Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Emancipation Proclamation

On January 1st, 1863 the nature of the civil war changed dramatically when Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite what many Americans believe today the Emancipation Proclamation did not secure freedom for all men suffering under the institution of slavery. The Proclamation applied only to those states who were in rebellion, and within those states a number of districts and townships were exempt. It might have seemed futile -to many people- to order the emancipation of persons under the jurisdiction of states in rebellion. However the declaration represented a critical shift in this countries history in two ways. Firstly it opened service in the armed forces to men of color fleeing slavery in the South, which bolstered the Union army giving them the numerical advantage in the war. Secondly it impressed upon the nation the idea that emancipation was at the heart of the Civil War, which by 1863 had been going on for almost three years. Following the the Emancipation Proclamation the nation began to view the war as a struggle to realize freedom for all people, rather then a conflict over the power of the federal government.

Prior to his election in 1860 Lincoln had struggled with the dichotomy inherent in the moral and political composition of the nineteenth century America. Since inception of the United States the future of slavery within its borders had become a decisive issue. The Civil War was dominated by questions of Constitutionality. Proponents of slavery argued that legally a man could claim another man as property. Such notions had long been excepted, though slavery was never addressed in the Constitution. Many whites had never considered the rights of blacks to be self evident. Abolitionists viewed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as the ideological foundation of their cause. The country was radically divided by interpretation. Beneath the passionate insistence of many whites that slaves constituted property, of which it was unlawful to denny them, lay the Southern economies dependence on the forced labor of almost two million people. Following Southern secession, and the two years of brutal fighting which followed, Lincoln began to see emancipation as critical to reuniting the nation. Whatever Lincoln’s intention before reaching office the war thrust the abolition of slavery upon him. With the power vested in him as a war time President, Lincoln went about the task of eradicating an evil, which many Presidents before him had spoke of but dared not challenge.

To Southerners the Proclamation represented what they saw as further evidence of the oppressive and unconstitutional oversight by the federal government. Lincoln acknowledges this sentiment at the end of the Proclamation when he concludes “upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” Reiterating his belief in the Constitutionality, and righteous nature of the Proclamation.

Despite the allegations of his opponents Lincoln believed firmly in the legal and moral foundation of his cause. Following the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln worked tirelessly to see the 13th Amendment passed to bring a decisive end to slavery. It is difficult to imagine given the economic motivations in maintaining slavery in the United States that the emancipation of almost two million Americans could have occurred through alternative means. In retrospect the Emancipation Proclamation is seen as a symbolic turning point for humanity, like the Bill of Rights, and the Magna Carta before it. Although the Proclamation did not emancipate all persons being held as slaves, and though the path to equality would take another hundred years to be more fully realized by Americans, the ideological force of Lincoln’s conviction guided the nation toward a future of unity and equality.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Brief History of American "Belly Dance"

Before language there was dance. Since the beginnings of man dance been a form of communication and celebration. Peoples in every region of the world have developed their own forms of dance. Regional dance forms make up an integral part of each countries cultural heritage.

The exact origins of what is commonly known today as “belly dance” are unclear. The dance form has roots in ethnic Greek, Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian, and African dance forms. These various dance forms are often drastically different from the images we have become accustomed to seeing in the West. In most cultures (excluding perhaps our own) “belly dance” is practiced as a social and celebratory custom.

So called “belly dance” was introduced into the United States at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. The dance exhibition, which appeared at the Fair would have been entirely different from the Cabaret influenced entertainment we currently associate with the term “belly dance” today, yet the show gained considerable notoriety for its “exotic” nature, and its evident cintrast to the Victorian sensibilities of the time. The term “belly dance” itself was coined then and there in reference to the uncorseted fashion of dress worn by the dancers, although you could not not see the girls stomachs (as seen on the left). Through cultural misconceptions and poor American imitations the Western world came to view the dance from as risque, and drove the practice underground.

“Belly dance” made a resurgence in America in the 1960s. The dance was reborn in ethnic nightclubs in large cities across the country. The reintroduction of “belly dance” embraced the ethnic roots of the dance form as well as the Western misconceptions. The shows seen in these venues perpetuated more extravagant costumes, and more evocative performances. This Americanized version is referred to today as Egyptian Cabaret. This new form of dance quickly gained popular interest, and has come to represent what most Americans recognize as “belly dance” today.

In the midst of growing cultural conflict modern “belly dance” speaks without words of rich and beautiful heritage, and the commonalities of our countries, our bodies, and our mutual love of dance in a language inherent to humanity.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Defining Violence: Part IV

At the beginning of this debate I sought to define violence, questioning whether violence is defined entirely by that which is done with malice or if it doesn’t extend to the whole of human suffering. It is my personal believe that the later compels us to acknowledge all the infractions of our forbears against the truths we have come to view as self evident. Since we lack empirical data to juxtapose the 20th century to any proceeding century, we must formulate our opinions based a upon accounts of the period; documenting the conditions of factory labor, domestic violence, political oppression, disease, and famine. In exploring the evidence I have found no reason to question my original position. Despite the violence evident in the wars and conflict of the last century, peoples around the world liberated themselves form segregation, and colonial oppression in a largely peaceful manner. Labor unions helped to improve working conditions for many people. Suffragists helped to create laws protecting women and children against domestic violence, and assault. Medical advancements helped to constrain diseases which before had destroyed civilizations. In this way the violence under which many people had long suffered was uprooted. It is my hope that we will continue to see such progress.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Thing to be Thankful for

The family decided to spend the holiday in Yosemite. It was a brilliant decision. The pain, guilty and trepidation of the season was abandoned, supplanted by the true magnificence of America, which we profess to celebrate on such occasions. 
Over the last few months I had begun to feel that I would never leave LA. I have come to detest this city, which sprawls out over an inhospitable landscape. We are all refugees from reality here. Insulated by our own ingenuity. Indomitably refusing to acknowledge the futility of our occupation. 

On the appointed morning of our expedition it seemed to take the boys an inordinate amount of time to ready themselves. I on the other hand would have rushed out the door in nothing but my bedclothes given the opportunity. I was so eager to leave. Unfortunately propriety -even in California - insist that I dress myself before leaving the house. So that morning I showered, dressed, and sat patiently in the kitchen, tapping my feet; until the clock struck twelve, and all parties were at last ready to leave. 

Venturing from the insulate, artificially cultivated enclaves of suburbia the dilapidated remnants of the city appear like concrete phantoms, alluding to a far gone period of promise and prosperity. As we reached the boundaries of civilization the scorched aftermath of the fire engulf us. The hills and mountains rose up around us stripped bare by the flames. Charred branches extended from the clay like hands reaching up from the grave. As the landscape gradually became depressed evidence of man’s eternal conquest to dominated nature reemerged. The landscape was uniform, utilitarian, the industrial deposition of an entire way of life. The pragmatic solution to the insatiable appetite of an ever growing population. Now at the end of November the country side appeared desolate. Everything outside seemed lifeless. As we drove up to the park I stared out the window at the fields of shriveled brown plants, in neat rows, stretching back to meet the dull gray sky obscured by clouds of dust.

At the gas station a man told us that his wallet had been stolen and he needed help getting back home. Dad won’t give him anything. I knew if I offered to help Dad would make an issue of it, so I sat there silently. I felt mean and petty. 

We made it up the mountain in the dark. As we ascended the air became cool and clean. I could see by the headlights the trees growing up from the sheer drop where the edge of the road disappeared on our right. On our left the mountain rose up in precipitous walls of rock from where the road had been cut away from its side. I felt as though life was flowing back into my body as color began to come back into the land. 

There are now only reservations of wilderness as once blanketed the earth. A handful of places spread across the globe which remain as they were upon the morning of creation. To look upon such places is to see the world as God created it. To be in the presences of the unrivaled grander of his hand. It is enough to say that we came from the desert back to the mountains, back to the forest, back to the rivers, and the lakes, back to God’s kingdom.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Importance of Food

Beyond the nutritional benefits of food, I believe that the consumption of food, and the preparation of food carries with it significant social and emotional implications, which lie at the very root of the greater health issues in this country. I believe strongly that in order to radically change the way we eat, we have to bring the practice of food (you might say) back to the center of communal life.

The benefits of eating well have become more widely recognized in recent years. We each know that we should consume less sodium, avoid empty carbohydrates, prepared foods, artificial flavors, etc. The information is available, the recipes are available, and yet we are not seeing any substantive change. Why is that? If you ask just about anyone (even yourself) why we don’t practice what we preach the most common reason people cite for not cooking themselves is lack of time. So you really have to look at the problems we face not simply as a matter of nutrition but as symptoms of more pervasive issue with greater social implications.

The time and attention required in food preparation itself is in conflict with the pace at which we live today, and the increasingly secular nature of the family. We have made this remarkable shift as a society from a very agrarian culture into the very technologically driven culture. There are certain benefits to this and there are certain draw backs. Now more then ever we find ourselves compelled in different directs throughout the day, and because of that it is difficult to foster a sense of community. Yet in this common need to be nourished we all share.

We can’t sacrifice this agrarian practice, as we have so many others, because it is tantamount to the survival of every living organism. To correct the physical symptoms of our social dysfunction we must address our cultural relationship with food. The communal consumption of food is not enough. We have to actively participate individually in the creation of what we consume collectively. We must reinvigorate an interest in the cultural importance of food, the heritage of ethnic food. We must make people aware not only of their physical need to find sustenance, but the social and emotional need to be nourished, and to nourish others. I believe that is the only in this way are we going to truly engage people, and raise awareness of the importance of food.

Other wise I fear we will continue to find ourselves alone in front of the glow of the television eating Haagan-Dazs racked with guilt and remorse.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Barbie's Wanton Take Over of the World.

“Barbie is like a Trojan Horse. Inside it, it carries Western cultural influences, such as makeup, and indecent clothes. Once it enters our society, it dumps these influences on our children.”
- Majid Ghaderi designer of Sara

This isn’t the first time Barbie has been attacked for real or imagined impropriety. The strikingly blonde, blued eyed descendent of a German doll named Bild Lili created controversy when the doll was released in America in 1959. American’s notions of women’s place in society in the late 50s, were still vastly different from those held in post WWII Europe. Conservatives in the U.S. feared that her image as a working girl would undermine young girls desires to grow up to be home makers. Mattel worked diligently to reassure parents other wise. Releasing Barbie’s iconic male counter part Ken, and the first in a long series of wedding dresses.

As Mattel worked to reform Barbies public image conform to Americans expectations feminism began to take off during the 1960s. In the decade that followed the doll was harshly criticized by feminists for promoting the patriarchal status quo. Controversy has continued to dog Barbie throughout her 50 year career in this country as an “all American girl.” At the turn of the century Barbie is being admonished by nationalists like Majid Chaderi for promoting Western values. Why does this 11.5” woman attract so much scrutiny? Why does her visage arouse such passionate opposition from parents, religious leaders, foreign nationalists, conservative, and feminists alike?

In surveying Barbie’s career as an iconic character it becomes evident that legions of people have superimposed upon her their own fears and aspirations for the future. People from every corner of the globe view the doll differently. Collectors and enthusiasts see her idealistic form as classically beautiful. Others view her grossly unrealistic proportions as a misleading construct for young girls. Some see Barbie as a role model for girls. While others view her flimsy clothing and permanent make-up as indicators of the doll’s inherently wanton nature. It seems that everyone perceives Barbie through their own subjective filter.

There is no pervading notion of femininity, thus Barbie is subject to the social and cultural discrepancies of everyone’s ideals. Even among Americans no single image of femininity -even one as iconic as Barbie- cannot hope to satisfy the conceptions of all associations. Now at the turn of the century Barbie has become entangled in a multinational culture battle to define the social role of women for a new generation of girls.

Earlier this year Mattel opened their first Barbie megastore in China, hoping the tap into the materialism of the growing middle class, according to the LA Times. The dolls capitalistic venture in China illustrates a stark charge from the world she was born into during the late 50s. When Mattel first introduced Barbie in Japan during the mid 90s the doll was viewed as too aggressive, with her broad smile, and large forward facing eyes. Mattel has since made a number of changes to appeal to Asian cultural sensibilities. Including closing her lips over her teeth, and shifting her eyes to look down rather than forward, to give the doll a coy a appearance, more in line with the patriarchal cultural expectations of the region. Despite these changes it remains to be seen how well Barbie can assimilate in the Asian market.

Other countries have forcefully rejected the Barbie; claiming that she poses a threat to their cultural and religious beliefs. In Iran even the government is taking a personal interest in the platinum blond, Malibu surfer chick. Going so far as to produce dolls to combat her “destructive cultural and social influence.” It might surprise many Americans but the destructive repercussions being warned of in an almost evangelical manner is the spread of women’s suffrage to Iran. “Barbie is an American woman who never wants to get pregnant and have babies,” explains the designer of Sara and Dara Majid Ghaderi, “and this is contradicts our culture.”Wether girls who play with Barbie today will be inspired to establish a women’s liberation movement in the Muslim world future as many Arab nationalist fear, remains to be seen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Monkeys in Space

November 29th 1961 NASA launches a chimpanzee named Enos into Earth orbit. Enos was not the first animal in space but he was the first to orbit and return successfully to earth. Although Enos was blissfully unaware of the circumstances which catapulted him into the great beyond, his journey was part of a complex struggle between the world’s greatest super powers. By 1961 the space race had become an integral part of the Cold War. More than the nuclear arms race the formation of the Soviet and American space programs, would reshape not only peoples’ views of themselves as citizens of each state, but their understanding of their place in the greater cosmos. The space race would captive the attention of the world for more than a half a century, and affect generations born long after disarmament.

The launch of Sputnik on October 4th 1957, and the Soviet head start in the space race provoked panic among U.S. citizens and politicians. Just a month later Sputnik 2 blasted into orbit with a dog named Laika aboard. In 1958 NASA was formed, as Americans began to question the social and educational underpinnings of their nation. According to NASA’s website “chances for a manned orbital mission in 1961 now were dim.” Earlier the same year Soviets had successfully rocketed Yuri Gagarin into space, where he had became the first man to orbit the earth. Falling behind the Soviet space program NASA desperately needed Enos’s mission to be successful. Despite numerous technical difficulties and a malfunctioning thruster, which forced controllers to return Enos and Mecury Atlas to earth prematurely, “MA-5 had to be termed an excellent operation, one that had achieved most of its objectives and that would become a milestone on the road into the unknown.” Most importantly Enos’s “mission concluded the testing for a human orbital flight, achieved by John Glenn on February 20th, 1962.”

Enos excursion into space, as well as that of many other animals, paved the way for human exploration. It is important to remember that before the men aboard the Apollo XI made their “great leap for mankind,” our homogeneous relative leapt first. Now in the after math of the Cold War the collective accomplishments of the U.S., Russia, and other nations have made the International Space Station and other joint ventures possible. International cooperation and exploration of space is sure to further our understanding of the universe and the planet that we and our animal counterparts co-habitat, for centuries to come.