(no subject)

I think my presentation went pretty well. I got a lot of feedback from the class, some of which was very useful.

The main flaw with my essay was that I didn’t have enough evidence to support my claims. Thus, the biggest change I plan to make is to find more sources that verify my conjectures and anecdotal evidence. One study that Jason suggested during the discussion following my presentation seems particularly applicable. It shows that students from selective schools are more successful because only intelligent, ambitious students get into these schools in the first place. Students who were accepted to these schools, but that then went to less selective schools, were just as successful.

The feedback from the class also helped me aim my focus better. For example, I realized that the biggest hole in my argument was the fact that college might make you better at general skills such as learning how to learn things (Prof.Lioi also commented on this in my paper), which could definitely be useful in many careers. Hence, I plan to expand this section of my argument from one paragraph to 3 or 4.

My main arguments will be that although general skills might be useful, they should not be taught through esoteric subjects such as art history, or sociology. Instead, we could have shorter programs that teach general skills that are somewhat more specific to the given field. In other words, I think it is inefficient to teach future entertainers and managers the same set of “general skills” (I use these examples, because Belmont college claims that an English degree prepares students for both of these professions).

Also, even if college shouldn’t teach a very specific set of skills, its end goal should still be to prepare people for their future career. Nowadays, however, college students rarely think about what they plan to do when they leave college. Because of this, they are often very confused when they enter the workforce, and make poor decisions. If college is going to prepare people for the real world, then this issue should definitely be addressed.

I was also worried that my last two pages didn’t really fit in with the theme of the essay, but the class didn’t seem to think this, so I plan to keep them.

(no subject)

My presentation went okay. I sensed a great deal of disagreement from the rest of the class as to the overall badness of MIT. This has been a common experience - MIT students tend to accept limited criticisms of MIT ("The GIRs suck," for example), but ultimately tend to come to the conclusion that MIT is still a good place to be; that there are things that make up for anything that's wrong with it, etc.

I end up in the position of the negative nabob: why can't I find a way to work within the MIT system? Why can't I see the good here?

There is good here, but the disappointment has been too much for me to take it seriously. The potential of a place like MIT I still feel is enormous. But that potential is in no sense actualized. MIT gathers together the brightest and most capable people in the world, and makes them take standardized tests and do standardized problem sets.

Presentation Reflections

It is a commonly held belief that writing can further help one form his or her ideas. This is an important idea, and the scope is not only limited to the written word. When tasked with the duty of giving a presentation about a work in progress, the presenter is forced to thoroughly consider what he wants to accomplish with the work. Before he can ask others what needs improvement, he needs to ask that very same question to himself. While the very preparation and execution of my presentation helped me develop my ideas and form a route of improvement, here I will discuss what I have gained from the insight, ideas, and comments provided by other classmates.

Going into the talk I had four large questions, and I feel like I came away with satisfactory answers to all of them. This is more than I hoped for. My first objective was to guage the class on the issue of the necessity (or lack thereof) of religion to enforce a moral code upon society. Over the past week or so, I did a good deal of reading into various studies that concerned morality in humans and other animals, so the topic is of particular interest to me. The class, however, seemed to think a lengthly discussion of such material would be out of place and unnecessary. Well, I have a good idea for a future paper then.

One of the major problems that I face with my paper is the issue of generalities. What do I mean when I say religion? Who do I offend when I attack "religion"? From the discussion it became apparent that the fashion in which I was going about the paper may even offend an "atheist jew." Now while I might seem to be very unconcerned about offending people, I do not want to make my readership any narrower. It would be my hope that such an "atheist jew" or similar person take a strong liking to the paper. As such, it has become apparent to me that I need to define what I mean when I say religion, and be very careful to watch who and what I am attacking. This is probably the most important area of improvement on the paper. Instead of adding a large degree of new material (since there is already quite a bit), most of my effort will be focused into fixing this perceived issue.

The final topic I needed assistance with was regarding so-called "rational theism". Here I run into two problems: 1) what do I mean when I say this, and 2) the this-will-offend-people complex (something, as the morning hours start to dawn in my window and I realize I am still up at this late - or should I say early hour working on my blog and paper, that is quickly loosing its importance). My direction on this matter will be that I will try to not develop it too much further, but clarify the issue and perhaps draw from some examples derived from real people.

The presentation, as with all presentations I have ever done, also helped me improve my public speaking skills. This was more so a factor of actual practice than feedback, however, since the majority of the comments were either positive "good job"'s or comments on my overuse of the word "ummm..." - a bad habit I am already very conscious of having, I did not gain any new profound insights. Every time I hear a message I left on someone's answering machine I am reminded of this "um" habit, but I seem to have a hard time getting rid of it. This is especially true on answering machines where a pause instead of an "um" could mean the machine cuts me off due to inactivity, or should I say invocality?

In final light, the presentation was helpful in both of these regards. When I wake up to finish up my final draft I am sure I will be thinking this thought again.

(no subject)

One of the things I liked most about this class was the open discussion and the flow of ideas back and forth. And a similar exchange of ideas is also what I think helped me most for my revision of my essay. As I sat down to prepare my presentation last week, I realized that I didn’t really know how to articulate what I wanted my essay to be about. Sure, it was about sports and violence and soccer moms, but what did I want to say about that conglomeration of topics?

I was initially set on the notion that perhaps sports can help cure the world of violence. And that was indeed a lofty goal for a five-page essay. I was initially afraid that in trying to examine three different topics--basketball, soccer, and finally soccer moms--I would only end up failing to develop any one idea sufficiently enough. My biggest thought was that I ought to concentrate on just one topic and explore that in detail. However, after hearing feedback from my classmates, it seems that I can include all three in a coherent, well-developed essay.

The class discussion also helped me to clarify the main ideas I want to develop. Indeed, there are ways that sports can unite—Monica brought up Remember the Titans as a great example of how two races had to come together to reach a common goal on the football field—but there are also ways that sports divide. In my previous drafts, I had strictly separated the two ideas, both in my mind and on paper, but perhaps I don’t necessarily have to do that to write a good, coherent essay. And indeed, I am going to try to weave the two conflicting ideas together better in the final draft. I can also examine other ideas that were brought up—using sports to channel violence, perhaps, or a discussion of baseball and how much it has influenced American society (as an examination of something more “close to home”).

As for the presentation itself, I learned a lot, both about what I did well, and what I need to improve. I always get nervous before giving oral presentations, and have always envied those people who could seemingly just get up and speak with confidence. However, I have had opportunities in the past to give oral presentations, and I think that I gain more confidence with each one.

Volume has always been a problem for me. Everybody could hear me well enough due to the small size of our classroom in this particular presentation, but unfortunately, I will not always give presentations in such a small setting. I gave a formal presentation in a normal-sized classroom on Friday, and to make sure I addressed the entire audience, I would sometimes turn slightly to make eye contact with audience members on one side of the room, and then other times turn to make eye contact with audience members on the other side. From the feedback that I received at the end of my presentation, I realized that the audience in a particular side of the room had a difficult time hearing me when I was facing the other side. This is something I shall definitely continue to work on in the future.

I also have a tendency to fidget. This isn’t too noticeable when I am sitting--my feet have less room to wander when I’m glued to a seat, and my hands are limited to moving around on the surface of the desk--but when I am standing, I cross my legs, cross my arms, wave my arms around, and carry on with any variety of motions. One of the most difficult things I find about oral presentations is that I often concentrate so much on what I need to say that I forget about the rest of my body. There are so many small nuances that differentiate the good presentations from the great presentations, and it will take practice to master all of them.

Overall, this presentation was a great learning experience for me--I learned about what I need to do as a writer for my next essay, and I learned about what I need to work on as a presenter. There have been times as I worked on the final draft of my essay a few weeks ago and even when I revisited it last week that I wondered why in the world I chose to write about sports. This presentation helped me remember.
  • richli

Class presentation - violence essay.

In completing final draft of my essay, I have found the in class presentation to be pretty useful in guiding the focus. As mentioned in class before, I initially felt that my previous draft on violence ended too abruptly and concluded while broaching on a subject that is in fact very interesting: the idea of drawing the boundary between acceptable violence and sheer abuse. At the same time however, I feel by presenting this idea I haven’t been able to acquire as comprehensive of responses as I would have wanted. My questions to the audience members I felt were too difficult to result in very concrete and direct responses. Yet I still believe that some of the things mentioned during the discussion has helped me organize thoughts better and obtain a new perspective on what I want to add.
Drawing the boundary for violence is extremely difficult. The boundary in itself is all defined by society standard’s and definitions. It seems that the question I asked is very much tied in with the question of what violence really is. Indeed, there are many different forms of violence that we recognize in our class room discussions: physical, emotional, coercive etc. However, people from other backgrounds in perspectives might counter that thought and see the violence as only physical. In turn, their toleration of violence would greatly vary from ours. Despite the innumerable differences and subjectivity, the feedback from in class discussions has led me to understand that I don’t have to necessarily answer that question in my essay. However, I need to at least objectively be able to convey this subjectivety to the reader and allow him or her to fathom how truly difficult it is to have a common understanding of violence and the tolerability of it. After showing this, then perhaps I can finally add in my own personal viewpoint, with which some people will undoubtedly disagree.
The classroom discussion has also made me more aware of the assumptions that I have been making all this time in approaching the subject. The first the generalization that I’ve been drawing for the US standard for violence. It was pointed out that approximately 23 states in the US legalize child abuse or physical beating in school. I haven’t actually heard of this before, but that definitely shows me that some research is needed before I can assume that the US culture completely forbids physical discipline. Afterall, I’ve lived in only New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts in my entire lifetime – all of which are against child abuse according to my understanding and experience. The second one is the idea of parents teaching treating their children for their own benefit. In the United States, we strongly value a child’s opinion and thought. There are cultures out there that really don’t believe that what a child believes matters at all. Thus, these different levels of authority given to children are in direct correlation to the standards of acceptable child treatment. This is another area which I hope to bring up in my essay. In short, I think the proper step to after this discussion is to really expand on the ideas of drawing the fine line for violence and objectively showing the possible ways to view them. At the end however, I still plan on returning back to my experiences with my father, and adding my specific viewpoint of how my own feelings of suffering translate his actions into abuse for me.
This presentation has also given me a lot of information on where to improve in terms of my presentation skills. In the past, I haven’t had that many, and nervousness was always a thing that prevented me from approaching the podium, stage, or even desk (as in this case) with confidence. As I have noticed in the past, my presentation this time was full of ticks that I felt I can definitely change for next time. Some of these include the verbal ones: “and so” “kind of”. I also took too many pauses, which will be a very hard verbal tick to correct since I believe it is a result of having to think while speaking. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to speak fluidly at this point while in deep thought, so it’s a problem that I might need more assistance on. There are other physical ticks, such as the clicking of my pen – which I was aware of when I presented. However, every now and then, while speaking, it would just be a natural way in which I let out my nervousness. But at the same time, it definitely was distracting to the audience and myself. In remedying this problem, I hope to just remove unnecessary items away from my hands so that I won’t be able to play with anything while speaking. At the same time, audience members have noticed that my voice gradually got lower, and less confident. In a sense, that reflected how I felt during my presentation: I felt frustrated by how I was performing, and that in turn made me less assertive and less effective in voicing out my presentation as I progressed. I also began to notice that I was too repetitious in my speech, and thus, I need to train myself to think of alternative words before speaking. Lastly, I believe that in addressing my physical ticks I should just use more gestures with my hands. This would not only make my presentation more interesting and expressive, but also less distracting (provided that I do it with some discretion). Ultimately, what I need to do is actually sit down in front of a mirror and run through a mock presentation. Extensive practice is really needed to completely remove these ticks. Nervousness, on the other hand, will have to be addressed by just gaining more experience presenting to a group of audience members. My friends have often told me that they can’t imagine me as being shy at all in presentations do to my apparently extroverted personality in front of them. However, as soon as one foot steps onto a stage, my mentality and confidence level changes to the other extreme. With that said, those are two other elements that will take me a very long time to fix – which unfortunately will have to come through sheer experience. Overall however, this in class experience has been really helpful at gauging where my skills stand and defining what goals to aim in order to improve myself for my future careers.

Final thoughts on my essay and presentation

The Essay:

I am certain that there are very few people who actually believe that Italians are untrustworthy or prone to violence. The violent image that is very often portrayed in cinema and television is, simply, getting old. People have been taking a funny image into the realm of offensiveness. It isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault, but some action should be taken to slow the domination of the Mafia stereotype. Some instances of this common depiction seem silly to me, and others offend me deeply. It was suggested after my presentation that I attempt to determine what it was about these instances that spark such strong emotions. An example of such an instance is a commercial for the car company Renault in the same series as a set of ads that have appeared in Italy:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0c-PJKbNU0 (if this link does not take you to the video, search for “Renault mafia” on you-tube.)


I wanted to cry when I saw this for the first time. The commercial offended me for several different reasons. First off, the characters resemble my family members, and they are engaging in despicable behavior. Second, the advertisement is geared towards an Italian audience – whoever wrote it assumed that it would be appealing to this set of target customers. Lastly, someone posted it on youtube.com, under the heading “Funny Commercial.”

I think that what separates this instance from others such as Godfather’s Pizza, or an untactful campaign advertisement, is that the Renault commercial exhibits graphic physical violence. Although it is probably unreasonable to think that others assume that Italians are predisposed to violence, the notion that someone might is still troublesome. This is one reason that the images are harmful to the Italian American community. When an extreme image like this dominates popular culture, it can diffuse into real culture.

Class feedback seemed to tell me that I need not worry about strong emotional content in this essay, because I am not in danger of using it to misrepresent facts. Also, I do not need to mention stereotypes of other ethnic groups in vivid detail, but ought to make my arguments clear enough that they are easily applied to these other stereotypes.


The presentation:

I was happy with my presentation. I think that I effectively conveyed my concerns, and that the class feedback was useful. I have had to prepare for many public presentations, both verbal and musical: Last weekend I was commended by my wind ensemble conductor for my ability to recover from mistakes. We had just finished the performance of a small ensemble piece in which I had played a very soloistic role. I was slightly shaken up by a few blatantly obvious blunders on my part, and so it seemed that my conductors comments were just a nice way of saying “you messed up.” But my years of performance experience told me otherwise. As a beginning clarinet student, I would often make a face or otherwise lose my composure after making a mistake in a recital. I did this to inform the audience that I was aware of my error. Eventually I learned that the best thing to do is to pretend that no error was made at all.

Public speaking is a similar game. Inevitably, something is going to go wrong. You will be distracted, or draw a blank, or be caught off guard with a difficult question from the audience. As in music, it is important to know your topic well enough to improvise if necessary. My class presentation was to be enhanced greatly by showing the actual Renault car commercial. Unfortunately the video never loaded before class, nor during the presentation. I wasn’t expecting to need to replace the visual aid with a detailed description. In fact, a detailed description of both the commercial, and its meaning to me were the things that I needed the most help with. In the future, I will plan for technological malfunction, and have a backup copy of the media.

However, needing to improvise these emotions gave me an idea for how to approach the final draft of my essay. When I rewrite the emotional section of the essay, I will first write what I am feeling, and take a fresh look at the text the following day to make sure that it does not sound like an ill-informed rant, but does convey my concerns.

Feedback on the Presentation

My presentation helped me to realize that more people in the US are familiar with the Ukrainian Famine of 1933 than I originally thought. Moreover, the feedback I received at the presentation helped me to differentiate between the attitude of the Americans (Westerners) and Ukrainians (post-Soviet people) to the Holodomor. I understood that while the Americans do not hesitate to call the Holodomor a genocide created by the Soviet totalitarian regime, many Ukrainians and even more Russians are still hesitating due to the Soviet propaganda whether the Holodomor was a genocide, whether it was man-made, and whether it existed at all. Feedback to my presentation clarified that I need to emphasize this point of different attitude in the paragraph of my essay where I discuss whether the Holodomor was a genocide.

To draw historical parallels to the Holodomor, I can mention the Armenian genocide in Turkey because the situation with its lack of recognition in Turkey is similar to that with Holodomor in the post-Soviet countries. The Irish example is also helpful because it is similar to the Holodomor because the main victims were peasants in Ireland and Ukraine deprived of provision that was exported abroad. However, I need to underline that Ukrainian famine was of a greater scale that the Irish one, and more clearly man-made because the harvest in Ukraine was sufficient, but it was seized so a great famine occurred. Moreover, no relief actions could be made in Ukraine because the Soviet regime closed any channels for aid, and even closed the border with Russia so that bread had to be smuggled into Ukraine.

The comments on my presentation showed that many of the claims I make in my essay "hang in the air" without supporting factual information. To correct this deficiency, I need to refer to the opinions of authoritative historians such as James Mace and Robert Conquest and maybe cite some of their most striking claims. I also need to establish the credentials of these historians when I refer to their opinions. When I provide testimonies of the Holodomor, I need to carefully explain the role of the Ukraine Famine Commission in collecting these testimonies and prove that this commission was authoritative enough.

For the oral part of my presentation, one of my main problems was being too concentrated on myself without paying enough attention to the audience: I even missed some of the people who raised hands to offer me comments. I think that this problem was due to my unfamiliarity with Q+A section, because I have never conducted one in my life before. I also forgot to write down some of the comments I heard from the audience, which reduced my benefit from the help of the listeners. I also forgot to speak louder, to have a good eye contact, and not to look down too much. This shows that I need some more practice with presentations, which I hope to have in future.

Overall, I am satisfied with the results of my presentation because I received constructive feedback and adjustment to my opinion on the Holodomor: I thought that the Holodomor was not known to the Westerners and its being man-made was debated, whereas in reality the common opinion in the US is to consider the Holodomor a genocide. I am glad that I chose the topic of the Holodomor for my final essay and presentation because my research and feedback of the class gives me a more accurate view on a huge tragedy of my nation, and having such a view is valuable for a person's general education.

(no subject)

I not think it makes sense to compare Swift’s and Orwell’s approaches. We group them both under the same genre of “political essays”, but this is deceiving because in fact, they have very little in common. Orwell’s goal is to actually convince you of his point of view. Swift’s essay, on the other hand, is a satire. I do not think that he had a specific point he was trying to convince the reader of. It is impossible to say whether Swift’s irony is a “good idea”, or whether Orwell’s approach is better, because the two are incomparable.

Although I am not opposed to political satire in general, I do not think that Swift did a particularly good job. This may have been funnier 200 years ago, when it was considered particularly offensive, but nowadays it reads like a very typical amateur satire. A good satire is funny because it feels somewhat realistic: the author tries to show you the natural conclusion of the current trend. This is why paper like the onion work so well: it takes current political issues, and twists them into something that is almost believable, and certainly reminiscent of actual events. I recognize that Ireland was a starving country, but Swift’s idea is just too absurd.

Also, I do not particularly like his style. He tries to be very matter of fact, but it actually becomes boring. After a while, the idea that we can use children for food stops begin entertaining, at which point I no longer care about how much a baby weighs, and how much you could sell its skin for.

Orwell, on the other hand, is a great essay writer. I very much agree with the points made in his essay, and I think that he does a good job following his own advice. Many political essayists (Huntington, for example) use scholarly words and complicated sentence construction in lieu of a straightforward, logical argument. Orwell is one of the few political essayists that focuses on clearly expounding his argument, rather than trying to move his reader with emotions and catch phrases, or to seem like he knows what he is talking about.

Humor in Politics

I personally feel like there are some issues which are so serious that a written piece would be hard-pressed to convey the true depth of the emotion attached to them. In such cases, sarcasm can actually be black enough to express more anger and emotion than the most serious discourse imaginable. Yet while I can imagine a sarcastic tirade against George Bush for his response to Hurricane Katrina or against gay-bashers for responding violently to unimportant differences, I personally have a harder time finding a way to tailor sarcasm to address the Holocaust. The sarcasm that does apply to very serious events is not the type of sarcasm that prompts laughter but rather deep-seated anger, but any joke made about doing un-anesthetized experiments on helpless victims would just turn any reasonable reader’s stomach.

In this sense I actually appreciate “A Modest Proposal”, because although it advocates a ridiculous notion – eating Irish babies – it makes a very serious point. The writer was able to express his frustration at the bleakness of the status quo while his more reasonable suggestions weren’t being implemented or even attempted. It actually implies something very poignantly desolate about the Irish children’s plight to suggest that eating children might be an improvement upon it.

I do appreciate George Orwell’s idea that it’s irritating when writers attempt to impress readers with fancy manners of saying simple ideas. I think his “rules” would certainly improve the writing of many people I know and that academic writing would be a lot more tolerable (although not necessarily any more interesting) than it currently is if it followed them.

My own standards for political writing don’t exclude sarcasm but are generally quite critical of it. It seems to often come across as childish and unprofessional, and it ends up casting as much doubt on the writer’s authority as it does on the people being targeted. There is also the rather sticky issue of making absolutely sure the readers have enough background information to realize that the author is not to be taken seriously.

Some of my favorite political commentary is purely, simply satirical, but I don’t really feel that informs me well enough to vote based upon it. Although “The Onion” is immensely enjoyable to read and I’m sure the people writing it are themselves well enough informed to make jokes about politics, I would have to have a more serious discourse with them to be convinced by their views. In general, sarcasm has to be handled very carefully to amuse without undermining the author’s authority in a political context.
  • mfkahn

Humor's place in politics?

I have a short attention span.

Especially when referring to anything that I find boring. Physics, for example.

I don't find politics boring, usually, but part of the reason that I enjoy it so much is due to the presentation. Politics, to me, has never referred to the partisan struggle regarding the erasure and revision of the wording of a bill forty-seven times in order that no one will be offended. It hasn't been a speech saying the same thing as all of the other speeches have been, or a platform tailored to recieve support from a base. I sugar-coat the world of politics. I see the excitement, the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" aspect of the political scene. The debate, and the attempt to stand up for rights and freedoms and the right to stand up against opposition.

Mostly, though, I do this because I find politics funny. It is funny by nature; a hundred people arguing over the exact sentence structure in a bill is amusing. However, it is the parody and satire that truly has piqued my interest in politics. My first real exposure to politics was probably a rerun of the pre-2000-election Saturday Night Live episode in which George W. Bush is unable to remember the address of the White House. Over the course of the last summer, I fell in love with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, because of their accurate portrayal of the news in the funniest, most twisted way possible. Much of what they presented was true, although sometimes you had to be able to look deep to figure out where exactly the facts lie. I was willing to do that, though, because it pulled me in. It interested me.

Satire and humor in political writing, therefore, is something that I look forward to seeing. I love to read it, because it shows the real side of politics beyond the glossy photo ops. It piques my interest, and because of that, it is perfectly OK with me if the facts aren't entirely well presented. Get my attention, and I will investigate on my own. If I hear about something on the Daily Show that I find interesting, I will certainly go look it up and learn the facts. If you don't catch my attention, however, you've missed your chance. I won't want to read more, because it's boring.

That's not to say that I don't think that traditional, hard-news journalism doesn't have a place. I read The Washington Post religiously, online now that I no longer live in the Washington area. I read David Broder and George Will, editorial essayists whose columns are, most of the time, not designed to be humorous. I like politics, and it's easy to get my attention. I like to be informed, and will go out of my way to do so.

I just like to be entertained, too.

And I like that politics isn't physics. I don't think even satire would get me to enjoy physics.