Friday, December 30, 2011

School House Rock: Verbs

Let's get funky with verbs!

Verbs are for when you're feeling active. Verbs express action, being, or a state of being. A verb tells you what's happening!

The University of Ottawa Writing Center asks:

What is a verb?

The verb is perhaps the most important part of the sentence. A verb or compound verb asserts something about the subject of the sentence and expresses actions, events, or states of being.

In the following sentence, the verb appears highlighted:

     Dracula bites his victims on the neck.

The verb "bites" describes the action Dracula takes.

Verbs in workplace writing and your resume.

According to the OWL at Purdue:
An action verb expresses achievements or something a person does in a concise, persuasive manner.

Why is it Important to Use Action Verbs in Workplace Writing?

You should use action verbs in workplace writing because they make sentences and statements more concise. Since concise writing is easier for readers to understand, it is more reader-centered. Because reader-centered writing is generally more persuasive, action verbs are more convincing than non-action verbs.

The following job description uses a non-action verb:

     Was the boss of a team of six service employees

The job description below uses an action verb:

     Supervised a team of six service employees

The job description using a non-action verb is less concise. It contains ten words, and it focuses action on a form of the verb "to be" (was).

The job description using an action verb is more concise. It contains seven words, and it focuses action on an action verb (supervised). The job description using an action verb is more powerful and is more persuasive.

Use action verbs in resumes to describe all skills, jobs, or accomplishments. Using action verbs will allow you to highlight the tasks you can do. Word choice is critical in order to describe what you have done and to persuade potential employers to give you an interview.

Think you've got it? Great! Try this action verb test and check your skills.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rhetoric: Logos

The rhetoric of logos is based on what it sounds like: logic. According to Aristotle it is supported by "proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech [or text] itself." It is the use of argumentation and rational appeals based on facts, case studies, statistics, anecdotes, experiments, logical reasoning, and analogies. Think of toothpaste commercials that claim "Nine out of ten dentists recommend Crust because studies show it prevents cavities."

Strong arguments should have a balance of ethos (ethical appeals), pathos (emotional appeals), and logos (rational appeals). Logic often seems like the most convincing element of an argument, but many times the listener has to depend on the ethos of the speaker in order to believe the logos of his or her argument. In other words, you have to take the writer's word for it, whatever "it" may be.

McDonald's is not immune to rational appeals. There has to be some logic in our choice to eat there. Watch this commercial and think about how McDonald's uses logos to get customers to buy their product.

How is McDonald's using logos in this commercial? Think about how food advertisers use logos to sell their products. Is the food nutritious, easy to eat, easy to clean up? What is McDonald's saying about their fast food?

If you were an advertising executive, where would you position these commercials? To what demographic would you appeal?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rhetoric: Pathos

Pathos refers to the emotion or passion a writer evokes in a reader. It involves stirring people up enough to get them to do or believe something. Aristotle didn't much like this form of persuasion. "The arousing of prejudice, pity, anger, and similar emotions has nothing to do with the essential facts, but is merely a personal appeal to the [wo]man who is judging the case." Advertisers and politicians often revert to pathos because it is the only way you will get somebody to put down the remote, get up of the coach, and do something.

Advertisers or writers can appeal to higher emotions like our belief in fairness and justice, love, or pity; or they can appeal to our lower emotions like greed, lust, revenge, avarice, and jealousy.

Even if you're not a politician or advertiser, think about how you might use pathos in your everyday career to persuade your boss or coworkers to believe or do something you think is important. When is it appropriate to use emotion in the workplace?

Watch this McDonald's commercial aimed at children--you really don't need to know Spanish to understand the appeal:

How is McDonald's using pathos in this commercial? Think of the baser emotions. Think about going to the grocery store with your mom as a little kid. What were you searching for in a cereal, great taste, or the prize inside the package?

Do you think this is an effective commercial? Why or why not?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rhetoric: Ethos

"We believe good men more fully and more readily than others," at least that's how Aristotle defined ethos.

Ethos is just one point on the rhetorical triangle and has to do with how people perceive you. As an author, are you competent, fair, and/or an authority on your subject matter? If you want people to believe your premise, or message, you better be.

An August 2011 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education asserts that "ethos is the primary mode of persuasion, and one which we neglect at our peril. Reflect for a moment on how you have been persuaded. When you were a student, which teacher influenced you the most? Probably the one whose character and interaction with students you found most appealing. Which publications do you trust the most? Probably the ones with the best brand (branding being our impoverished substitute for ethos)."

Branding? Yes, branding, as in advertising. And advertisers are experts at manipulating people using ethos, pathos, and logos. They are trying to get you to do something--whether it is believing in a message (think politics) or buying products--you are being manipulated.

So think about ethos or ethical appeals using trustworthiness, credibility, expert testimony, and reliability as you watch these two McDonald's commercials:

Why do you think McDonald's remade this commercial using LeBron James and Dwight Howard?

But it isn't just athletes that give ethos to McDonald's, especially in Japan.

In both sets of McDonald's commercials, the hamburger chain uses ethos in very different ways. How is McDonald's using ethos in each case?

If you were an advertising executive, who would you perceive to be your target market and where would you position these sets of ads?

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Trouble with "I"

Students often say their high school teachers told them to never use "I" in their papers. I'm not sure I agree, but the problem for high school teachers may be an annoying inundation of "I" constructions, "I think this" and "I believe that" coupled with the uninformed "I" analysis written by teenagers who have been told that they are "entitled to their own opinion." Well, that's just fine, as long as it is an informed opinion and not just an opinion based on some tingling nerve ending.

But is using "I" really bad?

In the Spring 2011 issue of Inside English Charles Hood of Antelope Valley College asks "Why do Students use "I" Appropriately in Speech and Yet so Badly in Papers?" Here are four kinds of student "I" uses that he found ineffective:

The Invisible Man I. That is, there is no human agency in the paper; instead sentences (often fragments) appear out of the ether, passively imply some situation or potential action, then disappear, never to be owned or directed by any named source of potency.

The inane I. "I think Elvis was a famous singer." You don't think this, everybody thinks this.

The Narcissists' I. "This is my paper. In this paper I will do such and such. I have thought about this a lot and I have a lot of sources. I will then do such and such." As Hood remarks, "Just Do It."

The Shoot Yourself in the Foot I. AKA honesty is not always the best policy. Those I-voice papers that (in essence) reveal that the author hates books, did no homework, and has zero interest in the topic at hand. They often start out: "I don't like English."

So what should a student do?

Hood recommends a "nuanced, logical application of I . . . . It is okay to use [I] if it is a vital part of the thing that is being discussed." Furthermore, he believes students should "step forward and sing," while instructors listen to student voices.

Students need to be able to take a chance with their informed "I" opinions. But something students should keep in mind, is that the overuse of any word or construction is annoying to any reader. Think about it? If you had to read paper after paper where every other sentence began with "I", you'd get annoyed too. So don't weaken your argument by inserting yourself with twenty "I"s on a page. Remember, you are writing college papers to make a point -- your point -- so, use a strong "I" where appropriate.

"The strongest man in the world is he who stands alone." ~Henrik Ibsen

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

School House Rock: Nouns

Here's the next installment of School House Rock--this time in a country western song about nouns. For the rest of the day you'll be singing "Every person, place, or thing that you can know, ya know their nouns."

But there is a lot more to nouns than just concrete people, animals, places, or things. It is also abstract ideas. Here's a larger explanation of nouns from the University of Ottawa.
Proper Nouns
You always write a proper noun with a capital letter, since the noun represents the name of a specific person, place, or thing. The names of days of the week, months, historical documents, institutions, organizations, religions, their holy texts and their adherents are proper nouns.
     Last year, Jaime had a Baptist and a Buddhist as roommates.

Common Nouns
A common noun is a noun referring to a person, place, or thing in a general sense -- usually, you should write it with a capital letter only when it begins a sentence. A common noun is the opposite of a proper noun.
     All the gardens in the neighborhood were invaded by beetles this summer.

Concrete Nouns
A concrete noun is a noun which names anything (or anyone) that you can perceive through your physical senses: touch, sight, taste, hearing, or smell. A concrete noun is the opposite of a abstract noun.
     Whenever they take the dog to the beach, it spends hours chasing waves.

Abstract Nouns
An abstract noun is a noun which names anything which you cannot perceive through your five physical senses, and is the opposite of a concrete noun.
     Justice often seems to slip out of our grasp.

Countable Nouns
A countable noun (or count noun) is a noun with both a singular and a plural form, and it names anything (or anyone) that you can count.
     Miriam found six silver dollars in the toe of a sock.

Non-Countable Nouns
A non-countable noun (or mass noun) is a noun which does not have a plural form, and which refers to something that you could (or would) not usually count.
     The furniture is heaped in the middle of the room.

Collective Nouns
A collective noun is a noun naming a group of things, animals, or persons. You could count the individual members of the group, but you usually think of the group as a whole is generally as one unit.
     The class was startled by the bursting light bulb.

I bet you never knew there were so many kinds of nouns. Think you've go it? How about a quiz? Try this one from Interlink Language Centers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Five Résumé Mistakes

Your résumé is your first impression. It should be tailored to fit every potential employer. It says, "This is my best work," which won't get you far if you make these mistakes.

1. Typos/Grammar mistakes
Many companies cull the résumé herd by round filing those with misspelled words or blatant grammar mistakes. So double check it, better yet, get someone to proofread it.

2. Weird Blog or Social Networking site
For some industries, a blog presence is a must. So if you are listing your blog on your résumé, make sure it isn't called, "". While most people don't list their Facebook page on their résumé, most companies will Google you. It is a cheap way to check on potential employees (and, no, it is not illegal). If you don't want your parents or siblings to see your Facebook page, you need to update it ASAP!

3. Lying
Why isn't this number 1? Because first you'll be Googled, and then it will take some phone calls to verify your employment or educational history, so do NOT embellish job experience or schooling. Do NOT lie about your skills. Do NOT create a fake company with a friend who is your reference (the laughing in the back ground always gives this away).

4. Incorrect/Inappropriate Contact Information
Seriously? Need I explain? Make sure that you check and update your phone and email information. If your email address is "" or "" change it.

5. Weird hobbies
Everyone is entitled to do whatever they want on their free time, but some hobbies are weirder than others. Here's a sampling of weird but true hobbies that you probably shouldn't list on your résumé: playing dead and then photographing it, appearing in the background on live television, collecting ecstasy pills, and suing people/companies.

Every time you send out your résumé, read it for accuracy and then check it against the job qualifications of a potential employer. There may be some things you need to adjust or add.

Happy Job Hunting!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

School House Rock: Subjects and Predicates

As a kid, Saturday morning included not only Scooby Doo cartoons, but also School House Rock, cartoons with catchy phrases to help kids learn grammar, U.S. History, math, and science. What better way to learn grammar than to get some crazy tune stuck in your head?

First, watch The Tale of Mr. Morton. Believe me, you'll be humming this until bedtime.

Next, an explanation of Subjects and Predicates from the University of Ottawa.
"Every complete sentence contains two parts: a subject and a predicate. The subject is what (or whom) the sentence is about, while the predicate tells something about the subject. In the following sentences, the predicate is enclosed in brackets { }.

     Judy {runs}.
     Judy and her dog {run on the beach every morning}.

To determine the subject of a sentence, first isolate the verb and then make a question by placing "who?" or "what?" before it -- the answer is the subject.

     The audience littered the theater floor with torn wrappings and spilled popcorn.

The verb in the above sentence is "littered." Who or what littered? The audience did. "The audience" is the subject of the sentence. The predicate (which always includes the verb) goes on to relate something about the subject: what about the audience? It "littered the theater floor with torn wrappings and spilled popcorn."
Think you've got it? Great! Click here for an extra credit quiz on subject and verb agreement.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Formatting College Papers

What should your professor notice about your paper format? NOTHING!

The only time your professor will notice something about your paper's format is when you don't bother following standard college level formatting, or you do something creative--teachers interpret this as strange or just plain wrong. This tells the professor you cannot follow instructions and leaves them wondering what other instructions you didn't bother following. The last thing you want to do is get your professor in a bad mood when he or she has a red pen in their hand.

There are two basic styles of papers used in college classrooms; one is the APA style (American Psychological Association), and the other is MLA (Modern Language Association). The APA style is used in science classrooms, so if you're going for a Bachelor of Science degree, you'll most likely being using this format (click here for a sample APA paper). If you plan on receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree, you'll most likely be using MLA (click here for a sample MLA paper). Most professors will let you know what style they want you to use, and most think you already know what they are talking about when they refer to MLA or APA style.

Since I teach English composition, my students always use MLA - although I will let science majors use APA, so they can get plenty of practice.

Some general rules of thumb:
* Use plain white paper
* Use 1-inch margins
* Use the normal heading (see sample and note that some teachers modify headings for different assignments)
* Make sure your last name is contained in the page number on EACH page
* Double space
* Typefaces: Ariel is fatter than Times New Roman, so it uses up more page space

Some pet peeves:
* Type up and print (or email) all out-of-class work. Do NOT turn in any handwritten assignments.
* Do NOT use extra spaces between headers and titles, titles and the first paragraph, and between paragraphs
* Do NOT use text messaging language ANYWHERE
* Capitalize "I" (no i - see above about text messaging)
* When you think you are done, go back and read the paper's instructions, then modify or correct any deficiencies or mistakes

Once you start writing college papers, these rules will become second nature. Run off the sample paper(s) and keep them in the front of your notebook so you can refer to them if needed.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

CSEUB - We're Broke, So Let's Keep Hiring

According to a CSUEB December 2011 Communique, the following positions were filled:

July 2011
Student services professional I, Planning and Enrollment Management
Administrative support coordinator, University Advancement
Lieutenant, University Police Department
Interim president, President’s Office
Interim vice president, Administration and Finance

August 2011
Information technology consultant, User Support Services
Head track coach, Intercollegiate Athletics
Student services professional III, Student life and Leadership
Student services professional III, Accessibility Services
Interim associate vice president, Human Resources

September 2011
Instructional support tech, Nursing
Assistant water polo coach, Intercollegiate Athletics
Interim director, Center for STEM Education
Track coaching assistant, Intercollegiate Athletics
Administrative analyst, Academic Senate
Registered nurse, Student Health Services
Assistant baseball coach, Intercollegiate Athletics
Director, Server Operations Services
Assistant softball coach, Intercollegiate Athletics
Assistant baseball coach, Intercollegiate Athletics
Athletic trainer, Intercollegiate Athletics
Head baseball coach, Intercollegiate Athletics
Administrative support coordinator, Continuing and International Education
Student services professional II, Nursing
Associate vice president, Information Technology Applications and Support

October 2011
Interim director of Campus Information Services, Administrative Applications
Administrative support coordinator, College of Education and Allied Studies
Student services professional I, Planning and Enrollment Management

Let's tally up the score:
7 - Administrators
11 - Administrative staff
1 - Medical staff
1 - Police staff
8 - Athletic and coaching staff, and

ZERO - Instructors

While CSUEB has hired 28 new people, it doesn't seem to be educating anybody. It seems to have managed to hire even more administrators to manage their way into, err, I mean out of, the current fiscal mess. Salary information for these positions is unavailable. Plus we must have some great sports teams!

Go Pioneers!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Grinch who Sells Christmas

I received the cutest Holiday e-card, reminding me there isn't a child alive (not even a puppy) who can stay awake long enough to greet Santa.

Unfortunately, it reminded me of this year's Best Buy commercials dissing Santa--who it seems is only good enough to leave presents for dogs!?

Today, we can understand Scrooge's "Bah! Humbug!" due to the dread everyone feels by the prospect of being mauled at the mall. We forget Scrooge's visitations by the ghosts of Christmas, ghosts who defrosted his cold heart with visions of those less fortunate.

Christmas is a time of innocent awe - children waking their parents at the crack of dawn to see what presents Santa left. When giving is better than receiving and thoughtful gifts are better than $1000 flat screen TVs. Christmas is about families getting together to make ornaments and cookies or working at the local food bank and being thankful. It is not supposed to be a stress-ridden orgy of shopping where children are disappointed by every present and parents need a vacation, or more likely, have to work overtime to pay off all the credit card debt they racked up.

And now we have devolved to dissing Santa, the very essence of childhood wonder, by making Christmas a full contact sport.

Game on, Santa? No. Game over, Best Buy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

CSU Budget Woes Redux

From the Chancellor's Office:

Your tuition is going up again!

That's right. At the board meeting, held the week before Thanksgiving 2011, the CSU Board of Trustees approved a $498 per year undergraduate tuition increase, effective fall 2012.

Here's some of the other highlights from the CSUEB University Communique:
*The CSU Board of Trustees adopted the 2012-13 budget

*The CSU Board requests state lawmakers provide an additional $333 million in funding.

*Approximately $64 million in revenue would come from tuition fee revenues associated with enrollment growth of 5 percent (approx 20,000 students)

*Tuition for full time undergraduates would rise to $5,970 from $5472 in fall 2012.

*Approximately 45 percent of the CSU's undergraduates would not pay the tuition fee increase due to grants or aid. According to 63 percent of CSUEB students receive financial aid.

*Households earning $70,000 or less qualify for financial aid.

It has been reported by Fox that "The increase will be on top of a 12 percent tuition hike that took effect this school year, and a 9 percent increase that was imposed in 2010."

It seems ridiculous for the Chancellor's office to pin its budget hopes on the magnanimity of state lawmakers to "provide an additional $333 million in funding." Since there is virtually no chance that California will give any more money to the CSU system, this sounds like the CSU Board of Trustees is passing the buck.

Is it really true that 45 percent of the CSU student body pays nothing in tuition, so they won't be impacted by the tuition increase? Well, then who will be impacted by the tuition hike? Obviously, parents and students who are paying their college tuition bill, along with the taxpayers. If you have a job, you are a taxpayer - look at your paycheck stub.

If you are one of the students who pay nothing, would you be willing to pay $25 per quarter? The CSU currently educates approximately 412,000 students and if 45 percent of them are on financial aid that would raise $4,635,000 per quarter (412,000 students X 45% X $25) or $13,905,000 annually (3 semesters). While this is a long way from budget gap of $333 million, it's a start.

How about a progressive tuition plan? Student tuition could be based on family earnings, people who earn more would pay more.

How will you be impacted by this next round of tuition increases? If you were in charge, how would you raise revenues and lower costs in the California State University system?

Saturday, November 19, 2011 Research Study

The Chronicle of Higher Ed published an article entitled, "Researchers RateMyProfessors, and Find It Useful, if not Chili-Pepper Hot." The research "suggests the popular service is a more useful barometer of instructor quality than you might think, at least in the aggregate. And the study, the latest of several indicating RateMyProfessors should not be dismissed, raises questions about how universities should deal with a site whose ratings have been factored into Forbes magazine's college rankings and apparently even into some universities' personnel evaluations."

Another study cited in the article, "concluded that the site's evaluations 'closely matched students' real-life concerns about the quality of instruction in the classroom. The paper added, 'While issues such as personality and appearance did enter into the postings, these were secondary motivators compared to more salient issues such as competence, knowledge, clarity, and helpfulness.'"

Professor Comments

Professors, like the one pictured at left, can get a bit squirrelly when it comes to criticism. Some cherry-picked examples from the Chronicle's article:

"The only way such anonymous online "evals" might actually earn some credibility is if we knew the grade and GPA of the student doing the posting . . . too much opportunity for payback against the prof." Huh? What only smart students will give valid evaluations? Hmmm . . . is that an oxymoron? (Use your dictionary app)!

Here's another: "The lemming response is also a strong biasing factor. A student's remarks about a professor will often be swayed by previous comments made by other students." Students are lemmings? (Use your dictionary app)! It's not a compliment.

And finally,
When discussing voluntary response samples and web polls in my stats class, I show RateMyProfessor on the projector screen, have the students pick a state, pick a school from that state, and pick a teacher from that school. I ask if anyone knows the teacher. Assuming my students are honest, I never use a teacher we know. Then I rate them as helpful, clear, hard and always hot. For the course I put in something like 'intro 101'.

The students laugh along until I click on "submit". Then a shocked silence fills the room as they realize that I really submitted the rating and it's now a permanent part of the web site.

It's a far more effective lesson on web poll validity than any lecture I could give (and it takes less time).
All I can say, I hope he never "picks" me.

The Weird Factors

Weird Factor No. 1. In this time of fiscal crisis, paid college researchers are spending our hard-earned money researching "RateMyProfessor"? Shouldn't they be researching things like, oh I don't know, which professions and what markets will be viable once students graduate?

Weird Factor No. 2. This is the FOURTH academic study of by an institution of higher learning. AYK? See Weird Factor No. 1.

Weird Factor No. 3. Professors? Chili-Pepper-Hot? Weird.

Weird Factor No. 4. According to The Chronicle's article (and professor comments) you would think that none of these professors ever deign to look at their rating. In the infamous words of Mel Brooks (look him up on Wikipedia), "C'mon you do it, you know you do it. Everybody does it! I just did it and I'm ready to do it again!"

Yes, I have to admit I just looked at my rating.

Do you use or some other website to make class choices? Do you think taxpayers should continue to fund studies like those mentioned?

Friday, November 18, 2011

CSU Budget Woes

Students at CSU don't have to be told that their dollar isn't going as far as it used to when it comes to obtaining a college education.

For a larger image click here.

According to this graphic, student tuition has risen 106 percent since 1998. Full-time faculty salaries are down 10 percent while administration pay is up 20 to 23 percent.

Full-time versus Part-time

Most would assume an institution of higher learning would be made up of full-time teachers, but according to the CSU, in 2010 only 35 percent of full-time employees are faculty. In raw numbers the CSU employs 11,227 full-time faculty (teachers) and 20,459 full-time executives/administrators, secretaries, paraprofessionals, skilled crafts persons, and maintenance workers.

But the CSU also employs 11,198 part-time employees and most of them are your teachers: in fact, 9,701. Just 1,497 part-timers make up the ranks of the administration and support staff.

In other words, part-time instructors make up 23 percent of the CSU work force, while only 4 percent of administrators, clerical, other professionals, etc. are part-time workers.


According to a 2007 San Francisco Chronicle article, CSU Chancellor "Reed's annual salary of $362,500 would grow to $377,000 under his proposal. Since becoming chancellor in 1998, Reed also has been provided with a state-owned residence as well as a $30,000-a-year retirement supplement from the CSU Foundation." He got the raise and then promptly said the CSU could not afford to give any others.

Full-time lecturers averaged $59,253 in 2010. There are 1,710 employed throughout the CSU system.

Your teachers, part-time lecturers (9,120), averaged $48,706 in 2010. This figure is a full-time equivalent, so very few, if any, of your teachers earned this amount. Figures from the Office of the Chancellor.

Enough is Enough?

So what was the recent one day strike about? According to the California Faculty Association, "Twice Chancellor Reed has insisted that faculty not see a penny of the salary increases negotiated for 2008/09 and 2009/10. Two different neutral fact-finders . . . have recommended that faculty receive some of these increases. But Reed does not care. It has come as no surprise that the Chancellor is now insisting on take-backs."

Where does the money go?

According to the CSU, 84 percent of its budget is spent on salaries for 43,000 employees. Of that 30.4 percent is spent on the 20,928 campus instructors and 30.5 percent is given to the 21,956 administrators, secretaries, executives, plant, fiscal operations, etc.

Most of the budget is spent on people, but 25% of the budget is allocated to "institutional support (fundraising, general administration, fiscal operations, information technology, etc.), operation and management of plant (including energy costs), public service and applied research."

Cost savings and budget cuts

In order to save money, there were furloughs in 2009-2010 and cuts to student enrollment.

CSUEB saved money by investing in solar technology. "The university's solar electric system is estimated to generate 1.45 million kilowatt hours of electricity . . . During peak periods such as summer months the system provides 30 percent of the university's energy needs, saving about $200,000 a year in energy costs."

But when it comes to budget cuts, the CSU is keeping all its options open "including enrolling fewer students in the upcoming academic year and reducing administrative costs while placing a priority on direct instruction and faculty class offerings." But nothing is certain. "By June 1 the CSU will recommend budget options for public review and comment prior to adoption of a budget implementation plan."

This is our school. I have been furloughed and have seen class size double, but it's your education, where should money be spent? Where should funding be cut?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top 5 Grammar and Spelling Mistakes that Make you Look DUMB

Every life has its bmups, errr, I mean bumps, but don't let these basic grammar and spelling mistakes be one of them.

One of these errors on a resume can cost you a job. Already have a job? Well, these blunders used often enough in emails or other interoffice communications will keep you on the bottom rung of the ladder.
Leslie Ayers at Free Republic offers seven grammar and spelling mistakes that will make you looks stupid.

Here is Leslie's top 4:

You're / Your
The apostrophe means it's a contraction of two words; "you're" is the short version of "you are" (the "a" is dropped), so if your sentence makes sense if you say "you are," then you're good to use you're. "Your" means it belongs to you, it's yours.

* You're = if you mean "you are" then use the apostrophe
* Your = belonging to you
Correct Example: You're going to love your new job!

It's / Its
This one is confusing, because generally, in addition to being used in contractions, an apostrophe indicates ownership, as in "Dad's new car." But, "it's" is actually the short version of "it is" or "it has." "Its" with no apostrophe means belonging to it.

* It's = it is
* Its = belonging to it
Correct Example: It's important to remember to bring your telephone and its extra battery.

They're / Their / There
"They're" is a contraction of "they are." "Their" means belonging to them. "There" refers to a place (notice that the word "here" is part of it, which is also a place – so if it says here and there, it's a place).

* There = a place
* They're = they are
* Their = belonging to them
Correct Example: They're going to miss their teachers when they leave there.

A lot / Alot / Allot
First the bad news: there is no such word as "alot."

* A lot = a place, like a lot of empty land OR * A lot= an abundant quantity
*Allot= to distribute or parcel out.
Correct Example: There is a lot of confusion about this one, so I'm going to allot ten minutes to review these rules of grammar.

For purposes of college usage avoid using "a lot" to mean abundant. Instead use abundant, plentiful, or large in number.

And number FIVE:

Choosing the incorrect word from Spell Checker.
You've written the sentence, "I am a very fsat typist" in a cover letter attached to your resume. Spell check pops up offering >fast, fat, first. In haste you choose, "fat" making your sentence read, "I am a very fat typist" - meaning large, not phat.

So while you have chosen a correctly spelled word, you've chosen the wrong one. To solve this problem, pay close attention and proofread EVERYTHING before you hit "send" or "print."

Three of these common grammar mistakes deal with contractions, so avoid using contractions and you will eliminate some basic errors.

Can you come up with your own correct examples using one or two of these five basic grammar and spelling errors?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

2nd Annual O'Keefe Prize for Graphic Literature

The English and Art Departments of Diablo Valley College are accepting entries for the 2nd Annual O'Keefe Prize for Graphic Literature--a contest highlighting the best in comics art and writing.

Prizes include $$$$$, a comics prize pack, and publication for the DVC student body.

To enter submit a draft of your graphic essay by November 21, 2011. If you are creating a comic for class, this is the perfect opportunity to not only get a great grade, but also get some recognition and professional feedback. After submitting a draft, you will receive advice from professional writers and artists about how to make your graphic essay even better.

So let your creativity soar and pull out those colored pencils, crayons, paints, and cameras. For more information go to:

For a peek at the last year's winner, check out "A Prayer for Uganda" by Lizbeth Brown.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Five Ways to Screw up Your Life with the Internet

I used to announce to students that they had to do a social networking project where they had to publish something relevant to whatever we were studying on their Facebook page and then share it with the class.

Wait for it . . .

About 30 seconds after this announcement, some students would go white, others would start to fidget, while still others looked like their head was about to blow off. Here's what they were thinking, "I have to show my Facebook page to my professor?!@#$"

So think about that. If you wouldn't want your parents or siblings looking at your Facebook page, you need to do some adjusting ASAP!

What? You don't care what your professor or relatives think?

Think about this. When you apply for your dream job, your prospective employer is going to Google you and if your latest post features you in a sexually explicit pose chugging a bottle of tequila, well, guess who isn't going to get the job?

Pajamas media just published a list of the Five Ways to Screw up Your Life with the Internet

1. Upload naked pictures and videos.
Seriously, Anthony Weiner is a former U.S. Representative because he uploaded stupid pics of himself (see above).

2. Have a political blog and a stupid boss.
Seriously. See rule 4, below.

3. Put too much trust in people you don't know.
Yeah, don't move across country to marry your dream guy, he's probably a nightmare.

4. Post something you're not comfortable with EVERYONE seeing.
Remember, that rule about writing essays - don't write about something you don't want everyone to know. Well, the same thing applies to the internet, magnified about a billion times.

5. Let the Internet eat up your life.
People have died--especially, it seems, while playing World of Warcraft.

And oh, I'm not going to ask what dumb things you've put up on your social networking site. But if you're thinking, "I need to go clean up my Facebook page," get to it!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Quit Procrastinating!

Instead of correcting that stack of rough drafts, or doing my lesson plans, or updating my roll sheets, I decided I really need to do a blog post about New School Year's Resolutions. Suddenly, I discovered I have a tendency to procrastinate and then began scouring YouTube for procrastination videos. After a few Google searches and twenty minutes, I decided the following YouTube video is my favorite:

Then, I spent another twenty minutes Googling "procrastination strategies" and these two seemed like good ideas.

1. Get organized - make a list of what you have to do and prioritize it. I know when I feel overwhelmed by work if I figure out what I should get done first, then second, and third, it helps me feel a little less stressed and actually get something done. However, only do this once because listing can also be a great procrastinating technique.

2. Fear of failure leads to procrastination. Face it, everybody fails sometime. Just take the plunge and get it over with. I bet you'll do just fine.

Which got me thinking about how to avoid procrastinating when it comes to writing papers.

3. Putting off that paper because you don't know how to start. Start in the middle. Start with something you know you want to include, which leads me to . . .

4. Write essays in chunks. Instead of freaking out about the big picture, look at the component parts and start with those (especially the ones that you think will be easy). Starting easy usually leads to clarity on the harder bits.

5. Break your time into manageable chunks. Don't try to write that paper at one sitting. First of all, it will stink and secondly, as a procrastinator, you'll put it off. Write in twenty minute segments then . . .

6. Set aside time to procrastinate. Take a break. Give yourself ten to fifteen minutes to eat, walk your dog, and check your email.

7. While writing or studying, turn OFF your cell phone and make a promise not to check your Facebook page, twitter account, or email.

So students, don't follow my bad example, procrastinating will lead to headaches, sweating through stacks at the last minute, and an occasional mis-corrected quiz. Well, in your case an F on a test (Yes, that's bad).

What is your favorite form of procrastination? How would you resolve to get yourself ahead of the game? While "There's always tomorrow," that paper was due by noon today.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Extraordinary Analysis

Writing a critical analysis is often tricky for college freshman. Instead of writing high school book reports filled with plot summary and description, they are now compelled to write beyond the text -- to "stick his or her neck out." John Trimble reminds writers that "The critic's job is to explain and evaluate--that is, to bring his readers to a better understanding of his subject". But what does that mean?

It means you need a top notch thesis statement. Sometimes it's easier to understand what a critical analysis is by looking at examples of good topic questions.

Here again Trimble gives some good examples:
"How is Hamlet like Horatio--and unlike him?"
or "How does King Claudius win over the enraged Laertes?"

If you think of comic books like any other piece of literature including Hamlet, you can come up with good topic questions that will lead to a great thesis statement.

If we look at Trimble's examples and apply them to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, writers can create topic questions like:

How is Captain Nemo like The Invisible Man--and unlike him?
or how does Mina Murray win over the enraged Mr. Hyde?

The key is to ask how and why questions, questions that can't be answered with a simple "yes" or "no."

Questions like, how is Captain Nemo a science pirate?

In addition to reasoned arguments, graphic novels and comics offer writers another resource for evidence--visuals can also be used to back up thesis statements.

What other how and why topic questions would you ask as a prelude to a critical analysis of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

9/11 is a time to reflect.

9/11 was the worst terrorist attack inflicted on civilians of the United States of America. Innocent men, women, and children died when the Twin Towers fell.

9/11 remembrances can be personal like those who got tattoos, tattoos ranging from remembrances of that terrible day, to remembrances of family and co-workers killed.

9/11 leads some to their local fire departments to leave flowers or attend candlelight vigils. Others go to religious services.

9/11 led our nation to build a national memorial on ground zero where so many lost their lives. Two 7-story waterfalls spill into the base of each missing Twin Tower and "nearly 3,000 names of the men, women, and children killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993 are inscribed in bronze on parapets surrounding the twin Memorial pools."

How do you remember those who died on 9/11?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Extraordinary Rhetoric

Writers, politicians, advertisers and graphic novelists all use rhetoric in the same way--to persuade you to do something, believe something, or buy something. To bring readers and/or viewers, around to their way of thinking.

Creators can rely on ethos (or authority) to get their message across. When the president gives a speech we listen - he is an authority. In the same way, advertisers often use celebrities to sell products. If I buy Kim Kardashian's makeup, I'll look as great as she does because she's an expert at looking good. There are also experts In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where a "menagerie" has been brought together to save the British Empire--all because they have some ethos, as strange as it may be.

Often times you will see advertisements that offer proof that a product works, or statistics that report customer satisfaction. These are appeals to logic or logos. If studies show that 99 percent of people using XYZ toothpaste have whiter teeth, then it's only logical that you buy XYZ toothpaste because everybody wants whiter teeth.

Writers can also use pathos to convince viewers to do something, want something, or buy something. Those commercials that show poor, pathetic dogs and cats waiting at the shelter for a new home make viewers feel sorry for homeless pets--they want to adopt one, or better yet, they send money to those shelters. Consumers can also end up buying products because a television commercial shows what an exciting life you'll have if you buy that new car, plus you'll increase your popularity--and social standing. How about products that show happy, loving families sitting around the dinner table eating McDonald's, Swanson Fried Chicken, Ragu spaghetti, or Round Table pizza? These advertisers are all appealing to your emotions.

According to Stuart Hirschberg in "The Rhetoric of Advertising," consumers are often sucked in by "scenes emanating security and warmth, which the ad invited us to remember as if it were our own past." These kind of "ads thus supply us with false memories and invite us to insert ourselves into this imaginary past and to remember it as if it were our own." Creators of comic books do the same thing.

In the photo above members of The League are gathered around a dinner table. Remnants of the meal are visible and many of the members are having an after dinner smoke. Look at this "family" and think about how the creator is trying to get you--the reader--to insert yourself into this scene. How is your family like the League? Do you have an invisible cousin? A crazy uncle? A bossy aunt? A wanderlust second cousin, once removed? Are you trying to prepare a meal for vegetarians, vegans, and/or people that have a gluten-free diet? What do your family dinners look like and how does Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill use ethos, logos, and especially pathos to invite you into their book?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Visualizing The Price of Pot

Inforporn: The Price of Pot by Cameron Bird at Wired (September 2011).

Click here for the full graphic and article.

Read Think b4 u Write is always attracted to articles and essays with pretty pictures, and while this graphic is nice looking it accompanies an article about the disparities of marijuana laws in the United States.

The graphic displays fluctuations in pricing: the darker the green the cheaper the marijuana ($92 per ounce), while yellow tips the scale at $526 per ounce. The red and purple bars record fines and jail time, and the red cross indicates a medical marijuana state.

In part the article reads, "The US is still of two minds on marijuana: While 16 states now consider it a medicine, others continue to hand down heavy sentences—including jail time—for simple possession."

Do you think this is an effective graphic? Why or why not? Where do you stand on this issue? Should marijuana be legalized? Or should it be illegal? Or is there some compromise? What are your ideas?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Video Essay: Defining Hipsters

An approved topic for the Regent's exam is to "discuss a stereotype that you once believed but that later proved inaccurate." Stereotyping is defined as "a generalization about a group of people whereby we attribute a defined set of characteristics to this group based on their appearance or our assumptions."

Stereotypes are definitions - we define a certain group by their "group" actions, or perceived group actions by using extended definitions. But are stereotypes always bad? Sometimes we use stereotypes to help us quickly identify and make sense of the world around us. They allow us to make predictions about what to expect from those stereotypes. It costs us relatively little psychologically, we don't have to deal with, or don't have to modify our behavior, because we know how those stereotyped are going to act. But most of all, they are beliefs that are shared, otherwise we wouldn't stereotype in the first place. So stereotypes are superficial, giving us just enough material to get us into some serious trouble. When we let assumptions, or stereotypes, rule our behavior that is when we can get into difficulties.

But we love to laugh at stereotypes . . .

According to Andy Fram at James Madison University's breezejmu "Most people fit stereotypes to some degree. There used to be plausible credibility for denying such horrible accusations. You used to be able to say, 'I wasn't any stereotype. I definitely wasn't a bro, I sure as hell wasn't no smelly hippie, I was my own person.' But then they invented hipsters and you couldn't get away with that anymore."

College humor offers us a definitional visual essay of Hipsters.

So why is it okay to laugh at this stereotype? Is it because Hipsters self-identify as such, because they cultivate the Hipster brand/look?

Another common college essay prompt asks students to "Write an essay in which you define yourself in terms of your race or ethnicity." Does this mean that stereotypes are valid, or unoffensive, if they are autobiographical; when we are asked to define ourselves because of our heritage, family, or community?

We form stereotypes when we run across a broad sample of specific behavior, or presentations of such. Do you think the media has some responsibility for the stereotypes we share? (Remember it takes a whole society to make sense of stereotypes).

When are stereotypes useful? When are they hurtful? Do you think the stereotyped Hipster will prove inaccurate, or do you think it is something those Hipsters are proud of? Can you think of other stereotypes that people are proud of? Can you define yourself based on some stereotype you are proud of?

Video Essay: Classifying and Dividing College Roomates

Students are often asked to write Classification/Division essays that either break apart a whole into parts (Division), or sort items into categories (Classification). A popular prompt for this assignment is to classify roommates into categories - as does this video from

The video essay takes the broad category of Roommates and then subdivides it into Monsters. From there it divides monstrous roommates into six different kinds from "The Robot" to "The Zombie."

How would you classify your former or current roommates? Can you think of a broad category of roommates (like monsters) and then subdivide it further?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Debt, Red Herrings, and the Church of Global Warming

James Taranto wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal on the Anti-debt ceiling Republicans that wound up at the global warming issue, an issue that has divided people. An issue that has removed the lens from such environmental disasters as drought-driven famine in Somalia to indigenous cooking fires which "Kill a million and a half people and nobody gives a damn. But become a part of this big climate thing and everyone comes knocking on your door," at least that's what Burkhard Bilger reports in "Hearth Surgery" from The New Yorker, but I digress . . .

James Taranto, a conservative writer, reports that liberals believe, “Some of the congressional Republicans who are preventing action to help the economy are simply intellectual primitives who reject modern economics on the same basis that they reject Darwin and climate science.

"Darwin is a red herring here. Although disparaging people for holding harmless religious beliefs as 'intellectual primitives' is awfully uncivil, we agree . . . that people who 'reject' the theory of natural selection are mistaken.

In argumentation a red herring is a fallacy where an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. So how is Darwin a red herring when it comes to economics? Read on . . .

Taranto goes on to say, "But the comparison between Keynesian economics and global warmism is on target. Both are liberal dogmas disguised, increasingly thinly, as science. Both are supported by circular logic, and thus lack falsifiability, a necessary characteristic of a scientific theory. If the weather gets warmer, that's because of global warming; if it gets colder, that's 'climate change' and proves the theory too. Had unemployment stayed below 8%, as the Obama administration promised it would, that would have proved the 'stimulus' worked; since it peaked at 10% and has held steady above 9%, that proves the stimulus wasn't big enough. Heads I win, tails you lose.”

Here Taranto mentions another logical fallacy--circular reasoning. A circular argument restates the same problem in a different way, such as, "The roads are congested because too many people are driving." Can you see the circle in Taranto's presentation about the debt debate?

A recent article in the The Chronicle of Higher Ed by Laurie Fendrich begins by saying, "I argued that because the majority of the Republican Party is against basic science, the time has come 'for people who are educated to boldly stop pretending that being a Republican is a viable option for an educated person.'" She goes on to connect "global-warming deniers" to the debt crisis. When studying perceived media bias think about why pundits choose certain labels. Obviously, "global-warming deniers" is a reference to "Holocaust-deniers," people who believe that the Holocaust never happened. But it was the vitriol of Professor Fendrich's opinion piece that caught my attention and reminded me of something Freeman Dyson wrote in the foreword to The Best Science and Nature Writing of 2010.

"Environmentalism has now replaced Marxism as the leading secular religion of our age. Environmentalism as a religious movement, with a mystical reverence for nature and a code of ethics based on responsible human stewardship of the planet is already strong and is likely to grow stronger."

Prof. Fendrich's piece reminds one of those "hell fire and brimstone" preachers of old. In the case of climate change, maybe she should consider why there are skeptics in the first place? As the global warming religion heats up, some are skeptical of prophets who profit, such as Al Gore who left office a relative pauper and now lives in splendor with digs in Nashville, Arlington, and Malibu after garnering a Nobel Prize and Academy Award for global warming projects.

Fendrich and Taranto are ideologically opposed, one is a liberal and the other a conservative, so don't expect them to agree. When you begin writing arguments, remember to avoid fallacies and address counterarguments. Yes, you must respond to counterarguments and you should do so in a respectful and logical manner, no matter how "stupid" you think the opposing side.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Visualizing Debt

Visuals are the way most of us receive information and good visuals can be very powerful.

U.S. Debt Problem Visualized

That's $100,000,000, yep, One Hundred Million Dollars in $100 dollar bills (the most counterfeited currency in the world) and it fits nicely on a pallet.

That's One Trillion Dollars and the caption partly reads: "If you spent $1 million a day since Jesus was born, you would have not spent $1 trillion by now...but ~$700 billion- same amount the banks got during bailout." Those double stacked pallets would cover an entire football field.

That's 15 Trillion dollars . . . the amount of projected U.S. Debt by December 2011 at current rates.

"If you live in USA this is also your personal credit card bill; you are responsible along with everyone else to pay this back."

Visit to see even more debt visuals including one of the U.S.'s unfunded liabilities.

U.S. National Debt Clock

Tables are a very common way to visualize data and the internet can take that a step farther by allowing visual motion. The U.S. National Debt Clock is a real-time, ever-changing running debt clock table. It is not a static data table, it constantly changes.

Here's a screen shot taken of the running U.S. National Debt Clock on July 30, 2011 at 11:40 a.m.

This visual is hard to read, but here are just three pieces of data: as of July 30, 2011 the U.S. National Debt was $14,553,695,312,277. The debt per citizen was $46,660 and the debt per taxpayer was $130,111. For a better real time visual - Click here to go to the U.S. National Debt Clock and see how those numbers have changed.

After looking at the illustrations of the "U.S. debt problem visualized", why do you think the creators made visual statements rather than just giving readers dollar figures? Why include the Statue of Liberty?

How does the U.S. National Debt clock create urgency?

How do U.S. debt visuals alter your perception about the U.S. debt? Do you find them disturbing or reassuring?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Plagiarism and the College Classroom

Cheating is rampant and not just in the college classroom.

Recent scandals include the Atlanta school district where hundreds (yes, hundreds) of teachers and administrators, NOT STUDENTS, changed answers on state wide tests in order for the district to look good (meaning get more money) on standardized tests.

You can blame "No Child Left Behind," for pushing up standards, but my response to those teachers who say the standardized test drove them to it: Didn't you always give tests in your classes? Of course, you did.

But I digress . . .

Great Neck, New York high school students paid to have their SAT tests taken by others with fake IDs and handwriting samples - tests that cost high schoolers $1 a point, meaning some paid more than $2000 for a good SAT score.

David Wangaard and Jason Stephens in the Winter 2011 edition of Excellence and Ethics posted the results of a three-year study of academic motivation and integrity. The two researchers "surveyed over 3,600 students from six economically and ethnically diverse high schools in the northeastern United States and found ninety-five percent of these students reported engaging in at least one form of academic cheating during the past academic year. More troubling still, 57% of these students also agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, 'It is morally wrong to cheat.'"

Panagiotis Ipeirotis, a professor at NYU recently blogged about his experience with plagiarism in the college classroom "and described how crusading against cheating poisoned the class environment and therefore dragged down his teaching evaluations. They fell to a below-average range of 5.3 out of 7.0, when he used to score in the realm of 6.0 to 6.5." Mr. Ipeirotis “paid a significant financial penalty for ‘doing the right thing'."

So what did the professor do?

“'Forget about cheating detection,' [Prof. Ipeirotis] said in an interview. 'It is a losing battle.'”

What lesson can we take away from these scandals? Students know it's wrong to cheat, while professors, administrators and teachers don't want to be financially impacted by enforcing rules against plagiarism.

But what do students want?

That's what Wangaard and Stephens asked some of the students they surveyed and the number one response was: "Schools should create and enforce stricter consequences for dishonesty."

How would you control cheating in the academic setting and what do you think the consequences should be?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Envisioning Information

It's much easier to read large collections of data in a visual format and this type of graphic data presentation is a modern phenomenon (relatively speaking). Can you imagine reading all these data points as lists of numbers? Talk about information overload . . . but like all other information you receive visually, everything is done for a reason.
Read the above data points. What has been the trend for winter temperatures in England for the last 350 years? What projections can you make from this trend?

Here's another graph of 10,000 years of global temperatures from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2.

What has been the trend for worldwide temperatures in the last 10,000 years? What projections can you make from this trend?

Here's a different presentation of the same information:

Why do you think the author highlighted certain segments of the data line? The green bars are labelled using periods of human civilization: Minoan warm period, Roman warm period, Medieval warm period, Modern warm period. Why do you suppose the author chose to use civilization labels? Why do you suppose the creator chose to use green shading rather than blue or orange shading?

What does the red line represent, and why is it red?

Why did this creator editorialize the information? In other words, why did he add different colors and labels to his presentation? Does this data confirm what you think about global temperatures? Why or why not? What predictions can you make about global temperature trends based on this data?

Should we make predictions on global temperatures based on any of these graphs? Why or why not?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dance + Comics = Personal Mythologies

Art Speigelman, author of Maus a comic book about the Holocaust, collaborated with the Philobolus dance company on a project where Sunday strip characters were animated to create dancing comics.

These dancing comics resulted in a mash up of ancient and modern mythologies; where Pan and Medusa ran head on into the Sunday funnies, noir film, detective novels, and movie classics to create a personal mythology, or dream life, that presents a slightly skewed world view, all set to the tinny tunes of early jazz.

Speigelman calls this collaboration a new language, which he termed Still Moving in a short interview he gave about his collaboration with Philobolus.

In addition, Speigelman talks about stories, characters, and movies that resonate from his childhood, stories like The Wizard of Oz and characters like the early Hapless Hooligan from the Sunday funnies. What stories or characters made an impact on your childhood?

Highlights from the Philobolus world premier of Still Moving:

What makes up your personal mythology or dream life? Do you resonate with stories from classic mythology or your own religious beliefs?

Do have fond memories of Johnny Quest, Scooby Doo, or Sponge Bob? What cartoons or comics did you enjoy as a child and how do these stories impact your personality?

Friday, July 15, 2011

And the Peeps just keep on coming . . .

I went to an outdoor performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth--awesome production by the way--and it reminded me of another strangely awesome Shakespeare, or rather Shakespeep, production.

And without further ado, here's Peepeo and Juliet by Plain Jane.

>Click here for the rest of Peepeo and Juliet

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Short History of Visual Communication

In argumentation, warrants or assumptions can be a tricky concept for readers and writers to grasp.

Claims are supported by evidence and warrants – those underlying beliefs or values taken for granted by bloggers, advertisers, politicians, and writers. Assumptions can come from cultural values, biological or scientific beliefs, intellectual (logical) tenets, or idiosyncratic viewpoints. In writing and visual communication some warrants (or assumptions) are explicit, but most are implied and your understanding of texts, both visual and written, relies heavily on your beliefs.

So having said all that - What does this strip remind you of?

What are some of the underlying warrants or assumptions of this strip?

Since comics often present information in a humorous way, what do you need to know in order to get the joke about visual communication? What is the joke?

The author seems to be making a prediction, what is it? Do you agree or disagree?

Is there anything, or any step, missing from this strip? If so, What?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We'll be right back, after these messages . . .

When your ethos is about to be destroyed, and you can only rely on your logic to avoid the pathos of your audience, it's time to retreat - or at least that seems to be the implication here.

SPOILER ALERT: In other words, when you admit that everything you've told your fiance is a lie, the only logical thing to do to avoid his or her emotional reaction is to climb into your Range Rover and cower behind the wheel.

Message: "You'll feel safe inside."

Hmmm, I always knew there was something wrong with people who drive Range Rovers. On the other hand, it is a pretty funny commercial and the advertisers were looking for the audience to laugh.

Look at other rhetorical clues, what else were the advertisers trying to tell the audience or saying about people who drive, or would purchase, Range Rovers?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why I Shouldn't Blog About Politics . . .

Political ideologues can whip trivial episodes and misstatements into a frenzy faster than a washing machine during a heavy duty spin cycle. They engage in all the fallacies we're told to avoid: false analogy (comparing health insurance to car insurance), circular arguments (terrorists don't want TSA screenings, so if you complain about airport screenings you're a terrorist), ad hominem attacks (President Obama is a fascist, socialist, etc.)--you get the idea.

Political pundits usually get everything half-right, or half-wrong, depending on which side of the aisle you sit . . . and just when you think someone is getting unduly chastised by a rabid politico along comes a politician who does something so incredibly idiotic that you just can't help wondering how they got elected in the first place.

Enter Michele Bachmann.

No, it wasn't something she said at a political rally, some over the top promise made to supporters, it was something she signed called The Marriage Vow. With its subtitle "A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family," it could be seen as just another inane promise from a conservative candidate to conservative followers, but one bullet point in the introduction (which has now been removed) read:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.

As they text: AYK?

Not only is this completely insensitive, but every school student in American knows slaves had no control over their households and were not allowed to marry. Mothers, fathers, and children could be separated and sold off at the whim of their masters (and often were). Julie Summa, a spokeswoman for the Family Leader the author of the vow, responded by saying, “After careful deliberation and wise insight and input from valued colleagues we deeply respect, we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be misconstrued."

Misconstrued? Again: AYK?

Michele (and Julie) dust of the dunce cap and go take a time out.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Alice in Peepland

Alice in Peepland is the Chicago Tribune's 2011 (People's choice) winner. What a misnomer! Of course, this is the Peeple's choice winner!

This is the Dispeep version, there's no Johnny Peep as the Mallow Hatter to scare the goo out of you. We can clearly see Alice as she waits for the Queen of Carnuba to wax the groundpeep through the Jackrabbit of Spades.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Advertising and Visual Rhetoric

These days we get most of our information via visuals--television media, magazines, the internet--even newspapers have gone cyber. Go to your local newsstand and you'll find papers featuring huge photographs above the fold. Tucked inside are various pics, graphics, and charts serving up information in a visual way that can be read just like any other text.

But the best servers of visual information (or at least the most creative) are advertisers.

There's a lot to learn about rhetoric by examining how advertisers are manipulating purchasers to buy a myriad of products we may or may not need. Recently, this ad found its way to my mailbox with the caption, "Can you guess the product before the end of the commercial?"

At first I thought it was some weird take on a new HGTV home redecorating show, but since YouTube so graciously provides the product in the header it's a bit of a giveaway.

Marketers know that when the audience feels familiar with something, like The Exorcist, they will feel at ease (a bit counter intuitive in this case), while the humor makes the message stick. Dirt Devil, the most powerful vacuum EVER!

But at the end of day, it's all about sales. So when looking at the details of this TV commercial, details like setting, characters, dress, and social roles, who is going to buy this product?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Celebrate the Fourth with Another History Lesson

Or Conservative Women – The Best Thing to Happen to American History?

Forget Sarah Palin.

Thank you Michele Bachmann.

Congresswoman Bachmann recently said John Quincy Adams and our other founding fathers “worked tirelessly” to end slavery. George Stephanopoulos reminded Bachman, and all of us, that slavery didn’t end until the Civil War, so the founding fathers couldn’t have been doing much to end that peculiar institution. Stephanopoulos also schooled Bachmann on the cast of founding fathers. John Adams, yes; John Quincy Adams, no.

John Quincy Adams was the son of a founding father and the sixth president of the United States, who, after his term as president was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He railed against slavery and successfully upheld the release of a group of slaves who mutinied on the Spanish slave ship, Amistad, arguing that the Africans had been illegally detained. But he was not a founding father.

When Bachmann asserted that once immigrants arrived in the United States “everybody was the same,” Anderson Cooper reminded us, "Irish immigrants didn't feel the same walking past storefronts with signs reading 'No Irish need not apply.' Japanese Americans didn't feel the same when they were placed in internment camps during World War II. And, of course, enslaved Africans certainly didn't feel the same when they were brought here against their will." True enough.

But isn’t the “we are a nation of immigrants” line something all politicians say? “We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants – a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America’s precepts. That’s why millions of people, ancestors to most of us, braved hardship and great risk to come here – so they could be free to work and worship and live their lives in peace. The Asian immigrants who made their way to California’s Angel Island. The Germans and Scandinavians who settled across the Midwest. The waves of the Irish, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Jewish immigrants who leaned against the railing to catch that first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.” Cooper didn’t school the president when he made these remarks, and why should he? As Americans we know what President Obama and Congresswoman Bachmann meant: America is the land of opportunity.

There is not enough space in cyperspace to debate all the issues surrounding the founding fathers and slavery. Yes, there were slaveholders among them, and yes, holding one human in bondage to another is the worst stain our flag has endured. But one has to wonder if “working tirelessly” only counts when politicians accomplish something. Look at our current congress, those men and women who are working tirelessly to produce a budget and get America working again, while at the same time failing miserably.

On Independence Day Congress, like every other American, should be celebrating our independence by goofing off at the local VFW pancake breakfast, before they hunker down on the curb to watch the 4th of July parade commemorating the spirit that led our forefathers to end slavery and our ancestors to make that arduous trip to America. Tonight when you stretch out under the night sky watching the rocket’s red glare as fireworks arc overhead, remember those that worked, and those that are still working, to keep us free.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sarah Palin: The Best Thing to Happen to American History?

During the 2008 presidential election, I taught English at an institute of higher learning where the class focused on politics. What a great way for students to learn something about the presidential candidates, American history, and critical thinking. Throughout the quarter, we had lively and spirited conversations about the limitations on free speech and the press.

For the final, I asked students to analyze a political cartoon that spoofed The New York Times for releasing sensitive material. This Times was dated April 17, 1775 and displayed a drawing of the old north church with headlines that read “One if by land; two if by sea. Secret Lantern Signals of American Colonists Revealed.” The first couple of paragraphs stated that an anonymous source had revealed the “secret plan for tomorrow to warn Patriot Colonist Militia Forces of the route the English Regular Soldiers plan to take as they move their forces to Lexington and Concord.” Student essays were to focus on how political cartoons satirically criticize widely held beliefs, while at the same time considering limits (if any) on a free press. This particular political cartoon referred to a well-known event in American history—Paul Revere’s ride—but with a twist. What if these headlines had appeared in American newspapers in April 1775? How does this cartoonist’s opinion relate to the political climate of 2008?

After twenty minutes of complete silence, I asked the class of California natives, “What’s up? This isn’t a take home final.”

“Who’s Paul Revere?” they responded, en masse.

“You know. ‘Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere’? He warned the colonists about the British invading. One if by land, two if by sea?”

Blank stares. Needless to say, we engaged in an impromptu lesson about Colonial American History–with the help of Google—and students got to take their exams home. But if I gave that same exam today, would I get the same dull reaction? I doubt it.

Recently, when googling “Paul Revere’s ride” the first entry describes how politicians, namely Sarah Palin, are dumbing us down. And whether you love her or hate her, you have to hand it to the former VP candidate for single handedly saving Paul Revere’s legacy.

Were there bells going off in Palin’s head when she talked about Revere warning the British, or the British grabbing American, or rather, British subjects’ guns? How could she be so ignorant of basic American history? Apparently, it’s accidental congruence. Allison Block of NPR asked Professor Robert Allison of Suffolk University, “So Sarah Palin got her history right?”

“Well, yeah, she did. And remember, she is a politician. She's not an historian. And God help us when historians start acting like politicians, and I suppose when politicians start writing history.” Huh? Let’s for one second ignore whether Palin is correct, incorrect, practicing nuanced subtlety, or some other iteration of political maneuvering, and look at it the way Professor Allison did, “Suddenly, Sarah Palin comes to town, makes an off-the-cuff remark about what she learned, and suddenly, you're calling me to find out what I think about Paul Revere and the American Revolution.”

Is Sarah Palin some kind of evil genius?

Whether you love Palin or hate her, she is the greatest thing that has happened to American history in recent memory. One person’s comments sparked a Paul Revere history debate—on Washington there are 384 related articles about Sarah’s comments. 384! It even made it across the pond with The Telegraph headlining “Sarah Palin defends knowledge of American history.” It’s on the nightly news, the morning talk shows, the internet news, blogs, and fodder around the workplace water cooler. How cool is that? Very cool, especially for connoisseurs of American history and plain old American citizens.

What’s even better, Palin, or rather, the media does this all the time. At a Tea Party rally, Palin crowed, “Party like its 1773,” sparking outright derision from some who asked, “Doesn’t she know the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776?” She probably does, but the Boston Tea Party hit the harbor in 1773. That historical tidbit had long since departed my memory banks until Palin screwed up, errrr, I mean acted like an evil genius, or whatever plan she had in mind that day as I clicked through ten channels before learning that, ummmmm….Gwen Ifill had it wrong. Dare we admit Sarah Palin is right?

So Sarah Palin, do all Americans a favor and keep it up. We could all use the history lessons.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Spider-Peep: Turn Off the Dark

The 2011 Washington Post Peep Show only included one comic inspired entry - well, actually, an entry inspired by a play, inspired by a movie, inspired by a comic - Spider-Peep: Turn Off the Dark.

From Playpeep: "Star clusters opening night featured the silver-maned, former Presipeep, Bill Chickton, who signed autographs creating aisle congestion not seen since the mallow filled hallways of Dance With the Vamallows.

Other P-Listers included Marshmallow Walters and Jimmy Falpeep who kibitzed with with Fran Peepowitz about Peep-knows-what. The show's tunepeeps, Molo and The Edge were squished by applause." A pip of a night! Ooops. Peep of a night!

Monday, June 27, 2011

And the Bulwer-Lytton 2010 Winner is . . .

The Bulwer-Lytton worst first line contest is always good for a laugh . . . and should remind writers that sometimes (most times) more is not better.

The 2010 winner is:

"For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."
Molly Ringle
Seattle, WA

Other laughable entries are:

"When Hru-Kar, the alpha-ranking male of the silver-backed gorilla tribe finished unleashing simian hell on Lt. Cavendish, the once handsome young soldier from Her Majesty’s 47th Regiment resembled nothing so much as a crumpled up piece of khaki-colored construction paper that had been dipped in La Victoria chunky salsa."
Greg Homer
Placerville, CA

"As Holmes, who had a nose for danger, quietly fingered the bloody knife and eyed the various body parts strewn along the dark, deserted highway, he placed his ear to the ground and, with his heart in his throat, silently mouthed to his companion, 'Arm yourself, Watson, there is an evil hand afoot ahead.'"
Dennis Pearce
Lexington, KY

"In Southwestern Germany just east of the Luxemburg border and north of France where history pitted various related Hapsburg Royals against each other and the Archbishops of Trier, the Abbots of St. Maximin, various members of the nobility, and mobs of axe-bearing villagers, there stands a ruin whose building stones mostly were carted off to build other buildings."
Mary Ann R Unger
Ewing, NJ

"The Zinfandel poured pinkly from the bottle, like a stream of urine seven hours after eating a bowl of borscht."
Alf Seegert
Salt Lake City, UT

AND in honor of the Bulwer-Lytton winners and all those Peeps out there:

"The trail slimed along like mallow dripping cloudily from the bottle, past the stream where history squished Peep against Chick on the Peepsburg Plain, leaving only the sticky remains of too many rejects from the diorama contest, and as Peepchick Holmes followed the sticky trail, his peepers opened wide as he exclaimed, 'Careful, Dr. Watpeep, there is something gummy underfoot waiting to trap us in soft spongy confection.'"

Click here for the full list of 2010's Bulwer-Lytton winners.

What is your worst opening line for your favorite TV show, book, news story or comic?