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.