sexta-feira, 27 de novembro de 2009

Extended College Education: Free Conversation Gathering

A cycle of 3 Free Conversation Gathering Event will be held at your college on a monthly basis, upon the following topics, on a monthly basis (free event):

Love and Relationship in a Postmodern Society
Internet and Cultural Freedom
The First African-American President


Sergio Machado

Conversation expert graduated from Florida Institute of Technology in 1981. Additional courses include Advanced English Grammar, Bachelor of Law from PUC Sao Paulo.
Teaching English language since 1983 at institutes such as Berlitz, Mine Language Center and Cel-Lep. In-company consultant for translation and support in English. Postmodern Pop culture scholar, especially Western music culture. Developed and produced radio programs for Eldorado FM, featuring stories of various artists and bands having also interviewed celebrities such as Winton Marsalis, Buddy Guy, John Mayall, Annie Haslam (Renaissance), Steve Winwood, Chuck Leavell (The Rolling Stones keyboard player) among others.

Yugo Kabeya
Translator and language scholar graduated in Political Science BA at Sophia University, specializing in international politics, history and general Asian culture.
Having worked for Sony Corporation as language director, Yugo Kabeya was also Far Eastern foreign correspondent. Founding member and director of the Support Committee for Latin American Workers.
He has also participated in research project concerning financing and environmental impact by Greenpeace, and contributed to AMPO journal at Asia-Pacific Research Center as an English editor, interpreter and translator. He has also worked as a translator for the United Nations University in Tokyo.

Pre-requisite: Upper Intermediate English

quinta-feira, 26 de novembro de 2009

The Obama effect: Researchers Cite President's Role in Reducing Racism

President Obama spurred a dramatic change in the way whites think about African-Americans before he had even set foot in the Oval Office, according to a new study.

Florida State University Psychology Professor E. Ashby Plant and University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Patricia Devine have documented a decrease in racial prejudice during the Fall 2008 period between the Democratic Party's nomination of Barack Obama and the Nov. 4 election. They call it the Obama Effect.

"The unprecedented drop in implicit bias observed in our studies indicates that the impact of Obama's historic campaign went beyond his winning the election," the researchers wrote in a paper outlining the study's results that has not yet been published. "It appears to have produced a fundamental change in at least the minds of the American public. Although the full impact of this historic election will play out over time, we are encouraged by the early returns."

About 300 non-black (white, Asian or Hispanic) college students in Wisconsin and Florida participated in a variety of experiments and surveys designed to measure stereotyping and implicit prejudice — that is, the kind of prejudice that is typically described as "automatic" or "knee-jerk" and, although not directly stated, can influence people's behavior. The researchers found that 51 percent of the participants demonstrated automatic preferences for white people. The others had no preference or preferred blacks.

This is significant because previous research, even Plant's own studies conducted on the same college campuses, typically has found that about 80 percent of white people demonstrate an automatic preference for other whites.

The researchers suspected that the dramatic change could be attributed to exposure to Obama during his presidential campaign and sought to find out if there was indeed, a connection. To do so, they asked participants what comes to mind when they think  of African-Americans and what they anticipated would come to mind for others when they think of African-Americans. Participants listed a range of responses, including traits, physical characteristics, food items and people. Almost 22 percent listed Obama on at least one list, and 50 percent named at least one other positive exemplar such as Martin Luther King Jr.

"The fact that close to a quarter of our participants listed Obama indicates that he had permeated many people's consciousness to the point that he was highly accessible," Plant said. "We were able to demonstrate that the accessibility of positive exemplars in people's minds was related to their degree of implicit bias."

What's more: Those who had low levels of implicit prejudice were quick to make an association between race and government — a connection the researchers believe is directly attributable to Obama. In this experiment, participants were exposed to the word "black" on a computer screen for 55 milliseconds. Although the exposure was too brief for conscious processing, these participants quickly selected government-related words such as president, election or senator rather than neutral words in a lexical decision task.

Although researchers found a decrease in stereotyping of blacks, it is still notable that 51 percent demonstrated a bias against blacks, Plant said.

"Our findings suggest that these people are less likely to have positive exemplars and words related to Obama's campaign come to mind when they think of black people," Plant said. "However, it is not clear why they responded this way. It is possible they were less exposed to the campaign media blitz. Alternatively, the strength and stability of their racial attitudes may have resulted in a resistance to change."

The researchers noted that the longevity of the effects is unclear, and it's also not known whether the positive impact of the exposure to Obama will continue. The success of his presidency may have implications for his future role as an exemplar.

"If his presidency is highly successful, he would activate positive traits, thoughts and feelings for most people," the researchers said. "However, the result may be less positive should his presidency prove to be less successful."

Plant and Devine's research team included FSU doctoral students Corey Columb, Saul L. Miller, Joanna Goplen and B. Michelle Peruche and UW-Madison doctoral student William T.L. Cox. The study was funded in part by a National Science Foundation grant.


Jill Elish


sábado, 21 de novembro de 2009

Love and Relationships in a Postmodern Society

These days, we are all keenly aware of the changing roles of genders. There were days when one had to take on, against one’s wish, a role assigned by one’s own gender because of material necessities. It made sense for men who were physically stronger to go hunting, and for women who were physically equipped to nurture children to stay home. Today, chiefly because of technological advancements, the differences between sexes became less relevant. We all therefore strive to evolve ourselves more ideologically. The question I want to address below is this: If technological advancement renders the differences between sexes irrelevant, then how about the concept of family?

A family is essentially a unit of support system. There were days when human beings could not survive without it. Those days are over. Today, most of us can survive perfectly fine on our own without receiving any support from our families. This renders a family as a support system less meaningful. This is analogous to the modern situation of women where they do not need to be dedicated to domestic chores. The traditional assignment of women to these domestic roles is less meaningful now.
Just as there are those who find comfort in playing the traditional roles of sexes, many find comfort in playing the traditional roles of family. A family as a support system works in a similar way to organized crimes. You receive a sense of security, helping hands, and emotional support from your family, but in return you must pay your dues. As in a typical Mafia family, you don’t want to spell out what these dues are. You do not talk about them as something you have to do, but as something you want to do. In other words, you are required to be generous to other members of your family, but this is where the hypocrisy lies. Generosity or unconditionality in family is only a pretense in most situations.
Whenever we do something that we don’t want to do, as a human being, we cannot help expecting something in return, whether it is money, a sense of appreciation, or a favor in the future. As a counter-argument, take, for instance, those who seem unconditionally generous. They are usually happy people who feel that they are getting more than a fair share of happiness, so they want to share with others part of what they have. The reason why they do not expect anything back is because they want to be generous. If they felt they have to, they would end up expecting something in return. The level at which a person feels happy about his life varies. Some may never feel it no matter how much money they make, while others may feel it even if they can hardly survive. Either way, if you do something you don’t want to do, you will end up expecting something in return. Then, it is no longer generocity; only pretense.

This has certain implications. If someone requests your help as a form of generosity, and if you don’t feel you want to, then you are better off being honest, and saying no. That is, if, say, your cousin wants you to be generous, but you don’t feel like it, then just say no. If you feel you have to be generous, you cease to be generous because you end up expecting something back. So, you would only be pretending to be generous. By accepting his request, you are lying to him and yourself. Many people end up saying yes, because they want to think of themselves as someone generous. You can’t consciously be generous; you are as generous as you are. If you push yourself to be generous, you will end up expecting something back.
Given this nature of human beings and the fact that we no longer need a support system, a family in our postmodern era is destined to be something rather ugly. A postmodern family, for the most part, is a system of codependency. It is a nest from which many refuse to fly away. They mistake their dependency on each other as love. They also confuse their fear of losing their family members with love, when in fact it is the fear of losing their support systems. They love the sense of security their family can provide, but they hate paying their dues. It is unavoidable for a family to be full of disappointments, misunderstandings, unfulfilled expectations, and back-stabbings. Somewhere deep down, they know that they should fly away from the nest, that it is not necessary, and that they can be truly independent without expecting anything from their families, but they become scared. They think: What if I become disabled? What if I contract HIV? What if I incur a huge debt? These fears make the idea of family sounds very attractive again. They think to themselves, “Perhaps, I should help my cousin for his wedding.”

For a family where codependence is severe, each member is a bag of heroin to each other; a mixture of love and hate. Codependence fosters unhealthy competitions. They see their dependent selves projected onto each other, and they don’t like what they see. As a form of denial, they desperately try to be different from other members of the family, whether it is to be happier, more successful, or more independent. But they do so only superficially. They might take off from their nest briefly, but they come right back only to brag about it. In the end, no one truly takes off from the nest. Even if they live physically in different houses, mentally they have never left home. They love the sense of security their family provides, but they hate the ugly images of themselves they see in each other. So develops the relationship of love and hate.

Part of the dues you pay as a family member is to be representable. That is, you are expected to be good enough to represent your family, because you believe that who you are and what you do reflect on the entire family. As long as you are a member of the family, you must live up to their expectations. The deal is fair because they don’t respect your individuality, and you don’t respect theirs either. Their identities and yours too become codependent. Guilt by association, like racism. If you want them to respect your individuality, you have to respect their individuality too, which means that even if your uncle is a gay pornographer, you must respect him for what he is, and not interfere with his business. You have to let other members of your family be what they are even if you disapprove what they do and believe, or even if their identities embarrass you.

Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. The more freedom you have, the more responsibility you have. Freedom means independence. Responsibility means taking risks. You can’t have one and not the other. The more you hide behind the security of a family, the less freedom you have. If you must rely on your family to live, you will have to listen to their opinions even for matters that are personal, like marriage. What do you expect? A deal is a deal.

The ugliest form of codependency is seen in a family where the parents fully expect their children to take care of them when they retire. Their rationale is, “We took care of you when you were young, so you have to take care of us when we are old.” It would be perfectly fair if the child was capable of choosing parents at birth, but he had no choice in the matter. It is not like he could tell his parents at or before birth, “If those are the terms of the deal, then I’m going to go with some other parents.” It would also be understandable if the government or some other institutions forced the parents to have a child, but this rarely ever happens. Such an expectation by parents to take care of them after retirement is nothing short of exploitation.

Naturally, some family relationships are genuinely amicable. By this, I mean a kind of relationship where even if they weren’t related, they would still be great friends. Kinship in such a relationship is secondary to friendship. In our postmodern society, if we removed all the symbolisms associated with human relationships, the only one that is ideologically justifiable is friendship. Consider, for instance, if you would still be a friend if you found out that he is not really your father. If you feel you wouldn't be his friend, why do you invest so much time in such a person? An obvious, albeit meaningless, answer is: “Because he is my father.” But, what does being your father mean in today’s world? Once you are an independent adult yourself, what meaning does the word “father” have if he cannot be your friend? Instinctively it seems wrong to dismiss your own father as a mere friend or as just another person, but in our society where there is no true need for a support system, you need to question what it means, otherwise you become a slave to traditions, just as some women still are victims of the traditional roles of gender.

If you are willing and capable of helping others, why discriminate between a family member and a non-family member? One can only afford to give so much help to others that if one puts priority on one’s own family members, unavoidably less will go to outsiders. This in turn means that those without their own families will receive less help in general, because people are less willing to help non-family members. From a different perspective, I could argue that if it weren’t for the tradition of family, we would be far more willing to help each other in general. People become more fearful of being without a family support system, because others discriminate against them. In this manner, family-based support system perpetuates itself and its own fear and insecurity. If we did not discriminate based on kinship, we would be able to get enough help from each other, and family as a support system would be entirely unnecessary.

If you don’t expect anything from your parents, and if they don’t expect anything from you, then anything you do for each other is truly out of love; no deals or silent obligations. If each member of your family was independent enough and did not require each other’s help, perhaps your help could be extended to someone else who never had a family. In this type of ideal world where the tradition of family is irrelevant, there will be only one family on earth to which all of us belong.


sexta-feira, 20 de novembro de 2009

The Internet and Cultural Feedom

Allen Ginsberg (American Poet, 1926-97) said: “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.”

The word Media can be described as “the main means of mass communication (esp. television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet)”.

Here lies the problem: Fewer organizations control the media than ever before. There are essentially 5 big media organization. To see what they own, go to the following website: Who controls the media at (note: this relates to American media).

After research you will quickly realize that there are only a few large organizations controlling media output. The top 5 media organizations are: General Electric, Time Warner, Disney, Viacom and News Corporation. Perhaps it’s natural that some media companies would dominate over others, after all, we live in a free market where the strongest will grow and absorb competition. However, this may be to our own detriment. The current arrangement, where only a few global corporations dominate media output, could have negative consequence for cultural development. In his book, Free Culture, author Lawrence Lessig says: “Never in our history have fewer had a legal right to control more of the development of our culture than now”. In other words, the mass media is produced by only a few incredibly influential and powerful organizations. The problem with only having a few very powerful media organizations is that all media is filtered and controlled by the few. If we as a society actively elected these organizations to filter and control the media available to us, like democratically elected media channels, we could be said to be in control of media output. The problem lies in the fact that we do not elect these media organizations, yet whenever we read a newspaper, or watch TV, it is almost certain we are absorbing the media of the top 5 media organizations.

This is why the Internet is a breakthrough in cultural freedom. For the first time, people have mass access to the voices of millions of people sharing information. For example, we are no longer required to read published newspapers for second hand accounts of the latest war horrors, we are able to read about them first hand from the people who are actually involved, in the form of text, images or video. Text, images and video presented by magazines, newspapers and television channels were once the most reliable sources of media available, now these mediums hold less importance than ever, because access to websites like Flickr and blogging tools like Wordpress allow real people to tell their stories first hand, without the restrictions of company ideology.

For these reasons we should strive to prevent freedom being taken away from the Internet in any shape or form. Organizations under threat from new technology (think: record labels and p2p music file sharing), should adapt and work with these new systems, not stifle and restrict them with potentially damaging laws. Groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) bullying tactics should no longer be tolerated. Why? because it leads to the restriction of freedom of information.