October 10th, 2006

American Citizen Soldier

In studying history, we always look for primary sources. We look for accounts by eyewitnesses who not only saw the events, but also lived them. We have scattered documents--letters home and memoirs, for example--from soldiers who fought in the American Revolution, in World War I, in World War II. Today, we have a different type of primary source.

Blogs--short for web logs--have been popularized by the easy accessibility of the Internet. People of all ages and from all professions keep these on-line diaries, and the topics of writing are just as eclectic as the writers themselves. I stumbled upon blogs of a more political nature--MilBlogs, they’re called, short for Military Blogs--in my larger browsing of political media.

MilBlogs, written by soldiers currently stationed abroad, by veterans who have returned home, or by anxious spouses in America, have been around for a couple of years, but have only recently become widely read. Buck Sargent, for example, a.k.a. American Citizen Soldier, served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and is now on a combat tour in Iraq. He started a military blog in June 2005 prior to his deployment, and has turned his blog into a weekly commentary on war, on the military, and on politics.

Military blogs are often inspired by the soldiers’ desires to bridge the continents and to keep family and friends at home informed of their experiences while deployed. They are also inspired by desires to give Americans a view of the war in Iraq (and other wars as well) that the traditional media simply cannot provide. Sargent replies to the question of why he keeps his blog: “To instruct, to entertain, to educate, to enlighten. To keep my sanity. To ply my future trade. To help counter the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity otherwise known as the mainstream media.” I believe that Sargent’s blog provides a compelling alternative to traditional media because he, like many other soldiers, is not in Iraq to check off another bullet in a political agenda and consequently does not write as such.

Military blogs have also experienced such popularity, I feel, because they appeal to raw emotion, as well as to rational thought. Sargent skillfully combines narrative prose--he has no short supply of characters and plots to draw from in his experiences in Iraq--with analysis. He transforms the statistics we see in newspapers about death tolls and destruction into real situations that we can immediately connect with emotionally. He also does not hesitate to describe his feelings about Iraq as someone who “is there, doing that.” Sargent differs from many other military bloggers, however, in that he concentrates primarily not on his day-to-day ordeals, but instead provides weekly commentary on political subjects of interest. In his most recent entry, for example, he reflects on September 11th and provides rationale to justify the war in Iraq.

Despite the appeal of military blogs, we are also forced to look at them with a skeptical eye. The biggest criticism is that anyone can sign up for a livejournal account, adopt the persona of “American Soldier in Iraq,” and proceed to describe the horrors of war, even if he or she has never stepped outside of the United States. I am pretty much convinced that Sargent is no fake imposter, but there are many military bloggers out there, and I doubt all of them are sincere.

I also think that military blogs need to be examined suspiciously because many entries may be written in the “heat of the moment,” so to speak. A soldier is angry; instead of distancing himself and level-headedly re-examining a subject matter, he may rant and rave bitterly. After all, that is what blogs are for, right? So we cannot take everything Sargent posts as truth, and must instead read with a grain of salt. Finally, I cannot help but wonder if there is any political motivation behind Sargent’s posts. He has the disclaimer that all opinions are his own; he also has the disclaimer that all of his posts are monitored. Might he only be posting what the higher-level officers want him to post?

However, despite the criticisms, I believe that MilBlogs will survive as artifacts of political media, especially as we hear now that newspapers are dying in lieu of the ever-growing presence of the Internet. Blogs are, ultimately, primary sources, and it is my opinion that reliable primary sources, like Buck Sargent, will always be more genuine than secondary ones. Military blogs bridge countries and time zones to give the ordinary citizen a glimpse into the lives of the citizen soldier—soldiers who could very well be our neighbors, our friends, our husbands and wives, our sons and daughters... soldiers who know very well the stark realities of war.


American Citizen Soldier: http://americancitizensoldier.blogspot.com/
  • richli

The Op-Ed article - presentations of multiple perspectives

Often nowadays, when we talk about reliable and dependable new sources, the conversation always turns into a question of objectivity. Accusations and arguments of so-and-so news channel being too liberal or conservative become rampant in the discourse. But what if I said that perhaps these so-called undependable and partial news sources are in fact conducive to more educated thinking? As with the case of the New York Times, there are many newspapers that intentionally present biased sides of issues to promote the formation of individual reasoning.
Take for example Nicholas D. Kristof’s Op-Ed article “Talking With the Monsters” in today’s New York Times paper. In this issue, Kristof discusses his own viewpoint that more interactions between President Bush and the North Korean regime would have hindered and perhaps halted its nuclear warhead expansion. He further applies his idea to Syria and Iran to conclude that more negotiations with them can hinder their similar efforts in developing weapons. Kristof presents his viewpoint with biased assumptions right from the start, criticizing Bush’s ability to deal with the growing problem in North Korea. In making his case, he quotes the Secretary of state James Baker for his belief “in talking to your enemies” and further makes shaky assumptions that Clinton and former President Bush’s engagements with the isolated country prevented nuclear development. In addition, throughout the article, Kristof makes predictions of “if Colin Powell and other administration moderates had been allowed to engage North Korea as they had wanted, we would not now be caught in this nuclear crisis”. Later on in the article, he adds his own personal experiences in North Korea and generalizes that the country has solidified rather than weaken as some may believe. Indeed, all of these instances prominently point out the sources of bias in Kristof’s article. However, perhaps we have to look at this article on the larger scale instead of nitpicking at all the small opinionated “flaws”.
While many people can argue that this piece is unreliable as a news source because of it’s bias, I find that this Op-Ed article is rather effective. As a source of news, Kristof’s article gives the basic background information regarding the issue with North Korea so that any hermit can potentially pick up the piece and get a feel for the decades of conflict and tension immediately. Further, one might argue Op-Ed pieces are simply opinionated pieces of work, and once one strays away from objectivity, we have an - dare I say it – “unfair” and “manipulative” influence to the reader. However, given the context of the Op-Ed article, it does not fall under the category of propaganda, which implies that a certain idea or doctrine held by a specific group (such as the government) is forcefully imposed on the reader. The article in fact, does the opposite: it encourages one to think of the issue on a new light and in turn fosters individual thinking. The country we share is a country in which we value democracy and the freedom of speech, where no single idea or form is placed upon another. As always, there is always the form of “peer pressure” and conformity. However, it is still legal by the constitution to become a fervent nonconformist and take the position opposite the majority. That is the beauty of this country, and that is what makes the idea of the op-ed so useful. When controversial issues are brought to the table (such as the war in Iraq, Abortion, Gay Marriage, and the North Korean war as in this case) there is no single “right” answer because every single person will interpret the situation differently based on their roots, culture and background. So when one approaches a controversy like this, how does one make an educated personal decision?
This is done by looking at all sides of the picture and examining while comprehending the spectrum of perspectives. With knowledge of these ideas and arguments in mind, the person then effectively evaluates and matches up his or her personal philosophy, morals, ethics, and beliefs with similar ideas. This is exactly the kind of educated thinking that the Editorial and Op-Ed pages in the New York Times provoke: it juxtaposes two conflicting opinions regarding certain issues to give the reader completely different background perspectives, and in turn provokes individual thoughts and beliefs.
  • richli

(no subject)

Often nowadays, when we talk about reliable and dependable new sources, the conversation always turns into a question of objectivity. Accusations and arguments of so-and-so news channel being too liberal or conservative become rampant in the discourse. But what if I said that perhaps these so-called undependable and partial news sources are in fact conducive to more educated thinking? As with the case of the New York Times, there are many newspapers that intentionally present biased sides of issues to promote the formation of individual reasoning.
Take for example Nicholas D. Kristof’s Op-Ed article “Talking With the Monsters” in today’s New York Times paper. In this issue, Kristof discusses his own viewpoint that more interactions between President Bush and the North Korean regime would have hindered and perhaps halted its nuclear warhead expansion. He further applies his idea to Syria and Iran to conclude that more negotiations with them can hinder their similar efforts in developing weapons. Kristof presents his viewpoint with biased assumptions right from the start, criticizing Bush’s ability to deal with the growing problem in North Korea. In making his case, he quotes the Secretary of state James Baker for his belief “in talking to your enemies” and further makes shaky assumptions that Clinton and former President Bush’s engagements with the isolated country prevented nuclear development. In addition, throughout the article, Kristof makes predictions of “if Colin Powell and other administration moderates had been allowed to engage North Korea as they had wanted, we would not now be caught in this nuclear crisis”. Later on in the article, he adds his own personal experiences in North Korea and generalizes that the country has solidified rather than weaken as some may believe. Indeed, all of these instances prominently point out the sources of bias in Kristof’s article. However, perhaps we have to look at this article on the larger scale instead of nitpicking at all the small opinionated “flaws”.
While many people can argue that this piece is unreliable as a news source because of it’s bias, I find that this Op-Ed article is rather effective. As a source of news, Kristof’s article gives the basic background information regarding the issue with North Korea so that any hermit can potentially pick up the piece and get a feel for the decades of conflict and tension immediately. Further, one might argue Op-Ed pieces are simply opinionated pieces of work, and once one strays away from objectivity, we have an - dare I say it – “unfair” and “manipulative” influence to the reader. However, given the context of the Op-Ed article, it does not fall under the category of propaganda, which implies that a certain idea or doctrine held by a specific group (such as the government) is forcefully imposed on the reader. The article in fact, does the opposite: it encourages one to think of the issue on a new light and in turn fosters individual thinking.
The country we share is a country in which we value democracy and the freedom of speech, where no single idea or form is placed upon another. As always, there is always the form of “peer pressure” and conformity. However, it is still legal by the constitution to become a fervent nonconformist and take the position opposite the majority. That is the beauty of this country, and that is what makes the idea of the op-ed so useful. When controversial issues are brought to the table (such as the war in Iraq, Abortion, Gay Marriage, and the North Korean war as in this case) there is no single “right” answer because every single person will interpret the situation differently based on their roots, culture and background. So when one approaches a controversy like this, how does one make an educated personal decision?
This is done by looking at all sides of the picture and examining while comprehending the spectrum of perspectives. With knowledge of these ideas and arguments in mind, the person then effectively evaluates and matches up his or her personal philosophy, morals, ethics, and beliefs with similar ideas. This is exactly the kind of educated thinking that the Editorial and Op-Ed pages in the New York Times provoke: it juxtaposes two conflicting opinions regarding certain issues to give the reader completely different background perspectives, and in turn provokes individual thoughts and beliefs.

Orange Ukraine Blog

"Orange Ukraine" Blog Analysis

The topic of my Essay 1 was predictions of the political situation in Ukraine after the Orange Revolution of 2004. In this blog entry, I chose to analyze a political blog "Orange Ukraine" at http://orangeukraine.squarespace.com/
because the authors address a similar question of the political future of my country, which is very evident from the main page of the blog: "Orange Ukraine: Launched into the free world - now we'll see if it can fly." This phrase reminds me that Ukraine has now been an independent country for fifteen years, exhibited some democratic progress in the time of the Orange Revolution, and now is struggling between the choices of Russian and Western directions.

When I was browsing different materials about the orange Revolution in Ukraine, this blog attracted my attention because it was originally focused on the Orange revolution, but then continued even after the revolution ended and Ukraine started backsliding into a new stage stagnation. In fact, many other blogs about "Orange Ukraine" stopped being renewed after the Revolution ended, and therefore stopped existing, as though the situation in Ukraine seized to attract public attention as soon as Ukraine's movement toward the West decelerated.

I think that the blog "Orange Ukraine" presents information objectively because the author Dan McMinn says about himself that he is originally from the US, lived in Ukraine for four years, now lives in California, and is planning to return to Ukraine in a few years to live there with his wife Lesya (a Ukrainian name). The author's being an American excludes the possibility of the influence of Russian or Ukrainian side on the objectivity of information, and the author's intention to eventually settle down Ukraine shows that he would not want to harm Ukraine by trying to distort information about it.

Although the author is trying to be objective, he may not be thoroughly familiar with Ukrainian current situation simply because he moved out of Ukraine. However, the fact that the author's wife is Ukrainian suggests that the authors might have relatives and connections in Ukraine, the fact that might add some personal depth to the political information presented in the blog.

I like this blog also presents Ukraine by giving pictures and links to other sources of information about Ukraine: electronic newspapers, blogs. The blog also contains a definition of the Orange Revolution strengthened with photographs, better than the one that I was striving to provide in my essay. Moreover, under the title "Words and Deeds," the author Dan gives a detailed analysis of the kept and unfulfilled promises of the Ukrainian president Yushchenko -- a summary that interests me as a Ukrainian citizen. In sum, the blog is very informative for people who do not know anything about Ukraine as well as for the Ukrainians.

Lastly, the blog is evidently very popular among both Ukrainians and foreigners. For example, the most recent entry that was posted on October 10 received 39 comments by October 10. These comments seem to be made by people with Ukrainian names. However, in the sections like "Travel," there are many comments by people from the US or Australia who want to know more about Ukraine.

Therefore, I recommend the blog "Orange Ukraine" for those who want to find out some unbiased information about this country. However, I think that the blog would be especially valuable if the authors were in Ukraine, although in this case the blog might lose some of its objectivity.
  • mfkahn

"Bill of Rights Pared Down to a Manageable Six"

When I read that, for this assignment, the piece of political writing that we choose to analyze does not need to be a trustworthy or serious source, my thoughts immediately went to The Onion. The Onion (www.theonion.com) is an online satire newspaper, known worldwide for its comical and sarcastic takes on everything from holidays to international relations. Its articles are exceptionally well-written for satirical writing, including realistic-sounding quotes and mature prose. Several years ago, The Onion was even endowed with the greatest honor that a piece of writing can receive: it was used as an essay topic on the AP English Language and Composition exam.
Perhaps I have been reading too much sarcastic writing myself, especially given the fact that one of the goals of this class is to erase the type of five-paragraph writing that we did for AP Language from our minds.
The Onion’s political writing is a very wide topic, and for that reason I have decided to use a single article as an example. This article was originally posted on December 18, 2002 as a front-page headline, right underneath an article titled “Ghost of Christmas Future Taunts Children With Visions of Playstation 5.” The Bush administration had apparently made a big leap towards the future of America:
“Bill of Rights Pared Down to a Manageable Six.”
In this article (http://www.theonion.com/content/node/27610), the news is presented that the Bush administration has approved legislation to cut out several amendments from the Bill of Rights, citing concerns that the old Bill of Rights was outdated. Among the cuts were the Fourth Amendment (protection from illegal search and seizure) and the Third Amendment (freedom from having to quarter soldiers). Quotations from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft mention that the new Bill of Rights will ensure personal security, and that the old amendments simply were not applicable to modern America—now that we have the ability to use wiretaps to spy on U.S. citizens, we most definitely should use that technology, and remove that pesky privacy amendment. Even the First Amendment is changed—Americans have the freedom to practice Judeo-Christian religion, removing the complexity and violence caused by having too many religions in a great nation such as ours.
This piece is an effective example of political propaganda. The Onion is a liberal media, and many of its readers are liberal as well. Through the use of parody and sarcasm, the writers at The Onion are able to portray their perspective of politics, without having to mince words. One thing that makes The Onion, and this article in particular, so effective, is the mature writing style. Although it is a parody newspaper, most of the quotes and news stories are fictional, and the paper is clearly slanted, articles are written in the style of traditional, hard-news journalism. This method of writing makes the articles seem believable, even if they aren’t. True, they must be taken with a grain of salt, given the fact that most statistics and facts are entirely fabricated, but if someone were to read an article from The Onion with no political background at all, they would likely take the stories to be trustworthy. The writing form disguises the bias, unlike Arundhati Roy’s style. Her style is more accusatory, with interruptions and occasional immature interruptions, which seems to limit her credibility.
I find it fascinating that truly fabricated facts, written in a formal style, can have more credibility than a seriously researched piece.
I must be careful, though, how I write. Only non-combative speech is permitted now, due to concerns of personal security. Six amendments indeed.

Marxism

Lately I've started reading Marxist commentaries on the world. For example, the Monthly Review (http://www.monthlyreview.org/).

Marxist commentary is rather different from what I'm used to. I started reading politics by reading mainstream sources - the New York Times, for example. Google News (http://news.google.com) - an automated news aggregator taken mostly from mainstream sources - was my homepage during that period.

The problem with mainstream American news sources is that they have a strong conservative bias. This became clear to me during the lead up to the Iraq war, when mainstream news organizations treated it as reasonable, or even indisputable, that Saddam had weapons. I have since come to recognize a conservative bias on a variety of issues, most sharply in foreign policy (for example, the treatment of Hugo Chavez by the US press is truly pathetic).

So from there, I moved to more explicitly left-wing sources. The Nation (http://www.thenation.com), FAIR (http://www.fair.org), and others. Modern Americans tend to assume that biased sources are somehow less reliable than "unbiased" or mainstream sources, but this is not true. Mainstream sources are willfully blind and ignorant - they ignore history and political conspiracies. For example, a mainstream source will report on Chavez without mentioning the long history of US involvement in Latin America. Or they will quote a think tank without mentioning that it is funded by an oil company, and is not respected by legitimate scientists.

So inevitably I moved on to left-wing sources, because they are more truthful. But there is still something unsatisfying about the left-wing sources. The problem is that they are not comprehensive. They treat issues quite intelligently as far as they go, and I owe to them my awareness of several of the defining trends of our times. But they treat things on an issue-by-issue basis, rarely connecting them to a larger history or political theory. They do have a view on these things, but it is sketchy, lurking at the edges of their arguments.

For a real understanding of what is happening in the world, I need to find deeper analysis, more comprehensive connections. From a left-wing analysis of the facts, I have noticed several broad trends, which must be answered by a satisfactory analysis of the world situation. For example, I have noticed that it is meaningless to separate economic and political questions, as the mainstream media tries to do. A satisfactory theory must be a theory of political economy: how the political system reflects the economic system and vice versa.

So I turn to Marxism. It seems to be the only theoretical system which acknowledges the world as it really exists, rather than pretending that the free market is a panacea. Its focus is on the problems which really exist in the world: poverty, inequality, wage-slavery. And it seems to offer deeper analyses of these problems than any competing theory: Marxists draw more deeply from history, and more broadly from modern politics, than any other group I have yet encountered.

It is hard for me to read these Marxist commentaries. They use unfamiliar terms, and reference unfamiliar theories. I was comfortable in my knowledge, as long as I read the shallow political commentary of mainstream sources. Now I find myself uncomfortable, ignorant, wanting.

I will have to investigate the whole edifice, all the factual, historical, and theoretical grounds on which this commentary is based. And then I will know if it is ideological smoke and mirrors, or if these people really understand something.

music

Throughout history, composers have been creating music that commemorates political events, or express political thoughts. Over time, some of these have been taken from their original contexts and successfully applied to new ones. I can think of two examples, in particular, that have been proven timeless.

1) A lot of people think that Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture has an historical connection to the War of 1812, but it has nothing to do with the United States at all. It was originally written to commemorate Napoleon's retreat from Russia. Nevertheless, the spectacular, majestic piece is played by symphonies across the United States along side our own patriotic songs. Over time, it has come to represent national unity of any kind. Every Fourth of July, the Boston Pops plays the Overture, accompanied by cannon shots and fireworks. Most recently, it was featured in the film V for Vendetta.

2) Buffalo Springfield's 1967 song "For What it's Worth" originally referenced unrest between police officers and young club-goers after the closing of a popular club in West Hollywood. The song has come to symbolize popular negative sentiments surrounding other events in the 1960's - particularly the Vietnam War. The song has been repeated throughout the 20th century in contexts that involve a call for public awareness.

Each of the above pieces became timeless works of art 1) due to their ambiguity, and therefore their ability to be applied to new situations years after their composition, and 2) due to their appeal to the emotions. 1812 expresses spine-tingling grandeur and "For What its Worth" evokes melancholy and anxiety.

There are many modern-day popular music artists that have politically themed songs. For example, the Dave Matthews Band song "Too Much" paints a portrait of a materialistic and imperialistic America. (He begins by talking about eating and wanting too much food, and then about eating up countries and homes.) But DMB brings me to another form of political commentary: using the stage as a soapbox. Dave Matthews does his soapboxing in an improvisational, musical sort of way at his concerts. I have never actually been to a DMB concert, but my brother gave me a recording of the band's 2004 concert in San Fransisco. At the end of the song "Jimi Thing" Dave Matthews breaks into scat and commentary, and finally into a rendition of "For What It's Worth" (listen to the last 4 minutes or so of the song). I did not find fault with this method of soapboxing. Dave Matthews has had a very long career in which he has already established his negative views of politicians in general. I imagine that most concert-goers are at least aware of, if not partially in agreement with, his attitudes. Evidence: the amount of applause that his commentary garners from the audience.

So then problems arise with new, ill established performing artists that try to do the same thing. Recently, a lady from North Carolina had some staunch complaints about a Fall Out Boy concert. She posted comments on the band's blog, saying that the concert hall was not a place to hold a "Liberal Homosexual Rally," particularly in the presence of middle-school kids. Apparently the band members had made comments about the legalization of same-sex marriage in the form of an impromptu speech between songs. My initial reaction to this commentary was that the lady should have done some more research, particularly into the content of the band's song lyrics, before bringing her 13-year-olds to the concert. If she thinks that her kids are not ready to hear opposing viewpoints about sensitive issues, they probably aren't ready to listen to Fall Out Boy's music, either. However, I did agree with her on one point. It does not seem right to me that popular artists should use the stage to preach to captive audiences that paid a lot of money to hear them play music, and not to hear them talk.

I think that performing artists, particularly new ones, ought to be inspired by such timeless works as Buffalo Springfields "For What It's Worth," and incorporate their political statements creatively into their music. Here they have the freedom to mix words and emotions into a statement that listeners are more likely to remember and repeat.

"For What It's Worth," "Jimi Thing," and "Too Much" can be found here: http://web.mit.edu/arusso/Public/

(no subject)

A few weeks ago, Prof.Lioi informed us that the attitude of journalists has changed drastically over the past fifty years. During the 50’s, the purpose of journalists was to present the dry facts, with as little bias as possible. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but at least they had the right goal.

Today, we are in the opposite situation. A journalist is not judged by the objectivity of his facts, but by the persuasiveness of his argument. I think that this is unacceptable, and that it basically defeats the purpose of freedom of press.

Almost every news source is labeled as liberal or conservative. Most of my friends are liberal, so as far as they are concerned, Fox News is the embodiment of pure evil. I suspect that Democracy Now plays the same role in other areas of the country. To make my point clearer, I will refer to the article “Liberals: Born to Run” (http://www.anncoulter.com/cgi-local/article.cgi?article=139) by Anne Coulter. I recognize that she is an extreme example, but an illustrative one nonetheless. Since I am liberal, it is easier for me to bash a conservative article, but I’m sure that there are many liberal papers that are no better.

The question is not whether Anne Coulter presents a convincing argument. The question is who reads her, and why. Not only does she fail to present new facts, but she doesn’t even use emotional language to sway the reader’s opinion. All she really does is insult liberals in a simple, straight-forward fashion.

A good example of this is the 4th paragraph, which starts with “Democratic National Committee…” In fact, every other paragraph is basically identical to this one. It is just insult after insult. I cannot imagine how this article would sway someone’s opinion. I think that the war on Iraq was unnecessary, she thinks that it prevented world war 3. This is the point where we are supposed to present arguments to support our claim, but she skips that step.

Even a conservative won’t get anything from this article. It is not as though her writing allows them to solidify their view-point, so that they are more prepared to debate with their opponents. The only information it conveys is that someone out there agrees with them.

In fact, I think that this has become the purpose of most political writing. Conservative watch Fox News, liberals watch Democracy Now, and everyone is happy because they know that thousands of other people with the same opinions are watching the same thing.

I find this terrifying. The whole idea behind freedom of the press is that we should all have the same information. Naturally, given that information, half of us would still support the war on Iraq, and half of us wouldn’t. But what’s important is that we would at least have a common knowledge base to discuss. Unfortunately, no such base exists. We do technically have access to the same sources, but few people take advantage of this. Instead of trying to argue with the other side and reach some compromise, the two political camps are isolating themselves.

I do not know how to solve this problem, but a different attitude towards journalism would be a good start. Currently, our information is biased at the lowest possible level. In the 50’s, the persuasive articles were probably just as biased (by definition), but at least everyone was arguing about the same dry facts.

Wisdom of High School Newspapers

I paid only slightly above no attention whatsoever to my high school newspaper, and I have to say that this was largely for the best. However, near the end of my senior year, an icon splashed across the front page caught my eye – a bathroom sign juxtaposing a female figure and a handicapped one. The caption below it read “Truth Found on a Bathroom Sign?” This article was written by a girl in my grade about the horrible fallout that would be prompted by a female president.

Although she was trying to make a valid political argument, albeit one with which I couldn’t possibly disagree more strongly, the article included such unsupported statements as “This is just wrong.” Blanket moral claims like this have no place in political writing. Particularly when the reader’s first instinct is that the writer’s opinion is ignorant, unwarranted conviction just sounds bull-headed.

Much of the article was also comprised of a hypothetical scenario in which Ms. Clinton suffered a “typical female mood swing” and set about a chain of events which culminated in the United States declaring war on Spain. It was reminiscent of Ann Coulter in that it was a reasonably unconvincing series of insults with questionable premises.

The writer eventually tried to soften the blows delivered in this tirade by praising the lovable qualities women have – beauty, kindness and compassion. Discrediting any potential for intelligence that women may have, she then asserted that these qualities alone did not qualify anybody for the presidential office. A skeptic might point out that few women have all three of these qualities alone and that, generally speaking, they are little debated during election season. I will give credit to this claim for being the first logically supported argument presented in the piece – although it is both inaccurate and irrelevant.

She finished with a vague reference to the uncontrolled feminist pursuit of power. Her phrasing made it sound as though she was speaking of a well-known and widely-supported conspiracy theory. This was the kind of claim that would have needed an entire other paper’s worth of support to seem credible, but it was blindly made and detracted further from the writer’s seeming authority on the subject.

The only real credibility her article had stemmed from her own identity as a member of the group whose capability and intelligence she was bashing. Her strongest argument may in fact have been the fact that she has little enough instinct for self-preservation as to write it.

Few things I’ve had the misfortune to read in my life angered me as strongly as this article did. I’m not sure how much of my irritation with the article came from its content and how much its style contributed, as I had deep issues with both. To be fair, her opinion was so radical that nearly nothing she could have said would have convinced me of its merits. However, her unprofessional and seemingly horribly uninformed sarcasm made her very difficult to take seriously.
  • richli

(no subject)

Often nowadays, when we talk about reliable and dependable new sources, the conversation always turns into a question of objectivity. Accusations and arguments of so-and-so news channel being too liberal or conservative become rampant in the discourse. But what if I said that perhaps these so-called undependable and partial news sources are in fact conducive to more educated thinking? As with the case of the New York Times, there are many newspapers that intentionally present biased sides of issues to promote the formation of individual reasoning.
Take for example Nicholas D. Kristof’s Op-Ed article “Talking With the Monsters” in today’s New York Times paper. In this issue, Kristof discusses his own viewpoint that more interactions between President Bush and the North Korean regime would have hindered and perhaps halted its nuclear warhead expansion. He further applies his idea to Syria and Iran to conclude that more negotiations with them can hinder their similar efforts in developing weapons. Kristof presents his viewpoint with biased assumptions right from the start, criticizing Bush’s ability to deal with the growing problem in North Korea. In making his case, he quotes the Secretary of state James Baker for his belief “in talking to your enemies” and further makes shaky assumptions that Clinton and former President Bush’s engagements with the isolated country prevented nuclear development. In addition, throughout the article, Kristof makes predictions of “if Colin Powell and other administration moderates had been allowed to engage North Korea as they had wanted, we would not now be caught in this nuclear crisis”. Later on in the article, he adds his own personal experiences in North Korea and generalizes that the country has solidified rather than weaken as some may believe. Indeed, all of these instances prominently point out the sources of bias in Kristof’s article. However, perhaps we have to look at this article on the larger scale instead of nitpicking at all the small opinionated “flaws”.
While many people can argue that this piece is unreliable as a news source because of it’s bias, I find that this Op-Ed article is rather effective. As a source of news, Kristof’s article gives the basic background information regarding the issue with North Korea so that any hermit can potentially pick up the piece and get a feel for the decades of conflict and tension immediately. Further, one might argue Op-Ed pieces are simply opinionated pieces of work, and once one strays away from objectivity, we have an - dare I say it – “unfair” and “manipulative” influence to the reader. However, given the context of the Op-Ed article, it does not fall under the category of propaganda, which implies that a certain idea or doctrine held by a specific group (such as the government) is forcefully imposed on the reader. The article in fact, does the opposite: it encourages one to think of the issue on a new light and in turn fosters individual thinking. The country we share is a country in which we value democracy and the freedom of speech, where no single idea or form is placed upon another. As always, there is always the form of “peer pressure” and conformity. However, it is still legal by the constitution to become a fervent nonconformist and take the position opposite the majority. That is the beauty of this country, and that is what makes the idea of the op-ed so useful. When controversial issues are brought to the table (such as the war in Iraq, Abortion, Gay Marriage, and the North Korean war as in this case) there is no single “right” answer because every single person will interpret the situation differently based on their roots, culture and background. So when one approaches a controversy like this, how does one make an educated personal decision?
This is done by looking at all sides of the picture and examining while comprehending the spectrum of perspectives. With knowledge of these ideas and arguments in mind, the person then effectively evaluates and matches up his or her personal philosophy, morals, ethics, and beliefs with similar ideas. This is exactly the kind of educated thinking that the Editorial and Op-Ed pages in the New York Times provoke: it juxtaposes two conflicting opinions regarding certain issues to give the reader completely different background perspectives, and in turn provokes individual thoughts and beliefs.

The Chain Letter: Best Form Of Political Commentary Since Talk Radio?

> Scroll down and read this essay
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> And then pass this essay on to ten people or you will suffer a horrible death within exactly 10 hours and 35 minutes
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> And as if that is not bad enough, you will also have bad luck for the rest of your life!
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> This essay might just save your life
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> It's probably the most profound statement regarding political commentary ever made
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> It's about the overwhelming muscle behind the chain email letter as a vehicle for political commentary
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…but enough of these wretched carrots. I have something to say, and the idea of my writing a chain letter to post on a community forum is greatly disturbing me.

Why is the chain letter, an object of both political commentary and often political "news" so incredibly great? Well, some chain letter lovers would say, "By golly, how else would I have known about those anti-Semites at Fuji Film Co. who deleted the country of Israel from maps they distributed?" Other more politically attune people might ask, "Well, how would I have known that voting rights for African Americans are going to expire in 2007 when the Civil Rights Act expires?" I often find myself just sitting at the computer waiting for these chain mails to be passed on to me, mostly by family friends, to get the latest news. Just a year ago I learned that Bill Gates was killed. Talk about breaking news - the letter reported the event before it even happened. Last I checked, it still hasn't happened! Perhaps the most important fact I learned from a chain letter was that the internet was set to shut down for Internet Cleanup Day on February 27th. Luckily, I made the proper preparations for that. Some of the more skeptical readers might support chain letters saying, "The mainstream press surely is not reporting the shocking facts that these chain letters present.” But I sometimes ask why the chain letters don’t present the facts that the media present.

The fact that these facts might just not be facts after all is a tiny fact that many people who love these chain letters refuse to accept.

These pinnacles of respectability and accurate news reporting quite often delve into the realm of politics. Here we have the most accurate of facts about impending political situations infused with sound commentary, and quite often a bit of emotional persuasion.

Take for example the chain letter that circulated recently about a "Middle Eastern man" who bought $7000 worth of candy at a Costco. When I first read this I asked myself, "Who cares? People buy a lot of candy all the time for businesses." But by the end of the email, I was certain that just based on this purchase (no other facts were presented, only commentary), this Middle Eastern man was a terrorist trying to poison thousands of trick-or-treaters. Luckily for me and the thousands of people that received this letter, we are all being very vigilant for Middle Easterners buying candy. Because everyone knows that a Middle Eastern person buying candy is a terrorist.

During the 2004 presidential race, chain letters about Clinton's failures and Bush's "successes" in those areas circulated. The graphic descriptions of the various acts of terrorism against the US government in the last ten years almost made me forget about how Bush didn’t really "cover it" as the email claims he did.

The common modus operandi that these emails employ is to first strike with terror (most often this involves much emotion), and then to move to sweeping generalizations based on the "facts" presented. This is, of course, the method by which we as responsible citizens should assess political situations by.

I mean, imagine if congressmen stopped reading sexually fused instant messages and started reading politically infused chain emails. Imagine if politicians would take (or fabricate for that matter) facts, present outstandingly emotional and terrifying pieces of FUD (jargon for "fear, uncertainty and doubt"), and then make generalizations based on these shaky truths.

Now here is a form of political commentary worth fighting for.