The Doubter’s Companion: Ad Hominem

Ad Hominem: The obverse of hero worship. Both indicate an unwillingness to deal with content.

Public figures have complained for decades about the growing tendency to judge them by violent personal attacks, often aimed at their private lives. But as public actors have chosen to assume Heroic guises—whether majestic, saintlike, martyred, romantic or touching—so those they attempt to seduce have reacted with personalized integral vilification.

There is nothing new about such ad hominem attacks. They were widely used for political purposes in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. If public figures paid a little more attention to history, they would know that their predecessors led a much rougher life. Today they are protected by concentrated media ownership, the obsession of the large professional elites with respectable public behavior and, in most countries, overly strict libel laws. Given that ours is a management-oriented society, we give far too much importance to the smoothness of public discourse and fear serious open verbal conflict.

Contemporary ad hominem resembles that of an earlier period—the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This was a society of courtiers constantly in pursuit of meaningless power. Court life was measured by personal details—orgasms, medals, gloves, cleavages, and titles. Ad hominem fed the endless appetite for gossip which filled the salons and occupied the days of those caught up in the complex structures of the state. These were powerless people living by irrelevant criticisms in the shadow of false human gods—the absolute monarchs. That such detached ad hominem attacks have returned with a vengeance in the late twentieth century suggests that we have also returned to the courtier-based society of the great palaces, which have been transformed into the great professions and the great organizations of the public and private sector.

Excerpted from: Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter’s Companion. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

The Weekly Text, Friday 20 January 2023: History of Hip-Hop Lesson 7, Muddy Waters Invents Electricity: The Electric Blues after World War II

Here is the seventh lesson plan of the History of Hip-Hop. I begin this lesson with this Cultural Literacy worksheet on de facto segregation.

The mainstay of this lesson is this reading on Muddy Waters and its accompanying comprehension questions worksheet and organizer. As this lesson involves listening to some of Muddy Waters’ music, here is a document with the lyrics for two songs: the first is “I’m a Man,” a blues chestnut and proto-civil rights anthem, which Muddy apparently co-wrote with Elias McDaniel, aka Bo Diddley; the second is “Who Do You Love?”, one of Bo Diddley’s hits and one of the baddest, in my not even remotely humble opinion, rock-and-roll songs ever written or recorded (and it has been covered extensively). Finally, here is a worksheet with analytical questions for these lyrics.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Norman Mailer on Newspapers

“Once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever, even to the protagonists.”

Norman Mailer

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007.

Common English Verbs Followed by an Infinitive: Arrange

Here is a worksheet on the verb arrange as it is used with an infinitive. I arranged to eschew henceforth dicey instructional material.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Term of Art: Summarization

“summarization: The process of determining important information in a text and explaining it briefly in one’s own words.”

Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.

Cultural Literacy: Personal Pronoun

This Cultural Literacy worksheet on the personal pronoun joins a plethora of material on its subject on this blog. Editorially, I would just like to note that antecedent-pronoun agreement is still one of those points of grammar that directly aids clear communication in both speech and prose.

In any event, this is a full-page worksheet with a two-sentence reading and four comprehension questions. The reading itself includes a list of the personal pronouns and their respective cases; the comprehension questions call upon students to write sentences employing personal pronouns extemporaneously. This is, like just about everything else on this blog, a Word document that you may revise to suit your classroom’s needs.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Circumlocution

“Circumlocution (noun): Wordy and indirect language, sometimes as an evasion; roundabout verbosity; an instance of wordiness. Adjective: circumlocutional, circumlocutionary, circumlocutory; noun:circumlocutionist.

Henry James, in his later fiction, tried to make his characters and prose so refined in subtlety that his paragraphs are often monuments of circumlocution. Edith Wharton recalled James’s trying to ask an old man the directions to Kings Road at Windsor: “My good man, if you’ll be kind enough to come here please; a little nearer-so” and as the old man came up: “My friend, to put it to you in two words, this lady and I have just arrived here from Slough; that is to say, to be more strictly accurate, we have recently passed through Slough on our way here, having actually motored to Windsor from Rye, which was our point of departure; and the darkness having overtaken us, we should be much obliged if you would tell us in relation, say, to the High Street, which, as you of course know, lead to the Castle after leaving on the left hand the turn down the railroad station.” Robert Morsheberger, Commonsense Grammar and Style'”

Excerpted from: Grambs, David. The Random House Dictionary for Writers and Readers. New York: Random House, 1990.

The Weekly Text, Friday 13 January 2023: History of Hip-Hop Lesson 6, Woody Guthrie, American Troubadour

This week’s Text is lesson plan six of the History of Hip-Hop Unit. I open this lesson with this Cultural Literacy worksheet on Marian Anderson.

For the first part of this lesson, you’ll need this reading on Woody Guthrie with its attendant comprehension worksheet. For the second part, you’ll need the lyrics to “Pretty Boy Floyd,” one of Woody’s most famous songs, and this research organizer for short work on Pretty Boy Floyd which students use, along with some basic research on the internet, to understand the song and its origins.

Incidentally, and to my considerable surprise, the students to whom I have delivered this lesson were quite interested in the song, if not Woody Guthrie himself. For that reason, I have designated and so tagged this post as containing high-interest materials.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Alexander Cockburn’s First Law of Journalism

“The First Law of Journalism: to confirm existing prejudice, rather than contradict it.”

Alexander Cockburn

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007.

Compel (vt)

Here is a context clues on the transitive verb compel. It means “to drive or urge forcefully or irresistibly” and “to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure.” This is commonly used word in English because it is useful. Enough said.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.