April 5, 2007
One of the regular readers over at The Liberty Papers is doing a college paper on the similarities between bloggers & pamphleteers. He was looking for an expert to interview, and when he couldn’t find one, he contacted me. With his permission, I’m posting his questions and my answers below the fold.
1. What do you think are the biggest similarities between bloggers today and colonial pamphleteers?
I think the biggest similarity is that it opens communication to the masses. Journalist AJ Liebling once said that freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. While the rise of pamphleteering brought the power of the press to the common man in the 1700’s, blogs have done so today. It is possible, either for free or for a small hosting fee, to provide your ideas to the world.
To understand the similarities between bloggers and pamphleteers, it is also important to understand what they are not. They are not typically authors of scholarly books. They are not typically professional journalists. They are ordinary people from all walks of life with ideas that they want to share, because they think those ideas are important.
The other important similarity is the dynamism involved. Just as it is expensive to write, print, and sell/market a book, it is very inexpensive to do any of these with pamphlets or blogs. Both cover ideas in a much more in-depth manner than a newspaper, but in a much quicker time to print than a book. While most of the mainstream world focuses on the “major” pamphlets and blogs (like Common Sense and Instapundit), though, the world of each was much wider than will remembered for posterity. One book you might want to see if your school’s library has is “Pamphlets Of The American Revolution”, by Bernard Bailyn. It’s was planned as a 4-volume set (although only one has gone to print) containing some of the most influential pamphlets of the time. But the very fact that you could fill 4 volumes simply with the influential pamphlets should clue you in to the idea that the world of pamphleteering filled a lot more space than those few pamphlets which made it into the history books. This is very similar to the world of blogs today. While there are some major blogs out there on the ‘net (a group which The Liberty Papers has unfortunately not yet cracked), there are countless multitudes below of people taking advantage of their ability to publish. Some are great, some are horrible, and most are in between, but they’re all out there in the marketplace of ideas, much like the pamphleteers were before us.
Last, it is important to point out a crucial difference between blogging and pamphleteering, which is due largely to the differences between modern and colonial times. The pamphleteers of the time were writing for readers with a much longer attention span than bloggers can get away with today. I just recently read Common Sense, and it’s a 50-page mini-book. Pamphleteers, of course, didn’t have to compete with driving kids going to soccer practice and what’s on the TV each night, and thus they could afford more room. The blogs of today are mostly short and to the point, and a treatise like Common Sense would likely go unnoticed and unread by today’s readers, much to our detriment.
2. It is said that George Washington read Paine’s “The Crisis” to American troops and it increased motivation for the cause of liberty. In your experience, have there been instances where blogging has helped to unite the American populace in such a way?
It is here that I don’t think blogs necessarily fill the same role as pamphlets. It is here, especially, where the nature of what we describe as the “blogosphere” as a collective entity becomes important. It is rare that individual bloggers write something so profound that it moves beyond a fairly small circle. However, because of the design of the blogosphere, it does have the ability to move a message around quite effectively. When the message itself is important enough, the blogosphere’s linked structure amplifies the message to the point where the American people cannot ignore it.
There have been numerous instances of the blogosphere driving the news cycle, particularly in politics. The most famous is the Dan Rather “fake, but accurate” Texas Air National Guard scandal. Before the world of blogs, such a scandal would have probably gone unnoticed until after the election, and may have even changed the outcome. Instead, a horde of bloggers pounced on the story, and Dan Rather was instantly discredited. Since then, as blogs have become even more widespread, their ability to influence the debate has become even more apparent. Blogs moved word and created debate about the Kelo decision that likely would have gotten unnoticed elsewhere. It was blogs who kept the pressure on when a local woman here in Atlanta, 88-year-old Kathryn Johnston, was killed in a drug raid. It may have been that pressure which resulted in indictments of the officers involved. The effect on politics has been even more profound, as bloggers combed over the public (and occasionally private) statements, histories, and policies of politicians in the 2006 midterm elections, and have already been pounding the pavement in the 2008 Presidential race.
There is a last point, and this is due as much to the nature of the internet in general than necessarily bloggers. The internet itself has allowed people to come together based on personal interests, based on ideology, etc. I can just as easily find fellow libertarians online as I can find fellow homebrewers. While it would be very difficult for me to find like-minded people in the offline world to debate and learn about libertarianism, it was very easy in the online world. Thus, I have access to ideas that a person of my age (28) would have taken another three decades to find without the internet. In this, I’m not alone. The internet has changed the way that information is transmitted, and the implications of that change are currently beyond our ability to foresee. Blogging itself is only 5 years old, and it’s already changing the political and social landscape. Imagine what it might do in another 5 or 10 years!
3. In what way do you think writing for The Liberty Papers and The Unrepentant Individual has made you like early American political writers?
I think the key point, as I see it, is that there are important things going on in the world, and like early American writers, I desire to be a participant in the debate, not a casual observer.
One of the things that has always fascinated me about the Founding Fathers is that they were normal men, on an uncertain course, who ended up doing quite extraordinary things. We idolize them as if they were were a picture of perfection, but when you learn about them, you see just how REAL they were. They had their petty squabbles, they had family disputes. To hear the stories of Ben Franklin’s heartbreak as he had to face the fact that he and his own son were taking different sides in the war for Independence, really hits home that these were ordinary men. Even more important, we look at history as if it were pre-ordained, as if these men knew that they would be victorious in the struggle for Independence. They knew nothing of the sort; they were taking on the world’s most powerful empire armed with nothing more than the force of their ideas and the force of their muskets. They didn’t know they would be victorious, they simply knew that the struggle was worth it either way.
Like them, I am an ordinary man. My education is not in political science or in liberal arts; I’m an engineer. I’ve got plenty of flaws, and I’m not sure whether what I’m doing is having an impact, and if I am, whether that impact will ultimately prove to be futile. There are some days when I think that America is slipping into tyranny and that there are only a tiny few of us who care, or even notice. There are other days when I think that perhaps facing the darkness will be the catalyst to turn America back towards light. I don’t know where the world will be in 5 years, 10 years, or beyond. What I know is that I will not sit idly by and let it all come to pass around me. I want to be a part of it. I may be only a small part, but I will be heard. I think that’s the same feeling those early American political writers had, and that’s what I identify with when I put myself in that place.
January 4, 2007
I’ve said before that I’m an engineer, I enjoy being an engineer, and for the money, there’s little better. But what if money weren’t a worry anymore?
Well, I’ve a had a few thoughts on that. First, my dream of writing a book would take a more central role in my life. And there’d be some travel, and some other enjoyment. But sometimes you need to be doing, and without a purpose, I’d go crazy. One of my options would be to open a brewpub with my wife. I could take care of the beer side of things, she could handle the menu (being a great cook), and it could be a heck of a lot of fun.
But I have one other nagging idea… I think about starting a school. There’s something rotting in our system of public education, and I think I know what it is. One of these days I need to read a bit of John Taylor Gatto, because I think he figured it out long before I did. But I think about why so much of my own public school education didn’t work for me, and how it doesn’t work for people like me. I see people who get discouraged and disillusioned. I see an entire educational system reduced to the lowest common denominator, not only in educational standards, but in behavioral standards as well (i.e. “zero tolerance”). I see a system where we’re teaching kids to “do”, but not to “think”.
I was struck when visiting my brother last month about some of the ways that Marines talk. He’s a Marine pilot, and the dream for a lot of military pilots is to make your way out to the airlines, where the real money is. Many of them look at the civilian world like it’s a machine. And you know what they say? “Plug me in!” I think something about being stuck in an outright machine, where are things like “orders” instead of “suggestions”, and “commanding officers” instead of “supervisors and managers”, tends to clarify the world a bit. Of course, the Marine Corps is a machine, and the corporate world is a machine, retail and the restaurant business are machines, and even life as a dependent of the state is a machine. Many of us look at our goal in life to make sure we plug into the “right” machine. I think our educational system is designed simply to make us want to plug into the machine, and to properly fit in that machine.
But that’s not good enough. I want to teach kids to design, build, operate, and maintain the machine. I don’t want to teach kids to fit into the system. There are enough of those kids around. They don’t wonder about the world, they don’t question the world, and the idea of individual rational thought terrifies them. I simply want to teach kids to ask “Why?” and then teach them how to answer their own question. I want to teach them that the answer to any question, and by extension the world, is within their grasp. But it goes one step further. I want to teach them that they don’t need to simply trust the answers provided to them, whether it be from friends, family, clergy, their boss, or their elected official or bureaucrat. If the answer given doesn’t seem right (and often also when it does), its their own responsibility to make sure they can find the right one. I don’t know if it would even take all that much effort. Once people wake up, they rarely choose to lull back to sleep. I think with enough effort to show them how badly others are trying to control their lives, they’ll learn the desire to control their own.
Now, many of you are probably thinking I’d like to indoctrinate some future libertarians. But that’s not my intent. Trying to create a generation of free-thinking individuals may have that result, but the wider result is an increase in the number of people who can do good in the world. It’s an increase in the number who may become entrepreneurs. Or it’s an increase in the number who may become scholars, scientists, and inventors, increasing the worlds supply of knowledge. At the very least, it’s a group of people who aren’t led by whim; it’s a group of people who know how to intelligently choose those who will lead them.
But it’s not only a positive action, it’s a defensive action. It’s a line in the sand. It’s a declaration that “I will not stand idly by while another generation becomes mindless drones in service to State and Corporation.” But it’s still only a dream, and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. Maybe someday I’ll take the time and effort to realize it.
The Unrepentant Individual linked with Engineering
December 12, 2006
To hear the students tell it, Stephen Murmer is a fun, popular art teacher who is always quick to crack a joke. But there is another side to Murmer. A side that has agitated school officials and resulted in his suspension. A side that focuses, almost entirely, on the crack in his backside.
Outside of class and under an alter ego, the self-proclaimed “butt-printing artist” creates floral and abstract art by plastering his posterior and genitals with paint and pressing them against canvas. His cheeky creations sell for hundreds of dollars.
This has not gone over well with Chesterfield County school officials, who placed Murmer on administrative leave from his job at Monacan High School.
I’ve often said that when I have kids, I’m going to give them a bunch of paint and a canvas, take the result to a gallery and tell them I made it, and see how much money I can make. That’s how much I typically value “abstract art”.
But I’m all for people to make whatever art their heart desires, and if people want to pay them hundreds of dollars for it, more power to them. Of course, when you’re a public school teacher, you might have to keep a lower profile, but this teacher was doing that, acting under a different name and always in disguise when being interviewed/photographed with his art. And his subject matter is completely tame, even if his methods are a little unconventional.
So why did they discipline him?
“In the school system, personnel regulations state that teachers are expected to set an example for students through their personal conduct,” Marlow said. “Additionally, the Supreme Court has stated that schools must teach by example and that teachers, like parents, are role models.”
Hmm… So he made a successful business out of marketing a quirky style, doing absolutely nothing that would be considered really immoral, and creating art that actually is pretty cool, not in the slightest bit obscene. I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be a role model. Maybe it’s that he just doesn’t fit into the cookie-cutter mold that our schools are trying to create, that of a mindless drone willing to follow employer and government into the breach. After all, judging by the cost of his art, he’s probably making more money painting with his ass than teaching at the school. Schools these days, unfortunately, don’t really understand anything but the lowest common denominator, and this artist is anything but. The fact that it has come to disciplinary action shows just how hollow our government educational system has become.
December 4, 2006
The U.S. Supreme Court said on Friday it would decide whether a high school principal violated a student’s free-speech rights by suspending him for unfurling a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”.
Student Joseph Frederick says the banner’s language was designed to be meaningless and funny in an effort to get on television as the Winter Olympic torch relay passed by the school in Juneau, Alaska, in January 2002.
But school officials say the phrase “bong hits” refers to smoking marijuana. Principal Deborah Morse suspended Frederick for 10 days because she said the banner advocates or promotes illegal drug use in violation of school policy.
Frederick, 18, had been standing on a public sidewalk across the street from the school when Morse grabbed his banner and crumpled it. Students had been allowed to skip class to watch the relay.
A few things are clear. First, this kid knows that “bong hits” is not exactly meaningless. Granted, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” is a bit silly and meaningless, but it is at least drug-related. But again, he was on a public sidewalk, and I don’t see any reason the school can punish him for this.
There is one key question here, though, which IMHO this case hinges upon:
Frederick’s lawyer, Douglas Mertz, said schools cannot punish students for displaying messages off school property at events that are not sponsored or supervised by the school.
Now, a school-sanctioned or school-supervised event may be governed by the school’s code of conduct, even if it’s not on school property. The school did allow students to skip their classes to be a part of this event, but the question is whether or not it could be considered “sponsored or supervised by the school”.
I would think it’s not. It appears that if they were allowing students to “skip class” to attend this event, that it was more of an understanding that it was not a school event, but that if students chose to attend, it wouldn’t result in punishment for truancy. That, coupled with the fact that the student wasn’t on school property, is enough to tilt my opinion in this one. Hopefully the Court will agree.
August 29, 2006
To quote Lewis Black, anyway…
Georgia has escaped the cellar on the SATs, the tests widely used for college admissions.
Results released Tuesday show Georgia’s students performed well enough to lift the state to 46th place, up last year from a tie for last with South Carolina.
Relative success on the writing portion of the New SATs appeared to have helped raise the achievement level.
With the added writing portion, the new SATs have a total possible score of 2400. Previously, 1600 was a perfect score on the tests.
Georgia’s overall score was 1477, which was lower than the national average of 1518.
The state remained last in math, with an average of 496 out of a possible 800. The state’s score on the verbal portion of the test â€” now known as critical reading â€” fell three points to 494 of a possible 800.
Pennsylvania, Florida and South Carolina all scored lower than Georgia on the new test, with Hawaii pulling up the rear, according to results released by the College Board, overseer of the powerful college admissions exam.
Bastards… This new scoring scale makes my score seem a lot less impressive.
I would like to see how my local school district scored, though. I moved here because it was one of the top districts in the state. But if it’s just a matter of beating up on losers, I might have to consider private schooling anyway. Good thing I’ve got several years to figure it out.
Hat Tip: Jason Pye
May 11, 2006
In the fight to stay on the shelves of Gwinnett County schools, it looks like Harry Potter has won another battle.
The hearing officer in the case has strongly recommended that the best-selling book series stay in school libraries. The decision came after Laura Mallory, a Loganville mother with three children at J.C. Magill Elementary School, filed formal complaints requesting all the Harry Potter books be removed.
Mallory said the books’ descriptions of witchcraft, spells, “demonic activity, murder and evil blood sacrifice” may inspire young readers to pursue occult activities.
Ooh, let’s see where they can take this… They’ll need to remove the Chronicles of Narnia series, because that might inspire young readers towards Christianity, and with the separation of Church and State, we can’t expose youngsters to religion. And they’ll have to stop having children read The Diary of Anne Frank, because those kids might just be inspired to commit a holocaust or two. Let’s definitely stop them from reading The Great Gatsby, because we don’t want to inspire kids to live the “flapper lifestyle”, do we? I’m not even going to get into the filth-laden Catcher in the Rye…
And for the full coup de grace, let’s make sure we pull out “The Cat in the Hat”. Young minds simply aren’t capable of handling the idea of a talking, upright-walking cat. Their fragile little minds might be inspired to put a hat on their cat and mess up the house!
Give me a break… Thankfully, it’s possible cooler heads might prevail:
Hearing officer Su Ellen Bray wrote in her recommendation 10 reasons why she thought the books should remain in school libraries.
She argued that they encouraged children to read for pleasure, and that most students who read them would know they were fantasy, not fact. She also said the books promoted positive themes, such as good prevailing over evil.
Her last reason summarized many of Bray’s earlier points: “To remove this series of critically acclaimed and highly popular books from the school media centers because of a challenge of one parent who has not read any one of the books in its entirety, who has mistakenly identified the themes of the books, and whose main argument is that the books teach the readers to be evil, would open this very fine school system to ridicule by many of its citizens as well as citizens of this nation.
Let me shorten down this recommendation for you: “The lady is a nutjob, and we shouldn’t let our educational system be hijacked by this nutjob. Even if it IS Georgia…”
I think it’s about time to find Ms. Mallory’s address, and start sending her kids some of the favorite books I read growing up… I’ll start with The Great Brain series, I absolutely *loved* those when I was younger…
PS – For any of you with young kids (particularly boys), The Great Brain series is a wonderful start on getting your kid to read. I absolutely devoured those books in grade school…
April 12, 2006
I came across the Logical Fallacies Cheat Sheet. I’m of the mind that something like this should be distributed and taught in all public schools, and given to prospective voters every time a politician opens his mouth. There are plenty of people out there looking to fleece you, and understanding these logical fallacies makes it a heck of a lot harder for them to get away with it.
March 10, 2006
Last month, as I averaged the second-quarter grades for my senior English classes at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., the same familiar pattern leapt out at me.
Kids who had emigrated from foreign countries – such as Shewit Giovanni from Ethiopia, Farah Ali from Guyana and Edgar Awumey from Ghana – often aced every test, while many of their U.S.-born classmates from upper-class homes with highly educated parents had a string of C’s and D’s.
As one would expect, the middle-class American kids usually had higher SAT verbal scores than did their immigrant classmates, many of whom had only been speaking English for a few years.
What many of the American kids I taught did not have was the motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the foreign-born kids.
No arguments here. A student who wants to learn will learn. We hear the success stories all the time, about the poor child from the inner city who manages— against all odds— to rise above and become a successful entrepreneur, or to go to college and become a doctor. In fact, the very heart of the American Dream is that anyone, with the grit to work hard and apply oneself, can be a success.
But one phrase is key: “against all odds”. While parents are not doing nearly enough to push their kids and ensure that the educational system provides results, that doesn’t leave teachers completely off the hook.
And, of course, busy parents guilt-ridden over the little time they spend with their kids are big subscribers to this theory.
Maybe every generation of kids has wanted to take it easy, but until the past few decades students were not allowed to get away with it. “Nowadays, it’s the kids who have the power. When they don’t do the work and get lower grades, they scream and yell. Parents side with the kids who pressure teachers to lower standards,” says Joel Kaplan, another chemistry teacher at T.C. Williams.
Every year, I have had parents come in to argue about the grades I have given in my AP English classes. To me, my grades are far too generous; to middle-class parents, they are often an affront to their sense of entitlement. If their kids do a modicum of work, many parents expect them to get at least a B. When I have given C’s or D’s to bright middle-class kids who have done poor or mediocre work, some parents have accused me of destroying their children’s futures.
In reality, this teacher has more than parents to blame. He is teaching AP English, which are presumably the kids who have been able to coast through school all their lives. They’ve been able to coast not only because they’re smart, but also that the curriculum has been dumbed down to the point where they’ve never faced real opposition. I talked a week ago
about one of my favorite teachers, who told a group of AP US History students on the first day of class that he was going to give us more work than we could possibly handle. For once, someone threw down the gauntlet and told us that we couldn’t cruise through. He asked for our best, so we gave him our best.
The teacher writing this story has the rest of the system that has failed these students before they ever reached his classroom. President Bush has talked about the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. Is that any different than what is happening here? Kids have been told for years that doing the bare minimum will be enough. The few hard classes they have are graded on a curve, which means you don’t have to outrun the bear, you just need to outrun the guy next to you. Is it any wonder that we’ve hit this point?
Neither the high-stakes state exams, such as Virginia’s Standards of Learning, nor the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act have succeeded in changing that message; both have turned into minimum-competency requirements aimed at the lowest in our school.
Colleges keep complaining that students are coming to them unprepared. Instead of raising admissions standards, however, they keep accepting mediocre students lest cuts have to be made in faculty and administration.
As a teacher, I don’t object to the heightened standards required of educators in the No Child Left Behind law. Who among us would say we couldn’t do a little better? Nonetheless, teachers have no control over student motivation and ambition, which have to come from the home – and from within each student.
I give this teacher some credit. He understands that the system is a wider issue, and that there need to be some changes. He even points out (elsewhere in the article) some of the issues that he sees with the system, which is teachers, guidance counselors, and even colleges (as above) bending to the will of students and parents. In fact, it sounds like he’s doing exactly what he should be doing: giving mediocre grades to students that offer him mediocre performances. If his fellow teachers would stand firm and do the same, perhaps kids would up their game to match. Instead, parents of mediocre students think that little Johnny on the honor roll is a future doctor, when his B+ average only shows that he’s got a pulse. Parents frequently don’t know that little Johnny is a lazy bum, and if you send him home with some C’s and D’s, they might start whipping him into shape. If it’s senior year in high school before someone stands up and does that, it’s too little, too late.
A high school diploma used to mean something. It used to mean you had a basic understanding of simple english, basic mathematics, and maybe a little history and social sciences. Now, a high school diploma doesn’t mean anything, and just as lazy students and self-righteous parents have their share of blame, the folks letting them get away with it are just as much at fault.
March 3, 2006
Last year was the first in which telephone companies added more broadband Internet subscribers than their cable TV rivals did, according to a research report.
The largest DSL providers, which have been engaged in a price war that has slashed promotional prices as low as $13 a month, added 5.2 million subscribers in 2005, according to Leichtman Research Group’s analysis of company statements.
The major cable companies gained 4.4 million high-speed Internet subscribers last year, for a total of 24.3 million. That means cable retained a narrowing lead in total subscribers over the phone-line based DSL technology, or digital subscriber line, which had 18.5 million customers.
The numbers reflect the 20 largest broadband companies in the United States, with 42.8 million total subscribers and about 94 percent of the market. Bruce Leichtman, principal analyst at Leichtman Research, estimates that around 35 million people are still using dial-up access.
Now do people really think that this can’t work for education? You see a market emerge, and prices decrease while service improves, and suddenly things like broadband are accessible to the poor at reasonable rates. All without government enforcing a “right” to broadband.
And everyone thinks that education won’t benefit from a market.