Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Dream Boat

Luke Mogelson and his photographer may seem crazy to endure a journey that they know often ends in death; truly one wonders when finishing the article what would provoke them to make the perilous refugee trip from Jakarta to Australia owned Christmas Island. They had to lie, haggle, and pay their way onto the boat in order to suffer alongside the long waiting, near starving, endlessly ill Iranians seeking a better home.  The intention seems clear - to present a firsthand account unlike any other. No one who actually went through this trip in search of a better home would risk rehashing their experience. The risks that the reporters took serve to illustrate how much riskier the trip was for the actual refugees - the reporters knew that at the end of this journey, they could go back home to their families and have a relatively safe shield as reporters. They know where they're safe, they have opportunities, connections, and money to live on. These are all things that the refugees do not have.

What makes this so successful is the direct, interesting way that Mogelson describes the events. So many anti-immigration and anti-refugee people in the world are too far separated from the people themselves to feel sorry for them or to even understand why they're trying anything they can to leave their home countries. Mogelson humanizes every refugee he describes. He also focuses in on one family in particular that he and his photographer stay with, fleshing out their personalities, hopes, and dreams. The children of this family especially make the reader sympathize with their plight - although they are living in a dump waiting for a phone call that may never come, the "thrill of the adventure eclipsed the hardships and hassles."

Along with his narrative of the trip, he describes Australia's long battle with how they should be dealing with the refugees. Juxtaposed with what we now know of the families, they seem harsh and cruel. When we hear of the hunger strikes and suicides of the detention center refugees, we understand that this - or death during the journey - will likely be the destination of all those who are fleeing on the boat.

If this is just one of thousands of families all looking for the same thing, only then can you truly understand their struggle. Mogelson says himself, "That people are willing to hazard death at sea despite Australia's vow to send them to places like Papa New Guindea and the Republic of Nauru would seem illogical - or just plain crazy ... But every asylum seeker who believes those lies believes them because he chooses to. Their doing so, and continuing to brave the Indian Ocean, and continuing to die, only illustrates their desperation in a new, disturbing king of light. This is the subtext to the plight of every refugee: Whatever hardship he endures, he endures it because it beats the hardship he escaped." Truly no first world individual could relate to that on any level.

This point of view, therefore, comes from both a first-hand account and of an outside account to the struggles that the refugees face. After everything he had been through in the perilous trip, Mogelson ends his article feeling "obliged" to inform a refugee that there was no way he would end up in Australia, only to have his words "not register." Hope, truly, is better than nothing for not only these people, but everyone. If your only chance to live a life not full of squalor, danger, poverty, and sickness is the most far-fetched chance there could be, how many people would honestly accept that and give up?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Working Draft



1) Way too long - what should I focus on cutting?
2) Needs better conclusion 



ENG 301
Jeney
Sept. 17

Critical Summary Working Draft

            Malcom Gladwell insists that you reevaluate a deeper meaning behind the story of David and Goliath – not just to reconsider the implications of the tale, but to dissect it with deeper study and knowledge more than an average non-historian may have. In his New Yorker published article, “How David Beat Goliath” he employs this primarily with several examples, loosely strung together but discussed in-depth to juxtapose his point.
He begins by describing software firm business owner Vivek Ranadive’s style of coaching his twelve-year-old daughter’s basketball team. This is the overlying example that he will use as a metaphor and string throughout his article. Ranadive is foreign to the sport of basketball and finds it ridiculous that the majority of the court is barely used in preference to the time-honored, choreographed plays that everyone adheres to. His business model of using real-time software is discussed thoroughly and compared to his coaching method. Gladwell also cites political scientist Ivan Arreguin-Toft’s studies in the winners of David and Goliath style battles of history, mostly applied to Lawrence of Arabia’s “ragtag” army at the end of the First World War and his method of attack the Ottoman Empire. Instead of attacking where the Turks expected them to, they came in from the east through an unprotected desert to ultimately win  the battle. Also discussed are a basketball game played between the Fordham University Rams and the University of Massachusettes Rams in 1971 and a computer scientist involved in a programed war game.  He ends the essay with an anecdote about a time Ranadive’s team felt pressured into stopping their full press maneuver to appease the “Goliaths” who found it unfair. 
While I generally agree with the idea Gladwell is making, I find that his method in relaying it to his audience is unclear, broad, and a bit of a mess.
Gladwell’s purpose is a little hard to find among all the examples his article is made up of. It is there, however, sprinkled about and not made clear in a thesis-like manner. The first part of his point is found on page two when he states, “David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids when all the time.” On page four, tucked into a larger anecdote, he writes, “David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability – and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for all walks of life.” This is a point that I feel better encompasses his entire purpose of the essay, however “effort” is not as often revisited as his idea of “insurgence” for being able to have the upperhand against Goliaths. There is little to no expression of the question, and what there is does not do justice to the complexity of the matter at hand. Finally all the way on page thirteen, he states “Insurgents work harder than Goliath.” While this point is up to opinion, it seems pretty vital to his overall thesis and should have been more prevalent in his article.
The best evidence or experiences that Gladwell cites are perhaps the actual political scientist Ivan Arreguin-Toft and his Lawrence of Arabia example. Arreguin-Toft “recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 percent of the cases … when the underdogs acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy … David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6.” (Gladwell, pg. 2, 2009) It’s hard to argue against cold hard facts and an in-depth analysis of Lawrence of Arabia’s strategy, especially when Lawrence wrote it all down.

The “batch” computer programing sidetrack concerning Ranadive seems like a big stretch and an unnecessary side step. Taking over two full pages to be described, the only connection made to the insurgent planning of underdogs to Ranadive’s software operating major companies in real time is that they operate in “real time”, just as David sped up instead of meeting Goliath’s match. But surely one can argue that being insurgent doesn’t always call for speed and lightning fast thinking – the carefully planned and heavily practiced full court press technique Ranadive describes contradicts that immediately. The toiling upon Ranadive’s profession in order to connect his way of thinking to the team seemed unnecessary, unclear, and insignificant.
The war games competitor Doug Lenat’s example hold up against the point of the article either. It is pointed out by Gladwell himself that in order for the man’s program to win, it had to kill a few fleets of its own – in a game this is fine, but in war and other riskier “battles” it doesn’t always work out. Gladwell doesn’t seem to consider this at all, otherwise praising Lenat for being insurgent and condemning those who kicked him out of further competitions all in the name of “challenging conventions” and “hard working”, though it really isn’t implied that Lenat worked any harder than any of his competitor’s, but rather approached it differently.
The basketball examples are the easiest to understand - though drawn out – and they do prove his point better than the others. However, it’s a strange way to focus on a certain technique being (in the full court press Ranadive coaches) so closely aligned with David when it is surely not as infallible as he makes it sound.  When describing the usage in a 1971 college game that impressed coaches and players alike, he even they simply “didn’t learn” (10) or didn’t have the guts to continually try this technique. Surely professionals probably understood the risks at hand – even Coach Pitino says “They don’t know if they have the bench. They don’t know if their players can last” (12). Considering the constant movement of this play, these seem like pretty justifiable reasons.
This is especially evident to me when Gladwell ends the article describing an encounter with Ranadive’s team. Parents complained and  fought against their technique, and the refs decided to call their “aggressive defense” fouls. “Ranadive called the press off. He had to … they played basketball the way basketball is supposed to be played, and they lost – but not before making Goliath wonder whether he really was a giant, after all.” Not every ref will be the same, and even if it seems unfair and actually is, it is something to consider when coaching. The parents complain that “the point of basketball … was to learn basketball skills.” The only response Gladwell has to that is “Of course, you could as easily argue that in playing the press a twelve-year-old girl learned something much more valuable – that effort can trump ability and that conventions are made to be challenged.” This I agree with very much, but I do not think that story shows that point well. The other team was probably making as much effort as they were – just because they had a different technique doesn’t mean they worked harder. Conventions are made to be challenged, but it will not always work out that way for you. Wouldn’t it be a better “lesson” to teach the young girls to have a backup plan than to rely heavily on being insurgent to everyone’s expectations – Gladwell doesn’t seem to consider that Goliath will learn from insurgency and adjust to it in every single scenario he presents.
Overall I feel that Gladwell needed either better or less examples, because the complexity of each scenario has a facet that may negate a point he is trying to make about the David and Goliath story. Personally I feel that he did a better job in his TED talk by picking apart the story itself rather than basing them on such specific examples. It is not only easier to understand but doesn’t distort the meaning when applied to real life scenarios that have many factors involved.   Perhaps it would have held up better if Gladwell spent any time addressing potential arguments against his ideas, but he did not. In fact, the way he writes off any argument makes his inferences and line of reasoning incredibly hard to follow. Just given the several scenarios supplied without their individual connection to his theory about WHY David beats Goalith, it would be very hard to surmise on your own. He does very little to help in that department.
            What works against Gladwell the most and ties in with his poor line of reasoning and lack of clarity are the strange assumptions he makes throughout without providing how he came to the conclusion. Assuming that the Davids of the world work harder than the Goliaths just because they’re attempting a different tactic is silly. You can work your fingers to the bone and still fail no matter how hard you work, even with a significant amount of skill. He also seems to imply throughout the article that unconventional strategies always work. Assuming that practiced and professional basketball players and coaches see the full court pass strategy and simply refuse to do it for no good reason is also nonsense. And strangest of all, the paragraph detailing Ranadive’s team playing against an all-black school and quoting him as saying “I think he couldn’t stand it because here were all these blond-haired girls who were clearly inferior players, and we were killing them” (15). Surely race isn’t an issue with any other school being angry at the Redwood City team, and I found this a bizarre inclusion.
            While I do agree with Gladwell’s core idea that effort and cleverness makes a world of difference in an underdog scenario, his assumptions, examples, and inferences are vast and bizarre. They take away from his message and leave you a little confused and wading through murky water. Why is developing an insurgent plan considered smarter or harder working than the people who play by the typical rules? Why does Gladwell seem to think this is the only way a David can beat a Goliath?  Why not consider long-running battles where the Goliath learns from the David’s technique and adjusts themselves accordingly? Why is considering a different way to win exclusive to underdogs? Where Gladwell ends his article saying that Goliath should be left to wonder if he was a giant at all, I will end by wondering if it’s so easy to beat Goliath with a simple mixture of luck and cleverness, how can they still be considered Davids?


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Shipping Out In-Class Response

     David Foster Wallace could be the voice of the Millennial Generation despite not being one himself. When Dr. Jeney called him the "consummate complainer", I thought of Facebook and Twitter; after reading "Shipping Out", all I could think was the popular "First World Problems" phrase that often gets thrown around by young people grumbling about WiFi.

    Not that I'm complaining, of course. I know older generations see Millennials and like-minded individuals as obnoxious and ungrateful. However, I find that most are very aware of how unimportant what they're complaining about is - but that will not stop them from venting about it. Every person has a right to gripe about whatever they want, even something you wouldn't think they'd have a need to complain about. I think that's exactly the audience David had in mind - knowing that a lot of people find humor and wit in observational humor, especially when coupled with self awareness. If David never acknowledged how silly and bizarre it was to be complaining about anything on a luxury cruise designed for relaxation, his voice as a narrator recounting his experiences would seem as obnoxious as a teenager complaining about their Christmas gifts. But he is careful to spend time, almost in every single passage, to draw attention to the ridiculous standards he quickly adapted to while being pampered - how he realized his slow transition to whiny counter-cultural observer to critical of his afternoon sandwich snack standards. Anyone who has found humor in the "First World Problem" complainers can therefore find humor in this essay thanks to his voice and focus on the intended audience. His self-awareness makes him seem more likeable and fair when judging his fellow passengers, as well.

   His organization in the essay breaks the trip into certain episodes, opinions, and observations rather than a retelling of the vacation from start to finish. This allows for an in-depth analysis of every aspect of his trip, all of which serves to support the intended humor. That someone had so much free time on a vacation cruise to investigate and develop a complex opinion about the power of his toilet flush seems bizarre, but still somewhat relatable. Everyone - perhaps without even knowing it - may have also formed loose opinions of strange vacation mates, appliances, waiters, etc. Instead of writing it down and honing in on what they felt, they may have only thought about it in passing, mentioned it to a friend or relative, or shot off a tweet about it. But to see all of these thoughts collected together from one trip would seem absurd and probably surprisingly in-depth. Or maybe that's just me and all the other consummate complainers in the world.