Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Frederick Douglass: Fighting Oppression and Inequality

Inequalities favor one party over another, called oppression, affecting the everyday happenings and often the quality of life of those being oppressed. In spite of this, individuals throughout history have continued to overcome their own personal obstacles and flourish, sometimes in part because of it. One such individual is writer, speaker, and activist Frederick Douglass, who took his oppression in stride and rewrote others’ fear and ignorance into his own strength, courage, and power. This study will attempt to conduct a cursory examination on how and why the specific oppressions Douglass faced changed his actions and his character as a person and an activist. Keep in mind that this is in no way meant to be a comprehensive or in-depth study on his subjugation and that there were many more challenges that Douglass endured not mentioned in this analysis. First, Douglass had to overcome the institution of slavery, the remnants of which he would not fully escape for the majority of his adult life. Second, Douglass confronted and struggled through his society’s prevalent and pervasive attitude of racism. Finally, the true cause of his problems as a whole was society’s resistance to change from existing ideas and policies, something that Douglass spent his entire life fighting against. Douglass’s own brand of activism continued to adapt and fight for equality in response to the establishments that oppressed him, and allowed Douglass and so many others to flourish because of it.
The first challenge Douglass faced in his life was a very large one indeed: slavery. Born as the son of a slave and a white man, Douglass was able to escape field labor and instead was sent to Baltimore to act as a house slave. It was there that Douglass overcame the first challenge that being born a slave posed to him: education. It is disputed whether Douglass was self-taught in reading or instructed in secret by the mistress of the house, but nevertheless, Douglass spent his youth reading newspapers, exploring town, and mastering rhetoric, a field of interest even at a young age. Using his limited freedom, Douglass began exploring the world and starting to understand the injustice that slavery imposed on him (Chiasson). Armed with knowledge of the world outside of slavery, Douglass grew increasingly restless and, after a failed attempt to buy his freedom, eventually escaped in 1838 to New York at the approximate age of 18-20. Although Douglass no longer lived in bondage, his status as a fugitive slave would continually haunt him for most of his life until he was able to buy his freedom in 1847 once and for all (Finkenbine). Slavery was something that Douglass saw as a major problem in his life for much of his youth. Douglass knew what it was like to be a slave, “the cruelty that lashed a slave’s body and tried to shackle a slave’s mind in ignorance,” and upon escaping, he realized that slavery was an institution that needed to be abolished, that it was a problem pervasive and large in society (“Frederick Douglass”). After his escape, he actively supported abolitionism, but, as Douglass soon realized, the problems that America faced went far beyond the institution of slavery and merely fighting for the freedom of slaves was not enough.
Upon escaping, Douglass became deeply involved in the abolitionist movement. He started to read antislavery journals and attend abolitionist meetings, and he eventually started to speak out about his experiences in slavery. Unfortunately, as he continued to travel the world and learn more about it, he realized that slavery was only the beginning of the challenge that he would have to face. The society that Douglass lived in was incredibly racist and Douglass realized that racism was the true cause of slavery and oppression against blacks. Touring the country as a abolitionist exposed Douglass to insults, verbal assaults, and mob violence, showing young Douglass the true face of racism and discrimination in the U.S. As Douglass started to grow as an orator, he even faced prejudice from fellow abolitionists who were white, who “feared that his effectiveness on the platform might be lost. They advised him to speak more haltingly and to hew to his earlier simple tale. One white colleague thought it ‘better to have a little of the plantation’ in his speech.” In response, Douglass soon published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself, which became a sensation in both America and Europe. Unfortunately, Douglass’s new-found fame did not sit well with his status as a fugitive slave, so to escape recapture, Douglass spent 20 months abroad in Europe, lecturing about his book and abolitionism in the United States. During this time, Douglass had raised enough money to become free and start his own newspaper in the U.S. that further expanded Douglass’s fight for equality (Finkenbine). He became more informed of not only the injustices that he faced, but those of others as well. America’s problems of injustice were not limited only to racism--that was still just the tip of the iceberg. The root of his oppression and, perhaps, all oppression was society’s unwillingness to change and accept others.
Douglass’s new journal North Star was not just a platform for abolitionism and racial equality. It also stood for women’s rights, temperance, and suffrage. Many today see this as a sign that Douglass worked for the freedoms of all Americans and was met with much opposition (“Frederick Douglass”). Over the course of many, many years Douglass shifted from being anti-government to the mindset of political abolitionism, or working with the government to pass antislavery reform. He continued to be an active part of the Underground Railroad and other abolitionist movements, but after so many years of his life waiting, Douglass began to lose hope that anything would ever change. Until that is, the Civil War started and signified a new period of change. Even in stressful times of war, Douglass continually put pressure on Lincoln and the American government for racial equality and the abolition of slavery. After the war, he took advantage of the Reconstruction and focused especially on the equal rights of blacks until the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Not soon after, the Compromise of 1877 put an end to the Reconstruction and Douglass’s hopes of any meaningful reform. Nonetheless, Douglass continued to fight for equality for all and spread his message to the youth of the world until the end of his days--“less than a month before his death, when a young black man solicited his advice to an African American just starting out in the world, Douglass replied without hesitation: ‘Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!’”(Finkenbine)
Throughout his life, Douglass faced oppressions that many of us could barely even dream of that affected the way he viewed the world. In his youth, much of his focus was on slavery, because slavery was an institution that affected his life profoundly. Growing up, he realized that slavery was just a product of racism, an equally terrible and prevalent affliction in the U.S. Finally, after learning about the world and seeing more equality in Europe as opposed to the U.S., Douglass saw that the true problem was that racism was just a piece of the puzzle, and that society’s resistance to change and equality affected each individual. These oppressions that he saw affected the way that he lived and the way that he used his voice and his life. The terrors that he saw and felt everyday inspired him to take action and speak up, so that the people of the future would not have to. Douglass took his oppression, his weakness, and he turned it into power and revolution, and each one of us can do the same thing. Using his voice, Douglass changed the course of American history, and like Pakistani school girl and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai once said, “If the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” 
Works Cited
Chiasson, Lloyd E. and Philip B. Dematteis. "Frederick Douglass." DISCovering Authors. 2003. Gale. Web. 5 Jan. 2015.
“Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895.” Student Resource Center. 2008. Gale. Web. 5 Jan. 2015.
Finkenbine, Roy E. “Douglass, Frederick.” American National Biography Online. Feb. 2000. Oxford UP. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Private Prisons: Corruption Today

Corruption exists in every society and America is no exception. From Watergate drama scandals to GM brakes, scandals and corruption serve to enrage and invigorate the people. But today, there exists an institution that is brilliantly and wholly corrupt and pervasive in our society, flying under our radars and in the back of the media. Private prisons. America is home to the largest prison population in the world, both in number and per capita. It’s easy not to care about prisoners--after all they are, by definition, convicted criminals. This is one of the reasons why private prisons, amongst the 2 million prisoners in the U.S., have gone relatively unnoticed and unchanged. But even though they’re not this month’s hottest topic, private prisons are a topic that our federal government needs to address. Not only are these prisons violating moral standards by mistreating their prisoners in favor of profit, they are a significantly contributing factor in our country’s prison population and government corruption. Private prisons are a serious issue that the government and people of the United States need to become informed about and hopefully ban from our prison system.
The first, and most prominent, issue regarding private prisons is corruption. To help and keep private prisons unexposed and running smoothly, three major private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), The GEO Group (GEO) and the Management and Training Corporation, have spent a combined $45 million on lobbying in the past decade. They are also aided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate run non-profit organization that introduce over 1,000 bills every year, with one in five enacted into law. As a result, the government has enacted increasingly harsher immigration and incarceration policies, skyrocketing prison populations by 159,200 from 2000 to 2008. The CCA is currently getting $5.1 billion from immigration incarceration alone, a stark contrast to the $760 million in 2004. Private prisons also In 2009, two Pennsylvania judges
Another facet of the corruption in private prisons is the way they treat their prisoners. In order to make more money, private prison corporations cut corners on staffing, medical care and basic training. As a result, prisoners take the suffering so companies can make money. One woman in Arizona had her c-section treated with table sugar. Last year, an examination of the CCA found that they had fabricated 4,800 hours of work from employees over seven months. Violence in Idaho’s first private was found to be four times the rate of all of the state’s other seven prisons combined. There are videos of prisoners being beaten unconscious in front of several guards. One prisoner was forced to defecate in containers other than toilets, due to a lack of toilets in cells.
Proponents of private prisons claim that they bring savings to the people, that these problems are not only not happening, but that any problem in private prisons can be fixed through reform. Sadly, the problem has moved past the point of reform or regulation. Private prisons often are monitored on a daily basis and randomly inspected, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and are responsible for upholding various standards required by health, building, and fire inspectors. If prisons are already heavily regulated, why are all of these atrocities still happening? If all it takes to stop the terrible conditions is a few bills, then why hasn’t it stopped yet? Not only has this problem become bigger than regulations, the so-called economic benefits are non-existent as well. A comprehensive study done by the U.S. Bureau of Justice concluded that these savings “have simply not materialized”, and a University of Arizona meta-analysis found that the assertion that private prisons save money is “mixed at best”, and some studies even found that states actually lost money.
It is the job of the government to enforce the laws and punishments on its citizens. This is so the justice system remains fair, much like the reason why every citizen has the right to a trial by a jury of their peers; if people were judged by an entity with an agenda, then the trial and ruling would not be fair or morally correct. The government is made of people, and as a result, its goal is to maintain the welfare of its citizens, because the people in the government are also citizens. Like what happens in the courtroom, the enforcement of punishment is also a part of the justice system. Therefore, the regulation and ownership of jails and prisons is a responsibility that should be solely delegated to the government, to ensure that they remain as humane and just as possible.
When we look at the atrocities happening in these private prison: the corruption, the violence, and the general treatment of our fellow human beings, it is clear that this ideal is not happening. Corporations do have an agenda: to make the most money. What we have to understand is that for corporations, money will always come first. This doesn’t make corporations inherently bad or evil--this agenda is a necessary component in free enterprise--but what that agenda does do is make them unfit to uphold and maintain prisons as institutions of justice rather than institutions of profit. It’s time to take a look at the facts, and make an informed decisions about the future of the prison system. The banning of private prisons will be a step towards a more just society and decide the fate of over 2 million Americans.

Friday, December 12, 2014

It’s Made of Plastic!

To what extent did the U.S. experience an economic boom during the 1920s? is a curiously worded question for a curious time in American history. The twenties were one heck of an oxymoron. Not only was it directly after World War I, it was the time that preceded the Great Depression, and, for such grim surroundings, still managed to have an especially stunning reputation. The twenties were seemingly the peak of human accomplishment in the U.S., the arts and technology working together to create talking movies, jazz, Fitzgerald, Einstein, surrealism, Hemingway, baseball, Lindbergh, and on and on and on. It was seen as a time of prosperity in the U.S., where per capita income increased by 33 percent and consumerism and the auto industry boomed. But at the same time, these seemingly great economic feats, like so many other things, are much more complicated than they seem. Here’s where the wording of the question comes in. It would seem like the twenties saw an undisputable economic boom. And if you thought that, then you would be, technically, right. But when held up to scrutiny, the apparent economic growth in the U.S. was in reality a façade for some deeper, more serious economic problems that were growing in America and the international community.
A bit of background and oversight on international economics at the time in a simple statement: Europe was devastated. Germany, being on the losing side of WWI, had a massive amount of debt to pay off. The Allies, having borrowed so much money from the U.S., had more to pay back than Germany did. To help matters, the entirety of Europe, including its workforce and its industry, was completely in tatters from the terrors of war, and France, having refused to raise taxes on its people, was completely broke. Needless to say, this was not the start of a promising economic future. What happened that allowed the U.S. to remain unaffected, and even “prosper”? Well, there was a two-part plan, so to speak: debt and tariffs. The U.S. didn’t really play that big of a part in the war physically, so all of its land and factories and agriculture were completely fine, and they had $2.6 billion in war debts waiting to be collected from the Allies who were owed $2.0 billion by Germany. Sadly, Germany didn’t have any money, so to keep this cycle of money from Germany to the Allies to the U.S. going, the U.S. started the Dawes Plan, where they loaned $2.5 billion to Germany so they could pay off their debt to the Allies (who again, in turn, had $2.6 billion in debt to the U.S. See where this is going?). The debt situation severely weakened and subdued the European economy, but what struck the final blow was the tariffs. At around the same time as the Dawes Plan, the Fordney-McCumber Tariff was enacted, creating tariffs of 60 percent, the highest in American history. As a result, the American people tended to buy American-made products instead of generating much-needed revenue for Europe. This short-lived and crushing plan swiftly put the U.S. into control of western economics, and at the same time, debilitating the European economy, and setting up a teetering global market, just waiting for a gust of wind to blow it over the edge.
Now, back to domestic affairs. One would think that all of these tariffs and the fact that per-capita income increased by 33 percent or exports increased by 60 percent would be indicators of a healthy, sustainable economy. Sadly, in this case, one would be mistaken. Although these statistics and facts are true, the economy, as can be seen just a few years later, was far from sustainable. The economic growth seen by the U.S. was facilitated by a short term strategy and a series of ineffective plans, including the implementation of trickle-down economics and (again) tariffs. Trickle-down economics (implemented later by Reagan) was a policy where governments would give big businesses and other wealthy entities big tax breaks and other benefits with the idea that they would invest in other ventures and stimulate the economy as a whole. Sadly, when implemented, it was found that the rich would rather save money than frivolously spend and invest it and the “trickle-down” benefits to the poor were never really seen. Tariffs and trickle-down economic policies ended up benefiting the rich and hurting the poor, creating a concentration of wealth, increasing the class divide, and artificially inflating the market. As you can see, those statistics only tell part of the story; when you omit the fact that over half the people in the same decade were living below the poverty line and two-thirds of Americans were living at “minimum comfort level”, the twenties did indeed seem like a prosperous time. As a side note sub-factor, consumerism was also booming--the auto industry employed 6 million people by the end of the decade. But, not only were people starting to buy things that they couldn’t afford on credit, the ultimate consequence of the mass production consumerism of the twenties was the oversaturation of the market. Companies quickly found that households often didn’t need more than one toaster or one car, and as a result, companies that stuck with one model rather than operating on an constantly updating system (buy the new iPhone! with even more gizmos!) were quickly weeded out. By the end of the decade, the U.S. had a whole lot of metal, but not a lot of cash.
Ultimately, when discussing the extent of the economic boom of the twenties, we must also look at what came after: the Great Depression. Look, you can’t have one day with economic prosperity and suddenly the next with poverty; history just doesn’t work like that. The nature of history is that one event fluidly transitions into the other--every single thing that happens in one decade becomes a factor in the next, and the twenties were no exception. The Great Depression was a result of poor and unsustainable economic strategies implemented in the 1920s. All of the faulty tariffs, debts, taxes, and policies eventually started to add up. They temporarily boosted the market, inflating our economy for a short amount of time and for a small amount of people before it became completely unsustainable due to a lack of proper infrastructure and crashed. So, while it would be technically true to say that the U.S. experienced an economic boom during the twenties, calling it “effective” or “sustainable” would be equivalent to calling alcoholism a sound solution to life’s troubles; it might have worked well enough for a few hours, but shortly afterwards, you’re left with no money, a pounding headache, and a whole pile of problems.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Yan’s Chinese/晏記川湘菜食館, Review by Isabel Lai

533 S. Kimbrough Ave.
Springfield, MO 65806

This restaurant is the most authentic Chinese food in Springfield, MO. A little side note about Chinese food from resident expert in Chinese geography and culture, my mother, Jackie Fu. The food in this restaurant does not represent “Chinese food”. China is a country that is really big, and this restaurant’s style comes from the provinces of Sichuan (四川) and Hunan (湖南) in southwest China, and therefore does not encompass all of China. Okay. Now, when I walked into this restaurant, I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes for the food. Adorned with Christmas lights (and that’s about it), the restaurant could use a makeover. Located near Missouri State University, Yan’s Chinese mostly caters to college students, so it probably doesn’t need to be too fancy, but if this restaurant was standalone, it wouldn’t make it, no matter how good the food was (and it was).
From the moment we walked in, the lady servicing the counter greeted us in Chinese. As we chatted, she reached for a subtle book of papers beside the register, despite there being a large board behind her displaying potential orders of cashew chicken and lo mien. And unwittingly, she fulfilled a dream that I hadn’t even known that I had. The papers were a “secret menu”. We’ve all heard of places that have a menu for the locals and a menu for the tourists. And I had unsuspectingly stumbled into such a place! But no worries. It’s not exclusive to the people who speak Chinese, and as long as you ask, you can get the “secret” menu for authentic Chinese food. While there, we ordered beef noodles (牛肉麵), a common tofu dish that you put on rice (麻婆豆腐), bok choy (青江菜), and an onion and beef dish (葱爆牛肉). They were all delicious, although a bit pricey. And beware! The dishes that are spicy are spicy, so make sure to specially request it without if you can’t handle the heat.

In conclusion,
Décor: :(
Food: :)
Culture: :D

It’s like one of those niche restaurants you would find on a travel blog—obscure but 100% worth the visit. Don’t let the appearance fool you!

Boy Nobody: I am the Weapon by Allen Zadoff, Review by Isabel Lai

This book may not be my favorite, but its definitely up there. It reminded me a lot of another one of my favorite books, Proxy by Alexander London, in more ways than one, but especially in the ending. The love that I have for Allen Zadoff for writing a logical and well-thought main character is beyond words—one of the many great features of this young adult novel, including, but not limited to, a riveting plot, a fascinating moral dilemma, and a wicked sense of ironic humor.
People today have a ridiculous irrational fear that the government is out to get them. Pretty dumb, right? It’s not as if they have secret super-assassins to eliminate anyone, anywhere, for any reason. Don’t laugh. Meet Boy Nobody.  Recruited by The Program when he was 12, this teenager wouldn’t exactly be considered your average 16 year old. With his complete stoicism and perfect reflexes, he was practically born to be an assassin, becoming the new kid, dropping into people’s lives and eliminating his target before his “new best friend” even realizes that he disappeared. Now, he has a new assignment: take down the mayor of New York. Why? Just another mystery. His “new best friend”? His daughter Samara, a spunky and fiercely independent individual, that is perhaps more than she seems. Except this mission is different than the others. For the first time, Ben has made a friend. And maybe, this might be the first assignment that he fails.
Allen Zadoff has pulled off a masterpiece in character. The first book in The Unknown Assassin series, I’ll admit that I was highly skeptical when I took this off the shelf. It looked like your typical YA novel. Evil secret government organization. Love interest. And don’t get me started on “assassins”, or “super-soldiers”. Too often, assassin books go terribly wrong—the so-called “cold-blooded murder” that is promised by the blurb is actually a sappy romantic that avoids killing people at all costs and falls in love with everyone, a “special snowflake” assassin who nobly goes against the terrible system that they were forced into. Is it too much to ask for what we were promised? This is not the case with Boy Nobody: I am the Weapon. “Benjamin” (his alias in New York) is exactly what we were promised—completely logical and an accomplished fighter that we get to see in action. You might think that reading a book narrated by someone resembling a robot would be boring, but I found it refreshing. Everything Benjamin does makes perfect sense, and just because he’s a super-killer doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have his own sense of humor, which shines through all throughout the book.
With a fast-paced and unusual plot, amazing characters, the second best ending I’ve read in a book and a beautiful writing style, Boy Nobody: I am the Weapon will undoubtedly become one of the greatest books of this year. It’s got a deceptive blurb, but don’t be too quick to judge. You’re missing out on something great.

Sounds cliché, but has genuinely unique characters and plot in a fast-paced action assassin book

Million Dollar Arm directed by Craig Gillespie, Review by Isabel Lai

If I had to describe this movie in one word, it would be “meh”; the director of Million Dollar Arm, Craig Gillespie, obviously worked very hard to put this production together. But, I feel like, despite its extraordinary story, the execution of the movie and the central themes that it focused on, were less than subpar, and became almost formulaic.
Million Dollar Arm starts in a dramatic fashion. No time wasted in fluffy introductions or vague mystery scenes, the first thing that viewers see is independent sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) and his partner Ash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi) losing a huge deal with a major football star, Popo Vanuatu (Rey Maualuga). Desperate to save their failing business, J.B. and Ash wrack their brains for ideas, when, watching a game of cricket, they think of it. INDIA! The world’s largest untapped market, full of cricket bowlers ready to be converted into baseball pitchers. And, after approaching investor Will Chang (Tzi Ma), they start the newest most exciting reality contest in India, the Million Dollar Arm! The movie is essentially split into two parts. The first being when J.B. travels to India in an effort to find the fastest pitchers, and the second, where he returns home and struggles with balancing the responsibility of taking care of young contest winners Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal), along with their well-meaning translator Amit Rohan (Pitobash Tripathy), and keeping his business alive. The classic morals or money dilemma.
This story arc was exceptionally well executed, if a little dramatic. Looking at the conflict, the story of Rinku and Dinesh, was the most beautiful part of the movie. I love how the movie industry is looking out into other cultures and the fact that they didn’t cut out the “slice of life” portions. But, what keeps this from being a five star movie for me, other than the fact that it was too formulaic (I’ll discuss that later), is two things.
First, one huge dislike for me in this movie was the romantic interest of J.B. Bernstein, Brenda Fenwick (Lake Bell). All of the romance portions in the movie felt forced and interrupted the flow of the story for me. One minute I’d be absorbed in the story, hoping that the next kid would throw a good ball, and then the next I’d be abruptly jerked out of the world of the movie by some awkward flirting. It honestly didn’t work for me until near the very end, when she acts as a sort of mediator and a friend to Rinku and Dinesh.
Second, Chang, the evil investor. He was a completely flat character for me; the only motivation that the story gave to us for his actions were “he’s rich, he can do whatever he wants”, as if that’s supposed to satisfy us. Gillespie turned Chang into your typical evil corporate villain, appealing to the prejudice of the masses so we don’t question Chang’s motivations. Why did Chang do this? Answer: DUH, he’s rich, that automatically means he’s evil. Everybody has a reason for doing things and he felt like a plot device in the movie rather than an actual person.
All in all, Million Dollar Arm was a good movie. But it wasn’t much better than average. In fact, it was almost too average. Business goes down, converting some poor heathens into superstars, getting the girl, becoming rich, defeating the evil corporate mastermind, it’s your classic “underdog” story. And honestly? Overdone, and super dramatic. Instead of romanticising the heroics and the genius of J.B. Bernstein, maybe what Disney should have focused on was filming a stunning documentary about the very true story of two very extraordinary people.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Big Hero 6 directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, Review by Isabel Lai

This newest animated movie from Disney has been garnering a lot of attention recently, and for good reason. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, this action comedy is set in the hybrid city of San Fransokyo and focuses on 14-year-old robotics genius Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) and his brother’s helping robot, Baymax (Scott Adsit). To defeat a mysterious masked foe that controls thousands of stolen microbots invented by Hiro, he, Baymax and a team of Hiro’s brother’s friends must team together to create a new superhero team, taking viewers on an explorative journey of a new hero in the making. And the animation is amazing!
With a riveting plot, a tragic villain and a colorful cast of characters, Big Hero 6 is arguably one of the best animated superhero movies that I’ve seen. My love of child prodigy characters is no secret, and Hiro is one of the greatest ones out there, building unique and brilliant robots alongside his older brother, Tadashi Hamada (Daniel Henney). Another great quality of the movie is the sibling relationship between Tadashi and Hiro as well as the recurring theme of the exploration of grief, but if there is one tiny complaint that I have, it would be that I wish that the movie had fleshed out the other characters more. I’d like to know the backstories of Gogo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodriguez) (Fred (T.J. Miller)was explored a little more than the others), but I understand why the developers did not, so the lack of backstory does not detract from the quality of the movie. Sometimes, like I found with Frozen, movies move too fast and lose the viewer, but Big Hero 6 keeps the pace down while still providing a beautiful story in a world of technological marvels. Pretty much everything about this movie, from the main plot, the side arcs, the characters, the humor, the setting and even the art was on point, making it a must-see movie for kids and adults alike.

A blend of storytelling, art and saving the day in one fantastic movie. Adorable!

Sherlock (Season 3), Review by Isabel Lai

After the heartbreaking end to “The Reichenbach Fall”, fans of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ popular adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, finally get three whole new episodes! Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson, Season 3 of Sherlock was certainly worth the wait.
It all starts in “The Empty Hearse”. Sherlock has been dead for two years now. But things are starting to bubble. Detective-Inspector Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves) is trying to desperately convince a delusional Anderson (Jonathan Aris) that Sherlock is 100% dead. Mycroft is suspicious. And John is ready to propose to his soon-to-be fiancée Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington). In a hilarious reveal, Sherlock interrupts Watson’s fancy dinner to say “NOT DEAD!” In fact, the entire episode carries on in this fashion, from train bombs to mustaches. “The Sign of Three” was equally light. Depicting John and Mary’s wedding (and the times leading up to it), it explores the depth of the relationships in the show. The first two episodes are uncharacteristically funny. Too funny, almost. But, it was fitting, somehow, especially with the last episode, “His Last Vow”, being so heavy. A terrifying secret about Mary is revealed. An evil villain is introduced. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that after a slow beginning, the game was finally on with the finale.
Although a great deal of the action and the suspenseful style that characterizes the first two seasons happens in the finale, you definitely shouldn’t skip the first two episodes! When I first watched them, I was a little...disappointed. But, after I thought about it, the first two episodes weren’t bad, they were just different, which is a feat, considering how many episodes the show has (nine). They really explored the characters of the show themselves, especially, the newest, and my favorite, Mary Morstan.
I love Mary. Mary is a beautiful character, who is equally brilliant as she is deadly. I won’t give away too much, but I will say that the writers of this show have taken Doyle’s work to the next level. They’ve certainly taken some creative liberties with Season 3, but in my opinion, the risk paid off. Overall A+ writing, acting and cinematography, as per the usual. Sherlock’s past seasons were phenomenal, and Season 3 was no exception, if a little unorthodox.

Very different from past seasons, but still worth the wait (almost)


The U.S., as a government, made a large effort to remain neutral when WWI started in 1914. Europe was a messy business, and, at the beginning of the war, Wilson did whatever he could to keep the U.S. and its people out of foreign affairs. But in 1917, when the U.S. decided to join the Allied forces in their battle against the Central Powers. There are three major reasons why the U.S. decided to mobilize their own troops after such an effort to remain neutral. First, the Zimmermann Note from Germany served to outrage the public, like the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine. Second, Germany had forgone their promise to stop using aggressive U-boat tactics, further enraging the U.S. Finally, sentiments were already with the Allies—the American public would hear about how Germany invaded Belgium and large companies were already financing the Allied cause, so all it took was Wilson giving a speech about democracy, or something to fire up the American people (like the aforementioned events) to tip the U.S. into WWI.
The Zimmermann Note was a telegram from Germany offering Mexico a military alliance. Germany promised Mexico the land that they lost if they joined Germany’s side. Great Britain intercepted this note and exposed it to the U.S., infuriating the American public and leading to America’s intervention. Mexico ignored the note and, after the U.S. joined the Allied forces, outright rejected it. Germany was like a child being caught doing something it wasn’t supposed to, and America was angry. This kind of this is a diplomatic disaster! If Angela Merkel sent Enrique Nieto a text saying “hey, man, will u fight america? ill give u back ur land”, the U.S. would have every right to be outraged (although they would probably suspect a prank more than anything)! Germany was snubbing the U.S. behind its back, and that was one half of the last straw that pushed the U.S. into war.
The other half was the resumption of all-out U-boat warfare on the British blockade. During the war, the British used their considerable naval power to essentially starve the German people with a blockade. When Germany tried to retaliate by brutally shooting down ships with U-boats, America told them that it was barbaric to kill innocent civilians and demanded that they stop. Germany, with no choice, agreed, but when the war reached a stalemate in early 1917, Berlin decided that the only way to win would be to resume, even knowing that it would anger the U.S. into joining the war. This is a huge event, and is what officially gave the U.S. a very good reason to join the war. Germany even knew that this would drag the U.S. into WWI, but they had hoped that they would be able to quickly crush the Allied forces before the U.S. could get properly mobilized.
Finally, public sentiment became so pronounced against the Central Powers (mostly Germany really) that the U.S. was practically at war already (in part because of the above incidents) in 1917. Originally, the public was very much in agreement with George Washington: Europe’s business should stay in Europe; we have no involvement in this war. But, if we have one weakness, it would be that Americans love the idea of spreading democracy. So in 1917, when Wilson petitioned to Congress, asking the U.S. to join the war to aid the crusade for freedom, well, who could disagree? Americans roared their approval, and the same people who jumped at the thought of war just three years before were ready to beat up some Germans.
Despite the government’s efforts to keep America neutral, ultimately, the U.S.’s emergence as a global player eventually forced America into the war. America, at this point, was becoming too prominent to stay neutral in a war. The emergence of the U.S. into world politics was inevitable with the rate of growth it was having, and WWI was an ample place to do it. Especially after Germany snuffed off the U.S. with the Zimmermann Note and the resumption of submarine warfare—if America wanted to be taken seriously, then it would have to show that these actions against it was unacceptable. If the U.S. wanted to tell Germany that it couldn’t use its blockade fighting strategies, if the U.S. wanted to be outraged at the invasion of Belgium, then the U.S. could not continue to ride on its high horse of neutrality. If America wanted to be an active part of the world, then they would have to start choosing sides—there’s only so much that one can do as a neutral. After all, when was the last time you thought about Sweden? That’s exactly what I thought. 

(Interesting side comment: Also, American soldiers didn’t really have an effect so much physically, more politically. And economically. Well, I mean, they did have a physical effect. But they also represented a mostly political impact from the U.S.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

For Glory! For God! And For More Money! : The Story of American Imperialism

Ah, imperialism. As the world powers saw the last of the world’s territory disappearing before their eyes at the turn of the 19th century, decided to implement the policy of imperialism (where countries expand their sphere of control over other countries/territories, in this case, militarily) even more fervently than before. Europe was going crazy with conquering! Africa was quickly gobbled up. Asia was turning into a punching bag. Island life was quickly becoming a terrible lifestyle decision.  But wait! Where does our favorite gun-toting, freedom-loving country play into this? It’s time for a spotlight! Obviously, American imperialism has always existed, especially with that whole Native American deal, but it really started kicking into high gear at the end of the 1800s. The U.S. (somewhat forcibly) opened up trade with Japan, bullied our way into Hawaii and other islands, and annexed the Philippines in the Pacific. We also started to interfere in our own hemisphere, building the Panama Canal, poking our noses around in Mexico,  and sparking the Spanish-American War in Cuba, helped along by yellow journalism. Basically, the U.S. joined the party and started to demonstrate empire-istic tendencies across the world, for various reasons.
    This brings us to today’s resolution: was imperialism a proper and legitimate policy for the United States to follow at the turn of the nineteenth century? This question is a bit difficult to answer. When you analyze the benefits and the harms of imperialism as a policy for the U.S., you have to look at both the economic/political side and the moral side and compare them, which is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. However, for reasons that will soon be clear, I ultimately would say that yes, imperialism was indeed a proper and legitimate policy for the U.S. circa 1900.
    Imperialism took off in the U.S. for a multitude of reasons, but the main benefits of imperialism as a policy was its use as a political, and to perhaps a lesser degree, an economic tool. So, the U.S. is still a new, baby nation. But it’s starting to become way more relevant. It’s gone through its own civil war, had its fair share of leaders and wars, and went through an obligatory “take over stuff” period. This period of time is a make-or-break point. The U.S. has become huge economically after its own Industrial Revolution. And now, well, this imperialism thing comes along, a bit like a hazing ceremony. Peer pressure. You going to be one of the cool kids? Or are you going to be a pack mule? You either get into the game or you get trampled. The documents provided for us doesn’t really give much information about this tension, about the global scene. There is one, that’s kind of close, but not really, from Alfred T. Mahan, a U.S. Navy officer in the late 1800s, who wrote in his book The Interest of America in Sea Power, “Americans must begin to look outward. The growing production of the country demands it. An increasing volume of public sentiment demands it. The position of the United States, between the two Old Worlds and the two great oceans, makes the same claim.”(Doc 2). Basically, he’s saying that the U.S. needs to function as an economic liaison between Asia and Europe, to take advantage of the opportunities that are being presented to us. Albert Beveridge, a Republican senator says about the same thing in a speech he gave to the U.S. Senate in 1900, “We will not abandon our opportunity in the Orient...the Pacific is the ocean of the commerce of the future...The power that rules the the power that rules the world.” Imperialism is a strong political and economic policy, and those that advocate for it have these things in mind.
This makes a perfect transition into the second part of the question, the “legitimate” side: morals. From a moral standpoint, imperialism does not stand. There’s no point in beating around the bush, because morals are subjective. Every single person will have a different opinion. And when I look at the evidence, the people that are supporting imperialism and argue a moral standpoint sound like they’re trying to justify it to themselves. These justifications come off as incredibly racist (“It seems to me that God, with infinite wisdom and skill, is training the Anglo-Saxon race”) and also inconsiderate to the native people (Doc 1,3,5,6). I’ll be honest, “We insist that the subjugation of any people is ‘criminal aggression’”, sounds about right to me. But, like I said, morals are subjective.
So, let’s zoom out. The world was teetering. The U.S. was in the perfect position to make its own global debut. That’s what imperialism allowed us to do. We showed the world that we meant business. Taking that opportunity turned us into a world power and the 20th century became America’s. Culturally, France has been the center of the world for the past 200 years, but with the end of the Post-Impressionistic Era, around 1900, art shifted to the new capital: New York City. Militarily, the U.S. played a huge role in both World Wars. Economically, we became a(n even bigger) powerhouse. Perhaps using imperialism was the best method to achieve this. Perhaps it was not, but it is undeniable that using imperialism led straight into the U.S.’s debut as a global power. So, was imperialism a proper and legitimate policy? It was certainly proper. It was a suitable policy to use at the time. But legitimate? Just? Maybe not. But ultimately, ethics are subjective. Maybe we actually believed that we were helping people. But, imperialism undeniably worked, and in face of this question, I believe that at the time, it was indeed suitable and legally justifiable, if not morally so.

Monday, October 20, 2014

We're Sorry

Ever since the Europeans came over to the Americas via (the evil) Christopher Columbus, the indigenous peoples of this continent have not been treated kindly by history. The cutting-off-of-hands and disease and slavery that the Inca and the Aztecs saw was merely the beginning of the end for the mighty native civilizations that once lived where we stand today. Of course the most prominently studied example of native persecution in U.S. schools is the one most relevant to us, the “Americanization” of the Native Americans and, of course Manifest Destiny.
First, some historical context. The Civil War and Manifest Destiny are often taught as two separate things in U.S. history, when in reality, Manifest Destiny occurred during approximately the entire 19th century, well encompassing the time period when the Civil War happened. So, wait, the whole Native American deal happened at the same time as the slavery deal? Yep.  Well, the truth is that people honestly forgot about them for a while. In the face of a breaking nation, history has often glossed over the Native Americans during this extremely critical part of U.S. history. Native American nations actually played a pretty significant part in the Civil War. They knew that whatever side they fought for could potentially make or break their chances of survival--almost 30,000 Native Americans fought in the Civil War on both sides. But after the Civil War ended, as blacks were awarded freedoms and liberties (the terms “freedoms and liberties” used loosely), Native Americans were continuously treated as enemies of the state. The gamble that they had taken didn’t pay off, and the most of the Native American territory was quickly overtaken by the beginning of the 20th century.
The main reason why conflict between the United States and American Indian nations grew after the Civil War goes in conjunction with another situation: the westward expansion of the United States of America. After the Civil War, one of the big projects that was completed during Reconstruction was the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. This allowed for easier transportation throughout the continent, making it more appealing for those seeking riches, adventure, and land to strike it out in the wild west. Sadly, the image of the uninhabited and rough terrain of the west was only half true, and when people came seeking land, they had to take it from the people already living there: the Native Americans.
Originally, at the beginning of the 1800s, American policy towards Native Americans leaned more on the “separate nations” side, especially compared to post-Civil War policies. After the Civil War, the U.S. adopted an aggressive, no-tolerance policy on Native Americans in the west, forcing Native Americans off of their land through violence or by institutionalizing their children out of Native American culture and to “civilization”. Battles were fought all across the west until, eventually, the Native Americans had been conquered and shoved into reservations as a consolation prize.
    Today, we are a nation built upon the suffering of Native Americans, and countless others. Who knows what would have happened if the discovery of America went differently? Some say that it was inevitable that Europeans would have made contact and subsequently killed off the indigenous people. But we honestly don’t know, and we can’t change history, so as a result, all we can do today is to apologize and remember those who unwillingly facilitated the rise of our nation. It will never be enough to repay the losers of history, those whose stories are lost to us, but from all of us today, whatever meager consolation it may be: we’re sorry.

Friday, October 03, 2014


Yes, I am aware that MLA formatting requires that titles to NOT be capitalized. Seriously though. That is just how progressive President Teddy Roosevelt was: his progressiveness was so progressive, that the emphasis was extremely necessary.
           Here he comes, father of the presidential progressivism, Teddy Roosevelt. As you can see from my graphic organizer, Roosevelt was a president with drive. He knew what he was going to do for this country, and he cracked down with his policies. Roosevelt felt that the country was going quickly downhill with the power rapidly falling to huge mega-corporations. In response, Roosevelt ushered in the era of progressives, with his Square Deal, where he busted giant trust companies and created the United States Department of Commerce and Labor. He listened to his people and to their culture. When Upton Sinclair spoke out for the workers in American industry, Roosevelt listened and changed things. The meat packing industry and the state of factories in the U.S. in general improved tenfold under Roosevelt’s administration. Roosevelt was the first president to speak for the welfare of the American environment and created what would become the Department of the Interior. Taft, although he passed 90 anti-trust laws, he didn’t really do much else in the way of progressivism. Wilson did do many things to reform the government, such as cracking down on bankers and establishing a better anti-trust act. However, the most important thing about Roosevelt was his drive as a progressive president. Roosevelt just had a certain spirit and pizazz that Wilson and (definitely) Taft could never match. His confident and can-do attitude lives on today in his policies and his actions, remaining as inspiration for the rest of us. A reminder that to change things, we need to get things done.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

From Rags to Riches: The Story of Two American Immigrants

All throughout the history of America, immigrants have had it hard. In the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the U.S. was full of legislation against immigrants. In addition to governmental restrictions, they have braved a plethora of social, economic religious, and racial troubles. Imagine having to face injustices everyday simply because you were not born in the United States and in addition to all of that, the simple fear of being in a place where you barely know the language.
Throughout all of this, immigrants still come and confront countless hardships. This is why I regard my grandparents, Robert and Annie Lai, as survivors, heroes in their own right.
In 1982, Robert and Annie Lai moved from Taipei, Taiwan with their two children, Peter and Tony Lai to the United States. After skipping around Hawaii, Springfield, Dallas, and San Francisco for seven months, they settled in Stoutland, Missouri and opened their very first restaurant. With Annie knowing barely two words in English and exactly $100 to their names, Midway, a tiny highway establishment in rural Missouri, was barely alive.
“100 dollars was just enough to open a bank account,” Annie said. “We were so poor, we couldn’t afford underwear or mattresses. My cousin sold tights for a living, so we would cut them up once they were worn to use as underpants.”
Midway was open for 24 hours a day and they, along with another couple, worked for five years without taking a single day off. Annie, throughout the entire time, spoke minimal English and worked as a server. She says that she was often harassed by some of the more vicious patrons, who would deliberately place hairs in their food to demand refunds and say things like “Go back to your country!” and “You don’t know how to cook!”.
“He started yelling at me. I ran off to the bathroom and just started crying,” she said. “But for every mean person, there are a dozen nice ones, and an old lady helped me back. He seemed to really be sorry.”
After years of working, they raised enough money to start a new restaurant in Richland, called Richland Restaurant. After the first day, they arrived to find that none of their employees had shown up. They closed the restaurant for renovations for 45 days to do some scheming. Once they opened again with a brand-new facility, still no one came to the “foreigner’s” restaurant, instead going to the restaurant next door. In retaliation, they lowered the price of their buffet to $2.99 and bankrupted the neighboring establishment. Richland Restaurant became so popular, that along with their income from Midway, they were able to accomplish one of their dreams: sending their children to college.
“We came here for kids, you know, education. The good thing about American schools is that you choose what you want,” says Robert. “In Taiwan, before the education reforms, your major is chosen by test scores, not by interests.”
Although life as an immigrant is hard, it just goes to show that if you take risks and work hard, you might just get lucky. Robert and Annie say that they would never go back to Taiwan now, and that most Americans were very nice people.
“We worked hard, and had it hard for a long time,” says Robert. “But now it’s finally good.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Class Divide and Corporate America

The Gilded Age. A term coined by Mark Twain, it describes the period of rapid economic growth after Reconstruction, from approximately 1870 to 1900. It is also referred to as the Second Industrial Revolution, or as I like to call it, The Industrial Revolution: America Edition.
The Second Industrial Revolution brought on the rise of the United States’ place in the global economy today. Fueled by cheap and abundant resources (natural and otherwise), America’s economy exploded, producing today’s industrial and corporate legends, people like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and J.P. Morgan. Thousands of new methods and patents sprung up, furthering industry--Carnegie, himself the head of a giant steel corporation, revolutionized business by inventing the methods of horizontal integration (buying out neighboring competition) and vertical integration (buying out all supplies). The spread of railroads, most notably the Transcontinental Railroad, standardized time zones and travel across the US. Countless inventions and inventors surfaced--Edison’s lightbulb, Tesla’s AC electricity, the Wright brothers’ planes.We were simmering with ideas and quickly claimed our own spot on the global stage. Of course, all of this development and industry was only one side of the coin. And, sadly, the flip side was not a happy picture.
The industrial growth that happened in the 1870s hinged upon one especially important factor: resources. Whether it be the United States’ endless supply of land, lumber, ores, and oil, or its large influx of cheap immigrant labor, resources were key in the rise of industry. Despite this, a widespread movement called nativism against these new immigrants soon emerged amongst the “natives”. Much more often than not, immigrants, if they could get into the country, were shoved into filthy urban tenement houses, where they shared apartments meant for one family amongst several. Immigrants were quickly pushed to the bottom of the social, political, and economic hierarchy and were exploited for extra work. The vast majority of the nature of poor-ness and immigrant-ness in the United States was like rectangles and square--being poor didn’t necessarily mean you were an immigrant, but being an immigrant practically assured your status as a lower-class being. And therefore, immigrants became inherently poor. Being poor in the United States meant long hours. Think 40 hours a week is tiring? Try working 70 to 80 hours a week in a dangerous factory just to make ends meet. This was a no-holds-barred capitalist system with nothing even close to workers’ rights. With the big corporations in control, a new “scientific” idea came into being, social darwinism, the idea that human society progresses through a pseudo-evolutionary process, that the poor are meant to be poor (and “perish”) and the rich are meant to be rich (and “survive”). Social darwinism and nativism worked hand in hand to beat the life out of the poor, working class immigrants seeking a new life in America. Nativists and their government buddies worked hard to help, passing legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Acts in 1882 or the Page Act of 1875, making it much harder to immigrate into the country.
One of the most significant issues that this period highlighted is class differences. Although the United States was founded upon principles of equality, there has always been an abundance of discrimination. The advent of the Second Industrial Revolution brought on a stigma against immigrants so strong, that we are still facing it today. The idea of nativism appealed to the general population because of a potent combination of “they’re stealing our jobs!”, “we were here first!*”, racism, and “they’re not real Americans!”. Racial discrimination at the time was so emphasized that being not-white often became synonymous with inherent poor-ness. The struggle between the worker and the rich became blurred with the fight between the immigrants and the nativists. People need someone to feel superior to, just like bullies. And immigrants, inherently poor and weak, posed easy targets for the nativists, the very rich and very powerful bullies.