Wednesday, January 16, 2008

PSA: Looking for something cool to do next year?

Most of you have probably heard of First Things, and if you haven't, well, this probably won't mean much to you.

I met one of their current Junior Fellows, Nathaniel Peters, this past summer, and after hearing him gush about his experiences living in a brownstone in NYC and working with an editorial staff including Fr. John Neuhaus, I thought I should pass along this opportunity, recently posted on their blog.:

First Things has openings for junior fellows, beginning in the mid to late summer of 2008. These are one- or two-year internships for young writers and scholars interested in religion and public life. The positions offer the opportunity to participate in the magazine’s writing and production; the theological and political discussions the magazine sponsors; and the religious, cultural, and intellectual events that cluster around First Things in New York City. The positions include free housing and a modest stipend.

Send a résumé, two writing samples of an academic nature, and three references to: Anthony Sacramone, Managing Editor, First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, New York 10010, or by email to ft@firstthings.com.

Applications are due February 15.


This should be of interest to many Rovers and faithful Rover blog readers alike!

UPDATE: For a more in-depth description of the life of a junior fellow, check out this description by Nathaniel.

Another Example

You'll most often find that the historical superlative is used in financial contexts when the big, scary numbers really make it ominous.

Inflation Rate Is Worst in 17 Years

Wednesday January 16, 9:01 am ET
By Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Higher costs for energy and food last year pushed inflation up by the largest amount in 17 years, even though prices generally remained tame outside of those two areas.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Historical Superlative: The Biggest, the Worst, the Ugliest Since the Beginnings of the English Language

As just one example of the overused and misused historical superlative—be on the look out for more as you continue your reading of the news—Matt Krantz writes in USA TODAY, “Wall Street's ongoing struggles reached historic proportions Tuesday when another sell-off sent stocks to their worst first five trading days of a year ever” (“Stocks off to worst start ever”).

Effectively, what Krantz is saying is this: things are so bad, we have never seen them this bad before. Or, perhaps more to the author’s implicit point, things are really bad because we have not seen them before. Analyzing this simple rhetorical construction, we find that there is little substance to the argument. Newness in itself is not intrinsically evil nor is it problematic. What gives the rhetorician his power here is his ability to take something which on the surface is displeasing to the general public—for example, a few bad trading days—and distort it into an historical landmark, something that citizens of Eurasia 250 years from now will be able note on America’s economy: [In some Chinese-Russian dialect, a student answers his American History professor] “The turning point of the American Republic was when stocks traded badly for five days in a row in the year 2008.” Now Americans are worried because a simple statement gives its readers a feeling of impending doom, an apocalypse, a world that one has never seen before. “We are heading into uncharted territory,” the author could write.

All this is misleading, however. It’s all about context. Context is the all important word that many pseudo-historians of the popular news sources forget during the composition of their Revelations-esque article. In 1982, the S&P dropped dramatically in the first several months, but by the end of the year, stocks were up and since then have increased ten-fold. We had a somewhat similar start this year. Stocks dropped dramatically and it could appear that we are heading for some major losses, but we could still end up having the greatest year on record.

It is quite easy to look at sorrow-inducing events in the present and compare them to similar sorrow-inducing events in the past and comment on how much worse we should feel now than we did then. What takes time, effort, and some intelligence, however, and what also separates a large portion of liberals from a large portion of conservatives, is understanding an event in a broad spectrum of time. It’s not about how bad we feel but the objective circumstances that had resulted in a specific outcome. We should study these, not our feelings. We should write about these, not how bad one thing looks in comparison to another.

I hope that the Rover staff can hold to these standards along with Notre Dame’s own Observer since the unbridled use of the historical superlative is evidence of the rhetorician at work behind the news. Be on the look out and beware, and I wish you the best of luck in your quest for the truth.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Smurftastic!

The Smurfs turn 50 this year!

Happy Birthday Smurfs!

Thanks to Pierre "Peyo" Culliford, our culture was given a smurfing boon in 1958. I remember watching the Smurfs on TV as a very small, slightly smurfy child. In fact, it was so long ago that it seems more like a smurfy memory that my mind created. But I know that my older brother used to watch the Smurfs and if he did, then I certainly did (because we watched everything that he watched). As proof, there are two Smurf figurines in his room. One is dressed up like Benjamin Franklin, with a 3-cornered hat, a kite and a key, ready for smurfing business. The other one looks like it was meant to go on the back of a pony but the smurfing pony itself has disappeared. I love the Smurfs. They're so ... smurfy!

For the MSNBC article, click here.

To go to the official Smurf website, click here.

And finally, the Smurfs have a Happy Smurfday website here.