Feedback A05 MW

Instead of individual Replies that only one student is likely to read, I’ve decided to post feedback for all my MW students in one location so you can all see how my comments to you compare with my comments to others. I will be commenting on Argument primarily, not Grammar, Punctuation, or Sentence Structure.

Sionnain
Needs a Title

Seeing that Sionnain’s OpEd is about the Pope and nontraditional families, I decided to read it all the way through first before commenting, to be certain I understood the argument before risking being insensitive. I needn’t have worried. Sionnain doesn’t Hesitate to call Pope Francis a hypocrite whose embrace of non-heterosexuality, for example, a money grab. So we know where Sionnain stands, at least in this instance. But the rest of the claims in this essay are maddeningly “qualified.” Pope Francis, in the first sentence “would appear to be” a beacon of change. Qualifiers that follow this one include (should not act as), (an actual promise), (real change), (One explanation), (just), (it is well known), (as a whole), (really), (can lead), (could lead), (could bring), (may bring), (may be), (probably), (not just), (as it is with many things). Of these words and phrases, not one is objectionable, but the cumulative effect is that the author is guarded and careful, whereas the actual content of the argument is cynical and deeply critical. Readers will doubt this author’s authenticity and therefore credibility. Sionnain could avoid that risk by declaring in the opening sentence that the synod is a naked money grab, then SUPPORT that verifiable claim with some strong numbers. How many churches have closed (not how many might). How much have the numbers of active (contributing) parishioners suffered? It might also be very instructive to track the church’s recent huge gains in attendance in South America, Africa, and Asia, gender fluency, divorce, and childbirth outside of marriage might or might not be affecting membership. Is the news coming from the synod likely to account for membership gains globally, or just among less traditionally religious, more socially driven potential parishioners in the US and Europe? The results of researching that topic might make it either harder or easier to claim the Pope’s pronouncements are primarily recruiting slogans.

munchkin
Women are Better Decision Makers

Munchkin has already posted an A06 Rewrite, so I’ll respond to that. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the first four paragraphs could be replaced by this sentence:

It will come as no surprise that Dutch neurologists have proved women under stress make more reasonable, less risky decisions than men, whose reaction to the cortisol produced by stress makes them reckless.

The question of awareness munchkin raises is not resolved by the explanation. One paragraph says that women react consciously to an anticipated stressful situation; the next declares that we’re not aware our reason is being influenced. (These two aren’t directly opposite claims, but they’re oddly contradictory; furthermore, they make the reader ask why it should matter that we’re conscious of the change. Munchkin could make good arguments about the awareness question, but doesn’t). The last two paragraphs make good observations. Women with comparable backgrounds and abilities should be able to head off nascent problems better than men, if the effort causes stress, but they’re not enlisted to lead until men have created messes by making risky choices is the apparent theory. That’s a fascinating hypothesis that requires more than two examples to prove a trend. It also isn’t clear that calling in the girls is deliberate, or a recognition that they’ll be more deliberate in their choices. In other words, the theory might be simply that there’s a coincidence between businesses in crisis and female leadership. A more satisfying thesis than that must surely be available. What do you think, munchkin?

vermster7
Media Influences Sports

I think most readers will be befuddled by the first paragraph, which seems to promote a theory that the media spread misinformation about professional athletes’ tendencies to “act out.” If that’s truly the entire point of the introduction, what was all the rest of that material meant to accomplish? We’re also going to wonder what the author expects the media to reflect if not the truth of the athletes’ lives. Cursing out the media is news. There’s an undercurrent here of blame. Vermster7 seems to claim that “the media” (is vermster talking about beat reporters? news editors? media outlets like Sportscenter? gossip organs like TMZ?) are tainting the stories they report, “entrapping” athletes, maybe be instigating those cursing-outs. Vermster7 doesn’t say that reporters, editors, publishers, or broadcasters  are trying to ruin athletes, but that’s mostly because vermster7 doesn’t make claims clear enough to characterize. What exactly is the overall thesis here: that sports reporting should restrict itself to what occurs on the field of play? There appears to be no attempt to prove the thesis promised by the title, that the media influence sports.

gamer
Get Some Sleep!

Gamer’s essay  states a clear thesis in the first sentence and continues to argue the same idea without a detour throughout the first paragraph. We’ve read several of these essays this month already, and many in earlier semesters, and their primary claims are indisputable: sleep is healthy, lack of sleep is not; healthy, rested students perform better academically. What these essays never suggest is how to accomplish more sleep when the workload is unmanageable. They also don’t make fair comparisons. Of course a student who knows the material will perform better with sleep. But how well will a well-rested student perform who hasn’t read the assignments? If the trade-off has to be made, is the student better off sleeping or doing the reading? It’s hard to imagine the rested student who hasn’t read the material would outperform the sleepy student who was at least familiar with the textbook. Is that what gamer is arguing?

thefluxcapacitor
Politicians Push to Appoint Czar

We will wait for the evidence that czars add bureaucracy to existing government structures, but thefluxcapacitor makes the clear claim that they do, and that, by inference, we shouldn’t have an Ebola czar. Apparently the President agrees with thefluxcapacitor, but has announced willingness to cede to pressure to appoint a czar anyway. The next paragraph objects to legal complications and liability concerns, neither of which indicates the promised inefficiency. Czars may create problems, but instead of maintaining that they’re ineffective, thefluxcapacitor retreats to the position that they’re not necessary. And then acknowledges that federal machinery isn’t particularly well tuned to address emergencies.The list of responsible agencies and agency heads alone suggests that coordination of all of them might be beneficial. Yet another paragraph suggests more pointedly that the complexity of a massive bureaucracy might result in agency overlap, wasted resources, mixed messages, contradictory policies, or downright system breakdown. Doesn’t that condition favor a single individual with “the big view” and the authority to at the very least coordinate the efforts of the many jurisdictions? thefluxcapacitor doesn’t want to say so, instead claiming that the “only benefit” of a czar would be to signal the White House’s commitment. This reader is perplexed at the conclusion. The argument seemed headed to embrace the need for an executive at the top of the project. The naming of a czar would certainly indicate commitment, but thefluxcapacitor will need to demonstrate that, when “competing” agencies all arrive at the scene of an emergency, the presence of an official with primary jurisdiction is a disadvantage.

Soul
Has Not Posted

frozen8
Needs a Title

Frozen makes a very clear claim in a first paragraph that identifies both a significant problem and a solution. The weakness in the argument so far is that frozen blames the administrators and teachers of big city schools for not “making an effort,” and that so far there’s no evidence that “small specialization schools” are invariably better. But those weaknesses can be remedied with evidence. The evidence, as it comes out, seems to indicate that classes are too large and students too unruly for meaningful education. Unclear is why the number of students in a school necessarily benefits the students. Class size (the number of students in each classroom) is critical, but school size not so obviously. Many colleges have tens of thousands of students and provide quality. The connection between large and small schools and graduation rate may very well be coincidental. It’s also highly likely that the smaller schools are “cherry-picking” the most academically capable and industrious students from those gigantic schools—students who would have graduated from the large schools too, but now won’t count toward their graduation rates. Frozen will benefit from broader reading on this subject. The opinions expressed here are perfectly reasonable, but they stereotype both big schools and the parents of their students. The essay will be much stronger when it acknowledges and refutes alternate explanations.

ipl37
Needs a Title

ipl37 makes what sounds like an obvious proposal that the PCR test be used to screen airline passengers to ascertain that they don’t fly with Ebola. Desperate times call for desperate means, ipl37 says, but what exactly does the essay propose? That everyone who travels by plane from anywhere to anywhere be tested before departure? And if so, does every traveler wait for at the very least three hours in the airport before boarding? The article ipl cites indicates that the test costs between $40 and $200 per test. It also indicates that under the best conditions, tests can be conducted in three hours. But both those ideals would still be very prohibitive for travel, even if the passengers were at known risk. Imagine the resistance the idea will face for unaffected countries, unexposed travelers, frequent flyers. Can the tests be conducted just anywhere by any lab? Will it be possible to conduct thousands of tests every travel day from every airport in the program? Too many questions remain for this essay to be persuasive in its current condition, but that doesn’t mean it’s not solvable. Clarity and substantial evidence are needed.

treehugger
Needs a Title

treehugger believes strongly that terminally ill patients have the right to end their own lives rather than continue to suffer without hope, and that the law should not interfere with that right. The evidence treehugger offers is that  terminally ill patients have the right to end their own lives rather than continue to suffer without hope and that society business denying them that right. Yes, that is very circular, and an indication of the difficulty of arguing for an ethical certainty. There is a very strong legal and constitutional prejudice in favor of every human life and society is rightly wary of blurring the edges of the law on when anyone, even the suffering individual, should be permitted to end one, even one’s own. Stories like Brittany Maynard’s may be more effective than Diane Pretty’s. We don’t learn anything about Pretty’s suffering that would make us sympathize with her, whereas Maynard’s desperate need to move from state to state in search of a sympathetic doctor is more likely to break our hearts. And frankly, breaking our hearts is probably what treehugger will have to do to write an effective essay. She’ll need to share some desperate case studies, and let the patients speak for themselves. And if there are legal arguments that establish a human being’s right to end his own life on his own terms, treehugger should share those with us too. Undoubtedly such arguments were made to the legislatures and courts in states that permit assisted suicide, and that’s where treehugger should look. (I also suggest treehugger leave a comment on thedawg’s post so the two can compare notes. Thedawg’s essay, for example, has raised the “human right to die” claim in its first paragraph.)

Mazda
Sleep is a Science

Mazda has already posted an A06, so I’ll respond to that. Mazda’s new draft responds to earlier recommendations to identify the stages of sleep most important for learning, and to focus on how individuals can maximize sleep’s effectiveness at discarding the background noise of daily life and consolidating what needs to be remembered. Apparently REM can be reached in less than two hours, so the brain begins its important work early in a night’s sleep. Power naps might refresh our bodies and spirits, but they apparently do nothing to help us learn. Mazda makes some odd claims about “being able to induce a certain stage of sleep” that are not supported by the evidence presented. Since only one stage of sleep is examined here, and since it can’t be achieved (according to Mazda) for two hours, it’s hard to understand what an individual could do to achieve REM faster or make better use of it. The “production of proteins” link is a little loose too. Are the proteins produced during REM the same brain cell proteins crucial to performance? Mazda doesn’t say so. Mazda sounds much more confident than readers will be that the premise has been proved. Is sleep a science? If so, it appears to be a science any child can master by sleeping through the night.

thestayathomedad
New Ebola Warning Sign: Red Noses

thestayathomedad’s premise is not clear from the first paragraph, so I’ll read the entire essay before commenting further. Having read it all, I’m still unsure what the essay’s purpose is. It pokes fun at people who think Ebola is easy to diagnose. Then it pokes fun at people who think Ebola is a conspiracy. That is all. I have no recommendations to offer on how to make a good essay out of poking fun at people.

rowansonlyjetsfan
Texas Revisits Historical Mistake

Texas has enacted a new Voter ID law that will exclude tens of thousands of legitimate voters from the next election, says rowansonlyjetsfan. ROJF makes too little of the quirk in Texas voting law that makes it the only state that doesn’t require advance registration for voting. Readers will wonder if this is significant; is the absence of registration a deliberate attempt to put more emphasis on at-the-poll identification? In other words, does Texas deliberately exclude as any voters of a particular category as it can? ROJF reminds us that Texas and other southern states used poll taxes to exclude freed slaves from voting. Now, the essay suggests, the cost of a government-issued ID is the equivalent of a poll tax, which the 24 Amendment outlawed in the 1960s. Merely hinting that ID equals tax and that the ID has no other purpose than to deny minority voters access to the polls is not sufficient proof, of course. ROJF should include evidence that Texas is discriminatory in other ways and that other states with ID laws are also discriminatory. It would also be persuasive to demonstrate that the successful elimination of poor or minority voters would benefit some group, possibly the group that lobbied hardest for the Voter ID legislation. The sentence with four qualifiers in it ( could cause, may turn out, tend to lean a certain way) does a poor job of this. We haven’t actually heard the argument about eliminating voter fraud. An examination of the evidence for such a claim would be very beneficial.

tobes
Is Racism Improving?

Blending a national phenomenon with personal experience is a good technique for an OpEd, but the connections need to be purposeful and clear, and the objective material needs to be unassailable; otherwise, the personal material will dominate and the result is too narrow, one person’s opinion, not universal. In one paragraph instead of two, the story of being told “you’re cool despite your skin color” offers tobes a good hook to maintain that racism isn’t extinct. Tobes would benefit from referring to the sociological term microaggression to add some academic credibility to the claims of racist put-downs less overt than the obvious slurs of earlier generations. Though we may agree on the cases named, tobes cannot expect readers to simply accept the naming of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown as evidence of racism. The cases are not universally agreed to have been based on race, but they certainly touched nerves and ignited race tensions. Tobes dismisses too much significant improvement with the comment that “the only difference” between now and the Jim Crow generations is that racism is more subtle. It’s also not quite fair to accuse people who “haven’t been exposed to racism” of “pretending” that it doesn’t exist. If they really haven’t seen it, they can’t be blamed for disbelieving it. While we’re entirely ready to agree with Arnade too, tobes would be wise to cite some of Arnade’s evidence or examples, the better to illustrate why racism is still obviously alive and well. Better yet, tobes should find some independent of Arnade and share that. It would be much more effective than declaring again that subtle comments about race prove racism.

supafreak
Why Not Legalize Marijuana

As I told the class during the live critique of an essay for the TR section, I was dismayed to see that we are not done debating marijuana legalization in student essays, by far the most popular topic in Comp I classes for decades. Popular with students, that is; instructors are sick to death of it. That said, good essays can be written on any topic, provided they add something new to an academic conversation, but student essays on this topic almost never do. I enter this essay with hope and trepidation. The essay starts cute, with the misunderstanding about what is meant by “do youi smoke?” then lists the same reasons always listed by authors on this topic, that marijuana is safer than other drugs and that taxing it would pump lots of money into the government; surprisingly, it does not claim that marijuana has a dozen or so medicinal uses. This oversight will probably be corrected later. The relevance of comparing the statistics on marijuana arrests to heroin arrests, for example, is unclear. They’re both big numbers; why compare them? The lack of paragraph breaks in the essay makes the lack of transitions between topics even more obvious. Since everything runs together in one unbroken block, the author’s points proceed as if they were a stream of consciousness, depriving supafreak the chance to nail down the conclusions for the individual points. Treating the anecdotal evidence as a mob of friends who use and a mob who don’t blunts its effectiveness and makes it much less persuasive. We picture a clutch of ghouls with garish sunken and shriveled faces ravaged by cigarettes and booze, marijuana virgins all, the author assures us, and wonder what reality they have. They may exist as individuals, but they’re as useless as cartoons when they’re presented as a gang. The argument that the cannabis plant has produced useful medicinal FDA-approved derivatives is actually counterproductive. It indicates strongly that the medical benefits can be derived without encouraging patients to traffic in the banned, illegal substance. Surely by now we no longer need to demonstrate that the scare tactics employed against marijuana were often incorrect. As more and more states pass laws to legalize or decriminalize marijuana for medical or recreational use, these arguments are quaint relics of arguments that have long been settled. Even more unnecessary is the old myth that marijuana was criminalized because of Mexican day workers. The tax revenue data for Colorado is the first statistic that actually looks forward instead of backwards and therefore has a legitimate place in an OpEd on a current topic. An excellent essay could be written that examines the claims of projected future revenues, especially since the other drugs, alcohol and nicotine, to which supafreak has compared marijuana, are always considered excellent candidates for new taxes. We long ago over-committed the revenues from alcohol and unconscionably misspent the money we got from the big tobacco settlement, and still the government doesn’t have enough money to meet our obligations. How long will the windfall from marijuana taxes last? This is not a rhetorical question, but a real one that deserves to be asked and answered. A conclusion paragraph for a short essay that summarizes the previous material is not needed. Conclusions should provide new information or a new angle, or draw actual conclusions that haven’t already been clearly stated. For the best essays, they draw conclusions that have not been drawn by countless essays before.

max
Needs a Title

I haven’t read an article on the suicide/mental illness topic yet, and hadn’t read the source material before seeing this post, so I read everything before beginning to provide feedback here. There’s a lot of material in the first paragraph, which, if summarized, might go: depression burdens even apparently fortunate people with the knowledge that their illness burdens not only themselves but the people they know. That’s a lot of burden to carry. What I’ve read, and what Ralph Barton himself says, is that life events like the change of schools are not the source of depression; they’re merely the precipitating cause and apparent explanation for a pervasive illness that doesn’t actually require an external cause. That idea, combined with the claims max makes connecting stress with the symptoms of depression leads me to offer the analogy of an autoimmune disease. Stress doesn’t cause autoimmune diseases, but when a patient is weakened by stress, the underlying disease manifests with more severe symptoms. I wonder if that analogy would be useful in describing depression’s habit of showing up most obtrusively when the world delivers conflict or difficulties. The paragraph about car accidents is quite confusing, beginning with the comment about “the typical suicide car accident,” which on its face is either very scary or meaningless. We’ve agreed as a class to avoid rhetorical questions, particularly as claims, so concluding with a question, as max does here, will have to be addressed. I would think Ralph Barton answered the question anyway: that “something” can be managed only with tremendous effort and luck, and the best professionals, and maybe not forever. I remember my brother and others reacted with the very question max asks when Kurt Cobain killed himself: how could somebody who had everything feel so empty and hopeless? I wonder sometimes if the answer is primarily chemical. A few micrograms too many or two few of a psychoactive agent seem able to alter our moods and personalities so profoundly that dosages are impossible to “get right,” which brings me back to that autoimmune analogy again. If a body is at war with itself, the personality attached to it is collateral damage. None of this musing may help max write a better essay, but I could be wrong.

thedawg
Needs a Title

First, I suggest thedawg leave a comment on treehugger’s post about assisted suicide so the two can compare notes and critique each other’s work. The claim made here in the first paragraph that the right to assistance in ending one’s life is a human right is an important and clearly stated one. It’s wise also to find support for that claim in countries outside the United States, which substantiates that we’re not the pioneers here charting exotic legal territory. I have the same reaction to the Maynard and Pretty stories here as I did in treehugger’s essay. They prove only what the original author wanted them to prove, and they’re the original author’s examples; therefore, using them in the new essay to prove what they proved in the old essay amounts to not much more than summary of the original. A link to the original would eliminate the need for this new essay, which needs to establish its own turf. Two paragraphs deep, it doesn’t appear that it has, yet. Despite thedawg’s altogether honorable and entirely correct impulse to help Americans distinguish between “assisted suicide” and “the assisted death of terminally ill patients,” the job is not yet done here. I could recommend several phrases that might help, but the great triumph of this essay would be the creation of the new name for this process that would make the distinction obvious. Please reply with suggestions, thedawg, and we can start a conversation. This last paragraph doesn’t quite manage it either. Instead of fighting so hard against the notion that “assisted death isn’t cutting a life short,” thedawg might do better to acknowledge that it’s exactly that, but not only that. The body isn’t ready to quit, so the body’s life is in fact cut short. But by what right do we give the body primacy when its prisoner, the person attached to the failing machine, knows better than to drag that body to an artificial finish line?

fluffy
Needs a Title

Fluffy’s essay defines “fate” on the fly in its first paragraph as “happens because it is meant to be,” which could describe Newtonian physics, religious determinism, or pop psychology. Let’s hope fluffy will choose one as a topic and examine it in detail rather than engage in a survey overview of the choices. Two more paragraphs in, this feels like a survey. Religion is named; a second alternative is impossible to classify. The third paragraph starts to get close to an examination of an important third category of fate believers, but merely points at it and goes misses the opportunity to say something meaningful. I suggest fluffy acknowledge the primary source, skip over P2 and P3, go directly to the tumor anecdote as an example of how nonreligious people come to the conclusion that “everything happens for a reason,” and then compare that to the religious version, which not only embraces the notion that the universe is intentional, but also identifies the prime mover behind that intention. One type go looking for evidence of intentionality; the other type have it thrust upon them. I wonder if Katina now also believes in God, or would be more inclined to.

Matteo
Needs a Title

For all that I admire about Matteo’s first paragraph, it makes readers struggle to determine whether Sack, Healy, and Robles will be on the Yea or Nay side of the quarantine question. The author’s own position also seems shifty. Careful readers on a second pass will be able to clarify what has been said, but the ideal paragraph will be clear on a single reading. (Yes, I said I would concentrate on argument, not sentence structure in these notes; my comment here is actually about argument, which we can only approach through sentences.) Following a very strong opening, the essay bogs down completely by spending two paragraphs recounting the tale already told by the original authors. Surely if matteo has a point to make regarding this story, it can be told more simply. The point seems to be that quarantine is not responsible for people’s idiotic reactions to a perceived threat, or that lynch mobs don’t reason well, or that prejudices are irrational, so catering to them also makes no sense. I admire Matteo’s conclusion that quarantine is simply a dirty but necessary method to contain Ebola. It should probably be the thesis of this essay, and that thesis should be evident from the first few sentences. Nature has handed us a number that we take as reasonable because it can be understood. That’s worth mentioning. The “incubation period” is hard to dispute; therefore, if it were seven days, we would conclude that a 7-day quarantine made sense. We also therefore would conclude that 14 days would be too long. We also therefore would conclude that 21 days is unconscionable. Right? But because Ebola’s is 21 days, we consider that to be just right, and we can’t imagine anything beyond 21 days being reasonable. See how fluid our outrage is? We want a logical explanation. Some of that thought process might strengthen the later paragraphs of this essay. Is it irrational for people to wear two pairs of gloves to contact someone they can’t diagnose one way or the other for themselves? Not if they’ve been told that contact with Ebola is a death sentence. Not if they don’t quite know who to trust. If trained nurses taking precautions can get sick, what amount of caution is actually an overreaction?

bukowski
US Takes the Back Seat

Bukowski has already posted an A06, so I’m responding to that version here. What a beautifully nuanced position bukowski’s essay takes in its opening paragraph! While the second paragraph adds almost nothing to the first, it does not do the position any harm. What new idea could make it better (for only new ideas or gem-like illustrations can make support paragraphs better)? Maybe the naming of the other unlikely allies the “war” against ISIS has rallied? Or is the US/Turkey/Kurd axis the only one? Surely the third paragraph clarifies the need to name names. Talk of petty grudges and “these nations” makes readers wonder if bukowski knows who the other players are, who their histories incline them to resist allying? One or two quick IDs would suffice to allay those readers’ suspicions. (The Works Cited, for example, names Iran, but this essay does not.) The “acts of aggression” sentence contains too many claims of questionable relevance to one another. Finally, we’re going to need substantiation for the claim that the US is in the back seat. The language of the final paragraph is all innuendo, no facts, regarding the actual role of the US in support of unnamed allies. A good strong central provable thesis in search of the appropriate and specific support is what we have here so far, and a very good start it is.

aspiretoinspire
Needs a Title

We spent class time on a live critique of aspiretoinspire’s essay about guardrails, which has not be revised since, so I’m disinclined to offer additional feedback about it here at this time. However, I’ll read it again and see if anything new occurs to me. I do recall seeing a followup story in our textbook a day or so after the class, indicating that the court in which Trinity was being sued had ruled against it and laid on a heavy fine for, I think, deliberately neglecting to inform the US Traffic something that it had changed its design. I hope aspiretoinspire will have found that new source. I wonder how the author will react to this new development in a story that changes while the assignment is active? There remain many alternatives to how the “fix” will occur, what remedies will prevent future unconscionable lapses in responsibility by contractors, what government officials or agencies might have to shoulder some of the responsibility for failing to notice that deadly rails were being installed by their endorsed contractor . . . . I wonder if there was bribery involved?

Rhett
Needs a Title

We spent class time on a live critique of Rhett’s essay about the US reaction to Ebola, which has not be revised since, so I’m disinclined to offer additional feedback about it here at this time. However, I’ll read it again and see if anything new occurs to me.My primary advice, which I think I have made clear, is that the correct time to obsess about HIV would have been at the very beginning of the epidemic before it became the massive global killer it became. Objecting to our response to Ebola as overkill seems completely contrary to the AIDS illustration. In effect, there truly are no more pressing issues than the incipient problems we can squash while they’re still little bugs.

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels. www.davidbdale.wordpress.com
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