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Monday, Nov. 5

November 5, 2012
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Argument: Today we finished “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” We talked about the context revealed by last week’s video: that Dr. King was seen by some as an interloper in Birmingham; that he was coming off a not-spectacularly-successful protest in Albany, Ga. (where he was opposed by the police chief Laurie Pritchett, who did not make the same mistakes Bull Connor would make in Alabama); and that Dr. King’s letter was not the deciding factor in bringing the city leaders to the table in Birmingham (police brutality was what got the attention of the national media, and ultimately the president).

We said that the primary claim of “Letter” is a policy claim: We are going to continue to protest nonviolently. (Not everyone reads the essay this way, but if you consider it a response to “A Call For Unity,” which was also a policy claim — Stop protesting — at its core, then this interpretation makes sense.

We also said that the primary appeal of “Letter” is common sense. Throughout the essay, King is conciliatory, acknowledging his opponents’ points and often at pains to show that ultimately, they all want the same thing.

There are also numerous other claims made in the essay:

* Nonviolent protests are (morally) defensible. Segregation is (morally) indefensible. (Value)

* There are significant differences between a just law and an unjust law. (Definition)

* People have an obligation not to follow unjust laws. (Policy)

* Birmingham is the most segregated city in the U.S. “Oppressed people will not stay oppressed forever.” (Fact)

* We are protesting because we were left no other option. (Cause)

There are also examples of each type of appeal in the essay, besides common sense:

* Personal/anecdotal (His own experiences and those of his children)

* Statistical/historical (Not much in the way of stats — but that was likely because he had no access to them while he was in jail. Plenty of history, though: examples from the Bible, the American Revolution and Nazi Germany, as well as the recent African drive for independence)

* Moral (The appeals to both Biblical verse and church scholars like St. Thomas Aquinas)

What do you need to know for Wednesday’s midterm? Five things:

1. The Toulmin model of argument (claim/support/warrant), named for British philosopher Stephen Toulmin

2. The five types of claims (fact, definition, cause, value, policy)

3. The four types of appeals (Emotional: personal/anecdotal and moral. Rational: statsitical/historical and common sense.)

4. Facts about “A Modest Proposal” (Jonathan Swift, 1729). Primary claim: policy. Most shocking claim: value. Most shocking appeal: statistical.

5. Facts about “Letter From Birmingham Jail” (Martin Luther King Jr., 1963). The information above, as well the document it was a response to, and why that document and the earlier one by white clergy set the stage for King’s “Letter.” (They conceded the existence of segregation, and that it was wrong.)

If you would like to read the essay to which I will have you respond on Wednesday, it is here:

If you would like to practice identifying claims — something I will certainly have you do on the midterm —  download this practice sheet, then download the answer key.

Bookbinding: Today you continued to work on the current project. Remember – if you want your end pages for the big books to match, you should plan on bringing in your own paper (cardstock works too). These need to be finished by the end of next week so I can grade them.

Act I: Today we worked on the celebrity death scenario one-acts. These are due Wednesday, typed and properly formatted.

If you’re having trouble, remember that:

1. You can absolutely introduce modern elements into these scenarios. (Ives did.) Sometimes the contrast between old and new is what makes something funny.

2. As was the case in Sure Thing, if you find something that works, repeat it a time or three with different outcomes.

3. How many variations do you need? No easy way to answer, but I feel like four is a reasonable minimum.

4. How much humor do you need? No easy way to answer, but let’s face it: without any, some of these are gonna be tough to watch.

BatCat Press: Continued working on Snowmen, submissions, and books for Handmade.

Stephen King: Today we:

1. Took a quiz on Part III of Pet Semetary.

2. Concluded that Louis Creed — like his predecessor Victor Frankenstein — is a man of science who has ultimately learned nothing from his experience with the supernatural. Right to the end of the book, he remains convinced he can bend the power of the Micmac burying ground to his own ends. The ending suggests he’s at least not going to have too much longer to repeat that hubristic mistake.

Someone brought up the very good point that Louis’s problems begin because he is a secret-keeper. I agree with this analysis. Over and over again, he shows himself to be untrustworthy, in part because he keeps things to himself that ought to be shared with others — but aren’t, for various reasons.

We did a timeline on the board of the numerous warnings Louis received, from the first encounter with Victor Pascow to his horrific encounter with his own son. He ignores them all. That’s an example of why, at its core, horror is essentially a moralistic genre, and why Pet Semetary, like Frankenstein, is a very good example. The authors of both books make their protagonists sympathetic. They also leave no doubt about the fact that they consider both characters to be overly proud, mistaken, and thus doomed individuals.

No assignment for Wednesday, but it wouldn’t hurt to begin reading Tom Gordon. Expect me to give you another King story on Wednesday for the (long) weekend.

Survey: Fiction: Midterm today.

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