Thursday, December 11, 2014

Analytical Essay 1: Image of God

Zya Houston
Mr. Comer
Honors U.S. Government

Image of God

What does it mean to be made in the image of God? In Genesis 1 of the Bible, verse 26 says, “…[l]et us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” From this it can be deduced that God is a ruler, since he made man ruler over the formerly created things. Man is a reflection of God in that he is premier over earth. Ephesians 4:24 says that man is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Man mirrors God in that man is, or has the capacity to be, righteous and holy. Finally, Matthew 5:48 commands man to “[b]e perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” From this verse and the entire passage it can be gathered that man has been created like God to be perfect in his dealings with his fellow creatures; that man has the capacity to ‘love his enemy’ and live communally among other men despite any enmity that may between them. Thus, it may be said that to be made in the image of God is to reign over the earth, to be righteous and holy, and to be perfect in a communal sense. From this definition of being made in the image of God, it is clear that between philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, Locke would agree most with it, as he espoused the idea of man being proprietor of the earth, asserts that man should be upstanding in his dealings with others, and holds that man is capable of living in concord with his fellow men. 

Locke declares in the Of Property chapter of his essay “Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government”, from his work Two Treatises of Government, that God “gave the world to men in common,” as well as “reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience.” (115). Further, he adds that “[t]he earth and all that is therein is given to men for the support and comfort of their being,” a view which directly aligns with one of the characteristics of man as described by God in the Bible (ibid). Locke views the earth as a prism through which man is able express his nature of sovereignty and construct a comfortable life and community. Similarly, God expresses his own sovereign nature through His dominion over His creation. 

The Biblical teaching that man should be righteous and holy aligns with Locke as well. He declares that “no one ought to harm another… for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent” cannot be supposed to have the authority to “destroy one another” (106). As all men were created equal by the same “infinitely wise maker” and are “[H]is property,” it would be unduly indecent for a man to bring harm to these beings. Locke also contends that “truth and keeping of faith belongs to men, as men,” not solely as members of society (111). In other words, men uphold their word because they are good, not because they are compelled by society to do so. Righteousness and holiness, otherwise called goodness, is part of man’s nature. Pacts made between men are to be kept, honored, and regarded as sacred whether or not these men live in a society or not, because the call be honorable is imbued within. As reflectors of God, men can be benevolent, and Locke’s ideas agree with this.

The beginning of Locke’s chapter entitled Of the Beginning of Political Societies describes the natural state of man as being one of perfect freedom, but such a way of life that man finds more convenience in joining with other men to create a society. Any man who unites into a community out of the state of nature “must be understood to give up all the power, necessary to the ends for which they unite into society” (147). This is not to say that upon joining a society men loose their freedom or rights, but rather that they come together and shed some of their individual prerogatives in order to coexist harmoniously. In fact the beginning of a society “depends upon the consent of the individuals, to join into, and make one society” (150). Within the state of nature and society, Locke calls upon man to, when he can, “preserve the rest of mankind,” and directs that no man should “take away… impair the life… liberty, health, limb, or goods of another,” and thus restrict his own perfect freedom so as not to infringe upon the freedom of another (107). Mankind has the capacity to live as God created it, with respect toward one another. Locke’s ideology does not extend as far as God’s however. He has specific instructions for how to handle cases where a man infringes upon the rights or property of another, including the use of punishment and reparation. This is a departure from the ‘love thy enemy’ or ‘turn the other cheek’ stance that God takes. While it is possible for man to forgive and forget without seeking justice, Locke does not see this course of action as the primary method of dealing with transgressions. 

From what is known and observed of man, he is a creature that neither rules perfectly, is totally righteous and holy, nor lives in constant harmony with his fellow men. It is in this that we see that to be made in the image of God now implies that man is not an exact reflection of God, but a more distorted one. Man likely mirrored God during the time in which he was a perfect creation, unhindered by sin. But because of the fall of mankind, man can only hope to express the traits he shares with God in the same perfect way God expresses these traits.  Locke’s philosophy perfectly encompasses the crippled state of humanity. Yes man is made in His image, and can have dominion, be benevolent, and live compatibly with others. But he always falls short of the highest fulfillment of these traits, which is why Locke prescribes society, mandates for the treatment of fellow men, and government to fill the gap. 

Analytical Essay 2: Johnson

Zya Houston
Mr. Comer
Honors U.S. Government

President Johnson

In contrast to Tompkin’s assertion that Johnson was "not a poor president," Nathan Miller quotes Eric Forner, a “preeminent modern historian of Reconstruction”, as observing that the post-Civil War presidency “required tact, flexibility, and sensitivity to the nuances of public opinion,” qualities Johnson “lacked” (131). Tompkins’ statement is in fact woefully false; Andrew Johnson was certainly not “a good man during a bad time,” but more accurately, a petulant person ill-equipped for the presidency. This is evidenced by the fact that by the end of his term he was spurned by moderates, despised by Northerners, and his greatest legacy was the perpetuation of racism and intolerance.

Johnson, though entering office under the confidence established by Lincoln, soon proved himself to be stubborn and lacking in self-control. In fact, when he embarked on his first whistle-stop campaign from Washington to New York to Missouri and back, he was mainly greeted by hecklers whom “the hot-tempered, impulsive president could not ignore” (146). Johnson often yelled back, turning his speeches into “shouting matches” and “near riots” (ibid). Johnson had many instances like this, where he proved himself to be prone to tantrums and stubbornness — characteristics which shined through during the Reconstruction era.

President Johnson repeatedly took a stand against racial progress, and consequently, exacerbated and prolonged the issue of Reconstruction. Initially, most Republicans, being moderates, were willing to work with the president to modify his “flawed” Reconstruction plan (144). Johnson “would have been wise to accommodate the moderates,” but ignored “congressional and popular opinion,” prompting moderates to support Radical investigations of conditions in the South (145). Viewing all opposition as a personal attack, Johnson showed himself to be not a moderate, but a vindictive man who subscribed to my-way-or-the-highway policies of operation. Relations deteriorated when a bill was passed — “by an overwhelming majority of both houses of Congress” — extending the life of the Freedmen’s Bureau and a civil rights bill, and Johnson vetoed it, “insist[ing] that… blacks did not deserve citizenship” (145). Moderates were appalled at his decision and began to regard him as a “major obstacle to restoring loyalty in the Southern states” (ibid). Johnson’s immaturity and irrationality lost him an important ally. 

Radical Republicans and Northerners viewed Johnson the most bitterly. His first blunder in garnering Republican support was in publicly holding that the South was a faction which had not committed treason or any crime in its rebellion. Northerners were “shocked by his leniency” toward the confederates, as he “demanded neither black suffrage nor any other change in the Southern political or social order” and never held treason trials (142). Johnson had forgiven the South as one might forgive an untrained puppy who had simply peed on the rug. Republicans were so unhappy with his plan for reconstruction that they took control of Congress and pushed through their own Reconstruction plan. Later, when the Radical Republican congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment, Johnson “egged on the Southern states to reject the amendment,” a move which was immature and irresponsible. This action “convinced most Northerners that he was no longer a credible leader whom they could trust to reconstruct the Union” (146). 

Johnson’s lasting legacy after office was not a result of his ill-temper or impatience, but his characteristic of being an “uncompromising racist” (132). His political ineptitude and staunch position on the inferiority of blacks found him “assist[ing] materially in blocking the reconciliation of the North and South” and undermining the work of Radical Republicans by inspiring resistance in the South (149). By doing this, he “left a legacy of racial oppression… that troubled America for generations to come” (150). Little of what Johnson attempted to do as president endured, but his meddling effect in the work of reconstruction has been stuck like King Arthur’s sword in the stone of history. 

Johnson was a poor president because the nation had no confidence in him. The radicals despised him, and the moderates he was supposed to be aligned with disavowed him. His only supporters were those in the South, whose rebellious actions had created the very climate of dissension which thwarted his executive authority and he therefore could not aid. Worst of all, his term actually resulted in the extension of Northern and Southern tensions and discord and the continuation of the oppression of blacks.

Analytical Essay 3: Pierce and Buchanan

Zya Houston
Mr. Comer
Honors U.S. Government

Pierce and Buchanan

America’s misfortunes under the Pierce administration evolved into full blown catastrophe under President Buchanan’s leadership, due to his societal density, corruption and inaction. However, both former presidents owe their failures to ill—or better, non—use of their authority. 

James Buchanan entered the presidency during a climate of fracture and discord between North and South, caused in part by former President Franklin Pierce who had “rekindled the animosities between the sections” (171). Though Buchanan had expansive political experience, he was a weak and “bumbling” man who endorsed “one-sided pro-Southern policies” as his predecessor had (174). He was “emotionally isolated from the antislavery fervor sweeping the country;” totally blind to the change in tide of the American people (176). In ignoring and even rejecting the growing call of the Northern abolitionists, as well as fueling their ire with several corrupt laws, he managed to stoke the flames of succession until they burned white hot. By “secretly influenc[ing] the Supreme Court’s controversial Dred Scott decision,” he showed “an appalling ignorance by assuming that this ruling would be acceptable to the North” (177, 184). Buchanan never once licked his finger to test the winds of public opinion, instead proceeding with his misconduct and dimwitted opposition to the ever powerful gusts of the North. Worse, his administration was overrun with corruption. He led one of the most fraudulent ministries in history; it is now known that he was “[u]nder the influence of a cabinet that included several scheming secessionists,” and was involved in bribery in the Lecompton constitution vs. Kansas-Nebraska Act showdown (189). Most abysmal however, was his reputation as a “lame-duck president” (177). Buchanan undercut his own position through his “indecisiveness and… denial of his own authority to coerce a state to remain in the Union” (ibid). This was a man who was simply not made for positions of power, as he lacked the will to use it. The tensions of the time called for a leader who would strong arm both sides into agreement and shove both sections together like nearly matching puzzle pieces. Instead, he claimed that he’d had “no power under the Constitution to use force against the seceding Southern states” and hoped, with trepidation, that secession would not take place until Lincoln took office (187, 189). Buchanan repeatedly pushed the nation into fracture through his flippant anti-North stance and blatant corruption, then sat on his hands when it began to happen. 

The botching of Pierce and Buchanan’s presidencies can be attributed to the fact that both allowed their authority to be governed and overruled by others. Pierce was more than indecisive — he was careless in all he did; with whom he gave appointments to and what he promised and to who. A “bland, conciliatory, and yielding” people pleaser, he found himself with a cabinet composed of “an ill-assorted body of… highly incompatible men” who had been picked based upon the wishes of others (164, 165). Buchanan similarly lacked the “iron nerve… and ability to bend men to his will” necessary for a highly functioning administration and country (174). His cabinet was “dominated by Southerners” who used his refusal to act to their advantage (176). Always having refrained from any steps to hold the Union together, he watched sadly as it fell apart. The Civil War was not inevitable; Pierce’s lap dog mentality and Buchanan’s firm belief in his own powerlessness are to blame. 

While Pierce’s inability to commit to any of his responsibilities as president served to further the eventual fracture of the country, Buchanan’s failure to act was its ultimate downfall. Buchanan stood stubbornly on the side of the South in the few times he did speak up, which only rallied the North. Both men were woeful examples of leadership and brought about tragedy to the American people. 

Analytical Essay 4: TPOH

Zya Houston
Mr. Comer
Honors U.S. Government

The Pursuit of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is incomplete without justice and equality. If the pursuit is indeed an inalienable right, then all people should be able to experience the vital components of justice and equality on an individual, communal, and societal level. 

Happiness without justice or equality is no happiness. A man can have no joy if he is never vindicated when wronged, or treated in the same way as his fellow human beings. If two men enter a party, and one is treated with deference and cordiality, while the other is regarded as a lowly servant, the latter man will certainly feel the difference. The sting of partiality will impede his happiness. Justice on the individual plane is the right to an even playing field. If one has a physical handicap, their just due would be to be able to navigate the world via handicap accessible modes of travel or attend schools which cater to their specific disability. Without such accommodations to make up for their disadvantages, such a persons path to happiness is full of obstacles. This definition of justice aligns with St. Thomas Aquinas’ philosophies, particularly those espoused in his Summa Theologica. He says that “justice is the same as rectitude”, though on the individual level justice is a concern between few people, or a “mutual dealing between two persons” (Aquinas Article 1 pg. 1, pg. 8). However, equality takes on a more Rawlsian definition. Individual equality is the equanimity that should exist between every man. Philosopher John Rawls, in his essay “Justice as Fairness”, holds that equality and justice are one in the same, and therefore equality “is about assuring the protection of equal access to liberties, rights, and opportunities…” (Rawls 1). One of Rawls biggest points is that every person should have an equal opportunity to become unequal; that is, “inequalities are acceptable if every person in society has a reasonable chance of obtaining the positions that lead to the inequalities” (Rawls 5). Justice combined with equality means that not only is every individual starting from the same position for the race, but each person has been provided with whatever is necessary to make each runner equal as competitors. 

On the communal level, the same definitions apply, but are expanded to encompass a larger group of people. Justice for a community would be compensation for the areas in which it lacks. If one community suffers from under-representation in general society, it is the duty of justice to bring about better, if not equal, representation to ensure this groups happiness. Aquinas defines this type of justice as “distributive justice”, which “distributes common goods proportionately” (Aquinas Article 1 pg. 8). What community of people, on seeing that they are under-served or live life disproportionately worse than another, can be truly happy? It is up to justice to address their imbalance and tip the scales back to equity. In terms of equality groups of people are as deserving of equal protection of freedoms, rights, and opportunities as an individual is. As a community is made up of individuals, this is inherently true. Communities themselves and those living within them must receive a “fair distribution of each of the capacities needed ‘to be normal and fully cooperating members of society…’” (Rawls 3, 4). There are many marginalized groups in society, and for them to escape from oppression, they must be given their due justice and treated with equality. 

Society is a much larger scale on which to measure justice and equality. Societies are typically made up of millions of people within a territory, country or continent. Justice in society means that all people within it, and every society on the world stage, receive their fair redress for whatever ways in which they are unequal. The need for justice as part of the pursuit of happiness is exemplified in the times one may see the jealousy and hurt in a child’s eyes when their sibling receives a better present. If the child’s parents are supposed to love both children the same, why did one receive a gift which far out-shined the others? Such a situation is an injustice, and the child would be unhappy about it until it was made up for. Justice in a society means that every person receives their due “common goods” from every other society (Aquinas Article 1 pg. 8). By the same token, equality means that every society should view and treat all other societies equally. Rawls advocates for equality within the “basic structures of society,” and “institutions and associations,” so that this principle can come into practice (Rawls 2). Most importantly, since individuals make up the whole of society, it is important to ensure justice and equality on every level of human life as a guarantee for the pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is empty without both justice and equality. One or the other will not suffice. For the pursuit to truly be an inalienable right, a person's rights must be guaranteed in every aspect of life through justice and equality. Without these two pillars, the dream of happiness collapses. 

US retail workers need a new bill of rights - Summary 10

In her December 10th article, "US retail workers need a new bill of rights", from Al Jazeera's opinion section, author Amy Dean posits that minimum wage jobs are no longer the "life-sustaining endeavour[s]" the once were, but are "abusive" (Paragraph 3, 4). She calls out employers like Walmart, McDonald's, and Barnes & Noble for their poor treatment of employees. As a stand against such abuse, retail workers have concluded that "they need a new form of protection: a bill of rights" (Paragraph 9). She gives an example of such a bill passed in San Francisco, which is expected to provide "much needed stability and flexibility" to over 400,000 workers (ibid). Dean argues that employers have failed to keep up with the times, but notes that municipal powers have been picking up slack where America has failed federally to provide for minimum wage workers. She calls on Congress to get its act together, and Americans to "support the efforts of those who are working long hours to make our season bright" (Paragraph 14, 15).

Why on earth is the City Council trying to ban GMO crops in L.A.? - Summary 9

The Times Editorial Board, in its opinion piece "Why on earth is the City Council trying to ban GMO crops in L.A.?", from The LA Times op-ed section, claims that the proposal to ban the growth of GMO crops in LA is puzzling because "no one grows them in L.A.," and "no one has any plan to do so" (Paragraph 1). They condemn the ban as being "largely symbolic -- in addition to being irrational and unscientific," since research has found no evidence that "genetically engineered food is less wholesome" than naturally grown crops (Paragraph 2, 4). The Board is outraged by the law because it views it as useless. The Board claims that this law would stand in place of educating citizens about the use of pesticides and how to grow sustainable foods. The authors end with a final zinger, calling out the ban as being "akin to banning childhood vaccines to appease people who fear them despite the scientific evidence that they do not cause autism," and hopes that the proposed ban disappears back into irrelevance (Paragraph 6).

In 2014, rape rage drove feminism's 'third wave' - Summary 8

In her recent article, "In 2014, rape rage drove feminism's 'third wave'," from CNN's opinion section, author Nina Burleigh posits that "[h]istorians could look back on this year as the beginning of feminism's third wave" (Paragraph 1). Burleigh asserts that this year was the year of feminism, as "[f]or the first time, rape victims and their supporters emerged from the shadows in significant numbers and started naming names" like Bill Cosby, and people associated with the NFL and collegiate institutions (Paragraph 2, 3). She alludes to women like the Cosby accusers and Emma Sulkowicz. She attributes the spike in awareness and call-to-action to social media, claiming that it has emboldened victims to speak out, and now even "men are starting to get it" (Paragraph 10). Burleigh asserts that "rape culture holds all women down," and she is proud of an in awe of the young women who are standing up against it today (Paragraph 14, 15). She hopes that this 3rd wave feminism will educate and eradicate until the problem is no more. 

Despite progress on racism, the uncomfortable truth is that work remains - Summary 7

Author Euguene Robinson, in his opinion essay "Despite progress on racism, the uncomfortable truth is that work remains," from The Washington Post's opinion section, declares that America has a long way to go before becoming a post-racial society. He opens with impactful rhetoric, dismissing Obama's statement that racism is "deeply rooted" in the U.S. as an "understatement", asserting that racism is as "American as the 4th of July", and finally alluding to The Declaration of independence in proclaiming that the truth that racism still exists is "self evident" (Paragraph 1, 2). Throughout the essay he analyzes the statistics that say that most Americans feel that race relations have deteriorated under Obama (Paragraph 9). To him, this indicates that something is lacking in Obama's leadership. He also condemns Obama for continuing to spout the obvious about American society rather than speaking out against the blatant oppressive actions being taken against black Americans. He implores Obama to "speak from the heart" and "tell the truth uncomfortable truth" about race so that America can begin to make real, further progress (Paragraph 15). He holds that unless Obama gets real, and moves away from the vague, conciliatory speeches, race relations and authority relations will not improve.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The rights of sex workers - Summary 6

Sonja Dolinsek, blogger and human rights activist, in her opinion article "The rights of sex workers", from Al Jazeera's opinion section, declares that "democracies [need] to include sex workers in policy-making processes" and craft laws which give such workers stronger "human and constitutional rights" (Paragraph 17, 2). Dolinsek holds that there are several examples worldwide for democracies like Canada to follow, where "courts have upheld sex workers' human rights and questioned existing prostitution laws or filled legal grey areas" (Paragraph 5). She discusses New Zealand, "where sex work is decriminalized," Germany and Austria, where "court rulings abolished the notion of prostitution as being 'immoral'," and The European Court of Justice, which "has repeatedly ruled that 'prostitution' is an 'economic activity'" (Paragraph 6). By contrast, many other countries view sex workers as "dangerous to society and as victims to be forcefully protected from their own choices" (Paragraph 16). Dolinsek moves for the decriminalization of sex work and a stronger push for equal rights as seen in more progressive countries. 

Supreme Court should affirm the rights of pregnant workers - Summary 5

The Times Editorial Board, in their article "Supreme Court should affirm the rights of pregnant workers", from the LA Times opinion section, posits that the Supreme Court should side with petitioner Peggy Young in the Young v United Parcel Service case. They explain that in 2006, Ms. Young was forced to take an un-paid leave of absence after her workplace refused to accommodate her physical limitations as mandated by her doctor due to pregnancy. The authors insist that "women should not be penalized or forced out of the workplace simply because they become pregnant" (Paragraph 5). They concede that many companies, including the United Parcel Service, have changed their policies regarding pregnant workers, but still demand that the court rules that "pregnant women deserve to be treated as well as workers who are injured on the job", and begin the work of "craft[ing] fresh legislation" which makes this point clear (Paragraph 6). The Board's article is short and to the point -- that policy must shift toward treating women with more deference and accommodation towards pregnancy. 

Charles Barkley, wrong on race, Ferguson and Garner - Summary 4

Author Jason Johnson, in his opinion piece "Charles Barkley, wrong on race, Ferguson and Garner," from CNN's opinion section, asserts that Charles Barkley is "an uninformed rich guy who is given way more credibility than he deserves when discussing racial and political issues in America" (Paragraph 3). Johnson condemns Barkley's statements that "we as black people, we have a lot of crooks," and "[t]here is a reason that they racially profile us in the way they do" as being misleading and inaccurately shifting responsibility from the racist system to those oppressed by it (Paragraph 5). He says that Barkley and other people of his standing are too far removed from the issues of most people to accurately comment on happenings. Barkley's comments are indeed far from true and far from the point. Johnson gives examples of other celebrities making similarly uninformed comments, like "Serena Williams on rape... or Luke Scott on Obama" (Paragraph 21). Johnson gets straight to the point, declaring that if Barkley -- or any other high profile and privileged members of society -- want to add their two cents into the "world of politics about Ferguson," then [they] need to get more informed, more prepared and more connected to what [they're] talking about" (Paragraph 23). 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pedophilia: A Disorder, Not a Crime - Summary 3

Margo Kaplan, in her opinion article "Pedophilia: A Disorder, Not a Crime", from The New York Times, asserts that "pedophile[s] should be held responsible for [their] conduct — but not for the underlying attraction" and that to prevent crimes, society must begin "[a]cknowledging that pedophiles have a mental disorder, and remov[e] the obstacles to their coming forward and seeking help" (Paragraph 15). Kaplan criticizes the fact that "our laws ignore pedophilia until after the commission of a sexual offense, emphasizing punishment, not prevention" and earnestly believes that this needs to change. The only way to prevent crimes from being committed and to give the proper therapy to those struggling with this disorder is to both enact laws and create an environment in which such individuals can come forward for treatment without repercussions. As Kaplan points out: "Without legal protection, a pedophile cannot risk seeking treatment or disclosing his status to anyone for support. He could lose his job, and future job prospects..." (Paragraph 11). Kaplan makes an interesting point. However, I doubt that such an environment can ever come to be. While it is important to get people with this problem to come forward, it is unlikely that they will be treated the same as they were before. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Précis #5: Male Allies Are Important, Except When They're the Worst

Amanda Hess, co-founder of Tomorrow Magazine and contributor to the Book of Jezebel, in her opinion essay entitled “Male Allies Are Important, Except When They're the Worst”, from Slate’s XXfactor, argues that despite the ambiguity of male roles in feminism, men are necessary allies. In fact, she concedes that the problem of “‘how to integrate men in ways that don’t undermine gender equality’ is a step up from “having to convince men that it’s a problem in the first place.’” (Hess 9).

Hess employs paradox, rhetorical questions, and specific examples to support her assertion. Despite feeling that “[a]llies are important, except when they’re the worst”, she admits that there are “seemingly endless contradictions embedded in the process of incorporating men into feminist movements”, like the fact that “male allies are encouraged to speak up against domestic violence because ‘men listen to other men,’ yet “the idea that male voices are privileged over female ones is part of the problem” (Hess 3, 4). The current effort to integrate men is riddled with paradoxes that make men a hinderance to the movement and yet ultimately necessary to progress. This is because men, as “‘members of the dominant group… have access to social and institutional power that women lack,’” even though feminism seeks to dismantle such power (ibid). Hess next peppers the reader with a series of rhetorical questions. She ponders, “…how is a man supposed to act?” within these paradoxes, and “[s]hould feminism focus squarely on women, or on gender itself?” (Hess 6, 7). Such questions lack clear answers, but the fact she can ask them at all is indicative of the advancements that have been made. In former times, there was not really a question of if a man would participate in feminism or how he should behave in feminist spaces. Nor was feminism considered a movement that encompassed anyone who wasn’t female. While the movement remains vague on the role of men, the inclusion of males in the cause and their recognition of the need for change is important. Finally, Hess provides specific examples for the case that male feminists are simultaneously problematic and helpful. She criticizes Aziz Ansari for coming out as a feminist and encouraging others to do the same by using the argument that Beyoncé shouldn’t be making less money than Jay-Z, a position that is “‘a watered-down version of something… women have been arguing’ for ages” (Hess 2). She especially condemns President Barack Obama for his statement that as “‘the father of two daughters,’ he knows that ‘hitting a woman is not something a real man does’”, calling out his “apparent need to create a female human with his very own sperm in order to understand that it’s not OK to beat [women]” (Hess 1, 2). But while these faults in their feminism showcase where men are lacking in the ally department, their spreading awareness is valuable and more than what can be said about the advocacy of men in even the 20th century.  

Hess’s purpose is to examine the role of men in feminism and the progress made thus far. She feels that the current state of feminism embodies the old adage that “we’ve come a long way, but not far enough”, and while men don’t always behave as they should, their participation is vital. She employs sardonic diction, mocking the fact that the #HeForShe movement has “finally encouraged members of One Direction to hold signs with hashtags on them and post soulful photos of their feminist solidarity to Twitter” (Hess 2). This type of playfully sarcastic language marks her disdain of ignorant or nominal male feminists, but ultimately her tone is conciliatory in accepting that men are integral parts of the campaign. Syntactically, Hess commands the use of em dashes to contrast the importance of male participation with the ways in which their involvement falls short, with examples like “…makes them valuable to feminism—but it also…” and “[b]ut that’s also a politically expedient tactic—it’s why President Obama…” (Hess 3, 5). This grammar usage embodies her position on male feminists, and contributes to her conciliatory tone. 

I qualify with Hess. While men are significant in utilizing their privilege for the advancement of the feminist cause, the fact that they have privilege at all is the issue of a patriarchal society. But it is true of this "central conflict" that often only the privileged can speak up and be heard in order to elevate the oppressed (Hess 3). However, I believe Hess misses the mark with her focus on men. Feminism for me isn’t about the equality of men and women in our current system, but the equality of all races, genders and non gender identifying peoples in a system rebuilt to benefit all. Hess’s use of male and female pronouns — "men are instructed to listen to women" — is exclusionary to those who don’t identify in that way (Hess 5). True feminism should be about every person helping every person, not just men helping women or women helping women.  

Précis #4: Throw Out the College Application System

Adam Grant, author and professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, in his opinion essay “Throw Out the College Application System”, from The New York Times opinion pages, holds that the current college admissions system is faulty. In fact, he declares that there is a “better way for colleges to gather comprehensive information about candidates,” by way of “assessment center[s]” (Grant 3).

Grant employs specific examples, historical evidence, and logos to defend his position. He implores schools to move away from the current application system that leaves “many colleges favoring achievement robots” and “overlooking talented C students” (Grant 2). Grant claims that students with “less than perfect grades” may go on to be greater than anyone imagined, and points to Steven Spielberg and Steve Jobs as examples (ibid). He declares that skillful and imaginative C students could go on to “dream up blockbuster films” or “become entrepreneurs,” but colleges would not know this because they only see grades and one dimensioned recommendation letters, thus necessitating the use of assessment centers. Grant then utilizes historical evidence to explain the usefulness of such centers. He claims that they’ve “been in use for more than half a century” and “the roots of the assessment center in the United States can be traced back to… President Franklin D. Roosevelt” and his creation of a secret intelligence group called the O.S.S. (Grant 4). The O.S.S. developed an effective system of assessments to select spies, and the techniques are now used at companies like AT&T and General Electric. Grant contends that in person and collaborative assessments can “prove powerful in evaluating skills and predicting future behavior” (Grant 8). Finally, Grant employs logos to bolster his point. Assessment centers “would solve at least three problems for college admissions” (Grant 10). The first problem of the inconsistency of recommendations and interview reports could be solved through the evaluation of students’ responses to “standardized questions… rated by multiple evaluators on a common standard” (ibid). The second issue of grades and test scores can be combated by tests of “wisdom and practical intelligence” or “interpersonal and emotional skills” challenges (Grant 11, 12). Thirdly, portfolios and essays can be vetted in person, as it can be assessed that a student was “personally responsible for the work they produce[d]” (Grant 13). It simply makes sense to institute assessment centers as part of the college admissions process, if schools want to accept dynamic and multi-faceted students. 

Grant’s overarching purpose is to convince readers and universities that the current admissions process is failing valuable students who don’t perform well academically. To do this, he employs earnest diction, proclaiming that “[b]y broadening the range of criteria, assessment centers make it possible to spot diamonds in the rough” (Grant 11). Such use of language communicates to the reader how strongly he feels about elevating non-academic students, and contributes to his passionate tone. Syntactically, Grant employs several simple sentences, such as his statement that “[a]ssessment centers give nontraditional students a better chance to display their strengths” (ibid). This sentence structure aligns with Grant’s goal, which though a massive undertaking, is simple: to provide a platform for students of all backgrounds to show their excellence in areas outside of the narrow confines of academic performance. Such grammar contributes to his passionate tone. 

Grant makes many valid points. However, I qualify with him. In person, dynamic assessment situations can indeed reveal other facets of students. However, if candidates are being evaluated on one "common standard", how is this different from standardized testing (Grant 10)? Assessments would simply alienate a different group of students allow a new group to shine. Assessment centers are faulty as well, because too broad of standards could mean schools should admit almost everyone, and too narrow makes it so that they are still only looking for a specific type of student who fits inside of their parameters. Such centers could be a 'successful predictor' of student success and work well to elevate lower performing students, but they still have their drawbacks (Grant 6). Until more comprehensive ways of selecting students are created, students should simply work to stand out within the confines of the current system. 

Précis #3: Raven-Symone, we are black Americans

Roxanne Jones, 2010 recipient of Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events and CEO of Push Marketing Group, in her opinion article “Raven-Symone, we are black Americans”, from CNN’s opinion section, asserts that Raven-Symone is denying her history by requesting not to be called black or African American; Jones actually declares that “rejecting your blackness is downright un-American” (Jones 4). 

Using pathos, anecdotes, and familial examples, Jones makes a strong argument for the acceptance of blackness. She appeals to Raven and those who may feel as she does by empathizing with her. Jones knows that “many… have been exactly where she is, struggling to fit in” and “be "colorless" when there's no way to look at someone without noticing appearance” (Jones 3). Jones herself reveals that she too has “struggled all [her] life with labels” but that she has come to see that “[b]eing black equals being American” (Jones 6, 4). Jones then shares a short anecdote about a time she visited Costa Rica and was called “La Negrita”, a name which at first angered her, but she later came to find out was “a term of endearment… meaning something closer to beautiful black woman” (Jones 7). In fact, she learned that there is a national holiday celebrated in the country called Día de la Negrita, a celebration that America is “a long way” away from holding (Jones 7, 8). She shares this story to exemplify the fact that it is understandable to want to deny ones blackness in America, as it often carries a more negative connotation here than in other countries. Finally, she speaks about her family. She discusses one of her ancestors who was “gallantly posed in his Civil War uniform” in a photo her aunt showed her, and her grandfather who was proud “to fight for his country, despite segregation” (Jones 10, 14). At the end of each of these stories, she declares: “That [person] was a black American” (ibid). In this way, she communicates that the history of America is the history of African-Americans. Jones skillfully uses each of these rhetorical devices to bolster her point that blackness and American-ness are inseparable.

Jones desires to communicate to both Raven and other black people struggling with their identity that to be African-American is to be American. The hyphen simply expresses the history of the Africans whom black people descend from; the Africans that built America. She uses sympathetic diction, declaring that “no matter how she tries to deny us, Raven is still ours, still black in the eyes of her community” because “we understand how the heavy burden of labels can crush your spirit” (Jones 5). This type of understanding language paints her as someone who has been there before and contributes to her sagacious tone. The author also employs powerful syntax in her use of simple sentence statements such as “My grandfather was a black American” (Jones 17). This simplicity reflects her belief that the issue of African-American versus American is simple; that the two terms denote one in the same person. This use of grammar underscores her sagacious tone. 

I agree with Jones. My ancestors built this country, and to deny my blackness would be to deny their enduring struggles and labors. To say that I am American will never mean that I am not black — anyone can see the "history written all over [my] face" (Jones 1). Raven-Symone will never be able to escape from her blackness despite any labels she chooses not to use. In truth, the concept of being "colorless" is a concept of erasure — erasure of the history of this country and the people that made it possible to for it stand today (Jones 2). To be black in America will always mean being American, and all black Americans should wear the term African-American with pride.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Précis #2: The Big Lie Behind Voter ID Laws

The New York Times’ Editorial Board, composed of 19 journalists with wide-ranging areas of expertise who write Op-Ed pieces, in their opinion article, “The Big Lie Behind Voter ID Laws”, from The New York Times opinion pages, declare that the voter ID laws being passed around the country only serve to disenfranchise people. The authors even goes so far as to call the laws “antidemocratic sham[s]” (Editorial Board 10).

The Board utilizes logos, specific examples, and ethos to prove its point. The authors decimate “Republican lawmakers” assertion that through these laws they are “preventing voter fraud” (Editorial Board 4). They reference a study that found that there is “virtually no in-person voter fraud”, and that in Texas, the state that tried to pass “the most restrictive voter ID law in the country… there were two convictions for in-person voter impersonation in one 10-year period,” in which time “20 million votes were cast” (Editorial Board 5). The numbers say that voter fraud is basically a moot point, despite lawmakers claiming otherwise. Next, the authors give specific examples of these laws being unnecessary, and further, a hindrance to voter rights and turnout. In fact, “in at least two states — Kansas and Tennessee — [voter ID laws] appear to have reduced turnout by 2 percent to 3 percent…” (ibid). Recently, the Supreme Court even blocked “one of the worst laws” in Wisconsin which required “voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot” (Editorial Board 2). Finally, The Board condemns the laws as being unethical and discriminatory. The authors cite the findings of Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in the Texas case, who concluded that the law “violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act” and “would drive down turnout among minority voters,” clearly a goal of Republican lawmakers who want to “keep otherwise eligible voters away from the polls” (Editorial Boards 7, 8, 6). 

Hoping to convince the reader of the fraudulence of voter ID laws, The Board employs indignant diction. They declare that “[v]oter ID laws… do only one thing very well…” which is “suppress voting” (Editorial Board 6, 4). This type of harsh language expresses the authors’ distaste of the laws and contributes to the The Board’s critical tone. The authors want to communicate to the reader that voter ID laws serve only to deprive lawful citizens of their right to vote. Syntactically, The Board uses several compound sentences, condemning the cost of voter IDs by stating that “in most cases, [the laws] mean voters who are poor, often minorities, and who don’t have the necessary documents or the money or time to get photo IDs” are the ones disenfranchised (Editorial Board 6). This use of sentence structure mirrors the compound issues with voter ID laws: discrimination and disenfranchisement. Such grammar contributes to The Board’s critical tone.

I agree with The Editorial Board. Voter ID laws were illegal under the "Voting Rights Act" of 1965 for a reason: to prevent such "intentional discrimination" and disenfranchisement as has recently yet again been allowed (Editorial Board 7, 8). Under such laws, people of color were required to read a passage before being able to vote, despite the fact that they lived in a system which hindered their education and kept them illiterate. Such prejudiced measures, legal before and now newly legally manifested, foster inequity and are inherently bigoted. There should be no requirement of IDs or any parameters at the polls for being able to vote.

Précis #1: Does spanking harm the black community

Steven A. Holmes, Pulitzer Prize winner and executive director of CNN’s Office of Standards and Practices, in his opinion piece entitled “Does spanking harm the black community?”, from CNN’s opinion section, posits that evidence overwhelmingly proves that the practice of spanking has deeply unfortunate effects on African Americans. In fact, he claims that “[t]he negative effects on children of any race are undeniable” (Holmes). 

Holmes employs pathos, ethos, and figurative language to bolster his point. Attempting to stir within the reader indignation at the tragedies created in children by way of spanking, he relates that the practice leads to “anger, hostility toward authority, undermines trust between parent and child and spawns antisocial behaviors” (Holmes 7). Even more upsetting is his statistic-less claim that “these damaged kids” will grow up to be “irresponsible adults” who “beat their wives and girlfriends, and of course, their children (Holmes 11, 9). Next, he quotes significant figures in the black community like Whoopi Goldberg and Charles Barkley, who defend spanking by asserting that their lives went in positive directions despite or because of having been spanked. Holmes later dismisses their stories with the question, “[h]as anybody asked the thousands of black men … on death row or strung out on drugs or contemplating suicide -- whether they were spanked and whether they turned out all right?” (Holmes 17). Instead, he quotes Harvard psychologist Alvin Poussaint’s assertion that “it's a lot easier to pull the trigger when you’re enraged,” referring to the supposed anger and violence that is fostered in children who are spanked (Holmes 10). He also supports his argument with a question posed by associate professor Tracie O. Afifi, who asks, “with so many nonviolent means of disciplining your child available to you, why would you choose one that has the potential of doing long-term damage?” (Holmes 12). He employs their authority to bolster his position. Finally, he utilizes figurative language, using a metaphor to compare African American’s tradition of spanking to other “revered” pastimes like “…eating fried catfish… or doing The Cupid Shuffle at a wedding reception” (Holmes 1). Holmes also employs a simile to compare the passing down of “treasured family heirlooms” to the generational continuance of the act of spanking. Through his use of comparisons he is able to mock African-Americans' supposed love of the dangerous practice of spanking.

Holmes’ purpose is to convince the reader of the repercussions of spanking and its contribution to the waywardness of young African-Americans. To do this, he utilizes matter-of-fact diction. He asserts that “the the streets may not have been so mean if they were not populated by so many kids who are angry at the world because… they were spanked” and that the practice leads to “anger, depression, violence and alcohol and drug abuse" (Holmes 15, 7). This clinical, to-the-point diction exemplifies his disconnect with the black experience and contributes to his obnoxious tone. Syntactically, he employs several em dashes. He asks “can we, as black people, stop waxing nostalgically -- and defensively -- about this particular child-rearing practice…?” (Holmes 6). These pauses in his thoughts mirror the gaps between his perception of the black condition and reality, and contribute to his obnoxious tone.

I disagree with Holmes. His position on spanking is backed by the evidence that it creates the stereotypical dangerous black youth who loiters by liquor stores instead of going to school. He offers up the menacing black man that makes women clutch their purses without any real evidence of such men actually existing, or that spanking made them that way. His point is invalid because it doesn’t speak to the numerous other factors that go into producing “irresponsible” or “damaged” adults (Holmes 11). The truth is that spanking is a time-honored practice that is simply a form of punishment where a loving household is involved and excessive force is not used. Anything outside of this is likely abuse and is only a contributing factor to why people become delinquents. Until Holmes learns to express himself without stereotypes and condescension, it is unlikely that he will be able to put a real world face on his ideas.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Does spanking harm the black community? - Summary 2

In the September 18th article, "Does spanking harm the black community?" by Steven A. Holmes, from CNN Opinion, Holmes argues that "there is plenty of evidence "that the practice is harming"[black] children" and "[the black] community" (Paragraph 7). Holmes claims that this particular form of punishment "inhibits the learning process, causing children to do less well in school" and "leads to anger, depression, violence and alcohol and drug abuse" among other consequences (Paragraph 8). Throughout the article, the author refers to prominent African Americans --  like Whoopi Goldberg and Charles Barkley -- who are pro-spanking and used the evidence that they turned out alright. But Holmes' claims that they're the exception to the rule -- the lucky few. Despite his claim that he isn't "arguing that spanking... [is] the sole reason that many children turn out badly" his assertion seems to be that spanking is the dominant factor in producing delinquent kids (Paragraph 12). Holmes has created stereo-typical black adults "who menace their communities and beat their wives and girlfriends and, of course, their children", who "fathe[r] children out of wedlock and then leav[e] them to be raised by poorly educated, stressed-out single mothers", who may have had a chance in this world were it not for being spanked (Paragraph 9, 11). Holmes seems to regard the practice of spanking as a cyclical epidemic that produces damaged children who go on to damage the black community. What he does not seem to consider is the institutional and systemic odds that are stacked against African Americans. The care of black parents and the discipline they instill, so far as it does not approach the realm of abuse, cannot seriously be blamed for the production of underserved neighborhoods, crime, and immoral individuals. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sexism in the Senate - Summary 1

In the recent article, "Sexism in the Senate", from the Washington Post, author Ruth Marcus discusses a new book titled Off the Sidelines by Kirsten Gillibrand, which details Gillibrand's experiences of sexism and sexual harassment in the Senate. Marcus' opening point is perhaps her best: that reports of women experiencing sexism in the workplace are common place and unsurprising. Beyond that, this article simply feeds the notion of sexism being a bearable, ignorable institution, rather than a real, everyday experience that can only be solved by men keeping their thoughts to themselves. Marcus makes lots of excuses for the comments like "[d]on't loose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby", and "you're even pretty when you're fat" made by grown men. (Paragraph 4, 5). She posits that "Gillibrand's colleagues" aren't "intending to be demeaning", but rather, "[t]hey find themselves around a younger female colleague and... don't know how to handle it" (Marcus). This is the kind of nonsensical statement that excuses men for their inappropriate and prejudiced behavior. Would any of these "prestigious" men deign to say such things to their male counterparts? If a boy is young, he doesn't know better. If he is old, he simply grew up in a different way. And now? Perhaps he had a lapse in judgement. Until women stop justifying the hurtful and ignorant quips of others and begin to demand accountability and consequences, sexism will continue to thrive.