Saturday, December 22, 2007

Optional Over Break

Hey AiSers,

While you're enjoying your well-deserved break, please consider sending us a link to the post of which you are most proud. Remember, as the end of the semester approaches, your blogs will be evaluated based on:

  1. The quality of writing in your chosen blog post
  2. The quantity of posts on your blog
  3. The comments you have left on the blogs of your peers

The best way to send the link is to go to your own blog, click on the title of the post you want to submit to us, and copy the address from the browser window. Paste that address in an email sent to this address.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Comma Triggers Gun Debate

What does a comma have to do with gun rights? Aside from the eerie likeness of a comma and a trigger, the two may have more in common than we ever realized. In fact, the Supreme Court is currently deliberating over a key test case of gun rights (i.e., the 2nd Amendment)—and the decision will rest largely on how they read commas.

Here's the 2nd Amendment as it appears in the US Constitution:

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Three pesky commas—and how to read them? Before reading on, make up your mind.

Gun rights advocates read the commas as "throat clearing"—front porch, if you will. They believe the first two phrases—up until the word "state" are unrelated to what follows. Therefore, they argue, the framers of the Constitution clearly protect the "right to bear arms."

Gun rights opponents read those first two phrases as modifying the right. In other words, they translate the Amendment this way: because militias are necessary for a free state, individual people must keep and bear arms. Since we have a well-funded militia, there is no need for—no necessary guarantee of—people bearing arms.

Wherever you come down on this issue, the pen—the lowly punctuation mark—may, indeed, be mightier than the sword. Maybe that's what the Irish poet Seamus Heaney had in mind when he wrote his poem "Digging" which opens this way: "Between my finger and my thumb/This squat pen rests, snug as a gun." (At least I think there's a comma in that last line!)

For a further explication, read the link of a recent New York Times Op-ed on this issue.

Did he get what he deserved?

While watching Werner Herzog's documentary, Grizzly Man, we noted the words of one man interviewed who claimed that Timothy Treadwell, someone who studied and lived with grizzly bears, "got what he deserved".

What do you think of this statement?

In Roger Ebert's review of the film, he quotes the director, Herzog, as saying, "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder."

Ebert goes on to reveal his own opinion of Timothy Treadwell:
I have a certain admiration for his courage, recklessness, idealism, whatever you want to call it, but here is a man who managed to get himself and his girlfriend eaten, and you know what? He deserves Werner Herzog.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


In New York City a billboard emits highly focused sound that resonates within the skulls of passersby. It’s a novel way of advertising, a potentially terrifying intrusion and, according to technology writer Clive Thompson, the leading edge of a new civil rights battleground – the right to privacy in your own mind.

Have you seen Minority Report? Do you remember the scene in the mall when Tom Cruise's character is bombarded with advertising messages inside his own head?

If intrusive ads don't seem that worrisome to you, consider this: there are scientists currently working on a device that shines an infrared beam on your forehead, a sort of remote MRI, that can "read" your mind to determine if you are in "mental anguish". What this means, for example, is that before we tell a lie, a simple brain scan can reveal it. Imagine the antiterrorist uses for this at airports.

What do you think about any/all of these issues? For more information, listen to this excerpt from NPR's On the Media, which is the source of today's post:

Friday, December 07, 2007

Into the Wild (short essay prompt)

In the book we are reading, Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer admits that Chris McCandless was rash, but he insists he "wasn't a nutcase, he wasn't a sociopath, he wasn't an outcast. McCandless was something else -- although precisely what is hard to say. A pilgrim, perhaps" (85).

Your question:

What precisely was McCandless? Use one of Krakauer's terms or invent your own term. Choose your term carefully, and note passages as you read. Your answer to the question is your central claim. Support this claim with evidence from the text and explain how the language of the quote -- the connotations of individual words in the quotes you cite -- prove your claim to be valid.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Political Compass

Where do you stand on the political spectrum? Who will you vote for in the next election? Try this quiz, mentioned in class today. Go to the Political Compass website and test your beliefs.

Think about what this famous adage means: "If you're young and not a liberal, you're heartless. But if you're old and not a conservative, you're foolish." Do you agree?

One more question: where do you think Chris McCandless would be on the compass?