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Showing posts from July, 2014

False reports that President Obama is a Muslim

Americans question the President's religion — and always have.

Originally posted to Helium Network on Aug. 22, 2010. Including updates.

The U.S. President Barack Obama is a Christian. His spokesman said in 2010 that he prays daily, and Obama said the same at a February 2011 National Prayer Breakfast. At an Easter Prayer breakfast in 2012, Obama referred to Jesus as "Son of God," in keeping with Christian beliefs. Increasingly, however, since his election, Americans hold the false belief that their President is a Muslim.

Polls conducted by the Pew Form on Religion & Public Life during the first two years of Obama's presidency consistently found that half of respondents correctly identified that the President is a Christian, while a third claimed not to know, and just over a tenth believed he is Muslim. (The last observation was also reported by the Economist in April 2009: "Meanwhile, roughly one American in ten still believes, incorrectly, that Mr Obama is …

U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2016?

President Obama has been arguing for withdrawing from Afghanistan for years, with his first plan involving withdrawals beginning July 2011. Three years after that date, more U.S. troops are scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan:

Under Obama’s plan, announced in May before Sunni militants seized control of much of Iraq, about 20,200 American troops will leave Afghanistan during the next five months, dropping the US force to 9,800 by year’s end.

That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, with only about 1,000 remaining in Kabul after the end of 2016.

("Congress uneasy over plans to leave Afghanistan," Deb Riechmann, AP, printed in the Boston Sunday Globe, July 20, 2014) Ten U.S. senators are arguing that this pullout is too risky for Afghanistan, especially in advance of their presidential election.

President Bush set a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq by the end of 2011, which was accomplished during the Obama administration. The AP article says that Obama's …

What people really hunger for in 'The Hunger Games'

What is the meaning of hunger in "The Hunger Games"? Why is the gladiatorial event named after starvation rather than violence?

Originally posted to Helium Network on June 30, 2013.




In the "Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins, an oppressive government keeps the population starving. The government divides the country into twelve districts that do not have direct contact with each other, limiting trade. Subsistence hunting is formally banned. The government fosters a sense of dependence and hopelessness in the people by providing extra food rations to those who enter their children’s names in a death lottery.

In the first book, "The Hunger Games," the teenage heroine, Katniss, hunts in the forest in defiance of the law, and she is even successful in selling meat to the police (known as the Peacekeepers), since they want to eat, too. Her priority is to support her mother and sister. She thinks about how being shot to death would be preferable to starv…

What a 'Mockingjay' gives up: Sacrifice in the 'Hunger Games' trilogy

"The Hunger Games," a fantasy trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, begins with the sacrifice of children. The heroine also learns the meaning of voluntary sacrifice.

Originally posted to Helium Network on June 30, 2013.


"The Hunger Games," a fantasy trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, begins with the sacrifice of a couple dozen children. With varying levels of training as fighters, they are dumped into an arena with instructions to kill each other. The last one standing will “win.” It is part of their cultural expectation growing up, as the state reenacts the games annually: different year, different children chosen by lottery to be sacrificed. Some families whose children are not selected nevertheless prove themselves actively willing to risk the sacrifice; they agree to enter their children’s names multiple times in the lottery in exchange for extra food rations.



In the first book, "The Hunger Games," the heroine and narrator, Katniss, enters the arena …

How the 'Hunger Games' heroine learns to kill and to regret killing

Unpacking the meaning of the violence in 'The Hunger Games' is key to understanding the story and the depth of the characters.

Article originally posted to Helium Network on June 30, 2013.


Violence is a dominant theme in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. Author Suzanne Collins creates a fantasy world in which the teenage heroine, and everyone around her, suffers from chronic violence on multiple levels, both physical and psychological. Unpacking these different types of violence and the characters’ responses is key to understanding the story and the depth of the characters.

When the father of Katniss, the heroine, died in a mine explosion when Katniss was eleven years old, “there was nothing even to bury.” Her family lives in a society where stealing is punishable by death, capital punishment being best understood in this context as a kind of violence wielded by the state. The threat of being called by lottery to fight to the death in an arena hangs over the head of eve…

What does it mean for Katniss to 'survive' in 'Hunger Games'?

The character Katniss faces many challenges in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. She faces starvation, violence, and other threats to her life.

Article originally posted to Helium Network on June 30, 2013.


In the "Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the heroine and her friends must fight to survive. The first book introduces the heroine, Katniss, who is drafted to fight to the death against other teenagers as a kind of televised entertainment. Katniss knows that the boy from her home district is "fighting hard to stay alive,” going so far as to make an apparent alliance with the well-trained fighters from wealthier districts, which also means he's "fighting hard to kill me." Survival in the face of multiple kinds of violence takes on many meanings.

Although Katniss doesn’t want to kill anyone, given the situation, she is forced to do so for her own survival. She is also motivated by her family’s need:  if she doesn’t come home alive, her mothe…

Gale or Peeta? Katniss's choice in 'The Hunger Games'

"The Hunger Games" is not a love story, but it reveals complexities of relationships, especially within the context of the pressures of war and subterfuge.

Originally posted June 30, 2013 to Helium Network.


"The Hunger Games," a trilogy for young adults by Suzanne Collins, features a heroine who, along with other teenagers, is sent into an arena with lethal weapons and instructions to try to stay alive. The melee is broadcast on live TV for days. The children are sacrificial gladiators for entertainment of the privileged class and for psychological control of the masses. As the story builds through the second and third book, the heroine matures to adulthood by taking a key role in a rebellion against the cruel government.

The theme of love, then, is tricky. The heroine, Katniss, grew up under the threat of starvation and learned to hunt game illegally to provide for her mother and younger sister. Her sister “is the only person in the world I'm certain I love,”…

The struggle for power in 'The Hunger Games' trilogy by Suzanne Collins

In the "Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the teenage heroine and narrator Katniss comes to grips with the power that the state wields over her life.


In the "Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the teenage heroine and narrator Katniss comes to grips with the power that the state wields over her life. The state has no qualms about killing its own citizens, including children, in psychologically damaging ways. The state expresses no concern about fairness. Growing up, Katniss learns that “power” is the ability to squash someone like a bug. Her coming-of-age journey is about discovering her own power and the power of the masses to rise up.

In the first book, "The Hunger Games," she looks out for her mother and sister’s welfare but acknowledges that she’s "powerless against the reaping" – that is, the lottery that could call her sister into an arena to fight to the death as a form of entertainment for the state’s wealthier classes an…

'If we burn, you burn with us': Rebellion in the 'Hunger Games' trilogy

Katniss Everdeen learns about rebellion the hard way in Suzanne Collins's "Hunger Games" trilogy, in which a miserable populace rises up against an oppressive government.

Rebellion is one of the most complex themes in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. In this fictional dystopia created by Suzanne Collins, the government known as "the Capitol" keeps its twelve districts geographically and informationally isolated from each other, leaving them in varying degrees of poverty. Most famously, each year the Capitol forcibly drafts a boy and a girl from each district by random selection to fight to the death in a technologically enhanced wilderness arena. With 24 teenagers pitted against each other, only one can survive. The Capitol's purpose behind this exercise is to remind the public of a failed uprising that had occurred 75 years previously, emphasizing its victory and continued power and warning them against attempting to rise up again. Despite this expre…

'Hunger Games' based on the Minotaur legend: A review of the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games is a brilliant fantasy about teenagers forced by the state to kill each other.

The theme is plausibly drawn from the Greek legend of the Minotaur, a mythical beast caged inside a labyrinth. The Minotaur was fed adolescent human beings, seven boys and seven girls, sent from Athens every year as tribute to the King of Crete.

In the Hunger Games twist on this ancient motif, twelve boys and twelve girls are demanded as annual tributes by the Capitol of the land of Panem representing its twelve districts. Those sent are chosen by lottery. They are thrown into an unforgiving outdoor arena from which twenty-three must be removed as corpses and only one may leave alive. While in the arena, they are given meager food rations, inadequate survival gear, and simple weapons to encourage them to kill each other in hand-to-hand combat. The Capitol televises the "games" over a period of several days and requires the districts to treat it as an annual …

The impact of Blackwater's 2007 shooting in Nisour Square

The mass shooting in Nisour Square in Baghdad was a turning point for the U.S.-based security company Blackwater Worldwide and for the U.S. intervention in post-war Iraq as a whole. Iraq subsequently denied Blackwater a license to operate in the country, and diplomacy was strained again when the US dropped charges against the responsible men.

This article was originally posted to Helium Network on Nov. 23, 2010.

Blackwater trained private security contractors, thousands of whom worked for hire in post-war Iraq as bodyguards and in other paramilitary roles. While these guards generally had prior military experience, they were civilians, were not subject to military rules, and were immune from criminal prosecution while working in Iraq.

Bloomberg News reported that Blackwater contractors "were linked to 195 shooting incidents from 2005 through 2008, with them firing the first shots more than 80 percent of the time, according to a 2008 report prepared by the U.S. House Oversight and …

A look at the Blackwater controversy in Iraq (2007)

This article was originally posted to Helium Network on Dec. 2, 2007.

The word "mercenary," meaning a solider for hire, usually has negative associations because such a soldier is often presumed to kill primarily for money rather than allegiance to a government, and because he is often not subject to codes of military law and ethics. As such, Blackwater Worldwide (formerly Blackwater USA), which supplements the U.S. military in Iraq, does not refer to its soldiers as mercenaries. Jeremy Scahill noted in "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" (2007) that journalists fall prey to a "very sophisticated rebranding campaign" when they "refer to these shadowy forces as 'civilian contractors' or 'foreign reconstruction workers' as though they were engineers, construction workers, humanitarians, or water specialists." (p. xxvi)

Part of the reason Iraq is such a dangerous place today, spurring the work o…

What happens if you're caught 'Conning Harvard': A cautionary tale

Adam B. Wheeler made headlines in 2010 when it was discovered that he had gained admission to Harvard under false pretenses. His prize-winning work was also faked.

This article was originally posted to Helium Network on Jan. 21, 2014.

"Conning Harvard" is the tale of Adam Wheeler, a student of middling capabilities who faked his way into Harvard University and nearly secured a treasured Rhodes Scholarship. The book was capably written by Julie Zauzmer (Harvard '13), an undergrad student reporter at the campus newspaper The Crimson. Zauzmer began reporting on the scandal when the story broke in 2010; the book was published at the beginning of her senior year.

Years ago, writer Ben Marcus warned a group of creative writing students at Brown University that there is no inherent drama in fictionalized accounts of the tense wait for a college acceptance letter. In "Conning Harvard," however, Zauzmer presents a counterexample to this rule. She successfully built a who…