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August 31, 2004


Let me start by saying that Hero was easily one of the best movies I've seen in a long, long time. Unlike AVP, which I needed to purge from my system as quickly as possible, I've spent the last few days holding onto Hero, thinking about what I could say to explain my reaction to it.

I went and saw it Friday night, before cruising the various reviews, and I'm glad that I did. Yes, Hero is full of the kind of "wire fu" that most US audiences will associate with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yes, there are competing accounts of particular events, which apparently reminds some critics of Rashomon. And yes, this is not a movie that is character-driven or story-driven, not in the sense that movie audiences expect.

Visually, though, this is a dazzling movie, and it does have interesting characters and it does tell an important story, albeit one that most US viewers won't be familiar with (namely, the founding of China). But it's not a historical movie so much as it is a mythic one, with scenes that are orchestrated down to every detail, and in many cases, the characters themselves are simply part of those details. Most critics note the color changes from version to version of the story, but my guess is that colors only form part of the iconography that drives each scene--the settings change (forest, desert, lake, etc.), as do key elements (water, wind, earth, fire), as do associations with different arts ("chess," music, calligraphy, etc.). Each facet of each scene is so carefully controlled, in fact, that I left the movie thinking that there was probably an entire cosmology of associations that we as an audience simply weren't privy to.

Not that this was necessary. The movie works in broad strokes, telling much of its story through implications that almost achieve the level of the iconic. Because it's focused so much on the visual, the story is almost told in outline fashion, and I suspect that this was much less objectionable to audiences who already knew the story. This movie focuses instead on the telling details, those which achieve the most mythic impact in the smallest and sometimes most subtle space.

One last thought that occurred to me today, and that's that I wonder if our expectations were somewhat askew because we're more familiar with Jet Li than with the other actors. That is, I don't think it much of a stretch to see the would-be Emperor as the protagonist, as he changes as much during the course of the movie as any of the other characters. And it's ultimately his epiphany that decides the outcome.

Okay. That's enough for now. I highly recommend seeing Hero on the big screen, and I myself plan on seeing it again there before it leaves. "See it twice" is the highest honor I can bestow on a movie, and Hero deserves it more than any movie I've seen in some time...

August 29, 2004

Better to be ignored?

Opened up Bloglines to find that "Syracuse" is showing up across many a radar today. Unfortunately, it's for the wrong reason. Turns out that Al Fasoldt, a staff writer for the Syracuse Post-Standard, has written an article criticizing Wikipedia. Turns out that he had pseudonymously endorsed Wikipedia in another article, and a local librarian called him on it, so he retracted the "column published a few weeks ago by my companion Dr. Gizmo."

There's a lot of buzz, needless to say, so forgive me if I miss a link. I first caught wind of it at Alex's site, where he also details an experiment designed to test the collaborative editing process. Ross Mayfield describes the WeMedia project at Many-to-Many, which will "apply a formal fact checking process to a sample of [Wikipedia] articles to gain a baseline measure of factual accuracy and explore issues of reputation." Mike at TechDirt, Joi Ito, and Shelley at Burningbird take Fasoldt to task for his arguments (and the comments sections are all worth reading as well. Ross also has a better synthesis of the discussion on M2M than I'm offering here.

It's hard for me to imagine that someone who cites 21 years of experience writing about technology wouldn't have heard of wikis, but that's apparently what's happened in this case. Leaving that aside, I was more intrigued by the pathos in Fasoldt's annotation to his article. On his own site, he prints the article, along with a couple of retorts:

Am I just being old fashioned? Or does trustworthiness still matter?

After this column was published, the author received dozens of letters, most of them deploring his stand. Apparently, many people believe an "encyclopedia" that is untrustworthy -- one in which any visitor can alter any page -- is acceptable. Is it? Am I just being old fashioned? Is trustworthy information still important? Maybe it's time we thought about issues such as these before our children get any further along in school. We might be teaching them the wrong thing. -- Al Fasoldt

As someone who teaches research, and specifically online research, it strikes me that the problem here is the false binary that Fasoldt offers. We are indeed teaching our students, in most cases, the wrong thing. Here it is:

Authority/trustworthiness/reputation/credibility is something that pre-exists the research.

Believe me when I say that I've looked, and I have yet to see the writing handbook that doesn't assume that the only valuable information on the Internet is that which mirrors the "real world." Credibility (in this model) is to be validated, through reference to a "real world" identity, rather than tested or explored via multiple sources. There are a gazillion sites for verifying the credibility of web sites, very few of which offer the simple insight that dates back to Aristotle at least: credibility is something you earn and develop, not something you simply have. When we ask our students to do research and to prepare the results in written form, we are teaching them to earn credibility through breadth and depth of research. You don't earn credibility by citing an "authoritative source," whatever that means. You earn it by testing your sources against one another, understanding what the reasons are for differences of opinion, and figuring out how to resolve them or to choose among positions, etc. In other words, authority should be something that each of us assigns to our sources, not the other way around. It is the result of research, not a prerequisite.

The advantage of sites like Wikipedia is that much of this back-and-forth (as Liz explains at Joi's site) is visible and public, and in that sense, Wikipedia offers students a chance to watch credibility-in-action. "Trustworthy information" is indeed important, but perhaps more important is that we offer students a chance to see how trustworthiness is developed, to see the conversations that may ultimately result in Encyclopedia Britannica articles. Rather than asking students to plug "authoritative quotes" into 5-paragraph containers, why not ask them to take a topic on Wikipedia, and research its validity? And if they find that there are pieces missing, why not encourage them to contribute? You telling me that stringing together blockquotes from authorities is going to teach them more about research than participating in a wiki might?

If nothing else, the hue and cry over this piece, I hope, will serve to demonstrate to Fasoldt that the "time we thought about issues such as these" has already been happening. At the close of his article, Fasoldt writes, "If you know of other supposedly authoritative Web sites that are untrustworthy, send a note to technology@syracuse.com and let me know about them." I must admit that it's taken all the restraint I can muster not to send him the url of the Post-Standard.

August 26, 2004

The Chronicle of Higher Evil

I make no secrets about my feelings for the Chronicle of Higher Education. There are times when the articles they publish make academia a little more transparent, and that can be a good thing. But there are other times when their interest is clearly motivated by the bottom line--in fact, I'd say that that's all the time, and that what benefits we get from them are a side effect.

Over at Rhubarb, where I first saw this, I've commented, but I ended up feeling strongly enough about it to add something here. There's a CHE article called Stuck in Transition, by and about a woman (psuedonymmed Eleanor Robinson) who was going through 3rd year review in her department, and miscarried. The story is a sad one, and made all the worse by the fact that Robinson doesn't tell any of her colleagues about the miscarriage, for fear of damaging her review:

I needed to compartmentalize my emotions in order to get my work done....

In the end, that was the simplest reason that I did not say anything about my miscarriage: I could not talk about the loss without crying. And justified or not, I could not get past the thought that women who cry at work cannot easily, in the next breath (or on the next page), describe themselves as competent professionals.

What really takes my sadness to the point of anger here is that "the thought" comes from the Chronicle itself, which has delighted in publishing "research" about how various people are treated or mistreated in the academy. Robinson writes about how she has internalized all of the Chronicle articles about women and mothers in the academy, and how she and her partner planned out her pregnancy accordingly. Robinson does compartmentalize her emotions, and gets a glowing review, after taking a week-long extension because of "family problems," as she tells the chair of her review committee.

But that's not what makes me angry. What really irks me here is the lack of self-consciousness with which the Chronicle is publishing an article that is partly about how the ideas published in the Chronicle led this woman to keep her miscarriage a secret, to isolate herself emotionally from her friends and colleagues, to prevent her from receiving support at a place and at a time where she obviously needed it. The Chronicle's answer to that would, of course, be that Robinson made her own choice, and she did, but she made it based on information from a source that frequently publishes opinion and provocation masquerading as facts, trends, and customs. It's certainly not true of everything they do, but their first responsibility is not to helping reader understand academia--it's to their own bottom line.

I don't know how else to explain the presence, in this heart-wrenching story, of a link to the story about mothers in the academy, the very one that led Robinson to deny who she was and what she was going through as a person so that she could shine as a "competent professional." It's cynical enough that the Chronicle would publish this piece, but for them to add a link to the original feature in the middle of a story about the pain that it caused, is evil.

Pure. Evil.

From dream to nightmare in one easy day

There is nothing in my life that I find quite as luxurious as the freedom to go back to sleep. You know, when you wake up not quite refreshed, but still awake enough to get up, so you get up, maybe have some breakfast, start your day, and then realize that you'll get more done if you trade a couple of sleep hours up front for the improved alertness that it'll bring you for the rest of the day? Yeah, that's what I like. So I caught a couple extra hours this morning after having been up for maybe an hour. And the true luxury is that, on a good day, I'm a lucid dreamer, and today was a good day in that regard. In my dreams, I'm a capital-B boy--most of my lucid dreams are action-oriented, with me in the starring role. This morning, I dreamed myself into an episode of Alias (having checked a couple of days ago to see when the Season 3 DVDs were coming out, this wasn't surprising). Most of the details have since faded, but we were infiltrating some sort of warehouse that ended up being a front for a secret bad guy lair. Fun stuff.

And then, tonight, I made the mistake of going to see Aliens vs. Predator. If it weren't for the Cinematic Supervillain Showdown post over at Defective Yeti, this movie would have had absolutely no redeeming qualities. Y'see, it turns out that the human race was basically cattle, feed stock for the aliens, whom the predators bred occasionally as creatures against whom to test their fighting abilities. Wait. It gets worse. The pyramids were actually alien factories, and as we learn by the end of the movie, the predators are actually an honorable race of super, stellar warriors. All the way through this craptacular void of a film, we are treated to some of the worst dialogue ever crafted. At one point, one of the predators marks its helmet and skin with the acid blood from a defeated alien--pretty straight-forward, right? Apparently not. For you see, "In ancient times," according to the Italian archaeologist (who partway through the movie suddenly acquires the ability to read Egyptian, Aztec, and Cambodian glyphs with complete fluency), "warriors marked themselves with the blood of their kills." You don't say? Or rather, you don't need to say.

Post-AVP conversation focused on pinpointing the exact moment for each of us when the movie basically lost us. For me, it happened pretty early. The story is this: Lance Henriksen plays the rich guy who owns the company that built the androids for the Aliens movies (AVP occurs in 2004). He picks up a heat surge in Antarctica on one of his many satellites, discovers a lost pyramid, assembles a crack team of dead meat, and they find an abandoned whaling village, 2000 feet below which lies the pyramid. That's 2000 feet of solid ice. When they get to the village, the predator spacecraft has blasted a tunnel from the village to the pyramid, and vaporized portions of buildings as well. Our crack team knows that the tunnel didn't exist the day before, so they have to know someone else is interested. I was pretty much done at that point. Someone possesses the technology to accomplish in less than a day what it was going to take their high-tech, super-expert team a week to do, and their next thought is, "Well. Let's jump down the shaft then." Umm, yeah. Apparently, the ability to reflect, even for a moment, was not a prerequisite for membership. Ugh.

Thing about this movie is that it's a lose-lose. I'm assuming that most people couldn't give a s*it about aliens vs. predator. The people who are interested would be fans of 2 or 3 of the 6 movies (Alien(s) 1-4 and Pred 1 & 2) that the characters have generated, and those people (this person) will find it to be a colossal waste of time and money. (If you liked all 6, then get to the theater now! Really! It's gonna be great!) So basically, AVP divvies up the movie-going public into two camps, those who are uninterested and those who will hate it. I've thought about it some, and I think that there may have been a way to make this movie successfully, but it would have involved inserting the predators into the Alien storyline, and that would have been a very different movie. And one that I'd probably still be kicking myself for having spent full price on.

August 24, 2004


Apropos of very little, I came across the following over at Suw Charman's Strange Attractor: an extended meditation on the weblog as Tamagotchi. I must admit that, when I visited the Tamagotchi page linked above and saw the tag line ("You don't have one yet?"), I laughed out loud. Suw writes:

If you don’t feed them, they die. If you don’t clear up their crap - comment spam, for example - they die. They’re more fun when there are other bloggers to play with, just like the new IR connected Tamagotchi are allegedly more fun because your little virtual pet can now interact with other little virtual pets.

I couldn't help googling and found this post from Stewart Butterfield on NeoPets as well.

I must also admit that there's a certain part of me that wants to take this metaphor and spin it into something with which to respond to the call for papers on academic blogging that I just saw. I know I could just as easily polish up an entry from the whole Secret of Nym conversation, but I have the feeling that most of what they'll receive will be sooo serious.

August 23, 2004


Every once in a while, it's worth an entry just to bring together a few ideas that click in my head. A couple of days ago, Jeff put together a couple of posts on "Theories I Believe In" and "Theories I Don't Believe In" (the link is to the positive post). In some ways, this reminds me of the "values listing" that Carol Bly advocates (I wrote about it right before my brithday last year). And the more I thought about it, the more I was thinking how it might make for a good exercise for graduate students--I should mention that I'm already planning on doing it myself one of these days when I'm not up to my elbows in manuscript.

Carol's exercise clicked with me, in part, I think, because it reminds me of doing Tarot or I Ching readings, and even heuretics to a degree--using different structures of thought to take snapshots of your life, mental or otherwise. And as I'm thinking this, Adrian posts about using Bruce Mau's "An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth" as a means of getting his students "to move to being knowledge producers"--"museflowance" is his result from trying #28: Make New Words. And this after, a few days earlier, having futzed around a bit with Robert Kendall's Soothcircuit.

No grand conclusion, except to observe that my mind's clearly been clicking on invention lately...

August 22, 2004

Academic Publishing and Peer Review

I don't know that I'm necessarily the best person to write about academic publishing, but I do have experience with it from various angles, and if I say something patently wrong, I'll trust to the comments. Probably the most fundamental unit of academic publishing, at least for those of us in English studies, is the research article, and so that's where I'll focus most of this entry.

What's the point of the research article? There are several:

  • For researchers, publication provides us with the chance to share our knowledge, to participate in scholarly conversations, and to receive feedback on our scholarship.
  • Since many of us teach courses in the areas where we do research, publication provides an incentive for work that will enrich our understanding of the material we teach, ideally making us better teachers. At the graduate level, scholarship often comprises a significant portion of course readings, becoming in part the material we teach.
  • Publications operate as tangible evidence of our research, and for our tenure and promotion committees, that evidence plays an important role in those decisions
  • however minimally, publications also serve some function as a recruitment tool for graduate programs--I've encouraged MA students to look at the whos and wheres of published scholarship to help them decide where to apply.
  • ideally, and perhaps debatably, from the reader's perspective, the research article sheds light on a particular text, idea, or phenomenon, and provides some lasting insight. In other words, I'd argue that one of the ideals of research is that it contributes to our knowledge and/or understanding.

In other words, the research article plays a number of different roles, in various contexts, and I suspect that the relationships among these roles vary quite widely from person to person, from specialty to specialty, and even within one person's own career. I've held two different tenure-track positions, and in each, I was expected to publish 1-2 articles a year. Some of the articles I've published have taken me a couple of years to develop; some were conceived and executed much more quickly.

In my opinion, at the core of the research article is the fact that it is a contribution to at least one conversation, and sometimes several. As in KB's parlor, it's a conversation that has begun before you arrived, and will continue after you leave. When tenure committees count one's publications, what they are doing is basically verifying that you're participating and contributing to these conversations. The article itself is the tip of a fairly daunting iceberg, though. In order to publish an article in a journal, you must be familiar with what can sometimes be a long-developed, insular, and/or jargon-laden tradition that precedes you. One of the points of graduate school is to assist students with building familiarity in the scholarship of their chosen areas of inquiry. Specific journals (and editorial boards) may also have well-defined perspectives or expectations that scholars must familiarize themselves with--some journal boards see their audience as specialists, or adhere to particular theoretical perspectives, for example. In short, the "research" part of the research article requires not only knowledge of a particular subject, but also familiarity with how that subject has been handled previously and knowledge of the particular audience that one is targeting.

When one sends a draft of an essay to a journal, typically that essay undergoes what is known as peer review. The article is read by several people (usually at least a member of the editorial board and 2-3 outside readers with specific expertise in the subject), so-called "peers" in one's field. When the peer review is "blind," this means that all language that might identify the author is removed so as not to influence the readers' decision about whether or not to accept the submission. Most journals will either accept a submission, accept it conditionally (i.e., with some amount of revision), or reject it. Some journals will provide extensive feeback, and some will not. The turnaround time from submission to decision also varies widely from journal to journal.

Typically, the research article does not result in direct compensation. In other words, we don't make money directly through publishing our scholarship. Some universities will award merit raises based on publication, and one may benefit monetarily through name recognition, but for the most part, academic publishing is a prestige economy, one that operates almost exclusively within one's own field or specialty.

That's probably enough for now. Feel free to suggest corrections, additions, subtractions, etc.

On the cusp

Have been thinking recently about the rhythms of academic life, and I'm not the only one. Here at SU, we're hitting the second week of orientation for incoming TA's, with the start of the semester just a week away. I don't think it's just me--the tail end of August means that summer's over, and while we all giggle a bit at the cliché of writing on "What I Did Over Summer Vacation," there is pressure to account for one's self, to accomplish things that "count."

Coming to the end of the summer means facing up to the various grinds and pressures of the regular season, and doing so from a position that's relatively distant. Even though I've taught during the summer for 8 out of the last 10 years, and do a fair share of my research and writing during those times, there's a feeling that summer is "off," even though it's not for most of us. And that feeling, I think, requires me (at least) to sort of psych myself up, to remind myself of what I'm doing and why. There's a bunch of meta-academic posting going on, and I see that as part of this process. In addition to the links above, George Williams has embarked on an ambitious project, an attempt to talk about "how we are organized, what our responsibilities are, how we get hired, how we are evaluated, etc," specifically for people who don't have much idea (or, often enough, the wrong idea) of what it is that people in English departments do. Chuck just posted about the tenure process, and both his entry and the comments are worth reading.

I'm a little ambivalent--on the one hand, one of the rules that I try to follow is to avoid situations where I have to "educate" my audience about what I do. More often than not, that kind of rhetorical stance ends up either (a) sounding like a desperate attempt to justify myself, hence begging the question, or (b) implying that said audience is ignorant, sometimes willfully so. There's a lot of conversation in rhetoric & composition about how our colleagues, or administrators, or the public, etc., "just don't understand us," and that what we need to do is to "educate" them. The implication here is that if they understood us, they'd agree with us, and there's an arrogance underlying that position that I find really disturbing, even though I find myself falling into it more often than I'd like.

Now that being said (and this is the other hand), Timothy Burke has a review of the new book The Rule of Four, and one of the points I took away from his review was that ROF relies on some pretty well-worn, outdated, and inaccurate archetypes about academic life:

Now some of this is just part of the general clumsiness of this particular book. But I do think that this is still what a lot of Americans think academics arebasically a combination of the Nutty Professor, Professor Kingley from The Paper Chase, Dr. Frankenstein, and various and sundry novelistic alcoholic and lechers. People with secrets, people with strange and monastic passions, people with eccentric manners and esoteric knowledge, people who are sometimes horribly unprincipled but usually in an ethereal and otherwordly way. Its not utterly wrong, but its not especially true either.

I'm still optimistic enough to believe that what George is doing might make a difference in this regard. I don't get the impression from his post (or the subsequent comments) that this is about proving to some faceless audience that what we do is worthwhile. I'm projecting, perhaps, but I'd like to think that his project is about making what we do less of a blackbox operation, not because we need to justify it, but because much of our profession is invisible to the general public, but also sometimes to our employers, our colleagues, and our graduate students. I'm not sure that even we always understand what it is that we do, and if George's site helps in that regard, it'll be worth it.

And so, if it's worth doing, it's worth it for me to contribute. That's my next post...

August 21, 2004

How to write about rhetoric without mentioning rhetoric

A quick question for those of you who visit regularly: has anyone picked up Howard Gardner's new book? (Gardner is familiar to me as the "multiple intelligences" guy.) His new book, Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People's Minds, is freshly out--I saw it in Borders today, and was about as stunned as I was to read Richard Lanham's Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style. In other words, it looked to me like another book that would discuss rhetoric without actually mentioning it. It was published by Harvard's Business Press, and looks like yet another attempt to translate my field into corporate-speak.

Thanks to Amazon's handy dandy search function, I did find out that the word rhetoric appears some 13 times, and in a couple of cases, even looks to be used correctly. Even so, I'm suspicious. And curious to hear if anyone's taken a look yet...

Doing "the math"

Before you add a comment and tell me that I take this stuff waaaay too seriously, let me admit up front that, yes, yes I do.

For whatever reason, I've been hearing the phrase "you do the math" with a lot more frequency lately. It's kind of a discursive shortcut--if you're talking numbers, rather than laying out an entire calculation (especially if it's fairly obvious), you might just suggest that your listener/audience "do the math." The implication is that the point you're making is so obvious that there's no real persuasion to be gained by explicitly completing the calculation.

Lately, though, I'm hearing the phrase in commercials--most recently for some back-to-school jeans sale. It's not so much that it's being used to describe situations that aren't really mathematical as much as it's become another one of those insufferably smug, self-consciously psuedo-ironic placeholders. What it really means, now, is "we don't really have anything to say, so we're going to pretend as though we've thought it through." For me, it's a lot like one of my all-time pet peeves: the apparently irresistible slapstick cliché, when someone runs into something or falls from a height or whatever, of saying "That's gotta hurt!" or "That's gonna leave a mark!" Hardy har har. It was mildly clever the first couple of times, but since then, it's become a piece of empty dialogue to be used in place of actually having to react to violence/pain/damage. There are all sorts of other "lines" like this, I'm sure, attempts to disguise one's lack of cleverness by adopting a clever pose...

Believe me when I say that I'm not a language purist or anything--much as I'd like to declare a moratorium on crap like that, language is going to change in all sorts of ways whether I like it or not. All the same, if language is the food of thought, "you do the math" is rapidly approaching the status of circus peanuts for me.

August 20, 2004

qu'est-ce qu'on dit?

Brian Weatherson started a conversation over at Crooked Timber about whether or not he can ever be used generically. Brian notes, "English has a perfectly adequate gender-neutral pronoun - they - and it should be used instead of he in these contexts." There's a little backstory as well about the Canadian Supreme Court having once (back in 1927) ruled that women didn't count as "persons." And yes, they were quickly overruled.

One of the commenters makes reference to an essay that I myself had forgotten about, Douglas Hofstadter's A Person Paper on Purity in Language, a satirical essay that imagines making the "he is gender-neutral" argument in a world where pronouns were based on race rather than gender:

Most of the clamor, as you certainly know by now, revolves around the age-old usage of the noun "white" and words built from it, such as chairwhite, mailwhite, repairwhite, clergywhite, middlewhite, Frenchwhite, forewhite, whitepower, whiteslaughter, oneupuwhiteship, strawwhite, whitehandle, and so on. The negrists claim that using the word "white," either on its own or as a component, to talk about all the members of the human species is somehow degrading to blacks and reinforces racism.

Hofstadter is a fave of mine from way back, and PPPL is a tour-de-force, not only reproducing/parodying all of the bad arguments on behalf of the generic he, but also bringing to our attention all of the little ways that gendered pronouns and language usage function near-invisibly. It's hard for me to imagine anyone being able to use the generic he after reading H's essay. The solution that most people seem on board with is the occasional use of they as singular, although this tactic has its detractors as well. Me? I'm growing increasing fond of hir, although I've yet to try getting it past an editorial board. Most of the time, I find that it takes very little to adjust a sentence and remove the problem altogether. I suspect that, after a while, most people just internalize it and move on. Still, it was cool to go back and read a little Hofstadter, which I haven't done (I don't think) since I was working on my dissertation...

August 19, 2004

The NYT Style Guide for New Technologies

Title: X is the new Y

I. Opening anecdote (2-3 pars.)

II. Definition (2-3 pars.)
A. Oversimplification
B. Overgeneralization

III. Examples (3 sets of 2 pars. each)
A. Narrow claim (1 sent./par.)
B. Anecdotal support/quote (1-2 sent.)
C. Repeat

IV. Reservations (4-5 pars.)
A. X may encourage looseness (of prose, morals, etc.) according to "critics"
B. Anecdotal rebuttal, usually indirect
C. Repeat if necessary

V. Conclusion (1 sent., normally platitudinal)

Think I'm joking? Try this NYT article on "web blogs." And no, that's not my typo--their headline reads "Web Blogs." I swear, there are times where I feel like I'm reading the same article over and over from them.

Will both appears in the article and discusses it over at Weblogg-Ed. He's dead on, but my favorite part of the article, I think, had to be the "educational consultant" who implies that teachers see blogs as a way of making their own lives easier. Heaven forbid that it might have anything to do with sound writing pedagogy.

August 18, 2004

The Miller Lite Hole Cam?

After weeks of showing us final tables from all of the smaller tournaments at the 2004 World Series of Poker, ESPN has finally started airing episodes from the 2600-person, 5 mil grand prize main event. It's not as though I need something else to do with my time, but I must admit that it holds my interest a little more persistently than watching 1 or 2 pros take on 7-8 no-names at the final table of pot-limit Omaha or Razz. No offense or anything, but after a while it just blurs together for me.

Anyhow, what I wanted to remark on was the advertising. If you've watched any of the WSOP this year, you've noticed that Miller and Toyota are stamping their brand across everything and anything they can think of. I'm not going to whine about the purity of the old broadcasts--televising poker and showing the hole cards pretty much lets the cow out of the barn in that regard. Instead, I wanted to note that Miller and Toyota basically have it all wrong. Maybe I was predisposed by this discussion over at Crooked Timber to notice it, but for my money, the most successful advertiser at the WSOP didn't pay a dime. Several of the top players, and the younger set by and large, wear headphones to their tables, and attached to those headphones, you see distinctive, white iPods.

You don't see Annie Duke tossing back Miller Lite, or Phil Hellmuth parking his brand new ForeRunner. Instead, you see top-notch poker pros listening to iPods. I have no idea if this was a plan on the part of Apple, or if it was just convenience that so many iPods showed up--Apple is either brilliant or damn lucky. One thing that's not luck is that the iPods are instantly recognizable, in a way that almost no other brand of mp3 player is. By the end of the broadcast tonight, I was pretty surprised that I hadn't seen an iPod commercial. Or rather, that I'd seen one long iPod commercial. Either way, I can't help but think that Apple will benefit from it...

August 16, 2004

I say Puerto, you say Rico...

NBC Sports just hasn't been the same since they lost the rights to cover the NBA. Little surprise, then, that they would jump at the chance to broadcast, live, Team USA's opening round match against overmatched Puerto Rico, whose "best" player was a backup point guard for the Utah Jazz. And honestly, watching Team USA scratch and claw their way to a 22-pt. halftime deficit, and eventually to a 19-pt. loss, I found myself rooting for Puerto Rico.

Standout players are important, yes. But in the words of Dick Vitale (this is the only time in my life I've ever quoted him),

Basketball is all about understanding roles and not about taking guys who are all number one options on their respective teams and throwing them together. They can't adjust to a different situation with just a few weeks playing as a group.

Watching the US play wasn't a whole lot different from watching an episode of Streetball. PR played a zone, and almost every time down the floor, the US squad would whip the ball around the perimeter, and each guy would take his shot trying to break down his defender. Welcome to the NBA style of ball, where it's all about talent. Problem is--and there are gazillions of examples of this, from Princeton in the NCAA's to Detroit in this year's NBA Finals and now to Puerto Rico's top-5-of-all-time upset--that skill and strategy can make up for huge talent deficits, and it did today. The US played NBA defense, and so a very average Puerto Rico team almost scored at will. PR, on the other hand, played actual defense, and the US shot 3 out of 24 from outside.

I've got no problem with the way that the NBA runs their All-Star Game every year--get the top 2 or 3 guys from each league at each position and let them go at it. But don't ask me to believe that this is the way basketball is meant to be played. You build a team by assembling a group of players who take up a range of roles--you've got to have passers, rebounders, shooters--and if you're lucky, your #1 guy will do all these things well. That was the Dream Team, a squad full of all-around brilliant players--it's not today's NBA. Championship teams have great benches, groups of guys who could do a couple of things well, and compliment the stars. The Lakers this year assembled arguably the single best starting lineup of its generation, but without a bench, they couldn't beat Detroit.

Team USA doesn't have a bench. They've got 15 starters, and with a few exceptions, their skill range is remarkably narrow. That's not to say that they're not good--they're great players, in fact--but they're all great at the same couple of things. And when Puerto Rico challenged them to be great at all facets of the game, including defense and shooting, they failed. And given the options of watching them try to Yankee their way to a gold medal or watching a team like Puerto Rico play the game with a little heart, it was easy to root for the little guys...

August 14, 2004

Competition at its finest

I didn't watch the whole thing by any means, but for a while tonight, I put the Olympic opening ceremonies on in the background while I worked. It's hard for me to feel too jazzed about the Games--the coverage we have here is extremely partisan and talk-heavy. At some point, even though they're the same people who talk about the purity of competition, the TV wonks decided that the only appealing competitions are those where Americans win. And how bizarre it was to hear announcements that this partisanship is now extended to corporate sponsors, as though Coke and McD's need "protection." Maybe this can all be traced back to the Dream Team, when they wore flags to cover up their Reebok logos as they stood on the medal platform. That kind of cynicism only seems to get deeper.

Anyhow, I watched pieces of the opening ceremony, which to my mind has become only slightly less annoying than listening to songs whose lyrics have been written specifically for movies. Those are the worst. But listening to Bob Costas and Katie Couric explain the painfully obvious symbolism of the choregoraphy ("This is cube man, and he symbolizes humanity's evolution as a logical being." "The runner stumbles and falls to the ground here to symbolize World War I.") helped it climb the charts. Add to that the woeful, MST-wannabe observations--of Alexander the Great, who was apparently at one time an average Olympic sprinter, Costas remarked, "In atheletics, at least, he was only Alexander the So-So." Yuk yuk.--and I'm glad that I didn't watch more than I did. I like Costas quite a bit, but listening to him annotate the whole thing, and from a script that others probably wrote for him, was enough to send me looking for infomercials.

August 13, 2004

Who's the birthday blog?

cake.jpgLeave it to me to pick the 13th of a month as the birthday for my blog, so that its first birthday lands on Friday the 13th...it was exactly one year ago today that I started cgbvb.

As I vaguely recall, I'd spent the previous week or two futzing and tweaking both my intended design (which changed in less than a month) and our server to get the MT installation to work. One year, and almost 300 entries later, and I spent much of Wednesday getting the MT upgrade to work on our server, and am faced with a whole suite of tweaks to my design. Hmmm. On the plus side, the upgrade's working fine, and the feature upgrade at the end of the month will give me a new set of toys to play with. And I'm steadily working towards categorizing all of my past entries, so that I can start running the site with a little more structure.

When I started blogging last year, it was mainly because of Jennies. I fully expect that I'll never be let off the hook for expressing skepticism to Jenny B when she first told me about blogs ("You spend how much time each day reading those things??"), but some part of me apparently did listen. And if it hadn't been for Jenny E, back in her "from the blog" incarnation, I probably wouldn't have started one myself. Despite all of the talk lately about academic blogging, that's really only a small part of how doing this has shifted the ways I spend my attention. It really helped me rekindle my interest in writing, at a time when I was riding a pretty long wave of disinterest and (sometimes) depression. Best of all, it's helped me to connect (and in some cases, reconnect) with a whole host of smart people, and to rethink any number of ideas that I'd taken for granted for far too long.

Not bad. Not bad at all. Happy Birthday.

August 11, 2004


I almost convinced myself to leave the office today and to let my thoughts on the whole nym debate fade off. But not quite. I was hailed today (last night) by link if not by name, and wanted to add a few points. There are parts of wolfangel's post that are obviously addressed to specific people/arguments, but a couple of the more general ones, I thought, were worth picking up. It may seem like I'm fisking a bit, but that's really only because I want to represent wolfangel's claims responsibly.

Do we want academic credentials to matter in blogs? I dont think so.

Me neither. I tried to be pretty explicit about the fact that I want my blogging to matter as part of my academic credibility (which is different from credentials).

You can value your readings in whatever way you like, of course, but its odd to decide an article (in the non-internet context) is better or worse based on if the person who wrote it is tenured, tenure track, a student, etc. I believe most people would judge a given article based on its merits.

I'd take issue here. In an ideal world, if I delivered a paper to an audience of 5 that was "better" than the keynote presentation by a celebrity, that would be recognized. That's an exceedingly rare occurrence, though, in most fields, I would imagine. The fact is that our respect and credibility may not have much to do with whether an essay is "good," but it has everything to do with how our work circulates through our given fields. And the circulation of our work does have an effect on how that work is received, or even whether it is received. There may be no qualitative difference between an essay in Big-Time Journal A and another in Startup E-journal B, but there are lots of people in my field (and people on T&P committees) who assume otherwise. I don't think that this means making B indistinguishable from A, but rather that those of us who find value in B need to make compelling claims for that value.

I can, however, determine whether an article on blogging knows about blogs; its even easier for me to determine this about a post about blogging. This has nothing to do with credentials; when someone talks about blogs as diaries, I know theyre missing the point, even if theyre tenured. I am likely to give more leeway to someone I read more often.

Academic credentials can be useful things. But complete non-academics can say perfectly intelligent things about blogging, and discounting them because they were written by non-academics is the worst kind of snobbery.

Being accused of snobbery, even indirectly, certainly perked up my ears. I did not (and would not) claim that credentials are necessary to say something intelligent about blogging. However, at the risk of clarifying this to death, my field is practice-oriented, and so one of the articles I'm working on makes the claim that those of us who teach a significant research-based component in our composition courses should use the various tools of blogging (RSS, aggregators, etc.) as we do so. Because my aim is persuasive rather than expository or descriptive, my credibility does have an effect on how my essay will be received. And that credibility is enhanced if I can speak from the position of a person who both uses these tools in this fashion and who has successfully incorporated them into such a course.

I fully understand that this kind of scenario might not be applicable to other disciplines, but it is to the one where I work. (Again, that makes it different, not better.) I don't take this to mean that I should only listen to or read people within my own field or even in academia, because I don't do that. I try to read as widely as I can. I don't assume that my academic credentials give me some sort of privileged access to the truth of any matter, nor do I assume that someone else's lack of credentials precludes them from knowledge and wisdom. My credentials function solely within the restricted economy from whence they come, an economy that I don't find to be necessarily better or worse than any other.

A final point. Blogging is a rhetorical practice, as is writing under a pseudonym. There is a case to be made, with evidence from this extended discussion, that some of Steven's comments were treated with less credibility and as less valid, in part (and I emphasize in part) because he doesn't blog under a pseudonym. I am not dismissing the valid responses to his original post or the discussion that followed, which I think has been really valuable. But I would claim that his comments have been held to a higher standard because he doesn't blog pseudonymously. And, I would add, rightfully so. If someone makes a claim about any rhetorical practice, and that person doesn't actually have experience with that practice, I'd be skeptical. And as hard as I may try, I would find it really challenging to separate out that skepticism (or respect in the opposite case) from my estimation of an essay's quality. That's not to say that this shouldn't be our ideal, but academia wouldn't be what it is for many of us if we were even remotely successful at that.

What do you do?

My brother and his family stopped by Syracuse on their way to NYC, so I spent most of last night and part of the day today spending a little time with them. Anyhow, last night, at Pastabilities, I was sitting next to their youngest, Kate, who's six, I think.

Kate: What do you do for a job?
Me: I teach.
Kate: Do you teach big kids or little kids?
Me: Big kids, and sometimes big kids who act like little kids.
Kate: What do you teach little kids?
(brief pause)
Me: I teach little kids to fear me! (I shake my fist in the air here.)
Kate: You do not!
Me: You're right. I was so bad at it that they only let me teach big kids now...
Kate: What do you teach big kids?

and so on. I often feel like all I'm doing is pushing my students to develop their ideas, and sometimes I wonder if development isn't so much something that we learn as it is an ability that we forget as we get older and think we know more than we do. There is always another question, and I'd rather have to teach my students when to stop asking questions than trying to get them to start. There's more, perhaps, to development than simply anticipating possible questions and answering them, but even that can be a tough sell sometimes.

Please Note: If you arrived at this page looking for my write-up of a panel from the Media Ecology Association conference, the permalink got shifted while i was upgrading to MT3. Sorry for the inconvenience...

Grading up

Obviously, cgbvb is receiving an upgrade. Unfortunately, this means that many of my permalinks have been thrown off--I assume that my trackbacks are as well, although I haven't checked. Also, I think a couple of comments got nipped by the timing of my export and reimport.

Sorry about that. It's also going to take me a while to restore some of the 3rd party functionalities. I'll be trying to do most of it tonight, I suspect. I'll probably be futzing a bit with the comment system as well, so if you leave one, and it doesn't show immediately, that's why.

Will Blog for Cred


All right. I'm exhausted, but that hasn't stopped me from spending the last hour or two following out all of the threads. One in particular I want to reply to, since it's an indirect response to one of the issues I raised last night/morning. Rana has a really smart post that flips one of the assumptions behind much of this discussion, thinking instead about how those of us who post under our names might defend that practice. I defended what I called "academic blogging" under my own name for a couple of different reasons last night. Rana's reply I'll quote in full here:

Getting Credit for One's Blogging Here's another one, one that Stephen raises. I can see the general idea, but for me, this doesn't work all that well. (Again, your mileage may vary.) Let us say I choose to blog about my research, and hope to gain some scholarly cred by doing so. Well, first off, anything I post here is unlikely to be of the quality of my more formal works. It's a heck of a lot of work doing good historical work, and it takes time and space. So anything here would either be (a) incomplete, in which case I can't see it being any more beneficial to my career than sharing a rough draft with a colleague or two, or (b) good enough to publish, in which case why post it here? If it's good enough to survive a peer review process, I'd rather have it published. (Not to mention it would be 30+ pages long, plus endnotes -- not exactly blog-friendly.) In my (admittedly limited) experience, it seems to me that a journal publication would count for far more in any sort of professional assessment than something self-published on some personal site. This may change in the future, but at present, blogging about one's research and claiming it as publishing is about as effective as xeroxing a bunch of copies and passing them out at conferences and claiming that that constituted publishing.

I've got plenty to say, but first let me that I don't really disagree. I'm more interested in clarifying my remarks, and I don't think my position necessarily clashes with Rana's. Here's why:

(1)Big difference in disciplines. Like Steve, my field is rhetoric and my speciality is technology. Rana notes that the kind of painstaking work history requires doesn't really lend itself to blogging, and I understand that. But in my field, part of the work I must do (part of the work I was explicitly hired to do, in fact) is to stay abreast of communications technologies. For me, to write about blogging or to incorporate it into my courses without actually practicing it myself would be (I think) close to the equivalent of claiming to write an authoritative or definite historical work without consulting the available primary texts. Blogging does garner me credibility, perhaps not as an academic in general, but almost certainly as a member of my particular sub-field. (For a more eloquent take on the issue of the ethics of blog research, check Liz's post from a month or so ago at M2M.)

(2) I want to suggest that peer review works in more than one way. If I'm working out an idea that isn't ready for "prime time," my blog is a node in an informal peer network that may help me get it to that point. The difference here is between "anonymous" and "official" peer review, one that serves to certify a piece of writing at the end of the process, and the more informal review that can take place here. I've done this informal review with writers' groups, over email, and to a more limited extent, in the blogosphere, and each brings a set of advantages. Again, this may not be the case for historians (and others), where what counts as knowledge and evidence differs from what counts in my field.

(3) If I post the transcript of a talk, or an informal paper, here, and it gets picked up and distributed favorably (yes, wishful thinking abounds here), I can provide hard data about its value, both qualitative (comments, reviews) and quantitative (number of hits, trackbacks, etc.). On the cv that I submit for my tenure case, on the other hand, there is no difference between a conference paper delivered in front of an audience of 5 people or one that galvanizes a standing-room-only audience--for those reading the vita itself, the effects of those papers are completely invisible. I've had both kinds of experiences (the latter a result of much more famous co-presenters, to be sure), but neither shows up. If one of the assumptions behind quality scholarly work is that it makes an impact on the field, then I'd argue that this impact is at least as demonstrable in a blog as it is from being delivered at a conference. In other words, if the ideas are good ones, and I can track their effect to an extent, I think a case can be made that legitimate academic work is going on. (Again with the folk who say it better than I, and with more credibility. Mark Sargent, in this case.)

(4)Finally, one of the labor issues in my particular field is that those of us who identify as technology people are often called upon (or elect) to do work that ranges outside of the traditional boundaries policed by T&P committees. Like I said yesterday, I don't plan on substituting my blogging for those more traditional forms. Compared to published work, blogging isn't even close. But the argument I'd suggest (and again, it's one that may be more relevant to my field than to others') is that blogging doesn't aspire towards those standards. It's a different practice from publication, and no, it's not accepted as legitimate academic work. Yet. But the most telling example here is Invisible Adjunct. When we consider all of the praise and credibility she earned, from people who "knew" her solely through the practice of blogging, I don't think we can question that there are plenty of us out here who see scholarly value in an activity that doesn't show up yet in our tenure cases.

Yeah, that's all I got right now. It wouldn't surprise me to find that I end up clarifying even more tomorrow. As Rana notes at the very beginning, mileage may vary, and I hope that what I've offered is some clarification about why that's the case. My comments above are no less context-dependent than hers, and I think some of the disagreements over the past few have resulted from incomplete acknowledgement of what can be huge differences in context. I don't really know what constraints Rana operates under, and so what I'm writing here isn't meant as a direct refutation so much as it is an attempt to identify and clarify how "academic blogging" might operate for me given my constraints.

Finally: thanks, Rana, for a really thought-provoking post, one that challenged me to improve (one hopes) on my ideas from yesterday...

August 10, 2004

Staying out of the kitchen

A couple of quick thoughts, before I turn in, on the flurry of posts that have been happening over at Steven's blog (and elsewhere), that connect back to the discussion that was going on a few days back, re anonymous/pseudonymous blogging.

I don't claim to have the last word, certainly, but it seems to me that at least a couple of the comments raise what for me is an important distinction, one that I first started thinking about in response to AlexH's talk at MEA: the distinction between academic blogging and blogging by academics.

I should be clear that I don't find one necessarily better than the other, nor do I see them as mutually exclusive. I think I do a little of both, although I think of myself primarily as someone who does academic blogging. In part, that's because technology is my primary area, and that means I should be doing, not just studying. But I've also got a stake in building a rep and attaching it to my name, the same name that'll be the byline for an article or two (on blogging and/or networks) in the next couple of years. I also believe strongly that, eventually, blogging will come to be seen as a legitimate form of academic activity; but just like electronic publication, part of the momentum for this must come from recognizable scholars offering either explicit or implicit endorsement. Unlike profgrrrrl, I probably will offer selected portions of my blog for my tenure case in a few years, both as an example of technoscholarly innovation and as a way of pushing at the kinds of evidence allowed. I won't use it instead of more traditional evidence, but I currently plan to use it. (maybe not the ass-grabbing story, though.)

However, and this is a big however, not only is academic blogging a tiny, tiny subset of blogs in general (as AlexH has also noted), it's a subset of the number of academics who blog. And I think it's important to recognize that occupying that subset means that our (academic bloggers') goals are pretty narrowly defined. By no means does this mean that we've got all the answers, esp to the big life questions, but it does offer us the freedom of setting those issues aside. And it does so at the cost of the freedom of confronting those issues in one place where we can build a community to help us with them. My point is stupidly simple, I suppose. Different isn't worse, once you accept that the relationship between the terms "blogging" and "academic" can be configured in a range of ways.

Okay. One more. Steven asks: "When did the tables turn on this idea of 'not my real name' equals credibility and authenticity?" I've actually got a half-baked essay on this. Credibility isn't just one thing. We're used to seeing it work top-down: I know this writer is good, therefore I will read her article. But it works the other way, too: This article is good, therefore I will remember her name the next time I see it. It's not so much that pseudonyms themselves grant instant credibility, so much as it is that, when a body invests time and energy and care into developing a pseudonym, it functions with no less credibility and authenticity than does a "real" name. (Which is the point that Rana makes.)

To be fair, though, I should note that pseudonyms are basically anonymous, if an audience isn't party to that investment. The distinction there is not as hard and fast as I think some are assuming. The first time I read a blog, whether the person blogs under their "real" name or not, for me it's anonymous. I think that the problem comes when someone has invested in their anonym to turn it into a pseudonym, only to have it treated like an anonym (decontextualized, generalized, etc.), if that makes any sense. But I don't really think that the process of developing a pseudonym is markedly different from developing a nym. In both cases, credibility is something that ends up emerging over time.

And no, I don't really think I'm saying anything here that isn't raised in one form or another in the comments to the posts listed above. I'm just thinking through them for myself....

August 8, 2004

The Summer of Inappropriate Touching

It's funny how the mind really only needs a couple of small details to turn it into a pattern.

So I'm in the RiteAid 'round the corner from my apartment, looking to caffeinate myself. I walk over to the cooler, and all of a sudden, someone grabs my ass. I spin around, and it's some skanky looking guy, hasn't shaved in a while, shirt completely unbuttoned, cheap sunglasses, gold chain--never seen him before. As is apparently becoming a habit with me, I really have nothing to say. He mumbles some sort of half-apology about how I look just like his son, and I just stare.

Finally, he starts to back away, and I spring into action. In this case, action means grabbing a coke, and speedwalking to the cashier. On the one hand, I felt like I should have had something clever to say. On the other, though, I suppose I can just be thankful that I didn't do or say anything stupid. For future reference, though, if I feel someone's hand on my ass, the only way that's appropriate is if I know who it is before I turn around. In fact, that may qualify as one of my fundamental rules of the universe, somewhere in the neighborhood of Kant's categorical imperative.

Dissertation advice?

I've got a question for some of my regulars. I'm feeling pretty exhausted lately, as I'm nearing my 3rd dissertation defense in 12 days. One of the things I'm convinced we need to do a better job of, probably in the field as well as individual programs, is helping our students understand what to expect from the process. I'm close to this topic for a variety of reasons: I'm trying to finish up my first book manuscript and recalling the lessons I learned back in the day, I'm on several committees here, and of course, I'll be taking over the position of grad director in my department next spring.

While there are some pretty good sites on the web that give advice, the problem I'm finding is that each person's experience is different, enough so that generalizing to the level of advice is a tricky proposition. Like writing itself, it's rare that there are hard-and-fast rules for actually accomplishing the dissertation. Here are some of the things I'm thinking about (below the fold), but I'm especially interested in hearing from some of you who have gone through the process--what advice made a difference, and what do you wish you had known (or simply taken more seriously) when you were dissertating?

I. Know Thyself

I have to admit that I'm pretty amazed sometimes by people who don't have an idea of their strengths, weaknesses, and habits as writers, and this in a discipline that purports expertise about the process of writing. The dissertation is a learning process, to be sure, since for most who do it, it's the first book-length work they'll have attempted. Nevertheless, many of our writing habits scale right along with that length.

A. Understand/Embrace Your Habits

We all write differently. For instance, I write best at night, for solid 3-4 hour stretches, usually punctuated by short breaks to collect my thoughts and plot out my next stretch. I'm a better writer than I am a planner, so it's important to me to have 10-12 open books around me to draw from. I also almost always switch directions as I'm writing, so that it's frequently difficult to predict ahead of time exactly where a chapter will go.

B. Break Your Habits

I know, I know. With the paradoxes already. But it's important not to become a slave to your habits. It makes no sense to waste potential writing time because it's not night or not morning, or you only have 1 hour instead of 3. Don't fall in love with your quirks and let them keep you from writing.

C. Who Do You Want to Be?

Creative writing programs do this far better than most others, for obvious reasons, but we need to get better at it. I'm talking about learning how to read as writers, learning to appreciate the craft of writing as other writers deploy it. Learn who your favorite writers are, figure out why you like them, and figure out how much of their own craft you yourself can incorporate into your writing. I'm a fan of the flow of Stanley Fish, the intricacy of Derrida, the joy of Burke's reverse gridlock and the experimentalism of Barthes, among others, and often, I can tell which of the various styles I appreciate I'm veering towards in something I'm writing. Use those styles as measures for your own, and as inspirations for your own writing.

II. Reading, Writing, Revising

This is a tough one to generalize, but I'm pretty sure that most of us don't get it right. For years, my advice has been to "write, read, and write," as a corrective against the very natural tendency to put off writing by intimidating oneself with all the work out there on one's topic. It's hard to know how much reading you'll need to do, until you're into the topic. Likewise, without reading widely, it'll be difficult to know where to make your contribution. Even so, I think one of the unspoken purposes of the proposal is to get dissertators writing as early as possible, and there's an important lesson there.

As important as the reading/writing ratio is, lately I've come to think that there needs to be equally explicit consideration of the writing/revision ratio. This is one of the crucial differences between a dissertation and all other writing you've done up to that point. Seminar papers and exams involve a great deal of pre-draft work, culminating in the submission of a piece of writing. The average dissertation chapter, on the other hand, goes through several stages of revision, and it's rare in my experience that enough time is allotted for those stages. In other words, the chapter is a piece of writing that initiates a great deal of work. I don't think I'm spilling any secrets when I say that the single biggest shortcoming of most dissertations (my own included) is insufficient time allowed for reader comments and thoughtful revision.

III. Practicing, Preaching

This is specific to my discipline, which supports graduate students almost exclusively through teaching assistantships for composition courses. I'm often surprised by how we don't practice what we preach in those courses: the importance of multiple drafts, soliciting a range of peer responses, awareness of one's strengths and weaknesses, negotiating with genre, the social, collaborative nature of all writing, etc. We have a unique advantage in that our teaching subject is the very thing we're doing when we dissertate--our practice/preach ratio should be very close to even, and if it's not, then either we're lying in our classrooms or lying to ourselves as writers.

IV. It's Your Topic, and Our (Discipline's) Genre

This is another one of those balance/paradox issues. On the one hand, each of us has to live with our topic--it's part of how we will be identified as scholars for years to come--and so it's ultimately an individual decision. On the other, we also have a responsibility to explore that topic in a way that meets the expectations of the field, localized in the form of the dissertation committee. If the committee's a good one, they will recognize the difference between these two ideas, and respond to your work accordingly. If you're a good dissertator, you will recognize the difference, and develop your work accordingly. Personally, I tend to think of the difference as that between what you're saying in the dissertation and what you're doing. The line is a fuzzy one, but it's there, and it's possible to do well at one and not the other.

I've got others, but I'm slowing down a bit, losing momentum. So I'll stop here, and invite feedback. Feedback?

August 7, 2004


I like my name for it better, but this is a seriously cool idea. Over at McSweeney's, they're accepting pre-orders for The Future Dictionary of America, which is

an imagining of what a dictionary might look like about thirty years hence, when all or most of the world's problems are solved and our current president is a distant memory. The book is by turns funny, outraged, utopian, and dyspeptic.

The list of writers who contributed is a serious who's who, and they've been running some of the entries on their main page, alongside a contest for the rest of us wee folk. From today's offerings:

Icelandic system [iys-lan'-dik sis'- tum] n. (also teen circulation plan) a practice, supposedly based on child-rearing methods in medieval Iceland, of sending teenagers to live with other families, in order to learn adult skills and behavior from grownups they have not yet learned to manipulate and despise. A version of the Icelandic system, the foreign-student exchange, had long been employed by frustrated parents, but the practice went native and exploded in popularity with the publication, in 2023, of Britney-Penelope Leach's bestselling advice manual, A Fresh Start: Why Other Parents Can Raise Your Impossible Teenand Why You Should Let Them. Leach noted that, away from their parents, adolescents were typically friendly, polite, curious, and altruistic; it was only at home that they became resentful and histrionic "typical teenagers." She proposed placing teens with new families to give them a less-cathected but still affectionate and protective adult-child relationship focused on the gradual assumption of adulthood. The federally funded Domestic Youth Exchange now enrolls approximately 50 percent of high-school juniors and seniors and is credited with significantly lowering juvenile crime, drug use, pregnancy, depression, rudeness, and TV-watching. KATHA POLLITT

As you might gather, I'm a huge fan of the original Devil's Dictionary and its many knockoffs, and so this sounds like a great deal of fun to me. I'm not supposed to be reading anything extra-manuscriptal right now, but I'm allowed to pre-order, right?

August 6, 2004

Dodgy Dossiers

Becky Howard, a colleague of mine, was asking the other day about how she might publish something she's been working on, and publish it quickly, since it's relevant to the Presidential race. After talking about it a while, and coming up with nothing, she's decided to self-publish it on her website. Problem was that my first response was: well, of course, you blog it. Which would be the perfect solution but for the fact that Becky has no blog. Oops.

So my second-best alternative? I blog it. Becky, as some of you probably already know, is one of the country's foremost experts on plagiarism, and the essay in question is a close look at the process by which the Brits and the Bush Administration set about justifying our actions in Iraq. It also makes no secrets whatsoever about its own position: Plagiarism and Fraud in George W. Bush's Foreign Policy. Check the URL if you think I'm joking about this.

A taste, you ask? Well, all right:

It may not be easy to answer falsehoods with facts, but it is worth the effort. That effort will have to be made by each individual citizen, through multiple means. We cannot depend on a single mediumwhether television, radio, film, print, or Internetfor our information. Nor can we find a single reliable source. The (inter)national emergency in which we find ourselves, an emergency rife with falsification and withholding of essential data, requires that each of us work energetically to gather, evaluate, interpret, and share information. It requires, too, that we speak up, in whatever media are available to usin our blogs, in the beauty salon and bowling alley, in public demonstrationsand encourage others to do the same.

The thoroughness of the evidence she marshals in the article is worth the read, as Becky really works to pin down the timing of both governmental action, news coverage, and particularly the lack of coverage once the dossier was declared dodgy. There's no one passage that quite captures that thoroughness, and I thought the conclusion above offers a nice tie-in with Dan Gillmor's We the Media. I've been hearing about this piece on and off for a while now, and it's nice to see it finally available. Pass it along...

August 5, 2004

Blooks apart?

QuadCity Times front page

I must admit to a bit of civic pride. I didn't find out about this until after it happened, but as it turns out, my hometown hosted both Bush and Kerry yesterday. I'm pretty sure that my dad would have met both of them, being the mayor and all, and I know that my mom was one of the invitees to the Kerry session, so I'll update this entry once I've heard more from both of them.

Interesting to me here, if you go to the Quad-City Times site and read the stories, is the study in contrasts between the two. Bush plays in front of a mob of people, shouting out half-truths (including the old Incumbent Fallacy: results are the only thing that counts), while Kerry meets with a group of leaders, and actually attempts a conversation. Little question, I suppose, which of these I personally find more persuasive. But then, I've been predisposed to find Kerry persuasive since, roughly, 1998.

Finally, I tried to ignore this. Really, I did. How weak is it that they can't even space a 3-word headline properly? The worst thing about it is that it's not as though they don't have access to something like Photoshop, which allows you to keep a particular font height while compressing the letters horizontally. I mean, really. It looks like it says "Woflds, Blooks Apart." Drives me nuts, that does.

Update: Davenport appears prominently in the NYT as well, and they even quote my father. Unfortunately, they also make the mistake of identifying him as a Republican, even though local politics in D'port is supposed to be non-partisan. Made it sound as though my pop cared who decided first to come to Davenport, which was part of the NYT angle ("who's stalking whom?"). Ah well, that's small potatoes, all things considered. The contrast above made its way into the two photos, though. Kerry is shot at a distance, through the silhouettes of people, and he's talking to the woman seated next to him. Bush looks slightly askew, having to reach (and almost losing balance) to shake somebody's hand. You can see the photos here, at least until the article's condemned to the archives...

August 4, 2004

Testing Meme Propagation in Blogspace, Take Two: Add Your Blog!

Copy This GoMeme From This Line to The End of This Article, and paste into your blog. Then follow the instructions below to fill it out for your site.

Steal this!!!! This is a Gomeme -- a new way to spread an idea along social networks. By adding this GoMeme to your Weblog you can get higher Google rankings for your site, and help your friends get higher Google rankings too. You will also be participating in an experiment to generate a distributed Blog survey and test how memes spread through social networks.

By following the instructions below, your blog will be linked from every other blog that discovers this GoMeme downstream from your blog (from your readers, their readers, and so on). And that will raise your Google rankings in proportion to the number of downstream bloggers that get this GoMeme from you and post it to their blogs.

The dataset from this experiment is public, open and decentralized -- every blog that participates hosts their own data about their own blog. Anyone can then get the whole dataset by just searching Google for this unique string: 98818912959q This code is the "global unique identifier," or GUID for this GoMeme -- it marks every web page that participates in this GoMeme so that it can later be found with all the others. (Note it may take a week or longer before Google indexes your blog, so be patient).

To find out what a GoMeme is, and how this experiment works, or just to see how this GoMeme is growing and discuss it with others, visit the Root Posting and FAQ for this GoMeme at www.mindingtheplanet.net .


This is purely an experiment and is just for fun. We are really just curious to see what will happen and this is not a commercial project. Participation is voluntary. We don't mean to annoy anyone. However, if you don't have much curiosity, or at least a sense of humor, you may find this experiment to be upsetting. In that case, you might try drinking a good strong cup of coffee. If after that you are still unhappy with us, just don't read any further and have a great day! (If you don't want your blog to get better Google rankings, that's purely your choice!) On the other hand, if you are interested in exploring new technologies and pushing the envelope, then keep reading and we look forward to your participation in this experiment. We also request that participants in this experiment refrain from spamming anyone with this GoMeme. To spread it, just put it on your blog; that should be enough.


Step 1 First, to add your site to this experiment, copy the GoMeme to your site from the "Copy This GoMeme From Here" heading above to the End of this article. Please copy this whole article and try not to alter the text so that it is authentic for the people who get it from your blog.

Step 2: Now, fill in your answers to these Required Survey Fields (Note: Replace the answers below with your own answers). These will later be automatically data-mined by bots to compile the survey results.

(1) I found this GoMeme at URL:http://www.mindingtheplanet.net/
(2) I found this GoMeme on date (day/month/year):03 August 2004
(3) I found this GoMeme at time (in GMT format): 06:00:00 (UTC-5)
(4) I foundit via "Newsreader Software" or "Browsing the Web" or "Searching the Web" or "An E-Mail Message": Newsreader Software
(5) I posted this GoMeme at my URL (use a hyperlink): http://wrt-brooke.syr.edu/cgbvb/
(6) I posted this on date (day/month/year): 3 August 2004
(7) I posted this at time (in GMT format): 07:00:00
(8) My posting location is (city, state, country): Syracuse, New York, USA

Step 3: If you're feeling very altruistic today, also fill in these optional survery fields (Replace the answers below with your own answers):

(9) My Weblog is hosted by: myself (personal installation on university server)
(10) My age is: 35
(11) My gender is: male
(12) My occupation is: university professor, writer, rhetorician
(13) I use the following RSS/Atom reader software: Bloglines, Shrook
(14) I use the following software to post to my blog: Movable Type, Ecto
(15) I have been blogging since (day, month, year): 13 August 2003
(16) My web browser is: Safari
(17) My operating system is: Mac OS X (10.3.4)

Step 4:Now add an entry for your site after the last entry in the PATH LIST below:
Your entry should be of the form: line number, URL, hyperlink, optional personal GUID for your blog.

(Note: If you would like to track all postings of the Meme that result from your posting of it, once Google has indexed them, you may add your own optional GUID after your hyperlink on your line of the Path List -- just make sure it is short, unique, and doesn't return any results on Google -- for example "mysitename137a2r28". Also note, if the path list gets too long, you should still try to include the whole path in your blog -- even if you have to put the list on a continuation page rather than the excerpt for your posting -- and make sure others copy the whole GoMeme along with your Path List when they get the GoMeme from you -- If they don't copy it, your blog and your upstream blogs won't be linked from their blogs).


1. http://www.mindingtheplanet.net, Minding The Planet, mindingtheplanet14798
2. http://wrt-brooke.syr.edu/cgbvb/, Collin vs. Blog, cgbvb6733k

The End

You did it! Now spread it! If all goes well and others find this GoMeme from your blog, you should see some interesting results. Please comment back on the original post and tell us how you're doing or what you observe, if anything noteworthy happens.

August 3, 2004

Testing Meme Propagation in Blogspace: Add Your Blog!

This posting is a community experiment that tests how a meme, represented by this blog posting, spreads across blogspace, physical space and time. It will help to show how ideas travel across blogs in space and time and how blogs are connected. It may also help to show which blogs are most influential in the propagation of memes. The dataset from this experiment will be public, and can be located via Google (or Technorati) by doing a search for the GUID for this meme (below).

The original posting for this experiment is located at: Minding the Planet (Permalink: http://novaspivack.typepad.com/nova_spivacks_weblog/2004/08/a_sonar_ping_of.html) results and commentary will appear there in the future.

Please join the test by adding your blog (see instructions, below) and inviting your friends to participate the more the better. The data from this test will be public and open; others may use it to visualize and study the connectedness of blogspace and the propagation of memes across blogs.

The GUID for this experiment is: as098398298250swg9e98929872525389t9987898tq98wteqtgaq62010920352598gawst (this GUID enables anyone to easily search Google (or Technorati) for all blogs that participate in this experiment). Anyone is free to analyze the data of this experiment. Please publicize your analysis of the data, and/or any comments by adding comments onto the original post (see URL above). (Note: it would be interesting to see a geographic map or a temporal animation, as well as a social network map of the propagation of this meme.)


To add your blog to this experiment, copy this entire posting to your blog, and then answer the questions below, substituting your own information, below, where appropriate. Other than answering the questions below, please do not alter the information, layout or format of this post in order to preserve the integrity of the data in this experiment (this will make it easier for searchers and automated bots to find and analyze the results later).

REQUIRED FIELDS (Note: Replace the answers below with your own answers)

* (1) I found this experiment at URL: http://www.zylstra.org/blog/archives/001379.html
* (2) I found it via Newsreader Software or Browsing the Web or Searching the Web or An E-Mail Message": Newsreader Software
* (3) I posted this experiment at URL: http://wrt-brooke.syr.edu/cgbvb/
* (4) I posted this on date (day, month, year): 03 August 2004
* (5) I posted this at time (24 hour time): 07:00:00 (UTC-5)
* (6) My posting location is (city, state, country): Syracuse, New York, USA

OPTIONAL SURVEY FIELDS (Replace the answers below with your own answers):

* (7) My blog is hosted by: myself (personal MT installation on university server)
* (8) My age is: 35
* (9) My gender is: Male
* (10) My occupation is: university professor, writer
* (11) I use the following RSS/Atom reader software: Bloglines, Shrook
* (12) I use the following software to post to my blog: Moveable Type, Ecto
* (13) I have been blogging since (day, month, year): 13 August 2003
* (14) My web browser is: Safari
* (15) My operating system is: Mac OS X (10.3.4)

August 2, 2004


Haven't felt much like running a full post lately. Had a couple of ideas, but have had more pressing matters. In the interests, though, of turning the calendar over, I present to you a list of half-bakes:

Blue Moon Trading Co.: I almost wrote a love letter to Nomar yesterday, and thanked him for coming to Chicago. If the Cubs make the playoffs, it won't just be Nomar, of course, but the shot in the arm that he represents will have given them a spark, I suspect. And Shawon-o-meters aside, he's the first Cubs shortstop we can be excited about since Ernie Banks.

MT Courseware: Like Liz, I'm glad that I've waited out changing my blog software. We're now figuring out licensing for MT3, and the features peek over at 6A confirmed my hopes for the features upgrade. And the fact that Liz will be upgrading her Courseware as well made my decision that much easier.

DNC: Much to my surprise, I went cruising over to iControl, my on-demand movie service through digital cable. Well, that wasn't the surprise. What was was that they're offering videos of all the major speeches from the DNC--and for free. I suspect they'll do the same for the RNC, but I must say that it was nice to be able to see Obama outside of a 2-inch Quicktime window...

1 Down, 2 To Go: The second of three dissertation defenses comes tomorrow for me. It's four, actually, but the fourth is a couple of months away, unlike these ones, which are set up 3 in the space of 12 days. It's a powerful lot of extra reading, and I'm happy to do it, but it's tough to layer that on top of my writing schedule.