Saturday, January 28, 2012

No Internet Tonight

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The other night I was having difficulty opening websites. I’m home in Chicago, and in general the connection is faster and more reliable in the US, than in the Middle East, where I’ve lived (Dubai) and traveled many times. So the last thing on my mind was that the internet was down.

I tried to open Facebook several times. Nothing. Then, YouTube, ESPN, and Google News, my frequently visited sites. No access. Yes, I even clicked ‘refresh’ repeatedly, and restarted my laptop two or three times.

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No, I didn’t yell at my ISP, as it was in the middle of the night. No, I didn’t write an angry missive to my congressman, either. I pray to God everyday, but this was no cause to do so or to question His judgment.

But there I was engaged in futile effort for about 20 minutes, before I calmed down and accepted that the internet was down.

I reviewed, and wrote in a couple of my many journals. I watched a couple of short videos I had downloaded. I remained hunched over my laptop, situated on a large footrest, while I sat on the sofa.

I realized how tethered our very psychology was to the internet. Perhaps like a drug we are addicted to.

I realized, too, that just because the internet was down, it didn't mean that we could no longer do things on our computer.

Finally, I remembered when my internet connection in Dubai was down for a longer stretch. I read my books. I called friends on the mobile. I unglued myself from my desk, and sat elsewhere in my flat for a change.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Oprah, Uncovered

This article is from Eva, my daughter, who wrote it for a biography project at school.  Her subject is arguably the most recognizable face in media.

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To many people across the nation, Oprah Gail Winfrey would be considered one of greatest entertainment executives ever. She has had to sacrifice many things for fame, but eventually reached her dreams. Oprah is one of the world’s most well known talk show hosts, has launched her own production company named Harpo (Oprah spelled backwards) and has also received numerous awards including a Daytime Emmy Award in 1987. Because Winfrey was sexually abused as a child, she initiated a campaign to create a national database of convicted child abusers. She is the current owner of her restaurant called “Eccentric” (Krohn, 2009). In 1993, Bill Clinton signed “Oprah’s Bill” confirming that a national child abusers database would be established (Unknown, 2011).

Although Oprah is an extremely talented speaker and role model to young women around the world, it was not what one would call and “easy rise to fame” for her. She started speaking when she was just three years old, and her Grandmother, Hattie Mae greatly defined her style of talking to audiences. As she became older, she looked at women such as Barbara Walters and Maya Angelou for inspiration. Once Winfrey started publically speaking, people realized her incredible talent and tried to help her more fully develop it. She worked as a news anchor on WJZ- TV and was also accepted to Tennessee State University where she studied drama and speech.

Oprah has had to overcome many obstacles along the way, but has managed to maintain her fame with modesty. She is still world- wide known and owns a thriving production company along with many other attributes. Her fame has influenced many women around the world and has proved that race or gender does not determine success. In 2007, Winfrey opened an all girls school called the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy which helped further develop young women’s abilities and enrich their education. She is an influential figure and fearless when it comes to helping others.

Her Childhood

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Oprah Gail Winfrey was born to Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey on January 29, 1954 in the small country town of Kosciusko, Mississippi. When she was just a baby, her mother decided to find work for herself and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She left little Oprah in the care of her strict, but caring grandmother, Hattie Mae. At a very young age, Winfrey was expected to do chores around the house and farm. Every Sunday she went to church with her grandmother and started reciting passages from the Bible. It was with Hattie Mae that she discovered her passion for speaking. As she recited the passages, people at the church she attended began to notice her. Her grandmother decided to send her to a kindergarten center in Buffalo, Mississippi, but Oprah became bored there.

In 1960, Hattie Mae became ill, so Oprah was sent to live with her mother in Milwaukee. As she adjusted to her new life, she especially disliked the noise and bustle of the busy city. In her new home, her mom discouraged Oprah’s reading abilities. Vernita eventually decided that it would be better for her daughter to live with her father, Vernon, in Nashville, Tennessee. She went to live with her father and step mother, Zelma, in 1962. Her parents were very strict, but loved Oprah very much and encouraged her growth of learning. She felt very at home with Vernon and Zelma, and was still academically advanced in school.

During the summer of 1963, Winfrey went to visit her mother back in Milwaukee. She decided to move back in with Vernita, and tried as much as she could to impress her. However, Oprah did not receive as much attention as she did from Vernon, so she turned to watching T.V. to keep herself occupied. Shows such as Leave it to Beaver and I Love Lucy sparked an interest in Oprah because she enjoyed watching television shows about families. One night while Vernita went to work, she left her children in the care of her 19 year- old nephew. Her cousin proceeded to rape nine- year old Oprah, but afterwards took her to get ice cream and coaxed her not to tell anyone about the encounter. She felt terrified, confused, and helpless against the assaults. Winfrey thought that if she were to confess the truth to anyone, they would not believe her. As she became a teenager, she became very wild and reckless. Oprah skipped school, dated many boys, stole money from her mother’s purse, and even ran away from home.

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Vernita’s patience with her began to wear thin, so she called a teen detention home. The detention home reported to be full, so she sent her back to Nashville to live with her father. Oprah’s parents missed her greatly, but disliked her new rebellious behavior. Vernon knew that it was his duty as a parent to steer her back on track. Little did he know, his daughter was already seven months pregnant with a child when she arrived. She wore baggy clothes to try to conceal her pregnancy and avoided telling her parents. However, she knew that she could not hide it for much longer, so she confessed to her dad. Oprah had been so stressed that she gave birth to her baby two months earlier than expected. Her baby died within the first two weeks of his life, and she tried to look as this as a lesson. Winfrey’s grades were also lowering to a C, but her father pushed her harder. Oprah ran for vice president at her new high school and won a speech contest, as well. A station named WVOL asked her if she would like to represent them in the Miss Fire Prevention Beauty Pageant. Her honest attitude and confident personality stunned the judges, and she won the contest. Later on, she also accepted a job at a radio station called WVOL as a part time news reader. Oprah was accepted to Tennessee State University where she studied speech and drama (Krohn, 2009).

Her Adult Life

In college, Oprah Winfrey continued to study hard, but also kept up with her part time job at WVOL where she was gaining real-life experience. In 1973, she received an offer from a station called WTVF-TV which was a CBS television station in Nashville. At first, she tried to turn down the offer, but eventually decided to audition for the job. During the audition, she was not sure how she was supposed to act. She imagined that she should act like Barbara Walters when she spoke. Winfrey landed the job, and became the first black newscaster in Nashville. After gaining some professional experience from this job, she began to look for new work in 1976.

She received a great offer from a news station called WJZ-TV in Baltimore, Maryland. Oprah took the job, and was thrilled at starting out her new career with the station. However, the people of Baltimore were not particularly in favor of her warm, friendly, and down- to- earth reading style. They also disliked her speaking voice, and resided in sending her to a speech coach. In 1987, a new station manager was hired at WJZ- TV, and he wanted Oprah to co-host a new morning show called People are Talking.

Winfrey continued to host the show for six more years, but then came across another huge opportunity for a job at WLS- TV in Chicago, Illinois. In 1984, she recorded her audition tape, and the station loved it. She became a host for the popular talk show called A.M. Chicago. The people enjoyed her personality and openness so much, that in 1985, the station decided to rename the show and call it the Oprah Winfrey Show. The same year, a film producer and musician named Quincy Jones consulted Oprah to play the role of Sofia in the movie, the Color Purple. In 1986, she was even nominated for an Academy Award. Throughout her whole career, she found comfort in relieving her stress by eating food. She gained weight and felt very over worked. She did not win the award, but tried to look at the situation lightly. Because her show was thriving, she signed a deal with King World Productions which bought the national syndication rights. This meant that her show could be broadcasted to nations all over the world (Krohn, 2009).

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The new deal with King World Productions increased her salary, so she decided to start her own production company called Harpo (Oprah spelled backwards). She became the first woman in history to own her own talk show (Unknown, 2011). In 1987, she met a man named Stedman Graham who was a former model and basketball player. He worked for a program called Athlete’s Against Drugs (Krohn, 2009). Winfrey also started a campaign in 1990 to create a national database of convicted child abusers because of her childhood abuse. President Bill Clinton signed the National Child Protection Act, better known as “Oprah’s Bill” in 1993. In 1998, she stared in a movie called Beloved as a courageous African American woman named Sethe (Unknown, 2011).

In 2007, she opened an all girl’s school in South Africa called the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for girls who show exceptional leadership qualities and are interested in excelling (Krohn, 2009). In 2008, she publically endorsed President Barack Obama and his campaign for presidential election (Unknown, 2011). She currently lives in her home in Montecito, California. Also in 2008, she created her own television network called the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). She reportedly is still with her boyfriend, Stedman Graham, but the two have not to gotten married nor had children yet (Krohn, 2009).

Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy

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Oprah Winfrey opened an all girls school located in South Africa called the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy She explained in an interview that every child deserves a good education, but her school is designed for girls who show great potential and are daring to excel and develop their education. To attend the school, a young woman must be personally invited. The academy provides a curriculum that teaches girls language arts, math, natural science, social studies, arts/ culture, life orientation, economic management sciences, and technology. The students are also taught the dialects of English, Isi Zulu, Sesotho, and Afrikaans.

This is a great accomplishment on Oprah’s behalf because it provides the girls that show exceptional leadership potential with a great education and helps them further develop their learning abilities. This act has also inspired many women across the globe to pursue their dreams and work hard. It is very important that the children who are below poverty receive an education, but it is also vital that the children who show great potential be nurtured and taught. Oprah is a strong and determined woman, and took the initiative of providing advanced girls with a enhancing learning structure (Unknown, 2011).

A Role Model for Everyone

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Oprah Winfrey owns her own production company called Harpo. She worked as the host of her own talk show called The Oprah Winfrey Show for 25 years, and currently owns a television network called the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). In 2007, she opened an all girls school called the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa for girls with outstanding leadership qualities. She has also made many generous donations to Morehouse College, the Harold Washington Library, the United Negro Fund, and Tennessee State University. In 1990- 1993, she promoted a bill about national child protection. In 2000, she issued her own magazine called “O” (Unknown, 2011).

Her great achievements and caring personality will inspire women all around the world to succeed and give their best effort. Oprah is an inspiration to black women especially because she has accomplished a great deal and always seeks to help others. She has impacted the lives of others by being herself on her talk shows and open. Winfrey’s deep and personal questions form a connection to her viewers at home. Overall she is a great woman with a strong personality that will help both men and women pursue their dreams.

Thank you for reading, and let Eva and me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Think Before You Post

I remember watching a video clip on online safety for young people. Among a number of things, it encouraged caution when uploading photos, for example, on your Facebook profile or Twitter timeline.

Using simple cinematography, it showed a printed photo pinned to the wall. Some random stranger looks at it, takes it off the wall, and walks away. That same photo reappears, as if it had quickly regenerated itself. Another random stranger takes it and walks away. Then another, when the photo reappears yet again, and so forth.

In internet and social media parlance, it’s a simple upload-download process. Virtually anyone can do it.

Sites like Facebook and Google+ have become more sophisticated in protecting our privacy, that is, carving out what amounts to an e-fence around those whom we trust, and allow in, and those whom we keep out. But just as in the physical world, such a fence cannot really keep people out, if they’re intent on getting in. Moreover, we simply cannot expect 100% that those, whom we let in, will indeed respect our privacy 100%.

Case in point is star high school athlete Yuri Wright, as reported by Sports Illustrated.

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Apparently the young man unleashed a profanity-laced set of tweets, thinking that his tweets were in fact protected and were privy only to the 1600 followers whom he allowed inside his e-fence. Wrong! Word got around, and his Catholic school expelled him. Certain universities also stopped recruiting him.

Ah, so he’s a young person, who didn’t know that his boys-locker-room talk was essentially being piped through a bullhorn in an overcrowded gym. Which had loud speakers situated for others outside to hear, just as loudly and clearly as those inside.

‘Dumb move, kid!’ Well, that’s easy enough for us adults, who are in-the-know, to say. In actuality, though, it’s not fair for us to say that.

We two billion strong on the internet are fundamentally just coming to grips with the complexity, the power, and the risks of this very phenomenon called the internet. The blackout last week by Wikipedia and company, in protest of SOPA and PIPA, was, for me, emblematic of what we’re grappling with:  privacy, and how to protect it.

It’s either an exciting or terrible irony, depending on your point of view. Facebook touts itself, for example, as forging wide-ranging connections among people across the globe. Indeed it’s so easy to make friends with people, whom we’d probably never meet in person or otherwise know about. But this freedom and ease of connection make it so easy as well for any of us to jump that e-fence I mentioned earlier, cause a breach in our privacy, and create havoc inside our hallowed circles.

What to do?

Well, I’ll go back to that clip on online safety, which, at the end of the day, is not just for young people but also for everyone. Be careful about what you upload to begin with!

If something is really private for you, keep it off the internet. Then whatever you do post, keep it tasteful, respectful and constructive.

That clip?

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD