December 28, 2004

THE CSI EFFECT

I borrowed some CSI episodes from a friend, and I'm about overdosed on the show. Last night I spilled a squirt of lotion and my immediate thought was that it would really confuse forensic experts. I need to get out more.

However, in watching the show, I started wondering if the popularity of shows like CSI or Law & Order has had an impact on jurors. And apparently it has; there's even a name for it: "the CSI effect"...

But the programs also foster what analysts say is the mistaken notion that criminal science is fast and infallible and always gets its man. That's affecting the way lawyers prepare their cases, as well as the expectations that police and the public place on real crime labs. Real crime-scene investigators say that because of the programs, people often have unrealistic ideas of what criminal science can deliver.

I wonder about the effect of high expectations. I know that I personally have read articles about the unreliability of witnesses, even in classes such as neurolinguistics. I'd be skeptical of any witness testimony. Too skeptical? I don't know. Perhaps. One mantra that CSI drills into the viewer's head is that people can lie but the evidence can't. I think that lesson might be in the back of my mind if I were a juror.

One thing that I have learned from the show, that I hope I never have to put to use, might be how to intentionally leave evidence. In one episode, one of the CSIs went on a ransom drop and kept leaving intentional clues for her fellow CSIs to find. Sometimes, when my mind wanders furthest, I think about that use of forensics.

Of course, my favorite Onion article ever was "Area Man Has Complete Prison-Survival Strategy", in which the man lies in bed and makes plans for what he would do if he were jailed. My imagination frequently runs away with me like that.

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December 23, 2004

TV SUCKS

CavX laments the values being portrayed on TV these days and notes that the last show to "reflect the values of the average American was probably The Cosby Show." I'll drink to that. TV is such crap these days. The only thing we watch in this household is Smallville, which represents Superman's values, so how can you go wrong there? I also never miss a rerun of Happy Days. Arthur Fonzarelli is one of the greatest role models of all times: he's the coolest guy in town, but secretly he wishes he were Richie. (Oddly enough, Lex Luthor fills the same shoes in Smallville.)

We also are big fans of animated shows (Futurama, South Park, Family Guy, The Simpsons). I remember when my brother got interested in The Simpsons early on, I thought it was a terrible show with terrible values. I mean, Homer was always choking Bart. But that was the extent of my knowledge about the show. As I've started to watch earlier episodes, I've seen some very heartening things. Homer may be a bumbling fool, but he loves his family and always puts them ahead of himself (see "Colonel Homer" or "I Married Marge"), and Fry may be a fool, but he loves Leela (see "Parasites Lost" or "Time Keeps On Slipping"). And the women on the shows don't treat the men nearly as badly as un-animated women do. I stopped watching Everybody Loves Raymond the day Debra drove Ray to rip up his Super Bowl tickets. I couldn't believe that she could be so selfish as to refuse him the happiness of going to the Super Bowl with a buddy. Modern women treat men like dirt on sitcoms, but Marge is always patient and loving. She loves Homer for who he is, not who she can make him into. Leela's not there yet -- she preferred the parasitic Fry -- but she doesn't try to make Fry something he's not; she just doesn't date him. (I'm hoping she comes around in Season 5; Nibbler needs to get to work on his promise!)

Several years ago, I had an argument with a feminist: she said that it was demeaning to take on gender-specific roles in the household, even if you don't mind. I said that I was perfectly happy with doing the dishes and laundry while my husband mowed and took out the trash, so why should we switch chores just to avoid being gender-bound? She was appalled; I was bewildered.

I'm a pretty old fashioned girl. One of my students brought in The Good Wife's Guide to show me as a joke. To be honest, I don't really think it's that funny. I think one of the best ways to success in marriage is to care about your spouse more than you care about yourself. Caring for my husband means recognizing that he works harder than I do every day, and that my stupid problems of arguing with my co-worker are nothing compared to what he faces in Baqubah. Caring for him means wanting him to come home to a clean house and yummy food. Caring for him means bringing him a beer or going to get him a cookie. The trick is that I do those things because I want to, not because he expects or forces me to. That's the key to success. My goal is to make his life better or easier, which makes him happier, which makes me happier. It has nothing to do with being trapped in gender stereotypes or forced to act like Susie Homemaker. There's nothing inherently wrong with traditional gender roles; the only problem is when someone is forced to fit a role she doesn't want. I willingly accept the role, and I'm happy to do it. TV women these days consistently seem to resent that role, and thus end up paired with unhappy husbands. They don't care about their spouse more than themselves; they care about "being equal." I'm just not interested in watching that.

So anyway, the phone just rang and I've lost track of where I was going with all of this. If I were one of my students, I'd lose points for having a weak thesis. In summary: TV sucks. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go see what's on.

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December 20, 2004

AGENDA

Tonight I watched The Day After Tomorrow. The social agenda in that movie was almost as bad as Superman IV.

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December 15, 2004

OBSCURITY

Every once in a while, I find myself wondering what Saddam is up to. Especially when I see him cavorting with Satan all the time. (I still think Saddam should be forced to watch South Park episodes starring himself. Cruel and unusual? You betcha.)

So it's always fun to find an article about what Saddam is doing these days. Oh look, he's starving himself to prove a point.

A year after his capture on December 13, 2003 Saddam, once the most visible symbol of the country he ruled for 33 years, has faded into obscurity amid the daily insurgency that has engulfed Iraq.

To quote John Kreese of the Cobra Kai: "You're nothin', you lost, you're a loser." But don't let Saddam fade too much away; we have to keep ourselves pumped up for the day when he's executed.

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December 13, 2004

MONEY WHERE MOUTH

I got a little frustrated the other day. My former roommate writes for an anti-war publication. Sigh. It was no surprise, really; if you met her, you'd instantly recognize her as anti-war. But something about seeing her name there in black and white really irked me.

I figured out what was bothering me so much the next day when I read an update on the Friends of Iraq Blogger Challenge. Many blogs that I read every day are raising insane amounts of money for Spirit of America to help Iraqi citizens. LGF alone has raised over $14,000. Apparently one of LGF's readers went over to one of the biggest left-leaning blogs and asked why none of them had considered contributing:

Why aren't you involved in Friends of Iraq Blogger Challenge? Whether or not we agree on the war, can we not agree that it would be best for a Free Iraq to get off the ground? Not only for the US but for the Iraqis themselves?

Your side whines that conservatives are cold and cruel, but when it comes to demonstrating compassion with your own money (as opposed to someone else’s) the Left seems rather reluctant.

I’m here to throw down the gauntlet. LGF has hit the ten grand mark.

Can you compassionate Leftists beat us?

It was a snarky challenge, but a legitimate one, I think. The response his question generated was quite disheartening. Most commenters just called him names (remember, this is the lefty blog that linked to that ass who called me fucktard dumb...), while others refused to participate in Spirit of America because, naturally, their money would just be funneled back into Dick Cheney's pockets.

And I realized what was bothering me.

My old roommate writes poetry to speak out against the war. Atrios' readers use their filthy mouths to denigrate right-leaning bloggers. But what have they done of substance? If you oppose the war, shouldn't you support helping Iraqis put their country back together? Regardless of whether Bush looks like a chimp or not, shouldn't the idea that someone is raising money to help the common people of Iraq be a good thing? If you believe the war was wrong, shouldn't you believe the people of Iraq were right and thus want to help them?

It's warmongers and chickenhawks who have raised $62865.72 so far for the people of Iraq. As far as I understand, there's not a lefty blog among the participants. I find that very sad.

My old roommate writes anti-war poems. I donated to Spirit of America. Which one of us has done more to help the people of Iraq?

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December 06, 2004

UNCONDITIONAL?

Is it possible for "unconditional love" to go one step too far? This question has bothered me since the day I saw Kip Kinkel's parents stand behind him. Then I saw John Walker Lindh's parents stand behind him, and now this strangler's cousin stand behind him. Am I the one who's nuts? Just because you're related to someone doesn't mean you have to stand behind them when they murder people, does it? If one of my family members -- be it cousin, brother, or husband -- strangled three people in cold blood, I sure as hell wouldn't stand up for him. I don't have children, so I can't really speak on the love that parents have for their children, but aren't there some things that cross that unconditional love boundary? Like coldhearted murder? Parents in the audience, please help me on this one.


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December 04, 2004

BENT AT COLLEGE

Over at Bunker Mulligan, an interesting discussion started in the comments section. Later Bunker addressed the issue: "concern that Republicans are becoming a bit over the top regarding the liberal bent on college campuses." I missed out on the discussion while I was sleeping, so I thought I'd hop in now.

Yes, I am guilty of dismissing academics...and I'm one of them. When the professor who is teaching Writing for Business proclaims himself a communist and the sociology prof keeps raving about Dude, Where's My Country?, well, it's easy to dismiss them. I have started looking skeptically at all professors, especially when they're writing articles like the one that drove me insane last spring. They don't all deserve to be dismissed, but far too many of them bring their personal agendas into the classroom. Heck, that's what made me start blogging in the first place.

Bunker talks about how none of his students could ever tell what side of the issues he stood on. I wrote about this over a year ago, and I'm just going to re-say the same thing here.

***

At Joanne Jacobs, we find a link to the Chicago Tribune article about critical thinking in a high school classroom:

The topic of class discussion was "Iraqification"--a term associated with the transfer of responsibility for Iraq's security from American soldiers to the Iraqi people -- and the students did not lack opinions on the subject.
Leading the Advanced Placement World History lab at Noble Street Charter High School in Chicago, teacher Joe Tenbusch asked his students at what time during the Iraq conflict more people have been killed.
"After we won," said Victoria Janik, 16, with a smirk, bringing nods and smiles of agreement from her peers, who had been pondering President Bush's possible motives for favoring Iraqification.
While some educators might find the exchange valuable--or, at worst, harmless--an outspoken group of social studies teachers around the country say such classroom scenes breed cynical, anti-American attitudes.
High school students, they argue, simply are not mature enough to engage in critical thinking. Teachers should focus on imparting a solid knowledge of history, economics, American traditions and government--in short, the ideals and values of a free society.

Joanne points out that there's no dichotomy here (you don't either teach thinking or facts); there's instead a relationship between how much you know about a topic and how well you can critically think about it. She adds,

In this case, the student is right in thinking that U.S. casualties (not "people") are a factor in the desire to give more authority to Iraqis. The question is whether she knows other facts. How many people did Saddam Hussein kill, directly and indirectly? How did the Occupation go in Germany and Japan after World War II? How did South Korea become a democracy?

Her commenters begin a discussion of the capability of teachers to actually teach critical thinking. Reader Tom West aptly points out,

Possibly, just possibly, teachers have a wide range of opinions like the rest of the humanity. Some support the current government, some support the last, some support both, and some support neither. Teachers are not a monolithic lot. To teach critical thinking requires that you be able to explain both sides of an issue, even when you don't subscribe to both sides.

I can think of one instance when I tried to do this and did it well. I was actually quite proud of myself. I was teaching ESL at the University of Illinois, and we were doing a unit on persuasive writing. Since one of the major issues on campus is the Native American mascot there, I decided that this would be a topic that they should understand since they were students at the university but that the students (who mostly came from Korea and South America) wouldn't already have an opinion on. And since I had been heavily involved in the debate on campus and had read the entire Chief Illiniwek Dialogue Report to the Board of Trustees, I knew both sides of the issue like the back of my hand. I told my students that I indeed heartily supported one side of the issue, but that I would not tell them which side I supported, and that they were going to learn about both sides. We read the whole Dialogue, watched a video tape, reported on the protestors carrying picket signs through campus, and had a two-hour discussion where they asked me questions about what people on the campus believed. We covered both sides; for every question they asked, I reported what the pro-Chief and the anti-Chief people would reply. After our information gathering, the students wrote their persuasive papers on the stance they had developed (whether the Chief Illiniwek mascot should be retained or retired) and turned them in. The next class period we had an in-class writing assignment where the students had to write a one page paper saying whether they thought that I personally supported the Chief or not. The result? Half of the class guessed I did, and the other half guessed I didn't. And I never told them which side I was on.

The reason this worked is because I was determined to let these students decide for themselves. It didn't matter to me which side they chose, as long as they read about the issue and formed logical and informed opinions. And I didn't want them to cop out and write the "easy" paper, the one that agreed with the teacher. We spent an equal amount of time on both sides, but the dicipline had to be mine. I was the one who did the most work, having to argue for both sides equally as passionately and equally as strong. I had to be impartial, I had to keep secret my involvement in the debate, and I had to let the students learn, even if what they were learning disagreed with my opinion. I don't think most teachers are willing to do this. It's easier to be like Professor Cockroach and talk off the cuff about one's own opinions and side of the story. It's much harder to give a reasoned debate for both sides, and many teachers don't care enough about their students to want them to learn how to learn. They just want them to regurgitate. I think it's a real problem in education, and I think we're doing a real disservice to our students. Heck, I didn't learn how to learn until I started reading blogs and writing my own. Can we make blogging a school subject?

***

(back to 2004) It's much harder for me to do this with the war. It's difficult for me to argue for both sides, so I just don't do it. I don't talk war in the classroom. Sometimes my students try to get going, and I let them go back and forth together, but I never chime in. They're also not allowed to write any of their papers about the war because 1) they're not allowed to ignore any Army Values in my class, 2) I have read far too much about the war to ever concede that they will have done enough research, and 3) I know cannot objectively read a paper that's anti-war. And since I don't want to introduce anything into the class that's not objective, both my view and theirs are off limits. I can, and do, objectively read papers on many things that I disagree with, but the war is too close to my heart for that.

Universities these days just don't seem to have enough honest debate from both sides. I took a class once on Malcolm X, and any time someone said something even remotely unfavorable about Malcolm X, the black students immediately got angry. My roommate took a class where the teacher gave her an F on a paper because "you know I don't agree with your viewpoint, so why would you think of writing on this topic?" I once taught a class where, heaven forbid, I used the argument that hate speech should be protected under the First Amendment as a sample argument for a persuasive paper, and a Korean student went to our director and turned me in as a racist.

Sigh.

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