Angry Fruit : Before the Birds (Commentary on the “Grapes of Wrath”)

When I was in high school, I was introduced to the novel “The Grapes of Wrath” written by John Steinbeck. A masterpiece of depth and feeling wrapped around the story of a small family in the environment of the Great Depression. There are so many aspects to the story that are worthy of note, conversation and introspection, for even today the lessons that the author intends us to learn are still questions and attitudes that we struggle with today in our society. As a high school student, I was intrigued and saddened by the story of a young man fresh out of jail who goes home to his family to watch and help as they are forced off their land, struggle on to California and then to find himself an outlaw for his actions as much as for his place in society and the powerlessness of the many underneath the crushing heel and whim of the few. It is a symbiotic relationship that humanity aspires to- one of equality and opportunity for everyone- that we as humanity may never reach. So I thought that I would focus my thoughts not on the story or the lessons themselves that were brought to my mind again in this class, but to peer into the thoughts and images of my mind that come with the quotes that stuck in my mind long after the initial hearing of them.

Tom - (shakes head) “Anybody ever told me I'd be hiding out at my own place...”

Grandpa - “My dirt – it's no good, but it's mine”

While growing up, I would hear the words of the people around me talk about how hard work can get you anything in life you want. How being good and motivated and virtuous can make you rich, get you the things that you want in life and make life generally pleasant and easy. A part of those ideas have never made sense to me as I struggled to find a way to understand life, people and relationships in the dysfunctional household that I was to reach adulthood in. And as I have studied and watched many different kinds of people that have flitted in and out of my life, I have realized that those words only had a brief kernel of truth in them. With few exceptions, the only way to reach the ideal of wealth and a life of your choosing the individual must also be lucky enough to have a good background, a family with enough resources to get them the education, health and the resources that allow the 'hard work' of the individual to get them their desires. For the majority of humanity, especially women and those of a minority class... those are blessings or luck that no matter how hard they work, the individual will not get. The majority of people wish to own land, to own things... in fact, many of us derive our base worth to ourselves based on these things – what we own, what we do for a living, etc... Owning things gives us a feeling of security, safety and a sense of worth, but for most of us everything we 'own' is actually owned by a bank and we will spend our lives paying for those things. A wrong move- a recession, a lay off, a disabled child, etc... and we fall and break. No amount of hard work can save everyone in these situations no matter how good they are. A sad, but true fact.

Ma Joad - “There was a boundary to us then... there ain't nothing that keeps us clear.... There ain't no family now.”

“How big the country is … How small we are.”

In the study of history, we can look at the hierarchy of the medieval world with an understanding of place and power. To whom you were born set up the course of your life and no amount of motivation or work could change that. If you were a prince, your future was fairly set... you became a king, died as a prince or lived a life at court with its specific sets of rules and responsibilities. If you were born to a serf, then you were a serf for life... almost no exceptions. There was no intermarriage between the different groups of classes of which there were usually considered three – the nobles and monarchy, the clergy and church, and the 'rest' of us. With the French Revolution, and the other revolutions and uprisings that happened in the western world in the late 1770s and later years. For the lower classes wanted to have more opportunities open to them. So we come to ourselves and today. The struggle for equality has given so many more people opportunities to rise and the lines of hierarchy have become blurred. However, the lines of power and wealth have not blurred much allowing only a few more in and keeping the rest of us in control by the ideals mentioned above. If we all think that we can also be successful by working hard, then we are less likely to band together and recognize the true reality. And the reality is that as we have gained more rights for women and minorities we have also lost some as well. However, what we have lost is mostly something that we 'think' we had yet maybe never did. We have lost the concept of family and what are duties are in it. So we argue about what constitutes a family today but only when it comes to a few things. Other things break the family apart- economics, society, but we argue about 'what' constitutes the family itself. Our generation looks back and sees a 'rosy' past... that never existed. We as individuals struggle to understand our place in the world, our collapsing communities and our responsibilities as members of the human race. Our perspectives of the world and ourselves are what we use to wade our way into the waters of our futures... to keep our place and an understanding. Otherwise, we worry about being swept away in the crowd and that vastness of the world around us. We try to control and create order in the things that we can... to feel the security and serenity we crave.

Tom - “I just don't know who to blame.”

Preacher - “There ain't no sin and there ain’t no virtue. It's just what folks does....”

When things go wrong in our lives and the world, we tend to look around for the scapegoat. Humans have done that for so long that many people do not even understand today what the origin of the term actually means or how it came about. (It is from an ancient Jewish tradition in which the sins of the people are figuratively cast onto a goat and it is driven away into the desert to die as a part of the rituals alined with the Day of Atonement). If we look at psychology, we see how easily we find reasonable excuses for our own poor behavior/mistakes and yet we do not tend to allow others the same leeway for the same behavior. So we throw the evil and guilt we feel in ourselves out and project it towards others hoping to alleviate our suffering and to feel 'pure' again. So all of us continue to do so... and so we distract from real issues by pointing our fingers at others. Republicans point at the debt ceiling and big government and keep us from looking at the facts that the middle class is declining, the poorer classes are swelling and almost all economic gains are going straight to the top one percent. Democrats complain about the republicans but do not do anything but complain. Independents have no chance because of low numbers.
Conservatives blame homosexuals and their behavior for breaking up the family and proclaim abortion as murder, but they do not tend to adopt, to help children in foster care... to create a supportive society that would make abortion unnecessary nor to they acknowledge the good and the benefit of homosexual marriage. Liberals fight for the right to marry for all and for available abortion, but do not seem to acknowledge the fears and concerns of the other side and dismiss them... which tends to bring both sides even farther apart and to continue to demonize each other. Marriages break up and both sides point to the other party – friends and family split off into sides like there is something to win. Our perceptions and views on life and people color how we view the world, how we blame others and how we see our future possibilities.

Gas Station Attendant – 'A human couldn't stand to be so miserable.'

The Great Depression was a horrible time; a time of hunger, homelessness, and despair for most. People would do almost anything for any security or food. Those with money had the power over the lives of thousands. Severe conditions tend to make most of us fall into the physical and emotional traps that stress caused. We are less rational, less able to think, more desperate. Good works, intelligence, decision making and emotional control are the losers when our body is under stress for long periods of time. In desperate times, we can hurt each other- even those we dearly love- to gain a few morsels of food if we are so very hungered. We can break every virtue we believe in if we are desperate enough. We are currently living through the storm of recession and social change... a time where moderation doesn't seem to exist and being kind can be challenging. Daily, people are dying from torture, bombs, etc.. based on blame- the blame of religion, politics, or simply being in the way of other's viewpoints and motives. The Great Depression was in many ways so similar to what we face today...yes, we have more food (in theory) but the storm of culture, wealth and power, and change continues today. How will it end... I wonder.


Sexual Assault and Rape : The Differences Between Perception and Culture

I was challenged to look at both the ideas of rape and sexual assault and what the differences between these two horrible acts might be. At the time, I felt like there can be many differences that would also depend on the environment and mentality of the perpetrator. So here are my thoughts on the issue after my research this week.

Sexual assault can be generally defined as unwanted or inappropriate contact towards anther person that is seen or regarded as sexual in nature. Rape is a form of sexual assault in which a person forcibly or without permission penetrates the victim's body with anything; whether its parts of their body, other objects whether small or large, etc.... and it is still considered rape if the penetration is without consent to any opening of the body...even those that are not necessarily considered sexual orifices. So a person can be sexually assaulted, but not raped in some cases (physically, that is)... but a person who has been raped has also been sexually assaulted. With few exceptions, sexual assault and rape are usually crimes against women and tend to be based on power and dominance instead of love or perceived sexual needs. These behaviors are acts of violence, not acts of equality or caring. While these definitions are easy to understand, they do not also tend to convey the emotional or mental violence that is also inflicted when the physical crime is perpetrated. For many, just the act of reporting the crime or talking about it causes them to feel the 'act' again even though they are safe in the present time. Other challenges that come with the sexual assault/ rape for the victim is dealing with the emotions from the perpetrator that are expressed.

When thought about in these terms and also understanding the general patriarchy of most societies in the world, we can easily see how sexual assault and rape can be used not only to hurt one person but as weapon to cause harm to many people and even a community or society at large. In war, the raping of women is an act that not only causes harm to the victim, but is also an act of revenge and defiance against her husband, her 'protector, her community... and even of her culture and race. While there is much disagreement and debate about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, his black slave / mistress and whether she could or could not consent in their sexual relationship, few will argue that Mr. Jefferson was in a position of power over her and her family which could limit how much she really was able to consent to their relationship. And few would be willing to disagree with the idea that Mrs. Hemings was picked because she was black and the relationship most likely wouldn't have happened at all if she had been a purely white female. Other ways that rape is used against a culture/race is to attempt to change it genetically- if many of the men are killed and the women are raped or forced into longer term relationships with their assailants, the children born of such unions are usually
considered members of the dominant group and not part of the culture of the child's mother. It is easy to see looking at the past history of many groups of people how this tactic has been successfully used to not only change, but also decimate communities and cultures. (And on an amusing and side note.... isn't it interesting about the use of pure-blood and mud-blood in the Harry Potter books to denote positive or negative connotations... and these were on consensual births! Something to think about in relation to how each of us looks at those of mixed race heritage or bi-racial couples. :) Finally, one of the best ways to defeat your enemy isn't just to kill them, but to truly win you must also demoralize them and mentally defeat them.... to convince them that they are worthless or have lost something that can not be reattained. And that is what makes rape so effective a weapon in so many instances.

There is another way to look at sexual assault and rape and that is through the lens of the culture, society and the people living in it. The definitions I have given for the most part belong to the culture I live in: a first world country. There are some ways these definitions change when we look at the way other societies perceive women as well as girls and even marriage. In some cultures, girls are married at very young ages and that is not only culturally acceptable but encouraged and facilitated by the child's parents. In this country, we have made it very challenging for any female under eighteen to get married – even if they want to! In some areas of the world, girls are married between the ages of 10-12 on average... and sometimes as young as eight! These girls have not chosen this marriage and it is usually facilitated by the girls parents to a man at usually at least a decade older than the young girl. (In September, an article came out about the death of an eight year old girl named Rawan who had died due to internal bleeding caused by the consummation of her marriage to her much older husband. This marriage took place in Yemen). To myself and I suspect for many people I know, this act would be considered rape- whether the young lady had died or not. In this culture, the relationship was acceptable and not considered rape... or could be described as 'tolerable rape' (a rape that is culturally acceptable and sanctioned.) In my culture sitting alone with a man on a park bench is acceptable and even encouraged to get to know each other... in others, that can be considered sexual compromising and the young lady is 'ruined'. It really does have a lot to do with the society in which you live.

What are your thoughts on any of the issues that I brought up in this post? Do you have differing views on how culture defines sexual assault?


The Consequences of Holocaust Trauma on Individuals and Future Generations

When I sat down to this week's readings, I felt like the last several weeks had given me a pretty basic background and preparation for this task. In addition to all the information talked about in this class I also had the benefit (I'm not sure that is the right word) of growing up hearing about the persecution and attempted extermination of the early adherents to my religion so I felt like that gave me an additional potential viewpoint. Yet even with all this preparation and my own past difficulties and trials- as well as a decent understand of how challenging the Holocaust was for those who were victims of the Final Solution (by far mostly Jews, but I believe homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses and other groups were also targeted), I found myself shocked the depth and length of the trauma's effects even by those who had not experienced the worst horrors of the system... even those who experiences almost none of it, but lived with and loved those who had.
A few weeks ago, I made a comment in one of my discussion posts about a young child who I felt was potentially picking up PTSD from helping and living with her afflicted parent. I wrote it because I have been thinking it for a very long time, but I also have kept that thought to myself for the most part because I do not feel I have the qualifications to back up my belief... but I will admit my fear of the parent's reactions is pretty severe. I also wondered if that was generally possible- to get the symptoms and difficulties of a disorder simply by being around someone who has the problem... after all, you can't get AIDS or Alzheimer's with very few exceptions just by spending time with someone. Our readings definitely suggested to me that it is possible and while I may not be right, maybe there are some things that I can look into to maybe not only help, but also to have a greater understanding and sympathy for the suffering of this family.

In general it appears that the effects of surviving Holocaust trauma may be varied due to differences in people, trauma endured, and other life components, it is easily stated that this is a long lasting, multi generational problem that affects a survivor's social, cultural, medical and daily lives... as well as those individuals that live with, love, and entwine their lives with those that have survived. As mentioned in a paper written by Natan Kellermann, until the traumatic events are properly acknowledged and then the steps of the healing process properly followed, the trauma will continue to affect and distort the daily life of the victim and the secondary sufferers. Some symptoms that were mentioned from either direct sources or the family members of those primarily effected by the trauma are as follows: mourning and other emotions such as guilt, anger, anxiety, grief, etc. Also sleep problems including insomnia, nightmares, and other sleep problems and mental challenges dealing with depression, repression of difficult memories or feelings, overactive defense mechanisms causing problems with excessive fear, anxiety, lack of emotive or 'numb' response, etc... (Most of the symptoms of PTSD are present in this population.) Also, behavior that is defensive and not appropriate to the current situation is often found exhibited by victims. Some of these cognitive and behavioral challenges may affect the victim by holding them back from many social activities / events either emotionally or making special events that usually provoke joy to also cause sorrow and anger. These behaviors may vary per person and how the trauma has affected them, but it causes many parts of their daily life and activities to be challenged in a way that other unaffected individuals do not have to deal with. Other long term problems that sufferers may find are easier susceptibility to numerous other mental difficulties as well as stress related medical disorders.

A difficult and challenging problem to deal with... especially as we have had a few massacres performed on other groups since. I was listening to a commentary on a new music CD that was released by a group called 'Split Enz' (I think) a little bit ago and some of the songs on this album as well as past albums discuss the pain of the lead writer who is dealing with genocide of past relatives and his life of having to move and sometimes live a confusing existence as a refugee. One song was a poem by his mother who at the age of five lost many family members to genocide and he mixes his and her thoughts and feelings together in one song. As I was reading this week I thought about that interview and the struggles of people generations after the event as I hadn't really thought that much about it before.

A very difficult topic to be sure... what are your thoughts on this issue? Do you have any personal experience that you are willing to share? What do you think that we can do as a society to not only help victims of all crimes, but also try to help the families, caregivers and friends of those who have these challenges? Please share....


PTSD : The struggle between Homeostasis and Protection

Have I mentioned how much taking the class on “Genocide and Torture” this semester has really been such a blessing? I have known so little about PTSD and other symptoms and consequences of horrific human behavior and I feel like I have learned so much not only about other people, but also about how my body and my brain reacts to things which I have never understood before- at least not very well. I spent some time this week looking at how two specific systems in our body are used to help the body in times of threat and how it returns to its 'normal' state of being. And while doing these readings, it was really interesting to find out how PTSD actually changes the way that these systems function and causes some of the symptoms that cause sufferers of this disorder so many problems.

So the first group we looked at was a part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. It is actually one of the divisions in the autonomic nervous system. From my past medical days, I would remember what it used to do by reminding myself that the autonomic system controls almost all of our involuntary functions such as cardiac muscle, all smooth muscle in the body and also some of the glands. The sympathetic system is easily remembered (to me anyway) because it is the 'action committee' or it could also be seen as the person who feels sorrow for the hurts of a friend and leaps into action to try and help. “Fight or Flight” is the name of its mission statement per se and so when the body (or the mind) needs or believes it has encountered a threat to the body, the 'committee' leaps into action. Our heart rate gets faster (usually our breathing does too), our body shuts down its 'temporarily' unnecessary organs from normal blood flow to improve circulation to the heart, lungs, brain and muscles and the body also starts to release its reserves of stored energy so that the body has extra strength and zip when needed. There are two key neurotransmitters that are released into the body which help create this response; they are epinephrine and nor-epinephrine. The sympathetic nervous system plays a key role in how individuals can recognize a threat, feel fear and how each person will react and remember responses to future stimulus that I considered threatening.

Another response mechanism that the physical body has is called the Hypothalamic- Pituitary- Adrenal Axis. One of the most amazing things about our bodies is that all physical beings have a need to homeostasis- or keeping everything at a normal level. So when the body reacts to something, the body also has ways to attempt to bring the body back to its normal way of being. These hormones try to restore the body to a proper natural state after the person has experienced stress, fear, etc... So when a person has been under the influence of a 'stressor', the hypothalamus releases a hormone that goes to work on the pituitary gland to release another hormone. That hormone works of the adrenal glands to stimulate another hormone that helps to calm the body and 'turn off' the signals of the high 'stress' hormones and neuro transmitters.

In the average individual, these systems work together really well to help a person deal with a significant threat (or perceived threat) in good ways and then brings the body back to a normal level of function. In someone with PTSD, however, these systems do not always work the way that they were intended. So, the sympathetic system can be turned on over sounds or events that are not currently happening, memories etc... and the body will response as if the threat is clear and present. Other studies had shown that some people with PTSD have challenges with incorporating or being sensitive enough to the hormones that turn the stress response off. So people with these challenges are more likely to be overly stressed often and have more challenges in getting the body calmed down and focused again for their regular tasks and needs. That seems like an extra challenge to be sure!

So, take a few minutes and think.... How does your body react to stress and how well does it call down? If you have PTSD, how do you think your body reacts differently than someone else that does not? What techniques do you use to try and help your body reach a level of calm faster?


Brief Thoughts on the Industrial Revolution

Almost all of us who have studied a little history have heard the term “Industrial Revolution” and have the basic concept of what that term means. What I find most interesting is what that term tends to leave out without deeper study and what it shows about us and the ways we as human beings and historians think. Because the term tends to suggest only huge alterations in 'industry' or business... and not in much else. However, during this time of changes many ways of human's lives in Europe changed in drastic ways and for the majority of people, not just a small group of few. These occurrences started to happen in society around 1750 may have started small but quickly made huge changes that could be seen in a short period of time. These changes can be easily seen and divided and described in four categories: industry, commerce, communications and agriculture. The first country in which these changes started to roll forth was Great Britain. If you look at some of the reasons that this country was able to step to the forefront, we can surmise some of the things that we need today to help other countries be able to expand – will talk about these advantages down below. :) One of the first things that seemed to start the 'revolution' was that large landowners in England started closing off their lands and as this practice became legal with the passage of Enclosure Acts, this process left hundreds of poor peasants without land to farm or work.

It was the process of removing the serfs and peasants from the lands that brought people to the cities and helped create a large, available and cheap work force. This created more demand for goods in the cities as well as work. So wealthy merchants or others could try and increase production to meet this demand which would in turn create more jobs. This also created the challenge of how to feed a large population with fewer people actually farming which had been the norm in times past. Agriculture changed a great deal with the Enclosure Acts as the large landowners could now farm very differently than has been accomplished in the past. Instead of several small plots of land farmed by families, a landowner could now farm hundreds of acres and instead of a variety of crops, the farmer could choose to focus on two or three popular and ready to sell crops. These crops could then be sold to feed people in other areas, to create other goods to sell such as cloth and also purchase a variety of foods to feed themselves and their families. As machines were invented to also make harvesting some crops easier with fewer people, many farmers began to grow cotton and other products as their major crops which were needed for making cloth, garments, etc... in the cities and could gain a good cash price. So industry was able to grow as businesses were able to increase production which also developed more work and increased profits for the investors or well off owners.

Commerce also began to increase as people started ignoring the guild policies and just began creating and selling goods for themselves to sell. In the past, guilds had helped limit how many goods could be made because there was a limit of how many people could make the goods. This had now changed and as people invented machines and found new ways – with water and coal- to move the machines to create products such as cloth, this also increased the quantity of good available, the variety of goods and brought prices down... which made purchasing goods possible for people who it would not have been financially feasible for before. As more people could buy goods, more goods needed to be made to keep up with the need which in turn would create more jobs, etc... The flood of agricultural products into cities helped entrepreneurs and other leaders of commerce to build larger businesses so that they could increase their supplies and sale-able goods... and brought the prices of food down as well. With all this growth and the need by the cities... and soon countries to move these goods to their place of sale quicker, travel and communication became significant challenges that people worked to overcome. It was during this time that trains were developed and the telegraph was invented- both of which helped move messages and goods quickly and efficiently to other areas. Soon people of moderate means could afford to use these forms of communication as well as the possibility to purchase newspapers or trips on trains that encouraged more openness and trade between the cities and countries they connected.

I see these four processes are spokes on the same wheel. Apart, none of the groups would have grown very quickly and change would have been small. Industry would have had very slow growth if any because there was not a large, legal work force without other jobs nor was there a large population who had money to buy the goods if the quantity of produced goods had increased. Large landowners couldn't have created the wealth that they did by their mono-culture crops if the majority of their lands were still leased by peasants. Commerce couldn't have grown at all without more goods at cheaper prices and people who felt like they could afford to purchase them. It was also able to grow because people could 'pool' their wealth to help develop a business and so individuals who didn't have enough assets and cash to start a business could still invest in a business which could make them more money. And the advances in communication made the growth of the later three quicker and more efficient as well as allowing most people to have more information of what was going on in the world around then.... making the world much larger and smaller indeed. :)

The European standard of living was significantly improved in many way by the Industrial revolution. Over time more people were able to live more comfortably, to own more clothing and goods and to have more options for work than people had in past generations. Heck, the ideas of the Enlightenment suggested that enjoying this life we have now was possible and acceptable and so the focus of living 'to get to eternity' that had been the past comfort to suffering masses was no longer the main belief of most people. The idea that everyone could improve themselves and their lives through education and hard work opened up people (all right... mostly men) to try and invent, learn and strive to rise through the ranks of society... something that had been impossible for most everyone for centuries. You no longer 'had' to go to church or belong to a specific church- don't get me wrong, it still helped make your life easier to be active in the 'right' church. The most significant improvements during this time came from some improvements in medicine, more work opportunities, opportunities to own more and for more people to participate in both commerce and consumption, as well as opportunities to travel and learn more about the world through newspapers, trains, and other forms of communication. For the first time in history news and knowledge could travel faster than people and ordinary people could participate if they could find the means to do so. Fewer people were always on the border of starvation – that was a great improvement indeed! Over time, sanitation was also improved and so disease would not be so rampant in so much of the city. Education was also more available and was available for more people.

Cities and towns had been fairly small and slow growing before the Industrial revolution. With the huge influx of workers from the rural areas and the growth of new businesses, buildings, etc... towns became cities and large cities grew to phenomenal sizes. Pollution from coal burning gave many cities entirely new 'atmospheres' as the air was heavier, had more fog and was darker as well. Cities also tended to have a great many more families living in them (so more children) than in the past. People in cities tended over time become more segregated into groups by ethnicity, income and community connections (such as family) and as such, city growth was not carefully planned. Buildings sprung up with in a few days and with very little planning... and were sometimes very close together and 'squished'. Lots of people coupled with the inability to be as sanitary as the country (due to proximity vs. amount of land) caused an increase of disease as well as disability and death. Cities were filled with very large businesses (such as factories) instead of the majority of small and so even children would work in the large factories... sometimes for as long as sixteen hours a day. As the population increased, it also help create a feeling of anonymity and fewer feelings of community which also caused other challenges such as upticks in certain amounts of crime, etc... Over time, smaller businesses became more permanent (the traveling salesman wasn't as popular) and smaller businesses developed ways to make shopping more attractive such as indoor light and windows.

Great Britain was uniquely situated to take full advantage of the growth during this time for a few reasons. One is that as the country had not fought a war of in soil for many decades. So the land and cities had not been as damaged and war-torn as most of Europe. Britain’s government was stable and had been so awhile so other institutions like banking and the law were pretty stable which gave investors and entrepreneurs less nervousness and more incentive to invest and create new businesses without the fear that the government might change and shut down their business... or war might destroy the buildings and worth forth. (As it was also one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, that also allowed for more investment.) As a smaller country covered in rivers and waterways, transporting goods was a lot faster than over land which also gave Great Britain an edge over some of the countries in Europe. With the Enclosure Acts, large landowners were able to force huge numbers of peasants off the lands they had been living on for generations and created a large workforce that needed jobs. As business taxes were generally lower in England and merchants and entrepreneurs were more socially acceptable in society, it is no surprise that Great Britain really surged forward in growth and development during the Industrial revolution.

What are your thoughts? Did you learn anything new? :)


PTSD, Torture Specific Syndrome and the Varied Effects of Torture

In some of my readings, this week I was asked to look into the symptoms of psychological torture and how they differ from 'physical' torture. The psychological effects of torture are many, varied and while not as easily 'seen' by the naked eye as physical torture... as just as damaging to the victim's mental, physical and cultural health. However, unlike physical torture, psychological torture is harder to define, prove cause and effect, as well as determine whether it has occurred at all. (Maybe that is why more 'civilized nations' such as the United States will use it more than physical torture.... it gives the leaders plausible deniability. It also appears to give the perpetrators the 'idea' of being humanitarian but also getting the results that they are looking for.) So, whether torture was provided by physical means, psychological... or some of both, all have many of the same effects on the person affected. Isolation, for example, tends to produce changed brain function, disorientation, etc.... and has been described to have some of the same effects as a severe physical beating.

Other symptoms can be insomnia, PTSD and other mental health challenges, emotions such as guilt, pain, grief, anger, as well as problems that can bring back the images and feelings inappropriately. Many victims can feel pain in different areas of their bodies (constant or intermittent), migraines / headaches, troubles eating, social and relationship difficulties as well as severe problems with self identity. Delusions and other psychosis can be caused as well.

Unfortunately, it is also suggested by statistics and interviews that the people around the persona affected end up with many of the same symptoms, challenges and negative world views as the actual victim. So torture is not just the destruction and damage to one human life, but several... a bit like second hand smoke.... invisible but quietly making some internal changes that become difficulties and illnesses over time.

Torture Specific syndrome is usually described by four categories of symptoms:

1. impaired memory and concentration
2. sleep disturbances / nightmares
3. anxiousness, depression, physical symptoms that come without any findable cause, such as stomach complaints, breathing and heart problems,
4. other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety

These symptoms appear very similar to me as almost the same symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and I suspect that these disorders are treated very similarly if not in the same ways. I'm actually a bit skeptical (and the textbook suggests many others are as well) that they are actually different disorders. It seems like they are just slightly different ways to describe the same problem. I wonder if people would feel more comfortable with one name over another.... like some parents did with the terms Asperger's over autism even though they are parts of the same thing. Not sure. Definitely some challenging reading this week. :)

What do you think? If you have been diagnosed with either disorder... which name 'feels' more comfortable to you? Any thoughts?


“Wings” and What Not.... :D

So this week, I was able to watch most of a remastered film called “Wings”. It was a 1927 American action silent film (all words were written in borders) that starred Clara Bow, one of the great early actresses of film. The film was an original black and white, silent film w/ dramatic narration and some remastered affects that had been added (such as the orange, red plums form the back of disabled planes crashing to earth.) While this film was mostly based on war – WWII in particular, it had several aspects of the script and directing that I found interesting and worthy of analyzing and extra thought.

Clara Bow mentioned once that she felt she was put in the film because she was the studio's most popular actress and that the film didn't need her... but I will say that I loved her in the film and I'm not sure the film would have had the same 'open' flavor that I felt it had with her in it. To be blunt, I don't think it would have been at all enjoyable for me without her in it. It was her expressions and her feelings toward the character Jack Powell that actually drew me into the film and caused me to have interest in the film at all. Clara played a character called Mary Preston who found it very challenging to hide her feelings and love for Jack Powell. Jack was very attracted to another girl named Sylvia Lewis, but Sylvia is in love with a boy named David Armstrong. The boy's rivalry follows them when they both enlist in the Army to be fighter pilots and only after some tension do both David and Jack find a way to get along and become friends. The movie plot follows these two young men through the war as well as Mary Preston and how the war changed them. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it if you have the inclination.

One of the acting techniques that silent films needed to use in the past to help the viewers understand the plot of the film was to use written narration. When parts of the plot needed to move along faster, a little music and some written words could not only change the scene but also lets us as an audience know exactly how everything had changed- environment, situation, etc... In our current media, much of what we use to help move plot and emotion along is words. Films also use body language and facial expression, but words and sound really matters. Many films use sound and facial expression to help us to realize the thoughts of the characters we are watching. This film being soundless had only two options to let the audience know what was going on- the narration and the music... or the body language and facial movements. Pantomime is a wonderful skill and I felt like the written language in the film wasn't very useful to me... I felt pulled into the story through every movement on the character's faces. These actors used everything they had to express what was in their head and I felt like I could understand the words that that were said – even though I couldn't hear them- I could understand just from their faces and their eyes. Most of the emotions / thoughts that I could feel coming from the actors that helped me to understand what was going on seemed to come from directly from their eyes. At one point I found myself staring at Clara Bow and felt pulled in... sucked into her frustration and sorrow over Jack, fear for his safety and excitement over her new opportunity to drive which opens up her world a bit more. That skill- it is definitely a skill- is something that most actors these days can't (or at least don't) do. I wouldn't be at all unhappy if I found some time to finish the film outside of class. :)

So what silent films have you seen? Do you have a favorite? If you have watched this film, what did you think about it. This was my first introduction to Clara Bow and I would love to watch more things that she starred in. I felt like she was that good! Please share your thoughts... :)


PTSD / Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome - The Basics and the Personal

This week I took an in-depth look at post-traumatic stress syndrome... otherwise known as PTSD. My experience with PTSD is both personal and community orientated. Some of my family knows that I have this diagnosis, but for those that do not... I am coming out of the closet ;) I was diagnosed with PTSD three years ago stemming from experiences that occurred before I was eighteen in my parent's household. (I am not trying to be mean about my parents … I frankly think at this point that they did the best they knew how and complaining or blaming doesn't change anything.) I have some friends who also suffer from this disorder and some acquaintances who struggle with it so badly that they really find it difficult to get through the day... every day. One challenge that people with this disorder face every day is that this problem isn't normally visible to the world around them. Unlike someone who is in a wheelchair or has a different physical problem, the world around you doesn't know for the most part that you need certain care, what that care is, etc... So when a situation changes and puts the individual into instinctual action, everyone surrounding you for the most part is unprepared to deal with it and the individual themselves just struggles to hold themselves together and pull their mind and feelings back to the present.

So for those individuals that do not know much about post traumatic stress disorder, let me share some of the basics. PTSD is usually caused by events that happen to a person (or persons) that are out of the ordinary and which someone's 'life or integrity' is at risk, affected, etc... The action can happen to the person or someone can develop this disorder from witnessing something severely challenging. When described in those words it seems (at least to me) like something simple and most simple things are easy to fix. From my own personal experience as well as the experiences that have been shared with me by friends or family, it is not simple at all. Another thing that I have noticed in my experiences is that PTSD is different and is responded to differently by anyone who has it and when I asked about that idea at a conference last year I was told that happens because people's personalities and how they handle and react to things initially are different and also their experiences and how they feel about them are different. Some healthcare professionals also believe that PTSD is more likely to affect 'vulnerable people' such as those with fewer defense mechanisms, fewer safe resources in family and friends, people with low self esteem, etc.... and others believe that getting the disorder could cause the self esteem, defense problems, etc... (Reminds me a little bit of the age old question of which came first... the chicken or the egg.) While most people have heard of PTSD being a consequence for soldiers who have experienced military combat, it is also common for victims of abuse, rape, torture and more. If there is one part of the definition that seems a bit challenging to define, it's 'out of the ordinary world experience'...? Wouldn't that also depend on the individual involved and what was normal for them? A good reason that even defining what causes the disorder can be difficult!

Even though the exact description of the problem isn't precise, the symptoms of PTSD are very easily defined. There are three categories that symptoms can easily be placed in; re-experience, avoidance, and arousal. Here is a basic breakdown of what those categories cover.

1. Re-experience - These symptoms include flashbacks and /or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or much longer. Some people get difficult dreams about the traumatic event(s)

2. Avoidance - Some symptoms include the attempt to try to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event, avoiding activities or people that you used to enjoy, feeling hopeless and anxiety about the future, difficulty with memory as well as emotional challenges (such as feeling numb or unable to feel much), and difficulty concentrating as well as maintain close, personal relationships.

3. Arousal - Some symptoms people may feel are increased anxiety, irritability / anger, trouble sleeping, being easily startled, frightened (jumpy), large quantities of guilt or shame, self destructive behavior in an attempt at self medicating or suppressing the problem, and even other mental disorders that can be caused by the heightened emotional and mental challenges

One thing that I spent a lot of time thinking about was the difference between remembering the experience and reliving it. At first, I didn't see much of a difference, but the more I thought about it ... I realized there is a very big difference! One thing that came to mind, I thought about a few people I know and how this disorder affects the way they do things. I thought of a friend who tends to make chaos in every situation she is in and it gives her something to feel good about and also sets her up as a victim if people get angry at her. She also misinterprets facial expressions and if some one gives her a quizzical look, she is enraged and will shun or try to hurt that person for weeks in her anger... yet also separates herself from anyone but family as well at that time. She never sleeps well and has migraines approximately twelve days of the month. One reason I was interested in this subject was that I want to understand how to help people dealing with trauma better than I do so that maybe I can be of help to others as they struggle. Maybe I can learn how to understand myself better and not have so much fear behind the 'smile'. My friend also fears the future and her children are their mother's PTSD? Not sure and that is just speculation on my part. I really wish there was something I could do for her, but I really can't figure anything out.

There are many treatments out there for this condition, but as people are different they are not always as successful as they could be. Doctors used medications as well as counseling and other therapies to try and help patients. I use medication and prayer as well as an anti-depressant and try to avoid situations which can cause me more challenges and panic. For the most part, that really helps me to do the things I need to and want to do comfortably and not have problems... which is a wonderful thing! I know that some brain problems an be helped by therapy to 'change' the wiring of the brain such as in sensory integration disorder (SID), sensory processing disorder (SPD), etc... I wonder if PTSD is more challenging than some disorders such as the ones I just mentioned because PTSD is something that was forced 'onto' the body and not an original part of it......

I would love to hear some of your thoughts... Do any of you have experience in helping people (or yourself) with this problem? What has been successful and helpful for you? If any of my readers feel comfortable sharing, please feel free to continue the conversation and we can learn together. :)


"Primary Colors" and the Blurring of Vision

When the book first came out in 1996 by Anonymous, I was really not interested in reading it and I pretty much felt the same way when the movie came out. I had a gut feeling about both the movie and book that is a little convoluted, but came down to three thoughts; I don't really like films that seem solely political or are heavily about politics, I didn't want to watch a 'slam' movie about the Clintons even if I wasn't one of their biggest fans, and I felt like it would just be a waste of time. So I didn't think about it and the world moved on....

So... second week in class and I'm sitting watching another movie I had no interest in except that I had been intrigued by the movie clips shown in my first week of class so I was hopeful that I would learn something and have fun this time... and I did. I was really affected by the film - both emotionally and intellectually. I didn't sleep for several hours afterwards because I really needed to digest the feelings and thoughts it provoked. After much contemplation, I decided to write about the largest emotional paradox that I found when watching and analyzing this film.

This film gave a reporter's viewpoint....or a 'loose' biography about President Bill Clinton's first primary election and some of the challenges he faced: political, personal, and moral. These ideas were portrayed through characters named Jack and Susan Stanton.

Susan - "It's four in the morning- let's just tell the truth"

The underlying emotional theme that I felt throughout the film was how much all of us, and especially me, live in a paradox when we are politically active. To be informed and to try and make informed decisions, a person usually does some research, talks with friends and family, reads or listens to the candidates and their views... and then we hopefully make our choices on the ballot based on what we think is right for us, our neighbors and community, and what our moral and intelligent self believes to be the right choices for all. However, while we do all this, most of us understand that what we are told, read, hear in ads, etc... is not only biased, but sometimes not the least bit true. We know this, instinctively and intellectually... and yet we make our choices based on these 'truths' that we know to be wrong, biased or at least not totally truthful; or factual.

Henry - "I want to believe it."
"I'll take the liar"

So why do we make the choices that we do? Why do we believe any of it... why do we know about the paradox and yet yield and participate in it?

Libby - “...Without them, I'm dark and black and cold and dead and empty and airless for eternity....”

And that pretty much says it all. Inside all of us - we want to believe and we all want to feel a connection to greatness... or what we think is greatness. We want to believe in the person, in what they say, in their promises for better things. As proof of that we rarely elect the moral, truthful person. We understand and expect the phoniness of politics and our politicians. We see the bad, the ugly and we compartmentalize it in our minds and view the thoughts separately if we are still willing to give the person a chance. I'm loath to admit it, but charisma, acting, and good looks with a lot of money still go pretty far in this country...especially in both the professions of acting/theater and politics. In many ways they are bred of the same cloth and that is easily evidenced by some of our politicians - Reagan or Schwarzenegger to name two.

I have believed for many years that real politicians are true 'shape shifters' or maybe benign 'boggarts' (from Harry Potter.) They can make us feel good and right and cared for even as they do things that horrify and sicken us. We accept the worst in them that we wouldn't accept in ourselves or most others. This film brought that home very strongly for me as I found myself disappointed in and disgusted by Jack Stanton... yet rooting for him to win in the end. And I found myself almost crying at the death of Libby realizing that my idealism in politics is just as dead even if I am still breathing. An amazing film on some extraordinary lives.


2013 Poetry Corner #6 - "To Be"

To dream is to stretch your soul
... to reach out of your reality to a new place
... to hope for future peace

To plan is to stretch your mind
... to focus on the changes that must be
... to hold onto a goal with purpose

To try is to acknowledge possibility
... of both failure and success
... to move onward anyway

To grow is to reach forth
... to know that to gain may cause pain
... that through adversity, we gain strength

To love is to believe
... to know that the Father loves us
... to have faith in ourselves
... to be