Readers and Writers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between readers and writers. This is mainly because Evergreen’s Writing Center is in the process of updating its mission statement, revising it to a “mission and core values” statement. As tutors, we serve Evergreen’s population by providing objective feedback on particular pieces of writing, whether that writing is academic or personal. As we’ve begun the revision process, a question came up regarding the difference between a reader and a writer, and what role both of those actors play in the process of a tutoring session.

I have argued that the role of the tutor is rarely one of a writer. According to

writer, n.
One who writes, especially as an occupation.

The role of a writer, then, is to actually write text in the literal sense of the word. However, in tutoring, the role of the writer changes somewhat — as a tutor, writers are expected to be able to correct on an expert level any problems related to grammar, sentence structure, paper structure, and flow, as well as having a fairly good command of different styles of writing. Certainly, these expectations are not beyond the ability of a writing tutor, but it is one part of this, the idea of writers working on an expert level, that doesn’t quite jibe with the role of an undergraduate writing tutor on a predominantly undergraduate campus (I have tutored graduate students, but this is beyond the scope of this entry).

Now, compare this against’s definition of a reader. I have only included part of this definition, since these parts apply to the discussion:

Reader, n.
1. One who reads. Specifically: (a) One whose distinctive office is to read prayers in a church. (b) (University of Oxford, Eng.) One who reads lectures on scientific subjects. –Lyell. (c) A proof reader. (d) One who reads manuscripts offered for publication and advises regarding their merit.
2. One who reads much; one who is studious.

This definition immediately comes much closer to the role of a writing tutor: “one who reads manuscripts and advises regarding their merit; one who reads much, one who is studious”. A tutor’s job is not to critique a work word by word or phrase by phrase; rather, our job is to provide advice to those who come in regarding the state of their paper and make suggestions for improvement, along with the process of asking questions about the work and providing an objective viewpoint for any piece of writing. In addition, the term reader does not implicitly imply any sort of expertise. In actuality, the term reader is much fairer to apply to writing tutors, because we do not engage in the physical act of writing, but instead appreciate it and assist it from a higher level.

As a result, it seems to me appropriate to apply the idea of a writing tutor as reader to my part in recasting the Writing Center’s mission statement. The word comes much closer to the ideal that we try to promote as an active part of the College’s writing community.

Ray Charles

I just happened to notice a TV ad for Ray, an autobiographical drama about Ray Charles. This strikes me as a little disrespectful so soon after his death in June, mostly because it seems to me that he has to die in order to get a film made about him. Why do the greats have to die before they are recognized by the entertainment industry and their story is told?

To me, it just seems as if Ray Charles’ work and legacy deserve more than token shows of appreciation after his death.

Thoughts on Restoring Hearing

The issue of recovering hearing is a necessarily sensitive one. For those that have had a hearing loss for only a few years, it might be a viable idea — after several decades of hearing normally, it can be hard (if not downright impossible) to adjust to hearing less. In this case, I can see where TRPA1 would be highly advantageous — it would restore that person’s hearing to a state at (or at least closer to) their previous hearing levels. It would also be helpful, as one of the articles I linked to on TRPA1 points out, to restore hearing lost at, say, concerts.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that all these benefits are highlighted for someone who has only lost some of their normal hearing and has had previous experience with normal hearing. I’m not that kind of person — I was born with a 70dB loss in both ears and have had to live with that all my life. I don’t have any idea what “normal” hearing sounds like, nor have I ever really had any inclination towards finding out. This is probably why my experience with the Oticon Synchro hearing aids didn’t go so well: those aids were designed to attempt to mimic some of the attributes of a normal hearing experience. Having never experienced that type of hearing, it made little sense to try and mimic those attributes for me — I’m used to hearing aids that have the capacity to amplify and selectively modify sound. I’m also used to aids that do this task in a relatively noticeable manner. The Synchro made these adjustments in a subtler way, and never quite adapted itself to the situation at hand correctly.
But I digress. TRPA1 is intended to restore nerve endings that conduct sounds through the ear and into the brain, thus restoring some measure of hearing for a particular individual. Not only am I highly wary of such a process, I am skeptical as to whether it would do me one whit of good. Certainly, some of my hearing might be restored through such a process, but how much? Enough is unknown about exactly what happened to cause my loss that this might not do anything at all. “But it’s worth a try,” some might say, “better you try and nothing happens than never try and find out later that it would have helped significantly.” The issue isn’t whether it would or wouldn’t help; rather, the issue is whether I would be able to adapt to whatever changes were made as a result of such treatment. The answer to this is naturally in the affirmative. In that case, the question becomes whether such a thing would be something I would want to do. The answer to that is no.

This is not closed-mindedness. You can’t simply throw out one method of hearing that I’ve been used to for twenty-one years and replace it with something completely different. In some ways, I’m the exact opposite of the person who had hearing, then lost it, except that the difference is much sharper: I’m used to having precise control over my ability to hear or not hear. Take away that control, and what happens? I may be better off, and perhaps not so much effort would be required to tune any hearing aids that I would still require after such therapy, but I lose the ability to be picky. This sounds like a stupid quip, but consider the advantages: at the moment, I can allow these aids to selectively filter out certain noises and sounds in a specific environment, adapt to high-noise environments with the flick of a switch to reduce volume, and do any host of other things to allow less stress on my hearing. People who have normal hearing can certainly exercise the idea of selective hearing, but they can’t block out the background noise completely — it’s still there. With hearing aids, the background noise isn’t there at all because it’s being filtered out before it ever reaches the ear.

So this is a somewhat lengthy thought process, but it boils down to this: when someone gets used to something and uses it for a long time, you can’t simply change it. That has such profound philosophical, psychological, and emotional impacts that it can often do more damage than simply keeping things the way they are. That’s my justification, long-winded as it may be.

Hearing Protein: WebMD Article

I decided to run a Google search on the new hearing protein that was recently found and pulled up this WebMD article, which suggests that the protein could be useful in as little as 5-10 years:

For instance, the finding could lead to new gene therapies for deafness and balance problems, since people with those conditions may have a mutated form of the gene that makes TRPA1.

Such developments on hearing could come “in the next five to 10 years,” says Jeffrey Holt, University of Virginia assistant professor of neuroscience and otolaryngology (and G�l�oc’s husband), in a news release.

There’s also a slightly more technical, but interesting, article from Medical News Today, available here.

I’m considering the question of whether I would even want my hearing restored that way, even to a small degree. I’ll write more on this in a few days. I’ve also activated a Google News Alert on TRPA1 to keep abreast of articles.

Category Archives Added

After fooling around with Movable Type a little and suffering through what had to be at least five or six blog site rebuilds, plus an unknown number of little template tweaks and individual template rebuilds — sorry, pair Networks — I am pleased to announce that there have been a few changes — first, archives are now available by category on the main archive index and on the left-hand side of your screen under “Archived Entries”. In addition, I’ve spruced up the main archive index to add a little more information on how many posts per month I’m doing,

Or, at least, I was as pleased to announce this as you can be after cursing at your blog’s management software trying to get it to do what you want it to.

Enjoy. Don’t take any wooden nickels.

Toyota Expands U.S. Prius Offerings

The New London Day (charming name for a newspaper) has posted an article stating that Toyota plans to increase its U.S. allotment of Prius models to 100,000 for the 2005 calendar year. Cool. I’ve been seeing Priuses sort of on and off since moving down (there’s a white one apparently owned by a local company that I see relatively consistently as well). The article makes mention of SUV hybrids, including Toyota plans for a hybrid version of the Lexus RX SUV. I’ve already talked about why hybrid SUVs don’t really make sense to me, so I won’t go there again. Consider the argument repeated.

Harsh Tactics

I noticed an article on The New York Times Online just now about the broad use of harsh tactics at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

The first question that leaps to mind is: why should anyone be in the least surprised or shocked by this? Why is this front page news? We knew for a long time that the Bush administration was struggling with the “proper” way to treat detainees at Guantánamo; the fact that officials there witnessed things akin to torture — in fact, things that are torture — should be in no way a revelation. defines torture as the “infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion”, which was clearly going on here:

One regular procedure that was described by people who worked at Camp Delta, the main prison facility at the naval base in Cuba, was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screamingly loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air- conditioning was turned up to maximum levels, said one military official who witnessed the procedure. The official said that was designed to make the detainees uncomfortable as they were accustomed to high temperatures both in their native countries and their cells.


The people who worked at the prison also described as common another procedure in which an inmate was awakened, subjected to an interrogation in a facility known as the Gold Building, then returned to a different cell. As soon as the guards determined the inmate had fallen into a deep sleep, he was awakened again for interrogation after which he would be returned to yet a different cell. This could happen five or six times during a night, they said. This procedure was described by those who participated as part of something called “Operation Sandman.”

This after Philip Reeker of the U.S. Department of State stated in a press briefing that “our [the United States] position on torture is unequivocal: we condemn torture in all its forms”, which is an interesting thing for someone from the Department of State to say. The text of this briefing was conveniently unavailable on the Department of State web site, which only carries press briefings from 2001 on. That’s nothing to read into, but certainly interesting.

Back in June, The Economist wrote on the U.S. and torture, specifically on an internal memo regarding torture:

What is new and more embarrassing for Mr. Bush is detailed evidence that the main source of legal opinion for his administration–the office of legal counsel in the Department of Justice–has been giving advice that Americans may (in the normal sense of the term) torture people abroad.

Last week, senators questioned John Ashcroft on this issue–and the attorney-general refused to hand over the memo in question. But in another sign that the administration’s power over its subordinates is slipping, somebody leaked the full text to the Washington Post. The details make ugly reading for any friend of America.

The memo, which dates from August 2002, looks at the sections of the legal code (2340-2340A) which implement the UN Convention against Torture. It claims torture can be justified on three grounds.

First, it narrows the definition of torture, saying American law “was intended to proscribe only the most egregious conduct.” It is not controversial to say torture should be defined strictly. The UN convention says the pain inflicted must be “severe”. And the memo correctly identifies an important legal difference between torture and cruel and inhuman punishment. For instance, the European Court of Human Rights said Britain had used cruel treatment in Northern Ireland–hooding, sleep deprivation and so on–but that these things did not amount to torture.

Constitutionally, its second argument is no less striking. This is that the president can do whatever he wants in war, or, as the memo puts it, “enjoys complete discretion in the exercise of his commander-in-chief authority.” Interrogators, the memo says, are a “core function of the commander-in-chief.” Hence, “we will not read a criminal statute as infringing on the president’s ultimate authority in these areas.”


The memo’s third argument is that, in rare cases when acts are so egregious that they amount to torture, and do not challenge presidential power, torturers are still able to claim immunity. They could only be prosecuted if it were shown their main intent was to inflict pain. If they intended to extract information (presumably the point for all but sadists), that would be a defence under American law according to the memo. It also says that they can use “self defence” to justify actions that might have prevented further attacks on America. International law admits the defence of “necessity” in the case of someone with information about, say, a ticking suicide bomber or imminent threat. But the memo goes far beyond that.

The Economist, June 19th, 2004
“The Bush administration and the torture memo: What on earth were they thinking?”, pp31-32

The above is a somewhat extensive quote from that article, but clearly shows that the U.S. has intentionally bent the definition of torture to the point where what the international community would call torture, the United States calls necessity. Admittedly, this quote also shows the possibility that the second reference to “common procedure” at Guantánamo Bay may not actually be defined as torture based on the example cited in the article, but there’s no real way of knowing. Something to think about as we go into the elections.