Thursday, September 23, 2010

Americans Want to Be More Like Sweden

A just-published study by economics and business professors from Duke and Harvard shows that Americans have little to no idea how unevenly wealth is distributed in this country. Moreover, Americans across ideological and economic spectrums, *want* there to be a more equitable distribution of wealth. When given a blind taste test using pie charts representing various divisions of wealth, more than 9 out of 10 Americans said they’d rather live in a country with a distribution of wealth like Sweden’s than live in one like the United States. Sweden: tastes great, less exploitation!

No doubt, some will claim this study is trying to foment “class warfare.” I always get a kick when I hear wealthy conservatives cry about “class warfare” anytime someone mentions that a more equitable and rational fiscal policy might be appropriate. It’s sort of like Hitler blaming Britain and France for starting World War II because they declared war on Germany, when all Germany did was merely invade Poland. Creating a system in which the wealthiest Americans are given every advantage above and beyond what their mere accumulation of resources provides is just fine and dandy, but having the temerity to point this out is “class warfare.” Priceless.

One way of creating a society more in line with what the majority of Americans across the political and economic spectrum would like would be a much more progressive tax system (something more like we had in the 1990s, or even more so in the 1950s, both times of incredible prosperity). Unfortunately, the powers that be have created a system in which a hedge fund manager pays the same functional tax rate as the sanitation worker or school teacher.

But isn’t that fair? Wouldn’t that be the answer? Have everyone taxed at the same rate? After all, that would mean that the wealthiest people *would* pay more in terms of raw dollars. It’s so equitable, so elegant, so . . . much b.s.

If the fact that the biggest proponent of instituting a flat tax rate is Steve “Moneybags” Forbes doesn’t cause you to be suspicious, consider the following points:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Uber-Wealthy Divide and Conquer

A few trenchant observations from one of Robert Reich's latest columns:

"Wall Street and top corporate executives have grown even richer than they were before the Great Recession, even though most Americans are getting poorer or losing their jobs and homes and savings, and more Americans are in poverty."

"The super-rich say the nation can't afford any of this because of budget deficits. Yet at the same time their platoons of lobbyists are fighting off efforts to treat their income as taxable earnings rather than capital gains. So last year the 400 richest families in America, with an average income of $300 million each, were taxed at an average rate of only 17 percent. That's the same tax rate paid by a family earning $30,000."

"Wealth and power in this country are so distorted that the top 25 hedge-fund managers each earned an average of $1 billion last year. $1 billion would support 20,000 classroom teachers. Yet who contributes more to this country — a hedge-fund manager or a teacher?"

This comes in the context of bemoaning why President Obama wasn't more forceful about calling out the uber-wealthy and their minions in his recent town hall meeting about the economy. Instead, Obama asked the Tea Party crowd to come up with specific ideas for reducing the deficit.

File that one under "be careful what you wish for" (e.g., ending Social Security, stopping jobless benefits, gutting Medicaid, etc.).

Reich's got a point. The more I think about this issue of conflict and how it's framed rhetorically, the more I come to the conclusion that a great many of the apparent conflicts we see aren't really between the supposedly obvious antagonists at all, but between two other entities with hazier identities. My favorite example is that it seems the real divide in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is not between Israelis and Palestinians, or between Jew and Arab, but between those who sincerely want to find a mutual peace and those who prefer conflict (or who at least only see victory/defeat) as the possible outcomes. It's not a divide that's easily marked along geographic, ethnic, or religious lines; it's one that you see only in the heart and, to a lesser extent, in actions.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Public opinion and the war in Afghanistan

Interesting article by Glenn Greenwald on the lack of public support for the continued occupation of Afghanistan, which brings up the question (and it's not necessarily a simple one): when is it okay for a democracy to continue military actions when the majority of its populace doesn't want it to?

Public opinion and the war in Afghanistan

Monday, September 6, 2010

An Open Letter to Glenn Beck on Why He Hates Academics So Darn Much

This is a not-so-peaceful entry, but one that I felt compelled to write after hearing Glenn Beck last week talk about the need for the American people to “steel” themselves against the evils of what he calls “reeducation camps:” colleges and universities, and the people who work there. According to Monsieur Beck, higher education is chockablock full of radical communists who want nothing more than to brainwash the youth of America into Mao-quoting automatons.

Funny—in all my time on college campuses, I’ve yet to see a course devoted to the study of communism. Not that such a course might not exist somewhere, but I’ve never seen it in any college catalog. On the other hand, every college or university I’ve been to has had an entire school or department of business and also economics, two whole academic fields devoted to advocating for the free market system. But I digress.

After hearing Beck, I felt like I needed to vent a bit. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around academics my whole life. Maybe it’s because I just got done putting together my application for tenure, a process that involved a lot of reflection on what it is that I do for a living and why I’ve chosen to do it. And maybe it’s because this weekend marked the 11th anniversary of my Dad’s passing, a man who embodied what being an intellectual could and should be.

Whatever the reason, I felt the need to respond in the form of an open letter to Mr. Beck, which takes the form of a Keith Olbermann-esque “Special Comment.”

Friday, August 27, 2010

Kurlansky's Third Lesson Redux: Look in the Mirror NYC


There are still plenty of lessons from Mark Kurlansky's book on nonviolence, but the recent spate of histrionics about the "Ground Zero Mosque" (which, to channel Mike Myers' character Linda Richmond, is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque—discuss), I couldn't help but think of the previous lesson I blogged about: in war, one begins to resemble the enemy.

Of course, that presupposes that what's going on is a "war," and, in terms of what's going on in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, it just ain't. But for our purposes, what's more important is that the situation is being framed rhetorically as a war, and a lot of people have accepted that frame.

And those people who have accepted that frame are, just as Kurlansky posits, looking exactly like the people they claim to be fighting. More than that, they are taking on exactly those aspects of the "enemy" they claim to despise.

I couldn't help but think of this when seeing the footage of the louts protesting the "mosque" and accosting the African American man they assumed was Muslim ("He musta voted for Obama!").

Hadn't I seen such scenes before? Hadn't all of us?

Sure! In places like Iran and Pakistan where Islamic radicals were protesting the evils of America.

But that's only a superficial comparison. I wondered if there were examples of Muslim crowds protesting the building of Christian churches. Off to the Google machine!

It took me all of 30 seconds to find what I was looking for.

In February of this year, a crowd of 150 radical Muslims in Indonesia protested the building of a Protestant church. Just as in the mosque case in New York, the civil authorities had okayed the building. And just as in the mosque case (and similar cases that have cropping up across the U.S.), hateful bigots were looking for legal loopholes such as zoning regulations to find ways of stopping the perfectly lawful building of an "infidel" place of worship.

The more you look at conflicts like this, the more you realize that the apparent opposing sides are not the true opposing sides. The galoots making idiots of themselves in New York are the same galoots in Indonesia. They just speak with different accents.

These folks are on the same team. They want the same things. They believe in the same things. The delicious irony is that pointing this out to people on either "side" infuriates them both.

If you needed any further proof of Kurlansky's third rule, look no further than NYC and Indonesia.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Obama's Peaceable (and Sensible) Ground Zero Mosque Rhetoric

A bunch of folks, including the sometime/part-time governor of Alaska, have accused President Obama of being either A) wrong in his remarks about the “Ground Zero” mosque, or B) unclear or contradictory in his remarks. Neither of these accusations is true. In fact, Obama’s statements on this issue have been entirely correct morally and factually and also entirely consistent. I’d add that I think they are a great example of what “peaceful” rhetoric can be.

Obama said on Friday that Muslims, like anybody else in America, are completely free to practice religion in any way they see fit, as long as they do so within the context of the law. On Saturday, he pointed out that he had *not* said anything one way or the other about the “wisdom” of building this particular mosque, but simply that it was absolutely within the law to do so.

Would we want a president to say anything other than this? The entire purpose of having freedom of religion enshrined in the Bill of Rights is precisely to point out that it doesn’t make a bit of difference what anyone-- you, I, or even the president—thinks about someone else’s right to practice their religion. It’s not a matter of opinion or majority rule. You get to worship God (or not) the way you want to, particularly on your own property. No one, and I mean no one, can possibly offer an argument that says the government could or should interfere with the building of this mosque. At least, no one can offer an argument that would be consistent with well over two centuries of Constitutional law as well as the most basic tenets of the American form of government.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nonviolence: Lesson #3

Have you heard about the Centennial Park church?

You might remember that in 1996, a terrorist bomb exploded in Centennial Park during the Olympics, killing two people and injuring more than a hundred. Eventually, authorities arrested Eric Robert Rudolph, a sometime-follower of a right-wing Christian identity movement, after he had been found to have bombed several other buildings.

Now, the city of Atlanta is actually allowing a Christian church to be built two blocks away from the site of this terrorist attack by a religious zealot.

Why can't the builders of this church recognize the pain they are causing? Building a church so close to the site of a terrorist attack done in the name of Christianity disrespects the families of those who were killed and injured in that attack. The city government needs to do something to stop this, even if the church is being built on private property.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Greenspan Warns Against Continuing Bush Tax Policy

Economic violence is violence, and the massive redistribution of tax burden onto the shoulders of the middle class via the Bush tax "cuts" was a punch to the gut of the majority of Americans.  Of all people, Alan Greenspan (often in the past a proponent of similar sorts of economic violence) recently warned against continuing the Bush tax policy (as the GOP would like to do, despite their caterwauling about deficits). 

Another good article on the issue by Fareed Zakaria can be found here.

And here's a graphic representation of what happens to the debt if the tax cuts for the wealthy are extended without offsetting cuts.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Nonviolence: Lesson 2

After beginning my exploration of Mark Kurlansky's 25 lessons about nonviolence laid out in his "Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea," I've gotten off track and, well, lazy about continuing my posts. It always seems there's something that "needs" or "should" be done rather than blathering away on the blog, but I'm trying to make this a priority now.

Anyhow, last time, we looked at the first lesson: there is no positive word for "nonviolence." Today, we look at the second lesson.

Kurlansky's second lesson about nonviolence is this: nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them. The idea of having a "robust" military merely to dissuade others from attacking is not nonviolence at all. Such a military will always end up being used actively (even if, as was the case in the invasion of Iraq, its use was disingenuously couched in the rhetoric of "deterrence" and "prevention").

The Russian dramatist, Anton Chekov, famously said that if you have a gun hanging on the wall of the set of a play in the first act, it must necessarily be used in the second. It would seem ludicrous to have such an attention-grabbing prop be there and remain unused.

The gun hanging on the set of the set of the ongoing production that is "The United States of America (Now More than Ever)" is our military.

There have only been a handful of years in its history when the United States didn't have its military in the field somewhere in the world participating in a conflict of some sort. It is a tragic example of the maxim, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." We've spent so much money on our military and made it so central to our national ethos that we find reasons to use it even when it is the last tool that should be used. The current "wars" (which, it hardly needs saying, haven't been wars for years, but long ago morphed into clumsy and violent occupations) in response to the actions of 19 men with boxcutters is only the latest example of this attitude. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Nonviolence: Lesson 1

I’m rereading Mark Kurlansky’s Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. If Kurlansky sounds familiar, it’s probably because he was the guy who taught us about the role of cod and salt in history.

In an appendix to the book, Kurlansky lists what he feels are 25 lessons about non-violence that emerge from his overview of its history. As a sort of mental exercise, I thought I’d write a brief post about each of the 25 lessons, on a more or less daily basis for the next month.

The first of Kurlansky’s lessons is this: There is no proactive word for nonviolence.

If you pick up just about any book about nonviolence, this topic comes up. Nonviolence, as the word itself suggests, is defined negatively as an absence of violence. But this isn’t true. Nonviolence in the way practiced by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others is an active act, a positive one. Satyagraha, a word coined by Gandhi for his actions, translates to “truth force.” Unfortunately, it has never caught on (although I’m pleasantly surprised that, as I type this, Microsoft Word apparently acknowledges this word's existence, since no yucky red squiggly line shows up below it when I type it).

What we do and don’t have words for reveals something about our culture. Like the semi-mythical assertion that the Inuit peoples have a gazillion words for “snow” because its so much a part of their lives, perhaps we have so many words for various kinds of violence (and none for nonviolence) precisely because violence is such a part of our culture, while active, peaceful confrontation is so rare.

At the risk of verging into the esoteric, though, I’d suggest there is a word for nonviolence.

Consider the following actions:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Synecdoche Gaza

We’ve now learned that an American citizen was killed on the Turkish ship boarded by Israeli commandos.  Furkan Dogan was shot four times in the head and once in the chest at close range.

Everyone from the Pope to the Secretary General of the UN has criticized the forcible boarding of a humanitarian aid ship in international waters. But many, particularly in the United States (even those critical of Israel’s actions) wonder why the criticism is so one-sided. After all, although those on all but one of the ships used non-violent, passive resistance, the commandos did face physical resistance on the ship where the shootings happened.

There are a lot of reasons for this. First, all of the dead were members of the flotilla. While some commandos were wounded, none were killed. Then there’s the obvious David/Goliath issue, with the well-trained and well-armed Israeli commandos playing Goliath (ironically enough) to the David of a crew of unarmed men and women trying to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza. And then there was the fact that the boarding took place in international waters. While it would have been ideal for all members of the flotilla to practice nonviolence, it isn’t surprising that some would have tried to defend their ship when armed men dropped from the sky to take it over.

If any of these variables weren’t in place, I suspect the reaction would be a bit more nuanced and conflicted.

But there’s also a symbolic—even rhetorical—part of the answer as well. The vision of armed Israelis seizing control of a ship and shooting civilians serves as a synecdoche of the situation in Gaza.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Don't Believe the (Tax) Hype

One of the things that fascinates me is the ability of people to believe something despite all evidence to the contrary.  Some chalk this up to stupidity, but I think it's usually more complicated than that, involving attempts to resolve cognitive dissonance, a desire to forward an agenda, and a lust to make the world comprehensible (among other things). This is one reason I ended up doing my dissertation on conspiracy theories--what purpose does it serve to rhetorically construct an alternative reality that bears little to no resemblance to the known facts?  Why, for example, despite overwhelming evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald (and no one else) shot President Kennedy, do the majority of Americans no accept this explanation?

This interest resurfaced this week with the tea party/teabag tax protests.  Despite the caterwauling about the "socialist" tendencies of the current administration and the huge tax burden faced by the American people, the fact is that the tax burden for the overwhelming majority of Americans is lower than it's been in a long, long time.  That's right: unless you are ungodly rich, your federal taxes have gone down in President Obama's first year, not up. 

That's so contrary to the conventional wisdom and the narratives spun by not only the teabag crowd but by the mainstream media that it surprised even me.  Yes, I follow the news, so I knew that Obama campaigned on and delivered a modest tax cut to middle-income Americans.  That put me ahead of a lot of my fellow countrymen and women, but I was honestly surprised at the historic nature of this dip in taxes. 

It's a testament to the power of narrative that even someone disinclined to believe them and who probably reads more news than the average bear found himself surprised at this news.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rhetoric of Violence Makes a Resurgence

So it’s come to this.

It seemed things couldn’t get more disturbing. Over the last few months, we’ve been treated to equations of Obama to Hitler, gun-totin’ teabaggers, and visions of an anti-healthcare reform mob taunting a man with Parkinson’s Disease.

But after Sunday’s vote, you couldn’t be faulted for thinking things might get back to being a bit more civil. After all, there was some evidence of it. Polls suggested that there was a growing consensus that, despite the enmity of the debate and the often egregious falsehoods flung into the public sphere, Americans were coming to feel that this bill was probably a good thing. Not perfect, but a step in the right direction.

But starting on the day of the vote itself, and then following, there’s been some ominous signs—things that remind me a lot of the craziest stuff being said and done during the Clinton presidency which culminated in Oklahoma City.

On the day of the vote, protestors yelled “nigger”at African American members of Congress. Another black congressman was spat on. An openly gay congressman was called “faggot.”

In the days that followed, vandals threw bricks at the offices of representatives who didn’t vote the way they wanted them to. Politicians received threats of physical violence. The brother of another congressman had a propane gas pipe broken by thugs who thought it was the congressman’s house.

As I type this, I’m hearing reports of congressional representatives having pictures of nooses faxed to their offices.

Sarah Palin now talks about “targeting” key Democratic congressional representatives in upcoming elections, complete with a U.S. map with crosshairs to mark the districts in question.

And one of the guys who has taken credit for advocating brick throwing at Democrats talks openly about guns being taken out and cleaned, as well as the necessity of preparing for combat. And oh yeah—he’ll be a featured guest at a gun rally held a high-power rifle shot from Washington D.C. to be held next month, April 19th—the day Timothy McVeigh chose to kill innocent men, women, and children at the federal building in Oklahoma City because it was the two-year anniversary of the conflagration at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (an event seen by the radical Right as evidence of the malevolence of the federal government).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

John Mayer Isn't the Only Person Saying Stupid, Hurtful Stuff

I'm a semi-regular reader of, primarily because of the mix of thoughtful writing on a number of issues, from politics to the arts to social trends.  As with any site of that sort, the articles are followed by the delightful "Comment" section, where folks ranging from erudite and thoughtful philosphical types to hateful, semi-literate mouth-breathers can weigh in with their two cents.

With a site like Salon that tends to cater to a slightly more educated and cultured crowd than the typical website, it's always a bit disturbing to see quite how many commentors seem to have troglodytic tendencies.  Sure, there are the "trolls" who come to the site for the express pupose of finding stuff they don't like and commenting on it.  That's par for the course.  But there is also a disturbing amount of all-too-typically-internet vitriol and flaming going on from people who seem to go to Salon because they sincerely like the site. 

I recently found such a reaction to a piece on Salon.  A young African-American woman had an essay published at Salon--a brief "open letter" to musician John Mayer in response to his recent comments about his lack of "dating" experience when it came to women of color.  The author of the essay used this as a jumping off spot to talk about how she as a woman of color often felt "invisible" as a woman and how this led to feelings of resentment. 

It was an interesting piece--one that I think most people could identify with to some extent.  Except for the most beautiful of the beautiful, who hasn't felt insecure about their appearance and attractiveness, particularly given what is said and shown in the mass media?

I made the mistake of clicking on the "comments" section, assuming that there would be some thoughtful comments.  Perhaps people talking about how finding out about the views/beliefs of artists affected (or didint' affet) their appreciation for their work, or maybe some sharing of thoughts about how all of us (including John Mayer) have our attitudes toward beauty shaped by our culture.

Oh, but I was wrong!  There was no end to the abuse heaped on the young woman who authored the piece.  She was told there was something "wrong" with her.  She was told she obviously had major self-esteem issues.  She was told she might just be ugly.  She was told she shouldn't call John Mayer a racist (she hadn't).  She was told she shouldn't care if John Mayer would want to bed her (she doesn't).   One delightful commentor said, "Hey, I"ll f*ck ya.  Feel better?" 

The abuse came from men and women, black and white (at least according to the claims of the authors themselves). Not all of the response was nasty, but the willingness of people to anonymously eviscerate the author in the nastiest of language was breathtaking, especially when all she was doing in the essay was to write a reflection on her own feelings.

So I ended up writing my own comment, and since I bothered to, and since it ties in to the theme of the blog, I thought I'd post it below.


I'm enough of a denizen of the internet to know that it's a place where people often feel comfortable, and even compelled, to give voice to their most negative and vitriolic kneejerk responses to what they read. So I'm not shocked to see the number of people glibly chiming in with assertions/implications that Ms.Tooles is narcissistic and/or has low self-esteem and/or is whining and self-involved and/or is silly for caring about what men might think of her and/or is silly for being affected by the words of a rattle-brained guitar-playing goofball.

Not surprised, but still disappointed.

As an earlier letter mentioned, it seems that empathy is becoming a lost art. We're in greater contact with more people than ever before, but our ability to inhabit their point of view and learn something about the world from tarrying in this alternative space for a bit has atrophied.

It also seems that critical reading has also begun to vanish. Ms. Toole does not charge Mayer with being a racist based on his comments (as several writers imply that she does). She is offering an explanation of why the off-the-cuff ramblings of this guy might have had the impact on her that they did. She's writing from an entirely subjective point of view. The issue is not the objective rationality of her feelings; it's the exploration of how/why she has them.

And this isn't necessarily a small matter. The fact remains that beauty is a cultural construct, and that in our society, the epitome of beauty is defined as young, white, female, thin, etc., etc. etc. It's clear to me that Ms. Toole is talking about how Mayer's comments, as inconsequential as they might seem at first glance, tapped into her awareness of how society defines beauty as something other than what she is. Couple that with the longstanding effects of racism, and one can begin to see how a dopey comment by a jerk might, despite her better judgment, affect Ms. Toole.

And I'm sorry, but to those who toss off facile boilerplate pseduo-therapeutic comments about how she shouldn't define herself by how men see her or that you yourself are so mature and self-actualized that you find it hard to imagine how comments like this could be hurtful, I can only say this: bullsh*t.

She's not talking about defining oneself by what the other (or same) sex thinks of you. She's pointing out the obvious: part of being human is to enjoy connecting one another, to enjoy being drawn to others. One way that manifests itself is through sexuality. Married or single, black or white, female or male, young or old . . . all of us like to feel affirmed that we are desirable on some level. That applies to all of us, including every last author of a letter on this thread. Anyone who says they don't feel validated by knowing they are considered attractive or who says they are immune to criticism or insults to their desirability is simply not being honest. Would you necessarily dwell on these feelings long enough or deeply enough to reflect on why you had them and then feel compelled to share them with others? Perhaps not, but that might simply be because you lack the courage to do so.

And yes, I'm all too aware that by taking several of letter writers on this thread to the woodshed over their comments is in a sense an example of me participating in the very dynamic I describe at the beginning of the letter. Guilty as charged. But I trust that, given the tenor of so many of the letters in this thread, there is no possible way my words--or any words--could cause even a twinge of discomfort in a group of folks so preternaturally self-satisfied.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Ads

The hype for the Super Bowl ads is about as overblown these days as the hype for the game itself, but all the attention does do one thing to warm a rhetorician's cold, cold heart: it prompts people to do some textual analysis of if/how/why persuasion works in particular cases.

Overall, I have to say I was underwhelmed by the ads this year.  Of course, just as the game itself often has trouble living up to the two-weeks' worth of hype, the ads themselves now have a hard time following through on the buildup.   There were a few interesting ones.  The Budweiser horse and the calf ad was adorable, and the Google-your-way-to-love-in-Paris ad was charming and interesting as a way of telling a meaninguful and involving story in a 30-second spot. 

As with the past, there was a lot of violence in the ads, although not quite so much as there were a couple of years ago, when it seemed like every commercial had something horrible happening to someone for "comedic" effect.  The most surprising to me this year was the controversial Tim Tebow ad, which featured Tebow tackling his mother at full throttle.  (Hey Mom, thanks for carrying me to term!  Enjoy this herniated disk!)  

Beyond the slightly-reduced-but-still-prevalent trope of infliciting pain as humor, the other thing that jumped out at me was the amount of ads featuring fears of/fantasy responses to emasculation.  From a guy kicking his wife out of his car to avoid having to give up his precious new tires to Jim Nance providing commentary on the "spineless" guy shopping with his wife, there was lot of the woman-as-castrating-bitch them in the ads.  It showed up often enough and in such a wide array of ads that it emerged as a clear theme for this year's commercials.    Not that such a theme is either new or terribly surprising given the venue, but it was oddly prevalent in the ads this year.

Any chance we can get some transcendence?  Yep, courtesy of Letterman, Leno, and Oprah.  This was, far and away, the spot of the night for me.  Not only was it A) funny, and B) surprising, but given the nature of the ads surrounding it, the Letterman spot stood out as an ad that used comedy to undercut and defang actual conflict.  I've only been following the Letterman/Leno saga sporadically, but it had gotten fairly pointed and nasty, with Letterman doing unflattering imitations of Leno and Leno cracking jokes about Letterman's private life ("You know how you get David Letterman to ignore you? Marry him!").    To see these two hanging out on the couch with Oprah in a spot promoting Letterman's show was priceless and showed a level of maturity (despite the fact that Letterman and Leno were feigning childishness in the ad) that (dare I say?) raised the level of popular discourse.

Or at least gave me something to laugh at other than a henpecked husband or a fifty-year-old woman being blindsided by her son. 


Friday, February 5, 2010

The Rhetorical Violence of Beck et al.

There's a short but illuminating article at Media Matters for America on the prevalence of violent imagery and metaphor by those appearing on Fox. You can find it here:

The problem with the comments cited in the article are not that they are passionate or political.  It's not even that some of them are downright hateful.  It's that they play with the imagery of violence.  "Figures of speech" are not mere ornaments or funny little doo-dads we add to our speech; they are ways we frame our understanding of the world.  Cognitive linguistics suggests that metaphors in fact structure the actual neural pathways in our brain. 

That is, words mean things.  Not in the sense that they have timeless, unchanging definitions.  They don't.  But they have consequences.  They have implications.  They do things to us when we speak and hear them.

Should such rhetoric be censored?  Of course not.  But they should be censured--condemned as unworthy of consideration by thoughtful people and out of bounds of civil talk. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Doin' the Class Covenant Thing

So, I've been crazy delinquent about posting to this blog, but that will change now that I'm using  blogging as part of my ENGL 101 class.  The idea is to have all of us spend a few minutes each and every class writing about anything, without any worries about topic, grammar, format, or any of that stuff.  Hopefully, this will get me in the habit of posting to this blog about general life stuff rather than pseudo-academic blathering strictly about peace-related stuff only.  In other words, rhetorician, heal thyself!

Okay, so I'm using the class-covenant thing as I did last semester.  It was fascinating to see what this group came up with.  In some ways, the spirit of the covenant is similar to the one my 103 class came up with last semester, but it's also different.  Most interestingly, the class covenant calls for the course to be both "flexible" and "structured."  Hmmmm....kind of a tall order, but I think we can pull it off.  And even if we don't the attempt by itself should be intersting.

Anyhow, here's the covenant we've come up with:

Class Covenant for ENGL 101-02, Spring Semester, 2010

We, the members of ENGL 101-02 (both students and instructor) want this class to be excellent. We have identified the following traits as the most important qualities of a great class: it is fun, it involves hands-on learning, it is organized and structured, yet, it should also be flexible, and should be creative.

We commit ourselves to doing our best to make these qualities part of this class. To do this, we’ve identified things each member of the class can do to help us achieve our goal. We have also identified ways we’ll know if we are meeting this goal.

To make sure the class is fun, we believe that individual students should be outgoing with each other, have a positive attitude, participate in discussions, be energetic, and help one another. We believe the instructor should have a positive attitude, relate to students, create activities that add energy to the class, and do fun things (like not talking the whole time). We believe the class as a whole should treat each other with respect, actively participate in class, accept differences among people in class, work together, voice our opinions, and actively get to know each other.

If the class succeeds in this, we will be able to tell because people will come to class regularly with a good attitude and be involved in learning.

To make sure the class is hands-on, we believe that individual students should participate, stay involved and actively engaged in what’s going on, and offer help to other students. We believe the instructor should take initiative, give assignments that don’t just involve writing, work one-on-one with students as much as possible, offer helpful feedback, makes sure students understand course content

If the class succeeds in this, we will be able to tell because students will know the material, the class atmosphere will be positive, students will do well on assignments, everyone will participate, people will be interacting, and everyone will feel there’s an objective in the class.

To make sure the class is organized and structured, we believe that individual students should get assignments done on a regular basis, follow the writing “commandments,” set specific personal goals, stay involved, help others, always have needed materials, keep a schedule, stay organized, and stay on task. We believe the instructor should have an itinerary for each class, be ready to teach what this particular group of students needs to know, encourage students, give due dates for students who would like them, and stay committed to his unique style of teaching. We believe the class as a whole treat each other with respect, get involved in their own learning, pay attention, and come prepared for each day’s class.

If we succeed in this, we will be able to tell because students will get assignments completed, everyone will be involved in what’s going on in class, people in class feel motivated, there is a lack of stress in the classroom, and a minimum of chaos.

To make sure the class is flexible, we believe that individual students should have open minds, accept constructive criticism from others, do multiple tasks, work under a variety of conditions, and be open to the opinions of others. We believe the instructor should follow his own guidelines, extend due dates when necessary, be forgiving, work with students individually, and be willing to work with students on their own time in addition to in class. up with creative activities and put students outside their comfort zone. We believe the class as a whole should be active in class discussions.

If the class succeeds in this, we will be able to tell because the class will go smoothly, students will be skilled in writing by the end of the semester, people will have positive attitudes, people will work on their own, and be able to work in tough situations.

To make sure the class is creative, we believe that individual students should use their imagination in their writing, think outside the box, have open minds, use critical thinking, have fun with assignments, and try things outside their comfort zone. We believe the instructor should change the routine of class, come up with creative assignments, use PowerPoints, teach to a variety of learning styles, be open-minded, give constructive criticism, and find ways to get students’ minds going. We believe the class as a whole should think of creative ways to help others understand, brainstorm ideas together, give input to instructor and each other, give each other constructive criticism, and actively try to come up with creative ideas.

If the class succeeds in this, we will be able to tell because students will have a plethora of ideas for papers, class will be interesting, students will become overachievers, each day in class will be different, people will accept criticism, we will come up with original ideas, and people will actually have fun when writing their papers.