Rhetorical Answer

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A response to the question never asked

Comment Vitriol

In perusing the comments sections of several high-traffic blogs lately – Freakonomics and TechCrunch in particular – I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: someone will post a comment that the majority of other commenters perceive as overly judgemental, hostile, and extreme. I’m not sure you could call this person a troll or label their comment as flamebait since they usually have a lengthly explanation for why they feel the way they do and will even post follow-up comments to defend their viewpoint against the avalanche of criticism that ensues. Trolls don’t usually care about what they are posting; they are just trying to get a rise out of the population. So in this case, I’ll just call the person the Irritant. Reading through the entire comment list, the Irritant’s viewpoint clearly becomes the dominant one out of all those presented. He may have only commented once or a handful of times, but because so many of the other comments are a direct response to the Irritant’s viewpoint, that viewpoint gets reinforced through repeated analysis, to the point where it becomes more memorable – and perhaps more influential? – than the message of the original blog post.

I wonder if this is so different from the propagandist tactic of repeating a misstatement or lie so often that facts become irrelevant. Not to suggest that the unpopular viewpoint is a lie, but if we consider majority perception of reality as de facto reality, then something that goes against that majority perception could be considered a rebuttal of that reality, aka a misstatement or lie. If repetition is really more influential than reasoned, substantiated argument, then the echo chamber that is the blogosphere suddenly seems a whole lot more sinister that traditional propaganda machines. As my parting line, I leave you with exhibit A. Comments?

Filed under: Reflection, , , , ,

Comparing newspaper front pages

The Newseum web site shows front pages from daily newspapers every single day. As such, it showcases a wide range of design choices, from typography to spread layout to use of color in graphics and photos, as well as editorial choices pertaining to content.

For instance, here is today’s front page of a paper from President-Elect Obama’s state. And here’s one from McCain’s state, Arizona.

The Arizona Daily Star went with a bright red graphic and oversized headline about diet disasters above the banner that instantly draws the eye. A Veterans Day story follows directly below the banner, but the dominating element on the front page is a large color photo of Bush and Obama conversing in the Oval Office. The editorial choice to insert the word ‘Friendly’ in quotes in the story’s headline amused me, but I think it says more about the headline editor than either of the men in the photo.

The photo in the Arizona Daily Star is nothing, however, compared to the nearly 2/3-page inexplicably high-contrast image on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. Who appears to be leading whom on this White House tour? No “Double Chin Takeout” headline distracts from the main story, although the newspaper’s name in presidential blue Blackletter type hovers over the photo, surrounded in a white halo. Um…okay. Then there is an even smaller Veteran’s Day article on the Tribune front page than there is on the Daily Star’s, wedged at the bottom between the weather summary and a photo of “Elvis’ mystery woman.” I’ll give you one guess who the entire editorial staff voted for last Tuesday.

Compare your local paper to some others from other regions and see how they differ in presentation, scope of coverage, and visual emphasis. Then compare to your favorite online news source. Where do you get your daily news from most frequently? Why? If you only ponder these questions, that’s cool, but I’d love to see your opinions in the comments.

Filed under: Design, Reflection, , ,

So, what do you do?

I had no idea that the “what do you do?” question was so emotionally loaded until I ran across this post, and the slew of reader comments that follow, on the New York Times Freakonomics bleg. I confess, I don’t really get why people would get offended by ignorant questions about what they do for a living. Offended by malicious questions, sure. Condescending questions, of course. But we are all ignorant about other people’s specialties, and the person who makes an effort to dispel his own ignorance by asking someone more knowledgeable than himself, in my opinion, deserves some patience. After all, most people don’t feel comfortable revealing their ignorance in front of strangers. Asking questions can be scary! So, at my next meet-and-greet, I am going to do new acquaintances a favor and give them some unexpected tidbit of information that will make them appear well-informed the next time they meet someone in my field of expertise; I hope they will do the same for me. Hopefully it won’t go like this flowchart from http://www.monster-munch.com/

So What Do You Do?

So What Do You Do?

Filed under: Reflection,

Ready

I stand on the edge of a precipice, breath in throat, poised to leap into the great unknown. A thrill runs through me, tinged with the shadows of familiar fears and doubts. But on the eve of my old life, anticipation for the breaking dawn steadies my trembling legs. It roots me as it spreads through my flesh and bones, infusing my life blood with a demanding pulse of its own that will no longer be ignored.

And so I jump.

I fall.

I fly.

Filed under: Reflection

The road to good health

For the past couple of months, I’ve been exploring ways to improve my overall health. Like most people, I figure the best places to start are diet and exercise, but when I sat down and actually tried to figure out what to DO about diet and exercise, things quickly got confusing.

Some Internet research reveals that there are an overwhelming number of diet plans out there: Atkins, Beck, Eat to Live, Food Combining, Glycemic Index, McDougall, Metabolic Typing, Ornish, Pritkin, South Beach, Zone, and on and on. Some plans include psychological reconditioning strategies as well as nutritional guidelines so that you improve your changes of sticking with your plan over the long term. Others, like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, have support networks with monthly subscription costs and commercially prepared portion-controlled meals you can buy.

To further complicate things, there’s also a whole slew of alternative health care trends and products. Some of my friends have endured week-long detox regimens, ingesting nothing but lemon water, nothing but fruit, or nothing but vegetable broth and ice cream. When I went to my local vitamin shop for guidance, there were shelves and shelves of some truly scary-looking products designed to cleanse, irrigate, enlarge, shrink, and/or repopulate various internal organs. I had no idea that our bodies are so totally incapable of taking care of their own housekeeping.

I didn’t want to do anything drastic that might jeopardize my health, and I didn’t want to spend money on subscriptions, so in the end I decided to track my exercise and diet habits through a free website called PEERTrainer. The site promotes its social support network as the key to help its users reach their fitness goals, but I since I was mainly interested in using it as a personal online health journal, I just created a private group for myself and got started logging my daily workouts and meals for later analysis.

I promised myself that I would truthfully log everything I ate, no matter how terrible it might look on the screen. Almost as an afterthought, I also resolved to exercise six days a week.

It’s been two months now, and I’m calling an end to my little tracking experiment. Here are my conclusions drawn from both my research and personal observations of myself and others:

1. Exercise is more important than diet.

If you can only make one change to improve your life, make it 30-60 minutes of daily exercise. Athletes can have really lousy diets and still outperform the rest of us. Exercise plays a crucial role in weight maintenance, regulation of mood, sleep, and stress, and keeping the body physically youthful. Cardio, strength training, and flexibility are all important, so it’s best to mix up workouts through the week to reap greater benefits and keep things interesting. Buddy up or attend group classes. Other people can be great motivators for those of us who aren’t lone wolf runners. Push yourself to the point of discomfort but not pain. If you never feel uncomfortable, you’re not pushing hard enough; get a heart monitor if you’re worried you’re pushing too hard.

2. Eat whole, natural plant foods.

The most reliable scientific research shows that the best diet for maximum health and longevity and minimum occurence of Western diseases like cancers, heart disease, and diabetes is a low-fat vegan diet with plenty of fresh and frozen green/low-starch vegetables, fruits, and legumes, a moderate amount of starchy vegetables and whole grains, a small amount of nuts, seeds, and avocados, and not a whole lot of anything else. Snack on fruit and raw vegetables. Stay away from refined anything. Organic is nice in philosophy, but it’s probably not essential for good health.

3. Plan ahead.

It’s really difficult to buy healthy ready-to-eat foods in the U.S. To make matters worse, there are an overwhelming number of temptingly convenient unhealthy foods for sale in stores and restaurants. Buy the majority of your food from grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and CSA organizations. Supplement with homegrown produce and herbs if you can.

There. Now stick those three points on an index card, stop stressing, and go enjoy your life.

Filed under: Health, Reflection

Dual perspectives on the final cut

Tomorrow will be the last session of my Art of Editing class. The class definitely became more interesting in the last couple of weeks, largely due to an increase in student participation as we gave our final presentations. Each person brought in a clip from one of their favorite movies or television shows and discussed the editing techniques used. For my own presentation, I showed the first few minutes of a season five episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer called “The Body.” Only a few of the other students had seen the show before, but I was happy to discover that most people seemed to appreciate the brief segment. There is something thrilling about sharing something beloved with another person, be it a favorite song, TV show, or place. Watching them experience it for the first time recalls a whiff of the original euphoria, that magic moment of delighted discovery that leaves an indelible mark on the memory but fades with subsequent exposures to the same material.

I had watched the episode several times while preparing for my presentation and noticed details I had never registered consciously before. My understanding of the characters and show’s construction evolved as a result, but the revelations were academic in nature, not driven by the fan’s enthusiasm that had led me to revisit the content in the first place. It reminded me that there is a definite distinction between studying a work of art as a critic/producer and consuming it as a spectator; while the former can deepen one’s appreciation, it cannot match the emotional charge of the latter. Once my brain latches onto the technical aspects of the production, it is no longer in the state of suspended disbelief that would otherwise buoy it through the narrative. Evaluating the framing of shots and transitions between handheld and steadycam, I cannot feel the heroine’s despair as she finds her mother lying limp on the sofa. Examining the manipulation of time through a fantasy sequence, I’m not swept along on the brief wave of false hope that the heroine experiences as the EMTs attempt to revive her mother. My classroom audience operated one one level, and I, in the didactic role, operated on a parallel level.

How does the discerning artist reconcile these two modalities? Is it possible to fuse them into a single multi-layered experience, to learn craft while enjoying the ride? To me, it feels like trying to stand on one foot, then stand on the other without lowering the first. If you can manage it, congratulations – you’ve learned how to levitate. For the rest of us poor one-foot-hopping wannabes, the rewind/play buttons are there for us, time after time.

Filed under: Education, Film, Reflection, ,

The Road Ahead

The inevitable has happened. My final Sound Design class has come to an end, and I am sad. It was one of the most enjoyable and interesting courses I’ve ever taken but, at eight weeks, also the shortest. My reflex action is to sign up for another course on this ever-winding road of haphazard self-education, but I will restrain myself for now. There are possibilities more tempting than school for long summer days, namely vacation, writing,¬†and film production. Hopefully, the skills I have learned will serve me in a practical sense. Study is fun in and of itself, but it is accomplishment that defines a person. It is time to create!

Filed under: Education, Reflection

Inscrutable song lyrics

A prime example of the Principle of Inscrutability is song lyrics. “Drops of Jupiter” by Train is playing on my radio right now, and although I enjoy it, the lyrics are so nonsensical that I can read as much brilliant metaphor into them as I want:

Tell me, did you sail across the sun
Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded
And that heaven is overrated

Tell me, did you fall from a shooting star
One without a permanent scar
And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there

I mean, really, the creative possibilities are practically endless. What songs do you enjoy reading into?

Filed under: Reflection, , ,

Audition Camp-out

Audition line for Last Comic Standing

The other day, I passed a line of people, camping chairs, and tents behind a police barricade that extended halfway down a city block, wrapped around the corner, and went on for another at least another half-block. It turned out to be the audition line for Last Comic Standing at Gotham Comedy Club, and it reminded me that, aside from the dirt, noise, and crowds that sometimes threaten to overwhelm, New York is still a city of dreams.

At any hour of the day or night, someone is standing on a street corner, telling a loved one on a cell phone how they can feel in their gut that they are on the verge of their big break. To live here, to be steeped in a medium saturated with ambition and hope, inspires me daily to continue pursuing my own dreams. As I grow older, I appreciate the influence more and more, because without it, the daily grind can make us forget the reasons that we strive. Moving towards the realization a dream, even in a tiny incremental step, is an exhilaration in itself and one I would not deny myself any day, no matter how much laundry, cleaning, and other chores await me. When life gets crazy, though, it helps to get a refresher from fellow human beings about what’s important, so thank you to all those comics who camped out in the cold drizzle for twenty four hours.

If you could accomplish only one more thing in your life, what would it be? What will you do this week on your journey to achieving it?

Filed under: Reflection, , ,

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