Author Archives: Alexander Atkins

Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: 1984

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

Today we will reimagine the opening paragraph of George Orwell’s eerily prescient dystopian novel 1984. Having witnessed the horrors of autocratic governments of Russia and Spain in the mid 20-century, Orwell wrote 1984 to warn readers about the dangers of autocracy — physical torture and execution of political foes or disloyal citizens, suppression of the press and critical voices, monitoring of citizens, promoting conformity, the propaganda of lies, manipulation of the truth, the use of language to control thought, and technology used for evil. In the first sentence, Orwell immediately introduces something highly unusual: a clock striking thirteen. How is that even possible? And not just one clock — all the clocks are striking thirteen. Welcome to the tightly controlled world of Oceana where things are not what they seem: it is the role of a totalitarian government to control what you believe, how you behave — in short, every every aspect of your life: “the clock has thirteen hours because the Party says it does. Accept it and don’t ever question it.” The protagonist, Winston Smith steps into a world that is vile and dusty — not just physically, but psychologically, politically, and philosophically. When you carefully analyze how mercurial President Trump and his administration works, you can’t help notice so many similarities with the Party portrayed in Orwell’s novel — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin, covered by a N95 face mask, nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind whipping past FEMA’s medical tent city that had sprung up almost overnight, slipped quickly through the glass doors of the Beresford though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him. 

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a color poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a meter wide: the face of a man of about seventy, with a ridiculous hairstyle: a sandy-reddish helmet of hair, where all the ends are drawn up, meeting in the center, then swept back and glued into place with hair spray. The hair accentuated a squarish head that was distinguished by an odd orangish complexion, except for pinkish circles surrounding each eye, creating the effect of a raccoon’s face. The expression was menacing — narrowed, beady eyes, beneath lowered bushy eyebrows and the mouth was firmly set. Winston made for the stairs using his iPhone as a flashlight. It was no use trying the elevator due to social distancing protocols. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electricity was cut off during daylight hours because the Party deemed that the electric company was not an essential business during the COVID-10 pandemic. Besides, most electricians were sheltering in place. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week — Congressmen’s way of spreading their dysfunctional hatred of one another to the citizens they were supposed to represent. The apartment was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had an untreated varicose ulcer above his right ankle since he couldn’t afford healthcare (the Party repealed the Affordable Care Act because citizens were expendable), went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the elevator shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. TRUMP IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: Moby-Dick

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

Today we will reimagine the opening paragraph of Herman Melville’s magnum opus Moby-Dick or The Whale, a highly symbolic, profound allegory wrapped around a simple whaling story. In the first paragraph, Melville introduces us to one of the most famous, but most enigmatic, narrators in literature: Ishmael.  Ishmael, a highly intelligent, articulate, but humble, individual is the counter to the larger-than life captain of the Pequod, Ahab who represents the classic tragic hero. Recall Aristotle’s definition of the tragic hero: “a person who must evoke a sense of pity and fear in the audience. He is considered a man of misfortune that comes to him through error of judgment.” In this case, Ahab’s tragic flaw is hubris. Ahab obsessively pursues his nemesis: the mighty white whale known as Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick is a potent multi-faceted symbol in the novel, transcending time and space; the whale represents evil; purity; the inscrutable;  as well as the all-powerful, all-knowing God. Ishmael is our guide through this deeply spiritual, psychological, and philosophical journey highlighting man’s age-old struggle between good and evil, the reconciliation of the known and the unknown, and the comprehension of man’s relationship with God — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

Call me Ishmael, my pronoun is “he,” my Twitter handle is #ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my digital wallet due to the economic collapse following the coronavirus pandemic, and nothing particular to interest me on shore after months of sheltering in place at the Spouter-Inn, I thought I would sail about a little, avoiding the perpetually virus-stricken cruise ships, and see the watery part of the world which is expanding exponentially due to the catastrophic climate crisis. It is a way I have of driving off my foul mood and regulating the ole blood circulation without having to resort to smoking crack. Whenever I find myself unhappy (especially after watching blowhard Trump rant about his ratings on another coronavirus daily briefing); whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before the beleaguered FEMA warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral — burying the latest COVID-19 victims — I meet; and especially whenever my feelings of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and beating someone mercilessly over a roll of toilet paper — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can to escape this soul-numbing shit show. This is my substitute for repeatedly touching my face after touching highly infected surfaces. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all my Facebook friends in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me based on all their “likes.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: A Tale of Two Cities
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The Most Influential People Who Never Lived
The Power of Literature
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Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: The Old Man and the Sea

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

Today we will reimagine the opening paragraph of Ernest Hemingway’s timeless allegorical novella The Old Man and the Sea. In the first paragraph, Hemingway introduces the two key archetypal characters with subtle religious allusions: Santiago (Spanish for St. James, the apostle of Jesus), the fisherman who represents old age, the teacher, the spiritual mentor — full of life experience and wisdom. The other character is Manolin (diminutive of Manuel, Spanish for Emmanuel, the Redeemer) who represents youth, the son, the student — who has much to learn. In the opening scene sets the stage for what appears to be a simple story about an old man who teaches a young boy about fishing. Despite the simple storyline, the deeper universal theme of The Old Man and the Sea is that of an old man struggling with old age, loneliness, poverty, hunger, and mortality; ultimately, we witness his his last heroic attempt to retain his dignity and define his legacy, something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream, away from the coronavirus-stricken cruise ships desperately looking for a harbor that would allow them to dock, and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man, unable to eat for days, was now the worst form of risky for COVID-19 since his immune system was compromised. The boy had gone at their orders, as long as he practiced social distancing, to work on another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man, not wearing gloves or a face mask, come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry highly coveted bags of rice, canned goods, and bleach-based cleaning supplies and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with pieces of hoarded double-ply toilet paper, and furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat. Of course, the old man could sail once again if he applied for a small business loan through the recently passed $2 trillion Cares Act.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: A Tale of Two Cities
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Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: A Tale of Two Cities

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

We’ll begin with one of the most well-known opening paragraphs of a novel: Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. What makes the opening paragraph so memorable is Dickens’ masterful use of anaphora, a rhetorical device that involves the repetition of an initial phrase (“It was the age… it was the age; it was the season… it was the season) to emphasize the paradoxical themes of the French Revolution, as well as foreshadow the themes of the novel. Those themes were so relevant then; they are eerily relevant to the world in the age of coronavirus:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of robust health and an age of the insidious coronavirus pandemic, it was the age of dedicated and knowledgeable medical professionals, it was the age of ignorant and irresponsible politicians, it was the age of complacency, it was the age of anxiety, it was the epoch of facts and the epoch of lies, it was the season of intimacy and the season of social distancing, it was a time of urgency and a time of delayed response, it was a time of economic prosperity and a time of economic hardship, it was the period of empathy, it was the period of indifference, it was the spring of hope before an election year, it was the winter of despair of an insufferable corrupt president’s four-year term, it was an age of transparency and an age of obfuscation, we had all the hospitals and ICUs, we did not have enough PPE or respirators, we were all going to work, we were all sheltering at home — in short, the period was so far unlike the previous year that only the idiots on Fox News, endorsing the rants of an narcissistic and irresponsible president, insisted that this pandemic and its impact was just a hoax and that it would disappear miraculously by Easter.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts:
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What is Sealioning?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhen you initially hear the term sealioning, it evokes the image of a group of dedicate volunteers on a boat, somewhere in the ocean not too far off the coast, attempting to rescue sea lions or waving flags at passing ships raising awareness about the plight of sea lions. However the true meaning of sealioning is as noble: it is a form of online harassment or trolling. This is how sealioning works: the troll (the sealion) targets an individual (the target) and pretends to be ignorant about a specific topic or issue. The sealion repeatedly asks the target questions or to provide specific evidence, while remaining polite and pretending to be sincere. The goal is to provoke the target to lose his or her temper and write an angry response. At this point, the troll responds as the insulted or aggrieved party. And just like real sea lions, trolls often work together as a group. (Incidentally a group of sea lions is called a colony when they are on land; in the water, they are called a raft; during breeding season, they are known as rookery; a group of females in a male’s territory is called a harem.)

“So what’s the real harms in asking a lot of detailed questions?” you ask. In an enlightening essay entitled “The Multiple Harms of Sea Lions” included in Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online (2017) published by the Berkman Kelin Center for Internet & Society, a research center at Harvard University, Amy Johnson elaborates: “[A long series of questions] may seem like a well-intentioned search for answers. It’s not—it’s a simplified example of a rhetorical strategy called sealioning. Sealioning is an intentional, combative performance of cluelessness. Rhetorically, sealioning fuses persistent questioning — often about basic information, information easily found elsewhere, or unrelated or tangential points — with a loudly-insisted-upon commitment to reasonable debate. It disguises itself as a sincere attempt to learn and communicate. Sealioning thus works both to exhaust a target’s patience, attention, and communicative effort, and to portray the target as unreasonable. While the questions of the “sea lion” may seem innocent, they’re intended maliciously and have harmful consequences. [The responses from the target range] from lengthy explanations to pointing to logical fallacies in the questions themselves, from calling out the sealioning to ignoring it. It is these responses that the sea lion seeks to shape — and it is here that multiple harms occur.” The multiple harms can be minor, like short-term annoyance, wasted energy, and the opportunity cost of time spent. But there are larger social harms, like when the target is now skeptical of all future questioners and is likely to engage in online discussions. This results in reduction of constructive discourse as well as reducing the opportunities of individuals to learn from one another. Johnson argues that sealioning attacks informal teaching; she writes: “Informal teaching undergirds mediated communication. Informal teaching is an unacknowledged foundation of technoutopian dreams from telegraphy to the present: by learning through iinteractions with each other, we will achieve universal understanding and eliminate conflict And to some extent, this happens. At any one moment, informal teaching — about everything from platform norms and literacies to life experiences — bridges the hugely diverse skill sets and histories of people online.”

So now you understand the harm of sealioning, but we are left with one question: how in the world did this form of trolling end up being called sealioning? The term is based on a specific comic strip titled “The Terrible Sea Lion” (published September 19, 2014) from the web-based comic book Wondermark by David Malki. In the six panels of that comic strip a couple is discussing marine mammals and the wife mentions that she doesn’t care for sea lions. All of a sudden a sea lion appears and requests “a civil conversation about your statement.” And the seal lion is persistent: he shows up repeatedly: at their dinner, at their bedside in the evening, and at breakfast in the morning. The sea lion says, “I have been unfailingly polite, and you two have been nothing rude.” So there you have it: the worst form of sealioning — from an actual sea lion. What is the world coming to?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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What is the Meaning of Six Ways From Sunday?
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For further reading: cyber.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.harvard.edu/files/2017-08_harmfulspeech.pdf
http://wondermark.com/1k62/


It’s Greek to Me: From Pan to Pandemic

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOne of the most common questions that people search today is: what is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? If you are familiar with Greek roots, you know the key is in the prefix. An epidemic is an infectious disease that occurs in a community or specific area. Translated literally from the Greek, it means “upon a district” from the Greek roots epi (meaning “upon or among”) and demos (meaning “people or district”). A pandemic, on the other hand (hopefully one you have washed thoroughly for at least 20 seconds) is an infectious disease that occurs in an entire country or all over the world. Translated literally from the Greek, it means “all people” from the Greek roots pan (meaning “all”) and demos (meaning “people or district”). For example, the coronavirus began as an epidemic in Wuhan, China and as it spread across Europe and eventually all around the globe, it became a pandemic.

The prefix pan- is an extremely useful Greek root to know because it unlocks the meaning of so many words. Here is a list of some interesting words that use the root-word pan (some are not found in most printed dictionaries):

panacea: a cure of all illnesses

panarchy: a universal realm (chiefly poetic term)

panatheism: belief that god(s) do not exist and thus nothing can be correctly considered holy or sacred

pancratic: knowledge of all subjects

pandemonium: noisy and wild confusion; chaos

panegyric: a public speech that praises someone

pangender: encompassing all genders

pangenesis: A hypothetical mechanism of heredity proposed by Charles Darwin that states that each part of the body continually emits its own type of small organic particle (gemmules) that aggregate in the gonads, contributing transmissible information to the gametes

panharmonic: universal or general harmony

panhellenic: concerning or representing all people of Greek origin; concerning or representing all fraternities and sororities

panhumanism: the concept of an affiliation with all mankind through a legislative structure that allows all economic and technological development for the benefit of all people 

panjandrum: a person who claims to have great influence or authority

pansophia: universal wisdom

pantheism: belief that the universe is a manifestation of God

pantheon: a group of respected, important individuals

pantisocracy: a utopian society where everyone has equal position and responsibility

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: What Rhymes with Orange?
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For further reading: The Greek and Latin Roots of English by Tamara Green
Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins by Bob Moore
en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_words_prefixed_with_pan-


The Coronavirus Rhapsody as Music Therapy

alex atkins bookshelf musicThis is a challenging time for most Americans, especially if you have been watching many hours of news each day while sheltering in place. According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of adults say that the pandemic has affected their mental health; 19% of respondents indicated that the pandemic has a “major impact.” Mixing social isolation with unemployment with the fear of getting ill and possibly dying makes a toxic mental health cocktail. Consequently, millions of people in America — and all around the globe — are experiencing the same conditions: anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Interviewed for The Washington Post, Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster notes the importance of staying connected: “It’s also important to remember that the vast majority of people, including all of us who are experiencing difficulties along the way, will ultimately do well. Finding and sharing creative solutions to the problems people are facing, taking care of ourselves and our families in the best way we are able, and staying connected to one another will remind us we are in this together and help us get through this difficult time.”

And many people are doing just that — with the luxury of time afforded by being self-quarantined, people are finding very creative ways to deal with current climate of stress and anxiety. And what is one of the most therapeutic tools? That’s right — music. Extensive research has been done with music as a therapeutic tool to increase relaxation, reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, promote optimism, induce meditative states, reduce loneliness, relieve boredom, and so forth. There is another powerful tool… ever heard the adage “laughter is the best medicine”? Many of the most successful comedians use their personal difficulties as fodder for their humor; and by baring them and making fun of them, they disarm feelings of despair and anxiety. It is a cathartic experience for the comedian and a therapeutic experience for the audience.

So what happens when you mix these two tools, music and comedy? You get the incredibly delightful and therapeutic tool of the music parody. To that end, singer Adrian Grimes and comedian Dana Jay Bein recorded the delightful Coronavirus Rhapsody, a parody of Queen’s hit song, Bohemian Rhapsody, from the album A Night at the Opera (1975). Here are the clever lyrics.

Coronavirus Rhapsody

Is this a fever?
Is this just allergies?
Caught in a lockdown
No escape from the family
Don’t touch your eyes
Just hand sanitize quickly
I’m just a poor boy
No job security
Because of easy spread
Even though
I washed my hands
Laying low
I look out the window
The curve doesn’t look flatter
To me… to me

Mama, I just killed a man
I didn’t stay inside in bed
I walked past him, now he’s dead
Mama, life was so much fun
But now I’ve got this unforgiving plague
Mama, oooooh
I didn’t mean to make them die
If I’m not back to work this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on
As if people didn’t matter

Too late, my time has come
Send shivers down my spine
Social isolation time
Goodbye everybody
I hope its just the flu
I’ve got to leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama (Chorus: just look out your window)
I don’t wanna die
I sometimes wish I never went out at all

I see a little silhouette of a man
(What a douche, what a douche
Did he even wash his hands though
No toilet paper frightening
Very very frightening me
Gotta lay low, gotta lay low, gotta lay low, gotta lay low
wait… what did he say?)

I’m just a poor boy, facing mortality
(He’s just a poor boy facing mortality
Spare him his life from this monstrosity

(Touch your face, wash your hands;
Will you wash your hands?
Bismillah! No! We will not wash our hands
Wash your hands
Bismillah! We will not wash our hands
Wash your hands
Bismillah! We will not wash our hands
Will not wash our hands
Wash your hands
Never, never wash our hands
Never no — no! no! no! no! no! no! no!
Oh Mama mia, Mama mia,
Mama mia, wash your hands)
COVID-19 has a sickness put aside for me, for me, for me

So you think you can stop me and just shake my hand?
So you think we can hang out and not break our plans?
Oh baby! Can’t do this with me baby
Just gotta stay home
I hope I don’t run out of beer

(Oooooooh…. ooh yeah! ooh yeah!)
The curve could get much flatter
Anyone can see
The curve could get much flatter
You know it’s your responsibility
Just look out your window

Like COVID-19, the song has gone um… viral. As of this writing the music video has been viewed more than 4.1 million times. But not everyone is a fan of the parody. In an interview, Grimes elaborates, “I’ve had a few comments suggesting that this is ‘insensitive.’ I want to emphasize that I know where these people are coming from. My wife works in healthcare and I have two young kids. I know very well how this virus could impact my family. Every day that my wife goes to work, I hope it is another ‘bonus’ day we get together before the wave hits and I don’t have to quarantine her and stop our children from hugging her. However, I hope that even in those circumstances, should they occur, I will still be able to maintain a sense of humor, and a lot of comments from people already affected by coronavirus have told me how much they appreciate this. I thank you for your understanding in these unprecedented times.”

Listen to the song here: youtube.com/watch?v=8KPbJ0-DxTc

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody?
What is the Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream?

For further reading: http://www.washingtonpost.com/health/coronavirus-is-harming-the-mental-health-of-tens-of-millions-of-people-in-us-new-poll-finds/2020/04/02/565e6744-74ee-11ea-85cb-8670579b863d_story.html
http://www.vulture.com/2012/09/comedy-as-therapy-how-some-comedians-self-treat-depression-and-social-anxiety-with-standup.html
http://www.kerrang.com/the-news/coronavirus-rhapsody-is-the-parody-song-we-all-need-right-now/


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