For Beginners® is a documentary, graphic, nonfiction book series. With subjects ranging from philosophy to politics, art, and beyond, the For Beginners® series covers a range of familiar concepts in a humorous comic-book style, and takes a readily comprehensible approach that’s respectful of the intelligence of its audience.
Dan Brown, best known for The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, is releasing his newest book, Inferno, today. In Inferno, the fictional professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, is back and is hunting down new secrets and following news clues. According to the Barnes and Noble description, “Langdon, is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces…Dante’s Inferno. Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust…before the world is irrevocably altered.”
Any reader of The Divine Comedy knows that Dante was fascinated with numbers. This provides Brown with ample material for secret codes and hidden meanings. After all, The Divine Comedy“is divided into 33 cantos — plus an extra one in Dante’s Inferno, to make 100 cantos in all. The verses are riddled with references to threes, sevens, nines and other numbers with mystical meanings.”
If you’re a Dan Brown fan and love to break his codes, it would be prudent to do a little research on Dante. This way, you’re prepared to dive right into the new mysteries. Dante For Beginners is a great place to start as it breaks down The Divine Comedy, canto by canto, and even gives a solid history of the man behind such a masterpiece.
Happy May, For Beginners fans! It’s May 1st, so you know what that means; May Day! That’s right, May 1st is the official holiday dedicated to all hard-workers around the world who work to drive our global economy. May Day is about workers uniting around the world get up, go out, and take a stand for the rights they deserve for their labor. The international turnout this year is so far, to say the least, impressive.
Here are some of the demonstrations that have occurred as the sun made its way across the globe today:
Jakarta holds the dual title of capital and largest city for Indonesia. The main streets that run through the center of Jakarta’s business district filled early morning, Wednesday, with the 150,000-or so workers you see below. Workers started making their demands around 9 AM (Tuesday, 10 PM - US Eastern Time), according to the Jakarta post, and did not stop until late in the day.
Moscow’s streets saw a crowd of 150,000 show up for May Day. Workers from all differentunions – trade, aviation, postal, and more – united to take a stand for their rights in what seemed to be a mixture of protest and celebration. According to the New York Times President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin both made appearances at the rally to march alongside protestors.
Thousands of Spaniards hit the streets of their nation’s capital Wednesday, pointedly targeting Gran Via, a street known in Madrid for its shopping, as their route. Spain currently faces its highest unemployment rate ever at 27 percent, as written by Reuters writer Clare Kane. Head of the Unión General de Trabajadores (General Union of Workers) Candido Mendez was quoted byKane in her article, saying that Spain has “never [had] a May 1 with more reason to take to the streets.”
May Day in Istanbul saw a riot break out, Wednesday, near the city’s capital square after protestors tried to break through a barrier police had created to prevent them from entering the square. May Day was only recently reinstated as a national holiday in Turkey in 2010 under the pressure of numerous trade union, after being canceled 30 years before due to a coup.
Members of the Iraqi Communist Party gathered in al-Firdous square in Baghdad, Wednesday, according to Business Insider. It is a big day for the party, as up until recently they were banned from marching by Saddam Hussein’s regime. In their political statement on their website, the Iraqi Communist Party makes a vow to “strengthen ties and relations with all peace-loving, progressive and democratic forces and movements in the world, in the joint struggle forfreedom, democracy and social progress…”
Here in the United States, events are planned in many cities throughout the day in honor of May Day. In New York, the Occupy Wall Street movement intends to rally and demonstrate in various ways at multiple venues, including a march by the TWU Young Workers at Bryant Park which started at 10:30 AM, and a rally for labor and citizen’s rights at City Hall at 6:00 PM. In Texas, Occupy Austin held a peaceful picnic in a park on the southeast riverbank at noon central-time in place of the work day; on the West Coast, Occupy Los Angeles held a rally at 2:00 PM pacific-time in Pershing Square, joining forces with SCIC and other labor rights groups at 4:00 PM pacific-time at the corners of Broadway and Olympic, two very central avenues the heart of L.A.
If you would like to learn more about May Day and the history the workers’ rights around the world, pick up a copy of Unions For Beginners. It is a wonderfully informative look into the complexity of labor relations and the ways they have transformed throughout time.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” – Jason Collins.
The coming out of NBA player, Jason Collins, has shaken things up in the professional sports community. Though, there have been players who’ve come out after their professional sports careers ended – David Kopay, John Amaechi, Glenn Burke, to name a few – Collins is the first male who’s still actively playing in one of the four major sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) to come out as gay.
Interestingly enough, Collins’ decision to come out follows two other professional athletes’ announcements: Brittney Griner and Robbie Rogers. Griner, a women’s basketball player, recently came out of the closet. Griner is the #1 draft pick for the WNBA.
“Dave Kopay, who came out as gay in 1975 after a nine-year N.F.L. career, said on Monday he had waited nearly 40 years for this moment. ‘What he did is not easy,’ Kopay said. ‘And I’m overwhelmed with how he’s done this. I’m so, so happy right now.’”
Glenn Burke played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A’s and he was out to friends and family. When Burke was playing for the A’s, rumors about his sexuality drove him to leave the league at the age of 27 in 1979. “’Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have,’” Burke said in an interview with the New York Times in 1994. Unfortunately, Burke passed away from AIDs in 1995 and is unable to be here for this momentous act.
Collins has a received an outpouring of support from other professional athletes. Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, and Dwayne Wade have all pledged support. “President Obama called Collins ‘to express his support and said he was impressed by his courage,’ according to a Twitter post from the White House. Michelle Obama, on her account, called Collins’s announcement ‘a huge step forward for our country.’” Of course, there have been some dissenters but they seem to be the outliers.
“Collins will become a free agent in July and plans to pursue another contract. This will be the ultimate test to how the NBA views gay players. However, complicating that question is the fact that Collins, at 34, is a marginal player with limited skills, more valued for his locker-room presence than his play and not at the top of anyone’s list of players to sign. He appeared in just 38 games this season, which he split between the Boston Celtics and the Wizards, and was used sparingly.” Thus, it will be hard to discern whether it’s his okay stats or his sexuality that inhibit any new contracts. Though, many scouts note his reputation as a solid teammate and a hard worker – which is enough to get him signed again.
If Collins’ coming out will have a domino effect; only time will tell. Logic pretty much tells us that he’s not the only gay professional athlete in the NBA – let alone in the NFL, NHL, and MLB. My guess is that if Collins gets re-signed, we will see more gay athletes in these leagues coming out.
William Shakespeare: A name with many personal associations. Some envision a crazy man with poofy pants who wrote boring – or brilliant (depending on your taste) – plays and poems. Okay, okay that’s what I envision – with an emphasis on brilliant. I always enjoyed reading Shakespeare in my high school days. Most students I knew back then hated it. In fact, one of my favorite Akira Kurosawa films, Throne of Blood, is a fantastic rendition of Macbeth.
Unfortunately, I stopped reading Shakespeare after high school for more than one reason. I’ve only read the usual: Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. You don’t really realize how much free time you have on your hands when you’re still in high school. College takes over and then your career. Time for reading classic literature and watching beloved films diminishes. Luckily, I’ve been able to skim through Shakespeare For Beginners and I now have a better understanding of the plays and poems I’ve failed to read. It’s like CliffsNotes comic book style.
Why am I writing about Shakespeare anyways? Well today, April 23rd, is what scholars consider to be his birthday. Though, no one really knows the actual date. We just assume it’s on the 23rd because he was baptized the 26th. Here’s a run-down on this enigmatic man from Shakespeare For Beginners:
“What do people really know about this guy? Not much. He was baptized on April 26, 1564, in Stratford-on-Avon, England. His father John was a glover who was named to several important town posts, and may have had financial difficulties later in life. William wasted no time getting started in life. At the age of eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children: Susanna (born in 1583), and the twins Hamnet and Judith (1585). (Hamnet died in 1596.) Nobody is certain exactly what Shakespeare did between 1583 and 1592. Somewhere along the line, he became and actor and began writing plays. In 1592, a jealous playwright named Robert Greene attacked Shakespeare in print, and made fun of the idea of an actor writing plays. Shakespeare apparently wasn’t too impressed by Mr. Greene’s criticism; he continued to write and perform, and he became an important figure in the London literary and theatrical scene. He published two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). A writer named Francis Meres took notice of Shakespeare in 1598, listing twelve of his plays and complimenting his privately circulated poetry. The well-connected acting company with which Shakespeare was associated, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, built a theater in 1598 called the Globe; he owned an interest in the playhouse.
In 1603, when James I became King, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men. Over the years, some of Shakespeare’s plays were published in unauthorized editions (but many of his plays were never published during his lifetime); a collection of his sonnets appeared in 1609. After the Globe burned down in 1613, Shakespeare seems to have stopped writing and performing. He spent the last years of his life at Stratford, in a home he’d bought in 1597 called New Place. He died in 1616 and was buried in Stratford. Shakespeare’s life was so unspectacular that some people have found it hard to believe that such an ‘ordinary’ man with so little formal schooling could create the greatest body of work in the English language. (As if genius could be taught in school!) Most scholars now accept the fact that Shakespeare did indeed write his own plays.
Those are pretty slim pickings for the biography of a genius. Fortunately, it is Shakespeare’s writing, not his personal life, that has captivated audiences for nearly four centuries.”
After some more introduction to Shakespeare’s writing as a whole, Shakespeare For Beginners delves into each work individually. The book gives a pretty solid rundown of his whole oeuvre. I went ahead and included the sections on Macbeth.
As I mentioned, Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, tells the story of Macbeth but takes place in feudal Japan with samurais instead of knights and noblemen. It’s a great rendition.
But, in my opinion, nothing beats reading the plays themselves - with, of course, the groundwork laid out byShakespeare For Beginners.
Today, we celebrate the 289th birthday of the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Along with his fellow philosophers like Christian Wolff and J.W. von Goethe, Kant was a key part in the philosophical developments on knowledge that came from the German Enlightenment. As is so innate to the nature of philosophy, he mastered the art of taking prior ideas and transforming them into new theories and philosophies. There is a certain irony in this, given the fact that the majority of Kantian theory is based upon how we come to acquire knowledge, i.e. whether or not it is made from our own reasoning powers, or learned from outside experience. Kant argued that it is a matter of both processes, and that knowledge comes from a fusion of both reason and experience.
Prior to this the two schools of thought known as Empiricism and Rationalism had opposing views, and insisted what Kant was saying was not possible. Empiricism maintained that knowledge was only gained through experience and could never be a product of thought. Rationalism maintained the opposite, insisting that knowledge was only ever a product of one’s logical thought. It would seem paradoxical at first to try and combine the two, but from the very ability to do so, Kant in a way proved that knowledge is indeed almost always a product of learned information and rationality. This is after all the very essence of intellectual progress, is it not?
Kant was also very well-known for his philosophy on morality. This is where Kant shows a sort of favoritism toward Rationalism, even though he still maintained that Empiricism held merit. It may seem counterintuitive but Kant was insistent upon the fact that moral judgments were exactly that; judgments out of logic and nothing more. According to his theory of the “categorical imperative” – the parameters from which we draw moral conclusions – morals were actually devoid of emotion and natural inclinations.
This is not to say that Kant ever defined what is moral and what isn’t. In fact, he never once claimed to know what is good or bad, because that was not the business in which he was dealing. He only ever claimed to know what it is that makes morality exist in general.
As Kant grew older and his thought processes evolved, his ideas took on a decidedly rigid tone. This is the reputation that Kant has become known for today, especially given that the majority of his counterparts embody the lack of certainty that philosophy tends to hold. Before he died, Kant’s last great critique was on that of aesthetics and what their existence means. He took to examining art and nature, and came up with the conclusion that art and nature both exist to be judged and that is their purpose. He expressed that, in judging the aesthetics of art and nature, one finds inspiration and thus another kind of reason that was previously absent from their thought process. After he died, a new school of thought was born; German Idealism, which was headed by philosophers like Fichte and Schiller. This hyper-artistic period was, not surprisingly, a large contradiction, as it at once attributed most of its ideas to Kant while somewhat negating them at the same time by bringing much emotion and romanticism into the picture.
Kant was just one of countless different philosophers throughout history that are responsible for the way we perceive and learn things today. If you are interested in learning more about philosophy and how thought and knowledge have been examined in the past, pick up a copy of Philosophy For Beginners by Richard Osborne. It gives a comprehensive look into the often daunting world of philosophy, making ideas that may seem aloof much more accessible and concrete. You can also find related books such as Kirkegaard For Beginners and Derrida For Beginners to get an inside look at specific philosophers, and Existentialism For Beginnersand Deconstruction For Beginners where you will find insight on the different subsets of philosophy that have come to be throughout time.
It’s still April – still National Poetry Month. Time isn’t moving as fast as it seems. At least for me. Anyways, I thought I’d showcase one of my favorite poets: Charles Bukowski. I mentioned him briefly in my other poetry post but it didn’t do him justice. Like I said then, Bukowski is a somewhat acquired taste. The man and his work. He’s often raw and visceral and doesn’t hide behind fancy rhetoric like other poets. No, his work is direct. To the point. Like so many other artists and poets, he was a heavy drinker and die-hard cigarette smoker.
He looks exactly as you’d think.
“Born in Germany, Bukowski was brought to the United States at the age of two. His father believed in firm discipline and often beat Bukowski for the smallest offenses, abuse Bukowski detailed in his autobiographical coming-of-age novel, Ham on Rye (1982). A slight child, Bukowski was also bullied by boys his own age, and was frequently rejected by girls because of his bad complexion. “When Bukowski was 13,” wrote Ciotti, “one of [his friends] invited him to his father’s wine cellar and served him his first drink of alcohol: ‘It was magic,’ Bukowski would later write. ‘Why hadn’t someone told me?’”
In 1939, Bukowski began attending Los Angeles City College, dropping out at the beginning of World War II and moving to New York to become a writer. The next few years were spent writing and traveling and collecting numerous rejection slips. By 1946 Bukowski had decided to give up his writing aspirations, embarking on a ten-year binge that took him across the country. Ending up near death in Los Angeles, Bukowski started writing again, though he would continue to drink and cultivate his reputation as a hard-living poet. He did not begin his professional writing career until the age of thirty-five, and like other contemporaries, began by publishing in underground newspapers, especially in local papers such as Open City and the L.A. Free Press. ‘Published by small, underground presses and ephemeral mimeographed little magazines,’ described Jay Dougherty in Contemporary Novelists, ‘Bukowski has gained popularity, in a sense, through word of mouth.’ ‘The main character in his poems and short stories, which are largely autobiographical, is usually a down-and-out writer [Henry Chinaski] who spends his time working at marginal jobs (and getting fired from them), getting drunk and making love with a succession of bimbos and floozies,’ related Ciotti. ‘Otherwise, he hangs out with fellow losers—whores, pimps, alcoholics, drifters.’”
I’ve got to be honest, I’m not a huge poetry reader. But something triggered inside me this past summer and I began reading it a lot more. Mostly Bukowski. I also really like Yeats. Their works are the only ones I’m truly familiar with. There’s just something about Bukowski that strikes a chord. One of my favorites is ‘Bluebird.’ It’s probably one of his most famous. And it’s easy to see why.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too tough for him, I say, stay in there, I’m not going to let anybody see you. there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I pour whiskey on him and inhale cigarette smoke and the whores and the bartenders and the grocery clerks never know that he’s in there.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too tough for him, I say, stay down, do you want to mess me up? you want to screw up the works? you want to blow my book sales in Europe?
there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too clever, I only let him out at night sometimes when everybody’s asleep. I say, I know that you’re there,so don’t be sad. then I put him back, but he’s singing a little in there, I haven’t quite let him die and we sleep together like that with our secret pact and it’s nice enough to make a man weep, but I don’t weep, do you?
I love how he breaks the train of thought by simply putting the final word on the next line. It adds emphasis where it otherwise might not have been in a more traditional style.
A short, rather informal showcase, I know. But hopefully you’ll check some of his stuff out, if you haven’t already.
Also, feel free to notify me of other poets you’d like me to check out. If you’re new to poetry like me, checking out Poetry For Beginners would be a good place to start.