Paranoa Lake

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Paranoa Lake; Brasilia, Federal District (DF), Brazil

On Hierarchy

“For most of human history especially in the hunter-gatherer period of our ancient ancestors, there were no formal hierarchies as people usually lived, ate, and communed in small groups where decisions could be made collectively and were objections or differing opinions were more easily able to be heard.”

Hierarchy is one unavoidable aspect of modern life that can be difficult not to clash with from time to time. The bigger the group is, the more necessary a hierarchy is in order to ensure order and compliance. For most of human history especially in the hunter-gatherer period of our ancient ancestors, there were no formal hierarchies as people usually lived, ate, and communed in small groups where decisions could be made collectively and were objections or differing opinions were more easily able to be heard.

If you have a group of 10 or even up to 100, which is what human beings are able to hold in their memories in terms of remembering names, faces, and details about each person, such small-scale organization did not have a need for a strict hierarchy where one person was in charge of making all of the decisions or whose voice mattered more than others. On the contrary, consensus involved discussion, debate, and a common conclusion at the end of the meeting or congregation. If enough people did not agree with the decisions or the direction of the group, they would often create their own group and go their own way.

These small groups dominated for a long time in human history, but their longevity in terms of collective group decision-making was upended by the agricultural age and when people stopped roaming around the planet. Instead of being hunter-gatherers, the majority of humanity shifted to being settlers and farmers establishing larger and larger groups to form a collective society or nation where you would not know everyone in your group because that group was no longer autonomous. Agrarian, industrial, and post-industrial societies are made up of thousands or millions of people usually brought together under one flag, one state, or one nation.

While this civilizational approach has outlasted our ancient past as hunter-gatherers, our inherent need to be part of a group, to be valued, and to have purpose within that group has not gone away. These small groups had a measure of equality to them with everyone having a key purpose and having a voice regarding what issues or opportunities had come up. In a larger society, cooperation is harder to come by, inequalities can be maximized, and hierarchies are much more common due to the need to instill order and discipline among people of that society even when they feel like they are being disadvantaged in some way.

Hierarchies are not necessarily natural to us as human beings given our origins and our way of life that lasted for thousands of years but to me and others, it was a necessity in order to organize a large-scale society of thousands or millions of people. Hierarchy is not necessarily a bad system, but it can be abused by those who have power who are not held accountable for their actions or who cannot be removed from their leadership role if they do not serve the society’s interests and needs. The fight for democratic governance, for basic human rights, and for equal opportunities in a society; those values are not guaranteed especially when we organize around a hierarchy and give people power over others.

Whether it is the President of a country or the CEO of a company, a hierarchy has to be kept in check and when that leader or ruler is not making wise decisions for the people he serves in that role, there has to be a way to remove someone from that role in the hierarchy. While hierarchies are necessary in our modern world, there have to be ways for those who are subordinate to voice themselves and their views without fears of reprisal or retribution for speaking out.

To ‘speak truth to power’ throughout history has been the exception rather than the norm but for those who did it even when there were financial or personal risks involved, the larger society benefited from the actions of those people who did not remain silenced but spoke out. If a leader is committing injustices, if a manager is doing something illegal, or if a principal is abusing their power, they have to be held accountable and removed from their position especially the higher up in the overall hierarchy that they are placed.

By raising our collective voices, abuses, inequalities, and injustices can be minimized as much as possible if there are democratic safeguards created to prevent a hierarchical order from being abused. There will be those leaders who do right by their subordinates and who make their hierarchy more democratic but in case that does not occur, laws and institutions have to be able to hold those at the top of their hierarchies in check.

Whether it’s’ allowing a few of your employees at a company to have voting rights on the company’s board of directors or making them shareholders or part-owners of the company, these are a few ways to make hierarchies more responsive and fairer. By establishing term limits for those who run for public office and prevent them from being in that office for the rest of their lives so that they aren’t able to have power for thirty or forty years straight is another concrete way to control a hierarchy by allowing others to take charge. When a President or Prime Minister does something illegal or cruel, that hierarchy is not absolute, and they can be removed from office or even be charged with a crime so that people in the society will know that they are not above the law.

It’s not that hierarchies are inherently bad or negative, but they must be actively controlled and made more democratic by those who participate in them. The people who are subordinate to others within a hierarchy should be able to freely voice their opinion, concerns, or dissent when they disagree with their leader. A good leader should take into consideration those stakeholders or constituents who they are responsible for governing over and they should not prevent people from expressing their dismay or disappointment because a good leader will admit when they make a mistake and try to do better for the people under him or her.

The notion of a hierarchy having been around for all of human history is a fallacy and while it is not an ideal way to form a group with one person having power over others by claiming it, it is the only way to organize large-scale societies and nations. However, hierarchies that are successful are responsible to the needs of the people living in them, who want to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal for having done so, and to be able to vote, change, or amend the leadership from time to time so that the hierarchy does not become above the people but rather part of them in a democratic system.

While hierarchy has to be respected, it should not be absolute, and it must be as democratic as possible. A hierarchy that is unequal, unresponsive, and meant to be permanent will ultimately fail because that kind of hierarchy will lose favor with the people under it and will eventually be replaced with something better. If you find yourself under a hierarchical system that you find stifling and demeaning, don’t stick around and support it. Find your own group or place in the world where you can have a voice that is listened to, where decisions can be made as a small group if possible, and where an absolute hierarchy is unheard of and frowned upon.

English Corner – Different Spelling and Vocabulary (US, UK, Canada)

“Part of the beauty of the English language is the diversity amongst the countries where it is the primary language of communication. Like many other languages around the world, there are different accents, words, and expressions unique to that particular country where it is the primary language.”

Part of the beauty of the English language is the diversity amongst the countries where it is the primary language of communication. Like many other languages around the world, there are different accents, words, and expressions unique to that particular country where it is the primary language. There’s a popular saying that goes: “The United States and the United Kingdom are two nations separated by a common language.” It is a funny result of the quirks, changes, and adaptations that come with being separated by a natural border such as an ocean or a man-made border. However, it goes to show you that a language can be molded over time by a culture leading towards small yet noticeable differences in the words we use, the phrases we say, and even the way we spell individual words.

In this article, I want to focus on the different words and spelling that while similar are not the same between the U.S., U.K., and Canada. I believe an English language learner should be familiar with these differences in spelling and vocabulary to build an even richer understanding of this language and how it can differ by country. While Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa also have their own differences from the United Kingdom, I find that the former colonies of Great Britain have followed the UK in terms of the spelling and vocabulary used.

Canada tends to be similar in some ways to the US and in other ways similar to the UK so I would call it a mixture of the two countries, and you will see why this is the case in a chart detailing both these similarities and differences. I will analyze the chart a little bit and ask you to think about other words and phrases unique to these three countries and how you have come across them in your own studies or travels.

From this ‘International English Spelling Chart’, we can see some slight changes to the spelling of multiple words with each country being different from each other (color-colour, center, centre, defense-defence). As you can also make out from the spelling chart, there are certain words that the US is alone with using such as ‘gray’ compared to ‘grey’, which is backed up by Canada, the UK, and Australia. However, the UK is alone with using ‘globalisation’ whereas you have Canada and the US using ‘globalization’ with the change from ‘s’ to ‘z’ instead. This is also the case with ‘aluminum’ (Canada/US) compared to ‘aluminium’ for the UK.

Also, this spelling chart indicates to us that Canada is aligned with the US on some words in terms of spelling and aligned with the UK on other words. You never see Canada with its own spelling where they are alone in usage, but you do see that for the US and the UK being unique in their own spelling with Canada siding with one mode of spelling over the other version.

With the exception of the word ‘concert programme’, Australia and New Zealand (not featured) are totally aligned with the United Kingdom on each word presented above in terms of spelling highlighting their common history together and cultural heritage ties.

Most of these spelling changes are quite minor in difference and usually are either an addition of a letter such as a ‘u’ (color (USA) –> colour (UK)), or with an ‘i’ (aluminum (USA) –> aluminium (UK). They can also involve simply switching one letter in the word to another as we see with defence (UK) –> defense (US) with ‘c’ becoming an ‘s’ or globalization (USA) –> globalisation (UK) with ‘z’ becoming an ‘s’ with that change. Besides adding a letter to the word or changing one letter for another, these spelling changes among English of different variants according to country origin are quite minor. Although spelling changes are few and far between, differences in vocabulary words are greater when you compare the U.S. and the U.K. especially.


While the American / Canadian English tend to use the same words in a common vocabulary, British and American English words differ fundamentally in terms of word meanings and word usage. Still though, given the expansive list above, you realize just how rich and varied the English language is. Even if you are an American or if you are British, learning the dialect of each other’s country may require a bit of time and translation work. Despite sharing the same language, we don’t always share the same words, or the same meaning tot those words. It is important for both native and non-native speakers to familiarize yourself with the different dialects of the English language even if you’re not living in that country.

If you are planning to travel to different countries of the English-speaking world from Toronto to New York or from Los Angeles to Sydney, you should take the time to study the vocabulary sheets to know the difference in word usage as well as the slight spelling changes from other words that the charts above cite. When you adapt your English language skills to the local dialects, the people in those towns and cities will be quite impressed and it will make it a more fun trip or stay for you to use those common expressions or slang that will help you interact with others and even make a new friend. Please take some time to review these charts I have shared with you and try to use these different vocabulary words from each country in written sentences to help you understand. Don’t be shy also in pronouncing each one and being aware that while the meaning is the same, the word used by country is different.

I would just ask you to remember though not to get them confused and end up saying ‘chips’ in America when you meant ‘fries’ while ordering food or when you ask the kind British police officer for help in opening the ‘trunk’ instead of the ‘boot’. Those accidental cultural faux pas can be hard to avoid especially when you’re not from that country originally which is why it’s important to learn about and study these spelling and vocabulary distinctions that make the English language such a diverse and rich one in the world.

A Most Difficult Year

“The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.”

When you begin a new year, you expect the most out of it in terms of happiness, health, and opportunities. You hope for the best and pray to avoid the worst. However, there are going to be years that don’t live up to expectations and if anything, topple over any kind of expectations you had to begin on January 1st. The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.

For the vast majority of people, 2020 has been a year to forget and to put behind us. Still though, there is a lot that we can and should learn from this year to make the next one a more forgiving and hopeful year. 2020 was a most difficult year and one long, seemingly almost never-ending ‘Black Mirror’ episode but I take solace in the fact that those of us who made it through this year are more resilient, better able to deal with uncertainty, and able to be happy with less instead of more.

We will always remember 2020 and while I am looking forward to putting it behind me, there are certain lessons to be drawn from a year like this one to ensure we never have a year as uniquely horrible as this one if only we start to change our behaviors and our actions collectively as a society. Beyond climate change, racial injustice, rampant inequalities, and a raging pandemic, there is also the sense that we are failing each other not just in terms of our institutions but also in terms of our commitment towards one another. Revitalizing faith, trust, and kindness as fundamental tenets of our society will be an important benchmark in seeing how much we have learned from the ills of 2020 and how not to repeat these failures in a future crisis of our own making.  

In a time where our institutions are increasingly unable to meet the challenges placed upon them, I hope we will recommit to them additional resources rather than letting them atrophy and decay after the pandemic is over. I think most of us have learned how necessary it is to have functioning and responsive institutions in a crisis and how much we can be hurt by not having them be available to us especially when time is of the essence. Institutions will only work as much as we allow them to so it’s up to us collectively to believe in them, to fund them properly, and to have leaders who will tell us the truth, understand our needs, and be able to respond effectively. When our institutions fail us, we are all put in the precarious position of relying heavily on our friends and our families, which is sometimes a luxury that not everyone has available to them.

Our personal connections cannot help us though when it comes to securing masks, getting us tests, or giving us financial relief when we have no other option. A pandemic shows us how vital it is to have both local and national institutions in place who can help and are there to help rather than leaving every man or woman for him or herself causing us to act more selfish or more distrustful of others. Pandemics can bring the best out of people and they can bring the worst out of people. It is my belief that this pandemic has shown us how much our institutions have become dysfunctional, how our leaders have been corrupted, and how our society has become way too individualistic especially in a time where cooperation and unity are so desperately needed.

Individuals have been heroic for all of us whether its health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery people, teachers, first responders, etc. who have shown more care and urgency than many larger institutions who have taken months to actually do anything substantive to help people. They are doing their job well under extremely difficult circumstances and hopefully after this year, we will reward them more not just with our thanks but also with better treatment in terms of financial payment, respect, and providing them with more resources when they need them.

Those people on the frontlines like the rest of us have had to become much more resilient in the face of such difficult circumstances. As I have mentioned before in previous articles, Resiliency is one of the most important traits you can have in a year that has been so difficult. The ability to overcome challenges, break down barriers, and surpass obstacles has been so important in 2020 where our resiliency has been tested each and every day practically. Some have had to be more resilient than others, but we have all had to play our part in keeping each other healthy and safe.

Resiliency is also about keeping your spirits up, not letting yourself get too down, and reminding yourself that tough times don’t last forever but tough people do. If you thought you were going to make it through your entire life without facing a challenging or historic year, you would be mistaken. Whether it’s the Great Depression, World War II, or the tumultuous upheavals brought on by the 1960s or the end of the Cold War, each generation is inevitably going to face moments where their resiliency is tested, where comfort is hard to find, and where good days may be hard to come by.

However, if we can get through the hard years in our life like 2020, there’s not much you cannot overcome if you are able to maintain your resiliency. 2020 teaches us that life can go sideways, and that uncertainty is more part of the human conditions than we would like to admit. While we strive for some sense of predictability or comfort in our lives, we inherently know that is just not possible and that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. I hope 2020 also teaches us not to take anything for granted especially our health or our financial security.

Inevitably, we must always plan for uncertainty because it may be coming to us when we least expect it as it did in the early months of 2020. Whether it’s trying to save more money, keeping ourselves that much more physically fit, or keeping some extra food around the house in case of an emergency, I hope that we will plan for uncertainty to come our way again because you never know when it can rear its ugly head again.

Learning how to be more resilient and also knowing how to face uncertainty have been keys to overcoming 2020 but it’s also been about how to be more kind to others. You never know what someone else is going through, how they have been affected by the pandemic, and what they are risking by coming in to work every day when they can’t stay home. If you can’t be kind, then you shouldn’t say anything to anyone. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be kind to one another, to look out for your fellow man, to donate money if you are able to, and even if you’re feeling particularly generous, donate your time and effort to a food bank or a homeless shelter to help those most in need right now.

Also, be sure to check in on those people most close to you whether it’s a close friend, a family member, or someone who you are close to at your workplace or school. Now is the time to make sure everyone is doing as well as can be, that they are not isolated without hearing your voice or seeing your face virtually indefinitely. It is very hard to spend the holidays alone so now is the best time before a new year begins to check in on those people who matter to you the most. Lastly, do not forget to support your local businesses during these hard times whether it’s the mom-and-pop store down the street or your favorite restaurant since they could all use the business right now and it’s the right thing to do to support the economy.

Kindness is going to be even more important in the coming year than ever. Between economic troubles, a continuing pandemic, and political strife, it’s best to be kind always and to empathize with what other people are going through even if they are complete strangers. Give help to those you need and fight for those with less. Make sure you continue to hold people accountable for their actions whether it’s your neighbor next door or the mayor of your town or city. Only by strengthening the bonds of trust through kindness, honesty, and transparency can we begin to heal the divisions and disparities within our society.

The pandemic and other events in 2020 have shown us how important it is to work together, to look for one another, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to deal with uncertainty and stay resilient as much as possible. I hope things get better for all of us in 2021 and I want to encourage everyone to follow the public health guidelines throughout next year.

Keep wearing a mask, stay socially distant, wash your hands frequently, take care of yourself physically with enough exercise and healthy eating. Make your New Year’s resolutions too if you believe in them so as to strive for new goals and opportunities in 2021. Be kind to others again, stay positive, and don’t let adversity throw you into despair.

I wish all of my readers a very Happy New Year and for a healthy, prosperous, and safe 2021 to come to each and every one of us.

Greed Is Not Good

“My hope is that the ethos paraded in popular culture and media of ‘Greed is good’ first popularized back in 1987 by the fictional character on Wall Street known as Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) will die out and be replaced by a different ethos.”

The ethos of an era or a generation usually spans about 40-50 years. I think we are living in a time of great upheaval obviously due to the COVID-19 pandemic but also due to the economic and social disruptions that occur as a result. What was thought to be as acceptable before the pandemic will likely draw condemnation and pushback after the pandemic. My hope is that the ethos paraded in popular culture and media of ‘Greed is good’ first popularized back in 1987 by the fictional character on Wall Street known as Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) will die out and be replaced by a different ethos.

I’m not sure exactly what that new ethos will become but I do fervently hope that it will push back on the notion of greed being good at all but rather a detriment to the wider society. This new ethos in the 2020s and beyond will hopefully not prioritize the pursuit of money and fame above all else but rather the pursuit of kindness, caring for others, and leaving the world better than we found it.

While Gordon Gekko is just a fictional villain and the movie ‘Wall Street’ fictional in nature, there are examples throughout our society where people actually believe the ethos of ‘greed is good’ and actively pursue it in different ways without understanding or caring about the repercussions.

I’ll give a few examples that are not from 1987 or even earlier in the 1980s but from 2020: A college admissions scandal which involved bribery so the children of well-to-do families could get into prestigious colleges without earning their admissions, Multiple U.S. Senators caught red-handed doing insider trading to profit off of a pandemic and then not admitting their wrong doing, and large firms receiving loans they likely don’t need while they use that money for stock buybacks rather than investing in the solvency of their workers during the height of this unemployment crisis.

These are just three examples of this hopefully dying ethos of ‘greed is good’ but the problem still is that these kinds of practices, while they are being condemned, they are not being cracked down hard enough and the laws have not been changed enough to prevent future misdeeds. When you have an economy that protects high income inequality, lopsided CEO-to-worker compensation ratios, and a consistent hesitancy to guarantee collective bargaining rates for employees and an ability to raise wages to livable levels, that shows that ‘greed is good’ is still a predominant ideology that is hurting the average person.

The stock market may hit all-time highs but that is good news only for those who actually own stocks and that number is only over half of Americans whereas the gains of the stock market are only truly felt by the Top 10% of income earners. The previous financial crisis of 2007-2009 showed the world how ‘greed is good’ can cause companies to go bankrupt, houses to be foreclosed, and businesses to be shuttered, while no CEO who was responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis actually went to jail. The bonuses continued to flow, and the banking system maintained its solvency, but unemployment and inequality grew for the next few years with both now increasing in 2020 even while the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 30k for the first time.

I should state clearly that I am not against people going into business, try to make money for themselves to feed themselves and their families, and enjoying the fruits of their labor. However, when people are caught being greedy and harming others in the process as which continues to happen, there need to be harsh consequences and changes to the law. As Theodore Roosevelt knew as President, corporate oligopolies need to be reined in, broken up, and held accountable. Gilded ages may be good for the few, but they lead to disaster for the many. In this pandemic, many billionaires have seen their net worth skyrocket and their stock prices increase but at the same time, you have millions of people jobless, homeless, and in food lines often for the first time in their lives.

The ethos of a culture has to push back against this kind of greed and ignorance. It starts with condemning the actions of those who don’t play by the rules, won’t change the rules to be fairer, and who go out of their way to make life difficult and unfair for others trying to succeed. It also means calling out those people who refuse to pay taxes, use offshore tax laws to park their money elsewhere, and whose companies don’t pay a time in actual taxes while other parts of society suffer. Not only should these practices be condemned but they should be made illegal as well.

Social trust, belief in the goodness of others, and the willingness to do what’s right suffers when greed is pursued #1 above all else. The past thirty years have shown this to be true as the increased financialization of the economy as a whole, loose regulations, increased corporate influence and money in government have all atrophied our system to where we are dealing with serious labor, environmental, and employment concerns.

Not everybody who has earned a lot of money is greedy, but they have a role in helping to make the system fairer by abiding by the rules and respecting the fact that they do have a role in allowing others to have their chance to be successful. You can’t climb up the ladder and then pull it out from under you when you get there. Others who are not greedy but do well for themselves have to remember that they have a responsibility to hold those in power and those who have immense wealth in check to be consistently vigilant that they are not flouting the rules or if the rules don’t exist yet, perhaps they should be incorporated to combat unrestrained greed.

There will always be some kind of inequality and differences in outcomes in a capitalist system but there are clear signs to tell when that inequality has gotten out of control, when greed has become too prominent, and when justice or basic fairness has taken a back seat. Greed is not good, and it should be one of the guiding ethos of the next generation. Being a success, working hard for that success, and spreading that success around so others have a good shot at it is a much better philosophy to embody. What’s good for you is not always good for others. It is important that those with immense wealth or power understand that they too live in a society and there are certain duties and obligations that we have to one another.

Knowing when enough is enough, knowing the difference between right and wrong, and knowing when things have gone sideways and need to be fixed, those are all key components on pushing back against the ‘greed is good’ ethos, which has had its prominence over the past four decades. Greed can harm others, do tremendous damage, and atrophy the bonds of trust in our society. It is important that we never forget these facts and to fight against it as much as we can in our lives, both personally and professionally.  

Doubleday Field

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Cooperstown, New York; Doubleday Field

Sunset in Ithaca

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Ithaca, New York

English Corner – The Building Blocks of Reading Materials

“When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits.”

When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits. It is a necessary complement to your learning and will help flex that muscle needed to retain both the grammar and the vocabulary that can drive your overall proficiency forward. It is not so much which reading material you choose but the fact that it should be appropriate for your reading level as a whole.

For example, it would not make sense to try something very difficult because you think you will advance that much quicker. Often times, if you go beyond your reading level in English, it will often cause an unnecessary step back and you will waste precious time in trying to understand a level of vocabulary and grammar that you are not yet ready for. It is often better to be err on the side of caution in terms of selecting multiple reading materials that you find yourself comfortable with and will challenge you yet you know for sure what the material is about and you can interpret the meaning and explain it to a teacher or a colleague.

If you are a beginner in the English language, I would start off your reading adventure with short poems and short stories, not more than a couple hundred words. Even if you are an adult as well, children’s books are a great way to get more familiar with the language level that you are currently at with basic vocabulary, phrases, and grammar principles. You may also want to read fliers and short email examples as well to become aware of the structure of those forms of writing.

I would also recommend short letters written about different subjects such as sports, weather, the daily habits someone has, and about going shopping or out to eat. It is key to read these short pieces of writing twice or three times to really understand the full meaning of what is being written. You may also want to read the story, the poem, or the letter out loud to work on your own pronunciation too to feel more comfortable absorbing the vocabulary that you are learning. A beginner should not be reading anything more than a few pages in length and at a very low vocabulary level. Preferably, a children’s book, a short email, or a quick poem are best for beginners in this sense.

For the intermediate learner, it is important to challenge yourself more and depending upon one’s age level, there are different options to consider. I encourage students who are younger to choose comic books, short stories, and even short mystery novels as well. Older students may enjoy reading magazines about sports, news, and even fashion depending upon their interests. I also encourage becoming more familiar with reading current events and news articles and being able to explain them to the teacher or to a friend.

Adding on to the difficulty means reading longer reading passages as well as longer letters or poems as well at any age group. You want to make sure that the reading level is higher so instead of at a 1st or a 3rd grade level, you should try to read materials that are at a 5th or an 6th grade level and perhaps up to an 8th grade level. Perhaps most importantly, at the Intermediate level, you should be able to hold a conversation about the topic you just read and to explain the main ideas and supporting ideas of the piece you read. Lastly, with your vocabulary, I would encourage being able to explain too your point of view for an article, what you thought about it.

The advanced learner should be at the point where they can read full books, magazines, and longer-form pieces of writing of at least a few thousand words or more. They should be able to understand and interpret vocabulary at the high school level. Depending upon which English-speaking culture they would like to learn more about, they should do their best to become familiar with writers of different backgrounds and be able to read successfully in a few genres, both fiction and non-fiction.

Reading and interpreting different kinds of texts that deal with different subjects and modern-day issues is also a key part of advancing in the English language. You should be a flexible enough reader at this point to be able to handle different types of reading that is longer than the other levels. From a 500-word poem to a 2500-word article to a 100-page book, being able to handle these types of reading at a high level will set you apart from the beginner or intermediate levels that you used to be at.

Another key to this advanced reading level is one’s ability to speak and write about what you just read with accuracy and by utilizing some advanced vocabulary and phrases learned from these reading exercises. If the professor or teacher were to assign you a persuasive, narrative, or argumentative essay for you to write about your reading assignment, you should feel comfortable by this point in doing so across a number of genres.

‘Building blocks’ take time to assemble and the same goes for building up your reading prowess. Again, it is necessary to start slow with short forms of writing from poetry to a short story to a quick email and then work your way up to a long article or a magazine and then on to the full novel or book that may take a month or two to finish. Getting better at reading in English is a key skill to have and is necessary to boost your proficiency and to do so in a comprehensive manner. It is not only true that your reading skills will get better the more consistent and driven you are with each page but your speaking skills should also improve and your writing abilities will be complemented if you can analyze, interpret, and describe what you have just written in your own words.

Patience is a virtue and reading are the biggest part of that quality when it comes to developing your English language skills. You may show quicker gains with speaking or writing but the long-term success of your English proficiency will be determined about how well you read, how you understand the reading, and what you can tell others about what you have read.

Finger Lakes Wineries

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Finger Lakes Wineries; Ithaca, New York

Anatomy of a Scene – Miracle Ceasefire

How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

The world without hearing children’s voices, laughter, and even cries can be a dark and hopeless place. That central message of the now classic movie ‘Children of Men’ (2006) has stayed with me especially in the current times of a pandemic that we are living in. How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

When you think deeply about it, humanity is restored generation after generation thanks to our youth, their ideas, their drive, their desire to not repeat the mistakes of the past and to learn from history. When you take humanity’s future away, what is there left to fight and live for? It is a powerful premise and one for which I am glad Director Alfonso Cuaron decided to focus on. His movie does not pull any punches and shows humanity at its worst when women are no longer able to have children.

Without children, playgrounds and swing sets remain empty. Refugees and immigrants are persecuted and forced into detention camps, suicide pills are common place, environmental degradation is the norm rather than an obscenity, and violent factions fight it out with the government in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom where suicide bombings are an increasingly common occurrence as Theo (Clive Owen) discovers when he is almost the victim of one in one of the earliest scenes. Perhaps the most frightening part of the whole movie is that no one has figured out why women can’t have babies anymore and the novel that the film is based on is also clear when it shies away from saying why men can’t help in the reproduction process anymore.

In ‘Children of Men’, no child has been born for 18 years and it can be hard to retain hope after that long that things will change. The world is in a downward spiral and things get worse as the youngest person alive, Diego, is killed by an angry crowd. Theo takes solace in the fact that he has a good job at the government ministry and has a funny friend who goes by the name Jasper. Still, you can tell that Theo has lost faith in humanity especially after the death of his infant son due to a flu pandemic and his estranged relationship with Julian, his wife. However, when Julian tells Theo about Kee, a pregnant African woman, who may be carrying the first baby in almost two decades, everything changes, and Theo finds his purpose again to live and to fight for a tomorrow. Theo dedicates himself to protecting Kee and her future baby and wants to get her to safety, which means getting her to the Human Project, a group of the world’s best scientists discussing how best to make humans fertile again.

Theo’s journey with Kee involves getting her out of a refugee camp, escaping men who want to keep Kee’s baby for political purposes and who are also armed combatants, and avoiding fascist police forces who intend to get in their way. To escape the escalating urban violence around them as both the government and rebels fight it out in bombed out Bexhill, Theo and Kee take shelter in a refugee settlement in a former apartment building. The three of them come close to being killed and the baby’s cries echo throughout the building much to the stunned shock, joy, and awe it inspires among the refugees, the rebel forces, and the government troops.

The way the cinematographer follows Kee’s baby and Kee around in a wide tracking shot is absolutely beautiful making it one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history. “How is she?”, Theo asks Kee. “Annoyed.” Kee replies. A refugee woman reaches out her hand to touch the baby and another woman sings a sweet song in her native language. Prayers and aspirations are given to the baby as Theo and Kee walk through the crowd. The rebel soldiers acknowledge the baby as they get away from the advancing troops behind them. The government’s military soldiers are in absolute shock as one soldiers’ yell at his army unit: “Ceasefire! Ceasefire!” All of them stop shooting at once and look upon Kee’s baby in disbelief, many of them never having seen a human child before in person.

To see the armed men in tanks and heavy weapons and their technological mastery stop, think, and realize how humanity and its future must be preserved and let free without being in danger. Not much can stop a war from continuing but a baby’s cries can most certainly pause it for a few minutes as this brilliant scene exemplifies. An immediate symbol of hope for humanity and its possible redemption is realized in its newest addition and it is a wonderful allegory to how despite our differences, any human around the world will stop to comfort, aid, and protect for a baby as we would do for our own children or grandchildren or even nieces and nephews.

Those men who don’t see the baby continue to fire at each other in the distance but any soldier, man, or woman who hears the baby crying lowers their weapon, pays their respect, and let Theo and Kee have safe passage as they represent a glimpse of hope finally for humanity’s future rather than its eventual extinction. Some of the soldiers pray to their God and others peer in to get a look at the baby with their own eyes but all are silent and in disbelief thinking that finally there might be hope again.

After a minute or two of calm and as Kee and Theo are about to get away, a rocket RPG hits the government soldiers and the men ignore the baby again and get back to fighting the rebel forces in the building that Kee and Theo just left. To me, that is a tragic symbol of how once we have something out of sight and out of mind, we go back to fighting each other instead of uniting around a common cause. As that RPG fires, I think to myself watching this scene how somebody always has to ruin it for everybody else. Unfortunately, Kee’s baby does not lead right away to world peace and a cessation of arms. However, it is enough time for the two of them to escape and have a fighting chance of reaching the Human Project.

A baby’s cries are more powerful and everlasting than any weapon, any political cause, and any division between humanity. While human nature cannot be totally pacified by children and babies being born, it allows us to fight for better days and for a future freer of pain, sorrow, and tragedy.

I hope that when you watch this scene, you’ll realize that even in our current age when fertility is not extinct and is not a present issue that we are still fighting to preserve hope for the next generation and generations to come. Whether it is preventing pandemics, stemming the worst effects of climate change, or preventing nuclear war between nations, we all have a responsibility to be stewards like Theo in protecting the babies of the future against any manmade harm that could befall them due to our own neglect and ignorance.

Please do watch this ‘Miracle Ceasefire’ scene and the rest of ‘Children of Men’ when you have the chance. It is an excellent film to see and this scene may be the best one of the entire film. Hope and redemption are only as strong as our ability to have a better future.