Archive for September, 2011

There’s no better place to say it than on the back of your car.

The rhetorical activity at the end of Chapter 4 asked us to
analyze vanity license plates or bumper stickers and determine what they might
suggest about the car owner’s ideologies. Below is a list of the most notable
bumper stickers I’ve found in the past two days and what I believe they say
about the person who owns them.

  1. Is it 2012 yet? – This is a sarcastic reference to the end of the world prediction coming in the year
    2012. While it does not give me much insight into the person’s ideologies, I
    can assume they take the prediction lightly and do not feel overly threatened
    by any impending doom. Perhaps the sarcastic tone is meant to undermine the
    arguments advanced by those who do believe in the upcoming end of days, or
    maybe the car’s owner finds humor in any hysteria over something that nobody is
    sure of and nobody can control.
  2. Everyone remember we’re only visitors here- I found
    this bumper sticker to be concerning the environment, and as a plea for
    everyone to treat the Earth as if we don’t “own” it ourselves
    (because frankly, we don’t) but are just visiting during our lifetime. The
    car’s owner clearly thinks it is imperative that we respect the Earth and its
    resources in order for future generations to live. One of the commonplaces
    here, although not held by everyone, is that humans and human activity does
    have a substantial environmental impact. If the car’s owner did not follow this
    commonplace then they wouldn’t feel the need to advise everyone to act in a
    considerate way.
  3. Take it easy, life is short- This car
    owner clearly as a laid back attitude which is most likely represented in many
    of their personal ideologies. They try to value the time they have in life and
    try to make the best of it. If you “sweat the small stuff,” you might
    not be getting the most out of life which is already short enough. One of the
    commonplaces here is that in order to lead a happy and valued life, you should
    learn to relax and take it easy when necessary; worrying about everything and
    being overly stressed frequently is not a good way to make the best of a short
  4. Republican Health Plan: Don’t get sick- There
    are several assumptions that could be made following a chain of logic from this
    bumper sticker. First, you could assume that the political ideologies of the
    owner closely aligns with a liberal Democrats, particularly one who favor’s
    Obama’s universal health care plan. The assumed commonplaces behind this
    sticker include: universal health care provides more/better/cheaper
    opportunities for Americans in need, Republicans favor a privatized health care
    system, and a privatized health care system does not help as many people so you
    would be wise to not get sick or need a doctor. Although it is certain that the
    opposing political party, Republicans, would not stand behind these ideologies
    as commonplaces.
  5. Hang up and drive- The person sporting this bumper sticker is
    obviously concerned about safety, and they follow the commonplace that a cell
    phone leads to a distracted driver which leads to a dangerous driver. Most all
    in society, even if they’re guilty of it themselves, would agree with this
  6. I’d rather be fishing- This is another example of a person with a laid back attitude that
    is also probably reflective in their personal ideologies. I could assume that the
    daily errands this person makes is a necessity and probably not enjoyable
    leisure time. Fishing is often regarded as a calming, mostly solo activity and
    a commonplace that can be taken from this sticker is that sometimes people need
    to just get away and take a mental/physical break from the stresses of life.
  7. Be nice to America or we’ll bring democracy to your door- I can
    assume that the political ideology of the car owner aligns with the Democrats,
    and they are particularly unfond of America’s recent, aggressive foreign
    policy. It can also be assumed that they did not agree with the Iraq War and
    also several aspects of President Bush’s Middle Eastern policy. A few
    commonplaces that follow a chain of reasoning from this bumper sticker include:
    Democracy is the best and most preferred type of government, Americans  value their country as a democracy, much of
    the US’ foreign policy is aggressive and with the self-impressions as the “world-police,”
    and lastly, that America has the ability to spread democracy to nation’s even
    if it is against their will.

Because he said so, that’s why!

     I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post about LZ’s use of sarcasm when making an argument. Well, I recently read another great article in his column that is overflowing with witty remarks and sarcastic jabs. It describes how the Speaker of the House wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to push back his address, so as not to conflict with the GOP debate scheduled for the same day. LZ adds early on that Obama’s original scheduling was an attempt to “upstage Republicans,” something deserving of a pat on the back. However, now he has relented and gave Boehner the upper hand.

     Stating, “John Boehners eloquent letter to President Obama…. could have been summed up in two words — screw you,” LZ makes it very clear his opinions on the Speaker’s demeanor. In fact, the columnist doesn’t narrow his disgust to one man, but actually claims the GOP does not have any respect for Obama and they will stop at nothing to discredit, embarrass, and destroy him. Weighty words and a pretty controversial stance, if I may say so. After reading just the first page of the article, one can clearly see LZ’s disappointment with the President and disgust with Boehner and fellow Republicans.

     Now, because the address has been changed, it will now compete with the opening game of the NFL season. So, instead of challenging Boehner and the GOP, as president of the United States (a title, no matter of the affiliated party at the time, that still deserves respect and authority), Obama now competes with football craving, sports fans. Which do you think will demand the most attention? LZ is pretty convinced it won’t be politics that day, and even states that, “And this is the breaking point not for Obama, but for me. I would rather watch the start of the NFL season than a president who can’t call a meeting.”

     It is my opinion that LZ’s argument is a very valid one. From a PR perspective and party relations standpoint, I can understand the value behind deciding to move the address to another day. However, the political strategy clearly behind its original time was the “fighting spirit” Democrats like myself want to see out of our President and future nominee. The article brings life to a situation that perhaps not many have given much thought to on their own, and I appreciate the witty remarks LZ uses to describe his own point of view.

Commonplaces found in rhetoric

     There is a section within Chapter 4 of our book that describes how one can use common topics and commonplaces to invent arguments. While searching through my columnist’s blog, I found an article from August that provides a great example of this.

  In the piece titled, “Parents, time to panic about our kids’ education,” LZ sets up a brilliant argument. Right off the bat, he commands attention through a very strategic maneuver… guilt. The first three paragraphs describe how panicked Americans became after our loss in men’s basketball during the 1988 Summer Olympics and afterwards the iconic Dream Team was formed. And then he lays on the guilt… and shame; “If only we were as panicked about our slipping global ranking on education.”

     Afterwards, LZ presents numerous facts about how much the education system in America is going downhill, including the fact that our global ranking is now 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. The article concludes with his plea that the U.S. now needs an “…aggressive, multipronged strategy geared toward closing the education gap between the rich and everyone else…”

     Where common place and common topics come into play is through the emphasis on education. The major premise (defined by the book as a statement that is assumed prior to the beginning of an argument) of this article is that education is essential to America’s well-being. The ideological chain of reasoning after this assumption is made clear leads to a few commonplaces. First, it is commonplace that when something is “broken” it might take work and effort to fix it. Secondly, considering that America is falling behind several other nations in education and behind what we have experienced previously, the education system can be considered “broken.” Lastly, Americans place great value in the education of our youth because some day they will be taking care of the country. LZ’s commonplaces and major premise lead well into his demand for immediate action, in order to fix the education system and save us all!

Woah! Talk About Inappropriate…

     Looking through the archives of LZ Granderson’s opinion stories, I found one that really stood out. It was published online on April 19th, 2001, and titled, “Parents, don’t dress your girls like tramps.” Quite the eye-catching title. The article starts out by describing a very sexual looking, seemingly attractive young woman. Well, woman it wasn’t…. LZ was describing the appearance of an 8-year-old girl he saw in an airport.

     “Yeah, that 8-year-old girl was something to see alright. … I hope her parents are proud. Their daughter was the sexiest girl in the terminal, and she’s not even in middle school yet.”

     LZ then goes on to describe an outrageous example of how pop culture is going a bit too far into encouraging young girls.. KIDS.. into dressing inappropriately. It is described that a new push up bra made by Abercrombie & Fitch was being marketed to girls at the age of 7 but after public outcry they pushed it up to 12 years. What? Since when does even a twelve-year-old girl have the need for a push up bra?

      LZ’s commentary on the subject is both sarcastic yet stern. He cracks several jokes or quips, but in no way to make light of the situation. The columnists disapproval rings clear throughout his commentary, but if he were to present this subject in a completely serious tone, I do not think his message would have as much weight. While you may wonder, then, about any credibility to his argument, rest assured. LZ does recognizes a legitimate source in the article, stating, “In 2007, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report linking early sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.”

     This article is a very good example of how to make an effective argument. Here is his step-by-step process:

  1. Describe the problem (young girls dressing like “tramps”)
  2. Provide an example of the source for the problem (the inappropriate marketing of Abercrombie)
  3. Make stance- very clear and in a way appealing to the audience but not undermining the seriousness of the problem (witty quips and sarcastic condemnation)
  4. Provide a credible source- brings legitimacy and evidence to support his stance (American Psychological Association)
  5. Name a solution to the problem (Parents need to be more responsible!!)

     If anyone isn’t already convinced that both sexually dressed 8 year olds is a problem and that the responsibility ultimately rests on the parents shoulders, they should be after reading this article!

“I stand here today humbled by the task before us.”

     Last year I took an English class called Public Relations. In it, we were taught several aspects of PR, but the section that I played particular attention to was speech writing. When Professor Pettice asked us to find and analyze a speech, my mind began racing… but alas, I was stuck on which speech to choose! There’s countless examples of beautifully written rhetoric and perfectly delivered speeches over time. Perhaps the one that touched me most was President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Speech in January 2009. Those moments will stay with me forever, because of the beautiful elegance of his speech, witnessing the first African American to be inaugurated as President, and because I myself stood listening among the 1.8 million people in the National Mall.  

     There are several parts of Obama’s Address that demonstrate effective kairos. After winning the election, the President is expected to praise those who supported him and brought him to the White House, but also address the concerns/worries the other party still has. It is a time to unit the American public after a brutal polarizing process with a positive assurance and a strong attitude towards facing the nation’s challenges.

     This is exactly what Obama does, and only moments into his speech. “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood.” By then going on to provide several examples of how we are in a crisis, Obama demonstrates his recognition of the problem. He then states, “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.” One might wonder why Obama criticizes the current state so harshly, but this is very strategic. Throughout the campaign the Democrats were attacked by conservatives for nominating such a “new” politician, stating that his inexperience might prevent Obama from fully understanding the task of the job. Well, right off the bat Obama wants the nation to know that he grasps the severity of the American situation.

     Then, in a general way he exclaims, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. ” Not only does he understand the problems, but makes it a point to underscore that now is the time to fix it and “remake” America, no small task. After providing non-partisan and broad examples of how to reshape America, he acknowledges those who remain concerned that too many big changes will harm progress. The people who think this, of course, are those in the Right, who warned that electing a liberal President would bring sweeping change to a Nation already so vulnerable. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.” He elegantly combats that thinking by saying it’s not a matter of too much change or too liberal a change, what it is a matter of is effective change. We can no longer be concerned about the adjectives describing necessary programs (liberal, progressive, “big government”), what we must be concerned about is the effect these programs will have on the betterment of America.

     In another very effective part of his Address, Obama starts several sections with “To the..,” filling in “Muslim world,” “leaders around the globe,” “people of poor nations,” etc. The repetition starting each of these paragraphs is significantly effective in adding weight and meaning to the words that follow. Obama takes the proper moment to identify that the American crisis does not just affect us at home, but touches so many more parts of the world. Our war and military situation, our economic foothold in an economically tied world, our place as watchkeeper and protector of the weak, etc. His speech makes it clear that while we must think about ourselves, we cannot only think about ourselves.

     There is no better time for a president to humbly acknowledge and accept the tasks before him, recite a broad plan of action, and speak assurances to both sides of the aisle than during an inaugural address. Obama’s demeanor was gracious yet serious, thankful but stern. He included religious verse and addressed Republican concerns, underscoring the need to unite as a nation despite partisan differences. The ending of his speech left all those watching feeling inspired and ready to follow our new leader into making a better future for ourselves and future generations:

     “…let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter…”


“It’s too late when we die to admit we don’t see eye to eye”

– The Living Years, by Mike &  The Mechanics

Praise for the Author: Mike & The Mechanics is a British pop band formed by a former member of the music supergroup Genesis, Mike Rutherford, in 1984. The band’s first self entitled album produced two top ten hit singles and made Top 40 in America. Their next album, “The Living Years,” produced a single also by that name which was so successful it gained worldwide recognition and praise, becoming the number eighteenth best-selling single that year. Through major shifts in band membership and the tragic death of vocalist Paul Young, Mike & The Mechanics has demonstrated the unwavering drive and dedication to music that is found lacking in many younger artists in the pop industry today.

Paraphrase: Sometimes petty fights or grudges last a lifetime, but we should not wait until it’s too late to try to make amends and reconcile differences. If an argument does drive people a part, sometimes death is the only thing that puts things into a clear perspective.

Causes/Reasons for Saying:  Far too often meaningful relationships are driven a part by relatively meaningless and petty differences or arguments. The inability to not “see eye to eye” can last a lifetime and even over generations. It can even be looked at in terms of large groups of people, such as Democrats and Republicans; people of different faiths, such as Muslims and those who follow Judaism; or even entire civilizations. The song “The Living Years,” and the lyric above in particular, demonstrate that opposing opinions/perspectives/beliefs on an issue should not be the reason for closing your life off to a particular person whom you would otherwise value having a relationship with. This quote underscores the importance of realizing sooner rather than later that sometimes people just don’t agree or see “eye to eye,” and one should never wait until they completely lose the inability, due to death, to reconcile with another. It is unfortunate that losing someone forever is sometimes the only thing that puts trivial differences into perspective and leads to needless regret. Misunderstandings, petty differences, different perspectives, and life-long grudges tear the world apart.

Contrast: “He conquers who endures” – Persius. This quote is contrasting because if one were to live by the belief that endurance and perseverance are values that should be given absolute priority, they are most likely not going to follow Mike & The Mechanic’s advice. Sometimes an individual can be so stubborn and heard-headed that reconciling differences with someone means defeat, and they then live with the regret of that opinion when it’s too late.

Comparison: “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future” – Paul Boese. This quote means that the simple act of forgiving cannot erase the past and eliminate any previous hardships or hurt feelings, but it can make a better and brighter future. In many cases, not seeing “eye to eye” means one party may have negatively affected the other, and there is no time like the present to forgive and move forward.

Example: The song “The Living Years” is actually based on the relationship the bands creator, Mike Rutherford, had  with his father. Throughout Rutherford’s adult life there had been a severe lack of communication between his father and himself, resulting in unresolved tension and consistently driving the two farther and farther apart. Rutherford never had the chance to make amends and lost his father just twelve weeks before the birth of his son.

Testimony: Actress Tori Spelling has had a public and well-known feud with both of her parents throughout most of her adult life and career. However, in a 2006 article of People magazine, she described how much she valued the chance to mend her relationship with her 86 year old father before his fatal stroke. She stated, “I’m grateful I recently had the opportunity to reconcile with my father and most grateful we had the chance to tell each other we loved one another before he passed away.”

Epilogue: The pop/rock music industry might not always be the best source for meaningful advice on life. However, this lyric is composed in such a strikingly understandable and powerful way that perfectly underscores the importance of realizing before it’s too late that even though someone has a different belief than you, it is no reason to throw away what would otherwise be a valued relationship.

LZ Granderson analyzes race and the Republican Party

Race… it’s something we can’t just ignore, so we might as well respectfully acknowledge and discuss it.

LZ Granderson, an opinion columnist for CNN, recently wrote an article about the possibility of a black man winning the Republican nomination for President. The article starts with three examples of various Presidential candidates being asked personal questions that seemingly have little to do with their politics. This introduction to the article immediately grabbed my attention and starting his commentary with supportive facts is a good strategy. These examples demonstrate that often politicans are asked non-related questions, and a matter such as ones race/ethnicity has previously squeezed into media commentary and political discourse. So why has everyone now shied away from talking about something so monumental (and unprecedented)… a potential African-American GOP candidate?

Later in the article LZ makes a very good point about the topic of race and how frequently people are very touchy on the subject. He begins a paragraph stating, “Talking about race does not make one a racist, just as not talking about race doesn’t make it go away.” Saying this point underscores both the importance and relevance of the article’s topic, a very good strategy when trying to write persuasively. LZ’s general tone states that while other candidates are asked about personal and “non-related” issues, GOP candidate (and African-American) Herman Cain is not asked to speak about his race. It’s in the back of everyone’s mind, and likely to be a significant cause if he does not receive the candidacy, but many aren’t willing to broach the subject extensively. After stating that talking about race doesn’t necessarily indicate prejudice and ignoring it doesn’t make it disappear, LZ suggests that bringing up the race issue with the African-American Republican is overlooked is because not many think he’ll actually get the nomination. This is a bold opinion to write in the article, and consistently bringing up the reputation the Republic party has with being majority caucasian does show LZ’s liberal/democratic bias.

All in all, LZ Granderson feels that too many people are concerned with appearing offensive if asking legitimate questions about the matter of race in the presidential candidacy, and especially in the Republican party. If women politicians can be asked about the marriage, home life, and “catfights,” why can’t a black man be asked about his thoughts regarding his standing among the black community in relation to Obama’s? It’s too early right now to have a good handle on LZ’s persuasive writing style, but he does seem to add several quips throughout his commentary that add a bit of personality and humor to his opinion. For example, when stating that most everyone following the political race has thought about a possible African-American GOP candidate, he states, “You know you were thinking it, and if you weren’t you probably were not a very good student of history. Or current events.” The last sentence LZ writes does a phenomenal job both summarizing his main argument and driving home his point about the necessity of race as a topic for political discussion: “In other words, we have some real problems but we are not going to be able to ask ourselves the difficult questions that could help us fix them if the easy ones like Cain, race and the GOP are too much to handle.”