Crack vs. Powder

A recent story by the Associated Press, “Crack-vs.-powder disparity is questioned,” documents attempts to equalize punishment associated with illegal drug use. Last month, federal sentencing guidelines were adjusted for crack offenses, which had formerly upheld penalties that were 100x more severe than than those related to powdered cocaine. The differences in the effects of the drug — based on its form and therefore its type of ingestion — had apparently been exaggerated.

And the reason? Some seem to believe racisim:

Many defense lawyers and civil rights advocates say the lopsided perception of crack versus cocaine is rooted in racism. Four out of every five crack defendants are black, while most powdered-cocaine defendants are white.

The article continues by outlining how the use of crack and powdered cocaine came to fall along racial lines — and it’s quite an interesting read. In the end, though, I wonder at the nuances of this story. How could the case have been made that the ingestion of the same drug could have such wildly different results? Or could it be, as alluded to in the quotation above, that lawmakers only needed to see the statistics and demographics to believe one type is worse than the other?

The initial law was written in 1986. I wonder what it would take to make the same case today, 20 years later.

What a piece of . . .

When the BBC writes, “Al Gore’s [Nobel Prize] acceptance speech was a powerful piece of rhetoric,” is there an underlying political critique happening? We’re all aware that popular use of the word “rhetoric” doesn’t always line up with scholarly connotations. Shocking, I know. Does it mean something, though, that they didn’t tag it as a “powerful speech” or “powerful message”? How is the article contextualizing the speech by calling it a “piece of rhetoric”? (click here for the full speech)

Strange I didn't bring up the military-industrial complex that accounts for half of our nation's oil consumption . . .

“Mr. Gore’s speech,” the article says, “was a rhetorical tour de force.” Under the section heading “Rhetorical Power,” there is, however, only an implicit rhetorical analysis: “The former vice-president painted a gloomy picture of the climate impacts that might lie ahead. But he was more upbeat in his assessment that carbon emissions could be tackled.”

Emotional roller-coaster = rhetorically effective? Gore’s speech is ripe for rhetorical analysis . . . thoughts anyone?

Rhetoric at War

If you’re like me, you probably enjoying analyzing and dissecting the rhetoric of politicians, press secretaries, and military officials. And it’s fun too, right? When we see a suit or uniform behind a podium justifying war in diplomatic fashion, our analytic ears and eyes stand at attention. They’re very aware of their own rhetoric (whether they call it that or not) and they’re trained to construct their message carefully, so it’s fun to see what delicately-worded phrases ultimately make their way to the public. But it looks as if the military is expanding their vision of spokespeople to include troops, realizing rhetorical savviness can be as powerful as a bullet–perhaps even more so.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article describing the military’s lastest game plan for the continuing war in Afghanistan. The problem is that “Many U.S. and allied soldiers still arrive in the country well-trained to kill, but not to persuade.” The solution? Teach the soldiers to consider the perspective of locals, whether friend or foe.

The soldiers are being asked to think rhetorically, as displayed by Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Nash, who says, “Think about what the insurgents are trying to tell the populace–that the coalition is the infidel … If the public saw coalition troops patrolling side-by-side with Afghan troops carrying their prayer mats, it might send a powerful message.”

Reminds me of a quote that Montaigne loves to repeat:

Napolean to Fontanes: “Do you know what astounds me most about the world? The impotence of force to establish anything. There are only two powers in the world: the sword and the mind. In the end, the sword is always conquered by the mind.”