Monday, July 11, 2011

A True Eyewitness

Our class discussion of the book Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership - Nixon to Clinton by David Gergen was very interesting. The book brought up some interesting points. It covered the Nixon completely, without overshadowing it with the Watergate scandal. Gergen pointed out that Ford was an incredibly overrated president because he left the presidency and the nation in a better shape than he found it – the ultimate test of a successful presidency. And so on. The book itself is an incredibly interesting read. It was written by US News and World Report editor David Gergen, who had worked in the administrations of all these presidents thus making him a true “eyewitness.” He included many stories and detailed reports of events that gave a complete picture of each president, including their relationships with the first lady, their decision making process and evaluated their strengths and weaknesses.

Today, the last Monday of our class, began crunch time. Our complete, 20+ paper is due in Doc. Z’s hands by noon on Friday and it better be the best final draft possible.

For dinner, the five of us decided we wanted to go eat Halal’s, an abundant food truck chain scattered throughout NYC. There is supposed to be a particularly famous one near Times Square. We went to check it out, but the line was so ridiculously long and there were problems with the grill (or something) that we couldn’t wait anymore so we went to another Halal’s across the street.

Tomorrow, we will be treated to a guest lecturer in the morning.

Inspirational Man

Today was a relief. It felt really good to turn in my paper because not only is it a weight lifted, but I got to learn so much about Supreme Court cases, and how to use the library. After learning how to print a document, I printed and printed my paper before heading to our afternoon session where we watched two documentaries, on one Justice Black and one on Mr. Korematsu and his journey through the legal system.

The first documentary was essentially the story of Justice Black's time as a Supreme Court justice. Born and raised in Alabama, Black never completed school. He taught himself everything by attending trials at the local courthouse, the one part of his hometown that was exciting. He then went on to attending University of Alabama's law school and became a very successful lawyer. It was claimed that he did 2,000 cases and could only recall losing 20. He then joined the KKK in order to gain support for his Senate campaign, which he was elected to the Senate. From the Senate F.D.R. nominated Black to become a justice and he was soon affirmed by the Senate. As a justice, Black is best known for being a champion of individual rights. Justice Black and Douglas voted together for each individual rights case, and played a major role in the end of segregation. While Black will go down as as great justice, there is one case where not only did he mess up, but the Supreme Court as a whole made a mistake. That case is Korematsu v. United States.

Following the attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt issued Presidential Executive Order 9066, which called for all Japanese-Americans to be rounded up to go to internment camps. When he refused to go, he was arrested and charged for disobeying and order, and then sent to a camp where all Japanese Americans slept in horse stables. He brought a lawsuit arguing that the President and Congress went beyond their power by implementing exclusion and restricting the rights of Japanese Americans. Ultimately the Supreme Court ruled against Korematsu despite the fact that the defense argued that because he was the same race as the enemy, the camps where justified. I believe the Court was completely wrong. The order was an example of discrimination based on race which is prohibited in the Constitution. While he may have lost, what makes Korematsu an amazing man to me is that he always knew he should have won and 40 years after the Supreme Court's ruling, a lawyer presented him evidence that the government suppressed evidence and lied to the Supreme Court. Korematsu petitioned for a writ of coram nobis and was granted one. At the hearing, the judge vacated his former conviction and after 40 long years, Korematsu was finally awarded what he wanted, justice.

Back to the Basics

It occurred to me in my meeting with Mrs. L and within my personal reflection this afternoon that I had been neglecting my duty to this blog and to the readers a little bit--let's go back to the basics.

The purpose of this program is to grant students with an academic and personal experience unlike any other they have experienced thus far, and would most likely experience in the future. Striking a parallel, the purpose of this blog is to reflect on that experience. I'd like to return to the I.L.C. roots and give you guys the inside-scoop on the local gossip around the classroom.

I got my research paper back today--draft two. And, I was much, much more satisfied with it that I could say I was with the previous draft last week. I only moved up one number (grade), from 4 to 3, but that one number spoke volumes in that I had completely scrapped my 7 page original draft and started clean with the 12 page second draft. Technically, I had written the majority of raw pages in comparison to other students. That's not to say I am a front runner in terms of the research paper. Actually, my score is average, but for me to progress in spite of that allowed me some mental cushion. I relaxed knowing that no matter how unexpected a wrong turn is on the academic highway, there was always time to back-track and advance ahead.

Basically, I'm glad I pulled through and my head is above water right now. And I feel like I can gather enough oxygen to survive the next head-dunk, so-to-speak, by being on-par with my classmates.

The only reason I had to scrap my original draft was because I changed my thesis, very slightly might I add. But, that serves as prime evidence that college is as narrow as a straw when it comes to research. Specifically, in this class, when you choose your topic, it's not as open-ended as most people think. I can't claim a paper to Richard Nixon. Rather, I can claim a paper to Richard Nixon's relationship to Henry Kissinger regarding foreign policy during his first term. And, even that would be considered a little broad.

So, when I initially chose to do my paper on Obama. I had to dwell deeper. I, then, wanted to do Obama and his control of speech. I had to refine once more. I concluded with Obama's presidential rhetoric and the effect of his oratory on the public and press.

Dr. Z. let it slide. But, I think she knew I would eventually have to refine it even more. And, I did, after the first draft. I decided that, not only was my topic to broad, but it wasn't as interesting because of its vagueness.

I changed it once more. As it stands today, my research paper is in regards to "Senator Barack Obama's rhetorical candidacy and How His Speech Shaped His Presidential Victory." That's a mouthful for a title, but it is an appropriate one at that.

That lesson is actually one of the more pervading messages of the many learned here at Columbia. The ability to refine a topic, to narrowly attack something, to be specific in detail and avoid unnecessary vagueness will surely prove immensely helpful during my college years and even during my upcoming senior year.

I'd like to close on a note from a student in my cohort and class. Another lesson that seems to surface abound all of the library time is a lesson that Milani brought up in her recent post: "I've [Milani] learned that your research is never completely done. There's always more you can find on the topic you're doing." It's intimately true. There's always another document, or book, or newspaper, or scholarly journal, or magazine, or wire feed, or audio clip, or video, or essay, or memoir, or editorial, or statement, or conversation, or speech to check--to analyze. There's always another source to use. There's always something else to be said about your topic.

And, that's the essence of a good topic. That extra room, to me, is necessary for additional perspective. This is precisely why there is not one book on Abraham Lincoln, for instance. There are countless books--thousands of books on him. And from each, something new lurks. It's a literary and historical phenomenon that seems to put me at ease within my research, knowing that I'll never run out of material, just out of time to look for it.

Somewhat Productive

Today was as the title implies: somewhat productive.

I woke up feeling like it was regular school year again, hating myself for having to get up so early. Then I realized that it was 8:30 AM and I shouldn't be complaining. It was late compared to other days.

Class is pretty much a routine now. We sit down, talk about the assignment we were given, share our feelings, and get another assignment. The reading is really hard to keep up with, not just because the actual reading is hard but because of how much there is to actually read. Over the weekend we were assigned a 400 page book to read about the Nixon presidency to the Clinton presidency. Honestly, I tried my hardest to finish the book but I couldn't. I got as far as I could in those couple days. It really took a toll in my participation today, but I did try my hardest and inputted when I could. I wish they would prepare you in high school for this kind of reading, because it's no joke.

I received the same score on my draft we turned in on Friday as my outline which is a good score. I only really have to expand my ideas and support them with all of the research I have done. I've learned that your research is never completely done. There's always more you can find on the topic you're doing. It's true that nothing is ever perfect, along with my paper, but I'm convinced that with the time I was/am given, I can turn this into a pretty good paper.

Today after class we all decided to take a field trip to the famous food vendor the Halal guys! We figured it had to be a New York specialty because the line was huge! There were a lot of other Halal guys but the one we tried to go to were the legit ones. We ended up having to go to another one, same company, because something happened where the food wasn't being put out at the famous one. The food was delicious and only for $7. We could have eaten that for 2 days!

I have no idea what tomorrow has in store for me. All I know is that this week is crunch time. We have to finalize ad perfect our papers and enjoy every last bit of NYC that we can. Let's see what these last couple of days have in store for me!

Sleepy Irene...

Today was rather… disproportional.

Similar to yesterday, I’d sequestered myself in my dorm room from a very early hour, typing away at my laptop to finish my paper. I’d scrapped an entire draft late last night, unhappy with the structure and tone. It was too similar to my AP Lit essays: all fluff and flowing prose and no density, or at least not enough. Not good.

So my day was spent almost entirely working on the paper. A little while after twelve o’clock rolled around my suitemate’s knocked on my door and asked me to go out to lunch with them. I politely declined, and they politely refused to accept that, reminding me that I hadn’t eaten yet that day, and politely hustled me out of my room and into a Thai food restaurant a few blocks away. Yum. I love my suitemates. A few of our friends joined us as well: I’m not sure how this worked out, but I know only one person from the 150-person Econ class (and that’s only because she lives with me) but I’ve met almost all of the tiny BioMed class… independently too, meaning BioMeds haven’t introduced me to any other BioMeds. Funny how it works out like that.

Thus followed an afternoon of, surprise surprise, more work. I was almost done when 6 o’clock rolled around, and so I decided I’d earned a break and Billy Elliot was next. I’m so incredibly glad I went! I work in theater and I’m a geek, so I’ve seen my share of plays and more than a meager amount of musicals. Billy Elliot is (or was?) hands-down the best musical I’ve ever seen. The choreography was brilliant, the set was incredibly designed, the depth of the acting, even by the minor parts, was at a level you rarely see in a musical… it was amazing. Just amazing. Throughout the trip I also got closer to a suite-mate I’d almost never talked to before, a girl from New Hampshire, as we found out that we have similar (very liberal!) political views and just generally agree on a lot of things. Apparently New Hampshire is a lot like the Bay Area!

We got home after curfew, but since we were with our RA we had been excused. I changed out of my Broadway wear into more comfy clothing and got back to work, finishing a few hours later at about 3 am and rolling into bed without even bothering to put on pajamas, hence the incredibly late blog-post.

I’ll leave the describing of my Monday for later tonight; I really need to go eat!