The Democratic Nature of Blogging

July 23, 2010 @ 17:46 EDT

Here is a PDF of this paper, with a bibliography at the end (this is where to find the sources cited within this post): The Democratic Nature of Blogging

One of humanity’s most influential creations is that of government. Another extremely influential invention is much more recent, namely the Internet. A popular claim is that the Internet is democratizing governments around the world. This is, at best, a vague claim. For the Internet is just a medium, and democracy means many different things to many people. A much more reasonable claim is that blogging (short for web logging) is causing governments to become more democratic. In this sense, the word democratic is used to express the idea of a government which provides freedoms to its citizens (such as those of speech and assembly), provides equality among citizens, and provides a means for the citizenship to participate in government. The following paragraphs will support this claim, first through the specific examples of China, Iran and Malaysia, then will examine this claim in general and establish its truth.

Blogging in China got off to a slow start, and has since proved a disappointment to those hoping to see the Chinese Communist Party collapse like a house of cards when free media came into the country. Thus many, such as Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian, conclude that blogging fails to democratize a nation, as a sufficiently clever government can effectively censor political content in blogs. According to Ms. MacKinnon, even scholars on Chinese politics conclude that “[China] has succeeded in preventing people from using the Internet to organize any kind of viable political opposition”.

Yet despite this, Ms. MacKinnon, Dr. Wang, and Mr. Li argue that blogging has brought a greater degree of freedom to Chinese life, as well as providing a way for a limited degree of political discourse within the public realm, a defining characteristic of democratic governments. Dr. Wang himself is a Chinese blogger who posts daily, and has observed the Chinese government slowly loosen restrictions on speech and accept more criticism over the past decade. Dr. Wang and Ms. MacKinnon both point out that most Chinese bloggers are not political. Mostly they describe their own personal life experiences. Celebrities use it as a way to gain popularity. Even the government blogs to discuss popular topics such as the World Cup or corrupted politicians. Nonetheless, politically contentious topics can get posted (at least temporarily) since the government cannot censor all blogs in real time due to the sheer volume of them. Thus the government is forced to accept a small amount of political blogging. This, in turn, forces the government to provide a less restrictive atmosphere for speech everywhere. So while it is not a quick and sudden revolution, blogging has provided the means for the Chinese populace to work slowly towards a democratic government.

These next two case examples are different than the Chinese case. Firstly,  they are already officially ‘democracies’, but fail to meet the criteria of freedoms, equalities, and to a large extent popular government participation as laid out in the beginning. The first of these nations, Iran, has experienced the most dramatic democratic effects of blogging. One of the reasons for this is that Iran has a huge blogging population, the third largest in the world as of 2009 (Whitaker, Goldberg, and Sullivan). The blog has fulfilled the roles of “liberal newspapers, civil society organisations and even private gatherings” (Amini). For in a country where there is no freedom to assemble, in order to get together with others of like minds one must do it through the Internet and blogging. It is only through blogging that uncensored political analysis and criticism is found within Iran. Furthermore, in this misogynistic society, blogging provides the one way for women in Iran to make their side of life heard (Amini, and “The Blog Shall Make You Free”).

Not only are blogs incredibly important to the internal politics of Iran, but they are the main source for international societies to observe Iran’s domestic situation. This became extremely important in the last election, when all the foreign journalists were kicked out of the country (Whitaker, Goldberg, and Sullivan). This led to American and other support from the western world to reach the Iranians, giving them renewed confidence that they were doing the right thing in protesting the elections. This could not have happened before, for the government cannot provide support due to political concerns, and the American people themselves couldn’t directly communicate with Iranians (Whitaker, Goldberg, and Sullivan).

Unfortunately in Iran it appears that guns are still more powerful than blogs (Whitaker, Goldberg, and Sullivan). For after the last elections, after protests against the rigged elections, the government managed to regain control (Chakrabortty). Nonetheless, blogging has opened up a little bit of room for criticism of Islamic orthodoxy in public discourse in Iran (Whitaker, Goldberg, and Sullivan). While this demonstrates the superiority of a well-armed state over bloggers, democratic virtues are still finding their little footholds through blogging in Iran. Thus it appears that blogging will once again be the catalyst of a slow, gradual march towards democracy in Iran, just as it is in China (Whitaker, Goldberg, and Sullivan).

While blogging is slowly working on reforming China and Iran, it is democratizing Malaysia much faster. First, some background. The current system of government in Malaysia was formed in 1963. Since then, the same political coalition has held the majority in their parliament (Lee). In the 1990’s, in order to create an Asian analogue of Silicon Valley, Malaysia began constructing the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) in hopes of bringing Malaysia to the status of developed nation by 2020. To encourage foreign companies to invest, Malaysia made a “MSC bill of guarantees”, within which the Malaysian government promised not to censor the Internet (Smeltzer). This was intended to facilitate development, not online political discourse. As the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code states in part 5, section 3.5: “If something is illegal ‘off-line’, it will also be illegal ‘on-line’.” Nonetheless, since the government controls (either directly or indirectly) all other forms of media within the country (Smeltzer, Lee), the availability of the Internet has facilitated a huge change towards democratization.

The most obvious manifestation of this change is that in the elections in 2008, the opposition won over 1/3 the seats in parliament, and took control of 5 state governments. Never before have they had this large of a voice in government. Furthermore, since they now hold over 1/3 the seats in parliament they have enough votes to block laws, for the first time ever (Lee). Their success was due, in large part, to the Internet and blogs. For unconventional opinions and news have had the chance to spread. This is especially true among the younger generation and the urban populace (Lee).

Thus, in one fell swoop, Malaysia went from a one party system to a democracy with different and opposing voices being heard. And this was facilitated in large part by blogging. While this may be a special case of blogging being especially effective, the same principles are found in all nations where the people are trying to democratize their government.

A populace looking for freedom, who furthermore has access to the Internet and blogging resources, can utilize this medium to effectively push for democracy. Oppressive governments can censor this, as has happened in China, but nonetheless are forced to slowly accept more democratic principles due to the inherit democratic nature of blogs. So despite the lack of a sudden blogging revolution, blogging still promotes a free, equal society run by the people.

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Rhetorical Analysis of “Where were you?” by Alan Jackson (Project 2)

July 16, 2010 @ 21:28 EDT

Attached are three documents, the Project2Lyrics and this project (draft and final): Project2Draft1and Project2FinalDraft in a PDF format.

Nine years ago, when Alan Jackson, an established country artist having received the Academy of Country Music’s “Top New Male Vocalist” award in 1990 (alanjackson.com), wrote and performed the song “Where were you?” he tried to do two things. First, he tried to create a common ground upon which Americans could share their grief and anger at the attacks which had occurred on September 11. In this he was wildly successful, and provided an outlet through which America could properly grieve. The second thing Mr. Jackson tried to achieve with this song, which he ultimately failed at, was to promote a peaceful response to this conflict.

Let us begin by examining his successful attempt at creating a grieving ground for America. One must recall the situation (AKA: context) of the time. This was first sung in November of 2001, two months after the attacks on the world trade center. The United States and Great Britain had already struck at the Taliban. America was still reeling trying to come to grips with this tragedy. President Bush was at the peak of his popularity for his quick response to the attacks. Iraq had yet to be mentioned publicly.

This is the world for which Mr. Jackson wrote this song. He was no politician, “just a singer of simple songs” as he states in the refrain. He was writing this as an everyday American, for everyday Americans. This is his way of establishing an ethos. Furthermore, since Alan Jackson is a country artist, “Where were you?” is a country song. As such, it is a very simple song musically, with a slow and simple melody with just a few instruments. This works very well supporting his self-description as “just a singer of simple songs”, establishing a simple style. Another important stylistic choice within the song is to phrase everything except the advice as a question. This lets people answer it (mentally), and is likely followed by the answer being suggested in the song. It makes it seem like a conversation, despite it being a one way song. This provides the feeling of importance within the listener and that the singer is sympathetic to the listener. This further established his ethos as a credible source.

Some would suggest that the heavy religious influence of this song would alienate some listeners, referencing God or church or prayer fourteen times in this 5 minute song. But one of the things about this song which made it such a hit was that while he did do this, the song’s impact did not rely on a religious outlook. Alan Jackson tried hard enough to construct a credible ethos that this song appeals to everyone.

This established him as a figure which people could relate to, creating a powerful ethos from which he sang. Much of the power of the song comes from how he relates to everyone in the verses. In the verses, he does two things. One of them relies on a funny property of human memory. When one hears news such as this attack, one tends to remember where they were and what they were doing at the time. This is usually mundane (such as being “Out in the yard, with your wife and children”), but becomes an integral part of the experience of hearing such devastation. Thus in the song Alan Jackson lists five different mundane tasks which likely cover whatever an average American was doing at the time.

Mr. Jackson also asks the listener what their emotional response was to the news. This is a very clever way of constructing the pathos of his argument, for he does not tell them what to feel, but allows them to remember their own feelings. He does this by phrasing most of the likely possibilities as questions. This was what made this song at creating a sense of communal grief, allowing the U.S. to get over the incident.  For through the questions, when one identifies the response that they felt, they instantly feel as if this is a shared emotion. Thus generating a sense of community, and letting everyone know that they were not alone.

Despite the powerful emotional draw of this song, it failed to communicate the message of peace Alan Jackson hoped to convey. One of the reasons for this is that peace was only a secondary message in the song, and the word “peace” is never itself used in the lyrics. It is left as an implicit theme implied when Mr. Jackson emphasized that among God’s gifts “the greatest is love.” He repeats this as 3 of the last 4 lines within the song, as well as at the end of the refrain.  The problem with this is that it was buried and never came up until two full minutes into the song. By this point many people are still digesting the first 2 minutes of the song, so this phrase gets less attention and introspection than was intended. Furthermore, the implicated push for peace is based upon biblical teachings. While the appeal may be based in pathos, phrasing it in religious terms can alienate much of the thinking audience.

The last reason why this argument for peace failed is that it relies on the word ‘love’. This word has many meanings, and does not necessarily mean ‘love your neighbor’. In this context is was meant as ‘love your neighbor’, being used in a close paraphrase the New Testament’s first letter from Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 13. This letter describes the love that Christians should have for everyone. But in modern society, biblical quotes are not well-known; so many people would miss the implied meaning of “the greatest is love”.

Alan Jackson built a strong ethos in this song, constructing a very strong argument founded upon emotional appeals. And this led to its commercial (for it topped billboard’s charts (ThatsCountry.com)) and emotional success. But Alan Jackson failed at his secondary goal of promoting peace.


A Change For the Worse in my Hometown

July 11, 2010 @ 23:16 EDT

Here is the reason I wrote the following: http://www.twincities.com/ci_15461519?IADID=Search-www.twincities.com-www.twincities.com. It was originally directed at the article preceding this one, but since that is now archived, I linked to the most recent article.

Why push an issue that is not existent? If we spend $0 on multilingual materials, what is the point of making an inflammatory law which would have zero actual effect?
Furthermore, very few of our ancestors came to this country speaking English, and those that did eventually overthrew the English and established the great country we live in today. It is not that immigrants should not have to learn English, but that we should make it easier for immigrants to live in our society. America is strong because it has historically been accepting to immigrants. As is proclaimed in the statue of liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
We should not abandon this basic principle which has led to such greatness within our nation.


Rhetorical Analysis of “The Superstition of Equality” (and summary of chapter 5)

July 9, 2010 @ 15:46 EDT

Chapter 5 of Everything’s An Argument opens with an anecdote of an ineffective Victoria’s Secret commercial starring Bob Dylan. The op-ed The Superstition of Equality, by Jennifer Roback Morse, shares just one thing in common with this commercial: its failure to persuade.

Just as Chapter 5 suggests, this analysis will itself become an argument with a purpose of showing that The Superstition of Equality failed to achieve its purpose. Namely: To persuade her audience that there does exist a difference in men and women’s math and science abilities, and we must respect this difference in academia. Dr. Morse puts this as “The Myth of course, is that men and women have identical aptitudes for math and science, and the gender disparities in these fields reflect discrimination.” This is typical of this op-ed, describing the ‘gender disparities’ as a myth. Her purpose was likely to establish in her audience’s mind that myth was the only appropriate term to use here, and the lack of evidence for this ‘myth’ is a well-established fact. The problem is that this does not appear to be well established, and makes Dr. Morse appear condescending of her opposition, turning away the very people she is trying to persuade.

After identifying the purpose, chapter 5 suggests identifying the author and intended audience. In the op-ed, the audience was meant to be the voting public. Note that this is not everyone who votes, but only those who vote in every election (presidential or not), and are likely to be politically active (such as those likely to write their congressperson). This audience can be assumed to be well-educated (either by universities or themselves), have strong opinions, and tends to behave as groups instead of individuals. As such, this op-ed was written using strong emotional language (such as ‘myth’, or the phrase “…political hack declares an Equality Jihad…”), with some, but not much, factual grounds to back her argument. The problem with this approach is that while it may persuade some of her audience who already agree with her to take action and write their congressperson, it will also cause those who disagree with her to be offended and may inspire them to write their congressperson on behalf of extending this gender equality movement.

Associated with the idea of identifying the author, chapter 5 also asks whether the author comes across as trustworthy and worth listening to in the article. In this op-ed, Dr. Morse identifies herself as having received a doctorate in Economics, “hardly a hard science, but the hardest of the social sciences.” As such, she establishes that she can personally relate to this supposed ‘gender gap’, and uses a personal example of how she was “attracted to the humanistic [rather] than the statistical side of [economics].” This is then used as an example of how women tend to be better and happier outside of the harder sciences and math. No one can deny that her personal experience went this way, and this does establish Dr. Morse as having personal experience with this ‘gender gap’, but it hardly provides conclusive evidence for or against the innate disparity between the number of men and women in these disciplines. Furthermore, Dr. Morse uses a personal example of her nephew’s superior spatial ability (relative to her) as a humorous anecdote to connect with the average American. This ploy is another example of using one example and overgeneralizing it to the whole of humanity.

Chapter 5 also suggests examining the emotions and logical reasons used to write rhetoric. In this case Dr. Morse tries to use emotional appeals behind words to suggest that the other side is ridiculous. Unfortunately for Dr. Morse, this comes off as smug and elite to those on the other side of the argument. Furthermore, her logical reasons consisted of two case examples, a reference to the work of one psychologist, and an un-cited claim that “boys tend to perform better than girls at a test called the Mental Rotation Test.” Personal examples are inconclusive, in that their reproducibility is non-existent, or at least is not shown to exist. The un-cited ‘fact’ seems like a piece of ‘common knowledge’ which is easy to make up from mistaken cultural perceptions without realizing that you’re doing it. And the last factual reason, the work of just one psychologist, seems to be questionable. Most scientific fields, especially those such as psychology which do not come with rigorous theoretical proofs, can be used to support many, often contrary, positions. This is not to say the cited work was not true, but it would have been much more convincing to cite multiple psychologists from across the field who would testify to the same thing.

The last thing that chapter 5 covers, before going into an example then a section on how to write a rhetorical analysis, is that one must pay attention to the style of the work. As has been previously commented upon, this op-ed is rather condescending toward the opposition, and therefore fails to win any converts.

Thus, while this op-ed may have inspired some of Dr. Morse’s comrades to take up arms in this battle, the backlash would have made this work ineffective in the goal of persuading the voting public to change their, or their congressperson’s, mind.


Project 1: “What’s your style?”

July 6, 2010 @ 0:57 EDT

This project is a small research project in which I will interview a doctor in the field of physics and examine a couple journals from the field in hopes of understanding how articles in physics are laid out and cited.

Here is my project proposal: Project 1 Proposal

Here is my first draft of the annotated bibliography: Annotated Bibliography 1

Here is my final draft: Project1FinalDraft