, plague, and genocide.
Native Americans enjoyed true freedom and happiness amongst the vast riches of this land for thousands of years before Europeans stepped foot on our soil.  Hundreds of thriving societies with rich cultures were wiped out in less than a century and those that remained were imprisoned on small tracts of land far from their homes, their ancestors, and their traditions (PBS, 2009).  For the few native peoples left in this country, freedom is an unknown concept and true happiness cannot be fully realized within the constraints of their reservations.
The European-American vision of freedom, a far cry from what the natives knew as freedom, enslaved thousands of people and revoked the in-born rights of hundreds of cultures and societies within the continent.  For many tribes, freedom and happiness go hand-in-hand and their people cannot have one without the other.  Happiness is found through the freedom of celebrating their culture, heritage, and traditions, remembering where they came from, and what their ancestors sacrificed for their right to be Cherokee, Lenape, Lakota or any of the hundreds of other individual societies of natives.  Europeans stole the Native Americans’ identity and forced them to assimilate into white society or be imprisoned on reservations.  The Trail of Tears, the marching of thousands of Cherokee people from their homes in the southwest to the reservations of Indian Country, is just one example of the freedom and potential happiness of these peoples being taken right out from underneath them by the white man (PBS, 2009).

(animated stereo) Native American youths redux
(animated stereo) Native American youths redux (Photo credit: Thiophene_Guy)

We Shall Remain.  [Television Series].  (2009). USA: PBS.

Check out Part 2 of my pro-native tirade in which I disassemble the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence.

Eastern Mythology and the Hero Archetype

Oil painting on silk, "Hua Mulan Goes to ...
Oil painting on silk, “Hua Mulan Goes to War” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the study of humanity and culture, myths help us understand the beliefs and behaviors of a culture through the study of the archetypes and rituals expressed in their literature.  Myths are often ancient legends that began through oral tradition; stories passed from generation to generation through music, dance, and tales of great ancestors and powerful deities (Dong, 2011, Janaro & Altshuler, 2012).  When studying the myths, folklore, fairytales and fables of a civilization it is important to analyze them within the context of their time and culture in order to prevent making inaccurate judgments about a society.  Many civilizations around the world share similar archetypes; however, the meaning behind these themes can be very different (Janaro & Altshuler, 2012).  These differences are most clearly seen in the contrast between Eastern and Western mythologies.

“The Ballad of Mulan” is an ancient Chinese poem that tells the tale of a brave, filial young girl who defies societal norms by dressing like a man in order to join the army to save her aging father’s life.  Mulan’s story begins with news of a war and a call for Mulan’s father to join the fight.  Fearing her father’s certain death, Mulan resolves to take his place in the army.  Disguised as a man, Mulan spends 10 years fighting in the war, ultimately bringing victory and honor to her country and family.  She is escorted home by her troops, where, after 12 years, she finally reveals to her companions that she is in fact a woman.

Mulan offers her stunned comrades just one explanation:

The he-hare’s feet go hop and skip,

The she-hare’s eyes are muddled and fuddled.

Two hares running side by side close to the ground,

How can they tell if I am he or she? (Frankel, 1976).

Mulan has become an important mythological character in many cultures and various lessons have been derived through the legend’s retelling across cultures.  A modern American perspective on the story reflects the ideas of feminism and equality that American woman have worked so hard to achieve.  “Anything you can do, I can do better” is also highlighted in Disney’s 1998 animated movie about the Chinese heroine and the sardonic song I’ll Make a Man out of You (Coats & Bancroft & Cook, 1998).  While these are popular Western interpretations of the female hero archetype, they do not accurately denote the morals and norms of Chinese culture throughout history.

When analyzed in the context of its time and culture, The Ballad of Mulan tells the story of a filial daughter dutifully protecting her father’s life and honor (Dong, 2011).  While both Eastern and Western thought indeed designate Mulan as a mythic hero, the reasons for this entitlement differ greatly between the two philosophies.  Western interpretations believe a hero to be a young adult who has left home to accomplish great deeds; which is indeed what Mulan did.  However, Eastern philosophy regards Mulan as a hero for the sacrifice she made for her father’s life and her devotion to protecting his honor throughout the war by disguising her identity.  Where Western thought views Mulan as a female to be celebrated for crossing gender lines and proving women can be as powerful as their male counterparts, Eastern philosophy diminishes this alteration in gender roles (Janaro & Altshuler, 2012).  In Mulan’s speech to her troops, she notes the differences between male and female rabbits, but points out that in the midst of a skirmish, gender becomes indistinguishable and irrelevant.

Myths and narratives have served as historical records and moral guides for behavior all over the world for thousands of years.  Narratives serve as effective tools in teaching societal morals and norms.  Children learn valuable lessons through the fairytales and fables they hear throughout their young lives.  The lessons taught by these stories pervade the adolescent and adult psyche, guiding morals and behaviors throughout the lifespan (Janaro & Altshuler, 2012).  Narratives also evoke critical thinking and require the reader or listener to interpret the moral lessons and apply them to daily life.  Structured rules about what is “good” and “bad” limit the thought people put into their beliefs and behavior.  This lack of thought diminishes the human capacity for reasoning and logical thought when complicated issues arise in real life and the options are not as black and white as the “good” and “bad” rules that were dictated (Janaro & Altshuler, 2012).

Myths are universal; every culture, past and present, has its own mythology and folklore.  The details of the stories and the lessons they teach are varied, but there are still many commonalities, even between cultures that never had contact with each other (Janaro & Altshuler, 2012).  Mythic archetypes like the hero are shared in every culture and serve to tie the human race together as a whole; in turn, making the myth a mythic archetype in and of itself.

References

Coats, P.  (Producer) & Bancroft, T. & Cook, B. (Directors).  (1998).  Mulan.  [Motion Picture].  United States: Walt Disney.

Dong, L. (2011). Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the United States. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9781592139729

Frankel, H.  (1976).  The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady: Interpretations of Chinese Poetry.  Yale University Press: Retrieved from http://www.chinapage.com/mulan.html

Janaro, R. and Altshuler, T.. (2012).  The Art of Being Human.  New York, NY: Pearson Education Inc.

Quote By Charles Darwin on Evolution

Wonderful blog: short, sweet, to the point and thought provoking.

Consilient Interest

“The slightest advantage in one being… over those with which it comes into competition, or better adaption in however slight a degree to the surrounding physical conditions, will turn the balance.”

Charles Darwin

View original post

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is rapidly becoming the most popular, cost-efficient, clean energy source available in the United States, the leading country in nuclear power.  Although hydroelectric, solar, geothermal and wind energy systems are safer and completely renewable, these power structures cannot currently provide sufficient electricity to the entire country.  Each of these technologies is limited by geographic location; however, following proper safety precautions, nuclear power plants can be built almost anywhere there is enough open land.  The benefits of using nuclear energy, combined with the safety measures designed and monitored by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission outweigh the potential risks the production of nuclear power may present.

Nuclear energy is produced through the fission of uranium atoms.  The nucleus of U-235 is unstable and breaks down, releasing its neutrons which then collide with the nuclei of other atoms, releasing the neutrons from those atoms as well.  This process produces constant heat as the unstable uranium atoms move and collide in an infinite chain of chemical reactions (Electric Power Generation, 2012).  The heat produced from this fission warms water flowing around the reactor vessel, producing steam which spins a turbine to produce electricity that can be harnessed and transported for use.  The steam is then recaptured and changed back into water to repeat the cycle of chemical reactions.

Nuclear energy currently provides approximately 20% of the United States’ electricity, with some states utilizing up to 80% nuclear energy for their power needs.  Nuclear energy is the most cost-efficient energy source, costing only $2.19 per kilowatt-hour, compared to coal at $3.23, natural gas at $4.51, and petroleum at $21.56 per kilowatt-hour.  Nuclear power plants are also emission-free, producing 63.3% of clean energy, more than solar, hydro, geothermal, and wind energy combined (Nuclear Energy Institute, 2012).  Although uranium is not a renewable energy source, it is a self-sustaining fuel source: once the chemical reactions begin they self-perpetuate the chemical reactions indefinitely, creating an infinite energy source from a relatively small amount of fuel.

When compared to the cost and renewability of coal, gas and petroleum and the efficiency of solar, hydro, geothermal, and wind energies, nuclear power outshines its competitors; yet, the risks associated with the use of radioactive materials prevent nuclear power from being fully utilized.  Two significant historic events cloud the nuclear energy field with fear and represent the real risk of nuclear power usage: the meltdowns at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Chernobyl, Ukraine in the former Soviet Union.  In 1979, Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island power plant experienced a core meltdown which, although it did not cause any fatalities, took many years to clean up and ignited the fear of atomic power plants (Three Mile Island Emergency, 2007).  The incident at Chernobyl in 1986 was much larger and lead to many deaths and thousands of cases of cancer.  Twenty-six years after the meltdown, an 18-mile radius around the former power plant remains closed due to radioactive by-products and wastes (Chernobyl, 2012).  Although the United States’ modern nuclear power plant design is much safer than the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island reactors, the risk of radiation exposure remains.  The storage of the radioactive by-products and wastes is another drawback to nuclear power; these materials must be kept contained for years until the radioactive materials can deteriorate and be safe for exposure.

Many factors must be considered before building a nuclear power plant.  The type of plant to build, a Pressurized Water Reactor or a Boiling Water Reactor, the safety of the future employees and residents, where the uranium supply will come from, and how to store and dispose of radioactive by-products and wastes are just a few of the important issues that must be taken into concern.  The decommissioning of the plant must also be planned before construction and operation can begin.  A plan to dismantle, store, or entomb the plant when it ceases operation must be made and finances must be set aside for the process (Students’ Corner, 2012).

Determining the location of the new plant is another extremely important aspect to consider when building a new nuclear power plant.  It must be easily accessible to construction vehicles and future employees, but cannot be too close to any cities, in case of a nuclear emergency.  The location must also be centralized and close enough to run power lines to transport the harnessed energy to the various cities.

Nuclear power is a cleaner, sustainable, more affordable energy supply than coal, gas, or petroleum and is not as dangerous as most people think.  It is also much more efficient and widely available than solar, hydro, geothermal, and wind energies.  It is important for people to know the facts about the risks posed by nuclear power plants and what to do in the event of a nuclear emergency in their area, but also that nuclear power plants are not something to be feared or fought, but in fact will help preserve the environment and save them money on their electric bill.  Understanding that the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risks will help citizens accept nuclear power as a quality energy source.

References

Dickinson College.  (2007).  Three Mile Island Emergency.  Retrieved from http://www.threemileisland.org/virtual_museum/index.html

Nuclear Energy Institute.  (2012).  Electric Power Generation.  Retrieved from http://www.nei.org/howitworks/electricpowergeneration/

Nuclear Energy Institute.  (2012).  Resources and Stats.  Retrieved from http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/

Tennessee Valley Authority.  (2012).  Nuclear Energy.  Retrieved from http://www.tva.com/power/nuclear/index.htm

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  (August 30, 2012).  Backgrounder on Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident.  Retrieved from http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/chernobyl-bg.html

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  (August 30, 2012).  Map of Power Reactor Sites.  Retrieved from http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/map-power-reactors.html

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  (August 30, 2012).  Students’ Corner.  Retrieved from http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students.html