Max Hailperin's FTS essay 3 (Fall 2004)

Due November 9, 2004


John Perry Barlow, in his November 14, 2001, speech at the Cato Institute that we are reading (CF, p. 38), claims that the e-book of Alice in Wonderland forbids you from reading it out loud. Unfortunately, the text of the speech does not have any endnotes or other documentation of the source for this claim. (Speeches are often sparse on documentation, but it is clear from other chapters that the speakers were given an opportunity to revise their texts for the book, so Barlow could have added notes.)

Using google, find some sites with information on this claim. You may need to be a bit creative in thinking of keywords or phrases to search for, and to dig through some irrelevant hits before you find something relevant. If you need help, please ask. Once you find one relevant hit, you should be able to use it to identify some more specific keywords or phrases to help you search for more relevant sites.

You should find sites that support Barlow's assertion, and also some that indicate he misunderstood what the actual restriction was. (That is, you should find sites that explain that there really was no prohibition against reading the book aloud, but rather a different, but poorly explained, limitation of the software.) You may not find both kinds of site initially. Keep digging until you do. Again, ask for help if you need it. You may also supplement google with other sources of information if you would like, even the old-fashioned kind printed on dead trees.

For each site you find, you will want to pay attention not only to what it has to say on the topic, but also its URL and any information indicating when it was written.

Write a short essay, directed at a typical college freshman outside our FTS, in which you explain what Barlow's claim was, what evidence it seems to rest on, and what the real story seems to be. Include some first-person information on your detective work. In particular, how easy or hard was it to find each side of the story? Also, include some assessment of Barlow's culpability. Did he just make an innocent mistake, or was he inexcusably careless? Was the countervailing information even available at the time of his speech, or did it come out only afterward? Also, aside from whether you blame him for the claim he made, how do you feel about his lack of documentation; does he deserve any blame for how hard you found it to check his facts? Are there any larger lessons you can draw from this case, and use as the focus for your essay?

Evaluation guidelines

Please rewrite your essay until you are convinced that the answer to each of the following questions is "yes." I urge you to ask a peer to give you feedback as well on whether he or she agrees that all the answers are "yes." When I grade your essay, I will again use these questions, both to give you feedback and to come up with your letter grade. Specifically, I will start with an A and take off one grade "notch" (e.g., from A to A-, or from A- to B+) for each question where the answer is "no". Be warned that some of the questions are so critical that if the answer is "no," then one or more additional answers are necessarily also "no." For example, if the answer to question 1a is "no," you are doomed for 1b through 1e as well.

  1. Thesis
    1. Does the essay has some specific point it tries to make, discernible to the reader after reading the full essay?
    2. Is that point within the parameters specified by the assignment?
    3. Does the essay stick to that single point?
    4. Is it immediately clear to the reader what point the essay is going to make, without needing to read beyond the first few sentences?
    5. Is the language used to state the thesis clear, straightforward, even powerful?
  2. Audience
    1. Is the essay consistent in the assumptions it makes about the audience's background knowledge and vocabulary?
    2. Are those assumptions within the parameters specified by the assignment?
    3. Is the general style, tone, or voice of the essay appropriate to a general academic audience, or if a different audience is explicitly stated in the assignment, to that audience?
  3. Organization
    1. Does the essay have an introduction that lets the reader know what to expect from the essay?
    2. Does the essay have a conclusion that leaves the reader with a satisfied feeling that the matter has been neatly wrapped up?
    3. Does the body of the essay (between the introduction and conclusion) have a discernible organizing principle?
    4. Does each paragraph and each larger organizational unit start with a clear statement of topic, except where there is a good reason to do otherwise?
    5. Are there smooth, sensible transitions from each topic to the next?
  4. Supporting evidence
    1. Is each claim you make backed up by specific supporting evidence?
    2. Have you properly documented the sources of all your evidence, even when that evidence is not directly quoted?
    3. Do you comment upon each quotation or other piece of evidence and work it into the flow of your essay?
  5. Mechanics
    1. Is the grammar, spelling, diction (word choice), and typography all good enough to not distract the reader?
    2. Is the writing clear, crisp and direct?