Thursday, December 20, 2012

Quote of the Day: On the End of the World

"So tonite me, Liam Neeson, Daniel Craig, & the Navy SEAL who wrote the book about killing bin Laden are visiting some ancient Mayan ruins for some *ahem* sight seeing. No need to ask questions, no need to worry, and if you wake up tomorrow & the world's still need to thank us."


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Today's Quote

"Whatever training you have to go through to get your body registered as a deadly weapon, I want to do that."


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rhetorical Drizzy: What Rembert Browne & Drake's Respective Graduation Speeches Teach Us About Writing

"The future will be run by robots anyway. And it shall be our job to build them."
                     --David Merritts, Valedictorian Speech from my senior year, LHS c/o '98

First of all, David's speech was hilarious. Second, you should've been there. I don't mean at the graduation; I mean at that special moment in the late 90s when, in 2 years, the End of the World would be brought forth by a computer apocalypse (as opposed to a more ancient, Mayan one) and the hottest rapper was a mumbling New Orleans native named Master P (who at 6'3" couldn't accurately fit "Lil" into his moniker).  Either way, high school (and the end of high school) can be a special time. But this blogpost is about comparing idea presentation, not nostalgic interpretations.

So with that said, I want to look at an article I've posted below, which provides an interesting example of rhetorical juxtaposition. Grantland contributor Rembert Browne provides a clear and entertaining compare & contrast essay. I try to stress this w/ my students: it's not enough simply to point out similarities & differences. You must also be able to explain why those similarities & differences are worth writing & reading about.

Ultimately, Browne presents cleverly the news of Drake's graduation & graduation speech (at a school different from the one he--Drake--recently graduated from). And although Browne doesn't tell us how long ago it was, he uses self-deprecating humor to  compare his own high school valedictorian speech to that of the multi-platinum, internationally known, recording artist. And yet reading this through the eyes of a teacher, I can't help but see that Browne's comparisons are built upon several rhetorical principles: decorum--which speaker is dressed better, practical wisdom--which speaker provided the best life lesson, pathos--which speaker had the biggest impact on the female audience, peroration--which speaker had the best ending, as well as other details.

I won't give away who won (because Browne keeps score & tallies them at the end). And, unless you click on the imbedded videos of Drake's  26 minute speech, it's a short, fun read.


Rembert Browne vs. Aubrey 'Drake' Graham: A High School Commencement Speech Showdown

By Rembert Browne on 
For some time, I genuinely thought Drake and I had a great deal in common. But, as time went on, and he really started getting famous, that feeling began to slightly subside. And then, with Drake's fame came Drake's "Drake obsession." And with Drake's "Drake obsession" came Drake's Instagram. And with Drake's Instagram came Drake's new moniker, "Champagne Papi." When he began referring to himself as that, it became clear the guy I once saw moderately as a peer was no longer someone I felt too much of a connection with.
Yes, the bar mitzvah video for "HYFR" got me back on the "yes, OK, we'd totally be BFFs" bandwagon, but those friendship butterflies only lasted for so long.
Then last week, Drizzy's Twitter alerted the world of some uncharacteristically wholesome Aubrey news.
This was exciting news for our nonexistent, completely one-sided fake friendship. Drake, the newly focused scholar, taking a rare break from telling girls to drop down and get their Eagle on in order to alert us of his academic accolades. I liked this. I liked this a lot.
And then, just a few days later, word got out that Drake spoke at the high school graduation ceremony of Jarvis Collegiate Institute. And that there was a video of said speech.
The Longer, Fuzzier Version
The Shorter, More Close-up Version
Good speech, 26-year-old Drake. But how did it compare to another noteworthy graduation speech, delivered seven years earlier by a young man just a few months removed from his 18th birthday?
Let's put them side by side and figure it out.

1. Is the speech delivered at the school attended by the speaker?
Graham: No, the newly diploma-ed Aubrey spoke at another school's graduation, as a peer and as a mentor.
Browne: Yes, because that's how graduation speeches are supposed to work.
ADVANTAGE: Drake. Who wants to hear from some loser classmate when they can watch the guy who throws bottles at Chris Brown and then sings sweet nothings into Rihanna's ears? On multiple occasions? Even I can admit that.

2. How was the speaker in question dressed?
GrahamSome sort of sweater hoodie thing, with a gold chain dangling.
BrowneBlack suit and tie (both picked out by mom) and black shoes that were promptly kicked off once feet were hidden behind podium.
ADVANTAGE: Browne. Without question. Don't make it so obvious that you're headed out post-someone else's graduation, Drake. At least give the people the illusion that you got dressed specifically for this event.

3. Most self-deprecating line?
Graham: "Why can't I wake up every morning and learn how to cook food?"
Browne: "What other school would I be able to show my face and give a speech at graduation after leading the boys' basketball team to a 1-25 record?"
ADVANTAGE: Browne. Easy. Also, a super humblebrag. I'm both embarrassed and proud.

4. Biggest life lesson?
Graham"It's not about the popular kids, it's not about the kids that don't feel as popular, because all that changes later in life. And I promise you, I'm 26 years old, it changes."
Browne: There isn't one morsel of advice in this entire speech. I reread it four times looking for one, but there's just nothing. Just me telling stories about Les Misérables and high school race relations.
ADVANTAGEGraham, but let's be honest, this is more of an honorary degree approach than a speech to your peers, even if everyone in the room has the same rudimentary knowledge of the special triangles, SOHCAHTOA, and what not. But yeah, advantage = Aubrey.

5. Biggest realization?
Graham: "I reached a point in my life where I realized that there aren’t material things that can give me the excitement that I’m looking for. There’s a void, there's a gap in my life that I need to fill and I needed to sit and think long and hard what that was. And it was the fact that I had left a gaping hole in my story of following through. So, for five months, we talked back and forth on e-mails, we worked, we wrote papers, I studied for an exam, we figured out how I didn't close my chapter of following through."
Browne: "I realized that this was the last time I was ever going to do this. This was the culmination of my career. This was my last school race, the last time the entire school got to see me run, and the last time I would walk to that Port-a-Potty for my pre-race urination."
ADVANTAGE: Browne, on the mention of urination alone. Also, I need more proof, Champagne Papi, about that whole "material things" tidbit not mattering that much. Don't lie to the kids; you know they've been listening to "Pop That" all summer.

6. Impact speech had on the females in the audience?
Graham: A lot, including a chorus of "awwwwww" after he brought up his mother and screams once he finished the speech.
Browne: Zero impact, but the line "when I was thinking about love in class, I naturally thought about females for a good while and then I thought some about my family" is not only noteworthy for the use of "females," but also because it's easily the most brazen thing I'd said at that point in my life in front of my mother.
ADVANTAGE: Graham, but I'm a huge fan of 18-year-old me right now for that smooth line.

7. Last Line
Graham: "I think I'll sleep a little better tonight knowing that I found a way to follow through."
Browne: "I think most of us are ready to go, but we all know how much we are leaving behind."
ADVANTAGE: They're both super corny, but I think I have to give the last-line edge (and the 4-3 win) to Aubrey. I don't like the idea of 18-year-old me doing something better than 26-year-old Aubrey, so seeing him deliver a moderately heartfelt passage to a bunch of impressionable strangers who will hang on to his every word is something I do appreciate.

Drake, you continue to confuse me and keep me on my toes and make me wonder if this friendship is ever going to flourish the way it was meant to. It's frustrating, but I'll continue to go along for the ride. With this speech, along with the unfollowing of all of your social media outlets, I feel as if we're back in a better place. Congrats to us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Prose of Desire: Our Brief (and Disappointing) Journey Through Our Most Underrated Sense

"Our sense of smell even tells us with whom it would be biologically best to conceive a child, and it can make someone with movie-star looks unappealing and the plainest person the object of obsessive passion. Our sense of smell is truly our sense of desire."
                   --Rachel Herz

This month's get together began with Nichole posting the question, "Did you know that your sense of smell creates the 'flavor' of your food?" And with that, we began reading Rachel Herz' Scent of Desire.  And Nichole's question encapsulates the group's feelings towards the book. Her question is essentially a fun tidbit about our sense of smell, and although we agreed that Herz is a good researcher and academic, her book provided little more than a few interesting factoids. 

Essentially, we believe that Herz is a scholar who tried to dilute her science for a pop audience but failed because she doesn’t quite have the writing skill for it. Her style lacked the ease that flows from a well-oiled, mellifluous pen. She probably would have been better off if she just made it much more technical but kept only the anecdotes. We all tended to blame her editors rather than her. Everything from the misleading title, the incongruent book cover, and the somewhat forced chapter section headings, reflect artificial attempts to make the subject more readable.  
All that said, she aroused our interest when she discussed how cultures differ in the smells they find acceptable. Burning flesh sounds disgusting to me, but cremated bodies are so ingrained in Indian religion, that it’s a pleasant smell. I also liked finding out that spearmint, though a nice smell to an American nose, is anathema to the British b/c it is so much associated with dressing wounds during World War II. That type of stuff was interesting. But her weaving in the science behind her findings left us wanting.

 The cultural comparisons were nice and her “history of smell” sections that would appear unexpectedly within some of the paragraphs caught my attention. For example, how St. Francis of Assisi believed dirt was holy and that this mindset didn’t change much until the 18th century reminded me how the modern world we live in is light years different from the world most of human history has lived in, not just b/c of technology but how the world views nature. Unfortunately,  she cited texts that seemed to have already covered those subjects. I do wonder if That’s Disgusting, her other book on the subject, might be stronger and might deal with, in greater detail, some of the more interesting parts of the book that Herz only touches on.  That said, this was a science book, and the science seemed to be info that I’ve never really thought about but was something I always knew. More specifically, the science didn’t illuminate anything; it merely confirmed information that I would’ve suspected anyway. 
She didn’t provide complicated biology, so in that sense, she stayed consistent with her attempt to write a pop text. But I felt she didn’t say enough to change any perceptions I already had. For instance, her connection between scents an emotions was worth talking about. But it’s not something particularly groundbreaking, which disappoints me b/c I feel she has done groundbreaking resource. I believe that all of our senses have that ability. I do wish (and Nichole hit on this as well) that she made interesting the concept of how smell and pathos happen so quickly it’s as if the two were interchangeable. We just wish she would have gone further. 

Ultimately, we can't recommend this. If I read a pop science book, I want to feel like I’m being intellectually & experientially elevated. Instead, I feel like Herz left me flat. And it wasn’t her so much as the subject matter. It’s good to have a book on the subject, but it’s not something I particularly glad I read. I’m glad to have finished. Nichole said she wanted to read this, in part, after reading the science and smooth prose of Richard Dawkins' The God Gene. And I think Bob's quiet, almost apologetic response of, "yeah, but Dawkins is a good writer" says it all. Whether her or her editors are the ones who fell short, either way, it lacked artistry and content. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Simile of the Day: A Hurried Chef Gets Creative

"Pig snout" is like if bacon & rubber bands had a baby."  --Chef Sean, from the "Very Piggy Halloween" episode of Chopped.

First of all, if I can hear an original simile, that in itself is worth skipping a meal. But if it's original, accurate, and teaches me something, that's worth fasting for. That said, the Simile of the Day goes to Chef Sean from this year's Halloween episode of Chopped. In the appetizer round, one of the ingredients was pig snout. As he sliced the raw nasal cavity he said, "pig snout is like if bacon and rubber bands had a baby." It's creative, yet more than that, it provides me with insight into both the taste and texture of the food. I admit, I doubt I'd order pig snout, but if I were at a party where it was served, I'd try it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Texting & Parallelism: A Crash Course in Style

So last week my friend Humboldt sent me & another friend, Raven a text predicting his post-game mood after watching the Titans lose to the Vikings. Raven was having a get together at her place and he said, “I’ll be happy on the outside but on the inside I’m dying.” This struck me as interesting because, even though the idea was presented clearly, it lacked parallelism. Jonathan’s a lawyer, and even though writing is not his forte, I’m surprised he didn’t bisect his thoughts automatically. 

It should have read “I’ll be happy on the outside but dying on the inside.” This aligns “happy” and “dying” at the beginning of their respective phrases as well as putting “outside” and “inside” at the end of the phrases. That creates a sentence rhythm that’s more satisfying to the ear. Symmetry is significant in writing just as much as in art, architecture, and mathematics. 

Of course, writing, just as any other field, benefits from strategic asymmetry, but it must be done elegantly. And it must be used to emphasize a specific point at a specific moment in the text. Now, I'm not interested in correcting people's texts, Facebook posts, or any other forms of casual conversation. Text and speak how you want. I just happened to notice this slight style error and thought it'd make for an interesting talking point.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Law, Literature, & Legacy: The Genius of John Grisham

The Litigators by John Grisham was enjoyable and worth reading. The extent of my Grisham experience is this and A Time to Kill (the Samuel Jackson version--not the book), so I must say I’m rating him on reputation, but I wouldn’t mind reading more of his work. I appreciate that this book didn’t read like a movie script. It read like a novel. I don’t read much fast pace, pop fiction, but I, sometimes, come across books that are almost written so that they can easily be converted to a screenplay. I don’t get that impression w/ this book. I don’t think this would make a good movie, but it makes for a good novel.

Bob posted a quote from a lecture given at the Southampton Institute of Technology titled “John Grisham: The Hidden Shakespeare.” It essentially points out why Grisham is (but shouldn’t be) underrated: “John Grisham's genius and talent are completely undervalued by those who consider themselves "literary." His ability to deftly weave the law in with universal human experience is one of the reasons that we keep reading him. I believe that by a close reading of one his books, we can come to a better understanding, not only of the world in which we live, but a deeper understanding of ourselves.” I agree. Grisham weaves well together law and human nature. Also, I like how every character has meaning. Everybody we encountered advanced the plot. Although a novel has much more room for the unnecessary, I felt that Grisham was economical w/ his characters & his information. Everyone introduced either moved the plot or revealed a character. I don’t know how this fit in w/ the genre or what it teaches us, but I enjoyed the skill Grisham uses to present his story.

One instance of him doing this was how he described lawyers not as lawyers but as people who became & worked as lawyers. For ex., the beautiful, talented, and vicious Nadine Karros was well described but not simply for the sake of providing a foil for our protagonists. Grisham presents a psychological kernel when discussing Finley & Figg’s jury selection strategy: “It was Helen’s theory that the women would have mixed and complicated feelings about Nadine [...] and most important, there would be pride that a woman was not only in charge but, as they would soon realize, also the best lawyer in the courtroom. For some, though, the pride would soon yield to envy. How could one woman be so beautiful, stylish, thin, yet intelligent and successful in a man’s world” (279). Though the jury selection ends up having no bearing on the case’s outcome, Grisham provides a glimpse into the mindset of how lawyers make decisions and how they themselves works as amateur psychologists. But going a step further, it’s keen insight into how women view each other. The ambivalence of sisterhood and competition, not just for men but for a percentage of the slice of American pie left by men.

Essentially, we learn something about how law works & lawyers think. We get a glimpse into an interesting subset of society. It’s a peak into the unknown. We can’t keep up with changing subsets and footnotes that make up our laws, and the idea of sitting through a law briefing is exhausting in itself. And yet, we wish to know more about it. Grisham provides a pop legal class in the guise of a narrative.

And even though he mentions the tediousness of court or paper work or research, he gets us to the story and to the characters. He does have some cliches, but he describes well and avoids wooden dialogue. And we like someone who can make the uneventful exciting. Perhaps that, more than any other characteristic, reflects a good story teller. We humans are interested in justice, and we like to understand how the gray areas of rules are defined and the circumstances in which they are circumvented. That is to say we are interested in law but not necessarily the legal process. When a lay person thinks about the logistics of the legal process, we tend to picture an endless trail of paperwork like the image formed when two mirrors face each other.