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.