Monday, February 28, 2011

A Different View of Criminals

When I reread the passage on the Criminal that Chris was talking about in-class I was reminded of an interesting quote that I had marked in my book.

"In Europe the criminal is a luckless man fighting to save his head from the authorities; in a sense the population are mere spectators of the struggle. In America he is an enemy of the human race--and every human being is against him" (96). These are two starkly different views on the criminal in Europe and the United States, as described by Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America.

However, there is reasons for this. The United States is markedly different from France. As Tocqueville states, "The criminal police in the United States cannot be compared to that of France; the officers of the public prosecutor's office are few, and the initiative in prosecution is not always theirs; and the examination of prisoners is rapid and oral" (96). However, despite the lack of officers Tocqueville states that "Nevertheless, I doubt whether in any other country crime so seldom escapes punishment. The reason is that everyone thinks he has an interest in furnishing proofs of an offense and in arresting the guilty man" (96). Why is this? Apparently this is a uniquely American tendency. Does it come from our patriotism or from a feeling of obligation as a civic duty?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Association

In Tocqueville's book he talks a lot about the association. However, this idea needs a clear definition. As he states, "An association simply consists in the public and formal support of specific doctrines by a certain number of individuals who have undertaken to cooperate in a stated way in order to make these doctrines prevail" (190).
An association is created to fight only moral issues: that of morality, religion, public security, or trade and industry. They can be a religious group, political group, etc.
Additionally as Tocqueville so clearly states, "An association unites the energies of divergent minds and vigorously directs them toward a clearly indicated goal" (190). To me, this is exactly what an association means. Tocqueville, you've hit the nail right on the head on this one.

Ways to Limit the Power of Authority

In our reading from Tocqueville's Democracy in America I found the following to be very interesting: As Tocqueville states, there are two methods by which one can diminish the power a government wields. Number one: "to weaken the very basis of power by depriving society of the right or the capacity to defend itself in certain circumstances" (72). Pretty obvious, right?
The second one I found more intriguing, and it clearly relates to our government in America today. The "other way of diminishing the influence of authority without depriving society of some of its rights or paralyzing its efforts by dividing the use of its powers among several hands. Functions can be multiplied and each man given enough authority to carry out his particular duty" (72). In America we don't have a king with all the authority. True, we have a president but we also have countless other people who do different things within our government--there are representatives, senators, govenors, etc. I may be wrong but it seems like this principle could apply here.
Another benefit from the second method is that it limits the influence that corruption on the part of a government official has on society as a whole. Say a mayor is embezzling money from the city or using it for things that are not improving his city. Bad as this is it's not as bad as if a king was doing it. The govenor's power doesn't extend as far as a king's and so he can do less damage. However, it also means controversely that each official can also do less good.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Democracy: A 25-Word Max Definition

At the end of class today we were trying to define democracy in 25 words or less. Here's my definition.

Democracy is: the political system in which every citizen is granted the right to vote, to involvement and to voice his dissent without fear of repercussion.

Anyone else have any thoughts? Differing ideas?

Reynold's Political Map of the United States: Slave and Free States

This map of the United States in 1856 outlines which states were free and which ones were slave. It's from the Library of Congress Collection, created by American artist Mr. Reynolds. I thought it was interesting to look at because it outlined visually which states fell where in the issue of slavery.

How to Write a Sentence

One thing I've been trying to work on at college is my writing. I think that is an area in which I can always improve on, and a critical skill to develop. When reading the handout How to Write a Sentence I liked several pieces of advice.

The first was "But if one understands that a sentence is a structure of logical relationships and that the number of relationships involved is finite, one understands too that there is only one error to worry about, the error of being illogical, and only one rule to follow: make sure that every component of your sentences is related to teh other components in a way that is clear and unambiguous (unless ambiguity is what you are aiming at)" (20). This simplified the editing process for me. Often I will find myself deliberating over whether a wordy sentence I've created gets my point across in a clear manner. I think this is a new and more simplified way that I'll try looking at my writing in the future.

Also, I liked this point as well: "Scrutinize every part of your sentence and ask, "What does it go with?" or "What does it support?" or "What information does it give about some other part?" or "What is it referring to?"--all variations of the master question, "How does it fit into the sentence's logical structure?" (20-21).

This seemed like a good strategy to me, and one that could even be applied to whole sentences in a paragraph. It's important to ask whether a sentence is repetitive, useful or necessary. What does it help to clarify? How does it connect to the other sentences in the paragraph? Does it fit my topic sentence?

These pieces of advice seem like things which could help me in my future writing. Perhaps they may be of help to you too!

Lincoln's Concept about Slavery and the Founding Fathers

In Cullen's chapter about Upward Mobility he talks about Lincoln and his ideas about slavery. From the chapter I learned that Lincoln himself was not opposed to slavery because he cared very much about slaves... rather he thought it was bad because it "contaminated and, if left unchecked, would eventually destroy the American Dream in which he believed so deeply" (84) because it threatened the future of whites. I found this to be interesting. Before reading this I couldn't remember what Lincoln's stance on slavery was, and his grounds for opposing it were ones that I hadn't ever encountered before.

Furthermore, Cullen raises the subject of the hypocrisy on the part of the founding fathers, who were slaveowners themselves. Lincoln believed this was "less a matter of hypocrisy than an intractable problem that defied immediate resolution" for the founders of our country (101). As Lincoln writes, "they found the institution here, they did not make it so, but they left it so because they knew no way to get rid of it at the time". By keeping slavery out of the territories they demonstrated their faith that slavery would eventually die out. They could live with it because they know it would die out.

However, the Kansas-Nebraska Act threw a wrench into this line of thinking. It "suddenly threw it into question, because it was now possible slavery could grow stronger rather than weaker". The Kansas-Nebraska act stated that settlers in the territory would vote to decide whether or not to allow slavery--which had the potential for slavery to grow stronger, rather than die out like the founding fathers had anticipated! This called into question many of the assumptions people had had about slavery and provoked a lot of anxiety.

Modeling Sentences

In class the past couple days we've been working on sentence structure. We have chosen specific sentences, analyzed their structure and re-written them in the same form with new subjects. We've looked at the "doer" and whom it is "done to" and "what's done".

My group worked with Jim Cullen's sentence about upward mobility on page 70 in The American Dream,
"Women were marginalized from the public sphere that was the natural home of upward mobility, and the existence of slavery both limited the arena of upward mobility and gave whites an economic and psychological gauge by which to measure themselves".

Rewritten about fish and their lifecycle, a new sentence might look like: The salmon jumped upstream as they climbed up the fish ladder, an integral part of their journey, and the kids standing in the stream beyond both threatened these fish and the future generations they would soon produce as the next part of their lifecycle.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

One thing I really miss about the West Coast is the mountains. Last summer I went backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail (or the PCT as it's commonly called), and loved it. It's a trail that spans the entire west coast in length, running 2,650 miles all the way from Canada to Mexico. With two young teachers from my high school and eight friends we embarked on an adventure that created lasting memories long after the trip. Backpacking is an incredible experience. Being out in nature, meeting random people on the trails, getting lost, having crazy escapades with friends.. it's all part of the experience and something I would encourage everyone to experience if they get the chance. I've decided that my goal is to travel the entire 2,650 miles before I die.
Reminds me of Summer!

A Change in Perspective

In Jackson's time there was a sharp change in perspective: as historian Cullen states, "modest beginnings were no longer a somewhat embarrasing obstacle to be overcome but rather the indispensable bedrock of distinction" (68).
This change came with the idea of upward mobility, that anyone could improve upon his lot in life. However, nonetheless this change in thinking was not universal.
Slave-holding the social norm at the time, "the dream of upward mobility had less of a hold on the south than on the rest of the country. There the force of tradition, familial ties, and, above all, the force of slavery limited the appeal and efficacy of the self-made man" (74).
Though this was a changing idea coming to the fore-front, it was not held throughout the country. Nonetheless it played a role in Jackson and others' popularity as they were seen as stronger and more powerful leaders because of the adversity they had overcome in their rise to power. This was a sharp turn from the time from the age of when one's less-than-ideal past was considered to be a source of embarassment.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Finney and the Altar Call

In the article we read this past week "The Christian Movement in the United States" about Charles Grandison Finney, a religious leader key to the Second Great Awakening author James Noll raised the idea of the "anxious bench", which was important in forming later church practices. Now what is an "anxious bench", you might ask? According to Noll it is a "specially designated area, usually in front of the auditorium to which Finney called people for prayer or to be admonished about the condition of their souls" (176). The anxious bench was one of the 'new measures' in the church that Finney became known for.

Before Finney's time revivalists had been more inclined to let God handle the timing of religious conversions. However, Finney believed that "if God had commanded individuals to repent, he had also given them the means to do so at once" (176). Finney thought that people should convert as soon as they were willing to confess their sins.

The anxious bench, along with Finney's idea that conversion should happen at once "led to the modern evangelistic practice of coming to the front at the end of a religious service to indicate a desire for salvation" (176). For these reasons Finney's impact lasted far beyond his time, impacting modern church practices like the Altar Call far into the future.

Utica: Surprising Demographics

When reading the article about the Second Great awakening specifically in Utica, called "A Women's Awakening: Evangelical Religion and the Families of Utica, N.Y., 1800-1840" by Mary P. Ryan I was surprised by many of the statistics given about the converts. Women overwhelmingly made up the converts. They were also instrumental in getting relatives to convert as well, getting both male and female relatives alike to join their ranks. Most of the women were young and single though.

As Ryan states, conversion for many women was likely a way to "assuage their anxieties and affirm a modern identity in the act of religious conversion" (611). Their conversion eased stress and gave them a more current image in society. What does this really mean though? It sounds great generally, but I wonder what the statement really means.

Another thing I found interesting was the way the churches got new converts. Pastors were instructed "to preach every November...the duty of pious parents to dedicate their infant children to God in baptism" and reminded parents of their "responsibilities in connection with their [children's] religious training and the precious grounds of expectation and confidence that, if found faithful, saving blessings could follow" (611). In other words, if parents wanted to be considered to be faithful adherants to their religion and their church they were expected to baptise their children at birth and educate their kids in order to be blessed by God themselves.

However, a lot of the converts left the church within five years of joining. This was something I thought was odd. Why would people join, only to leave after such a short time? Did they not find what they were looking for?

This article was very surprising to me in many ways, and the statistics it gave were very insightful. However, it also left me with a lot of unanswered questions as well.

Check out Frykholm's Blog Post about Religion in the Conflict in Egypt!

While on Amy Frykholm's website (the author of our reading for monday), I came across a blog posting she had written about religion's role in the conflict in Egypt, titled "No Religious Dimension?".

Her thoughts were insightful, particularly clarifying a term I've always grappled with when trying to understand it's definition. As Frykholm writes, "Religious," in media language, is shorthand for "religious extremism" (1). This clarification made me realize what the word often stands for in the media, and that it doesn't always merely refer to anyone who practices religion--it often is seen as religious extremism.

The link's for the article is below. Take a look!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Amy Tan: Saying Thanks to My Ghosts

National Public Radio or NPR does a great broadcasting program called "This I Believe", a program designed "during its four-year run on NPR, to engaged listeners in a discussion of the core beliefs that guide their daily lives". The station said "We heard from people of all walks of life — the very young and the very old, the famous and the previously unknown." I was recently browsing the broadcasts online and came across one that related directly to AmCon, from one of the authors whom we read last semester (and whom I particularly enjoyed), Amy Tan!

In her "This I Believe", titled "Saying Thanks to My Ghosts" Tan provides an interesting look into her own life--it's a neat article, though I don't want to spoil it.

At the culmination of her "This I Believe" though, Tan wrote something that really made me take note: as she says, "Joy comes from love. Peace comes from love". This really struck me. For me at least personal happiness is definitely derived from love--of my family, friends and the things I'm involved in. Happiness comes from appreciation of the great things in my life and in who I am. Peace, or content with myself comes from this joy as well.

Below I've added both the link to Tan's "This I Believe", and to the website as a whole. I'd encourage you to browse, because there's a lot of really awesome posts (and a wide diversity of them, too).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Ferris Bueller

Democracy In America: Some Issues, but Something to be Thankful For

Democracy is an integral part of America and the American lifestyle. Though a highly diverse nation of people of different backgrounds, vocations, religious affiliations, socioeconomic status, values, beliefs, etc. democracy is something that we all experience on a day-to-day basis.

To me democracy is manifested most clearly in two areas: the right of free speech and every citizen's opportunity to vote. A democracy allows all of its citizens to have the chance to vote for candidates whom he or she chooses, and each vote has equal weight. I think this is important on a day-to-day basis because it affords citizens the opportunity to influence politics on a personal level.

Additionally, citizens can use their voice to campaign for candidates whom support their own priorities and values.
Citizens can voice discontent with the government without fear of being silenced or thrown in jail as well. They can write newspaper articles criticizing governmental action without fear of reprecussion. In this way I think my own ideas about democracy tie into the personal freedoms of free speech and to vote.

Democracy is something that I personally feel very thankful for. It is not in every country that people have the right to speak their mind and vote to influence change in politics.

However, there are always improvements to be made. For example, is the electoral college, which some say may not always represent the national sentiment about a candidate. Also, there is the problem that many people see with big businesses being able to back politicians and thus influence policies that they may or may not want in action. Personally, I don't think this is a good thing.

Additionally not everyone takes advantage of the priviledges that democracy affords. Not all citizens register to vote. In particular young people are considered to be the most disenfranchised of any age group.

Furthermore, not everyone is knowledgeable about the issues at the forefront in politics, or in the candidates up for election. Many people choose not to engage in politics through a lack of interest, or some see it as something they do not have the time for. Some merely see it as impossible when they are working three jobs per week just to make ends meet for their families. For some there is a language barrier that makes it more difficult. It's much easier for some to get involved than others. Some people choose to vote with limited knowledge of the candidates. For example, one of my high school teachers once told me about a neighbor of hers whom chose who to vote for based upon "who's name sounded coolest". Though we may hope that all people in America take advantage of their right to vote and make an educated decision, this is not always so. Though this is a disappointment in democracy, I think it is something that is reality and must be accepted.

Though I think improvements can be made to our democratic system in regards to issues like huge businesses backing politicians financially, democracy provides us with many opportunities for the average citizen to have a voice in Washington. Though it can be disappointing that not everyone takes advantage of his or her rights to a voice in our democracy I think the fact even that people are afforded these rights is key. American citizens have the right to free speech to voice discontent without fear of backlash, and the right to a vote --two of the many things that I am thankful for in a democracy.

The Beginnings of a New Semester

This week I've really enjoyed how we've been discussing the situation in Egypt in our daily classes of AmCon. I've been surprised how it ties into some of the topics we've been talking about. I love when we're able to talk about how what we're learning in-class ties to things that I have heard about in the news or which are up for debate today.

On the whole I'm really excited about the new topics we'll be discussing in AmCon this semester. I hadn't ever thought about the link between democracy and religion, either.

A key thing I have been thinking about has been the idea of 'Ideals versus Reality' in our democratic system. Ideally a democracy would be a form of government where everyone would have the opportunity to voice his or her opinion. However, though Americans are given the opportunity to vote or campaign for certain candidates we don't always make use of this opportunity--for example, there are people who lack access to the ability to vote, or whom choose not to. Is it better to strive for perfection, though ultimately having to resigning ourselves to the fact that we cannot achieve it (and that there will always be issues in our system)? Or is it better to be more realistic about what's actually attainable?

This week we also talked about Democratic Vistas, a reading that I found to be rambling and kind've difficult to read. In class we talked about whether or not it was the best political sermon. For these reasons I think it is not, because it seemed too disorganized to expect the American general public to read. I think it could be more logically thought out and given more structure to be a better sermon. However, I did find it very thought-provoking. One thing that stood out to me was Whitman's discussion of great literature: As he said, "Few are aware how the great literature penetrates all, gives hue to all, shapes aggregates and individuals, and, after sutle ways, with irresistible power, constructs, sustains, demolishes at will" (760). I found this to be very true in many ways. So often we look to great works for inspiration. It also provides us with a lens through which to view the world. In these ways it can indeed hold great power, far beyond the seemingly passive words on a page may appear.