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O ME, O LIFE

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For our cultural article this week, we will be examining Walt Whitman’s 1891 poem, O Me, O Life.

THE POET

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Walt Whitman is considered one of America’s most important poets.  Whitman was born in Long Island, New York, on May 31st, 1819.  Whitman educated himself by reading Dante, Homer, Shakespeare, and the Bible. At twelve he got an apprenticeship as a printer, but lost it when a fire destroyed the printing district.  He worked as a journalist for various newspapers before going independent and travelling around America. In 1870, Whitman settled in Camden, New Jersey. Walt Whitman died on March 26th, 1892, at the age of seventy-two.

POEM

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Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

SUMMARY

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O Me, o Life appeared in Walt Whitman’s poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, in 1891.  Written in free verse,  the poem seeks to determine what the value of life actually is. It is an answer to how one can suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and still find a reason for living.

The first stanza is essentially the same in theme as Hamlet‘s “to be, or not to be” speech. How can life, with all its suffering and hardship, be worth living? Why do we continue to hold life so dear when all the inherent suffering and malevolence can compromise our faith in God, in other people, and even in ourselves?

For Whitman, the answer was simple: Life in and of itself is valuable. That even in the darkest periods of human history, life goes on.  For Whitman, the answer to life’s purpose is that you get to “contribute a verse” to the eternal story of man.

VIOLENT PROTEST IN VIRGINIA LEAVES ONE DEAD, NINETEEN INJURED

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A thirty-two-year-old woman has been killed, and nineteen others have been left with minor to life threatening injuries in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a day of protests between white nationalists, calling themselves “unite the right”, and counter-protesters culminated in violence.

The counter-protesters were reportedly celebrating driving the white supremacists from Emancipation Park when the attack occurred. Video footage shows a Dodge Charger accelerating into a crowd of counter-protesters. One witness claims the car was travelling at forty-miles-per-hour (sixty-four-kilometres-per-hour). Another witness, Brennan Gilmore, told NBC news:

 “It was very clearly intentional. From the far end of the street, it accelerated, slowed down right before the crowd and then slammed on the gas through the crowd sending bodies flying. And then it reversed back into the street dragging bodies and clothes.”

After the incident, the driver reversed the car at high speed and fled the scene.

President Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, and First Lady Melania Trump have all condemned the violence.  Speaking at his private golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump stated:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. There’s no place in America (for this). What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”

Trump also stated on twitter:

“We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!”

Vice-President Mike Pence tweeted:

“I stand with @POTUS against hate & violence. U.S is greatest when we join together & oppose those seeking to divide us.”

First Lady Melania Trump also tweeted:

“Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes  from violence.”

Governor of Virginia, Terry McAullife, declared a state of emergency around Charlottesville which began at noon. Police, meanwhile, are treating the incident as a criminal homicide investigation. They have arrested the driver of the car, James Alex Fields, Jr., and are holding him on a variety of charges, including second-degree murder and malicious wounding.

McAullife directed a statement to the white supremacists, saying:

“You came here today to hurt people. And you did hurt people. My message is clear: we are stronger than you.”

He went on to say:

“I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today:  My message is go home. You are not wanted in this Commonwealth. Shame on you … You are anything but a  patriot.”

Police Chief, Al Thomas, has backed this up, stating that “premeditated violence that our community experienced today was completely unacceptable.”

TRUMP INCREASES RHETORIC ON NORTH KOREA

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President Trump has increased the force of his rhetoric against North Korea, warning the rogue nation that they would “regret it fast” if they kept threatening the US and her allies. Trump tweeted on Friday morning: “military solutions are now in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully, Kim Jong Un will find another path.”

Trump told reporters at his private golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey:

“If he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat … or if he does anything with respect to Guam  or anyplace else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will  regret it fast.”

Trump went on to say:

“I hope that they are going to fully understand the gravity of what I said, and what I said is what  I mean. Those words are very easy to understand.”

President Trump has received support from the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnball. Others, however, have expressed concern. Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, former Secretary of State under George W. Bush, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson told MSNBC that he is more concerned with Trump’s rhetoric than with North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

Similarly, German Chancellor has expressed concern:

“I don’t see a military solution and I don’t think it’s called for. I think escalating the rhetoric is the wrong answer, I see the need for enduring work at the UN Security Council.”

However, North Korea seems to be in a fairly precarious position. The Global Times has warned Pyongyang that China would not resist a US attack on North Korea. In an editorial, the Global Times said:

“China opposes both nuclear proliferation and war in the Korean Peninsula. It will not encourage any side to stir up military conflict, and will firmly resist any side which wants to change the status quo of the areas where China’s interests are concerned. It is hoped that both Washington and Pyongyang can exercise restraint. The Korean Peninsula is where the strategic interests of all sides converge, and no side should  try to be the absolute dominator of the region.”

President Trump’s rhetoric is changing the dynamic of the argument. When North Korea threatened Guam, Trump threatened North Korea. Furthermore, a nuclear reprisal by the US on North Korea would probably wipe the rogue nation off the map.

TRUMP DECLARES WAR ON THE OPIOID CRISIS

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President Trump has declared war on the opioid crisis, authorising his administration to use all emergency and other authorities in their power to counteract the problem. This decision came in response to recommendations from the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and Opioid Crisis.

Commenting at his private golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump referred to the opioid crisis as a “tremendous problem in our country, and we’re going to get it taken care of as well as it can be taken care of, which hopefully will be better than any other country which also has the same problem or similar problems.”

Trump went on to say:

“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency. It’s a  national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis … We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had.”

Trump continued:

“You know, when I was growing up they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years. And I have to say this in all fairness, this is a worldwide problem, not just a United States problem. This is happening worldwide. But this is a national emergency and we are drawing documents now to so attest.”

Opioids are derived from the opium poppy, or a synthetic imitation thereof, and includes morphine, heroin, tramadol, oxycodone, methadone, and so forth. According to a CBS report from December 20th, more Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than anything else.

 

MARTIN SCORSESE’S THE AVIATOR AND THE INCREDIBLE LIFE OF HOWARD HUGHES

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For our weekly cultural article, we will be examining Martin Scorsese’s 2004 masterpiece, the Aviator: a biopic of the legendary businessman, aviator, filmmaker, and eccentric, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. (1905 – 1976).

THE FILM

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The Aviator stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn (1907 – 2003), and Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner (1922 – 1990). It focuses on Hughes’ glory years and is set between the late 1920s and the late 1940s.

The film essentially follows two competing storylines.  The first storyline depicts Hughes’ struggle with his mental health, his battle with his worsening OCD and paranoia which, by the end of his life, would culminate in utter madness. In this guise, Hughes is depicted as a man whose intense germophobia renders him unable to touch the doorknob of a public toilet (he has to wait for someone else to open the door so he can leave), who washes his hands so ferociously he actually draws blood, who gets stuck repeating the same phrase over and over again (“the way of the future, the way of the future, the way of the future”), and who locks himself in his projection room for months on end.

The second storyline focuses on Hughes’ life as an entrepreneur: his success as a filmmaker, his successful career as an aviation pioneer, and his fight with the Senate War Investigating Committee. In this guise, Hughes is depicted as a man of unbridled ambition spurned on by his incredible early successes and comforted by legions of romantic conquests (which would include Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner, among others). The film opens with Hughes directing the Hell’s Angels (1930). An early theme is quickly established, with Hughes’ peers ridiculing him for his boldness and ambition.  By the end of the film, Hughes defies prediction by successfully test flying the H-4 Hercules.

HOWARD HUGHES: THE MAN

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The Aviator ends after Hughes’ after the successful test flight of the Hercules. In real life, Hughes lived another twenty-nine years and died a lunatic and a recluse. If you happened upon the man during the final years of his life you would describe him as an impoverished and gaudy man of six-foot-four. When he died of kidney failure in 1976, he weighed only 40kg, had grotesquely long fingernails, toenails, hair, and beard, and had hypodermic needles embedded in his arms. So unrecognisable was Hughes that the FBI was forced to rely on his fingerprints to identify him.

Howard Hughes ought to be remembered, and admired, as a brilliant businessman and pioneer. He was an eccentric perfectionist who, between the ages of eighteen and seventy, managed to amass a personal wealth of one-and-a-half billion dollars. He was a man who made remarkable, and often groundbreaking, successes in film, aviation, and real estate. Between 1926 and 1957, Hughes produced twenty-six movies, including Scarface (1932) and the Outlaw (1943), and directed the classic World War One air warfare film Hell’s Angels (1930).

As an aviator, Hughes’ not only helped to revolutionise air travel, he also set many aviation records personally. In 1935, Hughes set the overland flying record by travelling nearly 352mph over Santa Ana, California. In 1937, Hughes set the record for transcontinental flight by flying from Burbank California to Newark, New Jersey in seven hours, twenty-eight minutes, and twenty-five seconds. Then in 1938, Hughes, along with a four man team, circumnavigated the globe in a record three days, nineteen hours, and seventeen minutes.

In a re-release trailer for Hell’s Angels, Howard Hughes is introduced as:

“Howard Hughes: millionaire genius, was a pioneer in aviation and motion pictures. He defied convention,  set new patterns for others to follow, made stars of unknowns, and left the world a legacy of film classics.”

Howard Hughes represents a type of man that doesn’t really exist anymore: the bold, dashing, larger-than-life individual. A man who achieved incredible things against what was often overwhelming odds. It is characters like Hughes that build countries and improve the world we all live in. And it is films like the Aviator which presents their stories to us.