Category Archives: Culture

What Is the Meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody?

alex atkins bookshelf music“Bohemian Rhapsody,” from Queen’s album A Night at the Opera (1975), is considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time. Despite its tremendous commercial success and influence, it remains one of the most enigmatic, inscrutable songs in the history of rock. It is like the Finnegan’s Wake of rock music. “Bohemian Rhapsody” joins the ranks of other famous chart-topping hits that are sung but never fully understood like Don Mclean’s “American Pie” (1971), Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (1971), and just about any song by Yes. So what exactly is the meaning of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody?

The short answer is — we will never know for sure. Freddie Mercury began developing the music and the lyrics in the late 1960s and finished writing it in his home in London in 1975. Although he was very deliberate in its writing, he took all of his secrets to the grave. In an interview, Mercury explains that the song, although very methodically composed, was a bit of a Rorschach test: “Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research, although it was tongue-in-cheek and it was a mock opera. Why not?… It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them.” 

In an interview promoting Queen Videos Greatest Hits DVD, guitarist Brian May stated: “What is Bohemian Rhapsody about? Well, I don’t think we’ll ever know. And if I knew I probably wouldn’t want to tell you anyway, because I certainly don’t tell people what my songs are about. I find that it destroys them in a way, because the great thing about a great song is that you relate it to your own personal experiences in your own life. I think that Freddie was certainly battling with problems in his personal life, which he might have decided to put [a lot of himself] into the song himself. He was certainly looking at re-creating himself. But I don’t think at that point in time it was the best thing to do so he actually decided to do it later. I think it’s best to leave it with a question mark in the air.”

To that we say: poppycock! A song, like a poem or a novel, should be carefully analyzed to find its true meaning. To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined song is not worth listening to. Invariably, critical textual analysis always reveals important clues — whether left consciously or subconsciously — that lead to meaningful interpretations, revealing aspects of the writer’s character, beliefs, and/or life. To find our first clue, let us first turn to Lesley-Ann Jones, the author of Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography (1997). She interviewed him extensively for her authorized biography and got to peer behind the curtain — to fully comprehend the enigmatic musician and his life. She firmly believes that the song represents Mercury’s personal struggle with his sexuality and eventual decision to come out. In 1986, she asked him specifically about this, but he refused to give her a straight answer. However — and one cannot overemphasize the significance of this — Mercury did provide the key to unlock this decades-old musical mystery: he admitted to her that the song was “about relationships.” Bingo! Furthermore, Jones’ belief was also confirmed by Jim Hutton, Mercury’s lover. Soon after Mercury passed away, Hutton told Jones that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was about Mercury’s public admission that he was gay.

A close examination of the lyrics will reveal that the song is indeed about relationships — specifically the relationship of Mercury to himself, his spouse, family, and God providing the context for the struggles he faced in deciding to face the music, as it were, to come out. The second clue is that  Mercury “did a bit of research.” The song, like an T. S. Eliot poem, is filled with literary and musical allusions that support the intended meaning of the song.

Let’s begin with the title: Bohemian Rhapsody is a play on composer Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody.” A bohemian is a person who has unconventional social habits. A rhapsody is a free instrumental composition played in one extended movement, typically one that is exuberant or full of pathos. So from the very start we have some understanding of both the song and the narrator.

The first stanza introduces us to the narrator, who seems to be living a life that is surreal: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? / Caught in a landslide / No escape from reality.” He is not sure if it is real or a dream and it’s all happening so fast. With Queen’s meteoric success, Mercury was catapulted from a rather traditional, quiet life to a flamboyant rockstar’s life (filled with the obligatory sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll). Mercury is living in two worlds simultaneously: living as a straight man while concealing to his family that he is gay. Mercury felt he had to conceal his homosexuality since his parents practiced Zoroastrianism that specifically condemned it. The next lyric employs antithesis: “I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,” reflecting his ambivalence. Here poor is being used in the metaphorical (deserving of pity), not literal sense (not having money); in other words, he is saying “although I am deserving of pity, I really don’t need your sympathy.” He has accepted his truth, his fate, and does not need anyone’s sympathy. Expressed another way, he seems to mean “This is my life, this is who I am — don’t feel sorry for me.” The stanza ends with the line “Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me,” revealing that the narrator embraces nihilism, the belief that the world is meaningless, and he doesn’t care where destiny takes him. C’est la vie.

In the second stanza the narrator is telling his wife (here “Mama,” as in Mother Mary, represents Mercury’s wife, Mary Austin) that he has killed a man: “Mama, just killed a man / Put a gun against his head / Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.” But here, the killing is metaphorical, not literal. Mercury is saying that he killed his old self: Farrokh Bulsara (the straight, faithful husband) has been replaced by Freddie Mercury (the flamboyant, gay rockstar). The narrator regrets the pain that he has caused his wife so soon after their marriage had begun (Mercury and Mary had just been married seven years before his first homosexual encounter), fearing that he his thrown all of that part of his life away: “Mama, life had just begun / But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away / Mama, oh oh / Didn’t mean to make you cry.” At the end of the stanza the narrator says “If I’m not back again this time tomorrow / Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters.” The narrator is encouraging his mother (or wife) to embrace his nihilism in order to carry on without him if he continues his life as a gay man.

This is an ideal time to introduce the fascinating parallels between “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Albert Camus’s seminal novel, The Stranger, published in 1942. The novel’s protagonist, Meurseult, is a man (like Mercury) who feels like he doesn’t fit in; he is an outcast. Early in the novel, during an argument he kills an Arab man, is convicted and sentenced to death because he feels no remorse for his crime (the prosecutor accuses Meurseult of being a soulless monster). While awaiting execution, a chaplain meets with Meurseult to guide him to repentance and accepting God’s love and forgiveness. However, Meurseult disavows his crime, rejects God, and accepts the absurdity of the human condition. Ultimately, he finds comfort in his indifference toward the world and the meaninglessness of life. The novel ends with Meurseult happily awaiting to meet his inescapable fate at the guillotine: “And I too felt ready to live my life again. As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realized that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy. For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.” It is very possible that Mercury read this book as a young lad or while he was developing the song.

Let’s return back to the lyrics. The third stanza reflects the narrator’s ambivalence: saying goodbye to his old self (heterosexual), his wife, his family and friends, and his fellow band members, in order to accept the inescapable truth: that he is a gay man: “Goodbye everybody I’ve got to go / Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.” The ambivalence he feels tortures him to the point that he regrets being born at all, invoking pathos and using the antithetical construction we say in the first stanza: “I don’t want to die / Sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.” This is a very powerful sentiment that echoes one of William Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet questions whether he should exist or not: “To be or not to be: that is the question: / Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them?”

We now reach the operetta in the fourth and fifth stanzas that function as a sort of Greek chorus, shedding light on the narrator’s psychic and emotional turmoil. Mercury once described this part of the song as “random rhyming nonsense” to his friend, Kenny Everett, a DJ who worked in London. At first glance, just like many nursery rhymes, the jabberwocky of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or any of James Joyce’s inscrutable stream-of-consciousness ramblings, the text may seem like nonsense, but there is definitely meaning behind the madness. Mercury, who mentioned he “did a bit of research,” on this song, clearly chose his words carefully. Let’s break down this section, focusing on key words and lyrics.

The operetta begins with the narrator seeing the shadow of his former self: “I see a little silhouetto of a man.” The next lines, “Scaramouch, Scaramouch will you do the Fandango / Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me / Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, figaro, magnifico” suggest that the chorus is challenging the man (calling him “scaramouch,” translated from Italian, means a “boastful and cowardly buffoon;” often featured in Italian comedies, known as commedia dell’arte that flourished from 16th to 18th century) to do something outrageous, thereby shocking the sensibility of his former self, his family and friends, and society at large. The chorus of “Galileo’s” are simply expressions of shock and outrage by others in his circle, as if saying “Oh my God!” Because, the narrator, like Camus’s Meurseult, is a nihilist and absurdist, he doesn’t believe in God. So naturally, he appeals to a man of science, Galileo, a revolutionary (pun intended) who was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church in 1633 for teaching that the Earth is not the center of the universe but actually revolved around the sun. Figaro, of course, is the famous scheming Spanish barber who appears as in two eighteenth-century French plays (The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro as well as two operas (The Barber of Seville by Gioacchino Rossini and The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). In popular culture, Figaro represents an individual that is irrepressible, clever, and defiant of authority. Magnifico is another character from the aforementioned commedia dell’arte. The name is based on the Latin, magnificus, which means “doing great things.”Not surprisingly, these characters — Galileo, Figaro, Magnifico — that are outcasts on some level, resonate with Mercury — not to mention that they rhyme magnificently.

The next stanza takes us into the struggle inside the narrator’s mind. Here we see the dynamic interplay, a passionate debate, between the narrator and the Greek chorus, as it were, building to a crescendo. What is interesting here, is how the narrator progresses from soliciting pity (stanza five) to expressing outrage and defiance (stanza six). The initial line is the narrator trying to elicit sympathy: “I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me.” And the chorus (representing God) jumps in and validates this and wants to spare him from he difficult life he will face once he kills his former self: “He’s just a poor boy from a poor family / Spare him his life from this monstrosity.” The narrator appeals to an indifferent God: “Easy come easy go will you let me go.” But God, will have none of that (Bismillah is the Arabic word for god; literally translated it means “in the name of Allah”); the chorus (God) demands the narrator’s soul: “Bismillah [In the name of Allah], no we will not let you go.” This is quickly countered by an opposing chorus: “Let him go.” This goes back and forth several times. Finally, after a final passionate, and very Italian-sounding appeal, “Mama mia, mama mia let me go” the devil makes an appearance in this escalating confrontation: “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me.” There are two points to make here. First, is that the narrator uses the word “Beelzebub,” the name that appears in the Old Testament (specifically, 2 Kings 1:2-3), for the devil, alluding to the age-old conflict of good (represented by God) and evil (represented by the devil) found in the Bible. Second, the reference to the devil is a very clever allusion to the legend of Faust, that inspired many operas, plays, films, and novels (the most famous is the play Faust: A Tragedy by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). In the classic German legend, Faust, despite his success and wealth, makes a pact with the devil (Mephistopheles) to exchange his soul for unlimited worldly pleasures and infinite knowledge. (This is where we get the phrase Faustian bargain or Mephistophelian bargain.) Obviously, if he is making a pact with the devil, Faust must abandon God. In popular culture, Faust (or Faustian, the adjectival form) refers to an ambitious person who surrenders moral integrity to achieve tremendous wealth, power, or success. But even more relevant to the song is the concept of a Faustian bargain in the context of psychotherapy. Here, a Faustian bargain is a defense mechanism (or several of them) that sacrifice elements of the self in favor of some form of psychical survival. So in this context, we can interpret this last line as the narrator saying: “I must face my demon and strike my Faustian bargain with him: I must sacrifice my old self in exchange for the survival of my new self (my real self as a gay man) who will be rich, famous, and revel in worldly pleasures.”

The sixth stanza presents the narrator’s shift from pity to outrage. The stanza functions as a diatribe or rant, marked by an angry defiance to those who judge him harshly. Having struck his Faustian (or Mephistophelian) bargain, he seems to be saying: “I had to do this — don’t hate me for it!” It is ironic that this narrator, who has rejected God, speaks of his punishment in almost biblical terms: “So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye / So you think you can love me and leave me to die.” Another way to state this is: “How dare you judge me and punish me for who I am and how I must live my life. You can’t just love me and then abandon me.” He makes a final appeal to compassion (and one can assume he is referring to his wife): “Oh baby can’t do this to me baby.” In other words, he asks: How can you do this to me, Mary?” But the narrator knows this is a bad place; he needs to get the hell out of there — to escape a place of harsh judgment and condemnation: “Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.”

The seventh and final stanza (the “outro” in music jargon) begins with the chorus expressing their sympathy for the narrator’s plight: “Oh oh oh yeah, oh oh yeah” as if saying: “yes, of course — you are right, you don’t deserve this, you have no other option to run, to move forward with your life, given who you truly are.” The deliberation — the debate over how to be, how to live — has finally come to its natural conclusion, which the narrator believes should be obvious to everyone. The song comes full circle by returning to the themes introduced in the first stanza: “Nothing really matters / Anyone can see / Nothing really matters / Nothing really matters to me.” The narrator, like Camus’ Meurseult, ultimately finds comfort in the meaninglessness and “the benign indifference of the world” (to borrow Meurseult’s phrase). The stanza ends with quiet resignation: “Anyway the wind blows.” The narrator is resigned to go wherever destiny takes him. 

In short, “Bohemian Rhapsody” reflects Mercury’s personal journey — it is about the personal turmoil he experienced prior to finally coming out. Clearly, he wrote it for himself, as an artistic cathartic exercise. But it was also his gift to the world because the song speaks to so many — and this is why the song endures, resonating so profoundly with succeeding generation. In a larger sense, Bohemian Rhapsody is an inspiring nihilistic anthem about an individual who must accept his truth — to embrace who he is, and live according to who he truly is — regardless of what his family, loved ones, or society want him to be. Indeed, this is not an easy path and, inevitably, it comes with a cost — to the individual (the internal struggles, second-guessing, feelings of isolation, etc.) and to his many relationships (their feelings of pain, betrayal, disappointment, disapproval, etc.). But in an indifferent, meaningless world, Mercury believed, we need to simply discover who we are, accept who we are, and be who we are. So if we had to reduce Bohemian Rhapsody down to its simplest terms, it would be this: live and let live.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Meaning of Elton John’s Rocket Man?
Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers

For further reading: Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography by Lesley-Ann Jones
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Faust: A Tragedy by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2015/10/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-queens-bohemian-rhapsody
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/11519641/10-songs-nobody-understands.html
https://www.songfacts.com/facts/queen/bohemian-rhapsody


The Last Message You Receive from Someone Close To You

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe brilliant German writer and poet, Goethe, once observed “The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” As the parable in Genesis reveals, we are not meant to travel through the garden alone. One of the great marvels of life is when someone joins us at just the right time — to be able to share the joys of life or help carry a burden or simply be a shoulder to lean on. Whether it is the result of some divine intervention, fate, or coincidence — its impact can be profound and long-lasting. But if life teaches you anything it is this: just as quickly as someone walks into your life, they can leave (to paraphrase the famous Beatles song, “you say ‘Hello’; they say ‘Goodbye’) — and for a variety of reasons: illness, death, suicide, a breakup (friendship or relationship, a profound disagreement, an explosive fight, and so forth. It was this realization that served as an epiphany for Emily Trunko right before she turned 16. She sent out a call for submissions on Tumblr and published them on the blog, “The Last Message Received,” as well as a book of the same title.

Her efforts had a huge impact on her life as well as her readers. In the introduction to her book, Trunko writes: “[The Last Message] has helped bring closure to people who have had to deal with the sudden death of someone close to them, and it has shown suicidal people the shattering impact they actions would have on the the people they would leave behind. It has taught so many people to be more careful with the messages they send, and to remind others how much they care about other people in their lives while they still have the chance to tell them how they feel… I think this Tumblr has made those who read its submissions much more aware and caring.”

The messages and the emotions they evoke are very powerful, and sometimes very raw. They range from elation and hope to sorrow and despair. And some messages are amazingly kind, some are shockingly rude. Here are some excerpts from the book and the blog:

“You have so many personalities and I don’t like any of them.” [written to a person who is bipolar]

“Don’t worry yourself too much about me. I’ll be fine. I have to run, Babe. Only 9 more days.” [individual serving in Libya, two days prior to his convoy being attacked, to his partner; he died a few days later]

“I’m giving up on you.”

“You don’t have to be so fucking dramatic all the time.” [written by a best friend who cut ties with the other friend]

“I love you so much.” [written by best friend; he died two days later]

“Hey! U still wanna hang out?” [written by friend on the day he took his life]

“I’ll fix this.” [written by a boyfriend who left the relationship]

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Best Poems for Funerals: When Great Trees Fall
How To Grieve for a Lost Friend 

For further reading: The Last Message Received by Emily Trunko
http://thelastmessagereceived.tumblr.com


What is Collective Trauma?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAccording to the American Psychological Association, trauma is defined as “the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event. While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to live a normal life. In a case such as this, help may be needed to treat the stress and dysfunction caused by the traumatic event and to restore the individual to a state of emotional well-being.” Collective trauma is when a certain distressing event, such as an environmental catastrophe, world war, genocide, terrorist attack, mass shootings, financial crisis, mass job losses, oppression, poverty, disease, or political crisis, has a traumatic psychological effect on a large group of people, a community, or an entire country or countries. The most frequently cited collective traumas include: WW I and WW II, The Holocaust, Slavery in America, and the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The concept of collective trauma was developed by French sociologist Emile Durkheim. Durkheim noted that values, rituals, and norms were the bonds that held society together — they provided solidarity, social cohesion. A collective trauma severs these bonds, destroys the social order, causes people to feel disoriented and disconnected, evokes a collective feeling, and can alter a society’s culture and mass actions. Sociologist Kai Erikson, author of Everything in Its Path (about the devastating Buffalo Creek flood of 1972), described how survivors were in a permanent state of shock, and struggled to find meaning and purpose in life. Sousan Abadian, a former fellow at the MIT Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformational Studies, notes that “collective trauma [is] at the level of culture — that culture has been damaged, meaning institutions, cultural practices, values, and beliefs.” Psychologist Jack Saul, author of Collective Trauma, Collective Healing, adds “[Some] of the features we often associate with collective traumas [are]: social rupturing and a profound sense of distress, the challenging of long-held assumptions about the world and national identity, a constricted public narrative, and a process of scapegoating and dehumanization.” Sound familiar?

In his thought-provoking article for The New York Times, “Are Americans Experiencing Collective Trauma?”, sociologist Neil Gross argues that the election of 2016 is a classic example of a collective trauma. Gross writes: “[The 2016] presidential election has collective trauma written all over it…. Mr. Trump’s victory signals that that world, with the assurances it offered that there were some lines those seeking power wouldn’t cross (or that the American electorate wouldn’t let them cross), is no longer. Rightly or wrongly, memories have been activated of historical traumas linked with anti-democratic politics, such as the emergence of fascism in interwar Europe and the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.” Tulane psychology professor Charles Figley also believes that the 2016 election is a collective trauma: “First and foremost it’s on everyone’s mind and it’s discussed frequently. There are signs and symbols associated with it. Mentioning a particular slogan or singing a particular song simply connects people to the phenomenon and reminds everyone they are in the same boat.” And unfortunately, Figley observes, there is a nasty side effect: racism and xenophobia; he elaborates: “People tend to separate from people that are different from them, connecting with people that are like them, and share their concerns, and vilify the opposition.” Yale sociologist Ronald Eyerman, who co-edited Narrating Trauma: On the Impact of Collective Suffering, believes that the recent presidential election felt less like losing a election, and more like the assassination of a revered leader, like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, or Harvey Milk. Eyerman explains, “[Milk’s] death was first collectively mourned in a massive march through the streets of San Francisco… The [killer’s manslaughter] verdict was interpreted by many in the collective, the San Francisco gay community, as a betrayal, a failure of American institutions, in this case the courts, the police and the justice system as a whole to do justice to an aggrieved group. This betrayal and loss of faith in American institutions threatened the very foundations of collective identity.”

Is there a path of healing for those communities that suffer from collective trauma? Most experts agree that collective trauma will remain chronic and reoccur if social causes are not properly addressed and if perpetrators are not held accountable for their actions. With respect to historical collective trauma, mental health experts typically identify four required steps for healing: confronting trauma, understanding the trauma, releasing the pain, and transcendence. Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, emphasizes the importance revisiting and studying the initial behavior/event rather as opposed to denying that it ever occurred. Armand Volkas, a psychotherapist and child of Holocaust survivors, explores the potential perpetrator in all of us, as a way of humanizing the enemy, and bringing people together. Figley believes that people eventually figure out a way out of collective trauma: “When a community collectively experiences a trauma, people ask each other questions about what happened and why it happened, who caused it whether it will happen again. Over a period of time there is an accommodation to loss, stock-taking, and gradual acceptance, and then creating new things in the wake of these changes that you didn’t want. People figure out what to do to feel safe again — physically or psychologically.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Thirteen Commandments
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel
In the Face of Suffering One Has No Right to Turn Away

For further reading: www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/opinion/sunday/are-americans-experiencing-collective-trauma.html
http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/love-and-the-apocalypse/free-yourself-from-the-past
https://qz.com/889753/trump-inauguration-collective-trauma/

http://www.vanityfair.com/news.2018/02/monica-lewinsky-in-the-age-of-metoo


Unusual Names Parents Choose For Their Children

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhen it comes to choosing names for children, parents can politely endure suggestions from meddlesome relatives or consult baby name books with more than 100,000 names — either way, it can be a daunting task. For the most part, parents choose traditional names over unusual or unconventional names — you know the ones, when you wonder “what were the parents thinking?” Speaking of unconventional names, a story that is making the rounds today is titled “Southwest Gate Agent Mocks 5-Year-Old Girl’s Name” about a girl named Abcde (pronounced “AB city”). According to the Social Security Administration, out of more than 74 million children living in the U.S., only 328 girls share that same name. But we digress — choosing a conventional name makes a lot of sense in light of the extensive research on the significant impact that a name has on a child’s life. Research, beginning in the late 1940s to the early 2000s confirms that a name really matters. Specifically, a name can influence what grades a child will earn, where they attend college, choice of profession, where they will be hired, whom they will marry, and where they will live. Serious stuff. Researchers explain this phenomenon as the implicit-egotism effect: that individuals are drawn to things and people that resemble them. In short, similarities attract. Recent research by economists has focused on another effect: name signaling. The crucial question is not “what is the name?” but rather “what signal does the name send?” In other words, what characteristics or values does the name imply? In those studies, individuals with “white-sounding” names (like Emily or Thomas) were most likely to be hired over candidates with “black-sounding” names (like Lakisha or Jamal).

Since naming babies is such serious business, some countries feel compelled to weigh in on the matter. In a 2013 article on baby-naming policies, NPR reported: “Some countries, such as France, have somewhat relaxed once-strict policies that required only government-approved names (many of which either appear in the Bible or are culturally entrenched). Many nations still require baby names to indicate gender (Germany) or to be easily read by a computer scanner (China), as CNN reported in 2010. And it remains common for many governments to give at least a cursory review, to ensure that the parents aren’t potentially sabotaging their child by choosing a profane or demeaning name, or one that might otherwise be an unfair burden to the child.”

Retired editor Larry Ashmead, who worked at Simon and Schuster and Doubleday, has always been fascinated by names. In his very entertaining book, Bertha Venation, Ashmead shares his wonderful collection of funny and strange names of real people. Here are some of the unusual first names he has found over the years:

Bernight

Bethanyann

Cadley

Cardio

Denim

Egbert

Enchantress

Faxon

Finn*egan

Jedi

Heaven

Lathe

Lazer

Mone’t

Nimpkish

Philbert

Pursglove

Sheatodd

Tage

Trout

Zowie

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What Do You Call A Collector of Names?
Why Do People Collect Things?
Words for Collectors
Words for Collectors 2
Origins of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 1
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 2
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 3
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 4

For further reading: Betha Venation by Larry Ashmead
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/04/168642200/a-girl-fights-to-be-called-by-her-name-in-iceland-suing-government
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/southwest-apologizes-to-girl-named-abcde-after-gate-agent-made-fun-of-her_us_5c0016efe4b0864f4f6b525a
https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/number-of-children


How Politics Ruined Thanksgiving and What You Can Do About It

alex atkins bookshelf cultureWhile mashed potatoes and gravy is a classic holiday combination, mixing family and politics is not. Add several rounds of wine, and you have a recipe for a heated political debate; it is only a matter of time when you will be dodging turkey legs and dinner rolls thrown across the table. Unfortunately, since the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016, families have allowed partisan politics to creep into their Thanksgiving feast. And what is the impact on this cherished annual tradition? Families with mixed political alliances spent between 20 to 50 minutes less time wolfing down turkey and all the fixings at the table, according to a 2016 study by Keith Chen, a behavioral economist at the UCLA, and Ryne Rohla, a Ph.D. student in economics at Washington State University. The researchers found that Republicans left earlier than Democrats, while some Democrats were more likely to skip dinner altogether. The effect increased significantly in areas with heavy political advertising that evoked fear and anger. Sadly, Americans pay a heavy social and personal price for this political divide — losing 73.6 million person-hours of precious family time each year; time that is lost forever.

So what is it about political discourse discussing turkeys in Washington over turkey that causes so much anxiety and acrimony? Suzanne Vegges-White, chair of Northern Illinois University’s Counseling, Adult and Higher Education Department, notes that the root problem is the expectation that all family members are on one side. She elaborates: “In terms of professional football, for instance, whether we pull for the Los Angeles Rams or the Chicago Bears, many of us are going to be loyal even when our team has a losing season and when they are playing an ‘arch rival,’ we become highly energized and invested in the game’s outcome. With politics, we also align ourselves with a particular side and we lose our ability to perceive the competition/political rival through a clear and balanced perspective. We care more about ‘our side’ winning than about learning about the other side’s standpoints.” What magnifies the rancor is that unlike support for a football team, support for a particular party and its platforms has real world impacts on a people — economic, legislative, mental and physical well-being, etc. Vegges-White continues: “We all need to experience a sense of belonging with others and when we feel that our families do not understand or agree with our perspective, it can be emotionally distressing. We may try even harder to convince family members to share our own beliefs than we would with acquaintances or strangers with whom we do not expect to have frequent or close interactions.”

Graham Hall, a linguistics professor at Northumbria University in Newcastle, U.K., who wrote “How to talk about politics with your family” for The Conversation, observed “Maybe it boils down to the idea that we can choose our friends but not our family, and perhaps we tend to choose our friends because of shared values. We can also ‘drop’ friends in a way which we can’t with family.” Mediator Kenneth Cloke, author of Politics, Dialogue and the Evolution of Democracy : How to Discuss Race, Abortion, Immigration, Gun Control, Climate Change, Same Sex Marriage and Other Hot Topics, notes that what makes politics so divisive is that it segregates people into right and wrong: [That’s] a form of domination. That is, one side being right and the other side being wrong and there isn’t any perceived option that would allow people to discover what is right in both people’s perspective and what is wrong… We have slipped into a way of talking about politics and conducting politics that is unnecessarily divisive. So, if you think about what politics actually is, you can define it as consisting of two separate and entirely different things. The first is just a form of social problem-solving. If it’s just social problem-solving, it’s not much conflict. And the conflict there is constructive and useful.”

So how should family members talk about politics at Thanksgiving? A number of experts and organizations have come up with some best practices for keeping the peace at Thanksgiving dinner:

Engage in one-on-one conversations rather than group discussions.

Find something in common with someone who holds different political views. Try to understand their point of view and initially respond with a distillation of their ideas.

Criticize the ideas and not the family member. That is to say, criticize the legislative issues, policies, or actions.

Avoid asking “gotcha” questions that evoke arguments rather than discussions.

Keep a sense of humor about certain topics. Making fun of politicians or policies is less threatening than severe criticism.

Focus on the values that family members have in common and discuss how a politician or policy does or does not support those values.

Avoid assigning negative motives or labels to categorize the other side (terms like “racist,” “socialist,” etc.)

Stay calm: don’t raise your voice or get flustered.

Steer conversation to happy or positive topics when the conversation is headed toward acrimony.

Everyone responds to alcohol differently. Since alcohol lowers inhibitions, for some people, it brings out the worst. Avoid political conversations with individuals who tend to be argumentative and belligerent after a few drinks.

The goal of a discussion is not necessarily to change a person’s mind. Liberals and conservatives mostly fail when they try to persuade their opponents because simply proclaiming your position passionately and questioning the motives and morality of ideological opponents is counterproductive. Research by Stanford sociologist Robb Willer and social psychologist Matthew Feinberg found that the best way to change an opponent’s mind is if you appeal to their deeply-held values, evoking empathy and commonality.

So share this post and promote the intention of Thanksgiving: giving thanks for all the good things in life.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Best Thanksgiving Movies
Top Thanksgiving Myths
Best Books About Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Lite
Best Poems for Thanksgiving Day
Funny Thanksgiving Jokes

For further reading: www.scientificamerican.com/article/thanksgiving-dinner-may-end-sooner-if-guests-pass-the-gravy-across-a-partisan-divide1/
https://theconversation.com/how-to-talk-about-politics-with-your-family-92776
http://media.wix.com/ugd/2f07d4_546b1b3a850a4271a3b3d2283609e6d9.pdf
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_save_thanksgiving_from_political_arguments


The Poetry of 9/11

alex atkins bookshelf literature“In the aftermath of the spectacular collapse of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, the act of turning to poetry enjoyed a revival,” observed US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. “In times of crisis, poems, not paintings or ballet, are what people habitually reach for… The formalized language of poetry can ritualize experience and provide emotional focus… Poetry also can assure us that we are not alone; others, some of them long dead, have felt what we are feeling.” Moreover, poetry that is thought-provoking and stirs the soul, assures us that we do not forget those who lost their lives; and to affirm that their lives mattered.

On the 17th anniversary of 9/11, Bookshelf presents two powerful poems that provide different perspectives of that tragic day. The first, written by Martin Espada, pays tribute to the 43 members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, who worked at the Windows on the World restaurant, who perished that day. Many of these workers were immigrants who had come to America to seek a better life for themselves and their families. The second poem, written by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, was inspired by Richard Drew’s haunting photograph, “The Falling Man,” that captured a man hurtling, seemingly peacefully, toward his death. The clever ending of the poem, achieves the same thing as the iconic photograph: suspending the unknown man in the air for eternity — to keep him alive, if not in this world, then in our collective memory.

Alabanza by Martin Espada

Alabanza. Praise the cook with a shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook’s yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy’s music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.

Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the shudder deep in the glass of the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook’s soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God’s beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan and Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.

**********************

Photograph from September 11 by Wislawa Szymborska

They jumped from the burning floors—
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them 
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

They jumped from the burning floors—
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them 
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: One of the Greatest Magazine Stories: Falling Man
The Poem I Turn To
Unfathomable Grief
The Best Books on 9/11

For further reading: September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond
Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets

 


What is the Happiest Country in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureEvery few years Gallup conducts a world poll (known as the Gallup World Poll) of more than 150 countries (and the immigrants of 117 countries) that represent more than 98% of the world’s population. The poll uses the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale to evaluate well-being. The scale consists of the following statements and questions: 1. Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. 2. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. 3. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? 4. On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now?

Recently, the United Nations used this data (from 215-2017) to develop its World Happiness Report 2018. The results are fascinating. Ironically for a country that has “the pursuit of happiness” enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, consumes more than 220 Happy Meals each year, and spends more than $11 billion on self-help — happiness is not easily attainable in America. It is humbling and sobering to know that the United States does not make it in the top ten. Norway, Denmark, and Iceland are the happiest countries on earth whose population — including immigrants — truly embrace the philosophy of “don’t worry, be happy.” Interestingly, the top ten countries have been held by the same countries for the past two years. The report notes: “All the top countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.” On the other side of the scale are the unhappiest countries on earth: Tanzania, Burundi, and Central Africa Republic.

The report concludes with three emerging global health problems that threaten happiness: obesity, the opioid crisis, and depression. Of great concern is that these particular problems have been growing faster in the United States than any other country. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2016 more than 16.2 million adults in America reported at least one major depressive episode (accounting for 6.7% of all adults in the U.S.).

The Happiest Countries in the World (Country followed by Cantril score)

1. Norway (7.537)
2. Denmark (7.522)
3. Iceland (7.504)
4. Switzerland (7.494)
5. Finland (7.469)
6. Netherlands (7.377)
7. Canada (7.316)
8. New Zealand (7.314)
9. Australia (7.284)
10. Sweden (7.284)
11. Israel (7.213)
12. Costa Rica (7.079)
13. Austria (7.006)
14. United States (6.993)
15. Ireland (6.977)

The Unhappiest Countries in the World

Yemen (3.593)
South Sudan (3.591)
Liberia (3.533)
Guinea (3.507)
Togo (3.495)
Rwanda (3.471)
Syria (3.462)
Tanzania (3.349)
Burundi (2.905)
Central African Republic (2.693)

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: The Weight of the World’s Population
How Old is the Universe?

For further reading: http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2018/
https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/206468/happiest-unhappiest-countries-world.aspx
https://www.reference.com/food/many-happy-meals-sold-day-f433ed8686898e97
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml


%d bloggers like this: