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Unshunning Facebook

I’m back on Facebook, and I have mixed feelings about it.

I fled Facebook a few months ago. It just got to be too much. I want to stay in touch with people, but Facebook is like the close-talker of social networking. Whatever happened to good old email?

Remember when you could ask someone for their email and it didn’t seem like you were coming on to them? Now, it just feels awkward. I expect to hear, “Hey, I like you and all, but I’m straight.” It’s kosher to email someone whose email you have through work or another friend. But, to outright ask for it because you think someone is cool and you would like to hang out with them…well, it’s gotten weird. Why would you ask for their personal email? Why be so private?

I’ve seen a huge drop in emails coming into my inbox in the last year. Some of my good friends have stopped emailing me almost altogether. I know I’m not the best at emailing, but I almost always reply even if a bit late. It’s like Robert Deniro has invaded my friends’ souls. “Are you talkin’ to me? ‘Cause if you wanna talk to me, you talk to me on Facebook! “

Another obstacle in my coming to terms with Facebook is my being distinctly extroverted and introverted. I can be a little of both at the same time, but I tend toward being one or the other. When I’m feeling like the extrovert, Facebook seems brilliant. When I’m feeling like the introvert, it feels overwhelming and dirty. The bad kind.

Extrovert me wants to say what she feels and doesn’t care who knows it. Introvert me needs a certain amount of privacy and does not want to be bothered with the more trivial aspects and constant draw of Facebook. Sometimes, I like hiding. I like being busy.

Facebook has taken away the right to be busy. It announces to the world, “Hey, though I say I’m really busy and have no time to send real emails, look at how I just did on these five movie quizzes.” It blows the “I’m busy” cover out of the water. It’s out there. None of us are that busy if we all have time to take quizzes, play games, and find out what cocktail we are. Do you really need to take a quiz to find out what your porn name is? It’s Princess Calloway, and I learned that my sophomore year in college. Don’t get me wrong. These games and things can be a fun distraction. And, if you don’t know your porn name, I suppose it’s time you found out. For me, I prefer the old-fashioned method: your pet’s name plus the street you live on.

There is one other reason in particular why Facebook gives me the heebie-jeebies. You know how you have those one, two, or ten people that you just don’t need to run into again any time in this life or the hereafter? Call it a childish fear, but we all know those people. The ones that scarred us in love. The ex-friend/Diagnostic-and-Statistical-Manual-of-Mental-Disorders-poster child for clinical narcissism who suspiciously kept sabotaging little aspects of your life.

These people lurk. They lurk because we stay connected to people who are connected to people who are connected to them. Couple that with the fact that Facebook publishes the crap out of every move you make, and you are going to run into these people. It’s human—completely natural—that we don’t want to run into these people. I don’t need my skin to crawl anymore than it does already with that neurological sleep disorder whose name shall not be spoken. I’m all for forgiveness and moving on, but I don’t need to be e-hanging around with ghosts from my marginally sordid past.

But, I’ve come to feel as if I have no choice. If I really want to keep up with some friends, I have to be on Facebook. My main concern is getting in touch and staying in touch with people I’ve met here in Germany. I’ve met some amazing people, and I don’t want it to be one of those get-in-touch-and-go things.

So, I’m back on—for now. We’ll see how it goes. I won’t be on often, and I won’t answer every comment, poke, and I’m certainly not starting a virtual aquarium. I’m too busy.

–Frau Jones

P.S. Do NOT get me started on Twitter.

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Dan and I were asked to deliver an address in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. Some of our colleagues in the English/North American studies department here at Freiburg held a dinner in his honor. We expected to just give this to a small group of friends, but a waiter at the Irish pub offered us the open mic. The Germans seemed to appreciate us. This was my contribution.

The myths, the stories we all know, don’t always accurately portray who Lincoln was and why people like us gather to remember him. The stories are nice—though some of them are stretched truths that don’t really resemble what many of us have discovered in our readings about Lincoln. Yes, he probably split at least one rail, and, yes, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation—he was a hero—but he was also a man of contradictions. He was an abolitionist with reservations. He had religion, but he didn’t care for church. He was real.

It’s in his complicated yet honest humanity where I have found my true admiration for Lincoln—the man who was up against monumental odds, who didn’t always have the right answer but could admit it, who cherished wisdom and reason over extremes, who sometimes crawled further inside himself than any book could go—when his inclination toward depression got the best of him. He wasn’t always the steadiest in emotions, and Lord knows Mary Todd Lincoln was not either, but Mr. Lincoln was always steady in intellect, and that’s why his memory endures.

Not until this year, more than 140 years later, have so many American’s felt we have a President that may come close to matching Lincoln’s talent for fairness, reason, and interest in true morality—the ability to question what is truly best for the people. It’s in this increasingly rare combination of goodness that many Americans find they admire Abraham Lincoln the most.

When I have set foot in the places where Lincoln worked, lived, studied, and played with his children, I sense the greatness that is so firmly attached to his image still. At his boyhood home in Kentucky—about 20 miles from where I married—in his Springfield home, and in the room where he died, I could sense that he was real—a son, a husband, a father, a president. He was more than a myth. He was a good American.

Happy 200th birthday, Mr. Lincoln.

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On the eve of the most important election of my lifetime, I’m copying here this powerful little post by my friend Celeste Headlee. She is a reporter for NPR. She talks here about the feeling of covering an Obama rally. It’s a different perspective than what we normally hear.

Believe me when I say that reporters are among the most cynical people in the world. I wasn’t like this before I became a journalist. I was optimistic, idealistic, and had perfect faith that the majority of people in public service were good, upstanding citizens with our best interests at heart. Now, having spent the past ten years studying these people, hanging out with them, talking with them and watching them, I believe that most of them are self-serving, opportunistic phonies. Maybe they start out following the path of righteousness, but bit by bit, they give up some of their integrity in order to get elected and stay elected. By the time they are career politicians, not much is left of the young city councilman or school board president that they were.So, the months between July and November in presidential election years are not my favorite. I get tired of the staged events, the cliche applause lines, the waving American flags and the way candidates are carefully dressed, lit and scripted to appeal to whatever audience they’re facing. I went to Barack Obama’s Labor Day rally in Detroit with a job to do: get the audience response to his speech, file the story and collect my check.But as I stood there in the heat, sweating into my headphones and praying for rain, I had a totally unexpected reaction. I looked out over the crowd… tens of thousands of people waiting to see Barack Obama. There were white college students in oxford shirts, black fathers with their kids on their shoulders, Arab-American autoworkers with time off for the holiday… dozens of races, occupations, and faiths were represented. And there they stood, waiting to see a black man from Illinois. And I started to cry.

The past welled up on me rather suddenly. I thought about my great-grandmother, whose father was her white owner on a plantation in Mississippi. I thought about my grandfather, who had to drive to Tijuana to get married because his bride was white and their union was illegal in his home country. I thought about the time that he had to drive without stopping from Los Angeles to Ohio because the white hotels wouldn’t take him and the black hotels wouldn’t take her. And my grandmother was abandoned by family and friends because she dared to marry a man whose skin was brown. I thought about the kid whose eye I blacked in elementary school because he called me a “nigger.”

And then I started to think about how my grandparents would feel if they could be standing in that crowd of thousands, waiting to see the first African-American candidate for president. That’s when I began to cry. I was overwhelmed, in every sense of that word. I can’t begin to describe how it felt when he stepped onto the platform and a deafening cheer rose up around him. Is this how Catholics felt when they watched John F. Kennedy speak? Is this how they felt in the audience watching Marian Anderson sing at the Lincoln Memorial? I don’t think this feeling of hope and joy and sheer wonder has a political affiliation; I don’t think it would have mattered if the man at the dais was a Republican or Democrat.

In his acceptance speech, Senator Obama said that his detractors don’t seem to understand this his campaign is not about him, but about us. And that’s something I can agree with. We are not on the edge of doing something historic; we have done it. And Obama’s presence on that stage, as a candidate for president, is something that every American can be proud of, both Democrat and Republican.

I don’t know if Barack Obama will become president. I know, sadly, that many people who say they support him will change their minds in the privacy of the voting booth. And it is sad, not because Barack Obama should or should not be president. It’s tragic because those people will not vote for him because of the color of his skin, and they will feel guilty about it, and they may not understand where their fear springs from. But they will feel fearful and they will feel guilty, and they won’t mark that box next to Obama. And if this man loses because his skin tone is brown, it will be a tragic for all of us, and for our country.

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I think most of you know that we moved here because Dan was asked to do an exchange program between Purdue University and Freiburg University. It’s one of the most prestigious universities in Germany; however, I’m sure most of them claim that.

Even though Dan finished his Masters in German Linguistics at Purdue, they still allowed him to do this exchange. It’s really a friendly, verbal agreement between the schools. Dan teaches German in America, but he’s handling the English language here. He’s running the writing lab created two years ago by another Purdue graduate student. The standards to get into this school are high and most of the students speak quite good English, but some of them really struggle with writing and grammar. They need a lot of help learning how to properly express themselves and how to do so in an organized manner. Dan will help those students struggling most with these issues.

As for me, I am teaching. I have long felt the yearning to teach college and knew that I would probably end up doing just that at some point. The best deal is to get a teaching assistant’s position in graduate school. You get your education, you get paid (meagerly), and you get to teach. That’s basically what I’m doing.

It’s truly providence for me. The last few years have felt like a jumble as I’ve been around a few jobs and towns while trying to figure out just what I want to be when I grow up. I know my heart is in a few places: music, journalism, writing, media studies, etc. The only reason I got away from journalism was because I was in a very unhealthy place at WVPE in Elkhart. I left there a wounded and somewhat intellectually malnourished puppy, and I feel like I’m finally back on top where I need to be. I have worked to get here. I’ve done a lot of observing, listening, talking, and tons of reading to make up for what I didn’t get within the drab walls of WVPE.  My last job at Purdue also helped get me on the path to renewal.

I guess you’re wondering what I’m teaching. Dan’s boss, the dean of the English seminar, asked me to create a class on journalism and writing. They’ve had a few journalism classes before, but it’s not something that is offered much. What I came up with is now titled Professional Writing with Clarity and Style. The professional writing part implies that we will learn about non-fiction writing in the journalism/marketing vein. I hope to prepare these students for exploring careers in any of those areas or to at least equip them to do freelance writing. The clarity and style part is for the emphasis we will put on how to write clearly, concisely, and in an organized manner while maintaining a unique voice.

All students struggle with this whether they are native speakers or not. Sadly, I don’t believe our public education system at home does a good job of teaching students how to do this. It barely teaches them the basics of grammar. I find this to be a terrible shame. It’s not because I am a language snob and think we should all follow the rules down to the letter; however, I know for certain that some mastery of language and writing allows us to express ourselves better, which is truly empowering. It can mend fences. It can also tear them down. How we wield that power determines this. I am a great champion of commas and punctuation in general. They tell your reader where to pause/how to read, and they can completely change the meaning of a sentence. So, as you can see, there is power in commas alone.

You can probably tell that I am very passionate about writing and teaching, but I am a bit nervous. I have worked with many college interns and have worked for NPR as a mentor in their Next Generation Radio program. I’ve been a panelist for political debates. I’ve been a television guest many times on public television. I’m not bragging here. I’m saying that I have some experience in front of people. But, no amount of radio or TV experience really prepares you for the responsibility of a classroom. I feel a great duty here to impart accurate information and strong ethics to these students. Most of them are freshman or sophomores, so what I say and do can make or break their interest in writing and journalism. I am excited and I want them to be excited.

My first class is this coming Tuesday the 21st. I will blog here frequently about my experiences and how it feels to become a teacher. There is a lot of becoming to do, and I imagine that the becoming—the learning—never ends, which is really why I like knowledge. You can’t get too much and there’s always more.

Besides teaching, we are both taking classes.  Dan is taking a class on teaching German as a second language. I am taking a class on teaching English as a second language. I am also taking an intensive German course. I expect my German to be much, much better in a few months. My comprehension is growing quickly with the experience I already have to build on, but I still hesitate to speak. I’m afraid I’ll say something dirty like Dan did in high school while living with his host family here in Germany. At least when I say something dirty in English, I’m aware of it.

We also just learned that we will get to visit Romania! This will be quite an adventure. I’m anxious to see eastern Europe. We will teach a writing workshop together at Iasi University (pronounced YASH). We’ll leave on November 10th for five days. I hear that they spoil their guests with food. Any country that wants to spoil me with food is one worth visiting.

Iasi Palace of Culture

When this year is said and done, I think these opportunities will have served to open some doors for us. I expect to continue on into grad school back home. My time here should make getting into the program I want and where I want a lot easier, I hope. I have yet to determine the what and where. What I do know is that that I’m going confidently in the direction of my dreams. I still don’t know exactly where they will lead me, but I know I’m going in the right direction. I’m doing what I want to do.

I really want to hear what teachers have to say about their experiences. Do you have advice for me? What should I avoid? I can tell you I’ve learned a lot about what to avoid from mediocre teachers in my past. I’ve learned the most from the good teachers. Observing really is one of the best ways to learn, but I’m still quite green. Suggestions are very welcome.

-Frau Jones

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Put Your Dukes Up…Respectfully

(Disclaimer: This post is NOT personal. It is a professional exercise on something I do for a living. It is mostly geared toward professional writers or those who write within their career.)

With this political season so heavily upon us, arguments and debates, fact and fiction, are swirling in the so-tense-you-could-cut-it-with-a-dull-edged-spoon breeze. It’s inevitable.

And, with the advent of this not-so-joyous season, I’m hearing and reading more arguments that defy the laws of proper debate. Really, I hate the word “argue.” I prefer that we all engage in civil discourse by avoiding name-calling, emotion-driven responses, and other childish games. I will admit to sometimes falling victim to these methods (I can hear some of you growling now); however, it’s usually in verbal exchanges with my family and friends rather than professional writing exercises. When I do fall prey to these poison devices, I can usually see it and call it, though I may not always say it. A little introspection can’t hurt.

Why do people resort to such empty ploys? It’s usually because they are insecure and don’t know their facts, but it really damages an argument. My professional background has provided me the opportunity to learn about this and to coach others in proper opinion-writing.

Preaching to the choir: It’s a waste of your time. What I mean by preaching to the choir (PTTC), is stating your opinion in way that can only appeal to those who agree with you; however, many who use the PTTC method usually aren’t preaching to the choir. They are preaching to the damned, which doubly defeats the purpose. You must learn to think from your opponent’s point of view if you truly want to reach them.

PTTC will quickly destroy your point with those whom you seek to convince. Trust me. If you want to persuade someone, you better do it with some style and humility, or you will lose your audience. It’s also okay to say, “I see your point.” But, don’t take it back. I get a lot of that in people who disagree with me. It’s also okay to say, “I was wrong.” I’ve been saying it since the last election. Man, does it feel good. It feels good to know that by allowing myself to admit an error in judgment, I’m more likely to have more informed, balanced opinions than those who drive on emotion and refuse to turn around when the road is blocked.

Grammar and punctuation: You may find this snobbish of me, but it is what it is. The better your grammar and punctuation, the better your opinion will ring with credibility. Why is that so important? Because, it tells your audience that your opinion isn’t merely an emotional response or that you are arguing for the sake of arguing. It tells them your argument is rooted in something more solid.

Now, you don’t have to be an egghead or a college grad to use decent grammar. Grammar, i.e. the proper use of commas, conjugation, and vocabulary, can give your argument clarity. It also tells your audience that you are attempting to make an intelligent case. I find it very hard to read writing without any punctuation. It can change the meaning of a statement entirely and, without punctuation, the reader does not know where to pause in thought. This can be most harmful in email conversations where tone is left to the reader who can infer at random, missile-fire will. Again, I can plead guilty here in the last week alone, and when I look back on how I’ve inferred things before, it’s often been because the writer wasn’t clear or their thoughts ran together. I couldn’t see the point they were trying to make. I saw something else.

It’s a courtesy to your reader to at least attempt something resembling proper writing. If you are rusty on grammar and punctuation, there are plenty of websites online that offer quick lessons. It WILL improve your credibility and the quality of your argument ten-fold. It will also make it easier for your reader to follow your point. A good grammar resource: http://thegrammargang.blogspot.com/. It’s linked on my blog roll.

Language: Don’t use big words just to sound knowledgeable unless A) you know what they mean and B) they add to your point. Professional writers will tell you that many words and big words do not mean good writing. Clear, concise, thoughtful writing is good writing. It sounds more intelligent to write clearly and use fewer ten-dollar words than to write in a sloppy manner using big words that don’t make sense. Smart readers will catch on.

Also, avoid profanity. Your argument goes down the tubes as soon as you bring in the four-letter words. It ruins your credibility quicker than anything else will and gives your opposition the upper hand. It immediately tells the reader that you are running high on emotion and low on reason. Avoid personalizing your argument period. It can be hurtful and is really a result of a weak argument. I will admit to admiring some columnists who tend toward strong language and, at times, anger. But, they have been around so long and are so informed, that they can usually get away with it. Most of us haven’t, aren’t, and can’t.

Statistics and facts: As a journalist, I can assure you that numbers and statistics leave much to be desired when it comes to making a point. They do help. But, too often, people take them out of context or rely on them too heavily. There is usually another number to counteract the first statistic or a context-providing story that goes along with it. Not to mention, statistics are often dead wrong.

Here is an example NOT meant to be a political statement. According to Expatica.com, a publication I read for European expatriates, the usual number of the reported dead in Iraq is somewhere around 3,600. But, that’s just for U.S Operation Iraqi Freedom alone. That number doesn’t take into account contractors lost, Iraqi civilians lost (almost 68,000), military suicides (more than 110), lives lost in Afghanistan (more than 400), etc. The point is, the first number doesn’t tell the whole story though it’s often used in a way that would lead a reader to think just that. But, we can see here that other numbers really round out the full picture. It’s about the whole story. Not just part of it. Statistics without context can speak volumes of nothing.

When you do present facts, quote a reputable source; otherwise, your facts are useless. If you don’t have facts, go find them. I must caution you here. You might change your mind about some things. Don’t worry. This is a healthy thing. (Note: political ads are not reputable sources coming from either party. They most always flat-out lie or misrepresent things in a most disgusting way. They are essentially empty propaganda not intended to really inform you but to manipulate, and they assume you are not smart or industrious enough to look elsewhere. Same goes for press releases from political action committees) Bottom line, KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. This most certainly demands research.

Assuming: Don’t assume for your reader and/or opposition. Assuming for your reader is insulting. When reading the opposing viewpoint, unless your name is attached to a statement or you are directly referenced, don’t insert it on behalf of the writer. Let go of the ego. It’s infuriating to someone who had no intention of speaking directly to you or your beliefs and it, again, murders your credibility. Also, don’t tell your reader what he/she thinks.

Labels: Don’t use them. If you do, there goes that credibility again. It’s an attack method and there is no room for attacking in a mature argument. Plus, it’s no one’s right to put a label on someone that hasn’t been claimed. It’s not our place to label others according to our faulted filters.

Personal beliefs: Be careful here. They may inform your view, but they don’t make you right. It’s important to maintain humility when making your point, especially when religion is involved.

How many of you are saying, “But Beth, I’ve seen you break all of these rules”? True enough. I’m not particularly great at following them when conversing quickly to people, especially my kinfolk. But, I do know the rules and strive to put them in place when I can. Sometimes. Occasionally. Okay, not on Facebook.

So, what have we learned? Civil discourse with emotional detachment and solid facts grant credibility to our words. They allow you a measure of security in your position, right or wrong, and garners you more respect. Without them, you will lose the battle against someone well-versed in these practices. For more reading on this topic, see these links:

http://www.madisonmag.com.au/learn_the_art_of_arguing.htm
http://www.srichinmoybio.co.uk/blog/life/the-art-of-effective-argument/

-Frau Jones

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As you can see in these two articles, there are some grave issues with local and state crime labs that need to be addressed. I would imagine this extends far beyond just Detroit and Mississippi. But, it lends evidence to my claim that the death penalty is a very dangerous thing.

http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080926/METRO/809260367/1409/METRO

“The Michigan State Police audit of the city’s gun lab, which began in June after firearms evidence was found to be tainted, revealed a systemic problem that calls into question all forensic evidence handled in the city’s police laboratory over the past several years, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said.”

http://www.slate.com/id/2184798/

“Between them, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks served more than 30 years in Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi. Brewer was sentenced to death, Brooks to life without parole. The crimes for which each was convicted are remarkably similar: A female toddler was abducted from her home, raped, murdered, and abandoned in the woods. In each case, Mississippi District Attorney Forrest Allgood decided early on that the boyfriend of the girl’s mother was the culprit. In each case, he asked Dr. Steven Hayne to perform the autopsy. And in each case, Dr. Hayne called in Dr. Michael West to perform some analysis of bite marks on the children. West claimed to have found bite marks that had been missed by other medical professionals and then testified in court that he could definitively match these marks to the teeth of the men Allgood suspected of committing the murders.

In each case, West was wrong.”

These innocent men did not get justice and deserve some form of it now. The guilty ones running free over shoddy police work deserve their due, too. For more information on people working toward this cause, please look into the innocence project at http://www.innocenceproject.org/.

All life is valuable.

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I’m taking a break from writing on our lives in Germany to write about an issue increasingly important to me.

Last night, a man named Troy Davis was due to be executed in Georgia for murder. There is no forensic evidence and most of the witnesses have recanted their statements. Two hours before he would be put to death, the Supreme Court issued a stay of execution. You can see the full story here:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-executesep24,0,7081629.story

This is Troy Davis:

I was very relieved to wake this Wednesday morning and see that this stay was granted. I am a big supporter of overhauling the death penalty if not abolishing it completely. Too many innocent people have died: see Illinois and former Gov. Ryan’s moratorium on the death penalty. My uncertainty on the issue comes with the most heinous of crimes where innocence is not in question and children are involved. The act of murdering a child invokes ire in me that no other act can. But, to what end does the guilty person’s execution serve? I’m not sure.

I have studied many high- and low-profile murder cases as well as forensics, and my studies show me that our death penalty system is severely flawed and dangerous. No new revelation really. According to BBC News, McCain would likely expand the death penalty. Pro-life? Hardly.

Even if Davis is guilty, because the evidence is so weak, it’s important that he receives another trial. More actions like this will further ensure that we do not hastily execute more innocent men and women. Several wrongly accused people have been released from death row in the last year because DNA or new evidence proved their innocence, which they maintained from day one (unless ruthlessly coerced). See Texas.

How many innocent people have died? How many more?

Now, the race issue: I often feel it is overused, which demoralizes instances when it is in fact in question. Here, I’m not so sure it isn’t. This is in Savannah, Georgia after all, and to deny that race is not an issue there or anywhere else is to be in deep denial. The lack of evidence and accountable witnesses in this case have long demanded a second trial for this man, but the local authorities have refused to bend, to admit they might be wrong even though the Pope, Desmond Tutu, and former President Jimmy Carter have supported a stay. That is quite disturbing to me. It is indeed very dangerous to maintain a firmly closed mind on any issue. It is possible to be wrong. That’s why we are called humans and not gods.

I do not know for fact that he is innocent, but for the preservation of future innocent lives, this stay of execution was absolutely necessary.

For a Germany tie-in, Germany does not allow capital punishment except for high crimes—as I understand it. I’m still reading up on this.

–Frau Jones

P.S. For a story on a man recently exonerated (not on death row) in Michigan, listen to the story below. My good friend, Celeste Headlee, produced this for NPR. These men are lacking in help rebuilding their lives.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93498556.

AND, for a look at a pro-life Christian’s perspective on the upcoming election, go to the link below. This guy and his father helped invent the conservative, evangelical political platform. He’s independent now. Very interesting.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-schaeffer/why-im-prolife-and-pro_b_85636.html

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