The Syrian Situation

The ongoing situation in Syria, has attracted attention from around the globe.  Like many Americans, I have been following the news stories for a few months now.  I am grateful that another foreign war no longer seems imminent, because I do not wish to see my friends and family members sent overseas.  However, I do find the situation to be very upsetting and I wish there was more that both America and myself could do to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

While reading through the New York Times today, I found yet another article describing the current situation in Syria.  The article, which can be seen here, describes the ongoing struggles between the rebels and the Syrian government.  The Syrian rebels claim, according to the article, that the government is using cease-fires as a tactic to achieve victory.  Essentially, the government is calling a surrender, a “cease-fire,” and using their power over food supplies to achieve a victory that might not be possible with continued fighting.  One of the goverment’s conditions for the “cease-fire” is that the state-run news media will film rebel towns with the government flags being openly displayed.

The tactics the Syrian government are employing demonstrate effective strategies that not only illustrate some of the things discussed in my Rhetoric of Professional Writing course, but also invite rhetorical discussions about the whole situation in the middle-east.  For instance, is it acceptable for the Assad government to remain in power, despite their past use of chemical weapons on civilians?  Do the rebel fighters fight for the best interests of all Syria, or for merely themselves?  Perhaps most importantly, how involved should the United Nations be in the Syrian conflict?

In response to the first question, I do not believe that any person should remain in a position of power after they have attacked civilians.  Although I would like to see the situation in Syria resolved without violence and American soldiers, I think history has demonstrated that men like President Bashar al-Assad will continue to abuse their authority.  On the other hand, history has also shown that groups that rise to power through violence, often become corrupt once they are in a position of power.  For this reason, I am reluctant to see the outcome of either Assad or the Syrian rebels as the conflicts victor.  As for the final question, I think it is the responsibility for all well-established, successful nations to participate in the global community and encourage peaceful solutions to all problems.  Additionally, I feel that America has thoroughly established a tradition of being a global peace-keeper and no matter how involved the U.N. remains, America has some responsibility to stay involved for the duration of the crisis.

The upcoming peace talks in Switzerland will hopefully provide a final solution to the Syrian crisis.  In the meantime, both the rebels and the Syrian government continue to be the focus of many public discussions.  Rhetorical devices play an important part, becasuse they are used not only by the members of the conflicting groups, but also by citizens around the globe as they discuss the situation.  Today marks the last day of my online course, however as I continue my time at Bloomsburg University, and eventually pursue a career, I am continually reminded of the central role that rhetorical discussions play in the modern world.

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The Persuasive Methods of the Media

As I mentioned in the previous post, I read through the New York Times on a daily basis.  I also try to keep informed on the world’s current affairs by checking news media sites, and reading through a few magazines from time to time.  I learn about general pop culture in Rolling Stone, the latest cycling news in Bicycle,  and new products from CNET.com.  After glancing through each of them today, in order to find a topic for this blog, I realized that all types of media engage in some form of persuasive rhetoric.

The sites and publications that are primarily interested in dispensing current events use credibility appeals to persuade people to acquire new information from them.  “Fair and Balanced” or “News you can trust” are popular slogans news networks use to convey the sense that they are politically unbiased.  Additionally, ads for the printed news sources say things like “word class journalism” or “with more prize winning writer’s than any other publication”, in an attempt to gain wider circulation.  All of these examples are using the same types of rhetorical strategies to entice readers.  Of course, the obvious question is “which one is really the most accurate?”  I’ve found over the years, that each news source often has the same “facts” to offer their readers, with the differences between each source being largely attributable to presentation and style.  If you can read between the lines, the news source that will most likely appeal to you, is the one that resonates most with your literary or media preferences.

As for the websites and publications that are not interested in selling the news, their appeals largely target the emotional core of their audience.  For instance, fitness magazines often advertise new workout tips that you need in order to achieve a healthier body.  Each issue claims to offer better, faster results and an overall happier you at the end of whatever program they are promoting this month.  But how can their be so many different types of exercises, and which ones are really the best?  The short answer is that the workout tips and exercises are largely the same from month to month.  The authors or instructors simply switch some of the names, make a few negligible tweaks, and present a new program packaged in words designed to make you feel fresh; regardless of whether or not you actually attempt to follow the advice.  The same could easily be said of almost every type of non-current events media.

In fact, a careful eye at the grocery store will spot the same techniques being used to sell food.  Every so often, orange juice (or other beverages) companies change their packaging, font and text color, and slap a phrase like “new improved formula” on the bottle…and it usually works to improve sales, for at least a small amount of time.

Every type of organization that is attempting to acquire profit, engages in some form of rhetorical persuasion.  They first provide their target demographic with a need; sometimes a need they did not even realize they had, and then engage in varied persuasive techniques to show the audience that they can satisfy that need.  By paying attention to the types of strategies that are being used, you can protect yourself from the powerful effects of fancy language and avoid paying $2 more for the new improved Oreo…it’s still the same cookie as ever.

Internet Freebies

Up to this point, many of my blogs have focused on the darker side of technology and social media.  Although there certainly is a yin to every yang, I do not wish to come across like a curmudgeon with regards to technological progress.  So for this blog, I decided it would be interesting to explore some of the more wonderful aspects of technology and the ways that it is improving modern society.  This blog was mostly inspired by an article featured in the New York Times today.  The article, which can be viewed here, details the remarkable progress that researchers have achieved while mapping the human brain.

The mapping project is being undertaken at Washington University by a large team of skilled scientists, who are using computers and data from over 1,000 volunteers, to create the most extensive and complete map of the healthy human brain to date.  The massive amount of precise readings being collected, is made possible by non-invasive MRI scanners; a technological wonder that has allowed modern scientists to view brain activity in real time.  In addition to collecting the data, the research team is working to build an interactive map that will allow people to see the ways neurons are connected and develop a more complete understanding of how the brain works.

The detailed map is itself an impressive feat that is only possible with modern software and computers.  One researcher highlighted the important role technology plays when he said (hopefully) “that the Human Connectome Project will be a step toward… something more like Google Maps, which is interactive and has many layers.”  Like Google Maps, a highly detailed interface such as the one the research team is attempting to create, requires input from as many sources as possible.  In the case of the Connectome Project, the input comes from 1,000’s of brains volunteering to be studied; as well as a few brilliant brains willing to do the studying.  Each person that volunteers participates in hours of testing, with the resultant data taking multiple more hours for researchers to interpret.

The best part about this large, highly-ambitious, technological undertaking?  All of the data and the detailed map resulting from the data; a project that is costing millions of dollars to complete, will be made available to everyone (not just scientific researchers)…for free!  The doors that this aspect of the project alone will open, are countless.

Now, how does a massive study on the human brain relate to a digital class on rhetoric?  Well, the first way that comes to mind is of course communication.  In the beginning of the blitzkrieg-paced winter course, Dr. Martin stressed that rhetoric is not one way communication, as it is often viewed today.  The Connectome Project, both its undertaking and the finished product (which is free!) would not be possible without a large amount of rhetorical communication.  Consider the amount of arguments that had to be made just to get the project started, then the amount the were made to give the project direction.  There was without a doubt multiple, practical arguments made that fundamentally shaped the project.  I’m sure even something as basic as giving the project a name required at least a measurable amount of debate.

Secondly, the project itself is a rhetorical discussion.  By allowing the completed project to be available to all for free, the research team is inviting everyone to discuss the important issues of brain function and health.  After the project is completed, independent research teams will be able to use the data to accomplish their own specialized goals.  Who knows, maybe a foreign team will discover a cure for schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s with the help of the Connectome Project.

Finally, the project is like our class in that is being made possible with the aid of technology.  The research team is able to communicate with each other, publish data in Washington that can be viewed in Georgia and visually produce the brain map because of technological advances in the past 30 years.  Similarly, our small rhetoric class is able to have discussions, look each other in the eye, and interact with the same documents; despite the fact that we have never been in the same room together.

I hope this article has the rest of my class as excited as I am about the project.  I think it represents an important push in multiple fields and a commitment to share important medical data without a price tag.  Also, I hope this blog does something to curve the image I feel I have digitally created so far; that is, of an an old man distrustful of those new-fangled computa-mah-jiggys.  In short, it’s fascinating to read an article written in New York, and then feel the neurons in my own brain fire and spark a chain reaction all the way to whatever little piece of grey matter holds the things learned in this class.