Monday, May 19, 2008

Communication and Information Technology in the Developing World

This essay is a review of the global digital divide. It examines how information technologies, especially mobile phones, affect local economies in rural communities in the developing world. Wide scale access to information is essential for development in these places to occur.

This paper will examine the global digital divide and how technologies like mobile phones and the internet can strengthen local economies, and increase overall development in places like Africa, India and South East Asia. The digital divide is a phrase used to describe the gap that exists between people who readily have access to communication and information technologies and those who do not (Guillen, 2005). I will be looking at the digital divide as it applies to the global community. Technologies, like main line phones, mobile phones, and the internet, are so common in the developed world that they are sometimes taken for granted. We must remember that in the developing world, these technologies are a rare and valuable commodity. Providing new technologies that increase one’s ability to access information, is crucial to development. Roads and other commercial infrastructure are also important to development, but without large scale access to market information, large profitable businesses will never emerge.

For people who have access to them, technologies like the internet and mobile phones have made sharing information easier than ever. Individuals and businesses are interacting with people on a scale that never would have been possible before, thanks to mobile phone and the internet. Web cams and satellite images can bring us to some of the most remote parts of the world instantly. On the internet we can search through databases and find information about almost any subject, with the click of a mouse. Education is becoming easier, thanks to new research technologies. Most importantly, new technologies have the potential to expand and create new markets (Waverman, 2007).

New technologies have been booming in the developed parts of the world, but this means people without access to these technologies, particularly those in developing countries, are falling even further behind. Without access to these technologies, people in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, India and South East Asia can have no hope of their states reaching higher levels of development.

Today the mobile phone is being introduced into parts of the developing world, with promising results. Main line phones are expensive to install and the internet is still a long way off for most people in poverty stricken regions. Very few people own computers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia (see figure-1). People living in these areas are very unlikely to be on the internet. Cell towers are much easier to install, and are less expensive then LAN lines, which need to be buried underground. Cell towers are also easier to protect than the expansive underground infrastructures of LAN lines. The buried materials of a LAN line are easy targets for thieves; a cell tower is centrally located and can be effectively guarded. There are 2.2 billion mobile phone users in the world. Of those mobile phone users, 1.4 billion of them are in the developing world (Waverman, 2007). They all use mobile phones because LAN line phones are not an available option for them.

Easy international communication is a relatively new convenience. The first trans-Atlantic telephone cable, TAT-1, was installed in 1956 as a joint venture between AT&T and the British Government. Previously, if one wanted to call Europe from the United States it would have to be done via the radio. The process required you to schedule the phone call some three weeks in advance. With this method you were always running the risk of having your call disrupted or ended by sun spots or bad weather. When TAT-1 became operational, the service could provide for only eighty-six simultaneous phone calls at a time (Waverman, 2007).

The internet is also a relatively new technology. It has grown in importance since it was introduced in the early 1990’s. It is hard to deny the massive impact that the internet has had on the world at large. The internet provides potential wide scale communication to any part of the world. Increases in communication leads to increases in collective action. Productivity naturally increases with collective action, which will increase markets (Rheingold, 2008).

The internet has especially changed the business world. fancies itself as a store where customers can come to buy ANYTHING. Craig’s List and eBay have created a market place for anyone with an internet connection to use. All of this technology has become so ingrained in our culture and in our lives. We forget how easy technology makes things. We also forget that in many parts of the world people hardly live with the same level of convenience that we are able to enjoy.

One study estimates only 10% of the world’s population uses the internet on a regular basis. Researchers from the same study claim that access to the internet is related mainly to economic variables. “[We have gathered] evidence to the effect that the average standard of living and the average educational level in a country – arguably the analogs of socioeconomic status at the individual level – are strong predictors of internet use” (Guillen, 2005). The correlation is obviously that lower level incomes lead to lower levels of internet access, due to the expensive costs of supporting the technology. This creates a kind of catch twenty-two; without increased economic development, there will be limited access to information technologies, but in order to increase economic development the population needs access to information technologies. This is a problem that is widening the economic gap between high income nations and low income nations even further.

In order to understand how increased communication can affect economic development, I have looked at a study of fishing villages in India, and the effects that mobile phones have had on the business that is done in local markets. Businesses and markets are much different in rural places in India. In Kerala, a region in the southern part of India, the introduction of mobile phones has had a great impact on local fish markets. A study undertaken by Robert Jensen, a development economist at Harvard University, surveyed the price of sardines at 15 beach markets along Kerala’s coast. Before the introduction of cell phones into the area, the fish markets were extremely unstable. Local fisherman might catch plenty of fish, but they could not always sell everything that they caught. Fish that cannot be sold quickly spoil and have to be dumped back in the ocean. On some days, some markets might be desperate for fish and will buy them at any price, while other markets might be flooded with too many fish, which will sell for low prices or not at all. An entire day’s work can easily be wasted in this unorganized system. In the study Jensen found that on average, before mobile phones were introduced, 8% of fish were being wasted in this way (Waverman, 2007, Jensen, 2007). Some fishermen might try to take their boats to other nearby markets in an attempt to sell fish that no one else will buy, but fuel is expensive and there is no way to guaranteed there will be buyers anywhere. When the mobile phones arrived, everything changed.

Mobile phones provided fishermen with direct contact to fish markets. Fisherman could call ahead to nearby markets to find those in most need of fish. Fish markets began to stabilize. Fishermen began increasing profits by calling around to different markets in order to find the best prices for fish. The wasted days spent fishing and selling nothing began to disappear. Everyday fishermen were able to sell their fish at the best prices available, and so profits went up. As the markets stabilized the price of fish even went down, creating a situation beneficial to both the consumers and to the fishermen. Profits went up 8% for the fisherman, and prices came down 6% (Waverman, 2007, Jensen 2007). (See figure 2, for statistical information.)

All of this was made possible by an increase in communication. These everyday technologies might not seem like much to us, but to those fishermen in India, having a mobile phone could mean the difference between feeding their families, or starvation. What cell phones have done is provide access to information. Information is a precious commodity. Access to information widens markets, which increases potential growth. Productivity must increase to supply the widened markets. All of these things are good for business. The thought is, the more you add technologies, like mobile phones and the internet, to any market place, the more economic growth that market place will see (Jensen 2007).

Some Indian fishermen spend up to 15% of their incomes on mobile phones. This may seem like a lot of money, but it proves just how valuable this technology can be for people in the developing world. Mobile phones provide more than just access to information. In some instances mobile phone bills can be used as a sort of credit report. Someone who owns a mobile phone can show a lender his or her bill to display that they are financially responsible enough to pay a cell phone bill regularly over a length of time. This can be extremely useful in small rural economies, where credit is largely unavailable.

Microlending, a relatively new banking practice, where extremely small loans are issued to poverty stricken individuals, has become immensely popular in places like India. In 2006, Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for implementing wide scale microlending programs throughout India. A microloan can be used to buy sowing machines, or fishing gear which can be used to earn an income. A significant portion of India’s population is employed in these low-start-up-cost entrepreneurial businesses (Yunus, 2006). With more mobile phones providing a better credit checking system, larger loans can be issued to those who are approved, which may provide some Indians with the necessary capital to start up more profitable businesses (Waverman, 2007).

It would be naïve to assume that just by introducing cell phones into a region, a region can be saved from economic disparity. One of the many obstacles that needs to be overcome before this technology can be useful is the problem of illiteracy. For some illiterates, using the keypad to dial numbers on a mobile phone might be difficult or impossible. Without some basic skills, mobile phones may be too difficult for some people to use. Without the ability to utilize the technology to its full potential, introducing mobile phones to an illiterate population will fall short of its goal of increasing development.

A major trend in mobile phone use is short message services (SMS), sometimes referred to as text messaging. This technology is useless to an illiterate population, but to a population that can use it properly, it can be immensely useful. Leonard Waverman, professor of Economics at the London Business School, has challenged Google to develop search technology, which could be used by the fishermen in India and other areas to search on their mobile phones for potential buyers. At this point in cellular technology, a mobile phone is the equivalent to having a small computer in the palm of your hand. The mobile phone screen is merely the computer screen for the developing world.

In 2005, Jimmy Wales, founder and Monarch of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, began talking about a day when access to the sum of all human knowledge would be made available to every person on the planet (Wales, 2005). Today, hundreds of millions of people are using Wales’ information bases to educate themselves. Jimmy Wales has been working closely with Richard Baraniuk, founder of Connexions, a leading company in online Open Education. Wales and Baraniuk describe online Open Education as, “a vast dynamic knowledge ecosystem that is in a constant state of creation, use, reuse and improvement” (Wales, 2008). The costs of education are rising, and some students, even in the developing world, are struggling to afford text books. With classroom texts provided online, education costs will come down. As this technology evolves, Wales hopes to give people in developing parts of the world a tool which they can use to educate themselves, starting with basic literacy skills and eventually progressing into other relevant fields of study, based on individual circumstances (Wales, 2005).

Those of us who live in the developed parts of the world are privileged with access to technology that is useful as well as entertaining. We need to appreciate this fact and realize the impact that this technology can have on people’s lives. This technology should make us rethink how we approach problems like poverty and even the spread of disease. The internet is a global platform. It has the power to unite the people who use it. Through global communication and the spreading of knowledge worldwide, we can all learn to live together more peacefully. An advanced cyber culture is emerging and we should do our best to include all people on this planet in that community.

Michael Jordan, Wikipedia, and Internet Rhetoric

This essay examines three websites, each having to do with Michael Jordan. The strength of the rhetorical situation of each website is determined. It is concluded that Wikipedia has the strongest rhetorical situation of the websites involved in this inquiry.

Rhetoric is all around us. We are constantly being subjected to subtle persuasive arguments. Rhetoric on the internet is becoming extremely prevalent in today’s society. People have the ability to do everything online; they shop, the pay bills, they watch television and listen to music. An increasing amount of academic research is also being done on the internet. It is important to understand which websites use rhetoric effectively. This essay will examine three websites, each of which focuses on superstar Michael Jordan. Each website offers specified information for a particular audience. The first page I will discuss is Michael Jordan’s biographical page on the official NBA website; it covers only information about his basketball career. The second website, The Internet Movie Database, covers his celebrity off the basketball court. Finally I will look at Michael Jordan’s Wikipedia article, which covers nearly all aspects of Michael Jordan’s life. When compared to these other websites, Wikipedia is the website with the most effective rhetoric and the largest potential audience.

The NBA website has strong situated ethos because it is affiliated directly with the NBA. NBA is an acronym for the National Basketball Association. It is a professional basketball league. Michael Jordan is a professional athlete who played basketball in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls and latter for the Washington Wizards. Because we trust that the NBA is an honest organization, we can assume that their official website will provide us with accurate information about its players.

The official NBA website provides statistical information and other essential facts about Michael Jordan’s basketball career. Each and every player who is playing or has ever played in the NBA has their own biography page on the NBA website. The information provided on a player’s biography page includes vital information like age, height and position, also career highlights such as NBA Championships, awards, and other honors. In a section of the page entitled “Career Transactions,” the player’s history is explained, that is, the date when the player was drafted into the league and the teams which he played on during his career. A large percentage of each page is dedicated to a table which depicts a player’s stats and averages. Career totals and season highs are also listed on this page. Again, we can assume this information is all accurate because it comes from a credible source.

The NBA website makes some use of pathos. The color scheme of the website and the official logo for the NBA is red white and blue. These colors appeal to the patriotism of a largely American audience. Michael Jordan’s page has a picture of him making a lay-up. In his signature style, his tongue hangs halfway out of his mouth. A defender tries to stop him and his arms flail out making M.J. look four-armed like the Hindu god Shiva. Michael struggles toward the basket with a look of stern determination on his face. This picture glorifies Michael Jordan and makes us stand in awe of his talent. The rhetorical situation is strengthened by this because the NBA wants its players to be thought of not only as great athletes and role models but even gods. The impressive and accurate statistics and the few inspiring images of Michael Jordan on his NBA bio-page effectively transmit most of the important information an audience looking to research Michael Jordan’s basketball career from a statistical perspective might need.

Certainly basketball statistics are not the only thing that is important about Michael Jordan as a person. On another website, the Internet Movie Database, a website with credible information about actors, movies, television shows and production crew personnel, we find very different kinds of information about the same man. The IMDB website is like a Facebook for celebrities, movies and television shows. The IMDB logo features a movie ticket stub. It is clear that the website is designed for an audience interested in movies and television.

While he is most famous for being an excellent basketball player, Michael Jordan has apparently made his fair share of television appearances, all of which are listed on the IMDB. Mr. Jordan even stared in a feature full-length movie. That movie, Space Jam, is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of any professional athlete. It features Michael Jordan playing himself. He travels to Loony Tune Land to help the Loony Tunes play and win a basketball game so that the Loony Tunes can avoid being enslaved by the evil Mr. Swackhammer and his team of Monstars. The movie was a box office hit and earned thumbs up from both Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. The movie had an impressive soundtrack as well, boasting a breakout hit for R&B superstar R. Kelly. People coming to the IMDB can expect to find this kind of information.

His entry also has basic information like full name, birthday, and birthplace. Unlike the NBA, website which has only a limited selection of pictures, the IMDB site has dozens of them. The pictures are mostly of Michael Jordan playing golf and posing with celebrities like Wayne Gretzky and Bugs Bunny. No pictures of him playing basketball can be found on this website, because the website’s rhetoric is designed to inform the audience about television and movies, not basketball. Towards the bottom of the page, visitors can post on discussion boards filled with celebrity gossip. The website also features a trivia section filled with fun facts about how tall his parents are (both are under 5’ 9”) and how many slam dunk contests he has won (2).

The IMDB has strong ethos. The main page of the website claims that the IMDB has over 57 million movie-loving visitors a month, all presumably satisfied with the quality of information that they found. The site posts breaking news from the entertainment industry, movie trailers and has other media related features. We can assume that all of the information we find on this website is accurate. This kind of information, however, does not seem entirely relevant to Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is an incredibly recognizable figure in American pop culture, but when most people think about him, they do not think “movie star,” they think “basketball star.” The Website provides only a quick biographical sketch of Michael Jordan’s life as a professional athlete, but has a detailed list of every appearance Michael Jordan has ever made on television shows, talk shows and in movies. It is important to understand that this is the kind of information that the IMDB’s audience should be looking for. The rhetorical situation is effective for its intended audience. Either way, we are again left with an incomplete picture of a person. Michael Jordan has a multidimensional personality that is not limited to him being a celebrity, basketball player or movie actor.

On the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia we find a closer to complete picture of the many aspects that define Michael Jordan as a person. Wikipedia’s credibility has been a controversial issue in the academic world. The basic premise of the website is that it is an open source encyclopedia that anyone can edit and add information to. Opponents of Wikipedia have made the claim that information that comes from Wikipedia will be inaccurate or incomplete. In Michael Jordan’s Wikipedia article, all vital information is exactly the same as the information that can be found on the NBA’s website. As Wikipedia grows and develops, so does its credibility. Toward the bottom of each article on Wikipedia is a list of references. The reference section of Michael Jordan’s article lists 121 cited sources. There are many references from, the ESPN sports network and major publications like Sports Illustrated. Careful citation from credible sources strengthens the ethos of individual Wikipedia articles.

According to the “about” section on the Wikipedia site, it is one of the largest reference websites in the world, with thousands of active contributors working on approximately 9 million articles written in 250 languages. Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales has made the comment that anyone who volunteers to write an encyclopedia for fun, during their own free time, tends usually to be extremely intelligent. At the 2005 TED conference in Oxford, Jimmy Wales reported that Wikipedia is largely edited by a close-knit group of 600-1000 full-time editors. He says that they are the smartest people he has ever met. We should not take this compliment lightly; Jimmy Wales is a fellow of Harvard and is well respected in high academic circles. These 600-1000 volunteering editors monitor the website and ensure that it is not vandalized with bad information. At the same conference, Wales said that the team’s ultimate goal is for “every single person on the planet [to be] given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” That is a lofty goal, but it is clear that his dream is becoming a reality. More and more people are turning to Wikipedia for information about anything and everything. Wikipedia has even become more popular than the New York Times.

The Wikipedia article about Michael Jordan is very logically organized. The first few paragraphs tell us quickly the most essential facts about Michael Jordan. In the top right corner a headshot is posted; underneath that you can find vital information like date of birth and a short list of career highlights and awards. Moving further down the main part of the page we find a table of contents with hyperlinks that when clicked on will automatically scroll down to any section of the article you desire. The article is written in chronological order. The article is separated into nine sections. The section that comes first is called “the early years.” Next we find a section called “professional sports career.” It is by far the longest. This is logical because for the largest part of his life Michael Jordan played professional sports. The professional sports career section is broken down into nine subsections, from his early career through six NBA championships all the way to his second comeback with the Washington Wizards. Next we have information about his Olympic career, something both the NBA website and the IMDB failed to mention. Moving along we can read about his legacy, personal life, and business interests. On Michael Jordan’s page there is a “see also” section, with links to other Wikipedia articles about Michael Jordan’s restaurant and other related topics.

The most useful thing about Wikipedia is the many hyperlinks added to each article that will bring you to related articles. The bibliography is filled with direct hyperlinks to actual sources. Above a select list of awards and records is a link to a complete list of career achievements by Michael Jordan with a more comprehensive table of career stats than what can be found at With simple navigation it is very easy to access any information you might be looking for on the Wikipedia website.

Overall it is clear that Wikipedia has the most effective rhetoric. It is constantly monitored and updated by qualified professionals and specialists. It is logically organized and the all white background and black font make the website easy to read. The blue hyperlinks used to navigate to related articles are easy to use. The website is an endless supply of knowledge and is pleasantly addicting. Such easy access to the sum of all human knowledge soon will revolutionize education in both the developed and developing world. Creator Jimmy Wales champions Wikipedia’s strong commitment to a neutral point of view on controversial issues. This official neutral point of view policy makes Wikipedia extremely reliable and unbiased. Jimmy Wales describes his official neutrality policy, “Any time there is a controversial issue, Wikipedia itself should not take a stand on the issue; we should merely report on what reputable parties have said about it” This, he says, empowers a diverse community of intellectuals to come together to actually get some work done.

As the site continually develops and more credible references are added to each page, academics will begin to trust in Wikipedia

When Wikipedia is put side by side with sites like and the IMDB they do not compare. The amount of information that can be found on Wikipedia is unmatched by these inferior websites. These other sites have pleasant color schemes and strong credibility, but when you are looking for information about anything, a complete picture of the subject of your research is infinitely preferable to an incomplete picture. and the IMDB both provide accurate information, but that information is limited to certain subjects, namely NBA basketball and film. All of the information that you can find on any other website can easily be found on Wikipedia. If any information for some reason cannot be found on Wikipedia, the model allows for that missing information to potentially be added immediately after it is found somewhere else. Superior logos, organization and the singular noble commitment to compiling and making freely available information regarding everything under the sun make Wikipedia the supreme masterpiece of rhetoric.

The Rhetoric of Hunter S. Thompson's 9/11

This essay is a rhetorical analysis of a short section of a book written by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. In it, I try to uncover the rhetorical techniques which makes this particular piece of rhetoric successful.

“Where were you when the fun stopped?” journalist Hunter S. Thompson asks us in Kingdom of Fear, a book of his collected writings (106). In reference to the 9/11 attacks, he comments, “It was the death of fun, unreeling right in front of us, unraveling, withering, collapsing, draining away into the darkness like a handful of stolen mercury. Yep, the silver stuff goes suddenly, leaving only a glaze of poison on the skin.” The attacks that took place in New York City and Washington DC on September 11, 2001 shocked the entire world. No words can express how tragic the event was. In the early hours of the morning on that fateful day, Thompson sat in his kitchen writing a column for ESPN. Soon his attention was drawn away from football and consumed by the horrible images being broadcasted on nearly every channel. In his report, he uses his strong situated ethos and pathetic appeals to channel his thoughts about this tragic event to a devoted audience. It is clear that Hunter S. Thompson thinks doom lies on the horizon for the American people.

In order to analyze how rhetoric is used in Hunter S. Thompson’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks, we have to understand something about the author. As a literary figure, Hunter S. Thompson is an infamous caricature of a man. He was half outlaw, half journalist and 100% Gonzo Legend. Thompson has become a kind of cultural icon for a large and extremely devoted audience. For those who have previously read and appreciated Hunter S. Thompson’s work, his strong situated ethos shines as he tells this tale of American tragedy. For those who have not read his work, Thompson appears fiery, brutally honest, and maybe even a little paranoid. To the trained and untrained eye alike, it is clear that Hunter S. Thompson is a well informed author.

Thompson was an expert in his field. He always reported only on things he knew and surrounded himself with. For example, his first published book was an expose on the biker gang The Hell’s Angles. During his research he bought a motorcycle and joined up with real life Hell’s Angles from San Francisco and Oakland. He went on runs with them and was allegedly beat to within an inch of his life by some members of the biker gang. The book could not have been written without this kind of first hand experience. It was not so much a factual report about The Hell’s Angles, but an account of what he learned during the time he spent with them.

For Hunter S. Thompson, this kind of “method-acting/writing” was a necessity. His writings were his life, more real then even his living breathing self. In this piece about the 9/11 attacks, Thompson has strong situated ethos. Here, he writes as an American. He had lived in America, had served in the Air Force, and had been part of the elite sporting press for forty years. All of this strengthens his credibility. Thompson had covered everything, from dirt bike races to the presidential race in 1968 between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. Clearly he was a man who knew how to spot a world class disaster.

Twenty-four hours after the attack, Thompson writes that he is disturbed by the lack of information being made available to the public. He comments, “We are not getting much information about the Five Ws of this thing…as if military censorship has already been imposed on the media.” His genuine distrust of the government and all major media outlets is a staple of his personality as a journalist. Any good news report will answer the standard “Who?”, “What?”, “When”, “Where?”, and “How?” questions objectively. Hunter S. Thompson valued these questions, but he held the “Why?” question in a much higher regard. In Thompson’s reporting, he always answered the “Why” question according to his own unique perspective. His audience trusts his opinion, and for good reasons.

Hunter S. Thompson was also able to make witty and accurate commentary about the ramifications of an event like the 9/11 attacks. The wit he shows in the following examples appeals pathetically to his audience. His pessimism and a dark sense of humor make the audience feel a strange mix of anger, ease and fear all at the same time.

As the events unfolded on that fateful morning, Thompson wrote about them, giving us a play by play of what happened. After the towers collapsed he writes, “The towers are gone now…along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time.” With this beautiful comparison he expresses the impending sense of doom we all feel after such awful violence occurs. The parallel of the collapsing towers and the draining away of our hope strikes a strong chord among American citizens.

Thompson wrote his reaction before the 9/11 Commission came out. He writes, “Loose Lips Sink Ships. Don’t say anything that might give aid to The Enemy”. His use of the military commonplace “loose lips sink ships” works well here; his rhetoric shows he does not believe all entirely true information will be delivered to the public. When the 9/11 commission finally did come out, there was some controversy about its completeness and accuracy.

The reaction was written before our president and his administration lied about intelligence in order to bring us into a blundering war with Iraq. He writes, “[Bush] is in for a profoundly difficult job- armed as he is with no credible Military Intelligence.” He already knew that George W. Bush had bad intelligence. He further comments on Bush’s presidency by saying, “All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child president, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it.” This jab at our president was a bold move, especially so soon after an attack on our country. This shows Hunter S. Thompson’s dark sense of humor, which is even apparent in the face of death and destruction.

Before there were any whispers of a conspiracy involving the American Government, Hunter S. Thompson writes, “Whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy” His rhetoric here shows he is not happy with the story the media offered and his repetition of “All-American” may be a possible hint at an “All-American” conspiracy.

Before Osama Bin Laden became mythologized to the public he writes, “Osama Bin Laden may be a primitive figurehead - or even dead, for all we know.” Osama Bin Laden has become that figurehead. He has fled into Afghanistan and is now supported and in hiding within a network of militant Islamists terrorists that spreads all over the Middle East. He predicted The War on Terror. He describes it as a “Religious war, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.” The War on Terror. Here Thompson moves away from the humor he has used to dull the pain of realizations like these. With war, he will not joke or jab; he will simply tell it how it is. The humor builds up into the sober realization that war is coming. This drags our emotions on a rollercoaster ride, up and down and then into the mud. Thompson was a master at creating in his audience a sense of fear and loathing.

Thompson more than likely approached journalism in this pessimistic and honest way because he valued the truth. He once said, “History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit.” We have all heard the saying, “history is written by the winners.” Thompson’s more vulgar sentiment is similar to that. He felt that outside forces compromised the truth in journalism. He attempted to overcome this problem by presenting the story as straight forward as possible. Often his stories would start off with a conversation with an editor, or someone like this, outlining his assignment. He would write about making preparations for his research and the story would unfold as facts and situations presented themselves. In some of his most celebrated works the story veers so far off track that the story becomes secondary to the story of reporting on the story. His detours and diversions are always relevant and usually are laden with humor and dangerous high jinks. For a certain audience, Hunter’s central role in the story strengthens the power of the overall rhetorical situation.

Written a week later, the final part of the piece on the 9/11 attacks recalls a conversation Thompson had had with his good friend, the actor Johnny Depp. “Never mind Osama Bin Laden…who won the Jets-Colts game?” Johnny Depp asks through the receiver. Hunter responds, “There was no game…all sports have been canceled in this country – even Monday Night Football… and the stock market has been closed for six days.” Johnny - “Ye gods…no stock market, no football – this is serious.” Thompson uses a final bit of cynical humor to readdress the seriousness of the situation. The fact that the 9/11 attacks threatened something as benign as football meant that nothing is safe. He finishes by saying, “Get ready for it, folks. Buckle up and watch your backs at all times. That is why they call it “Terrorism.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

Soma: Part 1

Early in the spring time Soma walked up and down the dusty roads of a small town outside of nowhere. Luckily the dry Arizona heat had taken the day off. Sedona, Arizona is famous for its “New-Age” tourist traps, vortexes of positive energy, astrological predictions, psychic readings and the Secret. All of it bunk spirituality that sometimes worked thanks to positive thinking and the placebo effect. The man called Soma had come here to escape. He had been on the road for less than a week, but had traveled hard. He still had not been in any kind of automobile. He had made it further than you might expect.

He had walked for so long he’d escaped the densely populated city and had moved into area of uncharted home businesses. He stopped in front of a house to read a sign that had caught his attention: Free trips into outer space – inquire inside. “Hmm this could be interesting.” he thought to himself. Clearly there was no launch pad or alien spacecraft hidden behind this quaint small town home. He wondered what kind of scam these people were running and decided to check it out. So far his trip to the American southwest had been mediocre at best. He really would have enjoyed a journey into outer space, but a good laugh would probably do him just as well.

Soma walked through the gate of the low white picket fence into the front yard. It was quite a scene. There were lawn ornaments galore, bird houses and a small pond complete with a waterfall. In the pond, fish of all colors and sizes swam about and some even jumped up out of the water. The fish’s bounding desire to breathe fresh air seemed natural. The temptation was familiar to Soma, the temptation to escape from safety, leave your home, taste freedom, even if it put your life in danger. But all these fish can ever expect is a momentary escape. They always inevitably fall back into their watery prison. “And the story is no different for me,” Soma thought to himself

After a brief stand still in this strange and cluttered front lawn, Soma eventually began to walk down a curved path towards the house. He passed by wind chimes, bird baths and a sundial. He looked down at his watch and saw it was 3:30 p.m. He assumed the sundial would have told him the same, if he had known how to read it. Statutes of pagan gods stood next to the Virgin Mary. “Good lord this front yard has a lot going on.” Soma noticed, “it’s all eye candy used to draw you into their trap.”

Finally, after having stood spellbound for what seemed like an age, Soma approached the front door. As he reached to turn the knob the door swung slowly open. Rather spooked he peered inside, expecting nick-knacks. He was surprised by what he saw. Inside the door there was a small front room, somewhat like the reception area you might find in a medical facility, except there were no chairs to sit in and no T.V. hung up in the corner. No sign of any cheeky clutter. Truth be told, there was hardly anything in this room at all, only a small desk with an even smaller man sitting behind it. The man behind the desk was frantically drawing what appeared to be a map onto a sheet of paper. Behind the desk there was a door.

Soma approached the desk. The man did not acknowledge his presence until after he was standing directly in front of him. Soma reached his hand out to ring the call-bell, but before he could ring it the small man snatched it away.

With a flourish the man finished a line of his work and then spoke up cheerfully, “Welcome my friend! Have you come to inquire about your journey into outer space?”

Soma tried to muffle laughter as he replied, “I suppose, but if I’m going to be off into outer space could I please use your bathroom first?”

The man replied in all seriousness, “I’m sorry sir but you should have thought of that before you left, you’re going to have to wait. This way please.”

He motioned the aspiring cosmonaut behind the desk towards a door which opened again without being touched. “Please step inside. Someone will be with you very shortly.”

Soma felt himself being shoved into the room, but when he turned around to protest the only thing he saw was the tiny man sitting back down at his desk and the door slowly slamming shut behind him.

The room he was in was darkened. A small opening lined the top of the walls and a stream of light shown through from underneath the ceiling. The effect was that it emitted only enough light to illuminate the top half of the room. Slowly Soma’s eyes adjusted and he saw beneath the light, in the darkness, a man sitting crossed legged.

On the man’s right there was a stack of perfectly square paper. On his left was a large and growing pile of origami cranes. There must have been hundreds of tiny paper cranes already lying there. As Soma’s eyes refocused onto this strange scene he saw the man’s hands working at light speed, folding and turning and shaping each successive piece of paper into the form of a crane. The man did not look up from his work and he never paused, even to breathe.

His movements were mesmerizing. Soma felt his brain begin to swell. He remembered an oriental tradition, involving these origami cranes. If one person can fold one thousand of them, they will be granted a wish for having done a good deed, a sort of mental training exercise, in discipline and in patience.

There grew inside Soma the intense feeling that something sacred was happening inside this room. The man’s folding hands seemed to be gaining speed. Faster and faster he turned paper into cranes, each one similar, but slightly different than the last. Faster and faster the pile of square paper on his right shrank as the pile of cranes on his left grew. As his momentum carried him forward his movements seemed to reach a critical speed. He folded faster and faster but Soma’s eyes and his mind could not keep up with how fast the man’s hands were moving. For Soma the entire scene was played in a kind of time-lapse slow motion. Slow motion at super sonic speeds; Soma caught the occasional glimpse of a crane appearing, as paper rising up off the floor into the folding man’s hands then delicately placed onto the pile among the other cranes.

Faster and faster, more cranes, less paper, less paper, more cranes.

“There must be seven hundred cranes there to his left, no maybe eight hundred by now.” Soma guessed. His mind was racing, “Soon he will finish with his pile of paper.”

Suddenly Soma knew positively, there will be exactly one thousand cranes folded when this man is through.

Soma began to fear what would happen when the folding reached its end. He considered interrupting but feared what might happen then even more. “I will wait and see this through until the end.” Soma decided. He remembered he was supposed to be traveling into outer space.

Soma sat and crossed his legs directly opposite of the man folding paper into cranes. He squinted at his watch. It read only 3:31. The second hand had actually stopped, the watch was broken. “Damn it” he whispered quietly to himself. He thought “O well, I will take it to a watch maker sometime soon. Hopefully he can fix whatever has gone wrong.”

Forgetting about the broken watch Soma again focused his attention on this strange crane folding man; very soon he was going to finish his folding. Anticipation began to rise in Soma’s chest. He was excited, not because he thought he was going to outer space, and not because he thought this man would immediately have a wish granted for him. He was excited because of some energy inside the room. This powerful force made it impossible not to feel the sense that something important was about to begin.

Then: tick, complete silence, no more ruffling paper, Soma’s breathing stopped, time itself stopped, the blood in his ears stopped pumping shhhh……the hush sounds all ended sh. Silence. Sh. Ehhh-tock. Soma’s watch clicked one second as the last crane fell from the man’s hand onto the pile. The folding man stood up and blinding light burst through the walls and ceiling. Then an overwhelming darkness swallowed the entire room…

Soma: Part 2

Soma awoke lying on his back, his vision refocused. He had no idea how he was moved but he awoke inside a different building. This one, perfectly square, had a high ceiling and hanging lights and two rows of large wooden benches. It looked like a chapel; in fact there was even an altar, a pulpit and a glorious pipe organ climbing up the walls.

Soma looked up; there were ten rows of ten hanging lights, bare bulbs illuminating absolutely everything within the chapel. Hanging from each light bulb was a thread. Strung evenly across each thread were ten cranes. One thousand cranes, ten each hanging from ten rows of ten light bulbs, in a perfect square above the chapel. The doors and windows were all shut. Soma’s breath was completely taken away by the fantastic scene hanging above him. The air was perfectly still.

When his breathing returned, there was only its gentle breeze blowing through the chapel. The crane’s slow and tiny movements delicately echoed Soma’s being, which ever so slightly spun the cranes up and down and around the tiny threads that they hung neatly on. Soma pursed his lips and whistled and the paper cranes danced to his song. He stood up. The cranes hung half way up to the ceiling, much higher then Soma’s head. Soma thought he would rush over to a window or to the front doors and throw them open and let the wind whirl in and sing to these miracle cranes that somehow, by their creation, had brought him to this mysterious place. Soma rushed toward the far wall to look outside to see where he was. When he got to the window, he was absolutely amazed by what he saw.

He was in outer space. Outer Space! The Chapel was in orbit around the Earth. He looked out and saw the entire world. It was at his fingertips, big and bright as day, right outside of this window. Soma forgot about the cranes. He could not believe what had happened. “Where have I gone?”, “What have I been through?”, “It’s 3:42, on what day?”, and “How the hell did this chapel end up in outer space?” So many questions raced through Soma’s mind, with no hope for any answers.

Soma decided he should look for someone. He thought his chances of finding someone in a chapel, even one in outer space, were pretty good. There always seems to be someone in any chapel, silently praying to his or her god, secretly wondering if their prayers are even being heard by someone or something in the first place. Thinking more about it, he thought this chapel might be part of a very large cathedral or a castle. If this very large cathedral or castle did have people in it, Soma’s realized his best chance of meeting them was to call them and for them to find him. So, he looked for the bell tower. He walked back around the altar and found a rickety spiral staircase.

By the time Soma walked up to the top of the long staircase and was outside he was dizzy. As he emerged, he was stunned by the solar wind whipping through his hair. A blasting inferno heat wave swooshed past his face, warming it as the space-castle flew in its cold orbit around the Earth. Looking up into the height of the tower, he saw the enormous copper bell. He wondered if anyone has ever heard this bell ring out before. “Well, all will here it ring now”, Soma thought to himself. He moved over to the middle of the room, stood against the wall and began pulling down on the rope. BONG! BONG! BONG!

Once at a time, the bell rang and rang out across the solar system, spread throughout the galaxies and awoke the universe. Soma, high up in the bell tower, could see each sonic boom rippling through space. He yanked that rope desperately. It was like an addiction; he needed to hear that bell ring, he needed it to be louder, faster, he needed more people to hear it. Soma felt it was his duty to sound this cosmic crescendo, but he did not know why. Each time the mallet struck the inside of the bell, Soma felt like his head was being pummeled by a large fist. He rang and he rang that bell until his head was numb. His brain shook inside his own head. His face felt bruised. Soon he slumped down onto the floor beaten, too exhausted to continue. The bell continued to ring as it swung back and forth. The ringing had reached a climax and now the intensity and volume slowly decreased.

“Everyone and everything that exists will have heard my call,” Soma thought, “but would anyone or anything answer?”

Soma then felt utterly alone. His faith that someone was with him inside this chapel drained away, spiraling downward like a jet plane left with no fuel. His confusion began to frighten him. “Outer space?”, “fish”, “cranes”, “bells” what does all this mean?

As his mind spun out of control and his brain nearly smashed into the wall like the gravity of his momentum should have had it, a lighted and beautifully flowered Angel slowly swooped down and merged with the orbiting bell tower, landing softly with her winged shoes. The bell still rang, swinging back and forth.

“Do you have the map?” she asked loud enough to be heard over the bell.

“The map?” Soma questioned.

“Yes! the map!” the Angel demanded.

“What map?” Soma was incredibly confused and frightened by this luminous being. He thought, finally able to free his mind from its concentration on the sounds of the bell. He felt in his pockets. Eureka! In his back pocket Soma found a folded paper. It was the same paper that the small man at the desk was drawing on when he arrived. Soma thought, “He must have given this to me when he shoved me into that room.” As he unfolded the paper he saw that it was indeed a map. Timidly he stretched his arm out and offered the Angel the map that had silently been given to him earlier.

“The map is for you, Soma” said the Angel.

“What am I supposed to do with it?” Soma asked as he retracted his arm.

“Find the key. You will, if you search for it in the only way that you know how.” The Angel began to ascend slowly backwards towards where she came from. Saying finally, “The cranes Soma! Free the cranes!” and then the colorful lights reflecting her and her flowery dress smeared as she whipped away out of view as the castle swooshed past her in its orbit around the globe.

He looked down at the map. He guessed it was a map of the space-castle and as he studied it he began to feel right about that. It was simple enough to understand. He found the chapel, pews, alter, staircase, exits on three sides leading to hallways and more rooms, and the pipe organ, with its keyboard to the right of the pulpit.

He thought furiously about the trouble he had gotten himself into. Why had the Angel left him? Would he be stuck here for eternity, which would surely come soon for him, since he had no means to survive?

The bell still rung in his ears even as the mallet barely made contact with the brass and all the noise subsided. As the noise of the bell died away, another noise began to rise. It was coming from below, down the stairs. It was like a constant hum, a million thrills of the tongue. Like a flock of birds, cranes even. It couldn’t be. Soma jumped to his feet and spun down the uncertainly stable spiral staircase. The noise grew louder and seemingly more urgent as he neared the bottom of the steps. Finally Soma reached the ground level and looked up to the ceiling in utter disbelief.

The one thousand paper cranes had become real, living, flying, squawking birds, all struggling for their freedom. They were still tied together, ten each on a line of thread attached to the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. The Angel had told Soma to free these cranes with a key. The cranes seemed to be suffering, each one flying in its own direction pulling and choking the other cranes flying unsynchronized, all of them caged in this small building, tied to the ceiling, paper cranes newly freed as real birds still imprisoned by their former state of being. “I must find that key” Soma thought. He pulled out the map and stared at it.

He tried pulling open the exits but found that they were all locked. He walked through the pews and looked underneath them for the key or some kind of clue, a trap door, an arrow to point him the right direction. What had the Angel said about finding the key? Soma racked his brain and remembered, but he was still confused. Look in the ways that I know how?

He walked over to the organ and sat down at the keyboard. The organ probably had over two hundred stop knobs, wooden knobs covered in ivory. “What a beautiful instrument” Soma thought. He pulled out one of the stops and a loud low sound emitted and echoed throughout the chapel. The sound mixed with the squawking of the disturbed cranes still flocking haphazardly high up in the ceiling. Soma was distressed by their predicament and wanted desperately to help set them free.

Soma remembered how the paper cranes had danced to his whistle. Then it occurred to him; the loud ringing of the bell tower must have been what had awakened the cranes from their papery sleep in the first place. Perhaps a blast of sound from another devotional instrument could set them free for good.

Soma began pulling out all the stops of the organ. The opened valves allowed air pressure from the reservoir into the wind chest and the sounds of the organ started to rise inside the chapel. The birds grew frantic and swooped and swooned through the vibrating air as the sound built upon itself and grew louder. As Soma pulled out more and more stops, the volume rose so high that the walls began to shake and some of the light fixtures fell from the ceiling, freeing the cranes from their bondage. As Soma pulled more and more stops out and the sounds grew louder and louder, he realized he still had to find the key he was supposed to be looking for. At that moment, a key dropped out of the stop his hand had just pulled out. Amazed he picked it up and looked at it. It was golden with a broken eggshell etched onto the wider part at the top. He pulled out the last remaining stops and the organ was sounding so loudly that the vibrations in the air made it difficult to walk and impossible to think.

With the key in hand, Soma stood up and made his way towards the front door, struggling through the impressive force of the hysterical music he had unleashed. He used the rows of pews to pull himself forward, like climbing a mountain horizontally. As he neared the summit he dove for the doorknob as the pipe organ blasted him from the walls and nearly rattled his whole body to pieces. He inserted the key into the keyhole and turned the knob. The door swung open and the vacuum of space rushed in. The cranes washed out like water flowing from the mouth of a river into the ocean. As they exited the cranes mysteriously flapped their wings and pulled themselves off into a cosmic flight toward places Soma could only imagine.

As Soma dangled, hanging onto the door knob over the brink of the final frontier, he longed to grab hold of one of the crane’s skinny legs as they rushed past. He wished he could fly with them to wherever they were going, but that could never happen. He let go of the door knob and felt himself falling back into a deep nothingness, endlessly falling and repeatedly slamming his body and mind through layers and layers of atmosphere and clouds and finally landing softly on his back in a hammock in the backyard of a small home in Sedona, Arizona.

There, Soma slept for what seemed like hours. Eventually as the sun was setting a woman wearing a beautiful simple dress tapped his shoulder and he awoke with a start. There was a flower stuck behind the woman’s ear and he noticed how familiar and lovely she looked as she smiled at him.

“What has happened to me?” Soma asked sheepishly.

“You’ve been to outer space and back and now you are truly free” the woman replied.

“But how?” Soma wondered aloud.

“Prison is in your mind. The key you found unlocks the shackles you have on your soul.” The woman nodded her head in assurance, then turned and left him.
Soma reached into his pocket and fingered the key. He pulled it out and with it came an origami crane attached to the key by a seamless loop of golden thread. He inspected the crane closely and noticed it was numbered “1001”. He slipped the paper bird and the golden key back into his pocket and walked happily off into the sunset, in search of a bathroom.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Soma: part 3

Soma headed west, towards the outskirts of town, away from the shops that would be closing up for the day. People smiled at him as they walked home to be with their families. Soma tried not to think about them or what had happened earlier. All he wanted was to be alone. The day had been so strange, like dreaming you are asleep dreaming, and only waking up once. The world seemed somehow different now; more surreal, less rigid, like the physical laws of the universe had quietly relaxed their grip, allowing for a bit more freedom. However different the external world might seem, Soma’s bodily functions remained unchanged, and he desperately needed to find that bathroom.

He eventually came to a rundown filling station at the edge of the desert. Two gas pumps stood beneath an overhang in front of a small general store. A garage was attached to the building, and car parts spilled out of it onto the driveway. The front door was propped open by an old wooden chair. A cool springtime breeze blew into the store; it swept a small cloud of dust up into the air. The cloud curled and collapsed into itself as it rolled over like a wave. The scene was momentarily reflected by the last gleam of sunlight, which was suddenly cut off by the horizon as the sun set and dusk fell over Arizona.

Soma walked through the door and saw a man inside, a lanky fellow in overalls sitting on a stool behind the counter. He was picking at one of his fingernails with a pocket knife. His hands were dirty, covered in black grease. He looked up and nodded casually at Soma as he came in. Soma walked over to the counter.

“What can I do ya for, sir?” the attendant asked; sitting up straight, ready to do business.

“I’m looking for a bathroom. Have you got one?” Soma replied.

“You bet. The key’s there, hanging up” he said, indicating the far wall. “Round back’s the toilet” he added, pointing with his thumb over his left shoulder.

“Thanks.” Soma said and grabbed the key and spun it around his finger as he walked around behind the station. He found the bathroom. It was filthy, of course.

When Soma’s feet hit the ground outside of the bathroom, he was able to breathe again. He delivered the key back to its place on the wall and browsed the aisle for some vittles to satisfy his grueling hunger. “A bag of trail mix will do” he thought to himself, as he picked one up off the shelf. Soma grabbed a large bottle of water and approached the counter with his big bag of mix. He put his things down on the counter, the man and him standing opposite each other.

“This be all?” the man said, looking down at the items.

“You bet. Couldn’t afford to buy the crude stuff you’re selling there” Soma said, indicating the sign through the door, selling gas for six dollars a gallon.

“Don’t I know it” the man grumbled. He finished punching the register and came up with the total, “that’ll be three fifty, for ya there.”

Soma rummaged through his pockets feeling for some cash. He still had the crane and the key in one pocket and the map in the other. He came up with a five dollar bill and handed it over to the man.

“You on foot then?” the man asked as he fished for Soma’s change.

“Ya, luckily I’m traveling light” Soma said and nodded as he stuffed his purchases into the backpack he had been carrying.

“Where’s a man like you staying?” the attendant asked.

“Any place I can find.” Soma said, remembering that he did not have a place to stay tonight. “I’ve just woken up from a deep sleep. I’ll be out on the road tonight I suspect.”

“Woo-doggy, the desert can be a harsh place to travel through, especially alone, and at night to boot!” The man handed Soma his change and saluted, as if to say goodbye and good luck.

Soma’s mind had floated away; he was stuck in deep thought. His legs stood rooted to the ground he stood upon. He held the change out in his hand, his elbow pinned to his side and his forearm extended in an awkward frozen position. The man standing across from him squirmed uncomfortably. He waved his hand in front of Soma’s face to see if he was ok. Soma eyes just gazed into the distance, his vision lost on the horizon and his mind beyond in outer space.

The filling station attendant began to worry. He thought his customer might be seriously ill. He leaned over the counter, intending to poke Soma in the face. Surely that would bring this fellow to attention. As his index finger neared Soma’s head, Soma snapped back to reality. He looked wide eyed at the man crawling towards him over the counter, with his finger aimed at his forehead. The man froze in place when he noticed Soma’s awareness. An awkward moment passed. Soma looked at his feet and stuffed the change into his pocket, as the man leaned down off the counter and back onto the stool.

As Soma was about to turn and leave, he drew the crane out of his pocket and continued to stand in front of the counter, speechless, still partially lost in thought. The attendant noticed the crane. “Where’d ya, did ya…where did the bird come from?” the man finally managed, a bit unnerved.

“It’s kind of a long story, I don’t think I could tell it all.” Soma replied.

“That’s fine.” The man said, and paused before continuing. Hesitantly he said, “You know there’s a guy, makes lots of those cranes. He comes in here for band aids on occasion, for all the paper cuts, ya know?” the man said, with a nervous chuckle. “His name is Chief Woebegone.”

Soma’s eyes widened a bit. “I might know this guy, any idea where he calls home?” Soma asked.

The attendant thought for a moment, and then he said, “Oh ya, he lives on an Indian Reservation for sure. In fact, I do believe he lives on the Havasupai Reservation down in the canyon, about twenty miles west of here.”

Soma nodded thanks to the man, and left rapidly, with a plan. He was going to follow the crane folding man into the bottom of Havasupai Canyon. Soma had read about this canyon in some pamphlets he had leafed through at a local diner.

The Havasupai Canyon was formed by a tributary of the Colorado River. Over millions and millions of years the Grand Canyon and other smaller side canyons, like the Havasupai Canyon, were carved in the dry sedimentary rock of the Mojave Desert. Havasupai Canyon takes its name from the Havasupai people, or The People of the Blue Green Water who have lived there for generations. There are many spectacular water falls and unspoiled glassy blue-green ponds along the lush river bed.

The people themselves are economically devastated. Its population survives on marginal subsistence agriculture and government cheese. There is a hotel for visitors, with no phones or electricity. Many people would rather skip the twelve mile hike and depressing local scenery altogether. The long walk to the village is a treacherous one. A sturdy mule can manage to navigate the uneven terrain, but truly, your ass is better off on foot.

Soma thought of this unspoiled natural habitat, with its dying culture, as he headed down the darkening dusty road. He knew he had lots of walking to do before got there. It was twenty miles to the plateau, and another twelve into the canyon itself. By morning Soma thought he could make it at least to the plateau, where he could rest before beginning the decent. Soma was lucky to be walking at night. The sun would beat him to death during the day. But now he walked into the evening twilight, full of energy and hope. The questions that had plagued him earlier were of no importance to him now. Time travels, castles, cranes, they were all illusions. But the man had been real. And the angel, that woman, she had also been real. Soma thought, if only he could find the man he saw folding cranes, not for an explanation of what had happened before, and not for instructions about what comes next, or about how to find the angel, but only because Soma had gained the freedom to choose to do what he truly wished to do.