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y=mx+b or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Maths

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Categories: Essays, Geek Stuff, Randomness, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Like many, I’ve long held the belief I’m “bad at math,” but as the spring semester at Rock Valley College winds down, I’ve learned this isn’t true.

In 5th grade, I tested into the gifted program in the Rockford Public School District. I jumped from standard 4th grade classes to advanced 5th grade classes. Given the shoddy state of Rockford’s standard curriculum in the late Eighties/ early Nineties, it’s no surprise I struggled, especially in mathematics. My gifted program teachers taught as though I had been in the program from kindergarten (as most of the students had been). My troubles at home, which manifested as poor behavior at school, didn’t motivate my teachers to give me extra help, I’m sure. After a rough 5th grade, I returned to standard classes in 6th grade. The result of this ping-ponging between curricula was a severe deficiency in basic arithmetic skills.

Fast-forward three years, when I was enrolled in the Academy, RPS’s gifted program for high schoolers. Still behind in math, I failed my college algebra course the first time around and barely passed geometry. My senior year, I dropped out of my advanced math class (trigonometry, if I recall) rather than face another two semesters of brutality. I hated math.

In 1999, when I took the entrance exams at Rock Valley, I scored less than 50% on the math portion (shocked, I’m sure you are), earning me the privilege of several remedial courses, including geometry. This semester, I’m completing a “super course,” which tackles all of those remedial classes in one semester, save geometry. I have a 91% in the class right now, and finals are in two weeks. On a lark, I retook the geometry portion of the placement test, and scored an 80%: enough to skip the required remedial class. I have one college-level math class to take – scheduled for next semester – before I graduate with my A.A.

What I have learned in this semester at RVC is that I’m not bad at math; I’m bad at arithmetic. I have little difficulty understanding algebraic concepts. Where I struggle is with simple multiplication and division, managing fractions, and the like. My difficulties stem almost entirely from the learning I missed back in 5th and 6th grades. From these deficiencies flow frustration with myself and feelings of stupidity. But I can’t help also feeling proud I’ve been able to overcome some of my limitations (thanks to help from Texas Instruments) and score an A in a class I was convinced I would barely pass, if at all.

It’s perhaps a bit strong to say I “love the maths,” but I do have a new-found appreciation for them, especially algebra. There are theories in math to be sure: ideas unproven because we can’t test every possible case, but for the most part, algebra is fundamental, truthful. Race, religion, political affiliation: these don’t matter to algebra.  y does, in fact, equal mx+b.

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Frappacheapo

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Categories: Randomness, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m a fan of iced coffees and cappuccinos, despite Denis Leary’s admonitions against such beverages. However, as a recent addition to the ranks of the unemployed, I can’t justify spending $5.00 or more for a trip to Starbucks. On a recent shopping trip, I stumbled upon a breakthrough in brokeassology that allows me to enjoy a frosty cup of joe that doesn’t break the bank. Further, my discovery minimizes the lactose issues I sometimes have with iced coffee, and clocks in at under 200 calories per serving. Win!

Aldi has an instant cappuccino mix that retails for $2.29 in my area. It’s available in French Vanilla and Mocha flavors (I used la française variety, but I imagine the chocolate flavor works the same). I also came across a box of shelf-stable soy milk at Dollar Tree. Of course, your local dollar store may not have soy milk available, but Aldi routinely does. You can, of course, use regular or skim milk: whatever suits you. You’ll also need a pot of regular coffee that’s cooled to room temperature.

To make some delicious iced goodness, follow the hot cappuccino directions on the instant mix package, substituting coffee and soy milk for the boiling water. I made a pitcher full of cheapaccino, so I alternated between soy milk and coffee when mixing the ingredients. That is, one cup of soy milk, then three tablespoons of mix, then one cup of coffee, then three more tablespoons of mix, etc. I whisked the drink after each addition of powdered mix to ensure a consistent blend of ingredients (large amounts of the powder can clump together). Once you’ve filled the pitcher, let your iced coffee drink cool in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before serving.

After a half hour, check for any clumping or settling that may have occurred. Whisk away any clumps you find. If your coffee comes out nice and smooth, you’re ready for a glass of iced cappuccino with few dairy ingredients, less than 200 calories, and a price tag under $0.50. Enjoy!

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Sir Hax-A-Lot

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Categories: Geek Stuff, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Step into my apartment, and you’ll come across a plethora of hacked-up devices. Part of this is because I’m a broke-ass nerd, so I want nifty techno goodies but can’t afford the latest and greatest. The other part is that I love making devices do things they were never intended to do. My Nook Color is no exception. After a lot of research online and a bit of trial and error, I now have a fully-functional, inexpensive Android tablet computer. If you follow my guide below, you can too. The best part is the original Nook software remains intact, so you keep all the intended functionality (like Read To Me books) and you can easily switch back and forth between your stock Nook software and the Android-based MIUI interface. Get ready to take your Nook Color to the next level!
 

Step 1: Gather Tools

The first step in unlocking the Nook Color’s full potential is to gather these physical and digital items:

  • A Nook Color (duh!)
  • A class 4 or better microSDHC card (I prefer Sandisk cards, as they seem to be the most reliable. If you follow the steps below correctly and find your Android experience isn’t up to snuff, check your SD card. If it’s not Sandisk, that’s the likely culprit. Also, get a SD card with as much storage as you can afford. Trust me. The Nook Color is designed to accept up to a 32 GB card.)
  • PC with an SD card reader or a USB SD card reader attachment running Windows.
  • Image Writer for Windows (a/k/a Win32 Disk Imager. Be sure you download the binary file, not the source, unless you want to compile the program yourself.) https://launchpad.net/win32-image-writer
  • Most recent MIUI.us ROM (I enjoy this ROM more than any other I’ve tried. It’s updated frequently, has great battery life, and few bugs. Of course, you’re fee to try others if you like, but I won’t tell you how to get them running in this guide. Make sure you select the Nook Color download, as this ROM is available for many devices, like my Nexus One.) http://roms.miui.us/
  • SD Card Image http://crimea.edu/~green/nook/generic-sdcard-v.1.3.img.gz
  • 7zip (To extract the .gz file above.) http://www.7-zip.org/
  • Dual Boot u-boot (Technically optional, but so easy and useful I’m including it in the standard steps.) http://forum.xda-developers.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=510096&d=1296952217
  • MiniTool Partition Wizard Home Edition http://www.partitionwizard.com/free-partition-manager.html

 

Step 2: Prep Work

  1. Charge your Nook Color fully. It’s just easier. Again, trust me.
  2. (If you have a new Nook.) Power the Nook up (without inserting your SD card), connect to your wireless network, and register the device with Barnes & Noble. Leave the Nook Color running while you complete the rest of the process, so it can download any software updates available.
  3. Install 7zip.
  4. Create a working folder on your Windows desktop. This will help keep you organized. Name the folder something like “Nook” or “Temp.”
  5. Copy the MIUI ROM you downloaded earlier to your temp folder. DO NOT UNZIP IT!
  6. Rename the file update-cm-miui.zip
  7. Copy the Dual Boot u-boot file you downloaded to the temp folder.
  8. Use 7zip to extract the SD card image you downloaded to the temp folder. You should end up with a file named generic-sdcard.img

 

Step 3: Getting Your Hands Dirty

  1. Insert your microSDHC card into your card reader.
  2. Launch Image Writer for Windows.
  3. Be sure your SD card, and not some other removable device, is selected to write to in Image Writer, then click the folder icon to select the generic-sdcard.img file from your temp folder.
  4. Click Write, then Yes.
  5. Exit Image Writer once the file has been written to the SD card and remove the card from your reader.
  6. Reinsert the SD card.
  7. Launch MiniTool Partition Wizard Home Edition, and resize the boot partition on your SD card. This is the only space your stock Nook Color software will recognize on the SD card. Make sure you have at least 300 MB free to allow space for the installer to extract the contents of the various zip files involved in this installation process. These files will be removed from the SD card automatically once the setup process is finished.
  8. Copy the update-cm-miui.zip file to the SD card. DO NOT EXTRACT THE ZIP FILE’S CONTENTS! Copy the complete file to the card.
  9. Eject the SD card from your computer.
  10. Power down your Nook Color.
  11. Carefully insert the microSDHC card in your Nook Color’s SD card slot.
  12. Power up your Nook Color.
  13. You will see the Linux penguin in the corner of your screen and lots of text flying past. Be patient as the magic is worked.
  14. Once the install is complete, your Nook Color will power down automatically.
  15. Remove the SD card from the Nook and reinsert it into your computer.
  16. On the SD card, rename the uboot.bin file to uboot.bak. (This preserves your original SD card boot file in case you run in to trouble and need to restore it.)
  17. Copy the uboot.bin file from your temp folder to the SD card and copy the uboot.bak file from your SD card to a safe location on your computer.
  18. Eject the SD card from your computer and reinstall it in the Nook Color’s SD card slot.
  19. Power up your Nook Color.
  20. Be patient. The first boot always takes a while.
  21. Follow the on-screen instructions for creating (or connecting to your existing) Google account.
  22. Enjoy the full-featured, inexpensive Android tablet goodness.

 
And there you have it: an inexpensive Android tablet with root access and GApps in less than 30 minutes. Of course, this is just a basic set up. The preconfigured SD cards I sell on eBay have premium software enhancements, built-in overclocking, and more. Get your hands on one here: http://myworld.ebay.com/vaygh If you’re looking for an SD install with custom features or running a ROM other than MIUI, drop me a line at vaygh (at) vaygh (dot) com. I’ll be happy to work with you on a Nook Color SD install that meets your individual needs.

Many thanks to the Nook Color community, XDA, and MIUI devs – specifically andmer, dalingrin, and rookie1 – for making all of this possible. Support them financially if you are able, or with mad props if you’re not. Oh, and Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Joyous Yule, etc. etc.

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Where’s The (Political) Party?

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Categories: Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

With the recent Occupy Wall Street protests and the debt ceiling faux-crisis resolution, I’m reminded of how people like me are not truly represented in America’s representative republic. The two major parties in the United States have drifted closer to their extremes, leaving the majority of Americans to choose the lesser of two evils each election cycle.

A CBS News poll conducted before the debt deal was finalized showed a strong majority of Americans wanted a deal that took a “balanced” approach. Moderates in the U.S. were looking for spending cuts, entitlement reform, and tax increases to balance the federal budget and tackle the national debt going forward. This is essentially the plan worked out by the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform late last year. The Commission’s balanced plan was shot down by Congress, and so were similar ideas closer to the debt ceiling deadline. Instead of fair and balanced, we got slash and burn. Of course, most economists will tell you the plan we got won’t work, but it’s not really about solutions, is it? No, it’s about looking like you’re solving problems so you can keep your job.

Most Americans fall in the middle of the political spectrum, and that’s why so many of us wanted a debt ceiling/ deficit reduction plan that straddled the fence of tax increases and spending cuts. It’s not because we’re wishy-washy as a nation; it’s because we believe in justice and equality.

Unfortunately, the Democratic and Republican parties in America are ill-equipped to make government work for the majority of citizens. They are beholden to the extreme ends of the political spectrum, with moderates trapped betwixt and between.

As the protesters in Manhattan and beyond show, everyday Americans feel cheated by a system that pretends to have their best interests in mind but rarely works for them. These brave folks are frustrated by social and economic injustice. Unfortunately, without dramatic change, their aspirations of a more just civil society are doomed to failure.

I, therefore, propose a new party to represent the moderates in America. Here’s the platform:

  1. Repeal DOMA. Marriage regulation is a matter for the states to decide. In fact, I’ve argued marriage is a matter for churches to decide, with the state having overstepped its authority.
  2. Amend the United States Constitution to provide for term limits on the legislature. If one cannot serve more than two terms as President, it seems to follow that one ought not serve more than two terms in Congress. “Politician” is not a career; it is a civil service one performs. By limiting legislators to two terms, we could potentially see a Congress less beholden to corporate interests, and more attuned to solving problems. As the Congress is unlikely to send an amendment proposal out to be voted on, this would likely need to be proposed by the state legislatures.
  3. Abolish the federal minimum wage. While it may seem counter-intuitive to many Americans, the federal minimum wage actually makes your life worse by driving inflation and increasing unemployment. The minimum wage also drives employment of illegal immigrants. Because employing an American citizen requires they be paid the minimum wage, employers are willing to hire illegals to save labor costs. Without the minimum wage, it’s likely these jobs would be filled by American citizens, as they are more attractive employees (no risk of penalty for employing undocumented workers, no language barrier to training, etc). Further, if you are not a minimum-wage worker, each increase in the minimum wage is an effective pay cut, unless your employer is generous enough to increase your pay by an amount equal to the MW hike. Oh, they’re not? I’m shocked, really.
  4. Speaking of illegal immigrants, I prefer the Starship Troopers solution: “Service guarantees citizenship.” You give us four years of sacrifice, we’ll give you a lifetime of opportunity. It doesn’t have to be military service. Peace Corps, Americorps, whatever – if you serve the greater good, we’ll forgive your trespass, so to speak, and put you on track to citizenship.
  5. Let those who can take care of themselves. It’s funny when one hears conservatives say the poor should take care of themselves, yet are more than willing to take their slop from Uncle Sam’s trough. If you do not need Social Security or Medicare when you retire, you should not get it. Let’s start means-testing these programs, like we do so many other entitlements, and see if we can save some money and make the programs more sustainable.
  6. Walk the walk; be the world’s Superman. We stand for truth, justice, and the American Way. That is to say, when it comes to foreign affairs, we ought to always act upon those principles which make America great, and never betray those ideals no matter the short-term cost. We will always benefit in the long run when we loudly denounce those who act in violation of democracy, freedom, and human dignity. Specifically, this means we should end our normal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, support Palestinians, and provide assistance to the floundering government in Mogadishu (again). There are plenty of other examples of tyranny and abuse around the world, but make no mistake – I’m not suggesting America should become the world’s police. I’m not suggesting we engage in cultural imperialism either. I’m saying we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We cannot speak of freedom from one side of our mouth while negotiating oil deals with dictators from the other.

Of course, there are many, many, many other things wrong with our system, but the six things I’ve listed above are a pretty good place to start, I think. I’m no politician or political scientist, but I bet I could get a dozen people to agree with me pretty easily. If I found someone on a ballot that agreed with even half of the principles I just laid forth, they would get my vote up to two times (term limits!). Until then, I’m going to write in the only two reasonable candidates I’ve seen in the last decade: Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert.

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New Poem: “Black Cherry”

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Categories: Poetry, Writing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yes, it’s about hair dye. Sort of. And yes, it was inspired by a certain Type O Negative song.
 

Black Cherry

She used to dye it black; she had the blues.
Lacy gowns and scaring all of the dudes.
‘Twas All Hallow’s Eve; we didn’t look back.
Oh, one last time to dye it all black.

Now this phoenix’s rising, it’s still true;
Oh, Lilly Munster’s got nothing on you.
So now you’ve taken on a lighter hue.
That Black Cherry looks goddamn good on you.

Well, if you wanna go out, it don’t matter if your roots are showing.
Yeah, you can go out to remind yourself where you’re going.
Just don’t dye it black.
You can’t go back.

Loving you, ’cause we’re both undead.

Black, black, black cherry, oh.

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Moar H8

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Categories: Poetry, Randomness, Rant, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

While I can appreciate the goals of the NOH8 Campaign, I think they might have it wrong; we don’t need less hate, we need more, and we need to direct it at the right things. Not sure what the right things to hate are? Don’t worry! I’m here for you:

  • Hate intolerance. Having an answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything else is great. Using that answer to treat humans different from yourself like garbage is odious.
  • Hate violence. Animals resolve disputes with claws and fangs. Beating a problem down is a sure sign one is the intellectual equivalent of a beast.
  • Hate gingers. I believe Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done a good job on this topic, so no further explanation from me is needed. See also; Brian Campbell.
  • Hate greed. Enlightened self-interest is OK. In fact, it’s a moral obligation to improve yourself and your situation. It’s not OK to crush the less fortunate under your heel as you climb to the top, however.
  • Hate dishonesty. A hurt delivered immediately is still painful, but far less so than one with months of deceit piled on top.
  • Hate excuses. There is a difference between an excuse and an explanation. Learn to see excuses for what they are, and unleash your ire when given one.
  • Hate hating hate. Those who claim to hate hate are either ignorant of the basics of English composition, or lying assholes. Either way, they should be avoided and shunned.

Of course, with your hate properly channeled, it’s important to remember that other humans are never a valid target of your hate. Hate what they say; hate what they do; but treat the people themselves with love, or at least indifference.

Conveniently enough, I wrote a poem regarding hate shortly before getting the inspiration (a NOH8 twibbon on someone’s avatar) for this post. I’ll finish off, then, with the poem. As always, I appreciate every piece of feedback I get.
 

Holding On To Our Hate

 
Because they were whores

who cared not for their kids,

we’ve lost our mothers,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
 
Because we borrowed more

than we could beg or steal,

we’ve lost our homes,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
 
Because we weren’t shown

the right way to love,

we’ve lost our wives,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
 
Call it pain, wrath, or rage,

the answer’s always the same.

When everything else washes away,

we’ve got no one else to blame.
 
Because our fathers never

showed us how to be men,

we’ve lost our strength,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
 
Because we played Doom

for hours on end,

we’ve lost our control,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
 
Because his pain was too great

for antacids to kill,

we’ve lost our Voice,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
 
Call it pain, wrath, or rage,

the answer’s always the same.

When everything else washes away,

we’re left with nothing but shame.
 
Because our leaders lied

time and time again,

we’ve lost our trust,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
 
Because we smoked and snorted

and shot up too much,

we’ve lost our sanity,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
 
Because our priests betrayed

their most sacred vows,

we’ve lost our faith,

so we’re holding on to our hate.
 
Call it pain, wrath, or rage,

the answer’s always the same.

When everything else washes away,

we’re holding on to our hate.

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Magnitude of Gratitude

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Categories: Family, Tags: , , , , ,

For those of you who aren’t aware, my family and I recently experienced a substantial trial in the form of a sewer backup that damaged our ground-floor apartment and large parts of our personal property. While the legal wrangling over ultimate responsibility and restitution for our time and trouble will undoubtedly not be resolved for some time, we are now in a safe, clean new apartment with the necessities of middle class life covered. We would not, however, be in such a position if it were not for the help of several key people whom I would like to acknowledge. Mom, Alex, Gary, Char, Jayme, Mike, Dan, Toy, Mike, Dave, Jess, Craig, and Kyle: thank you. I truly appreciate your time, hard work, and support. You made what would otherwise have been a nightmare a manageable crisis. We are in your debt.

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New Review: “Legacy of Brutality” (Beloved)

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Categories: Reviews, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

BelovedBeloved by Toni Morrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Legacy of Brutality

That the cruelty and violence of American slavery is among the darkest chapters in human history is obvious. That over 60 million black Africans and their descendants suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of their white masters is well-known. The weapons of violent, cruel oppression employed by slave owners is a vast arsenal. Whippings, floggings, starvation, branding, hanging: all these and more were used to cow the meek and subjugate the defiant. Of all the tools used to terrorize slaves, however, none is more vicious, more insidious, than sexual assault. Rape leaves physical scars, to be sure, but it is even more devastating than a whipping in that the trauma is deeply psychological as well as physical. This mental damage can take a lifetime to heal, if it ever does. Toni Morrison’s novel of freed slaves in Ohio captures this horrid fact. In Beloved, the theme of sexual abuse binds the protagonists in a legacy of brutality.

We see this legacy manifest in the title character herself. Sethe speculates Beloved is unable to remember her past because she’s likely blocked out painful memories of rape. (140) Sethe has good reason to suspect Beloved has been victimized; Ella was confined and raped for over a year by a white slaver and his son. (140) Stamp Paid – himself the survivor of his wife’s rape by a slave owner – seems to acknowledge this same scenario befalling Beloved on page 277: “Was a girl locked up in the house with a whiteman over by Deer Creek. Found him dead last summer and the girl gone. Maybe that’s [Beloved].” Beloved perpetuates the cycle of abuse in her supernatural rape of Paul D. He clearly does not want to have sex with Beloved, but Paul is powerless to resist her command: “You have to touch me. On the inside part. And you have to call me my name.” (137)

Paul D’s forced intercourse with Beloved is not the first time he’s been sexually victimized; at a glance it would seem Paul is saved from forced fellatio, but close reading of page 127 shows Paul D is assaulted by the slavers:

“Kneeling in the mist, [the chain gang] waited for the whim of a guard, or two, or three. Or maybe all of them wanted it. Wanted it from one prisoner in particular or none – or all… Convinced he was next, Paul D retched – vomiting up nothing at all. An observing guard smashed his shoulder with the rifle and the engaged one decided to skip the new man for the time being lest his pants and shoes got soiled…”

This passage indicates all men in the chain gang are eventually forced to service one or more guards, and that the reprieve granted by dry heaves and the Hi Man’s call is only “for the time being” for Paul. The effects of his oral rape in Georgia have a lasting effect on Paul D’s sexuality. In Wilmington, after his escape from the chain gang, Paul and his tobacco tin heart lay down with a woman in exchange for a meal and nice sheets. “He fell in [to the bed] with a groan and the woman helped him pretend he was making love to her and not her bed linen.” (154) In essence, Paul whores himself for pork sausage and a luxurious bed to sleep in.

Paul D would later take to bed Sethe, a woman no stranger to the horrors of sexual abuse. Sethe was made aware of her mother’s multiple rapes at an early age. The wet nurse, Nan, tells Sethe her mother was “taken up many times by the crew” aboard the ship they were carried on. (74) She then further describes to Sethe how her mother discarded the unwanted progeny of these rapes. The impact of these revelations on Sethe’s psyche is clear: “As small girl Sethe, she was unimpressed. As grown-up woman Sethe she was angry, but not certain at what.” (74) While uncertain about the anger surrounding her mother’s rape, Sethe’s rage at her own assault by schoolteacher’s boys is white-hot and razor-sharp. In Sethe’s telling of the forced suckling to Paul D, we see one of the few uses of the exclamation mark in Beloved (19-20). The ultimate end to the rage, the shame, the horror of her assault is Sethe’s own assault on her children and the reason for it:

“…Anybody white could… dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up. And though she and others lived though and got over it, she could never let… a gang of whites [invade] her daughter’s private parts, [soil] her daughter’s thighs…” (295 – 296)

This is the true motivation of Sethe’s murdering Beloved: not to keep her from slavery, but to keep her from rape. Sethe knew the toll sexual assault could take, and refused to let her daughter succumb to that horror.

We see in Beloved a people decimated by the horror of sexual violence. This theme ties together the main characters of the story, as well as providing a common thread to connect supporting characters in the tale. Whether it’s Paul D’s rape by Beloved or the white guards in the chain gang, Beloved’s serial rape and captivity, or Sethe’s lifelong exposure to sexual violence, everyone in Toni Morrison’s novel is touched by the legacy of brutality left behind by sexual assault.

View all my reviews

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Human Capitalism

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Categories: Essays, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Attempting to describe an individual’s welfare is no easy task. A psychologist might discuss a person’s neuroses. A physician could talk about cholesterol and lung function. A sociologist may explore a person’s relationships with friends and family. Human welfare is made up of mental, physical, and social health, but it’s also a person’s ability to provide for his or her needs, contribute to the society at large, and enjoy the freedoms provided by responsible political and economic governance. While psychologists, physicians, and sociologists use different terms and tools to measure human welfare, economists use terms like GDP1 and tools such as the United Nations Human Development Index to determine welfare. Economic measures alone are not perfect determinants of human welfare, but they do provide easily quantifiable metrics for comparing the effects of different circumstances on welfare. Things like immigration/ emigration, infant mortality, average lifespan, AIDS infection prevalence, and adult literacy can be determined, and impacts to a nation’s GDP (the standard of living) explored. Of course, a comprehensive exploration of each country’s circumstances and the impact upon GDP thereof is outside the scope of this essay. Instead, a small sample (three countries each) from the UN Human Development Index in the low-, medium-, and high-development categories will provide case studies from which generalizations can be made about the impacts of illiteracy, HIV/ AIDS rates, life expectancy, infant death, and net migration on GDP.

In high human development counties, positive net migration has a positive impact on GDP. The high (relative) GDP entices further immigration, creating continuous upward momentum in economic growth. As Bade and Parkin note in their economics textbook Foundations of Macroeconomics, “population growth is the only source of growth in the quantity of labor that can be sustained over long periods” (220). The medium development countries, however, face a continuous struggle with negative net migration putting downward pressure on GDP. As their citizens flock to other, more prosperous, countries, less labor is available and GDP suffers. In the low human development countries studied, net migration was also positive, which would normally help boost GDP growth. Unfortunately, any upward trend in GDP in these countries created by positive net migration is offset by other factors.

One of the major factors depressing GDP growth in low development countries is high infant mortality rates. Over nine percent (on average) of children born in the three low development countries studied will not survive to their first birthday. This dampens labor growth, which slows growth in the country’s GDP. The problem of infant mortality is not much better in the medium development countries studied. With rates well above 1%, these countries struggle to increase their populations – and thus the pool of available labor – and a smaller GDP is the result. The high human development countries, conversely, enjoy dramatically lower infant mortality rates. These low rates of infant death help ensure the population continues to expand: greater labor supply pushes GDP upward.

The upward trend in GDP enjoyed by the low infant mortality rate in the high human development countries studied continues into old age. With average lifespans around 80 years, workers in high development countries stay productive longer, further contributing to GDP growth. People in medium development countries enjoy life expectancies between 68 and 77 years; these workers also stay productive for a relatively long period of time. The average life expectancy in the low human development countries (less than 60 years) destroys GDP growth potential. Workers in these countries aren’t likely to see any form of retirement, and will have little incentive to invest in their own human capital.

Workers suffering from HIV/ AIDS are also unlikely to invest in their own future when that future seems so bleak. In the low development countries, average infection rates are well above 1%. Sick workers are unproductive workers. Unproductive workers drive down GDP. Further, the high incidence of AIDS infection seen in the low development countries spills over into higher numbers for infant mortality and a shorter average life expectancy. The medium and high development countries enjoy lower rates of HIV/ AIDS infection and higher GDP figures.

The lower incidence of HIV/ AIDS infection that helps bolster the GDP numbers of the medium and high development countries is in addition to, or perhaps because of, an adult literacy rate that’s dramatically higher than the ones seen in the low development countries studied. While medium development countries have rates around 90% or better, and 99% of the population in the high development countries is literate, 30% – 50% of adults in the low development countries cannot read their native language at a functional level. These low development workers are therefore unable to contribute to the economy in anything but the simplest, lowest-skill jobs. These jobs, of course, are also low-paying. The drag on GDP caused by this lack of human capital development is substantial.

As the previous paragraphs illustrate, low human development countries face significant challenges in growing their economies and promoting human welfare. These challenges are not insurmountable though; policies designed to target the core issues depressing economic activity can improve the lot of citizens in third-world countries. Many issues facing the developing world are important and should be addressed to improve the standard of living in the poorest nations. Two policy initiatives, however, are critical in improving economic conditions and human welfare: HIV mitigation and literacy improvement.

Lowering the incidence of HIV infection is imperative for low development countries as it dampens economic growth by increasing the infant mortality rate and lowering the average life expectancy. In the third world, medicines to extend the life of AIDS patients are not readily available, and infected mothers frequently pass the disease along to their newborn children. High rates of HIV/ AIDS disease also drive down human capital growth, because “as life expectancy shortens so does schooling inducing a lower growth rate of income” (Huang, Fulginiti, and Peterson).

Reducing HIV/ AIDS rates is facilitated by a literate populace: people who can read can be taught more easily than those who cannot. Those same literate workers can also acquire job skills more easily. As noted by Grant Johnston, in his work for the New Zealand Treasury, “people with better literacy skills are more likely to be employed, and to earn more, than people with poorer literacy skills.” Adult literacy also has non-economic benefits, such as increased appreciation of arts and culture, political and religious tolerance, and family stability. 

1Throughout this essay, the acronym “GDP” is used to signify “real gross domestic product per capita.”

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