Posts Tagged ‘NPR’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

I am writing this on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013. Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  All month long, NPR has been running stories about the ‘March on Washington’ and King’s timeless speech to commemorate, and investigate what happened that week in 1963, and to ask how far we as a nation and people have come in the fifty years since.  This 7 minute radio interview that was aired a couple weeks ago is an enthralling example NPR’s coverage.  It is the tale of Robert Avery, who at 15 hitchhiked from Alabama to DC in order to be a part of the March.  Take some time, and listen to his incredible story.

Robert Avery.  Click on the weblink below to listen to his story.

Robert Avery. Click on the weblink below to listen to his story.

What an experience! Two poor, country kids with big dreams and determination make their way across a rapidly changing nation, meeting on the way some wonderful Americans, all the while getting a glimpse of American racial hatred. Sounds like something straight out of a Hollywood script. But, it is a real tale; one I plan to use this week in my American History course as we are just beginning to investigate the Civil Rights movement.


All these people were heroes.

I have a feeling that the hardest hitting moment in Avery’s story will probably be the most incomprehensible to my 18 year old students.  In actuality, as a 37 year old historian, I have a hard time grasping it as well.  My students and I live in the post-Civil Rights era; an epoch created by Americans such as Avery. We have only experienced a nation in which the vast majority of citizens, even obvious racists, distance themselves from racism as a concept.  Thus, the outspoken racism that Avery faced in 1963 takes us aback.  It is shocking that fifty years ago many Americans openly accepted racism; or that for some, racism was a worldview held with pride.  Avery illustrates this world with his recollections of 1963 Virginia.  He matter-of-factly remembered that as he and the African-American family he was riding with neared DC, and,

…drove through the mountains, they saw black effigies hanging outside service stations. “You know, the dummies that they hang out, the Rebel flags … hanging from light posts and whatever,” Avery recalls. “That wasn’t sending a signal, that was sending a strong message … So they went to a lot of care to make them to make sure that people understood you can’t stop here and buy gas.”

If you listen to the interview, you can hear Michele Norris stop Avery, with a bit of shock in her voice, and ask him to explain what he means by “effigies hanging outside of gas stations.”  Avery calmly answers her question, providing evidence that such symbols of hatred were normal in the days of Jim Crow.  This was a society that was staunchly racist; justice was by no means blind.  Avery’s attendance at the March on Washington fell on the wrong side of the law.  Actually, the ideas shared during the March would have been illegal in  Jim Crow Mississippi, where,

Any person…who shall be guilty of printing, publishing or circulating printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and negroes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine or not exceeding five hundred (500.00) dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both.

Racist notions that are rarely mentioned in polite private company today, were often spoken in public with no embarrassment in 1963 America. The infamous words of the Virginia trial judge that found Richard and Mildred Loving guilty of interracial marriage prove the point. In reading the verdict against the husband and wife, Judge Leon Bazile stated that,

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.

These words sound like they come from the distant past. In reality, the sentence against the Lovings was passed in 1959.

A Virginia Judge found the Lovings guilty because of this.

A Virginia Judge found the Lovings guilty because of this.

These few examples (and there are countless more) illustrate how pernicious American racism was within recent, living memory.  Luckily for myself, and my students, this is not our personal memory. These events are a part of history books; these ideas are depicted in movies.  We are lucky for that, but we should be cautious. Many Americans today rely on self-delusion, ludicrously claiming we live in some utopian, post-racial society. They paint the March on Washington with the brushstrokes of the ancient past.  It is my job, and all of our jobs, to correct this misconception. In a blink of an eye, 50 years have passed; the memories have faded for many, but the scars of that era are still quite fresh. Luckily we have men such as Robert Avery to remind us.


By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty.

Boy, do I hate those Freakonomics guys. I mean, seriously, they write a book that assures us, through the point of view of economists, that we’re better than “drug dealers” and that the way we look askance at names other people give their kids is justified and we buy it like our own prejudices are going out of style. Congratulations, Freakonomics dudes, we all think you’re geniuses because you can see the world from your own point of view.

So, you ask, what’s the problem with seeing things from your own point of view? Nothing, inherently. The problem is in the lack of nuance. Stephen Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, in their book and on Freakonomics Radio, speak from the point of view of economists. The whole enterprise is “surprising” in that they look at “real-world issues” through the lens of economics. Holy crap, economists look at the world through economic paradigms – you don’t say! Dubner and Levitt do, indeed, provide the economics perspective, but their assessment of the issues is myopic (to say the least) in that it fails to take into account the “real” thing about real life: it is nuanced, and it requires ethics.

A few months ago, for the holidays, the Freakonomics guys did this piece on turkeys. In the piece, Stephen Dubner discusses the fact (yes, it’s a fact) that nearly 100% of the turkeys we consume in this country are unable to procreate naturally. Yes, from the point of view of Freakonomics Radio listeners, the artificial insemination of turkeys is not only hilarious; it is “good economics”. Dubner and his interviewer laugh about the “jobs program” created by the fact that millions of turkeys are bred in this country so that their giant breasts (hysterical!) make them unable to stand on their hind legs long enough or to get into the appropriate position to have actual sex. The problem with this piece is that it gets so caught up in the comedy of turkey sex and the “job creation” of artificial insemination that it failed to address any of the ethical nuances of the issue. So, we are left with a humorous (at best) and congratulatory (at worst) piece about the awesomeness of an absurd, horrific, and completely unethical phenomenon that serves the business and consumer point of view nicely.

Freakonomics is not nuanced. Nuance requires the understanding of someone else’s point of view. With nuance comes ethics. I want to argue that it is our point of view that determines our actual ethics (actual, as in the way we ACT).

Earlier this week, NPR ran this story on “Why Good People Do Bad Things”. In this piece, the journalist asks whether it takes a bad person to do unethical things. As it turns out, we are all “frequently blind to ethics” in our decision making, because we approach problems from our own assumed point of view. The piece features (in awesome graphic-novel narrative) a man who, after promising his dying father that he would never be so unethical as his brother, who had just been convicted of fraudulent business activity, finds himself having done the very same thing 22 years later. This totally normal, “good” man had come to assume the identity (and, thus, the point of view) of a business man (like his brother), so, when he lied about his business’s income in order to get the loan that would (he thought) save his failing business, he ACTED as a business man. He acted in a way that was best for his business. Period.

Of course, most of us are not business owners defrauding banks and weakening the global economy, but that doesn’t mean that our own assumed points of view don’t allow us to act unethically on a regular basis. If your point of view is that of a homeowner, you might spray chemicals on your lawn, even though they have been proven dangerous to your local watershed. If your point of view is that of a consumer, you might look for the best bargain and buy the stuff that was made through the cheapest means possible, even though that means extractive, exploitive, and harmful methods. If your point of view is that of a parent, you might send your kid to a private school, even though it is a disinvestment in your community. All of these are reasonable decisions from the point of view of the individual. “Everybody’s doing it.” “It’s legal.” “It’s what’s best for me.” But they are not, generally, the most ethical decisions with regard to others. That’s what happens when we fail to incorporate nuance into our own decisions, and we accept the status quo. Thus, we get best-selling economists celebrating acute poultry suffering for the sake of “job creation” and we accept (even appropriate) their point of view. No nuance; no ethics; no challenge to the status quo.

David Fincher’s (highly nuanced) critique of the status quo point of view AND the fervent rejection of the status quo, “Fight Club” exhibits this problem with its exquisite denoument.  In his rejection of the unethical, corrupting, emasculating point of view of the status quo, Tyler Durden engages in a highly unethical act, but, the way he sees it: “everything’s going to be fine.”

Whether we accept the economic status quo presented by the Freakonomics guys or act to destroy the status quo by any means necessary like Tyler Durden, until we ask ourselves, “Where is my mind?”, we have confused “my point of view” with “the right thing to do”.

by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty 

While I was growing up and anxiously awaiting my milestone birthdays (16, 18, 21), my mom warned me to slow down and enjoy being young, because “once you get to be an adult, time flies by.” Now that I’m only days away from turning 30 and constantly asking myself where the hell my 20s went, it seems Mom was right.

This is a performance of the turning-30 anthem “My Next Thirty Years” by Phil Vassar. I like his anecdote at the beginning about how the music executives told him that “No one wants to hear about turning 30.”

Since I turned 21, when I was finishing college and starting my first full-time job, Father Time has stomped on the accelerator. Events that seem so recent are now years in the rearview mirror. My first quarter teaching at RMU seems so fresh in my memory that every night I still print out Mapquest directions to campus, lay out my finest suit, and go to bed worrying about whether or not everyone will like me. I can probably stop, though, because it was over 5 ½ years that I started working here: I know the way, I don’t fit in that suit anymore, and I know no one likes me.

If time keeps moving like this, I will soon be 80 and incorrectly telling my grandchildren (or my lab-created genetic clones), “It seems like just yesterday that I graduated from college, but that was 74 years ago!”

So, in short, I’d like to thank my mother for opening my eyes to the depressing Yeager-like rapidity of adulthood.

(Just kidding, Ma. Love ya!)

However, while reflecting on the past decade of my life, I see all that has happened to me – and the world around me – and find that this sonic speed is an illusion. Things haven’t moved fast at all. It has been a long road for me these past 10 years, which has included:

  • Studying at multiple universities and earning multiple degrees.
  • Becoming a university professor.
  • Feeling weird calling myself a “professor.”
  • Becoming a homeowner.
  • Running for Congress.
  • Becoming an uncle, twice. And a Godfather.
  • Lying about running for Congress.
  • Maintaining a (now closed) personal blog for over five years and 350,000 words.
  • Writing tons of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
  • Trying to impress women by referring to myself as “a writer.”
  • Having no success impressing anyone.

A lot of things happen in ten years for all of us. Any of us could write a monumentally long list of things we’ve done and been through in the past ten years. But what creates the illusion that time is moving so fast? For an interesting look at why time seems to fly, check out this article (with videos and audio) over at NPR.

And while you do that, “I think I’ll take a moment to celebrate my age. The ending of an era and the turning of a page. Now it’s time to focus  in on where I go from here. Lord have mercy on my next thirty years.”