Jan 15

Caribbean Mythology: It’s Voodou, Child!

My first passion blog post of the semester goes out to Wilson, who gave me my first request: the folklore of the Caribbean! Now, when I say Caribbean, that includes islands like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and especially Haiti, which had the highest amount of slave trafficking in that region. This is important because there are plenty of places in the Americas where slaves brought along their tribal religions, but the Caribbean mythology derives in particular from the Dahomey, Ebo and Yoruba tribes in Africa, who were brought en masse to Central America to be slaves. The type of religion which developed there is one of the most unique I’ve ever researched. It’s a melting pot African, Spanish, and Creole cultures. I imagine it as though Christian characters went out the back door to practice voodoo with some African tribal gods.

What it’s all developed into is something called “Voodou;” the “Voo” meaning introspection, and “Dou” meaning the unknown. This is far from your Hollywood stuffed dolls with pins sticking out of them, but rather a production of a rich, provocative, and beautifully dark culture. Here are some highlights.

Bondye is the equivalent of Yahweh in the Christian religion. He is the supreme mono-god, and generally appears very aloof. He is considered the creator of life and humanity, and all of it belongs to him. Unlike the Christian God, he’s unlikely to help you if you ask, so it’s advised you don’t bother praying to him. Also unlike the Christian God, he has a wife: the mother Goddess, Gran-met. However, it’s sometimes thought that Gran-met is actually just a female manifestation of Bondye. Most people who practice Voodou will tell you that whichever story you believe is a personal preference.

In keeping with our shady Christian themes, Bondye and Gran-met are often accompanied by the spirits of Loa–the equivalent of angels, demons, or Catholic saints. Their primary purpose is to guide you or–more literally–ride you when you’re “prancing and trancing.” In short, the Loa are spirits of possession.

But to get off this Christian train, I now present to you Baron-samediwho is by far the most stylin’ spirit of the dead (As you can see in the picture to the right). Possibly the most infamously famous God of the Voodou Pantheon, he is about one step down from Bondye, and commands the Guede (death and fertility) family of the Loa. He usually appears as a tall, skinny man in a black suit, shiny top hat,and a dinner jacket, with a white, skull-like face and cotton plugs in his nose (as if he’s dressed to be buried in a traditional Haitian funeral). I think he actually looks a bit like a sassy Wilson… except more dead, I guess. Baron-samedi is noted for obscenity and debauchery, and has a particular fondness for tobacco and rum spiked with hot peppers. He’s constantly making filthy jokes to the spirits in the realm he resides in. Despite this, the Baron is a god you’ll want to pray to, especially if you ever find yourself caught up in a nasty hex. As long as Baron-samedi refuses to dig your grave, the hex cannot kill you (#ProTip).

But if you do die, you won’t have to worry too much, especially if you get picked up by his wife, Maman-brigitte. She’s so chatty and full of jokes, that it’s actually fun when you’re escorted to the Underworld.

Well, I’m already over the word count, and I haven’t introduced you to half of the Voodou pantheon yet. As I mentioned, there’s simply so many influences that the lore is practically overflowing with stuff. I’d have to write a book. However, if you’re interested in finding out more, go to this site: http://www.godchecker.com/pantheon/caribbean-mythology.php

The descriptions of the gods and goddesses are a little sparse, but it will point you in the right direction. I recommend exploring their characters there, and then looking for more depth descriptions of the ones you like on Wikipedia.

That’s all I got for now. I await your requests for next week!

Jan 15

Russia is Giving Europe the Willies. America’s Response?

In the U.S., there’s a longstanding debate about whether or not to cut back or expand our military. After all, we invest more money in the armed forces than any other country; hundreds of billions more than China, Great Britain, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and France combined. We’ve developed a status quo, and though many Americans believe we should be putting more of that “gratuitous” amount of money into things like education or welfare, having a military at the top of the food chain is something to be admired. And it’s something we’ve taken for granted.

Over in Europe, countries have been pouring continually less money into their militaries. But there’s never been much debate about these cuts. Ever since the Cold War ended, Western Europe has enjoyed a time of peace. With less international threats to worry about, they started funneling their military budget into education reform, universal healthcare, and clean transportation. Some of them were still working on rebuilding after World War II. In any case, if something seemed threatening, they could always rely on America, the undeclared policeman of the globe. Recently though, things have started to change for Europeans. And Russia is at the head of it.

Between the massive country’s increased military budget and it’s governments lack of transparency, Russia has the U.S. on its toes. But we are no where near as close in proximity to them as our European friends, who are becoming more and more anxious. One such country is Sweden, who led an “international cat-mouse game” when a foreign submarine poked it’s head into the waters of Stockholm a few months ago. The primary suspect for whom this “mouse” belonged to, was Russia (Shapiro). In April, Russia had simulated a bombing raid on the same city, complete with fighter jets zooming over the civilian population. And just last month, a Russian military aircraft flying in stealth almost collided with a commercial passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen.

Admiral Jan Thornquist, the chief of staff for the Swedish navy, is worried that Russia’s antics could lead to an international crisis. And with tensions this high, especially after their intervention in the Ukraine, all it would take from Russia is a small slip up.

“If you’re doing an exercise close to a border of another country, you could easily pass that border by mistake,”he told NPR on Tuesday morning, “You point out another ship with a radar system, that could easily be interpreted as a threat.”

The worst part is that nobody seems able to do anything about it.

“I’ve been in the armed forces since the early ’70s, and I’ve only experienced reductions,” says Jan Solesund, the secretary of state for Sweden’s Ministry of Defense, “Europe as a whole, of course, downsized their forces… We tend to forget that things can change quicker than we thought.”

Indeed, with Russia’s recent expenditures, there isn’t a country in Europe who can hope to compete with the post-Soviet military. In fact, the only country whose military remains superior… is the United States.

So what are we going to do about it? Ariel Cohen, a PhD in political science at the Heritage Foundation, has a few ideas. Throughout the research he published this May, Cohen outlines the strategic motivations behind Russia’s newly expanded military, some of which Vladimir Putin has openly addressed, including the pursuit of multilateral international relations, and increased defense against emerging threats. Other motives were not mentioned publicly, such as redemption after the Cold War, and the ability to become the leader of a number of anti-West forces in the East.

With Russians motivated by both logic and pride, it doesn’t seem as though they’ll be backing down from getting the military back in gear anytime soon. According to a Levada Center poll, 46% of Russians were in favor of increasing military spending even if it led to an economic slowdown (versus 41% opposed if defense increases caused economic hardship). These opinions have no doubt shifted now that the value of the Ruble has dropped off by half due to sanctions and military spending (Ormiston). However, expansion is already underway, and it’s causing problems with many of our allies. Not to mention that Putin has already invested way too much money to turn back now. And if all goes according to plan, by 2020 Russia is projected to have a million active-duty personnel in place, backed up by 2300 new tanks, and 1200 new helicopters and planes. They’ll have a navy sporting fifty new surface ships and twenty-eight submarines, with one hundred new satellites designed to augment Russia’s communications, command and control capabilities (Gvosdev). These advances will bring them closer to America’s military might anyone country in the 21st century ever has. A little too close for comfort?

In his abstract, Cohen notes that it is vital that the U.S. increase intelligence gathering on Russian military growth, as well as their tactical goals, programs, and plans. He also strongly encourages U.S. military modernization to continue, with defense spending remaining 4% of the GDP. Normally I’m one of the people advocating for cuts in our military spending, but looking at the facts here, I think I could get on board with some of the conservatives in our country. I’m not trying to rouse fear or anything, but I think it’s obvious the U.S. needs to start taking Russia more seriously. Do you think Cohen’s suggestions are a step in the right direction for the American government? Is it too much, not enough? Do you have any other ideas? Leave your answers in the comments.

Bender, Jeremy and Macias, Amanda. The 35 Most Powerful Militaries in the World. Business Insider, July 2014.

Cohen, Ariel. A U.S. Response to Russia’s Military Modernization. The Heritage Foundation, May 2014.

Gvosdev, Nikolas K. The Bear Awakens: Russia’s Military Is Back. The National Interest, Nov. 2014.

Ormiston, Susan. Ruble’s Dramatic Drop Inflicts Economic Pain in Russia. CBC News, Jan. 2015.

Shapiro, Ari. Russian Threats Expose Europe’s Military Cutbacks. NPR, Jan. 2015.

Jan 15

Blog Topics: Finalized!

This is just a post to announce my two blog topics. For Passion, I got a ton of interest in the Ancient Mythology topic, so I’ll be writing about that this semester (I’m totes excited!)

For Civic Issues, I’ll be doing foreign policy and international relations. I feel I have more expertise and interest on that topic than on the current party politics going on in the U.S.

I can’t wait to start writing! Oh–and if you have a request for mythology already, please let me know in a comment!

Jan 15

“This I Believe:” Education Opens Worlds (Revised)

People often ask me what it’s like to have two parents with PhD’s. After all, if most teenagers have a hard time getting over the idea that their parents are smarter than them, how does it feel knowing your parents are smarter than most people you will ever meet? Mostly, I feel proud… and, occasionally, stressed. Mom and Dad have pretty high standards for me. But the pressure to apply myself in school, to make myself think and explore, has never been a concern of mine. And it’s because of a belief my parents bestowed upon me since before I could walk.

“Education opens worlds.”

By the time I was two, my parents were trying to teach me everything they could. I started reading early, then writing. They let me do my own chemistry experiments with baking soda and vinegar in the kitchen, and dig around in our vegetable garden for beetles. While other parents took their kids to amusement parks for their birthday, my family went to zoos, aquariums, and science museums–now some of my favorite places.

Learning, my parents told me, was the most incredible experience someone my age could have. School was an adventure, curiosity a superpower. Books were things that opened doors, and introduced you to ways of thinking you would have never discovered otherwise.

As I grew up, I felt almost overwhelmed by all the things I wanted to learn. My school’s library quickly became a kind of oasis for me. I voraciously read anything I could get my hands on, from novels and short stories, to books on history, plants, animals, atoms, meteorology, and plate tectonics. Once, I finished an entire book about potatoes.

Middle and high school brought honors classes and much more stress. My parents remained steadfastly supportive of me, their faculty positions at Penn State University subtle reminders of the places I could go if I worked hard, if I remained curious.

“Education opens worlds,” Dad reminded me as I wrote essay after essay, scrambling to put my college apps together. In those few months, it was hard to remember that I was lucky. There were kids like me out there, who were smart and driven–probably more than me–who simply didn’t have the kind of support I had from my parents, or their school system. They wouldn’t be going to college but here, here I was with this chance

“This is the part of your life,” my mom told me, “where you can decide exactly where you want to go.” I knew she supported me, but the unspoken truth was there: There was no place that would lead me to more places, than a university.

I needed to know where this education I had worked so hard for would take me. I had read and wrote and learned like it was going to save my life.

…And now here I am, sitting at my desk, a freshman at Penn State University, and I realized it may actually have. My name is Isabella Teti, and I believe education opens worlds.

Jan 15

Ideas for Passion Blog, Civic Issues, and “This I Believe” Podcast

My two ideas for my Passion blog are a bit of a departure from the one I did last semester, which was very civic-oriented (feminism and all that jazz). I wanted to have a little more fun with it this time around since we’re also doing a Civic Issues blog where I can get all my liberal monologues out of my system. I’m volleying back and forth between a blog about modern hard rock, and one about ancient mythologies. I really like modern hard rock, and I think the genre is often under-appreciated and misunderstood. I’d love to write about its nuances each week. However, I’m a tad more interested in writing about mythology, specifically because I don’t know as much about it, and I’d like to learn more. My plan for that one would be to pick a certain creature or story each week, research it, and write about what I find. I could also talk about how those stories influenced the cultures of the civilizations they grew out of. And I would take requests, if any readers were curious about a certain story. 🙂

I was thinking about doing women’s issues again for my Civic Issues blog, but I tend to choose the topics I want to learn about based on what I think will be best for me to know in the long run, which means choosing something different and learning about things I’m not familiar with. My two ideas stem from one of my majors: Political Science. I’d either like to talk about party politics, or foreign affairs. At this point I’m leaning toward foreign affairs. Although I’m very passionate about national politics, I honestly feel like it’s been over-talked quite a bit lately. Additionally, the two poli-sci classes I’ve taken/am taking this year are Comparative Government and International Relations–both of which are best for helping me analyze foreign affairs. I know that the Civic Issues websites suggests looking at the US’s foreign policy, but I’ll probably also be looking at the policies of other countries as well. You can’t really know what’s going on unless you study both sides.

For my “This I Believe” podcast, I’ve been considering talking about people’s right to education. I was raised by two parents with PhD’s, and they’ve always taught me that education is the most important thing I could do for myself. As I grew up and learned more about the disadvantages of people who never receive an education, I became even more certain of this belief. I want to talk about why I find education so important, and why it’s only fair that everyone have access to it. I’ve also been thinking about doing my podcast on the value of service, and how helping people in your community can actually make you think and feel like a better person. I would talk about how it’s not only a way for you to improve people’s lives, but also a way to see both sides of the story, and become more empathetic to those less fortunate than yourself.

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