Monday, November 20, 2017

For Tuesday: Finish the Book!

Remember to finish The Men Who Stare at Goats for Tuesday's class. No more questions to answer, but we will have an in-class response when you arrive based on the final chapters.

Be sure to read the Conversation Paper #3 response below, since that is effectively your Final Exam. We'll talk about this again on Tuesday. 

See you then! 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Conversation Paper #3: Staring at Goats (and other test subjects)

“Jamal paused for a moment and then he said, “You don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes, do you? But you know it is deep. You know it is deep”” (Ronson 169).

For your final Conversation Paper, and your Final Exam paper, I want you to have a conversation based on one of the main ‘theories’ of the book, The Men Who Stare at Goats. It’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t in this book, though the “Acknowledgments and Bibliography” in the final pages show how hard he tried to verify his story. So I want you to do the same with this paper—do a little more research one of the ideas, stories, incidents, or people in this book. Don’t try to discuss the entire book, but take one small aspect of it: say, the idea that sound influences behavior, or that world leaders often rely on astrologers, etc.

The goal of this paper is to find something (a) you are interested in discussing, and to (b) explain why you think it’s important by using our book, and then (c) bring in other sources to help expand the conversation—to show us that other people think it’s important, too! Some topics you might consider are:
  • Psychic research in the army and/or society
  • Astrology and world leaders
  • The future of warfare in the post-nuclear age
  • How military technology influences civilian life
  • How science fiction influences military life
  • The psychology of conspiracy theories (why do people believe them?)
  • The ethics of interrogation (what is right/wrong?)
  • The ethics of human/animal research (MK-ULTRA, etc.)
  • The psychology of sound
REMEMBER that you’re writing for people who have not read the book and do not know the conversation. So you have to introduce the book and the conversation to them, and explain why you think it’s important. Use The Men Who Stare at Goats as your main source: quote from it to establish how the conversation impacts our daily lives and what Ronson wanted us to know about it. Then find other sources that contribute to this conversation. Consider naysayers, people who might refute Ronson or not believe this is a serious or credible issue. YOU can be a naysayer, too, and argue against Ronson or any of the people in the book.

  • At least 4 pages, double spaced
  • Quote and respond to Ronson’s book in your discussion
  • Introduce and discuss at least 2 additional sources
  • Follow proper MLA citation guidelines (or other, if you prefer); just be consistent
  • DUE by 5pm on our Final Exam Date December 7th

Friday, November 10, 2017

For Tuesday: Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Chs. 10-13

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Many in the Army deny the use of subliminal sound techniques in warfare, claiming that it makes no sense, and could not be used without injuring our soldiers in the process. Ronson admits that it sounds pretty much like a crazy conspiracy theory. Does he completely debunk it in these chapters? Or does he suggest like many conspiracy theories, it stems from a grain of truth?

Q2: A soldier who worked at Abu Ghraib tells Ronson, “The thing I had to remember about military intelligence was that they were the “nerdy-type guys at schools. You know. The outcasts. Couple all that with ego, and a poster on the wall saying BY CG APPROVAL...and suddenly you have guys who think they govern the world” (176). Why is this an important point for Ronson to remember? What danger might a prison run by the “outcasts” prove both to the prisoners and the soldiers who run it?

Q3: One of the reasons that Ronson has difficultly understand the governing philosophy of places like Abu Ghraib, and the Branch Davidian siege, is due to what he calls a “casserole of intelligence.” What does he mean by this, and why does this give even more plausibility to the use of frequencies and other sound technology?

Q4: Jamal, the prisoner who was eventually released from Guantanamo Bay, says about the prison, “You don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes, do you? But you know it is deep. You know it is deep” (169). While he and others make these chapters sound like a vast, cosmic conspiracy, what makes it difficult to trust his (and others’) accounts of torture and sonic warfare? What makes Jamal, Dr. Oliver Lowery, and Colonel Alexander so difficult to take at face value?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Short Paper #3: Irony and Satire

“Do you happen to know whether or not Michael was ever involved in attempting to influence livestock from afar?” (Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats

For your third—and last!—short paper assignment, I want you to write a movie review of one of your college classes. This is ironic since a class is the opposite of a film—something that instructs rather than entertains. And yet, it has many of the elements of a film: plot, characters, a director, lightning, a setting, and even numerous sequels! The point of this assignment is to be humorous and to see one thing in terms of another; if your class was a film, what kind of film would it be? Romance? Action-adventure? Horror? Documentary? How good is the director? Who are the main actors? Is one part of the film more exciting than others? Would you see it again—and recommend it to others? The trick in this paper is your tone. Write it like an actual movie review, and don’t be afraid to poke a little fun at your subject. Does the professor ramble too much? Does one classmate answer too many questions? Is there technical problems with the projector or Blackboard? Does the class go over time repeatedly? Etc…

  • THE GENRE: Think about the conventions of this genre and try to show how your class follows the same conventions (ex: horror movies always get really quiet before a big scare, or a romantic comedy has two people who hate each other fall in love, etc.)
  • THE PLOT: What story does your class tell? Is it easy to follow? Confusing? Who would like it?
  • THE ACTORS: How good are the actors in your class? Do they play the role of students, teacher, etc. well—or could some of them use acting lessons?
  • DIRECTION/PACE: How well does the class seem to function/move? Is 75 minutes too long? 50 too short? Does the teacher keep things moving—or end too late?
  • THE SCRIPT: Does the class seem to follow the script—or always get off it? Are people improvising their lines? Is it well-written (or does it need re-writes)?
  • THE SETTING: The classroom, the building, these enhance the film? Or detract from the story?
Have fun with this assignment just like Ronson has fun with his book. Don’t be nasty, but do use satire to poke fun at the things everyone says/feels about this class. Instead of saying “the class is too long” or “I don’t understand the professor,” use the irony of a movie review to make this points for your audience. In other words, say it without directly saying it. That’s what makes it funny!

Should be at least 2-3 pages, though you can always do more.

DUE NEXT THURSDAY, November 9th by 5pm [no class that day]

Thursday, November 2, 2017

For Tuesday: Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Chs. 7-9

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Why does Ronson suggest that NBC’s Today show and its anchors (Ann Curry, Katie Couric, etc.) completely missed the point when they reported on the Barney the Dinosaur story? Why in this case is something that sounds satirical not quite as funny as it first appears?

Q2: The PsyOps specialists explain the point of the leaflets (and other materials) they drop on the Iraqi army to Ronson: “Our most effective products are the ones which link an unfulfilled need on their part with a desired behavior on our part” (131). What does he mean by this, and how might this relate to the “cunning” Jim Channon tried to pioneer years before?

Q3: What is the “Bucha Effect” and how does it relate to the First Earth Battalion’s techniques? Do you think Jim Channon (and others) would approve of how Pete Brusso, Sid Heal, and others are implementing this technique in modern warfare?

Q4: Lynndie England, one of the soldiers implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal, suggested that most of these events were orchestrated by PsyOps as a piece of military “theatre.” What do you think she meant by this? How can war be a performance in the same way as Shakespeare or a movie? 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

For Tuesday: Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Chs. 4-6

NOTE: Try to read the next three chapters, which is longer than what we read last time, but it reads very quickly. If you don’t quite get to the end, no worries. Just make sure to read enough to answer the questions below.

Answer TWO of the following: 

Q1: Are we supposed to believe the stories of the various people Ronson encounters on his quest, such as Savelli, etc.? Does Ronson present them as essentially trustworthy, if extremely eccentric? Or are these people simply so desperate for the spotlight that they’ll spin any story to attract journalists like himself? A passage or moment that convinces you one way or another?

Q2: When General Stubblebine ‘destroys’ a cloud with his mind, he quickly concludes that it may or may not have been him. “Hard to tell,” he said, “who was doing what to whom” (72). Is that the basic story of this entire novel—things that could be read one way, but could also be read another? Is anything that Ronson discovers so far verifiable or irrefutable proof? Or is the nature of secret intelligence to make sure no one sees the ‘truth’?

Q3: In Chapter 5, Ronson writes that “For everyday agnostics, it is not easy to accept the idea that our leaders, and the leaders of our enemies, sometimes seem to believe that the business of managing world affairs should be carried out with both standard and supernatural dimensions” (81). Yet a majority of Americans (particularly in Oklahoma) continue to appeal to faith and the divine to guide their actions, even on relatively routine matters. Is it wrong of the government to turn to faith and/or supernatural powers when the stakes get high? Do you think the government should stick to proven science and traditional protocols? (related to this, what do you think Ronson believes?)

Q4: Courtney Brown convinced thousands of listeners that Martians would soon be arriving on Earth, and that, with a little effort, “our time of ignorance, our time of darkness, is coming to a close. We are entering a time of greatness” (108). Why do you think people are so easily fooled by such people? Is it merely their charisma and ability to speak convincingly? Or is it the message itself? Does it speak to our deepest desires and fears?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

For Tuesday: Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Chs. 1-3

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: What was Channon’s idea for a First Earth Battalion such a radical concept? Where did he get his inspiration? And related to this, why might the armed forces have been receptive to such an “out there” suggestion?

Q2: Do you get the impression that Ronson believes half the stories that people tell him about the Goat Lab and the Staring exercises? What is his tone throughout the piece, and why do you think he decided to write a book about these interviews and experiences?

Q3: Channon says something interesting in Chapter 3 about the average soldier: “The kind of person attracted to military service has a great difficulty...being cunning. We suffered in Vietnam from not being cunning...You might get some cunning out of other agencies in the American government, but you’d have a hard time finding it in the army” (31). According to him and others in this book, why might the conversation about war be more about cunning than fighting? Why does Channon believe that “cunning” is the future of the American army?

Q4: Ronson poses four possible scenarios in Chapter 2 for the stories about the Goat Lab, the last one being, “The U.S. Intelligence community was, back then, essentially nuts through and through” (10). While he’s obviously being facetious here, what might he be actually driving at? Why might the various bodies of U.S. Intelligence be more “nuts” than we assume? And why might it be in their best interests to be at least a little more “nuts” than the average person?