Monday, September 29, 2014

Lesson From The Librarian Of Congress: To Understand The World, Read Stories
Yelena Samofalova of Youth Journalism International interviews Librarian of Congress James Billington.

By Yelena Samofalova
Senior Reporter
HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Stories are essential to understanding the world – far more important than any theory, according to James Billington, America’s Librarian of Congress.
“A story always brings people together,” Billington said. “You want to hear the story. You want to know how it ends.”

Any good story is worth reading, said Billington, who has led the Library of Congress since 1987.
“The human brain is hardwired, to use contemporary language, hardwired for narrative, for stories,” he said. “We’ve had an overload of theories, isms, all kinds of things. They’re very abstract. Stories are always about people.”
In an interview with Youth Journalism International, Billington, 85, talked about the importance of reading and recommended some of his favorite books.
As only the 13th person to hold the position of Librarian of Congress, Billington has led the effort to make many of the library’s historical and cultural documents available online. He’s also used the post to reach out to other countries through bilingual projects with national libraries worldwide, according to his biography on the Library of Congress website.
“The world is becoming much more inter-related, all our communications, all our economy,” said Billington, a scholar who has written several books on Russia. “You have to listen to other people’s stories. Then you find out what’s different about them. And that doesn’t mean it’s hostile. It’s interesting, because it’s about people. You enjoy those stories and you get a greater appreciation for your own story.”
Congressman John Larson, a Connecticut Democrat who called Billington a “world leader,” described the nation’s top librarian in literary terms, referencing the kind, selfless and wise wizards from the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series.
Billington is “the equivalent of Gandalf and Dumbledore,” said Larson.
Connecticut Congressman John Larson and Librarian of Congress James Billington at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford this month.
He was thinking the other day, Billington said, about the stories he’s read to his 13 grandchildren and realized that more than half of them didn’t originate in the United States, but came from many lands.
He suggested that stories can be the key to understanding the unfamiliar.
“You can like somebody else’s story whereas you don’t like somebody else’s theories,” said Billington. “If I were to tell you, you ought to read somebody’s argument, you ought to read somebody who makes a lot of statements, well, it’s good to do that, but it’s better to listen to a story.”
The most important thing for young people to do, he said, is read as many stories as they can before they go off on their own.
“The most important thing you can do is read, because if you can’t read, you’re not going to get anywhere,” he said.
It isn’t possible to understand your own story, Billington said, until you can relate it to someone else’s experience. He said relationships between young people and older people can be especially important.

What should young people read?

The Librarian’s recommendations

“Above all, read poetry,” said Billington.
He also recommended the Bible, but not necessarily for religious reasons.
“The Bible is mostly parables. It’s mostly stories. It’s not a bunch of dogmas,” he said, adding that dogmas “divide people.”
But the book that meant the most to him, Billington said, was Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It wasn’t because of the keen interest he had in Russia, though. That came later in life.
“I was brought up in Philadelphia, which was sort of cut off from the world. We were in our own little world.”
But suddenly, he said, he was in the big world of War and Peace, a “huge novel” of more than 1,000 pages.
He picked it almost by accident. As a junior high school student, he said, he’d look for the shortest book whenever he had a book assignment, just to get it done.
But suddenly, he said, a new translation of War and Peace came out through the Book of the Month Club.
“World War II was going on,” said Billington, and America was just entering the war.  “War and Peace is basically about two things. It’s about war, and it’s about families.”
And those were themes that anybody could understand, he said.
He admitted that some of his motivation might have been to read a bigger book than anyone else, since he had a reputation for reading short ones.
“Partly it was bravado,” he said. “But once I got into it, it was about a war and I could see that Hitler was making the same mistakes that Napoleon had made, invading a big country like Russia and underestimating how much people will fight for their own native land.”
Librarian of Congress James Billington, right, talks books with YJI's Yelena Samofalova.
Not everyone will want to read such a long book, said Billington, who said he was a “conceited little brat” for picking the book simply because of its size.
A shorter, but also great Russian novel, he said, is The Death of Ivan Ilyich, also by Tolstoy.
Stories from other time periods can resonate with modern readers, according to Billington, who recently visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford.
Stowe’s masterpiece, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, got people to think about the uncomfortable subject of slavery, even if they didn’t want to, by putting it into the narrative.
“It’s a story about real people. Uncle Tom suddenly becomes a personification of things that are in the real world. It makes a connection. It gets to people,” he said. “It’s a great story.”
Drawing from the same period of the American Civil War, Billington called President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address the greatest political speech ever made. In the speech, Lincoln honored the sacrifice of the many men who lost their lives on that Pennsylvania battlefield.
“It’s a fabulous story,” said Billington, “but it’s a story about dead people.” 

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Southeast Asia Has A Clear Plan For Haze

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /
Today is a clear day in Singapore, but when the air is thick with haze from pollution, it's not possible to see the flats on the opposite side of the parking lot. 

By Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan
Junior Reporter
SINGAPORE – While demonstrations organized by green-movements swept across the globe Monday demanding for greater action against climate change, great strides have been made in the Asean regional bloc – a consortium of Southeast Asian nations – to resolve trans-national environmental problems.
Last week, the Indonesian parliament agreed to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, signaling commitment from Indonesia's political elite to act on serious environmental calamities that have adverse effects outside its borders.
Haze from Indonesia is a big environmental problem in Southeast Asia affecting neighboring nations, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Last year, a record haze pushed Singapore’s Pollutant Standards Index into the hazardous range, forcing schools in the region to close and confining individuals to their homes.
A week ago, a less intense haze shrouded the republic, prompting authorities to place the reading in the unhealthy range.
Annual forest fires that are responsible for the haze are mostly triggered by unscrupulous land clearing methods and the usage of 'slash and burn' agricultural practices.
Previously, despite the Indonesian government outlawing such practices, impunity – due to the lack of law enforcement – has led to farmers and conglomerates still continuing to adopt such methods of land clearing.
Joko Widodo, Indonesia's president-elect, has placed tackling environmental problems at the head of his agenda.
Forest fires on the island of Sumatra and the weather phenomenon El Nino, have also been known to exacerbate the haze situation in the region.
Singapore is moving towards imposing fines on companies if haze from a fire on corporate land adversely affects the nation.
Despite the multitude of resources directed at curbing the haze situation, authorities admit that results will take time.
Globally, the increased public awareness of the effects of pollution and climate change have prompted citizens to demand that the world economy shift from reliance on hydrocarbons and other polluting industries to greener industries sources of energy.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Congressman James Clyburn Connects Environmental Issues And Health

In an interview with Youth Journalism International Senior Reporter Yelena Samofalova, Congressman James Clyburn talks about his own work on environmental and health issues. Clyburn was in Hartford at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center on Sunday to promote his new book.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

The People's Climate March In NYC

Emma Bally /
Supporters of the women's peace organization Code Pink hold up signs protesting war and global warming at The People's Climate March in Manhattan, New York on Sunday afternoon. The following four photos show other activists at the march.

Emma Bally /
A Hare Krishna playing music at The People's Climate March.

Emma Bally /

Emma Bally /
A man (right) dances to live music at The People's Climate March.

Emma Bally /
The march drew many people from New York and other states.

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Congressman Hails Climate Change March

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

With 'Woody Sez,' TheaterWorks Delivers History Lessons In A Memorable, Fun Way

Mugdha Gurram /
Woody Guthrie quote along with historical photos information and a guitar on the wall of a gallery at TheaterWorks is on display for the "Woody Sez" show.

By Mugda Gurram
HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Woody Guthrie is a great but not-well-known figure from America's cultural history.
Although history can be a dull topic for some folks, TheaterWorks production of “Woody Sez” tells the life story of American folk-legend Guthrie in a fun and musical way.
The show, directed by Nick Corley, featured David Lutken as Woody Guthrie, and David Finch, Leenya Rideout, and Helen Russell as various characters in Woody’s life.
The four-person cast displayed great talent, singing, acting, and playing a variety of musical instruments throughout the show, including the violin, guitar, and even the spoons.
Mugdha Gurram /
Stringed instruments on a
wall at TheaterWorks.
As a big fan of musicals, I loved all the songs, although my favorites were probably “Talkin’ Dust Bowl” and “Pastures of Plenty.”
And as a musician, I admired the actors’ ability to transition smoothly between singing and playing their instruments, not to mention their amazing ability to project without microphones.
The cast kept the audience engaged during the entire show, joking around, even going down and dancing with an audience member at one point.
Throughout the show, audience members laughed and clapped along with songs. It was amazing to hear complete silence in the room as the audience watched Woody go through many trials of grief and sorrow.
Lutken, who helped create the show, expressed his gratitude for everyone’s warm reception saying, “I’ll tell you what, man – welcome to Hartford.”
The audience joined in with the cast as they sang what is probably Guthrie’s most beloved song, “This Land is Your Land.”
At the end, the audience gave the cast a well-deserved standing ovation, followed by one last performance of “Worried Man Blues.”
The show, one of the most popular productions in the history of TheaterWorks, closes Sunday after an extended run.

Mugdha Gurram /
In a gallery above the performance space at TheaterWorks, quotes from Woody Guthrie are on the walls along with a variety of stringed instruments.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Scotland Voted No. Will Westminster Now Keep Its Promise About Sharing Power?

By Myah Guild
Senior Reporter
DUNSTABLE, Bedfordshire, England – After years of debate, emotion and drama, Scotland voted No in Thursday’s independence referendum.
The vote, reported early Friday, means Scotland will remain a part of the United Kingdom.
In what was expected to be one of the closest run polls the country has ever seen, the Unionists clinched it with 55 percent of the vote compared to 45 percent for those who wanted Scotland to be an independent nation.
Though many – Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth included – will be breathing a heavy sigh of relief, with both planning to make public addresses today, nearly half of the Scotland's population will be disappointed with today's decision.
First Minister Alex Salmond, who pushed hard for independence, said he would accept the decision, and thanked the people of Scotland for their support.
What remains now is to see how Scotland will recover from this historic vote and whether Westminster will keep its promise to give more powers to Scotland, or whether, as widely rumored, it will go back on its word.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland's Rich Diversity Could Sway Thursday's National Independence Vote

Myah Guild /

The view over Lossiemouth Marina, Lossiemouth, in the Scottish highlands.
By Myah Guild
Senior Reporter
FORRES, Moray, Scotland – On Thursday, when Scotland holds a vote on national independence, the United Kingdom will change forever.
Whether Scotland votes for or against independence, the door has been opened and, as many people have observed over recent eventful weeks, it is not one which can be fully closed again.
It’s not a well-liked opinion, but one that, undoubtedly, has some support. The country is hugely different than its English neighbors and there is a side of Scotland that is rarely taken into account.
In stark contrast to the calmness of places like Bow-Fiddle Rock in Portknockie, the panic in the air across Britain is undeniable and the desperation of Westminster to keep hold of the country evident.

The press, united in opposition towards the vote, is churning out scare story after scare story. What should have been a quintessentially democratic vote has surely been ruined by rhetoric and calculated personal jibes. This was clear during the August debates, when we seemed to be watching, rather than a Yes vs. No debate, an argument between Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party and Alistair Darling, a member of Parliament fighting to keep Scotland part of the UK.
Many people, from actors and celebrities to ordinary folks, have expressed an opinion on independence, yet many have never actually visited Scotland.
They wonder why Scotland would want independence. The truth is that it may be part of the U.K., but it is an entirely different – and fiercely patriotic – country.
Myah Guild /

The ruins of Elgin Cathedral in Elgin,
Scotland is diverse, its history inextricably linked with its nationalism. Its population of 5 million pales in comparison to London’s 8 million, but it is made up of far more than the stereotypical oil and whisky, Irn Bru and deep-fried Mars bars.
It is home to the highest mountain in Britain and more than 790 islands off its coast. Scotland claims inventors and poets among its treasures.
Its history is deep and troubled. Elgin Cathedral stands as it did following its destruction in 1390.
Another historical fact which seems to have been lost in the clash is that the ‘ancient’ union at the center of this debate is only 300 years old. It was forced upon the countries it bound together, by a monarch who wanted to reign over them all.
So the reality is not as clear-cut as it may seem.
The sad fact remains that half of the country will be unhappy with the outcome.
It can be argued that independence should have a majority win in order to secure the full support of the people. A narrow win which changes the future of a country irrevocably, does seem rather extreme.
Scaring people into submission will not result in a true reflection of public opinion, either. Many are wondering if the undecided 10 percent who will swing the vote will be voting out of fear.
The referendum has been tainted with political scheming, leaks and, at times, a very biased press but, in the end, it will be the people who decide.

That prospect is, perhaps surprisingly, the one which seems to be scaring the powers-that-be most of all.
Myah Guild /

Bow-Fiddle rock in Portknockie, in the Scottish highlands.

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Distorted Internet Messages Pose Biggest Threat Of American Grown Terrorism

By Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan
Junior Reporter
SINGAPORE – The terrorist group known as ISIS has unleashed fear and carnage across much of Syria and Iraq.
It persecutes and executes people simply because of their ethnicity, religious belief, occupation and political ideology.
 Fighters, both from within Iraq and Syria itself, as well as foreigners, some of whom originate from the United States, have helped fuel and sustain the ISIS war machine.
This has caused Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, to voice their concerns over the possible return of ISIS fighters back to their homelands.
So is the biggest threat to U.S. national security the return of ISIS fighters?
These terrorist are a major threat to the U.S., but I believe the threat will largely manifest not in the form of foreign fighters returning home, but rather, in the form of self-radicalized youth committing acts of terrorism after drawing inspiration from the ISIS propaganda machine.
The threat posed to the U.S. from American ISIS militants is minimal. A large number of them will simply perish in war while most others will continue living in ISIS-held territories, fearing arrest back home.
Only a fraction will attempt making a trip back, and unlike Europe, which is accessible by land from Syria, traveling to the U.S. would involve taking flights. This means that returning militants would need to pass through numerous border enforcement agencies, including those of the U.S., which has one of the most stringent border security protocols in the world.
Furthermore, countries bordering Syria have recently augmented their border security, making their-once porous borders with Syria and Iraq now more difficult to breach. These insurmountable hurdles make an undetected arrival of an ISIS fighter to the U.S. a distant reality.
But the same cannot be said for the virtual world. The internet – the very instrument that helped make seamless communication possible – has also aided ISIS by spreading its detrimental ideology to American shores.
Largely unregulated, the internet and several social media platforms are being exploited by terror groups such as ISIS to disseminate malicious messages and materials for radicalization, with pliable teenagers often being their intended audience.
Unlike those who are part of a terror cell, self-radicalized individuals are harder to identify as they often work alone and leave little traces for law enforcement. If gone unnoticed, the devastation these individuals inflict on others might be immense.
The world witnessed the Boston Marathon bombing, a heinous massacre perpetrated by the Tsarnaev brothers, who seem to have radicalized themselves through the internet.
Today, as ISIS is vying for greater influence both on the ground as well as in the virtual sphere, it will continue proliferating videos and articles with distorted teachings of Islam to entice viewers to either join them or violently rise up against their democratically-elected governments back home.
Imminent terror threats from returning ISIS fighters is unlikely. The number of radicals arising due to exposure to ISIS propaganda materials, however, is one that not only threatens America, but all the world.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

From Ecuador To The U.S., My Rotary Exchange Was The Best Year Of My Life

Nathaly Gracia Rodríguez displays the flag of Ecuador at the Grand Canyon.
By Nathaly Gracia Rodríguez
Junior Reporter
 PUERTO DE MANTA, Manabi, Ecuador – Now that my Rotary exchange year is over, the only thing I think about is going back to my first day in the United States.
There are no words to describe it, but it is the best year of your life.

It is hard to understand that in a teenager who is a total stranger in a new country can survive by herself, learn a different language and – the really special part – can, in one year, learn things she never could have in her whole life.

I still remember when I arrived at the airport. My heart wanted to get out of my chest. I think about my first night in my new room, sleeping in a different bed, one that now I am missing to death.

Nathaly Gracia Rodríguez with her American
host family on her graduation day from
E. O. Smith High School in Storrs,
Connecticut: James Lusa, Vanessa Lusa, 
Jennifer Lusa and Devonne Lusa.

I get lost looking at pictures with my American family, friends and sports teams because I feel one part of my life is still there. I look at myself now and notice that the girl who left the U.S. a few days ago is a different version of the one who was at the same airport a year earlier.

An exchange student doesn´t realize how much has she has changed until she returns to her country. It’s not that she doesn’t love her country anymore, or didn't miss her family and friends.

Rather, it’s the feeling that you have two homes now, and you belong to those two places.

During the exchange year, kids create their own lives. They make it through the entire year by themselves, trying to looking for the good things, and make them their best memories.

Nathaly Gracia Rodríguez addresses the Glastonbury, Connecticut Rotary Club about her experiences as an exchange student.

Nathaly Gracia Rodríguez on the ice 
rink at the University of Connecticut.

They adopt a new culture and try to live like one of the people in their host country.

They are able to go anywhere now because they are ready to respect and appreciate the different opinions and values of people.

Exchange students can easily talk and communicate with others. They have this special sympathy that makes them see things differently than the rest. 

During my exchange year, I changed from a shy girl to an outgoing girl who could express how I was feeling, who could join the track team even if I had never practiced any sport before.

E.O. Smith High School girls display their
prom corsages. From left, Meghan Powers, 
Katie Puza, Codi Bierce, Cassie Schmitt, Jess
Li, Nathaly Gracia Rodriguez, Linde Thatcher,
Claire Coffey and Vanessa Lusa.

I discovered I could make friends by myself. I could talk to people and make feel them feel better. I could give someone a hug whether they were a friend or not, because that person needed one.

I was challenged to try new things, and made my own decision to do it.

And now because of my exchange year, I have so many great memories. I went to the prom, enjoy playing on a team and know what it is to be part of one. I met new people and gave them a chance to be my friends.
I tasted new foods, visited new cities and – the best of part of my journey – traveled to the West Coast with 83 more exchange students.

Being an exchange student is amazing. It is the best decision you can make. It changes your life and makes it possible for you to move forward on your own.

It changes your life, and afterward, you will be able to move forward on your own. Exchange life forever!

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Friday, September 12, 2014

When Towers Fall: Gaza Youth Feels America's September 11 Pain

By Dalia Al-Najjar
Junior Reporter
KHANYOUNIS, Gaza – Although I live thousands of miles away, I still remember the tragedy of the 11th of September after 13 years. It was very sad.
On this sorrowful, elegiac day, I and others in Gaza were sending sympathy and condolences for the families of the victims, insuring that our hearts and thoughts are with all of you.
Some might wonder why I would write about the 11th of September. Why would I care? I am from Gaza I have many sad and tragic stories here.
The answer is simply because I know the feeling of losing a loved one, of witnessing a city's symbol being destroyed, of hearing explosions, being terrorized and surviving. I understand the intertwined emotions of witnessing awful tragedy.
Inasmuch as we in Gaza lived the 11th of September for 50 continuous days this year – a time when thousands of homes were destroyed and many more seriously damaged, when we saw mosques, churches, schools and health clinics wrecked.
We had towers in Gaza, too – apartment buildings that were destroyed.
When the Al-Zafer 4, a tall, multi-story apartment building was brought to the ground, it left about 50 families homeless. The Italian compound tower was another theater for a brutal crime. It had about 100 apartments, stores and press offices. The Al-Basha tower and the Zu'rob tower were also destroyed in the last attack on Gaza.
The point is, we share a similar misery and we feel the sadness you felt.
They say you never understand something until it happens to you.
We walked in your shoes.
We feel you, Americans. Do you feel us?
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Scottish Youth Hear Arguments For And Against National Independence

By Robert Guthrie
Senior Reporter
GLASGOW, Scotland – School children from all over Scotland attended a televised BBC debate Thursday on the issues surrounding the fast-approaching September 18 independence referendum.
More than 7,000 pupils attended the event at Glasgow’s premier arena, the SSE Hydro.
BBC News’ Scotland Correspondent James Cook moderated the debate, which followed a number of similar debates which have taken place in several Scottish cities with voters predominantly aged over 18.
One of the largest to involve young people on such a wide scale, the political debate in Glasgow saw an equal number of Yes and No voters pose their questions to four of the nation’s most well-known political figures. A significant number of undecided voters also attended.
As the campaign trail enters its final week, students at the debate asked about issues which will directly affect them and their families.
Both campaigns are going to great lengths to sway voters. Recent polls have shown that the result is simply too close to call.
This year, 16 and 17-year-olds will vote for the first time.
Aiden Halliday, 17, a pupil of Wallace Hall Academy, in Dumfries in the southwest Scotland, will vote for the first time next Thursday.
Robert Guthrie /
The BBC debate on the question of Scottish
independence Thursday in 
From left
are Patrick Harvie, 
Nicola Sturgeon, 
James Cook, 
Ruth Davidson 
and George Galloway.
“It was great to be right in the front rows of political history, and to be able to hear from the politicians at the forefront of this huge discussion,” Halliday said.
Kaine Bray, 16, also a pupil of Wallace Hall Academy, spoke positively about the experience.
"It was an incredible opportunity for all the young people in Scotland to take part in the political process,” said Bray. “I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the debate and I was very pleased to see a number of nationally renowned political figures giving us the information we need to make an informed decision on something which will affect us for the rest of our lives."
At the debate, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a Scottish Parliament member, represented the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign along with Patrick Harvie, who is co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party.
On the other side of the debate, under the Better Together slogan, were Scottish Conservative Party Leader Ruth Davidson, a member of the Scottish Parliament and Respect Party Member of Parliament George Galloway.
Pupils listened to the arguments and questioned the politicians on a wide range of issues surrounding job security, university tuition fees, the possibilities of increased powers for Scotland in the event of a No vote, and the currency which an independent Scotland would adopt. 
Sturgeon keenly promoted a Yes vote, saying that independence would allow Scotland to put bold left-wing policies in place and that it would end contradictory right-wing governments, saying: “How many times has Scotland voted Labour to only end up with the Tories?”
Sturgeon also said that a Yes vote would enable Scotland to make decisions for itself, by itself.
“Voting Yes puts controlling the future of our own country into our own hands. We’ll have control of our own resources,” said Sturgeon. “It’s what all independent countries do, and it’s what Scotland should do as well.”
But Davidson argued differently, hailing the security and stability of the status quo.
“We have huge control over our health care, education and our policing,” said Davidson, adding that Scotland is part of a £63 million market. “We can be a better country without being a separate country.”
Whatever the outcome, many young Scots are pleased that their votes will count towards Scotland’s future next Thursday.

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