The Lost Passion of Reading

According to a study profiled by the Daily Telegraph, "less than half of children aged nine to 14 read fiction more than once a month".

That's sad. Not in a pathetic sense, but downright gut-wrenching.

My wife and I recently organised our meager collection of books. Looking through them made us long for more time to read and also appreciate our parents for teaching us to love reading. There is satisfaction from finishing a good book that can't be mirrored in watching a good movie, wading through Wikipedia, or reading blogs and other articles. And yet I tragically find myself to be like the majority of youth. I love to read, yet rarely read more than a book each season. Why?

Source: Aha! Jokes
Part of it has to do with assigned reading in English classes in junior high and high school. Ironically, I probably read ten times the word count prior to high school than I did in and beyond. English class, while it exposed me to various genres, forced me to analyse literature. I no longer was reading for fun, but was required to find the deeper meanings in the text. It didn't help when a teacher interpreted something differently than I might. It wasn't that I couldn't understand what I read; that just wasn't my goal. Since reading was no longer chosen and performed for enjoyment, it quelled my passion for books.
Source: Immivasion
But for another large factor I can only blame myself. I love content absorption, and with so much quality content on how things work, on history, on language, and anything else simply a click a way on the internet, it's easy to fill my time learning. Often, though, the learning is surface deep, because the analysis is already done. I'm sure this will be even more dangerous for the generations to come, and I hope to teach my children, as my parents taught me, to love books as much I did then, thirsting for knowledge as well as wisdom and understanding. But above all, finding the lost passion of reading.
Source: CartoonStock

Thank You, Sterling...

The last post was written by Sterling, a friend and guest blogger. I hope to convince him to write here again in the future, so let him know how great his article was by commenting on it!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Texting, Friends, and Scholars

I’ve written previously about the effects of texting on social behavior (Daily Universe, 10/19/2010), primarily citing an enlightening study published in a Wall Street Journal article (10/14/2010). While determining the long-term effects of texting on social behavior and norms requires more time and study—after all, texting is in its relative infancy—we can with some fidelity envision the results of certain trends.

The marginal moments seem to be quickly occupied with texting. In the past, these moments of idleness, at least in many situations, were used to get better acquainted with those around you. Recently I was perplexed at how the people near me seemed to be ever at the beck and call of some colleagues offsite. I was relegated, albeit unknowingly and inadvertently, to second priority. What little I had to say never seemed to take precedence over digital friends. Ironically enough, my relative importance would have likely been boosted if I texted my associates.

Observing people attempting to study has often been somewhat humorous. I recall seeing a young coed seated across from me in the library who couldn’t get through a paragraph of reading without responding to a text. This continued on for probably an hour or so. Admittedly, I was distracted by this curious behavior. I can imagine her questioning how she could do so poorly on a quiz after spending so much time reading and preparing!

What will these behaviors yield in the long-term? It’s not hard to imagine people with large pools of shallow friendships—relationships built on a core of brief digital transactions—and fewer genuine friends. It’s also not hard to imagine lower attention spans—and consequently lower academic achievement—across the population.

Perhaps a real premium will emerge for true friendship and true scholarship. Those willing to put in the time and effort to form deep and lasting bonds will be few and far between. Those willing to make the sacrifices necessary to become true scholars will likewise be rare. Only time will tell.

Response to a Misrepresentation of Muslim-Americans

I read this the first time a few years ago and again was sent it recently. Its true origin is unverified, but there are several overly-sensational points that undermine the very American principles we hold dear, not to mention logical fallacies, and I wanted to defend Muslim-Americans as the Americans they are.

The main issues I have with the document are as follows:

  • Arabs are equated with Muslims by the author. There are plenty of Arabs that are not Muslims, and there are plenty of Muslims that are not Arabs (only 12% of Muslims in the world are Arabs, and 75% of Arab Americans are Christian). An Arab belongs to an ethnicity; a Muslim belongs to a religion.
  • The facts have been distorted to be more dramatic: one male's throat was possibly cut, not "throats of women in front of children". I mean in no way to degrade the serious nature of 9/11, but this is a clear point in which we can question the author's credibility.
  • He asks how to tell the good Muslim from the bad. You might ask the same thing to someone of my faith: "How do I tell true Mormons from those that are polygamist and/or abusive?" Or: "How do I tell the dangerous thief from the law-abiding citizen?"
  • The distinction of "our" vs. "they" infers that American rights are not applicable to Americans of a certain race or religion. But an American is an American, regardless of background or superficial classification.
  • Sadly, millions of non-Muslim Americans also don't pray for this country and respect the flag and patriots. They too should be under condemnation.
  • Muslim leaders have come together across the nation and the world condemning violence and attacks in the name of their religion. There are many terrorists who kill in the name of some cause or another. How about the IRA, or the Oklahoma City bombers?
  • Proportionally, the number of Muslims that died in the 9/11 attacks (roughly 60, or about 2%) was a bit higher than that of Muslims in the overall US population (about 1.5% using higher estimates). There are about 15000 enlisted Muslim soldiers in the military. This was a national tragedy that cut a cross-section through every community and subculture.
  • To ask for hard facts on Islam is like asking for hard facts on Christianity, or Buddhism, or Hinduism. There is no centralized leadership with Islam, and as such the schools of thought are vastly diverse (as with nearly any other religion). We only have to look to the deviant offshoots of my own religion to see how interpretations can be twisted. Spread that out to Christianity as a whole, where love and peace and tolerance are taught, and explain the many cults and fanatics that are out there.
  • Of course, every Muslim knows someone on that list of 400 persons of interest...
  • The author doesn't seem to take issue with the burning effigies or flags we perform in our own streets, or in other non-Muslim nations. Compound that with the one-sided media the general populace in some other countries receives, and of course there are misunderstandings. But wait, weren't we talking about Americans in this article?

In the end, the author is the one who worries me. He has made up his mind that the idiomatic "innocent until proven guilty" can be disregarded should one member of a group be found guilty. Ignorance like this can only be dissolved by spending time among those we don't know and don't understand.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I've been incorrectly associated with groups simply due to the coincidentally shared history our church has with the FLDS and other splinter groups, and this has helped me better understand the danger of stereotyping before learning from your own personal first-hand experience.

I've also had the opportunity to teach and discuss among Muslims and Arabs alike, both here in the US as well as in France. I've met refugees who have left their own countries as victims of greater afflictions at the hands of terrorism, people who were overjoyed in tears with the news of an oppressor's downfall. Those that suffer most are those that share the culture and heritage of the guilty.

I hope most Americans don't lash out like the author does. Too often, people fight over differences (and often both sides are at fault) rather than finding commonalities.

You can read another response to the text here.

France and the Right to Strike

Last month, strikes nearly crippled the French economy, costing up to 400 million Euros a day. Unions vowed to continue until the bill in question, which would raise the minimum retirement age (with pension) from 60 to 62, was thrown out. Turnout peaked at an estimated 3.5 million (France has a population of 60 million), and even today strikes turned out 375,000 protestors despite the fact that the law has been passed by both chambers of parliament and simply awaits a signature from its most vocal proponent, President Sarkozy.

Source: CartoonStock
Now, strikes are nothing new in France. In fact, they're quite commonplace, the right being guaranteed in the current form of their Constitution. I do believe in freedom of expression, assembly, and speech. The irony in my mind is that these unions are making demands to the government by inconveniencing those that are not in charge. Shutting down transportation only hurts the common citizen, who is trying to earn his keep. What about the tourist, who is disgusted by the garbage piling up on his visit to a supposed magical adventure to France? As far as the government is concerned, other than political pressure, which becomes less and less powerful as the frequency of frivolous strikes increase, these things come and go and it's not too painful to sit it out. These days negotiation doesn't even begin until a strike is begun. In the meantime, France's credibility and attractiveness suffer.

Source: CartoonStock
Said Charles de Gaulle, first president of the current republic, "La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur" (France cannot be France without greatness). It is positioned to help the world into the next great age. But it needs to live up to its potential.

To the people of France: we know you're upset. You have two alternatives: accept the reforms that are done for the long-term benefit of France, or vote in new leadership that believes as you do.

And, rather than biting the hand that feeds you, you could always join the private sector.

Source: fuffernutter

Our Society's Preoccupation with Diagnoses

Source: PHD Comics
I read a splendid article several months ago entitled "A 'Cure' for Character" by George Will, a prominent columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner. In it he criticises the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) for adding an astonishing number of tribulations which have cropped up over the years to afflict us. For example:

Today's DSM defines "oppositional defiant disorder" as a pattern of "negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behavior toward authority figures." Symptoms include "often loses temper," "often deliberately annoys people" or "is often touchy." DSM omits this symptom: "is a teenager."
Source: CartoonStock
My mention is no substitute for reading his article, so go read it. Psychology is not a quasi-science; there are definitely true cases of mental illness and depression. But when we start analysing the minute character flaws that are commonplace two major side effects occur (aside from the social and fiscal costs): it mutes the individual's responsibility to cope with superficial issues, and it hurts those who truly suffer from a mental illness by lowering the average severity. Robert David Jaffee illustrates this in one of his articles:

I don't doubt that our natural and technological environment can add to our problems, perhaps even traumatize us. I just don't think that such traumas rise to the level of pathologies, and I can't help but think that we really are over-diagnosing our children and our adults. While mental illness...is prevalent throughout the world, it should not be cheapened by the latest fads. Mental illness, at least as I have experienced it, comes from the core. It is not fashionable in any sense.
Source: ComicCartFans
George Will has written extensively about his son, Jon, who has Down syndrome. But he recognises his son's potential for a happy normal life. Wrote Will, "Jon experiences life's three elemental enjoyments—loving, being loved, and ESPN. For Jon, as for most normal American males, the rest of life is details." To me, the fundamental reasons for diagnoses lie in core problems with the first two items listed there: loving and being loved. Other character flaws are simply unimportant "details".

Without these flaws, though, wouldn't life be boring?

Source: The Boston Phoenix