Archive for June 1st, 2009

Why you shouldn’t read important speeches

| June 1, 2009 | 9 Replies
Why you shouldn’t read important speeches

Liz Coleman, the President of Bennington College, has some terrific ideas about reforming liberal arts education. She presented them at TED in February 2009.

Many people will never appreciate Coleman’s ideas, however, because she presented them in a long paper filled with redundant and sesquipedalian (!*) terms. To top it off, she chose to read her speech in monotone rather than speaking from her heart. Coleman’s decision to read her speech rather than presenting it with spontaneous enthusiasm undercuts the very message of her paper. She violated a basic rule of speech-making: Don’t bore your audience with good content deficiently presented.

Why can’t the highly educated C0leman see this conspicuous problem with her own delivery? Why can’t she understand that many people (even the smart sorts of people who attend TED lectures, have lots of trouble paying attention to liberal arts college presidents who read pedantic speeches? For starters, she needs to keep in mind that the Internet audience is not a captive audience motivated by the pursuit of grades.

Yes, ordinary Americans need to become more disciplined at being attentive audiences. They need to learn to persevere when difficult ideas are presented, even when those ideas aren’t sugar-coated. On the other hand, academics (Coleman is one example of many) really need to get out of their ivory towers and learn to talk to real people without sounding condescending.

One suggestion: Coleman should study Barack Obama, who often knows his material well enough to talk off-the-cuff. He has also learned to present pre-written presentations in a fresh, spontaneous-sounding way. I’m not suggesting that everyone can deliver ideas like Obama, but all us can take the time study the various techniques he often uses.

Before getting to work studying her new technique, Coleman should carefully watch her TED presentation and ask herself whether her delivery would even keep her own interest. She should ask what so many academics should ask: was her speech designed primarily to move her audience or was it (perhaps subconsciously) designed to show off her own vocabulary and intellectual superiority, amply laced with uppity intonation? If there is even an unintentional hint of these, she’s lost her audience.

*sesquipedalian
1. given to using long words.
2. (of a word) containing many syllables.

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Frank Schaeffer lays, and takes, the blame for murder –

| June 1, 2009 | 7 Replies
Frank Schaeffer lays, and takes, the blame for murder –

I found this an interesting response to George Tiller’s murder. Frank Schaeffer, a reformed evangelical, argues that the hate speech continually spewed by the religious right regarding abortion set the stage for George Tiller’s murder, and other abortionists before him. He still expresses disgust at late-term abortion, and while I am more likely to agree with that, I do believe there are situations in which that choice is the only one that makes sense. Painful, horribly so, but sometimes the only choice is.

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Alleyway Church, a short photoessay.

| June 1, 2009 | 1 Reply
Alleyway Church, a short photoessay.

Columbus has a certain type of neighborhood layout. Near the city, we don’t live in cul-de-sac’d, freshly built ranch homes that every other Ohio suburbanite inhabits. We live in cracking, ancient buildings on narrow streets, which garages packed, unattached into narrower alleys. Every street therefore has its own alleyed sub-street, a little afterthought that lets you see the more personal details of the inhabitants- the rusted patio furniture, the cornhole sets, the stacks of beer cans being picked over mid-day by local homeless.

I was strolling through one of these alleys this Sunday, taking in the back yard details of the many local homes, when I found something really peculiar:

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Glorious colors wash over Sydney –

| June 1, 2009 | Reply
Glorious colors wash over Sydney –

Wow. I am so wishing I could hop a plane to Australia right now – and not just to visit Hank. Check out these photos of the light show currently on display in Sydney. What a beautiful artistic expression!

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Now you can pay for the convenience of water!

| June 1, 2009 | 7 Replies
Now you can pay for the convenience of water!

This is now the second time in a few months that I’ve gotten the following piece of junk mail:

This letter is advertising a promotion in which, for thirty-two dollars a month and up, I can pay to have bottled water delivered to my door. What a brilliant idea! How could you beat that for convenience?

Oh, that’s right . . . Instead of paying for Poland Spring water at the rate of about $1.64 per gallon, I could get clean, fresh, drinkable water of any temperature I please straight from the tap in my kitchen. I don’t know exactly how much this costs me, but I can say with complete confidence that it’s a lot less than a dollar per gallon.

Clearly, Poland Spring doesn’t want you to think too hard about the economics of this. However, for the environmentally conscious consumer, this mailing also has a page touting their green credentials:

Bottled Water Junk Mail

Recycling 900,000 bottles and keeping 1.8 million pounds of plastic out of landfills is certainly very impressive. But, the skeptic in me has to ask, wouldn’t it be much better for people to just use their perfectly good existing public infrastructure for drinking water, and not have to manufacture all that plastic in the first place?

The bottled-water industry is one of the great triumphs of modern marketing: creating demand for a product for which there’s absolutely no genuine need, selling at exorbitant cost a substance which any person in the Western world can obtain virtually for free. Even more absurd, despite its imagery of glaciers and mountain springs, most bottled water comes from municipal sources – i.e., the same water you get from your tap anyway.

What bottled water really represents is almost pure profit for the beverage conglomerates that sell it, and unnecessary environmental harm caused by the expenditure of fossil fuels needed to manufacture, pack and ship it (not to mention sending out all this junk mail touting it). It’s no healthier than the water that comes from the tap in your house. It doesn’t even taste better. What on earth could convince a person to pay money for a scheme as ridiculous as this?

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Darfur, lest we forget –

| June 1, 2009 | Reply
Darfur, lest we forget –

Bob Herbert, in the NY Times, wrote this week of a new report on the continuing human catastrophe in Darfur. In describing why he reported on what, to some, is old news, he reminded us “about the dangers inherent in indifference to the suffering of others. Stories of atrocities on the scale of those coming out of Darfur cannot be told too often.”

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