Sunday, October 26, 2014

Play Review: Native Son

Native Son is a novel written by Richard Wright, published in 1940.  The work "tells the story of 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, a black American youth living in utter poverty in a poor area on Chicago's South Side in the 1930s" (Wikipedia).  It is loosely based on the 1938 crimes of Robert Nixon and was made into a play in 1941, which I saw a week ago at the Court Theater in downtown Chicago.

     In the hour and a half I wasted at this production, I was assaulted by the plot line of Native Son, which included no less than two murders, a rape, a subsequent disposing of the bodies, police involvement, and an unsatisfactory closing.  In all honesty, I wasted my time on a play that I would have been better off not seeing.
Now, I understand what it's like to be on a stage, and the one good thing I can say about this production was how well the actors responded to each other and their environment.  When audience members laughed, they laughed back, and I could feel the energy radiating from the cast as they bounced off of one another.  However, this was the play's only saving grace.  I absolutely hated the storyline.  It was a courtroom drama, which is the last thing I would want to go see in theaters, being more of a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat kind of person.  Native Son was filled with crude humor, vile language, and violent actions by the main character.  Quite frankly, it wasn't something that students should have been exposed to.  I had nightmares about it for a week afterward, and this is being completely honest.  And what made it worse was the fact that my peers actually seemed to enjoy it.  On the ride back from the play, I heard many people discussing how they felt sorry for the main character, Bigger Thomas, because he "accidentally" committed a murder and then proceeded to rape and murder another woman, all the while knowing exactly what he was doing.  This was not a story of a wrongful accusation; rather, the story of a man who should have been put in jail long before he killed the second woman.  How could anybody feel sorry for a man like that?
I would not recommend this production to any of my friends or family members and hope never to attend a play like this again.  If I had known what an awful story this play had, I would never have gone at all.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Texans Are Just as Linguistically Evolved as Everyone Else

Earlier this week, I overheard someone at school (who I will not name) explicitly say: "People with Texas accents aren't as 'evolved' as we are.  They tend to kind of drawl."  While this may have seemed like a joke to his or her friends, I take this statement as a personal offense, being a proud Texan myself.  Just because someone draws out their speaking voice or talks in a different accent than you do does not mean they are inferior in any way.  Would you make the assumption that Chicagoans are less evolved the rest of the state because they bring out their "a", à la "Chi-caaaaa-go?"

The way I see it, there are three areas of linguistics that see discrimination.  There is discrimination of one's specific dialect based on where he or she lives in the United States, discrimination of one's language based on where he or she lives in other countries, and discrimination of one's dialect based on his or her ethnic background.  I will be focusing on discrimination based on one's ethnic group and one's area of residency in the United States.  However, here is a map of languages besides English in the United States.

An article I found in the opinion section of the Daily, a student-run newspaper from the University of Washington, agrees with me.  The author, McKenna Princing, writes, "Research illustrates that Americans tend to think Southerners and New Yorkers speak the most ‘incorrect’ American English."  However, what these people do not realize is that there are many different dialects in the United States, and that none of these ways of speaking are subordinate to another.  She goes on to write: "Someone who judges the speech of others based on their dialect is the person exhibiting ignorance, not the other way around."  I think she is right.  I don't understand how some people believe Southerners and New Yorkers don't speak the right "kind" of American English.  Yes, they may have words for objects that differ from your own dialect, but that does not mean any one "kind" of American English is substantially more correct than another.  She writes: "Bold letters on one page of my Linguistics textbook declare, 'Linguistically speaking, no one dialect or language is better, more correct, more systematic, or more logical than any other.'"  As long as people can realize that each dialect is unique and special in its own way, the thinking that one is greater than the rest should be long gone.  

However, sometimes people take making jokes about one's accent a step further.  An article by Patricia Rice from the Washington University in St. Louis's newspaper titled "Linguistic Profiling" goes so far as to say certain job interviewers or real estate agents discriminate against prospective workers or homeowners just based on their accent or dialect.  She writes on to describe a study performed by John Baugh, Ph.D., the Margaret Bush Wilson Professor and director of African and African American Studies in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.  She writes: "His study shows that some companies screen calls on answering machines and don’t return calls of those whose voices seem to identify them as black or Latino."  I think this is completely unacceptable.  Making snap decisions on whether someone should be hired or whether someone should be able to own an apartment merely based on their way of speaking is offensive and should not be in a company's daily practice.  However, she goes on to say that "Some companies instruct their phone clerks to brush aside any chance of a face-to-face appointment to view a sales property or interview for a job based on the sound of a caller’s voice" and that "'Those who sound white get the appointment,' Baugh says."

I want to be clear that an accent based on where you live is different than an accent based on a specific group.  Though it may seem like a great leap from jokes to discrimination, sometimes discrimination against a certain race happens by someone who doesn't like a dialect and decides to make fun of it.  So how can we stop this blatant act of what is now becoming racial discrimination as shown in Baugh's study?  I think we should begin with teaching kids and even older adults to not judge a person based on how they sound.  Stereotypes of a race or area of the country always stem from something based in truth, but not all stereotypes about certain areas of the country or ethnic groups are correct.  We shouldn't let these stereotypes define groups of people that speak differently than we do.

What do you think about "linguistic profiling?"  Do you agree that making decisions based on how someone sounds isn't acceptable?  Comments are welcomed.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lunar Eclipse 2014

The morning of the lunar eclipse, my dad woke me up and said "Come on! Let's go see it."  I groggily got out of bed and was halfway down the stairs before I realized my clock alarm was still on, a sound I can only describe as deafening at that early in the morning.  So I quickly shut it off and padded down the staircase, following Papi as he slid into his coat and handed me my long black one.  I began tying my shoes until he said "You don't need to tie them, come on!"

There was a hush as I walked down the darkened driveway.  I remember glancing upward and doing a double take as I saw Orion's constellation just hanging there in the deep black sky.  Despite how close to the city I live, the stars were incredibly bright.  Andromeda the Princess, Cassiopeia the Queen, Orion the Hunter, Taurus the Bull, the Pleiades, Cygnus the Swan, the Big Dipper; every one of them radiated magnificence.  But the moon!  Situated just to my right, the enormous blood moon.  Almost fully eclipsed in my area of the country, completely black on the left edge, dark orange in the middle, with a white sliver on its right edge.  I strained my neck to see above the trees while my dad did the same on my left.  We stood out there for a solid twenty minutes just marveling at the moon.  That gorgeous, blood-red moon.

It's very difficult to completely grasp just how alone we are in the universe.  Everything we do on this earth appears futile at best in the presence of such beauty around us.  If you really think about it - really try hard to conceptualize such a notion - we are lonely in this universe.  So many stars, moons, suns, exoplanets, asteroids, comets, meteors, galaxies, black holes, asterisms, constellations!  And on a distant arm of the Milky Way, seven million humans who happened to be situated on a planet suited for life.  We are extremely lucky to even exist at all.

I didn't take a picture of the moon that night.  I didn't need one.  The memory of looking up at the sky with my Papi will never leave me, nor will the memory of that beautiful moon, surrounded by stars, hanging in the sky like a shining orb.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Could Recent Neurological Findings Help Us Understand Alzheimer's?

I'm always reading up on the world of science and what discoveries have currently been made.  I was recently searching for updates on what has been going on in science this week, and I stumbled across this article on CNN that was talking about Alzheimer's disease, a mental deterioration of the brain that begins when the patient is of middle or old age.  According to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, the causes of this disease are still unknown and many (possibly erroneous) theories are given on why Alzheimer's occurs in some people.  However, we may be able to narrow down the causes of the disease thanks to three neuroscientists, John O'Keefe, May- Britt Moser and Edvard Moser.

"The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has honored three neuroscientists..." whose work may help us understand the causes of Alzheimer's in older patients.  The scientists "...discovered cells that form a positioning system in the brain -- our hard-wired GPS.  Those cells mark our position, navigate where we're going and help us remember it all, so that we can repeat our trips, the Nobel Assembly said in a statement."  Basically these cells in our brain help us get from point A to point B and then remember how we got there, which is a problem for people with Alzheimer's.  The cells that help us navigate our world are found in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex.  Two hippocampi at the bottom of our brains are used for orientation and memory, while the entorhinal cortices take that information and pass it along to our neocortex, the "...bulk of our gray matter."  It was observed that in Alzheimer's patients these two parts of our brain begin to deteriorate early on, leading to patients getting lost and not remembering how to get to certain places.  Now that these neuroscientists have discovered where our internal "GPS system" lies, researchers of Alzheimer's may be able to figure out just how the brain becomes afflicted with this loss of memory.

And how, exactly, did O'Keefe and the Mosers come to this conclusion about our positioning systems in the brain?  In 1971, O'Keefe was testing lab rats and found that certain cells in the rat's brain were "...set off whenever the rat was in a particular place..."  He called them "place cells."  Then later in 2005, the Mosers found another type of cell that creates a coordinate map in our brains, and then the three neuroscientists jointly found that the two different cells work together to help humans get from point A to point B easily.

The ceremony for these three neuroscientists to receive the Nobel Prize will be today, October 6, followed by the announcements of the physics, chemistry, and economics prize winners.

Do you think neuroscientists will be able to figure out Alzheimer's based on these recent findings, or do you think we should be focusing on doing other research?  Leave your answers in the comments below.