Nov 13

Lincoln and the Civic (Extra Credit)

War has a tendency to strengthen preexisting notions of one’s civic responsibilities.  Lincoln (2012) renders a powerful demonstration of this effect, as it follows the president on his trying path to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.  While Lincoln himself certainly exhibits an ideal of selfless service, his eldest son (Robert Todd Lincoln) offers a more zealous, passionate example.

As a man of fighting age, Robert feels the call to join the other men defending the Union.  Like his father, he puts the welfare of the nation before his own interests, postponing his education and career in order to serve in the military.  In addition to a sense of duty, Robert feels that he must contribute to the war effort to preserve his own honor.

Ironically, seeing first-hand the horrors that he would face as a soldier do not deter Robert; his resolve to enlist is only strengthened by a feeling of solidarity with those already on the battlefield.  The closer he is to the war, the more Robert is aware of the patriotism and sense of duty that move him.

Throughout the film, Robert serves as the embodiment of common notions of the civic during the Civil War.  Because he is free of the political influences and motives that sway many of the Congressmen portrayed, he is able to display these notions freely and plainly; however, several other characters besides Lincoln and his son also act for the greater good.

While being questioned before Congress, Thaddeus Stevens swallows his pride to avoid jeopardizing the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (although he placates himself by insulting his political enemies), and although many Congressmen exchange their votes for  the promise of government positions, some are swayed by the notion of equality alone.

Lincoln certainly portrays the less-than-ideal byproducts of the American political system, but it also reveals common civic ideals that have outlasted any political party or faction.  The sense of duty that created unlikely allies and moved men to action during Lincoln’s presidency are just as influential today.

Nov 13

TED Talk Reflection

I don’t think I’ve ever given a speech that went exactly as planned, but my TED Talk was definitely a manifestation of Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”).  Despite having run through the speech before class, I managed to omit a key point from my introduction.  Then I continued talking until I could no longer feasibly work it back into the speech.  Perhaps I should have slowed down and reworked my introduction on the fly, but, in retrospect, there are some simple measures I could have taken to counteract my forgetfulness.

Looking back at similar speeches (5 minutes without notes) that I had to give for an Engineering Design course, I realized where I went wrong.  While I took a similar approach in preparing for the TED Talk, familiarizing myself with the information and data that I wanted to present so that I could support my main points, I changed my approach with the key points themselves.  The Engineering Department teaches a presentation format called Assertion-Evidence; it’s a simple premise: you make a statement, then back it up.  Presentations in this format are usually accompanied by PowerPoint Presentations with a slide for each assertion, plainly stating the point to be made.

I designed my TED slideshow to show supporting evidence for each of the main points that I planned to make, but did not include the points themselves.  Having headings or titles that would have indicated the point I needed to make and breaking the presentation into a greater number of slides, each with more specific information, would have helped me remain on point and prevented the omission of important information.  From now on, I’ll try sticking to what I know works when it comes to oral presentations.  My TED Talk is linked below:

Nov 13

Sateré-Mawé Initiation

Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

Although one of Brazil’s twenty-six states and home to several large cities, Amazonas remains largely covered by the dense foliage of South America’s lush rainforest.  In the depths of the jungle, many native tribes still follow their traditional ways of life.  Largely undisturbed by outsiders for many years, these independent natives carry on ancient practices and rituals that have contributed to their survival amid the perils that constantly surround them.

One of the largest of these groups is the Sateré-Mawé, a tribe of roughly ten thousand members that inhabits the northern region of Amazonas.  Although the tribe lives in relative seclusion and has little contact with outsiders, the Mawé have allowed the rare visitor to document their unique lifestyle and traditions.  Unaffected by external influences, the Mawé people offer a window into the rich history of American Natives.  They are a living example of a what used to be a much more common way of life.


While perhaps most notable to those who initially encountered them for being the first to cultivate guarana, the Mawé people are not primarily concerned with agriculture.  Their culture values strength and courage, qualities needed to protect the tribe from hostile neighbors and natural predators, as well as to provide a steady supply of food for its members.  Mawé warriors and hunters ensure the well-being of the tribe in many regards, and they are highly revered.  As a result, young boys in the tribe are raised with the purpose of becoming warriors constantly at mind.

Joining the ranks of Mawé warriors, however, is not an easy undertaking.  In one of the tribe’s most sacred rituals, young men hoping to gain the status of their elders must show themselves capable of enduring the worst that the jungle has to offer.  They prove their worth by remaining calm, often entirely expressionless, while experiencing excruciating pain.

The Mawé test their young men’s strength against a natural predator: the ant.  Although it may not seem a formidable challenge to a foreigner, the Amazon Rainforest is home to a particularly venomous species of ant.  A single sting from Paraponera clavata, the ant of choice for Mawé initiations, is capable of causing hours of pain.  The species has been nicknamed the “bullet ant” because a sting is said (by some victims) to be as painful as being shot.  The powerful toxin used by the ant attacks and interferes with the nervous system, often causing uncontrollable shaking even after the waves of pain have ceased.  The effects of a single ant sting have been known to last days; the warrior hopefuls of the Mawé tribe, however, do not sustain just one sting.


In preparation for the initiation ceremony, bullet ants are sedated and harvested from the jungle.  While unconscious, the ants are woven into a pair of gloves made from leaves, with their stingers facing inward.  To be considered a man of the tribe, boys as young as twelve will thrust their hands into the gloves for a full five minutes (or longer), being stung the entire time.  The tribe leads the initiates in song and dance during the ordeal, but this distraction is their only relief.


When the gloves are removed, the ants’ venom continues acting for hours.  In addition to the pain, it can cause muscle paralysis, disorientation, and hallucinations for hours.  And while completing the ceremony earns the young men respect, they must wear the gloves a total of twenty times before being considered fully initiated as tribal warriors.


Nov 13

TED Talk Preparation

While the TED Talk is a relatively new type of presentation, it is not drastically different than other forms of public speech or delivery.  Giving a successful TED talk will rely on many of the same elements as the more traditional speech required by Unit One.  Therefore, in preparing for my upcoming presentation, I will focus on correcting the errors that I made in my first speech.

I feel that one of the most important improvements that I can make is to capture and hold the audience’s attention more effectively.  When preparing for my last speech, I spent time familiarizing myself with the information that I wanted to convey, but did not focus enough on how I planned to convey it.  When practicing my TED Talk, I want to consciously alter my style, particularly my tone and inflection, until I find what will work best.

TED Talks are more of a performance than most other speeches.  Without being rooted to a lectern, I will have to be more aware of my body language and gestures.  Practicing with an audience or filming myself could help me eliminate any distracting or unnecessary mannerisms.  Along the same lines, it will be more important that I not only reference my visual aids, but that I can seamlessly interact with them.  Being familiar with the PowerPoint that I plan to use will give the talk an uninterrupted flow.  Identifying and fixing glitches and technical problems ahead of time will also ensure that my performance runs smoothly.

Finally, while Unit One was a more structured speech, the TED format depends on general knowledge of the topic being presented and does not allow for the use of notes.  Therefore, I will prepare by familiarizing myself with the key points and data that I want to use rather than focusing on strict memorization.  This will, hopefully, allow for a more authentic and engaging presentation, feeling more like a discussion than a lecture for the audience.

Nov 13


Chumbivilcas Province, Peru

With the arrival of each new year, people of almost every nationality around the globe make resolutions to improve their lives.  Amid the celebrations, there is a common desire to leave the troubles of the past year behind.  One region of Peru has combined the joyous celebration that typically precedes the new year with the concept of communal betterment.  In a unique tradition known as Takanakuy, a growing number of Peruvians in the Chumbivilcas area prepare for the arrival of the new year by settling old arguments with neighbors, friends, and family.  As part of the annual celebration, the name of which translates to “when the blood is boiling,” quarreling parties clear the air over any disputes with physical fights, often ending in a knockout.

Peruvian drunk fights Takanakuy16 Peruvian drunk fights   Takanakuy


While trying to make peace through violent brawls may seem like a counterproductive notion, the Peruvians who take part in Takanakuy would disagree.  The fights are not primarily about violence, and certainly not about vengeance; instead, they are an honorable way to settle disputes, putting a definite end to petty arguments and preventing them from escalating.  Furthermore, the spirit of Takanakuy, which takes place on Christmas Day, is far more about community and solidarity than conflict.

There are many non-violent components of Takanakuy, including traditional dress that celebrates regional history.  Ski masks are so common in the Peruvian provinces that are located in the Andes Mountains, including Chumbivilcas, that those belonging to each region have developed unique designs and color schemes designating their place of origin.  Masks in the Chumbivilcas style (red, green, yellow and white), an easily recognized sign of pride, are a frequent sight at Takanakuy.  Elaborate costumes emulate historical periods, with popular outfits fashioned after Andean horsemen and colonial slave drivers.


Music at Takanakuy also holds important ties to the past.  Although the tradition has spread to urban areas, Takanakuy belongs primarily to the indigenous people of the Chumbivilcas region, who live under their own law without government interference.  Their preferred style of music, known as Huaylia, originated in the sixteenth century as part of a revolutionary movement; its lyrics emphasize the common Chumbivilcas ideals of freedom and independence, a spirit reflected by Takanakuy itself.

The fights themselves, which draw hundreds of spectators to a small region of the Andes, are not entirely unstructured.  The crowds are called together and process to a designated area, where those wishing to settle an argument may challenge an opponent by calling out his or her full name.  During the match, several officials keep the spectators in line with whips while another observes the fight.  Most fights end in a knockout, but all, by requirement, end with a handshake or hug.


While violence is an unorthodox way of making peace, it has worked for generations of Takanakuy participants.  Shared tradition, pride, and honor serve to unify the natives of the Chumbivilcas province.  With such a strong focus on community, Takanakuy allows those involved to see past petty conflicts and focus on repairing relationships.  And if all else fails, the days of heavy drinking before and after Takanakuy are often enough to build camaraderie.


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