Counterintuitive

In advance of the California Standardized Testing (CST’s) which began today, the administration at my school took it upon themselves to conduct a little survey. In this survey they gave us our scores for math and English from the years 2010 and 2011 and asked us to review the difference. After doing so they asked for our written opinion of why we thought our scores changed the way they did and what could be done to improve them. For some reason being asked this set of questions made something “click” within me. I had never had the administration ask for my opinion on something before so when this time finally came, I was dumbfounded. I had some trouble thinking of what to put down as my answer. Eventually, after I had formulated my response, I still was not able to put down an answer because as president of a campus organization I must have a good report with the administration. What I ended up putting down was nowhere near what I actually felt. Thankfully, however, I have my blog to fully express and articulate my position and why I have chosen to do so.

Why did you receive the score you did and what could be done to improve them?

I received (earned) an “advanced” score in English/Language arts for both years. I received such a score because I have not read a single passage from the test booklet for the past 4 years or so. A majority, if not all, of the questions do not require you to actually read the passage because they will either give you an excerpt to analyze or have the question not directly related to the text. If I were to try and read the whole passage it would 1. Waste time and 2. Be such a huge wave of information that would confuse me and prevent me from realizing the questions on the test are very straight forward in what they are asking. Since I received an “advanced” there is no room for improvement unless one were counting points in which case I would say my argument for math will apply here as well. English is my least favorite core subject while math is without a doubt my preference. Yet in both 2010 and 2011 I received “proficient”, even doing so much as to drop points. However I know exactly why I have consistently done worse on math than in English each year. My Algebra 2 teacher, a diligent woman, mapped out the entire year beforehand and on day one told my class that she would not be able to teach everything that we needed to know for the CST’s. She was never absent and did one, sometimes two sections day, yet still was not able to complete the standards. This was in no way her fault. Every state in the Union has had to undergo budget cuts. But at the same time as they are cutting school days they are expecting us to do more and more. The phrase “Do more with less” physically cannot apply to education. Cutting school days does not equal more time to learn new standards, but this simple logic seems to escape some people. I know my school’s administration does not have any power over the matter, but the fundamental thing which would improve my scores as well as those of my fellow classmates would be to stop cutting class learning time while at the same time expecting to get more done. There is a simple choice to improve my scores; either give the teacher more time to teach what you want him/her to teach or retool the test as to not expect us to know what is impossible to have learned.

 

http://drewcarpenter.net/?p=924

How Quickly We Forget

 

It has been almost one year to the day since the death of notorious Al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden. We (the American people) were promised that his capture/death would be the end of conflict and would usher in a new age of peace like that seen in the 1990’s after the fall of the Soviet Union. The past year has proved otherwise and this is catching some people by surprise. But do we really have the right to act as if we expected anything else? What did we really think was going to happen? For over a decade we fixated upon this man believing him to be the devil himself. Well, the devil is gone now and what do we have to show for it; thousands dead, billions (if not trillions) of dollars spent, and public in depression over their government. History has taught us that violence and war have almost never brought about the desired outcome.

 

One of the most recent examples is with the Middle East country of Iraq. Former President George Bush promised the American people that deposing Dictator Saddam Hussein would bring peace to the Middle East and the spread of democracy in line with the US. President Hussein was captured in 2003, executed in 2006, and Iraq is still one of the most violent countries in the world with bombings continuing on a daily basis. Iraqi sentiment towards the US is a far cry from what it was predicted to be. The saddest part about this story is that it may have all been just a few years premature. The Arab Spring has shown us that a people being shelled by tanks and scorched by bombs still have the same power that it takes the US vast amounts of resources to accomplish. I would also add that they did this of their own volition for the most part through peaceful revolution. Violence breeds more violence and I know that if I had grown up the past decade with foreign troops in my neighborhood conducting night raids I would not hold such warm feelings.

 

One perfect example of my argument that is sadly overlooked is the Korean War, properly nicknamed the “Forgotten War”. This war saw about 40,000 US casualties and almost two and a half civilians dead. But why then do we seem to forget this war when technically it still has not ended and we have 28,000 soldiers still stationed there? I believe it is because it proved how simply throwing military might around does not solve fundamental issued between parties in dispute. The war began at the 38th parallel and ended at the 38th parallel. There was no territorial acquisition whatsoever and by the end of 1952 the two sides were in the same situation they had been in 1950. It was diplomacy that saw an armistice signed and bruit force. It just took two years and millions of lives to realize it.

 

Now on to a little more well-known debacle, the Vietnam War. Two decades spent fighting in another nation’s civil war all because of the Domino Theory. That is exactly what it was, a THEORY and not absolute fact. We feared that if South Vietnam fell to communism then the whole region would follow and it would be the end of the world. Vietnam eventually fell and guess what, nothing changed. Vietnam is now a communist country and for the most part the world hardly took notice. So what did that war do for us other than create millions of vets, many of whom returned to find a country against them?

 

I could go on to cite several more examples from World War I (The War to End All Wars), The American Civil War (which was not fully resolved till the 1960’s), or even the little forgotten War of 1812 whose bicentennial is arriving. We cannot expect war to solve all of our problems and if we continue to live in a culture of violence societal issues will take twice as long. It is easier to sign a declaration of war than a declaration of peace.

Korean War Timeline

Judge For Yourself

With the withdrawal of former senator Rick Santorum from the 2012 presidential election the names on the November 4th ballot have been sealed. Although the republican primary season is still not technically over, the general consensus is that it will be Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama. I may not be eligible to vote in this year’s election however I still feel an obligation to view all debates, research candidates, and form an opinion as if I was going to vote. Part of this research involves going to election websites for both candidates. After plowing through the donation pop ups on both websites and browsing through a little, I came upon something odd that when reflected upon had broader implications than these two persons. While the two candidate’s websites do have some similarities such as states, biography, news, store, there were two stark contrasts between the two that I feel says something about the two political parties as a whole. I want to remind my readers that I do not affiliate myself with any political party, I consider myself an independent.

 

The first difference is that the Obama website includes something that is omitted in Governor Romney’s; a tab labeled “groups”. In this tab are pages on all of the different groups which make up our nation how the President is in touch with every single one of them. President Obama has pages on African Americans, Latinos, Nurses, Veterans & Military Families, Young Americans, Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders, Jewish Americans, LGBT Americans, People of Faith, and Woman. Governor Romney has often been criticized for not being in touch with and alienating minority groups which make up American society and culture. Seeing an entire section devoted to the different peoples of a country rather than money of a country reminded me of why President Obama captured so many votes in the 2008 election. Even the fact that the President’s website has an “Español” button while Mitt Romney’s can only be read in English says allot about how the two men view American society. Republicans in general cannot ignore the fact that the wealth of our nation is not in its manufacturing or its stock exchanges, it is in the ability of peoples from around the world to coexist in one nation rather than pitting one against the other. So far Romney has shown how he could run for Secretary of the Treasury, not President of the United States of America.

 

The second major difference I wanted to bring up between the two websites was the information in the “issues” tabs. I will simply list them as they are presented and possibly my point may be known before even explaining myself. For Mitt Romney we have Afghanistan & Pakistan, China and East Asia, Iran, Israel, Latin America, Middle East, National Defense, Russia, Courts and the Constitution, Education, Energy, Gun Rights, Health Care, Human Capitol, Health Care, Immigration, Labor, Medicare, Regulation, Social Security, Spending, Tax, Trade, and Values. And for President Obama there are Jobs and the Economy, Education, Energy and the Environment, Equal Rights, Health Care, National Security, Taxes, and Women’s Health. While Romney is talking about gun rights, deportation, and seemingly finding an enemy in every continent, President Obama is discussing equal rights, women’s health, and exterminating nuclear weapons worldwide. It seems that republicans are incapable of living without having some enemy to America. Is it really that hard not to have an “us against them” mentality?

 

http://www.barackobama.com/

http://www.mittromney.com/

Health Care vs. Freedom

This last week in politics saw three days (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) of high profile arguments in the United States Supreme Court regarding the Affordable Care Act of 2010. These arguments along with the court’s decision would determine the constitutionality of the law and if the federal government had the authority to do the things it set out to do in the law. The main sticking point of this law for many opponents is the federal mandate that all US citizens purchase Health insurance or be penalized. Originally I was not paying much attention to the proceedings in Washington D.C. I assumed it was going to be a rather boring discussion between lawyers and justices (which turned out to be true). But I was utterly surprised when it came to the protests going on outside the courthouse from both sides of the issue. Thursday’s issue of The Daily Show with John Stewart put this together perfectly. It showed members from both camps talking about the issue and why they supported or opposed the law. This is where it got complicated.

 

John Stewart showed news interviews that had been taken throughout the three days. When supporters were interviewed they said they supported the law because they felt that all people should have access to affordable health care and should not be denied because they get sick or were sick already. But when the interviews got to those who opposed the law it seemed as if the protestors had gotten their on the wrong date. Not in one of the clips was health care or medicine mentioned by the protestors. One woman talked about trampling on the constitution and the abolishing of civil rights while another actually stated “I will not comply with the law, because I believe in freedom.” How can a country have a debate on an issue (that seemingly should be rather straightforward) if the two sides cannot even agree what they are debating about?

 

Watching this stark contrast actually play out made me think of a startling trend that has been going on for the past few years; an issue which should be simple to solve is blown out of proportion and made into an argument that is unrelated. Passing a budget, a simple numbers matter of income balanced with expenses, was made into an argument about the destruction of the American way of life and similar grandiose phrases. Is it really that difficult to stick to the matters at hand? If someone has a problem with the law they should be able to articulate it in a better way than “I believe in freedom.” For instance, I do not agree with certain aspects of the law and as an example will put my argument into a practical way for political debate.

 

I do not agree with the individual mandate that is incorporated into this law. I have no problem with it other than this one point because I believe that the federal government does not have the right to force someone to purchase a commodity if they do not want to. Everyone should have equal access at a reasonable cost but it should be their choice to buy an insurance plan. People should want to buy health insurance in the first place and do not need the government punishing them if they do not. If someone does not and they get sick, that is their own fault, but they should have the right to frankly be stupid and ill prepared if they wish. Now, I would be overjoyed if one of my fellow bloggers would read this post and decide to respond to it with their own opinion. That is how political discourse should be; where people state their differences clearly so that there is a clear line of sight from problem to solution.

The Daily Show with John Stewart

The Origin of History

If an event is not recorded in some way, did it every happen? History is a record or knowledge of past events in a certain chronological order. But humans have only been keeping a record and knowledge of past events for only several thousands of years. There could be millions of stars which came into existence and died before the first microbes appeared on earth, but the question of if they actually existed cannot be answered by man. This knowledge is possessed only by the goddess Historia whose task it is to keep a recorded history of the universe through time and space. She accomplishes this by weaving an elaborate tapestry into which she details the history of every planet, every galaxy, ever atom in the universe for as long as they have existed. The way into which she can put so much detail into a single tapestry is beyond human comprehension. Her job is not to keep a recorded history of the universe for our enjoyment but so that every particle of matter has as much recognition as it deserves.

 

For over 14 billion years she devoted her life to the preservation of our universes history. If she stopped her work for even an instant, whole galaxies could be lost, faded away into forgotten nothingness. The universe contained such a unity and balance that she weaved the fabric of space and time almost without thought. But recently, something new in the tapestry had caught the attention of the great goddess. A single strand out of place, somehow unique from all those around it. This new strand came from a recently formed water planet containing a colored string which had never been weaved into the tapestry before, a thread of life.

 

This new string piqued Historia’s interest and she started to keep a watchful eye on this string as she continued her work. The string continued to grow and brought with it an array of new colors which gave the tapestry a new vibrancy and beauty. But this beauty did not last for soon the life began to change into a new form and the beautiful colors of so many life forms began to fade, taken over by this new life. Humans. This new human strand formed like a parasite, destroying those around it as it grew. This single strand managed to upset the balance and unity of the entire tapestry, and Historia was forced to act to prevent the fabric of the universe from being unwoven by humans. At the risk of stopping time itself, the great goddess halted her work to give mankind one single warning of the consequences of their actions. She commanded man to halt his actions and rejoin the natural flow of history or suffer her wrath. But even in the face of immediate doom, man refused, ordained with a sense that their piece of the tapestry somehow was superior to the whole. Angered by their arrogance but also taking some pity for this misguided species; Historia ripped the string containing the history of human kind from the tapestry and threw it at the feet of man. She gave her ultimatum to man, “Take this string, for it contains the history of all mankind. Weave your own history from it, free from the knowledge of the rest of the universe. But do not dare to seek to rejoin the great tapestry of the universe, for if the threads of mankind encroach upon this tapestry again, yours will burn and turn to ash, erasing mankind from history forever.” This humbled man for he now knew of his insignificance in the universe and how he could be erased without a single sign of his existence in the universe.

 

Its Super Tuesday,Committee, Delegates, PAC to the Rescue

 

Today my AP United States History teacher gave the class a brief lesson on tomorrows “Super Tuesday” and what it entails. The general consensus among the class was the humor surrounding “Super (insert second word here)” which has been growing exponentially over the past year or so. This includes Super Tuesday, Super PAC’s, Super Committees, and Super Delegates.  This entire process of creating things which are “Super” seems rather childish to me, but also quite dangerous. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word super as “very large or powerful.” The word super also has the connotation of somehow being above something that is seen of as less important or very small. This creates the problem of putting a false sense of importance or power in something that in my view has no right to be. All of these “Super (insert word here)’s” take power from the many and give it to the few which I find deplorable and degrading to an equal sense of influence in our political world.

 

Super Tuesday is a Tuesday (this year March 6) when more states than on any other date will hold elections and award delegates for the Democratic/Republican party nomination. This Super Tuesday accounts for 17.9 % of the possible delegates. Whoever wins these states tomorrow (Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Alaska) will historically become the republican nominee for the 2012 Presidential Campaign. As the subject of Super Tuesday continued in class we came to our own states elections which are to be held on June 5. Here is where things begin to get elitist; California’s election essentially does not matter because most often a nominee has already been chosen before our election date. This information baffled me that in an election year we make states more important than others depending on their election dates. The most populous state in the Union for the most part does not have a say in who is suited to be the nominee. Every state votes on the same day for the presidential election, why not the primary election? When California attempted to change its date the courts stuck it down for whatever arbitrary reason they could find. I simply wish that no one state be made more important than another over something like scheduling.

 

The term that has most surrounded this year’s political elections has been “Super PAC” or Super Political Action Committee. A Super PAC is an organization which is allowed to mass unlimited amounts of money and use that money support or attack political candidates or legislation. And here is the best part; Super PAC’s are not legally required to disclose all of their donors openly to the public. And when donors have been listed it is absolutely appalling how sometimes no more than 20 people make more than 50% of a Super PAC’s income. Super PAC’s have allowed the voice of the average American to mean less than that of a corporation or individual with assets as far as the eye can see. Candidates no longer have to go door to door for campaign money when all they need to do is make backdoor concessions to a wealthy donor. Now, the more money you have, the more of a candidates ear you have to yourself. Money really does equal speech.

 

In the event that no candidate in a political party is able to achieve the required number of delegates in the states’ primary elections then a group of “Super delegates” will get together and decide for the millions of voters who the nominee will be. This process completely does away with the democratic process and makes it so that a group of people, unelected and simply party leaders will have a greater say on who will be the nominee simply because they are a party insider. These people are free of any commitment to what the voters had dictated and can cast their ballot according to their own whims. This process fortunately does not happen too often, but the fact that it exists at all says allot about how much the peoples vote really matters to party leaders. If no candidate is able to achieve an overwhelming majority than it is clear that voters are not satisfied with any of the candidates and that either the nominee should be by simple majority or that the political party drop out of the race to reassess its position.

 

The first time I ever herd the phrase “Super (insert word here)” was over the summer during the arguments over the national debt and the complete loss of faith in the United States Congress. It was impossible to reach an agreement between the children of the House and Senate so they agreed to create a Super Committee which was to come in and save the day. The committee was to an a group of members of congress who were to end the gridlock in Washington and finally create a long term plan for the national debt. It put the power over the entire national budget in the hands of 12 members of congress who were not elected to do so and instead where chosen by party leaders based on how much they would play hardball. It completely shut out the rest of congress from having any say in the matter and gave the power of the purse to a handful of people. They still failed. They were given power to put forth whatever proposal they wanted and they still failed. “Its Super Committee to the rescue”………right…….

Super Committee Political Cartoon

 

Every Day is Presidents Day

On my very first day in Anthropology 121 (Religion, witchcraft, and magic), the two topics of religion and politics melded with the upcoming holiday. During the discussion of our term paper a possible prompt was given; “Discuss an institution that is not an official religion, but is still treated as such.” Being the man I am my mind automatically turned towards politics and how I could mold American nationalism into a type of religion. Many would say that the driving religion behind our nation is Christianity. However I would argue that if an anthropologist were to study our culture thousands of years from now when we are all gone he or she would conclude that our society’s predominant religion was patriotism.

 

One way to determine the religion of a society is to examine its architecture and how it was shaped based on the belief system of said society. If an archaeologist thousands or years from now were to see Mount Rushmore they would logically assume that it depicted the great Gods of our society. And who’s to say they would be wrong? There are countless architectural examples of “common citizens” (as the founding fathers intended presidents to be) being portrayed as god like figures of a major religion. This can be found most notably in our nation’s capital where we have the grand statue of President Abraham Lincoln looking over the reflecting pool towards yet another religious icon, the Washington monument. The Jefferson and Lincoln memorials look like they should belong in the temples of ancient Greece rather than Washington DC.

 

Christians have the Bible, Muslims, the Quran, and Americans have the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These sacred documents are as adored by the people than the texts of every religion on the planet. So much so that a copy of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Gettysburg Address are kept in tomb in Mount Rushmore for future historians to know of our culture. Symbolism in religions is very important as it is in American nationalism. The symbol of the United States has been made into a religious icon. An eagle clenching arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other has been analyzed and pictured in almost as many places as a cross. The American flag can be seen as important a religious icon as any other. To burn one is seen as offensive as burning a holy book. Every day, as if in a religious ceremony, children across the nation must stand up, put there right hand over their heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. To an observer this would seem no less a religious ceremony than reciting bible verses during mass.

 

Myths and legends are common for any religion, including American nationalism. Whether it is the tale of “Honest Abe” or of George Washington and the Cherry tree, many of the stories surrounding our founding fathers are not based in fact and yet are so interwoven in American culture that they become so. If one were to walk the streets of our capitol or enter its buildings he or she would be blown away at the magnificent hallowed statues and temples which celebrate our founding fathers. I have been to both the Vatican and the US Capitol Building and absolutely everything that is in one is in the other. The Capitol Building even has a tomb that was originally built to house the body of George Washington.

I am in no way, shape, or form attempting to label these things as wrong or in need of change.  Even I feel a sense of religious awe when visiting Washington DC and those hallowed sites. The point of this post was to highlight the irony of the holiday we enjoy today, Presidents Day. Having this holiday would imply that only now do we appreciate and reflect on these great men when in reality every day is Presidents Day in the US.

http://www.visitthecapitol.gov/

Outrage

As part of my GSA presidential obligations I make it a point to stay informed on issues concerning the LGBT community. Recently I came upon a 2009 documentary on logo TV titled Outrage. This film intrigued me not only because of my passion for LGBT rights, but also of my passion for politics and our democracy. Outrage follows the quest of certain individuals who have made it their business to “out” closeted politicians and other prominent political figures. This is not a typical film which is trying to out any politician for political gain. This film talks about the hypocrisy of those individuals in power who support anti-gay legislation and project a message of hate and intolerance while themselves secretly following the lifestyle they are fighting against. Such political figures include Larry Craig (Senator), Charlie Crist (Governor), David Dreier (Congressman), Jim McCrery (Congressman), and Ed Schrock (Congressman). These are individuals who once profiled by the documentary, quite literally outraged me.

 

I am not outraged because these individuals are bisexual/gay and choose to remain in the closet, far from it. Who am I to say when or how someone should come out? If a political figure wishes to remain in the closet they have every right and freedom to do so. They do not, however, have the right to let their own personal life spill over into political decisions which affect an entire nation. All of the previously mentioned people have vigorously supported anti-gay legislation which as restricted the freedoms of individuals to adopt children, marry, serve in the military, or even get medical support for HIV/AIDS. If one wants to be suffocated in a closet, so be it. But do not let one’s safe hatred turn into hatred of others. How can one go on national television and demonize homosexual acts, then later that night have sexual relations with the same sex? I would like to take this time to show my utmost respect and gratitude towards those politicians who appeared in the documentary and are not afraid of the hate their own coworkers may have; Tammy Baldwin (Congresswoman), Barney Frank (Congressman), David Catania (DC City Councilmember), Neil Giuliano (Tempe Mayor), Jim Kolbe (Congressman), and James McGreevy (Governor).

 

It would not have bothered me as much if it was every day citizens who go about saying one thing and then doing another. This is common place (unfortunately). What outrages me is the fact that these are elected public servants who are committing these acts of hypocrisy. We entrust these individuals with public office in the hope that they will keep the government honest and just. What trust can there be that they will not tainted by some other corrupt deed.

 

One thing about the documentary which I found interesting (but not surprising) was that 90% of all political outings that the people in the documentary investigate are of republicans. I have always associated republicans a strictly a southern political group who have always had the right wing bias. In history class last week however, I learned that the original Republican Party was actually strictly northern and had not one southern state support it. This was because they supported abolitionism and the promise of civil freedom to all. Where did this ideal go? The right wing has in modern times become a hotbed of hate and in my view is forcing politicians who want to come out to remain hidden. In the film there is shown a segment of an interview with Harvey Milk in which he says that if every closeted person were to come out then “we would win.” The gay rights movement would be over in a week if all of those who were closeted came out. All of the politicians, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, friends, etc. If that were to happen then I doubt those who say a message of hate would dare continue unless they truly are evil and would demonize possibly their own family. I highly recommend this film not only for those associated with the LGBT rights movement, but anyone who believes as I do that truth is an ultimate virtue which needs to return to our political leaders.

http://www.outragethemovie.com/

The Wanderer (Le Grand Meaulnes)

Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, is a novel originally written in French but translated into English by Francoise Delisle, is an emotionally evocative story of adolescence, coming of age, and tragic love. One might think this to be a typical adult French love story but the writer, who himself was young at the time this was written (26), makes this tale full of excitement with all of the trial and tribulations of adolescent love. When translated into English the title was changed from Le Grand Meaulnes to The Wanderer, which still confuses me to this day. The story takes place in the French country side in the late 1890’s. Throughout the entire novel the author does not give the exact date but rather tantalizes the reader as in the very first sentence of the book “He arrived at our home on a Sunday of November, 189. . . I still say ‘our home’ although the house no longer belongs to us” (19).  The book is narrated by the 15 year old François Seurel, a typical French school boy in a small country village. Much of the story takes place in the small school house of which François’s parents are the teachers. His life is very much routine and monotone, until the arrival of 17 year old Augustin Meaulnes. This mysterious young man breaks the calm and quiet life of the schoolhouse with his rather peculiar and fascinating personality. “But some one has come who has taken from me these peaceful, childlike delights. Some one has blown out the candle which lit up for me the gentle motherly face bent over the evening meal. Some one has extinguished the lamp around which, at night, we were a happy family, when Father had fixed the wooden shutters over the glass doors. And he was Augustin Meaulnes…” (28) This earns him the name “Le Grand Meaulnes” by the other students. “But  Many of the students however do not take kindly to this new arrival, so Meaulnes befriends Francois who he ends up living with in the schoolhouse. But as abruptly as he arrives, Le Grand Meaulnes vanishes, returning a few days later a new man. He speaks of his adventure only to Francois, an adventure of finding a mysterious mansion in the middle of the wood and falling in love with the rich and beautiful Yvonne de Galais at what appears to be a wedding. The only problem is that he knows not how to find the mansion or his love again. Try as they can, the two young lads cannot find the mysterious mansion until one day when a gypsy arrives in the village. This is no ordinary gypsy however; it is Frantz de Galais, relative of Yvonne. It was Frantz’s wedding that was going on in the mansion when Meaulnes met Yvonne however his fiancée, Valentine, refused to marry him and he ran off to become a gypsy. The three young men swear an allegiance to one another to always help each other when called upon. Frantz gives Meaulnes the address of Yvonne in Paris and the three part ways, Frantz for the nomadic life of a gypsy, Meaulnes for Paris to find his love, and François remaining at school. A year and a half later Meaulnes returns having failed to find Yvonne de Galais. However in his absence François has managed to locate the mysterious mansion and Meaulnes finally is reunited with Yvonne. As is customary with French young love, Meaulnes asks for Yvonne’s hand in marriage. But the adventure, trial, and tribulation of Meaulnes’s life does not end for on his wedding day Frantz de Galais returns and calls upon Meaulnes to help him find his own bride, Valentine. Although madly in love with Yvonne, Meaulnes keeps the promise he made so long ago and leaves his newly wedded wife to find Frantz’s lost fiancée. During his absence, Yvonne gives birth to a baby girl and dies shortly after. A year after her death, Meaulnes returns having fulfilled his promise to Frantz to find his wife no longer on this earth and his daughter in the care of François. Le Grand Meaulnes does not disappoint. He takes his daughter and once again disappears, moving on to his next adventure. This a great novel for any adolescent teen male, however I would recommend that if one can to read it in the original language because the text loses some things in translation.

Le Grand Meaulnes Cover Art

Siddhartha

Siddhartha, written by Hermann Hesse and translated by Hilda Rosner, is a novel of a man’s life and his spiritual journey to attain enlightenment and understanding by going through all of the plagues and suffering that is common for any man. The story takes place about 2,500 years ago during the time of the Buddha and is narrated by Siddhartha the protagonist of the book who goes from his teenage years to old age, searching. This is a highly spiritual book which uses language which may be confusing to one who does not have an open mind. The writer himself had to spend a long time reading scriptures to put the teachings of the Buddha into a novel. The book begins with a young teenage Siddhartha, the son of a wealthy and respected Brahmin who although follows his religion very well and does everything he is told, still does not feel complete. He believes that his father and the priests, who he so adamantly follows, cannot teach him any more than he already knows. Along with his best friend, Govinda, Siddhartha leaves his father and his life of luxury to live the nomadic and self-sacrificing life of a Samana. While with the Samanas Siddhartha lives a life completely different from the one he has left, one devoid of pleasure, property, or the Self. But even with the holy Samanas Siddhartha does not believe their teachings can help lead him  to enlightenment any more that those of his father’s. Siddhartha and Govinda leave the Samanas and seek out the rumored Buddha, Gotama. The two are taken in by the Buddha and his followers and begin to learn the teachings of Buddhism and the illustrious one, Buddha. Still, under the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha does not feel that his teachings will lead him to enlightenment. Siddhartha leaves the Buddha, Gotama, and any dependence on religious teachings and instead seeks enlightenment through the materialistic pleasures of the world.  He travels to a large city where he becomes a wealthy business man and he becomes a lover with the courtesan (prostitute) Kamala. To Siddhartha, the teachings about sexuality and love from Kamala are as important as those from the Buddha. “He learned many things from her wise red lips. Her smooth gentle hand taught him many things. He…was taught by her than one cannot have pleasure without giving it, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every single part of the body has its secret which can give pleasure to one who can understand. She taught him that lovers should not separate from each other after making love without admiring each other, without being conquered as well as conquering, so that no feeling, of satiation or desolation arises nor the horrid feeling of misusing or having been misused. He spent wonderful hours with the clever, beautiful courtesan and became her pupil, her lover, her friend” (54). But this does not last for soon Siddhartha falls into the unhappy life of constantly gambling, drinking, and having sexual relations with not outlet other than to do more of those things. Realizing that hid experiment has failed, Siddhartha leaves the city along with Kamala, who he does not inform of his departure. In his departure Siddhartha comes upon a river where he reunites with an old ferryman, Vasudeva, who had taken him across the river many years ago before he even met Kamala. Vasudeva takes the now old Siddhartha as his apprentice and Siddhartha spends many years learning more from the river than he did from any other religious teacher. During his studies, Kamala, comes by the river on her way to seek the Buddha. She has with her however, her son, Siddhartha’s son. Kamala is poisoned by a snake by the river and subsequently dies, leaving her young son to the care of his father Siddhartha, for who he has no feelings of love whatsoever.  His son eventually runs away from Siddhartha and the ferry man to return to the extravagant lifestyle he left behind. Realizing he cannot retrieve him, Siddhartha again returns to the river to continue his studies. Finally the river teaches Siddhartha the meaning of life and how all things are connected in a never-ending cycle and how all things, good or bad, are necessary to understand life. Realizing he pupil has now understood the river; Vasudeva leaves Siddhartha and walks off into the woods never to be seen again. The novel ends with the return of Govinda, Siddhartha’s long lost friend who decades ago chose to follow the Buddha. Now a monk, Govinda asks Siddhartha to teach him what he knows for he has not attained enlightenment from the teachings of the illustrious one. However the now holy Siddhartha explains to Govinda that no one can teach wisdom, that one must find it through their own thoughts. “Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sound foolish…Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom” (115). This book is not like any other dealing with religion and spiritual enlightenment. Any other book would have had Siddhartha attain enlightenment while living the life of a devoted follower of the Buddha, like Gotama. But in this novel, the pleasures and suffering that went along with the life of a rich merchant, a father, or a sexual lover to a prostitute were instrumental in helping Siddartha finally find what he was seeking. This is the story of how an imperfect man, leading an imperfect life, found perfection by not listening to any one voice, but to all voices. “When Siddhartha listened attentively to this river, to this song of a thousand voices; when he did not listen to the sorrow or laughter, when he did not bind his soul to any one particular voice and absorb it in his Self, but heard them all, the whole, the unity; then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of one word: Om-perfection” (111).

Siddhartha Cover Art