The results of last week's G20 summit have been summarized, discussed, and analyzed at length across a variety of mediums over the past few days. It's worth taking a look at how the strategies of the rhetoric used at the summit effected change within it.
One of the biggest changes resulted from President Barack Obama's urge for the Group of 20 leading world economies to work on international cooperation. The G20 leaders agreed to shift power in the International Monetary Fund so that developing countries will have more of a voice. Their decision to increase the voting power of developing countries might have been a way for the IMF to have more legitimacy and be more effective in international affairs, but this could also have been a rhetorical strategy to hide the real intention of increasing developing countries' voting power: with their increased power, these countries will also be taking on more responsibility. With the economic crisis still affecting many in the industrialized world, passing off a substantial amount of the responsibility onto developing countries is a way for industrialized countries to get away with not dealing with some of the issues that they themselves have created in the first place.
On a similar level, Barack Obama also called out Iran for the country's covert operations of a small-scale uranium-enriching plant. It is interesting that the US is taking issue with the development of Iran's clandestine site, even though the US has been aware of the site for years. Why are they now objecting to it, when they had the power to object to it years earlier? So far, this question has not been taken up by mainstream media. I think that it's a legitimate query and one which we should be asking. If a country as powerful as the US is aware of the construction of a nuclear power plant but does not do anything about it until the plant becomes a threat, what does that say about us as a global society? It seems to be a fair representation of our usual habit of letting problems grow bigger and bigger, ignoring them until they start to directly affect us.
After all, that's what has happened with climate change. It is not until now, when we realize that we today are being affected negatively by climate change and global warming, that organizations and leaders are getting together to talk about making changes. Talking about it, mind you. Yes, there is some action taking place, but for the most part it remains all talk and very little action.
Analyzing the rhetoric involved in conferences such as the G20 summit allows us to think about how we act and respond to global issues. Too much short-term thinking, and too much attention being paid to issues that only affect us directly rather than the world and people as a whole, is one of the fundamental roots of serious worldwide problems. By changing our rhetoric, we can effect change for the better in our actions on both a domestic and a global level.
One of my classes this year is entitled Studies in the Rhetorics of Non Fiction. Specifically, the focus is Writing on the Environment.
Writing on the Environment, or Nature Writing, as it is also called, often brings to mind two styles of writing: first, the intensity of, for example, a Greenpeace report; and second, the flowery passages written by great writers of literature from hundreds of years ago. Both of these styles are turn-offs to most people. The first style appears too brusque, embarrassing, or guilt-inducing, causing the reader to roll their eyes in exasperation at the prophetic notion that the world is coming to an end. The second style appears too inconsequential and boring for readers to be able to pay attention to for very long.*
At the risk of students believing that this course was all about writing poetry, my professor prefers the term Writing on the Environment as opposed to Nature Writing. I am inclined to agree. The way in which we term things has a profound influence on our thoughts about it. The phrase Nature Writing also doesn't seem to encompass all of the different styles and genres that can be identified as subtypes of the phrase Writing on the Environment.
For the purposes of simplicity sake, however, we are referring in class to this style of writing as Nature Writing- it is easier to say. Much of what we do is out of convenience and ease. This leads to an important question within the study of rhetoric; namely, does our choice to use the simpler terms then affect how we view the subject that we are using the term for? That alone is a question which, when we really think about it, can empower us: depending on the terms that we choose to use, we can manipulate how such a thing will be seen by the world, and therefore we can direct certain perspectives on the world just by being careful in our word choice.
Nature Writing brings to mind the peacefulness of strolling along a walking trail in a forest, drinking in the sights and sounds and smells of greenery and birds. It is a poetically calming style. Writing on the Environment represents a more serious, professional attitude. The use of "environment" rather than "nature" also implies responsibility and action, because the word is often associated to human activity. "Nature", on the other hand, is usually viewed as something separate to human society. The End of Nature by Bill McKibben is a compelling account of this issue, among others.
There are many sub-genres of this style of writing, so to pinpoint exact characteristics of it is no easy task. Writing on the Environment can fluctuate from natural history information to field guides to adventure writing to the ramble to man's interaction with nature. Factual and abstract, imperial and argumentative, impersonal and having a voice, nature itself and the writer him/herself all have the potential to be present within this style.
Part of this is because of the nature writer's dilemma: we do not know nature itself and we do not know how to define it. The terms that we use to describe nature become the only way we see, rather than a lens through which to see the world. Words, therefore, are just as much an imposition as they are a convenience (for more on this subject, refer to John Hay's article, "The Nature Writer's Dilemma"). As ever, the terms that we use will change how we view the world. It is this which nature writers can take advantage of to get their point across: when we know our audience and know our own material, we will be a better judge of conveying information.
*Please note that I don't necessarily agree with either of those responses toward specific types of Nature Writing; that is simply how, I think, many people do often react to such genres.
"The gym" can mean many things. A place to de-stress, socialize, exercise, or be tortured. Take your pick. Sometimes it's a combination of all of those. This year, it has taken on an additional meaning for me: a place to study.
Being in the department of rhetoric, I have an abundance of readings from all of my classes. Analyzing texts are a key feature of rhetoric, so as soon as I have completed one reading, I have to write a response to it; when that is finished, three more articles or books have piled up to read and analyze. It's tricky to keep on top of it all.
Enter the gym. Temperatures in my city haven't dropped yet, but they will soon, and it will become too cold to do much exercising outdoors. Exercise is a recession/student-friendly form of therapy and essential to my own philosophies of living healthy in the real world, so I have no intention of giving it up. Both studying and exercising can take up a good deal of time, however, which I do not exactly have. So for now, the gym is study-time.
Running on the treadmill isn't an exciting prospect. If I'm on a treadmill, I like to crank up the incline- in my flat city, it's a nice change of pace to walk up a steep incline. As long as I'm not speed-walking, I'm capable of reading at the same time as I walk. Between classes I can walk on an incline for 45 minutes and complete my reading for the next class all in one go.
The gym can be intimidating if you don't regularly attend it. Everyone else seems to know what they're doing and at one point or another, nearly everyone seems to have at least a passing thought of what if they're all judging me, what if I embarrass myself? This is where "gym as study time" comes in very handy.
If you're walking into the gym carrying your readings and a highlighter, you can be fairly confident that no one will be judging you for walking rather than running. They'll probably just think you're that much more hardcore if you're going to the gym when you could have found a nice cozy seat somewhere to curl up and study in.
Last week I went to the gym with a friend and learned how to use a barbell for the first time. I had used dumbbells in the gym before but never a barbell. The other people at the gym all seemed to be using the barbells with relative ease (and by that I mean, they seemed to know what they were doing, not that their muscles weren't straining). On the one hand, as a health writer, I suppose I could have felt uncomfortable that I didn't actually know how to use a barbell, but instead I was having too much fun learning the technique and trying something completely different than normal.
The bottom line is, you don't have to be afraid of the gym. There are probably a lot of people there who are equally new to the machines; everyone needs help and has to start somewhere. Besides that, gym attendees have to focus on their own exercise for safety reasons, so it's unlikely that they are paying attention to anyone else in the room (if you're going to try my trick of studying while walking on an incline, start off at a slightly slower pace than you're used to. This will help you to determine the best speed and incline for you to go at while you're reading/highlighting. Safety first!).
What is the gym to you? How can you change the way you look at it to make it a more welcoming place?
In this video, a man and a woman see each other in a social situation and eye each other from across the room. The man works up the courage to go over to the woman, and he leans over to say something in her ear. As he leans over, he gets a whiff of her, and immediately backs off. She pulls out a cigarette and the caption reads: smoking stinks.
There are many anti-smoking commercials out there which detail the dangers of smoking on our health. But there are also many others which demonstrate how smoking can be damaging to beauty.
PETA has many ads out which also appeal to beauty:
Not all of PETA's ads are of the "you need to lose weight so you should go vegetarian to do it" type, but some of them are. And that's because it's effective. Our society finds a great appeal to anything that tells us you'll be more beautiful and therefore more loved and accepted if you...
We can learn very much about ourselves and the way that we think by looking at the reflection of these thoughts in the media. Billboards and commercials are not just thrown together; they are carefully planned and determined by how the viewers will respond. And we are all about the obsession with "beauty"- whatever "beauty" is, anyways.
Regardless of how offensive we might find one ad over another, there is always a reason for why the designers of these ads created them in such a way. And that reason is perhaps because we will react strongly. Whether we agree with what the advertisement says or not, we'll talk about it (like I'm doing right now). We might even start to think about beauty in terms of their assumptions about what beauty is. All of this could contribute to the success of such a campaign.
What sort of lenses have you noticed that the media is peering through lately? Do you find that it is an accurate display of what we prioritize?
When I first offered to host the workshop, I didn't really have any set ideas in mind about what I would talk about. I just knew that it was important that I get across the reasons for why the writers at the newspaper should get involved with blogging. That was the main intention.
Once I knew what my goal was and what I ultimately wanted everyone to walk away from the workshop with, I had to backtrack. We have to work on figuring out how we are going to achieve that goal after we know what the goal is. Backtracking involved thinking about my own experiences with blogging: how did I get started? How did my own blog(s) develop? How has it helped my career? What's the point of it anyway? This is the outline that I came up with for my blogging workshop:
- What is blogging?
- It is a series of online articles
- It is a community-based system; anyone can read and comment on blogs, and from this a community of like-minded people is built up.
- It is your voice. You can write about whatever you want on your blog.
- The differences between blogging and writing for a paper
- Blogging is all about fast, immediate information and feedback. Journalists can take advantage of blogging by being the first person to share a news story with the public.
- Conversation: comments are a key part of the blogging experience. Unless the comments are closed, anyone can write their thoughts on the blog post. This allows for a better understanding between the writer and the reader about what the blog is about. It also gives the writer a better idea of what the readers are interested in, and allows for a broader range of perspectives on any topic.
- Perks of blogging
- Gaining a reputation
- Reviewing products and getting book deals/free trips: powerful people read blogs! Many bloggers have gotten book deals and some even get movie deals (think Julie & Julia). Companies want their products to be known, so they will contact bloggers and give them free products to review. Sometimes the companies will also offer bloggers trips to their manufacturing facilities to spread the word about their products.
- Networking (and receiving exclusive information from sources). This is more applicable to journalists, but the idea here is that once your blog is known to be a reputable source, it is highly possible that experts in your field of interest will contact you and offer you the latest information before anyone else is aware of it.
- How can blogging improve my writing?
- Practice, practice, practice! If you blog daily or weekly, your writing cannot help but improve.
- The writing style of a blog might be different than that of newspaper journalism, but broadening your style of writing allows for a broadening of your abilities as a writer.
- Using blogging as a tool for social networking
- Comment on other blogs relevant to what you are writing about. Getting your name out there among the community that you are interested in can be beneficial to getting others to read your articles. You can find blogs in your field of interest simply by typing key words + blog into Google.
- Linking to other sites/blogs is a way to share information with your readers that you find valuable.
- Interviews and reviews. The people you interview and the companies whose products you review will want to spread the news that they are being talked about in the blogosphere.
- Starting blogging
- Read other blogs to get a feel for it. You can better understand the way the blogging world works just by checking a bunch of them out.
- Understand what you want to blog about and the voice that you want to use. Think about the genre of the blog and the formality of tone you're interested in using.
- What do you have to offer that other writers do not?
- Who will be reading your blog?
- Key factors for successful blogging
- Regular posting. If you don't keep it regular, you're going to lose your readers. And it won't help your writing if you rarely post.
- Build a community and keep the conversation and discussion flowing: get to know your readers and involve them
- Spread the news about your blog. This can be done by word-of-mouth, with a link on your business cards/email signatures, and included in your by-line in pieces you write for other publications.
- Keep the interest up for your readers. Include pictures, polls, podcasts, videos, or regular features. Unless you already have a nice little following built up, or unless a longer post is absolutely necessary, try to keep your articles shorter to begin with. Otherwise, readers are going to just skim or not read the article at all.
- Be professional and follow basic guidelines of good journalism (the obvious: fact check/spell check, re-read your work, act respectfully, avoid defamation)
- Countering the drawbacks of blogging
- Time-consuming: think about what you want to write about in advance and set aside the time to do it
- Getting ideas: work with stories you already have (expand on articles you have written for the paper) and write about what interests you. Check out what other people are saying in the blogosphere and build off of that (and be sure to link back to their blogs to credit your source!)
- Gaining readership: let the world know about your blog!
If you are considering starting up your own blog, the above tips might help. If you have any other questions about blogging, let me know and I'll do my best to answer them or point you in the right direction to someone who can give you a more satisfactory explanation.
Now that university classes have once again commenced, it's time to bring out the notebooks and pens and fervently write down every. single. thing. the professor says.
Running yourself into the ground isn't going to help anyone, though, so it's useful to do a little preparation work ahead of time and think about what exactly you want to accomplish with the notes that you take in class. Every year I see people struggling with organizing their notes and figuring out what to write down and what to ignore. Actually remembering the information often gets shoved by the wayside, too- writing down page after page of notes isn't going to help anyone if it's all going in one ear and out the other.
Tips and Tricks for Writing Lecture Notes:
1. Take the first class to just listen to what the professor says. The first class is usually an introduction class anyways. You're there to get a feel for what the class will be about and to get to know your professor and classmates. Pay attention to the professor especially in the first class so that you can know ahead of time what their sense of humour is like and to understand what they mean by the term "deadline".
2. Read the course syllabus very carefully. It includes your deadlines and mark breakdown. If it looks as though you'll have to write a few papers regarding topics that are discussed in class, it's going to pay off if you take more notes. Be especially diligent in note-taking for classes which don't include a textbook or coursepack; in these instances, you have to rely on your own notes and attendance in class.
3. Develop friendships with your classmates and with your professor. There might be a day or two in which you won't be able to make it to the class, so you're going to want to have yourself covered ahead of time. Ask them if you can borrow their notes if you miss a class. Always return their notes as soon as possible and in as pristine a condition as possible (who knows when you might need their notes again!).
4. Communicate. If there's something you didn't understand in the class, ask a couple classmates or the professor about it afterwards. Better yet, speak up in the middle of class! Chances are if you don't know what's going on, someone else doesn't know what's going on, either.
5. Create your own shorthand. You know your own writing better than anyone else. A few shorthand symbols that I use frequently are a triangle of three dots for the word "therefore", "b/c" for "because", "w" with a line over it for "with", and "+" for "and". We are a generation of texters so it's likely that you have the shorthand all figured out already. Make good use of it.
6. Use pen. Pencil smudges and can be rubbed off. If you write down the wrong thing in your notes in pen, cross it out and write the correct note beside it; it's good to have the mistake still there crossed out just in case. It's also a little neater than having messy eraser marks across the page. Some people like to take a laptop to class to write everything faster, but I find that I don't take in the information when I use a computer. When I'm typing it all out, my fingers can fly across the keys without my brain registering anything that the professor has actually said. Laptops can also be distracting if you start opening up other documents or if you have an Internet connection. They're also a pain to lug around.
7. Keep your notes organized. Use one notebook for each course; if you have a two or three subject notebook, make sure that you keep each course separate. Date everything. Keep a few different coloured highlighters in your bag to highlight key information.
8. Pay attention to the blackboard/whiteboard, handouts, overhead, and PowerPoint presentations. Actually read the handouts. Write down everything that goes on the boards and overhead projector; draw diagrams if necessary. If the PowerPoint presentation goes too quickly or if the notes on the overhead projector are taken down before you can copy all of the information, approach the professor after class and ask if you can take another look at it. They shouldn't be unreasonable about it.
9. Use the coursepacks and texts. Do your readings by your deadlines so that you know what to expect. For coursepacks, take advantage of the fact that it can't be returned to the bookstore and highlight the crap out of it. If you want to keep your textbooks in better condition so you can sell them in the future, use sticky notes for relevant pages or copy down specific passages (or page numbers) in your notebook.
10. Know what is relevant and what is not. You don't have to write down absolutely everything the professor says, but if it's something that is repeated a couple times, it's likely to be important. You be the judge of what you're going to want to remember in the future. Don't rely solely on your brain to store all of that information- no matter how interested you are in the class, or how redundant you think the information is to you, when it comes to exam or essay time you might find that you forget obvious things due to stress. When in doubt, write it down.
Have any other note-taking tips you'd like to share? Leave them in the comments below!
Since I have decided to eat a vegan diet for the month of September (the reasons for which can be found at Living Healthy in the Real World), I have received a lot of congratulations.
Good for you.
That's really impressive.
I could never do that.
A friend of mine- who is supportive of my vegan nutrition challenge- brought up an interesting point about all of these phrases. Her perspective was that eating vegan is not very healthy. She didn't understand why people should be so in awe by it, or what the big deal is. She is frustrated that the general consensus, when people start eliminating meat or meat products from their diet, is one of admiration.
Now, she is by no means a huge meat-eater herself. She enjoys animal products but eats mostly vegetarian. Her real frustration, and mine as well, is the health halo that hangs over the term vegan.
When it comes to the above congratulatory remarks that have been said to me, I know that people are using these terms because of the reason for my veganism (which is to spread awareness about animal ingredients and derivatives in food products), rather than because they necessarily believe that veganism is healthy. But oftentimes when people congratulate others for going vegan, it is because of the bright shiny health halo.
The "health halo" is when we believe that something is healthier than it actually is; we are blinded by certain nutrition claims or marketing strategies. An article in The New York Times describes how consumers believe that if a box of crackers has a "trans fat free" label on it, they assume it means that the crackers are low in calories, low in fat, or healthy in general. Similarly, when consumers buy a "healthy" sandwich ("no mayo, no cheese, whole wheat bread!"), they tend to reward themselves with buying a cookie for dessert. This kind of justification is an illusion of good health. The consumer thinks that if they are eating one thing healthy, and if they buy the cookie from a restaurant with a reputation for having healthier foods, then they have done something good for their health. They forget that it's still a cookie. They forget that the sandwich uses such thick bread that it's actually equal to four servings of grains. They forget that there could be all kinds of bad ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup, in that restaurant's bread.
It's the same way with veganism. As the blog post How can vegans be overweight? points out, we have an optimistic bias that leads us to the conclusion that veganism must be healthy. There are, however, a lot of things to take into consideration when adopting a vegan diet. It is very easy to miss out on consuming essential nutrients, and it is equally easy to chow down on processed junk.
Important nutrients that vegans might be lacking are protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron. There is a very good reason that we eat meat and animal products: they are packed full of nutrients! When we avoid them altogether, we really need to pay a lot of attention to what we eat so that we don't become deficient in anything. Most of the time vegans end up requiring a daily supplement to ensure that they are consuming all of the right nutrients, but supplementation is something that we should all be wary of: a supplement does not give us leeway to eat unhealthy, and it could even lead to overdosing on some nutrients so that we reach toxic levels of them. It is rare for someone to reach toxic levels of a nutrient simply from their diet; most of the time if they have reached toxicity levels, it is because of their multivitamin.
The other problem is that a lot of processed foods are now vegan. There are veganized versions of chips and cookies and crackers and hot dogs. Most kinds of non-dairy milks have lengthy ingredient lists including several kinds of sugar. Bakeries offer many vegan choices for cookies and muffins. Just because it doesn't contain eggs or butter, doesn't mean that the food is devoid of sugar or fats! Tofu, while a good source of protein and versatile enough to add to just about anything, is highly processed.
These are all things to remember when anyone begins to eliminate a food group: Why are we impressed by it? What do we mean when we say "good for you"? What kind of lens are we viewing these diets in?
It's easy to start talking and throwing in our $0.02. Understanding what the heck we mean when we open our mouths is something else entirely.
The rant is one of my favourite rhetorical genres. It is characterized by a unique set of qualities that instantly capture attention and can really mesmerize an audience. Often the response that the rhetorician receives after embarking on a rant is either exasperated or amused, but people tend to really listen to a rant. It's even a form of entertainment. Most stand-up comedians use the rant in their shows.
A few of the qualities that characterize the rant include:
- One-sided, uninterrupted, binary structure (someone's right, someone's wrong)
- Spontaneous, gestural, uncensored, intensely passionate emotion
- Rhetorical questions with repetition and a fast rate of articulation
Rants tend to be associated with arrogance, anger, and negativity. While someone is ranting, they are usually waiting for an opening to make their argument best heard. Timing, for a rant, is everything. Sometimes the person who is ranting will became completely engrossed in their rant and lose control, thus reducing their credibility, but in other situations the rhetorician is perfectly controlled. Rick Mercer is an expert at ranting and he always manages to rant with perfect poise. He is able to get his point across more effectively because of this.
One of the best examples of the rant genre is the infamous I Am Canadian Molson beer commercial. The commercial itself is full of binaries as the narrator declares his understanding of the differences between Canada and the USA (prime minister/president, peacekeeping/militaristic, diversity/assimilation, zed/zee), indicating that meaning is differential. Binaries show us that nothing means anything in and of itself. Things instead take their meaning from what they are opposed to.
Binaries are a key aspect to the rant. When someone is ranting, they are describing everything that they do not believe in, and through their rejection of some things they are selecting other things that they *do* believe in, even if they are not consciously aware of it. The I Am Canadian commercial shows that as Canadians, we don't have a very clear identity. Instead we are aware of what we are not; we know what we do not want to be. From this we conclude that we must be the binary opposition.
The rant is implicitly linked to identity. There might even be an identity crisis going on. The only way, then, for the person who is ranting to determine their own identity, is to rant about that which they do not approve of. By eliminating specific possibilities for what their identity could potentially be, they can narrow it down to who and what they really are.
Cell phones and social networking sites have been on the rise for the past few years now, but suddenly they are really taking off. With the large scale Twitter following and the development of newer, better cell phones and the iPhone, it sometimes seems as though we can't go a day without relying on these technical devices. And now it's gone one step further: even our novels are being typed up and invented on Twitter and on cell phones.
Although I tweet and blog on a regular basis, I can't imagine writing a novel in that way. It's a personal preference, but once something as intimate as writing fiction takes place on these kinds of devices, it really goes to show just how much control technology has on our lives. There are both advantages and disadvantages to our addiction to Twitter, cell phones, and the Internet in general:
- We might work at a faster pace, but accuracy is falling by the wayside. Our busy lives and need for speed means that we get a lot done, but is it really worth it if we do a sloppy job?
- Most of the "conversations" on Twitter are pointless babble and therefore time-wasters. But are they really? Could it not just be considered easy-going banter between friends? The supposed "babble" is also a way to network. Communities built through Twitter are helpful for meeting new people interested in your field.
- One study shows that students may learn more from taking an online course than an in-classroom course. I have taken online courses before and it's difficult to say if I learned any more from it than a regular class. I would argue that it depends on many factors, including how the instruction is taking place, if there is any in-person coursework involved, and if it is individual or group work.
- Twitter could lead to emotional detachment. Friendships crumble when we begin to rely on social networking systems as our main form of communication. We forget that seeing people face to face is necessary- we can't rely on the Internet to be our sole way to keep up a friendship.
- Cell phones and twitter have the advantage of getting information to the world faster than some other forms of mainstream media. Journalists that are up to speed on the latest technology- and who are at the right place at the right time- can take advantage of this to be the first one on the scene with all of the information right there to break the news to the world. Regular people can, too.
- Texting Championships. Need I say more?
Social networking sites, cell phones... there's no escaping from any of it. And I don't think that anyone would really want to escape it, either. These forms of communication have done their job well.