Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ode to the West Wind Analysis, Percy Shelley's Exaltation of Nature's Power

By: Dianne Heath

In "Ode to the West Wind", Percy Bysshe Shelley eloquently expresses his private thoughts about nature and humanity by honoring the virtues and power of the Wind. The consistent rhyme scheme demonstrations his dedication to praising the Wind and admiring nature. "Ode to the West Wind" is heavy with descriptions, allegories, stunning imagery and hidden themes which reveal Shelley’s close observation and life long commitment to the subject. Most importantly the poem is brimming with emotion, ranging from adulation, worship, desperate pleading, sadness, and humbleness. Shelley elevates the Wind by treating the Wind as if it's a divine figure so that the underlying message and theme is more pronounced. Just as the ancients recorded their deepest vulnerabilities and fears through open prayer while simultaneously adoring their deity; Shelley also uses the same technique throughout the poem.

The untamed, powerful and majestic Wind gifts life to seasons and fuels nature's movement, explains Shelley, "thou breath of Autumn's being". The wild Wind has the power and freedom to breathe life into the seasons just like a deity would breathe to life to humans. The Wind is an unseen force yet powerful guardian of nature. It can objectively take away life in one season and lay nature to its death; while spurring reproduction to bestow life in another season. Like a mystic conjuring up a spirit and then fleeing its production, this is how fast the leaves are floating away from the source of their life after contact with the Wind. Shelley uses this metaphor to highlight the incredible & frightening strength of the wind. The leaves anticipate and rapidly accept their morbid fate. 

There’s no gloomy mood but a “hectic red”. Shelley then begins to use human like characteristics to relate nature to our stories and experiences. He uses extensive imagery so that we can see and feel the pertinent message. “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red pestilence-stricken multitudes,” evoke visuals of decaying victims of a  deadly plague. Autumn is like a deadly epidemic, slowing sickening and sapping away the life of the leaves that are desperately clinging on. However the Wind, like a king, majestically“chariotest” away the deadened leaves and guides them to their grave, "their dark wintry bed," with dignity. The phrase, “O thou” is conspicuously unrhymed for distinct reverence and to redirect attention to the subject of exaltation. Shelley manages to compress observations about two seasons in the first two stanzas which sets the tone for the message of the poem; seasons, life, death and power. 

Shelley describes the seeds as winged to indicate the freedom they are endowed with once in contact with the Wind. They are “like a corpse within its grave” until spring Winds blow new life. Shelley uses blue and azure color imagery throughout the poem to indicate the Wind’s presence in its various forms and to apply Wind-like qualities to other aspects of nature.

Like a loud harmonious trumpet (e.g. religious events, battle cries, festivals, which grabs the attention of multitudes due to its importance and emotional investment by the inhabitants) that fill the city; the spring Wind is boldly declaring a new season by breathing life into seeds. The winged seeds are now described as buds to quickly snapshot the cycle of life from seed to bloom. The buds are driven to the sky "like flocks to feed in air" and lifted up by the Wind to reach its nourishment. The spring Wind fills the earth with living hues and sweet odours. This scene contrasts sharply with the autumn colors, signaling death "yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red." 

 Shelley directly states with reverence, the Wind’s omnipresence "which are moving everywhere" and its dual power as "destroyer and preserver". He entreats this wild Spirit, to “O hear” his humble request. 


The same power who initiated "earth's decaying leaves" to shed is the same power bringing more commotion in the sky and loosing up the clouds. The Wind’s power is evident from the heavens and the ocean. Percy uses the word heaven, as if the Wind resides as a deity. 

The Wind’s angels are rain and lightning, who are spread on the wind's surface, the sky, like "bright hair on the head". Shelley uses more religious undertones, "some fierce Maenad and "thy congregated might", demonstrating rain's and lightning's strong devotion to the Wind. Shelley also uses death connotations, such a "dirge" and "sepulchre" to express how these elements congregate to end the day. Night is like a dome encompassing the entire earth in its darkness. 

Wind is now in the form of vapor, the solid invulnerable sky who directs powerful "black rain, and fire, and hail" to burst without fear. The authors uses actions words such as commotion, uplifted, shook and burst to describe the powerful relationship between the Wind and natural processes. The Wind is too powerful to incur damage in the process and not prone to be intimidated by other powerful elements. Once again Shelley is entreating the Wind to hear.

Image via AngeStar, Flickr
Shelley continues praise and admire the omnipresent Wind in its many forms. He acknowledges the Wind as a formidable ally and demonstrates why its powers are suited for his humble plea. Once again we see the color blue. The Wind has taken form in the summer within the Mediterranean waves as the engine for stream. The Wind is so powerful that although this function requires a tremendous amount of energy, the Wind is lull'd. There is power in calmness.

Even the grandest man made structures such as "old palaces and towers" and "pumice isle in Baiae's bay" quivers with the Wind's intense motion when it's just laying down. The word blue, a characteristic of power associated with the Wind,  describes the moss and flowers that overtake these structures like a ornament. Their scents are so sweet that you are enamored by what you imagine them to look like. But the powerful vegetation that appear to level with the Atlantic are still at the mercy of the waves produced by the Wind's force. They "cleave themselves into chasms" at its presence. 

Shelley breaks rhyme scheme again to bring attention back to the subject with the simple yet respectful, "Thou". He uses the "sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear the sapless foliage of the ocean" to reflect how is feeling at his lowest state when not beautifully taking over the world like the flowers or moss. At Shelley's strongest and weakest, he respects, trembles and despoils himself with recognition of the Wind's power and role in nature. Shelley has waited so long to make this request that, he "suddenly grow grey with fear" but he courageously asks for the ear of the Wind, O hear!"


Shelley is now directly addressing the Wind directly as if it were a powerful divine force, a deity worthy of worship. There is no more mention of azure or blue because now we are interacting with the power; we know its forms and force. "If I was a dead leaf thou mightest bear." If Shelley was a leaf, he could still have more power from the benevolent Wind who powerfully guides and generously bestows immortality. Shelley is not interested the illusion of power as a human which can be unpredictably and maliciously swept away. He realizes the limitations of humans and wants pristine freedom. He would love to be lifted up by the by the Wind in a wave or fly with the Wind as a cloud to behold the wonders of nature. He wouldn't be a powerful as the wind and only immortal on borrowed force. But at least more free and protected than as a human since he is under the "impulse of thy strength". Yes the elements work tirelessly and pant but they are not brutalized or enslaved by the Wind. Although the Wind can be dangerous and wild it is not deliberately cruel. 

Yes the leaves, clouds and waves have less power but they are "only less free". The Wind powerfully guides the seasons but it doesn't unduly subdue its subjects but instead invites all of nature to share its majesty. Wind does not target individual elements with death; it objectively guides the process. Shelley acknowledges that the Wind is uncontrollable, but he continues with his request. He refers to an innocent time in boyhood and wishes he could had been a friend of the wind wandering over heaven instead of through the limited experiences of humanity. Nature is Shelley's heaven. 

What the wind has the power to do, Shelley couldn't have even strove for. Now Shelley admits that this is an emotional prayer spotted with apprehensive pain. He is desperate yet full of trepidation. He wants to the Wind to lift him up as a "wave, a leaf, a cloud." He alludes once again to religious protestant allegory of unpredictable death from prosecution. "I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed." 

Time is eloquently described as a "heavy weight of hours" who has the power to chain the human existence. The hours are symbolic of impending death. Humans are chained to the passing years; which becomes the enemy of youth and life. Asking for time to stop and death to never come is too bold and a seemingly impossible request. He hopes to circumvent this "tameless and swift and proud" character and have the Wind be his protection against this character. The Wind is just as powerful as Time and could be the most formidable defense death by granting immortality and lifting his fruits to another season.


Shelley wants the Wind to artistically use him like instrument; to flow through him creating soothing yet strong melodies just as the forest is a lyre for the Wind to sweep through. Shelley already experiences pain, sickness and death so why not it be for the glory of the Wind as a "tumult for thy mighty harmonies."

The deep autumnal tone signals impending death due the upcoming winter, but it isn't as morbid or unpredictable as the human's cold end. The leaves are pale and falling leaving a sad bare tree. However this scene is also sweet and comforting. It's just another appreciated cycle guided by the powerful Wind who provides protection and certainty of rebirth. He entreats the Wind to let its Spirit work through his spirit.

He doesn't want bleak mortality but like the leaves experience the seasons. He wants the wind to drive "my dead thoughts over the universe" and chartiotest throughout nature. He longs for the Wind to use his thoughts to "quicken a new birth" and provide nourishment to hasten growth for spring. He asks to be immortalized through his words and his poems to fertilize humanity's new insights. 

His requests for his words to scatter like "ashes and sparks" from a hearth that can't be distinguished among mankind. He wants a guarantee of spring after the autumn and especially after the winter. He wants the wind to lift his words through his lips to "unawken'd earth." The Winds' movements are prophetic as it boldly indicates which seasons are next. The Wind is "the trumphet of prophecy" spurring the seasons and cycle. Atleast in the natural world if death and winter is looming surely spring and rebirth isn't too far behind. Shelley hopes that this phenomenon is possible for him to.

Percy Shelley is awed by nature's ability to have immense power without intentional cruelty. Thus he feels comfortable being vulnerable to the Wind even though it is wild. The Wind encompasses all the elements without exploiting them. Humans often interpret power as who can procure the most evil but the Wind does not need evil to be powerful. The Wind has no gender identity because it is supposed to be above human concepts of behavior. He wishes that he could fully experience natures power, which although terrifying at times, is emotionally safe and soothing. Shelley praises the seasons and nature's capacity for rebirth. He wishes that he could intimately be a part of it to defy time.
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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Economic Insecurity: A Hidden Reason Why Applications are Flooding Elite Colleges?

By: Dianne Heath

Widener Library, Harvard; courtesy of Atlantic Saints

Does the Economy Play a Crucial Role in the Record Breaking Applications to Top Colleges?

Despite the drop in college enrollment, New York Times reports that there is a puzzlingly increase in applications to elite colleges that is causing the admissions process to be "more cutthroat and anxiety-inducing than ever." Sources in the article speculate that the rise in applications, which procures the low admissions rate, can be linked to ambitious students sending more applications such as Issac Madrid profiled in the article who spent $800 in applications to apply to 11 colleges. Others speculate that the electronic age ameliorates the application process and encourages more students to apply to elite colleges, other sources point to students applying to colleges beyond traditional regional borders due to " so much information online now, so every school seems local" and some attribute this predicament to "colleges’ increasingly aggressive outreach to prospective students, with mailings, emails and advertising". Critics are dismayed at what appears to be the collective shallow aspirations for prestige and a fancy degree instead of simply appreciating a solid education. 

However is the disproportionate amount of applications to top colleges just vanity or does it reveal deeper implications about economic trends and underlying ideologies that molds society? Perhaps students are unconsciously reacting to broader structural issues. I speculate that economic instability, insecurity and inequality subtly compels ambitious high school students to compete for refuge in top colleges. These elite institutions have a seemingly stable concentration of resources and prestige that can assist students in confronting these complex economic issues. Interacting structural and social issues are generating a overwhelming demand for a prestigious degree, which confers them disproportionate amount of power in relation to colleges that are less esteemed. Consequently these colleges will receive the disproportionate amount of applications.
Union membership rate is at 11.3 percent
Neoliberal hyper individualism has become the underlying ideology that fuels and legitimatizes the post Fordist/ post Keyensian economy and has steeped into our identities, social relations and interaction with institutions. The sentiment that flows from this ideology focuses on internalizing blame for a paltry economic status while absolving more powerful forces of guilt or responsibility. Neoliberalism is permeating globally, even in countries mired in poverty. The editorial, Zigzag capitalism, describes the outlook of development institutions in impoverished regions who increasing "depict social problems as issues of individual responsibility," and encourages "young people to blame themselves for their situation". Ambitious yet disadvantaged youth in the global south are turning to entrepreneurship while some segments of youth in the U.S. are coping by dedicating themselves to the individual pursuit of legitimatizing oneself through elite and prestigious education instead of political action such as through a union. Since unions are no longer a strong advocate and union membership is steadily declining, a degree from a top college becomes your new silent yet powerful advocate for bargaining for individual employee rights. Now job security and high wages isn't dependent on union participation, but your willingness to travel the gilded avenue to build your individual brand for access to these elusive secure positions. While low wages workers are perceived and denigrated as undeserving for union bargaining and living wages, students are attempting to circumvent this obstacle by using prestige as an advocate and indisputable evidence of deservingness.

43 percent of the working age population has full time jobs
Precarious economic conditions have made extensive job training too burdensome of a liability. Petter Cappellli revealed in his book, A Training Gap, not a Skills Gap, that "1979, young workers received an average of two and a half weeks of training per year. By 1991, only 17% of young employees reported getting any training during the previous year, and by last year, only 21% said they received training during the previous five years. Even training departments have been eliminated in response to the Great Recession".  Recently hired employees are expected to expertly divulge in complex and specialized work duties with minimal to no training. Employees are inadvertently demanding more investment from colleges. Eight Ivy League schools have less than 1 percent of U.S. college students but almost 17 percent of all endowment money. The top 3 percent of schools ranked by endowment size have more than half the funds. Just by comparing the endowments alone of top colleges versus less esteemed colleges, the obvious disparity in capacity of colleges to meet this challenge is exposed. The endowments also indicate the relative unequal budgets colleges have for student investment and prestige building. The inequality of donations, endowments even media attention, which helps to influence the allocation of donations, directly correlates to the stratification of resources and tools for professional development to meet the ever changing, unpredictable market demands. Most top colleges were able to weather the Great Recession, thus leaving their students less vulnerable to job market.

The inequality in college wealth and resources also correlates the inequality in social networks. The powerful alumni that are more keen to providing desirable internships to students who need solid experience, disproportionately hold degrees from top universities. Even the executives in secure positions that are in stable industries with high profits and ruthless companies that are too big to fail disproportionately have degrees from top universities

The economy is replacing more middle income jobs with undervalued low skill and low wages jobs. In the most influential cities where highly profitable industries and companies are headquartered as command centers, labor is increasingly organized to produce stratification in employee rights and benefits. As David Harvey explains in The Condition for Postmodernity, "The core - a steadily shrinking group according to accounts emanating from both sides of the Atlantic - is made up of employees with full time, permanent status and is central to the long term future of the organization. Enjoying greater security, good promotion and reskilling prospects and relatively generous pension insurance and other fringe benefits rights" while one group of periphery workers is made up of expendable full time, clerical and middle skill employees and the other group of periphery workers are "part timers, causals, fixed term contract staff, temporaries, sub-contractors and public subsidy trainees, with even less job security than the first periphery group." As the availability of full time jobs in the core contracts, there is an unconscious understanding that the stakes are high and education can either place you in the secure core or the degraded periphery.

53 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed
High unemployment and underemployment rate has intensified the necessity for students to have their resumes standout among the hordes of desperate competition. In the most extreme and publicized cases there were 23,000 applications sent to get one of 600 jobs at Walmart in Washington, D.C. while in Maryland an ice cream packer company received 400 applications for 16 jobs. Markers of academic prestige on a resume is just on powerful tool for students hoping to transcend the label as just another ordinary applicant. Top universities often perceived as being elite incubators of innovation and research, so students want to be connected to this perception.

Many fear being a part of the marginalized masses that have been permanently cut off from the core and in gloomier cases even the periphery and not even given the chance to compete in the restructuring, contracting, deindustrialized economy. Harvey explains, "the new labour market conditions have for the most part re-emphasized the vulnerability of disadvantaged groups." High loan amounts has added the pressure to secure a well paying job and have emphasized the importance of education and skill acquirement.

Many students are choosing different methods for coping with contemporary struggles. Some are focused on majoring in the hard sciences and math, while others are focusing on filling their resumes with meaningful leadership activities and others are building their social networks. However getting a degree from a top college is another method to have privileged access to the job market.

Harvey, David (1991). The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Capital, pp 150, 152.
Sassen, Saskia. The Global City: Strategic Site/New Frontier.
Editorial (2013). Zigzag capitalism: Youth entrepreneurship in the contemporary global South. Elsevier.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why Britain is Cutting Aid to India by 2015

By: Dianne Heath
Individual Poverty vs. Overall Economy 
The political institutions within Britain are ignoring large pockets of individual poverty and using rudimentary measurements, such as the World Bank’s decision in 2007 to move India from a low income to a lower middle income country, as the basis for discontinuing aid by 2015. Although 400 million people in India live on less than $1.25 a day, 1.6 million children died due to poverty and "malnutrition figures are among the worst in the world", India's GNI, 4.749 trillion, almost dwarfs Britain's GNI at 2.331 trillion. In fact, the UK's aid only contributes 0.03% to India's national income which makes a strong argument that India is growing more competitive with "developed" nations.

According to reports, India's economy “continues to grow at a faster rate than other large economies." Therefore, Britain has decided that the extreme poverty in India is due to internal inequality as opposed to global inequality. The assumption is that as India continues to develop social & political institutions dedicated to alleviating poverty and allocate more of their newly acquired economic growth to social programs then the vast disparities will decrease. Britain cited India's capacity to lift "60 million people out of poverty just by doubling the amount of money they spent on education and health care since 2006." Britain has decided that the individual poverty within India is not due to economic underdevelopment and that overall measurements of India’s economy are sufficient to measure the necessity for aid.

Capacity for Partnership & the Threat of Competition 
The definition of development seem to evolve according the agendas of those who have the power categorize countries and implement social policy in based on these definitions/categories. As Britain suffers through a recession, many politicians are appeasing the electorate by proclaiming that its rising rival is no longer in need of aid. Instead of using indicators such as life expectancy, education, per capita income or purchasing power as determinants to discontinue aid, Britain and other developed nations are focused on the change of power relations. The U.S. Agency for International Development noted that India's growing power "creates an opportunity to evolve the traditional donor recipient model of development into a true partnership."

Britain doesn't want to fund a potential competitor but they want to maintain their interests in India. Since India's economic institutions appear to mirror Britain's economy, they can engage with each other in a “bilateral relationship” (equal partners & cooperation) as opposed to vertically (exploitation). Britain mentioned being partners in skill sharing (comparable education & industry), trade (integration into the global economy) and investments (India has the economic institutions in place for returns to be made). Skills, trade and investments are traditional components of a complex, monetized & developed economy. Since Britain has acknowledged these elements within India's economy, then India is perceived as developed and no longer in need of aid. Britain's reaction to India choosing a French company to supply fighter planes and Britain's protectionist practices against India's exports reveals India's position as a competitor and growing global power.
Indian Space Research Organisation, via European Pressphoto Agency

In the Image of your Colonizer
The most compelling argument is how India's growing likeness to developed nations is influencing the discourse on aid. As India moves away from being perceived as "other" and more in the image of their colonizer then the more they will be perceived as developed. For example, India's space program was a major indicator to Conservative MPs that they were no longer in need of aid. Space programs are milestones generally reserved for countries defined as First/Second World. Gradually India will be displayed less as an "exotic, mysterious, static" colonial territory that contrasts to the "technological development of the industrial revolution" but a modern country that participates in technological development . As the narrative of India as a less developed nations ends the narrative that they "can't do for themselves" will be forced to end also.

India is also reflecting their former colonizer's behavior by distributing billions in aid and credit to impoverished nations such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh. India isn't representing themselves as passive therefore challenging Britain's notions of India as an underdeveloped nation in need of aid. India’s move to what is defined as modernity is influencing other Britain’s perceptions of their development..

Ghosh, Jayati. "India Will Shed Few Tears over the End of UK Aid." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 9 Nov. 2013. Web. 9 Sept. 2013.

GNI, PPP (current International $)." Data. The World Bank Group, n.d. Web. 09 Sept. 2013.

Majumder, Sanjoy. "UK to End Financial Aid to India by 2015." BBC News. BBC, 9 Nov. 2012. Web. 9 Sept. 2013.

Mandhana, Niharika. "A Global Shift in Foreign Aid, Starting in India." India Ink. New York Times, 15 Nov. 2012. Web. Retrieved 9 Sept. 2013.

Sheppard, Porter, Faust and Nagar (2009) Chapter 2 ‘Measuring, Describing and Mapping Difference and Development’, in A World of Difference: Encountering and Contesting Development. The Guilford Press, New York

Williams, Meth and Willis (2009) Chapter 2 ‘Representing the South’. In Geographies of Developing Areas. Routledge, London: 27-52.
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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Effects of having Negative Political Campaign Ads on YouTube

By: Dianne Heath

When Campaign Ads Attack
Your stomach is violently growling, your face is aching from the tension and your mind is flooding with doubts. “I should have chosen answer ‘b’. Answer ‘c’ was probably a trap.” *sigh* Yes, it’s been a long day of classes with every exam and quiz mimicking the intensity of a boot camp obstacle course.

“Quick! I need a cat video before my brain explodes. Time to tune into YouTube,” you tell yourself. You slowly relax and comfort yourself with the thought of cute cats. The first cat video is cuddly enough to start the recovery. “I might as well look at the next video. I can’t watch just one.” Suddenly you hear the archetypal eerie music grow louder in the background. This is definitely not your typical ad convincing you that you need to shop at ModCloth. The voice over sounds critical & inflammatory, there are combative statements, sound bites that make you cringe, misconstrued quotes, blatant scare tactics and promises of apocalyptic doom if you vote for the other candidate.  Now there’s a haunting black and white screen shot of the opposing candidate laughing. He probably was heartily laughing at a funny joke. But the ad positions the laugh after exposing an unpopular statement from the candidate and of course it’s altered to look as unflattering as possible. A jovial moment turned evil. Yes, of course, it’s the all too familiar negative campaign ad. It’s emotional, it’s predictable and it could be on your favorite YouTube video attacking when you least expect it.

Choose your Own Ending
According to political behavioral studies, you’ll either:

A. Be on the edge of your seat. Usually you ignore politics but you can’t ignore the fact that the opposing candidate supports the war. The startling sound bite about cutting Pell Grants has you livid. “How will you ever survive college without Pell Grants?!?! My textbooks are $600 for just one semester!!!” you question in outrage. Relaxing is now impossible as your hearts races. You become anxious with the thoughts of getting a second job while going to college full time. “Who does this candidate think he is? He’s not here to comfort my friend who suffering from PTSD after fighting in Iraq.” You realize that your future and the future of families across America are at stake. In just one clip you’ve become more aware about the issues. “I don’t think I’m even registered to vote,” you mention to yourself in a panic. In a state of urgency you resolve to register first thing in the morning.

This ad has motivated you to make sure that the opposing candidate doesn’t win. Since you’re on YouTube, you decide to check out the videos of the candidate that promises to not to cut Pell Grants. “Hey, this guy is pretty cool. Too bad I don’t have any money to donate.” You sign up to volunteer for his campaign instead.

B. Reject the campaign ads. You have deadlines on top of deadlines. You’re already feeling stressed and you refuse to allow a politician to get you frazzled about his struggle for power. The political ads fill you with disgust. Some of the statements are so ridiculous and revolting that you actually chuckle. “Just great! The regular ads are already annoying. Now I have to deal with campaign ads attacking each other!” You click on another video and now there’s another campaign ad attacking the other candidate. You think to yourself, “If these ads are true, then I don’t want to vote for either candidate.” From what you recall from the news, neither of them had a strong enough argument for the presidency.  Their lack of strong arguments was just as disappointing as the negative campaign ads.

You grow cynical and even more apathetic. You thought were going to vote but you quietly decide to just stay away from the polls altogether. The attack ads are so vicious, overtly dishonest that they confirm your suspicions that both of the candidates don’t have a positive record or enough qualifications for the presidency.  All of the positive media attention about the candidates means nothing to you now. You click out of YouTube. “I should be studying any way.”

C. Overlook and/or miss the ad. You saw that a political ad was about to play. You hate ads in general and you already know who you’ll vote for. This ad won’t change your political behavior.  “Campaign ads aren’t the best source of information for politics,” you note to yourself, “they are so over the top, I don’t know how anyone can take them seriously.” You use this time to hurry up and fix a snack so that you can watch those cat videos in style.

You come back after the ad is over and after a series of videos and post the most adorable one your Facebook page. Now you may have inadvertently shared a political message even though the ad didn’t reach you. Your friends, family and associates may face the same dilemma. I wonder what ending they’ll choose.

The implications and effects of Negative Campaign Ads on YouTube

Although YouTube is a media source, the consumption of YouTube in comparison to other traditional media outlets such as television and radio is different since it’s social. Therefore I believe that political scientists should take a deeper look into what happens when negative campaign ads invade YouTube. Until that happens, I want to take this time to briefly outline some pros and cons of this phenomenon.

1. YouTube becomes an online Town hall- Social media is more interactive and immediate than traditional media. Instead of passively watching political pundits spar with each other on TV, you can read comments on YouTube or watch citizen YouTube videos expose corruption, reveal holes in political platforms, criticize past political blunders and harshly dissect the views of political parties. It’s like a social marketplace where you can shop for political ideas to adopt. You can also go a step further and offer your commentary or post a video to get feedback from citizens like you. YouTube allows the average citizen to stay engaged in politics. "The technology now has made it a lot easier for everyday people to participate. It's made it easier for campaigns, too. The technology allows us to build a platform and see if people come," said Genachowski.

2. Candidates have less incentive to only appeal to PACs, corporations and individuals with large budgets thereby diversifying who influences government – In the past you needed an astronomical budget in order to indirectly get the people on your side. This required gaining the support of wealthy citizens that could contribute to your fundraisers. Even though candidates since need a large campaigning budget, with YouTube there’s more of incentive to directly appeal and cater to the people. YouTube is expansive and videos have the potential to go viral reaching millions. If your ads are embedded in these video your message can spread almost as rapidly as television. In the same way the small donations added up to $500 million, the bits of attention to the ads can result in a landslide victory.

1. Personable nature of YouTube exploited by the candidates - People feel more connected to social media because it’s free media that the general public largely contributes to. Many people distrust traditional media and have grown to trust YouTube. Negative campaigns ads take advantage of this close connection and the comfort that people associate with YouTube. Positive feelings about YouTube that were built overtime may undeservedly transfer to the negative campaign ads. It would be the equivalent of a neighbor candy store suddenly taking advantage of the relationships that they’ve developed over time by broadcasting propaganda. You go to the trusted store mentally disarmed just to be inuaded with negativity.

2. Negative campaign ads on YouTube target a younger audience that is more susceptible to political manipulation- By targeting younger audiences with negative campaign ads, they are attempting to encourage young people to develop a strong aversion to the opposing political campaign. They also hope to garner party loyalty for the duration of their life. Young people are also an attractive demographic because they have more time to volunteer in campaigns. Their naiveté shields them from understanding the sly methods politicians use to shape messages for serving their own purposes.

Unfortunately young people don’t have as much emotional defenses and political savvy to reject this manipulation. It’s also harder for young people to decipher between the honest and dishonest messages.  Young people are more vulnerable to political candidates because they are taught to view adults, especially powerful adults, as authority figures.  With campaigns ads taking over YouTube, it’s difficult to process a logical view about politics as a child.

This could negatively influence their view of politics once they become an adult. They might learn that politics is about choosing the lesser of the two evils when it really should be able choosing the candidate that has best ideas and experience for managing the country. They learn that corruption is normal and to feel powerless instead of holding politicians accountable.  They might become so disillusioned after being tricked once that they avoid politics completely as an adult.

Concluding Thoughts
Negative campaign ads will affect everyone differently depending on their personality, childhood socialization, culture, age, etc. Therefore it’s difficult to determine whether it’s a mostly positive or negative occurrence. What we do know is that campaign ads feed the need to gossip. Many people are more afraid of loss, therefore those citizens will gravitate to learning about the negativity to protect themselves from harm. Therefore, negative campaigning will always have a place in politics. It’s interesting to see how negative campaigning differs depending on the media sources and time period.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

I understand Herman Cain’s Appeal, but are his Story and Policies Relevant?

By: Dianne Heath

Herman Cain Comes to UNC
To stray away from politics and inspire – then subtly influence – bright yet impressionable college students, Herman Cain narrated his personal history of triumph. His father worked 3 jobs and managed to save enough money to purchase a house. Herman Cain graduated from college, met his modest income goals, moved up the corporate ladder, now owns a bus with his face on it despite racism and he ran for president. Even though he didn’t stand a chance as a viable candidate for president, his personal story and ambitious upbringing are supposed to vouch for his policy ideas.

His Story versus Modern Politics
Unfortunately modern realities have complicated the American Dream of class and income mobility. In fact it’s harder for an individual of lower socioeconomic status to achieve social and economic mobility now than in the 1970s. Research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths. He boasted that his father worked three jobs. Imagine if the entire American population within the lower income bracket attempted to get three jobs. First you have to wonder if there were enough jobs for everyone. Then they would somehow need to quality for three jobs since employers are demanding more qualifications. If you actually got hired at three jobs you would need appropriate transportation. However the lack of funds of purchase a car or even gas to travel across several jobs would be a major barrier. If they overcome the transportation barrier, then they are at the mercy of the exploitative job market where they have to deal with the frequent schedule changes. Since low-skilled employees are now viewed as expendable, it’s difficult to negotiate your hours which make holding second job difficult and a third job nearly impossible.

Herman Cain and many older college graduates brag that they worked full-time through college which enabled them to graduate without financially crippling loans. However they forget that now tuition, room & board, textbooks and the other extraneous costs of college are rising faster than household income. It’s significantly above what the average college student's income can generate, especially since you need specialized skills to gain access to higher paid jobs. Unfortunately Republicans are eager to cut Pell Grants, making the possibility of paying off college while still enrolled even dimmer. He also forgot to mention how increasingly competitive getting admitted into a college has become. Many students are trapped in poor K-12 education systems and are surrounded by a negative attitude towards academics. The lack of a knowledgeable and ambitious support system is also a major hindrance to knowing how to escape poverty. It’s extremely admirable that he was raised in a two-parent home; unfortunately many lower income kids don’t have this privilege.

Moving up the corporate ladder is becoming difficult as more and more college graduates get trapped in dead end jobs. Even his attitude towards women’s rights appear a bit antiquated and nostalgic. He made special emphasis on the fact that if a man was to purchase a house without a woman’s permission “you’ll be living in the sucka all by yourself,” [ in reference to his father surprising the family with their own house] almost implying that a strong woman’s presence is a hindrance to a man’s progress. I guess that’s why his wife continues to tend to the home while he engages in manly activities such as business, politics and campaigns. "Throughout our life together, she has been primarily the person who has taken care of the home because I moved around a lot.” Cain’s declaration “restore the American dream” is a scapegoat that enabled him to side step outlining actual solutions and to avoid identifying key issues that could delegitimize his campaign. He needs to acknowledge and define the struggles of his fellow America in order to develop relevant policy solutions.

His Simple Solutions & Complex Emotion Baiting
Americans are facing a number of complex cultural and structural problems therefore simple solutions are not adequate. For example, the energy debates are raises a myriad of concerns. If you support energy independence questions that could arise are, What if another oil spill occurs isn't the damage so costly that the profits and ease of mind becomes diminished for Americans? and Is green energy worth the cost and effort? If you are against energy independence, then the concern is, Could America could be indirectly funding terrorist groups. Or the concern is, If the dependence on foreign countries for oil indirectly draining the economy  because America has to intervene in their affairs through wars. To declare a resounding no to either stance without a thoughtful process is dangerous.

To make up for the lack of analysis and depth, Herman Cain used intense emotional appeals – which is actually growing more widely used in politics. For example, to take a strong stance against Obamacare (another simple solution to complex health care problems), he told a personal story about his battle with cancer and how the government would had denied his claims for treatment since he only had a 30% chance of living. However his simplistic story didn’t mention that fact that private insurers also deny the claims of average Americans for certain types of treatments when their survival rate is low. When he was asked about people who didn’t have health insurance, he delicately side stepped the concern. His simplistic views about discrimination are appealing to conservatives. His simplistic yet well-crafted and branded 999 tax plan that is offered as his only defined strategy to “restore the American Dream” can’t solve wars, alleviate rising health care costs, create jobs, lower the price of gas, etc. However I’m sure that it’s mainly to appease his target demographics and he just uses his story to shuffle everyone else along even though it’s not in our best interest to support the tax plan.

Naïve college students are easily to manipulate. If you impress them with a story, a bus with your face on it, make them laugh, be inspirational and entertaining then you have a formula for campaigning success. Greg Steele, chairman of the College Republicans, said Cain was a good speaker because of his various experiences. “Mr. Cain appeals to such a wide array of people and has a fascinating story that is a true testament to the American dream." Due to the lack of life experience, some college students lack the insight to see through a politician’s ulterior motives, which leads to blind voting. However many college students are also very savvy. I overheard one student comment on Cain’s lack of discussion about his political and policy ideas. Cain just wants to imply, I’m a hardworking, with a humble & relatable background and an overall good guy. Therefore you can trust my policy solutions; I don’t have to explain them in detail. Whenever Herman Cain states rhetoric such as “Don’t let someone tell you America can’t be fixed, the great strength of this nation is America’s ability to change when it has to” he's really saying I even lifted Godfather’s Pizza out of bankruptcy when the corporate office was convinced that it couldn't recover. He supposedly embodies success and overcoming hardship therefore he claims that can help get America on the right track.

On a Positive Note
I don’t want to diminish his struggle but instead add a more realistic perspective. I am still impressed by his achievements and the mental fortitude of his family. Perhaps Americans can use that same work ethic and ambition together to achieve our dream of recovery by devising and utilizing the appropriate policy solutions. The take away message that Cain offers is to create your dreams so that you will know when you get there and to stay “informed, involved and inspired.”

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

American Teacher Documentary Summary: A Plea for Respect & Evidence for Higher Pay


American Teacher Project Raises Awareness for Teachers
American Teacher reviews the value of a teacher versus how American society treats teachers. Because many teachers - especially in low income areas - are undervalued other aspects of the profession are undermined through pay, classroom conditions, parent-teacher relations and school administration. Teachers from all over the country named the many misconceptions about teachers that society has accepted as truth. One teacher recanted the sentiment of a critic, "Teachers have it easy". Similar negative statements that society shares about teachers delegitimize their pleas for more respect and higher pay. If the majority believe these views, then this explains the discrepancy between the value teachers add to society versus how they are being treated by society.

Ironically in urban and rural areas, where teacher burnout is the most prominent, are the same areas where teachers are the most undervalued and have to deal with the lowest pay, overwhelming amounts of paperwork, safety issues, strained parent relations, the most scorn from society, etc. Since many teachers in urban and rural areas are neglected or mistreated, their personal and professional lives are severely impacted which in turn gives their students less of the teacher's attention and less of a competitive academic edge. 

The societal issues surrounding teachers also highlight other pervasive issues in America and even globally such as class divisions (do urban and rural child deserve less than upper class children and are they given equal opportunity to succeed?), the undervalue of women (teaching is dominated by women, do women deserve to be paid less?), child rights (why is America content with their children learning in poor classroom conditions that are non-conducive to intellectual enrichment?) labor rights ( in fact many other professions are having the same struggles ex. productivity has increased but pay in relation hasn't increased in relation, many work in dangerous and psychological harmful conditions) and complacency (why is America letting social professions deal with the ills of society when these are our family, friends, why are so many dependent on welfare programs when the fathers should be providing for their children?)

A Teacher's Value 
Skillful, passionate and compassionate teachers serve as interventions that can lift students out of poverty and inspire them. Education enlightens the mind, give students a greater awareness about themselves and build networks of knowledge for future achievement. Relevant education also prevents self-destructive behavior which is costly for society, devastates the individual and stunts professional potential and/or personal milestones. American Teacher revealed that just $7,000 in extra earnings for teachers can result in a $40,000 increase in earnings for students as adults. Research confirms that better treatment of teachers results better educated students who have increased job preparedness. The more resources and peace of mind a teacher has, the more she can endow to her students. The New York Times recently revealed that “Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime — or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class — all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. That’s right: A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year’s students, just in the extra income they will earn."

Jaime Ridler clearly realized the impact of her role, explaining that the elementary years is a major phase in cognitive development. I agree that this period for intellectual and academic growth is poignant. It could mean the difference between being left behind academically or being competitive with your peers. In the extreme case the difference between being a high school drop-out in jail or trapped in an exploitative job or a student being accepted into an elite university. 

Erik Benner also realizes his role in giving students a solid academic base. He is striving to lay the foundation for the knowledge of history. As trivial as these realizations may appear, many college students are struggling with basic concepts in history which lessens the amount of time left for upper level courses that could propel their understanding of life, boost their transcripts and prepare them for graduate school and/or a cognitive intensive profession. In addition to academics, Benner is a source of guidance and emotional support. He grew up poor and was the only one from his family to graduate college. He wants to reach the "kids who hates his life and is still living in a trailer." Benner states "maybe I can give him hope. I also employ the use of respect, because many are not used to getting respect at home." 

Rhea Jasey tries to work on character development, because emotional intelligence has been proven to enhance academic performance. Colleagues notice that she works toward instilling leadership skills and confidence. She uses any opportunity available to develop healthy relationships with the students and relate to them, even if over lunch. Students are more willing to absorb lessons from teachers they can identify with. 

The Many Duties 
The responsibilities a teacher seem endless. Amanda Lueck recanted breathlessly that she was overwhelmed and burned out. The poor conditions and lack of support can hinder the adequate fulfillment of these multiple roles. She's disappointed that society believes their cellphones are more important than teachers and students. Perhaps it is time to care for people more than technology? Fidler usually works during lunch which often doubles as detention for at risk children. In addition, she also completes other duties outside of her job description that captures time more away from her main responsibilities as a teacher. Rhena Jasey explained that teaching requires juggling multiple roles, "You have to be the counselor, social worker, parent and the friend." All of these responsibilities and roles translate into a 65 hour work week. Unfortunately the pay doesn't match up with the work. 

Degradation of Women & Children 
The vestigial historical degradation of woman still affects teachers to this day. Since teaching is associated with women and children, this career is often viewed as an inferior profession in comparison to male dominated careers such as tech or engineering. American Teacher explains the dilemma. Women were denied access to other jobs, therefore many were over qualified in relation to the pay and conditions. Now that the job market has opened up for women, it is harder to attract the same caliber of women because the outdated pay and conditions are still in place. Also the woman's income was seen as the second income which further embedded the pay disparity.  Since the pay is so slow, teaching isn't necessarily an appealing career for men who are expected to financially to support their families. American Teacher pointed out that the amount of male teachers have dramatically decreased.

Rhena shared a common exchange with her colleagues at Harvard who wondered why she wanted to be a teacher when she could do anything. She was aghast at these comments and replied, "Wouldn't you want a teacher from Harvard to teach your children?" Views expressed such as these is a stark reminder that teaching isn't perceived as an sought after professional for the highly educated even though in reality it's a profession that brings much value. 

The neglect of urban and rural children also explains why the teachers aren't given the best tools to educate them.  Amanda Lueck lamented that, " there weren't any pencils, crayons or anything. It was an eye opener. It was really hard." She was disappointed by the middle school with 40 desks crammed in a small classroom, almost sending a message to the students that they didn't deserve a personal attention or solid education. American Teacher revealed that 90 percent of poor districts are lacking school supplies and support for new teachers. "New teachers are always put into the most difficult situations." The question remains, If you valued children wouldn't you at least want the professionals that interact with them to have enough support? Due to the conditions, 20 percent of urban teachers quit in a year. High turnover is unhealthy especially when many of the students may have unstable home conditions. 

Johnathan Dearman quit after 5 years to pursue real estate. He was considered a pillar at the school. His absence was hard on the school's administration and the students. An insightful comment was made that "knowledge has been flowing out and the school is peddling to stay in place." 45 percent of teachers quit by the 5th year however studies have shown that as turnover rates decrease so does the drop out rate. The longer a teacher stays at a school the more personally invested the teacher is in the well being of the students which fosters a nurturing environment and an ambitious culture. The lack of respect causes the teacher to make many sacrifices that has the potential to dampen the quality of their teaching. Erik Benner had a second job at Circuit City when he could be focusing on his own self-enrichment, working on side projects, honing his creativity or developing more plans for his students so that he could add more value in the classroom.

Why Do They Persevere?
For the teachers that were interviewed, it was a sense of pride in what they did despite how society undervalues them. They had a strong calling to be a teacher and they love guiding students. One teacher visibly relished the thought of turning a non-reader to a reader while another sincerely enjoyed doing science experiments with his students. When asked, "What do you do for a living?" with a coy smile, he replies, "I blow things up." Hopefully as respect increases for teachers, we can apply a fairer standard of treatment.

How you feel about the state of education in your district and/or nation?

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