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October 31, 2004

Mom's costume

Mom's costume

No disguise for me, but the QC Symphony held a Halloween Pops Concert this year, and all of the symphony folk dressed up. At first glance, none of my mom's co-workers recognized her.

October 29, 2004

my daily lesson

Today I learned, courtesy of an anonymous person's Google search, that my site is #2 on Google if you search for "ways to be mean to Collin," although this person apparently left off the quote marks. And as a result, the #1 result came from Collin Peterson's appearance before the Health Subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means.

According to Congressman Peterson,

While rural hospitals have a cost structure similar to their urban counterparts, they are paid 10-15% less for comparable services provided to Medicare beneficiaries. Not only are these facilities forced to pay higher wages in order to be competitive with other hospitals, but they also receive significantly lower reimbursement from Medicare for services provided to Medicare patients.

Just so's you know: here's how to be mean to me. Wait until I'm eligible for Medicare, and then orchestrate my injury in a rural area. You'll have a bit of a wait ahead of you, but it'll be worth it. Trust me.

crossing over

This afternoon, after my mom got home from work, we got in the car and drove up to North HS so we could stand in line. Twenty or so minutes later, the line started moving, and we flashed our cheapo printout tickets so we could stand for another 90 or so minutes in the North gym, after which we got to see John Edwards.

I was kicking myself for not bringing the camera, but I thought (mistakenly, it turns out) that there would be more security than there was. No outside bags, signs, or umbrellas (despite a little drizzle), granted, but we weren't searched, didn't go through metal detectors, and only had to make it past a few beleaguered volunteers to get pretty close to he who would be VP. I was, honestly, a little surprised by this, but oh well.

The crowd was well-behaved, knew when to boo and when to cheer, and looked from my perspective like a nice cross-section of the community. Of course, it was pretty clear that some of them were more interested in Edwards' opening act, Jon Bon Jovi. As for me, I found it quite entertaining to watch the woman to the side translate the lyrics of "Dead or Alive" into sign language.

And Edwards is nothing if not an engaging speaker. Some of what he offered was tightly scripted (the story about his dad studying math on tv you've no doubt heard a few times already), but some of it was clearly improvised from no more than an outline. He moved around the stage, he spoke well, and he conveyed a sense of energy and urgency. None of which was exactly unexpected, of course, but he's gotten more relaxed as he's gotten practice at all this.

It's been interesting for me to be here in a swing spot, with all the national commercials ($400 mill worth at last count, I heard tonight) and appearances. How jaded are we about this here? I checked three local news sites (two tv and one newspaper), and not only were there no graphics or video clips for me to link to, Edwards's appearance didn't even make it onto the front page of any of the sites. It's been almost 5 hours since it happened. Weird. Propaganda overload. And the national commercials make the local, shoestring ones look pretty sad by comparison.

October 28, 2004

Sox 4, Cards 0

Michael Bérubé asks: "Do we really want this?"

And surely some of you must regard victory itself as a prize of dubious worth. Until tonight, your team was legendary, and their legend shaped and defined your self-identification as fans. If you win the World Series, you win the World Series-- and you become kin to the 2002 Angels and the 1980 Phillies. You will be elated (and drunk!) for a couple of days, sure. But then the championship will begin to sink in, and while some of you will say, as did a New York Rangers fan in 1994, “now I can die in peace,� others among you will be plunged into existential crisis.

Heh. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I regard victory as a prize of substantial worth, now that I never have to listen to Bob Ryan or Peter Gammons ever tell me again about how I don't understand--having never grown up in the New England area--the abject misery of a team that has been consistently good but hasn't won the various Series it's been to. Because, you know, it's so much worse to come close and lose than to never come close at all. Why, it must be a curse!

By the end of last night, I actually got to feeling a little sorry for the Cards, whose Series drought (in terms of getting there) was only a little shorter than the Sox. I felt bad for Jason Marquis--Tim McCarver was talking about yanking him in the first inning, and yet he gutted it out for six innings, doing better than the other three Cards starters. I felt bad for Rolen, who was surely Mr. Sucktober. I felt bad for Larry Walker, who had finally made it to a contender.

All things considered, though, it wasn't that surprising to me. Last week, I mentioned that the Cards had good pitchers, but no aces, no stoppers, and that proved to be true. In a short series, if you can get 6 or 7 scoreless innings from your pitcher, you've just about got the game, and the Sox got it three times out of four. The Cards were built for the season, but the Sox were built for the Series. It'll be interesting to see whether the Sox can keep Martinez and Lowe--if not, it'll be a short reign on top.

Another prize of substantial worth: no longer having to watch FOX do cheesy videos for 80's music. After listening Joe Buck segue into Patty Smyth's "The Warrior" (in describing Schilling) or head shots of all the players accompanied by Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," I was just about ready to vomit. CBS always does this at the end of the NCAA b-ball tourney with "One Shining Moment," which is bad enough, but oh my god. And all those godawful puns headlining the stat sheets. Ugh. That, my friends, is the ESPNification of sports: the natural drama replaced by boo-yah. Note to FOX: we're already watching the games, and we don't watch them to see "Phat Albert" as the tagline for a summary of Pujols' impressive hitting numbers. I don't mind a little of that stuff--I know how desperate you are to show off how clever you are--but filling every second with that crap, running the commercials up to the second the first pitch of the inning is delivered, and getting sponsors for every frickin feature (The Polar Express Play of the Day?!?!)? That was a little much. I wanted to see the Series run longer, but I won't miss all the extra frosting FOX thinks it takes to make the cake taste better.

October 25, 2004

on the trail

W was in Davenport today, reading from a script to a hall full of supporters. I'm hoping to get the transcript tomorrow in the paper, but in the meantime, a couple of quick observations, since the local stations carried it in its entirety:

Bush mispronounced the name of Jim Leach's wife, Deba. (dee-ba) Leach is not the local congressman anymore, but he's been in Congress for a long time, and is still popular here. Bush called her Deb.

Also, he made some bizarre comment about how he could think of no one better to mow the White House lawn (?!) than Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. I'm relatively certain that this wasn't a lame attempt at a pun, that somehow this was intended as a compliment. Ummm. Thank goodness we've got Iowans to do the yard work? What?!

Yeah, I know this is nitpicky, but honestly, he was reading from a script, beaming over talking points that are old news at best, so it's not like there was much to really engage with. I know that he's basically just preaching to the base at this point, but really. The best he can do is to mispronounce one person's name and deliver a dumbass remark about lawn-mowing? Geez. I was a little surprised that he didn't start with "It's great to be back in insert name here!"

I thought for a minute about trying to get a ticket, but then I can't imagine that my "Nine more days! Nine more days!" chant would have gone over especially well...

October 24, 2004

we being Brand

-new; and you
know consequently a
little stiff

Couple of weeks ago, Clancy posted an inquiry about Cluetrain, whether anyone in the field was picking it up or not, and that question has been bouncing around in my head ever since. It came at a time where I was thinking about excerpting it for my class next semester, and at a time when I've been adding people like Hugh MacLeod to my aggregator (having already aggregated the Cluetrain principals).

This morning, I came across an entry at Doc Searls's site, on the issue of branding, and that set me to thinking even more. (good set of followables there, that I won't simply repeat here)

The gist of Doc's remarks is that there is an inverse relationship between company-sponsored or -encouraged blogging and the strength of that company's brand. In other words, companies that have a high-intensity brand (like Apple, e.g.) need to exercise a great deal of control over the information that leaves the company. Hence, they're not likely to be as blog-friendly, which would require a certain amount of relaxation of control over information flow.

Normally, I'm not a huge fan of the corporate metaphor for education--I think it was Anne Balsamo who said once that education needs no metaphor--but in this case, I've been thinking about how compatible blogging will prove to be in composition classes. Actually, that's sounding a lot more philosophical than I mean it to--maybe I'm just responding belatedly to this thread from Kairosnews.

Anyhow, the connection for me among all of these things is whether or not we've basically treated the type of writing we profess as a brand--Academic Discourse®, perhaps--one that we find ourselves engaged in what Hugh calls egofriction, or as GaryM notes in the comments to that post, "a subconscious desire to have their side win." In other words, we hold on very tightly to what we do in our courses, particularly when it comes under fire from people in other disciplines, the general public, New Yorker columnists, whoever. And I'm as guilty of this as anyone--there are plenty of times where my interaction with these constituencies is more about "winning" than about anything particularly educational.

I'm not suggesting that we start reducing what we do to corporate-speak, but rather that we ask ourselves honestly if that isn't already what we do. If so, if we're involved in protecting our brand of writing, then it's hard for me to see how blogging is going to find a comfortable home in our departments, and I say that fully aware of the colossal overgeneralization I'm offering here. I'm not sure, however, that it's any worse of an overgeneralization than the ones we take for granted in the establishment and protection of our brand.

No grand conclusions or answers here--that's just what I've been thinking about this morning. That is all.

For the Ages

Let's recap the day's events:

Red Sox 11, Cardinals 9 (World Series, gm 1)
Iowa 6, Penn State 4 (Big Ten football)

Ummm...yeah. It's actually pretty tough to score 4 points in a football game. It's impossible to score just 1 point, but after that, I'd guess that 4 is the next most unlikely. The only way to do it is 2 safeties, one of which is rare enough that it hadn't happened in almost 3 years to Penn State (Iowa did it that time, too, I think.). And yet, for all the offensive futility, it was kind of a fun game to watch--lots of big defensive plays, and I mean that in a non-Manny way. Well, except for that first long snap to the punter that almost split the uprights--that was pretty comical.

"It was a pretty obvious decision," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Typically, if you punt off your own 1-yard line, it's almost a guaranteed three for the other team. And this type of game, I sure as heck didn't want to give them three easy ones. Just take the safety and ride our defense."

It didn't make a lot of sense to Pam Ward at the time, that difference between "three easy ones" and "two easy ones," but heck, they won. Even though the Sawx outscored both teams combined.

October 21, 2004

Head v. Tail

Last night, as I watching the Sawx come one step closer, my mom asked me whether I thought that the Internet had made things better. I don't remember the context of the question, but I do recall my ambivalence in answering it. And later on last night, I came across the following story, collected concisely here by Jeff Jarvis:

S., who lives in San Francisco, sends an email to A., a political correspondent for the New York Times. That email contains a particularly injudicious remark wishing harm upon A.'s "kid." D., a colleague of A.'s, is offended, and writes a Sunday column (reg. required), publishing this remark (against the wishes of S.) and naming both S. and identifying his home. S.'s reward for this remark, as a result: hordes of nasty emails, hateful phone calls, and a lasting effect far out of proportion with a private statement, however originally hateful it was:

What won't go away for years, if ever, are the results of the Google search of my name every prospective employer, professional colleague, new friend or potential spouse is likely to conduct in the future. When you search my name now, you learn right away that the Public Editor of the New York Times called me a coward and a despicable person incapable of consideration of others.

That's from the "open letter" that S. has posted to his own site, where you can also find out the names of the principals here. As ugly as his original comment was, S. is right to note that, instead of taking the high road (ostensibly the point of D.'s column), D. has traumatized S.'s children and potentially damaged his reputation, job prospects, and life for a long time to come, a pretty steep price for a private email composed in the heat of anger. S.'s conclusion is worth reading:

Let me close by pledging that, henceforth, I shall write all of my e-mails as though they will be published in the New York Times. I shall write them with the care, consideration and respect for civil discourse that one would expect from the public editor of the nation's leading newspaper. I will write them as though I am writing a respected column that will be read by people around the world, and that will be captured in Google forever. My parting request to you, [D.], should you choose not to do the honorable thing and resign, is that you pledge to never again write a column for the New York Times as though you are writing a private, angry and hostile e-mail to an audience of one.

Jarvis has another post on this as well, one that deplores the fact that incivility simply breeds more incivility. Also of interest is Chris Nolan's reflection on the possibility that there's a marked difference between the ways that people on each coast have taken up communications and connectivity in the past few years. Nolan's conclusions are certainly overgeneralized, but her initial premise, that people in different geographic regions will take up technology in different ways, is a sound one, and one that will be a source of frequent misunderstandings and cautionary tales for years to come, I suspect. If even part of what she suggests is true, it's another example of how our social adoptions of technology trail well behind our ability to produce new technologies themselves.

And the original question? It's going to take any number of stories like S.'s or David Hailey's before the kind of civility that Jarvis asks for will emerge. It's kind of like having to touch the stove and burning a finger before one will really believe that it's hot. We're still very much in the finger-burning stage of development with respect to the Internet, I think, and that can be both good and bad.

If for no other reasons...

I present to you my own personal top 3 reasons for delight at seeing the Yankees choke away a 3-0 series lead. Contrary to the FOX graphic, this wasn't one of the all-time greatest upsets--the Sawx are way too good a team for that to be the case--but the Yankees can rest easy knowing that they've set the MLB standard once more, both in futility and in cost per LCS victory. So anyway, in reverse order:

#3. A-Rod's move last night, knocking Arroyo's glove off, was bad sportsmanship in intramural softball, much less the majors. It was obvious, it was stupid, and it was far less than we should expect from a perennial MVP candidate. For Torre to even argue it dropped my opinion of him down a notch.

#2. The Yankee fans. It's been a Wrigley tradition for years to throw back home run balls hit by the opposite team, but they do so while the hitter runs the bases, and it doesn't interfere with play. Tonight, a Yankee fan threw back a foul ball hit by Johnny Damon and interrupted a pitch. Call me a purist, but that's weak as hell. And it happened a few times.

#1. "Who's your daddy" is the single most stupid chant I've ever heard at a sporting event, and it's got plenty of competition. It was a stupid comment from Pedro, granted, but at root, he was acknowledging the fact that the Yankees had his number. To turn it into a chant, over and over, was the furthest thing from clever.

So, cursal reversal? Not quite. There's another series yet to be played. But my 4th reason for delight tonight is that, for the past few years, the Yankees and their fans have acted like they somehow "own" the so-called curse. Truth be told, the Mets, Cards, and Reds have more to do with stopping the Sox than the Yanks--they actually won World Series against them. The curse was about giving up arguably the best player in the history of the game for a song, not giving him to a specific team. But in Yankees Nation, everything has to be about the Yankees. I like some of their players, and I've generally liked Torre, but the empire as a whole is unforgivably arrogant, so I can't say that I'm sorry to see them perform the greatest choke in the history of MLB.

Go Sox!

October 19, 2004

The Long Tail, part 2

One important exception to the dearth of commentary on Anderson's piece comes from Adina Levin, who builds on and speculates about the essay in important ways. She writes,

The Long Tail article reveals the limitations of the Clay Shirky power law model. Several years ago, Shirky explained how the top of the peer production curve segues into the mass market. The aggregation of interest raises popular bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, and popular open source software projects like Linux far above the tail, to join the ranks of mass market mainstream hits.

The Power Law essay amputates the long tail, and translates the head of the peer production curve into familiar mass market terms -- the creation and packaging of celebrities. By focusing at the top of the curve, where peer production segues into the mass market, the Power Law obscures the the economic and social principles that create profit and value from the Long Tail.

I'm not sure that I agree with the title that precedes this section ("The Power Law Red Herring") so much as I agree with the remark that closes it ("the relationship between the head and the tail is symbiotic instead."). I'm working from memory here, but it seems to me that Clay's essay is a necessary corrective to the idea that the blogosphere is automatically democratic or egalitarian--it's an explanation of the principles by which any network of a certain size will ultimately produce an A-list (whether we call the members of that list celebrities, the literary canon, etc.). The problem isn't so much that power laws themselves "obscure" the value to be found at the other end, though. Rather, I'd argue that this is one of the strategies deployed by the culture industry to protect itself. At its root, a power law is an assertion about the economy of attention. The A-list of bloggers may or may not be better than anyone else, but they receive the most attention. The conflation of "more" with "better" (50 million Britney fans can't be wrong?) is what obscures that value.

And there are mitigating forces as well. If we look at these curves ecologically or symbiotically, as Adina suggests, then we might start identifying various Slashdot effects. Anderson's essay opens with one, explaining how Touching the Void benefitted from Into Thin Air. I would never have read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy had it not been for Harry Potter. And Oprah's practically made an industry out of Slashdotting various books, singers, etc. And every time this happens, it re-shuffles the distribution curve, sometimes more temporarily than others.

This suggests that power law curves get short-circuited every so often, but I'm not sure that this means anything other than exceptions that prove the general rule. Amazon, Netflix, and others may derive more profit from the long tail, but my guess is that this is because long-tailers find those services more to their liking. In other words, the fact that they seem to refute or disprove power laws may be a result of the fact that, in a larger ecology of sellers, they're simply more representative than the mass market outlets of a certain group of consumers.

I'm making more than I'd intended out of this single point. Suffice it to say that I'll be assigning all three of these pieces together next semester.

Belonging to the Long Tail

Okay, so I may be the second- or third-to-last person to post about Chris Anderson's article in WIRED on "The Long Tail," but I'm mindful of what Mary Hodder was saying last week about the lack of blogospheric engagement with it (beyond quotes and points). At the tail end of her post, Mary asks a bunch of good questions that may never find answers, mainly because it would require these various companies to divulge more information than they're typically willing to offer.

She asks "what kinds of sellers exist further down the curve," and my gut answer is that just about all academic presses would qualify here. One of the crucial differences, though, between academic presses and more popular ones is that no one who publishes an academic book expects (or, given the general density of prose, tries) to achieve the kind of success implied by the power law distribution curve. That doesn't disprove Anderson or Pareto, but it does complicate the long tail a bit. There are portions of these industries where "micro-fame" is the goal (Gordon Gould had a post about this, about which I wrote, back in May.), and although an overall power law may still obtain, it flattens some crucial distinctions.

Before Amazon, it was really no more difficult to get a hold of academic press books--in many cases, Amazon still requires a 1-2 week wait for a lot of the titles I order, unless they're brand spanking new. The difference between ordering it there and ordering it at a bookstore, I'd argue, is that Amazon offers the illusion of immediacy that placing an order at a bookstore, waiting two weeks, and then going in to collect and pay for a book does not. Yes, it's marginally more convenient to have the book delivered, and yes, there's collaborative filtering (still secondary to scholarly networks for me, though, in usefulness). But the important difference is this: in a bookstore, I can either buy a book off the shelves or order it. There is a lived, experiential contrast between those two--one is immediately gratifying, the other delays gratification. At Amazon, we don't really experience the difference between one end of the power law curve and the other--in both cases, we order the product, and wait a couple of days to get it.

And because my experience of ordering an academic press book is the same for that of ordering a best-seller, Amazon doesn't make me feel obscure for doing so. Instead, I feel like I'm part of one big, happy market, even though I'm one of maybe a couple hundred (at most) who will buy that book there.

It may be different for other media, but I think that Amazon's success isn't simply a matter of providing access to the long tail of the book market--it's in minimizing the differences between those of us who practically live in the long tail and those who don't. At Amazon, I experience no less convenience than someone who only buys best-sellers. In other words, Amazon makes everyone feel as though they belong equally, and a lot of the "secondary" features of the site (if we assume that sales is the primary feature) are geared to enhancing that sense of belonging. And if I feel like Amazon meets my needs better than other options, that's where I'll spend my money.

I've got more to say, but I'm going to pause here, and come back in a bit.

October 18, 2004

The trouble with corporate media

Those of you who, like me, tracked down transcripts and audio or video clips of Jon Stewart's recent appearance on Crossfire, should appreciate this Flash send-up of the debates and their coverage...Debating for Ratings.

[via New Media Musings]

October 17, 2004

Stand back?

Not a big change by any means, but it seems like I learn a little more about MT every time I sneak a peak under the hood. I was saying in the comments to the last entry how much I appreciate the "recent comments" feature on Typepad and elsewhere because it gives me as a reader some idea of where comments are taking place, and without me having to scroll through entries.

At the same time, I do like the single sidebar, even though I'll probably move to two as the right side of cgbvb fills up a little more. So my compromise between "recent comments" and a smaller sidebar? I've added the "CommentCount" tag to my Recent Entries category over yonder. It gives regular visitors some sense of where the action is comment-wise, and it does so without taking up much sidebar real estate.

The one thing that I did regret somewhat about making the move to MT3 was that all of my little code and design tweaks had to be redone, and I've been slow to do so. But this is a new one, and I think it's one of those small changes that will only affect a few readers, but add up over time into a little extra convenience...

October 15, 2004

The joy of comments

I don't know that this qualifies as big news or anything, but Jenny turned comments back on over at Stupid Undergrounds. And she had a couple of interesting things to say in this regard:

It's funny how quickly your body--seriously, I'm talking at the level of physiology here--gets used to the network(ed) feedback and movement of blogs....Blogs are so amazing because they are sprouts of network energy....many thrive because they continue to move and circulate with comments, threads, readers.

She and I talked about this a little during my visit, about how, when someone wants to "start a blog," what they mean is that they want to achieve that "thriving" state immediately, without realizing that, in most cases, it takes a lot of time and investment (and comments, threads, and readers). In this, it's not unlike people who decide that they "need publications." In other words, a publication is the result of a similarly intensive investment of time, energy, understanding, etc., an investment that can't actually guarantee success. The investment itself has to be its own reward, and often, if it is, the other stuff will come.

The issue of comments. Jenny's post made me think about the role of comments on blogs, and if I had the time or inclination, here's a little project I might undertake. It would be interesting to look at a set of blogs, and to track the number of comments on different posts, and then look to see if they function in a feed-forward manner. That is, are certain topics likely to receive more comments, and if so, do the bloggers return to those topics with more frequency? The common sense answer is "of course," but I suspect that it also is affected by each blogger's personal ratio of "self/other" writing, a ratio that itself can be affected by comments. As convoluted as this may sound, it might be a way of articulating that self/other ratio, or describing the evolution of a particular blog, based on more than just the anecdotal or intuitive perceptions of its author.

Hmm. That'd be a big project, and I'm pretty sure that it would only work for blogs of a certain size, but it might also apply to the teaching of writing in the sense that it could supply some general guidelines for how teachers might respond to student blogs in ways that would be most productive--more formative than normative, perhaps. The more I'm writing about this, the more interesting it sounds to me. Not that I've really got the time to do something like it right now, but still.

Davenport, IA (again)

the seventh leg of my trip
Total Miles: 522
Miles to Date: 4248

The miles, they keep on climbing. I'm back in Iowa now, and wondering WTF I could have been thinking. I packed a duffel full of shorts and t-shirts, and brought 2 pairs of jeans and a couple of sweatshirts, "just in case." Hmmmm, just in case I found myself in the upper midwest in late October? When the temp rarely climbs much above 50? Maybe summer will last until November? Clever, clever boy. Argh.

On another note, I added another little tool to the sidebar. They're called HitMaps, and I heard about them over at Monkeymagic. Basically this service reads the IP addresses of visitors, and plots them all on a world map, increasing the size of the dots as the number of visitors at that location grows. I suspect that it's more useful for "long tail" sites like this one than it would be for power bloggers, but it's a nifty little visualization tool, and it verifies my hunch about how popular I am in Australia.

I've got a couple of other entries to post, but I think this one is finished. I'll be in Iowa for a couple of weeks, resting up and preparing for the Convergences conference in NC at the beginning of November. Maybe a day trip or two in the interim.

October 14, 2004

The compulsion continues

Just outside of Des Moines now, and have spent part of this mini-leg wondering why the noun form of compel is compulsion. Why not compelsion? Or compulled?

I also participated in a little Presidential straw poll. There was a couple from Nebraska who, as they passed me, held up a Kerry/Edwards sign in the window, and then asked me for a thumbs up or down. They seemed pretty happy with my answer, but then they had a K/E sticker on their car. A few minutes later, I passed someone with a variety of anti-abortion bumper stickers on their rusted-out van, and I'm pretty sure that this person cancelled me out.

I've had cause to reflect upon how little I like grooved pavement. It always makes me feel as though I've got less control over my car than I actually do.

I also discovered at this rest stop that there are 44 "fun spots" in Iowa, where folks can partake of "boogying."

Finally, I think that there's a piece of Colorado tumbleweed stuck to the underside of my car.

Oh, that wasn't the last one. Down at Lori's, I found out that her mom and I share a compulsion. When we're in cars, we cannot help but read signs, often out loud. I don't think I'm breaking a vow of silence when I say that Lori and Lana find this terribly annoying. Fortunately for Lori, and others around me, I don't usually vocalize my reading, so she had no idea that I had the same habit (until I told her). I have noticed myself doing it on this trip, though. There's just something about all those words, just crying out to be read. Last night, as I was winding into Lexington, I saw a billboard well off the highway to the left, and as I passed it, I couldn't make out all the text on it, and felt mildly insulted to be teased like that.

Oh yes. I'm just a barrel of fun in the car, especially after a couple thousand miles. Davenport soon. That is all.

Is this heaven?

Well, no, but it does have wifi, which means that even though I've got a couple of hundred miles to go, I feel irresistibly compelled to post an entry, despite the fact that I have next to nothing to report from the road at the moment.

I can tell you that there were more road crews along I-80 in the eastern half of Nebraska than I encountered in 4 different states (counting the west half of Nebraska as a state) previously. Seemed like every ten miles we were slowing down to 55. Ugh.

No pictures to post, either. Just imagine being able to see miles in every direction. Got it? Okay. Now imagine everything the color of hay. Welcome to Nebraska and the western part of Iowa. I exaggerate, but only a little. At least today isn't windy.

Back to the road. That is all.

October 13, 2004

Lexington, NE


Total Miles: 439
Miles to Date: 3726

It seems like only yesterday that I was waxing eloquent about how lucky I was to be in New Mexico this time of the year. That's mainly because I hadn't yet had the experience of being in Colorado this time of year. Leaving Pueblo, it was sunny and in the low 50s. About an hour later, the temperature reading outside my car declined steadily into the high 30s, I saw snow dripping off cars, and I spent the next 400 miles or so being buffeted by serious winds. Ugh.

It felt like I drove much further than 400-odd miles today, mainly because the whole leg involved me gripping the wheel tensely, and hoping that a semi didn't wobble or weave at the wrong moment. Through most of the first half of Nebraska, I was treated to several rainbows, which would have been nice but for the fact that they came at the end of several cloudbursts. Blue skies to my left, blue skies to my right, but for most of the afternoon, I was driving straight into thunderclouds.

I haven't been sleeping that well lately, so I went a little lighter on the caffeine today, and as a result, spent most of the day yawning uncontrollably (just did it again). Hopefully, though, that'll help, that and the fact that I didn't really relax until I got out of my car this evening. I've got about 500 miles or so left until I hit Davenport, which I should do sometime tomorrow night. I'll have to make sure and keep myself from stopping by habit at the local Hampton Inn.

Until then...

rest stop

rest stop

Yes, that is snow on the roof of the little cabin to the right. Hard to believe that a little over a week ago, I was complaining about the high temperatures down in Austin.

Just south of Denver

Just south of Denver

Putting up

As Jeff will find out soon, either here or as part of the review process, I've just submitted an application (vita + vision statement) for the position of Associate/Online editor of CCC, the flagship journal of our discipline.

When I have a little more time to sit down and actually write out a clear post about this, I'll go into a little more detail about that "vision" of mine. For now, though, a quick note. I don't really need more to do in my life, but I'm mindful of the responses that some of our discussions , about CCCC and the like, have provoked from Kathi, John, and Doug. And one of the things that I take away from their responses is that change can begin with positions like this. And so, if I want to see change, it's sort of a put-up-or-shut-up situation. So this is me putting up. More on this later.

Pueblo, CO

Total Miles: 377
Miles to Date: 3257

I'm now in Pueblo, Colorado, which is where I'm posting both this entry and the last one, as well as the various pictures in between.

Got up fairly early this morning, with the idea that I would get to Taos in time for some lunch and some shopping. It took me a little longer than I'd planned. Yahoo maps tells you that it's roughly 70 miles or so from I-25 to Taos, and calculates the mileage as if you're averaging about 65 mph. What it doesn't tell you is that a good 30 miles of the trip to Taos is composed of narrow, mountainous, 2-lane highways filled with 30 mph squiggles and 20 mph switchbacks. I left Tucumcari thinking I'd get to Taos by about 11, and didn't actually make it until 1. Part of that was my fault, stopping for photos, but part of it was that the road to Taos is actually a pretty tough drive. I was happy that my car was fairly fresh, but even then it struggled a bit. There were stretches where I was literally slalomming up and down hills with frequent turns.

Still, it was gorgeous, and worth the trip. Since I was basically doing the tourist thing myself, I can't get too down on a town that's made such a central space for tourism. I did what I could to talk with the shopkeepers, though, and found out that there were actually quite a few New Yorkers there. I chatted up the guy who was "on duty" at an artists' co-op, and it turned out that (a) he sells a lot of his work to people from NY, and (b) he got a degree from Cornell in the early 80's. Yeah, I bought a small print of his, along with a few other things. A lot of small purchases for me, and a couple of mid-sized ones. Had some lunch at a local place that looked overpriced, but actually ended up being pretty good.

I did a little better job leaving Taos than I did getting there, but still it was a pretty tense drive. Not only is it winding road, but in a lot of places, you're a couple of feet from a pretty long drop. Combine that with the daredevils who push at you from behind, and it was a tense trip in and out. Once I got back to I-25, I managed a couple more hours of straightaway (albeit up and down quite a bit), before pulling up in Pueblo. Tomorrow, I'll be turning right at Denver, and making an I-80 run to Iowa.

[On a somewhat different note, maybe this service exists and I just don't have the energy to track it down tonight. But I'm less than satisfied with the fact that neither Yahoo nor Mapquest allows someone to input multiple points on a trip. I can get maps for Tucumcari to Taos and Taos to Pueblo, but not Tucumcari to Pueblo with a side-trip. Does anyone out there know of a multi-point trip tracker?]

another border shot

another border shot

I was incredibly lucky, I think, to hit this part of the country in October. All day long, it was in the low 60s and sunny, and all the trees were changing color. The entire drive, from about Las Vegas (NM) on, was simply gorgeous.

October 12, 2004

NM-CO Border

NM-CO Border

There's another of those "scenic overlooks" just past the border into Colorado. The light was fading, but I did stop and snap a few.

heading towards Taos

heading towards Taos

This is Eagle's Nest, a small town located in between the two difficult stretches leading to Taos.

getting my kicks

getting my kicks

Here's the view from Rte. 66. I think I'm heading north towards Las Vegas, NM, at this point.

October 11, 2004

Tucumcari, NM

the fourth leg of my trip
Total Miles: 449
Miles to Date: 2880

On the road again...

I left Dallas Monday morning, heading west. I'd hoped to make it all the way to Taos in one go, planning on staying there a night, and moseying around for most of the day. As I hit New Mexico, though, I was more tired than I'd figured, and I hit a fairly steady rain, which made conditions less than ideal. So I pulled up and stayed the night in Tucumcari, not the least reason for which was that I liked the name.

The Texas leg of my trip was lo-o-o-o-ong, but on the bright side, there were a couple of pretty solid rest stops along US 287, which runs from Dallas to Amarillo. The first one was about 10 miles south of a town called Quanah (I think), and as I was heading back to my car, I was intercepted by the attendant. Turned out that he lived in Quanah, and his ride was 30 minutes late, so he wanted to know if I could give him a ride. We talked the whole time, without exchanging names (?), and it turned out that he had just moved to this little dinky town in Texas from Oakland, where he was in the process of taking a second crack at building a life for himself (he was 44). He ended up there because he had helped someone get there from California, and this woman's family helped him find a job, get a loan to help with his credit, etc. We talked a little about my trip, too, and by that time, we were where he needed to be.

About eighty miles later, there was another pretty nice rest stop. So I get out of my car, and walk towards the restrooms. As I do so, I walk past a pickup truck, and a middle-aged, red-haired woman who's clearly walking back to it. A conversation ensues:

She: Are you the New York boy?
Me, after a brief pause: That's me.
She: You're a long way from home...
Me: Yes. Yes I am.

I'm sure she must have passed me and noticed the plate, but I suppose there's also the possibility that New Yorkers are so rare in the ol' "Panhandle Plains" that word of my trespass preceded me.

Here come some pictures.

October 9, 2004

The final deconstruction

Jacques Derrida passed away last night, according to the BBC, succumbing to cancer at the age of 74.

News coverage will describe his obscurity, the controversies over his work, the difficulty of understanding deconstruction, etc. For me, though, JD was one of those once-in-a-generation thinkers whose work has become so diffuse across disciplines that there are literally hordes of writers who owe a great deal to his work without even realizing it. As I was working on my book this summer, I was amazed at how many times his work peeked through my own, and I don't really consider myself especially Derridean in my approach to things.

Two years ago, I taught Of Grammatology in my 20th Century Rhetoric course, and I remain convinced that Derrida, who is identified primarily as a philosopher, is one of the most important rhetoricians of the past century. He will never be recognized as such, I suspect, because his work is so difficult to encapsulate into keywords or simplistic patterns. Language is difficult, and Derrida's writing both attempts to understand and to perform that difficulty. But to see him simply as "difficult" underestimates one of the most important thinkers of our lifetime.

October 8, 2004

Off his strings

I realize that my standards for a person's verbal coherence are probably much higher than average, but OH. MY. GOD. Quite frankly, Bush's performance tonight lent a great deal of credibility to the idea that Bush was wired for the first debate and actually received backstage assistance. It will be interesting to look at the transcript, because my gut impression was that most of W's answers were incoherent, even when they made some effort to answer the questions. It reminded me a lot of Dana Carvey's sendup of his father: you boil it down, and basically connect slogans and catchphrases with ellipses. Doesn't matter if it actually means anything. Wow.

A few more thoughts:

The irony of W describing himself as belonging to a "school of thought" was almost too much for me to bear.

The idea of a strict interpretation of the Constitution refusing the separation of church and state? Uhhh...what?!

Thank goodness W has "protected" us these past 4 years from those mysterious, potentially unsafe Canadian drugs.

Factcheck.org, the site cited by Cheney, reports both that the Republican definition of a "small business" does include W, and that he does indeed own part of a timber company, which apparently is "news" to him. Kerry's original point, that the Republican stats on the number of small businesses affected by Kerry's proposal are artificially inflated by a loophole-ridden definition? Yeah, that point was dead-on. W's response to having misled us? "Anybody want some wood?" Hardy har har.

Bush's big tagline, the one I've already seen circulating, was the dopey "you can run but you can't hide." Delivered twice, and each time rather poorly, the W machine seemed to believe that Kerry was going to try to hide. But he didn't. What makes him credible as someone who can be fiscally responsible (thanks to the current administration, this cannot be considered synonymous with "fiscally conservative") is that he broke party lines to vote for a balanced budget. Kerry was both prepared and willing to defend and/or explain his record, something that Bush refuses to do at almost every turn.

I was really struck tonight by the difference between Bush's strategy ("he said no.") and Kerry's ("here's why I said no."). More than anything else, that was the key difference for me that emerged from the debate. And more than anything else, I was struck by how unprepared W seemed to be able to handle anything more complicated than "he said no." That's not clarity--it's misleading simplicity, imposed upon issues that are by their very natures complicated. I don't doubt Cheney's ability to handle complexity; with him, I simply don't trust his motives in doing so. But W does nothing and says nothing that leads me to believe he is actually capable of exercising judgment. The more I see of him, the scarier that becomes to me. Almost as scary as the apparent spin from the pundits that, because W didn't behave like a squirmy pre-adolescent, he was somehow Presidential. We deserve better.

Surreality television

I should start by noting that you could tie me to a chair, pump me full of caffeine to keep me awake, and glue my eyes open, and still, I'd rather sing Copacabana over and over to myself than watch reality tv. And frankly, I think it's an ugly turn in the genre, watching Ted Nugent, Andy Dick, Donald Trump, Mark Cuban, Richard Branson some rich guy (and they're all guys) making a bunch of puppets dance around in front of cameras for table scraps from their respective fortunes.

That being said, even though I won't watch "The Benefactor," I've found it interesting over the past few weeks reading Cuban's blog, as he talks about the show and what he's tried to accomplish with it. I first started reading his blog for the interesting take he provides on the NBA, a take that's largely free of traditional "sports media" clichés.

Anyhow, Cuban posted today about the coverage that his show has been receiving from one of the local papers, the Dallas Morning News, which is part of the same media conglomerate as the ABC affiliate that airs his show:

The relationship between the entities suggest that there would be the opportunity for mutually beneficial cross promotion. It could also suggest that there could be the risk of being perceived as being less than journalistically objective if any favoritism was displayed. Call me crazy, but the businessperson in me says that the best way to deal with the situation would be to just convey the facts in any reference used.

What follows is an analysis of the show's varied levels of success in different markets, one that tells us a lot more about the show than the unbelievably obsolete Neilsen ratings do (or than the DMN writer apparently does). It's smart stuff, and it pointed out to me the virtue of a site like Cuban's, where he doesn't have to pretend that he has no stake in what he's talking about, be it the Mavs or the Benefactor.

It's interesting to me how "journalistic objectivity," esp in an age of media cartels, comes to be more and more of a smoke screen. As Cuban notes, the DMN is free to print whatever it pleases, and they'd almost certainly be criticized for cross-promoting a show if they did so without admitting their relationship to it. But that relationship is always already a factor, whether they're positive about it or not. And it's hard to disagree with Cuban's basic message, which is to get the facts and the context straight, regardless of their interests.

That is all. Time for lunch.

October 7, 2004

more on shortcuts

I wanted to write a little more about the idea of "shortcuts," because I shouldn't assume the self-evidence of the way that I'm using it. I'm working from an idea that Ball talks about in Critical Mass, and specifically from an article that I downloaded, from Joshua Epstein, who's at the Brookings Institution.

Epstein, Joshua M. "Learning to be Thoughtless: Social Norms and Individual Computation." Computational Economics 18 (2001): 9-24.

According to Epstein,

The point here is that many social conventions have two features of interest. First, they are self-enforcing behavioral regularities. But second, once entrenched, we conform without thinking about it. Indeed, this is one reason why social norms are useful; they obviate the need for a lot of indiviual computing (9).

It seems to me that the literature on the evolution of norms and conventions has focused almost exclusively on the first feature of norms--that they are self-enforcing behavioral regularities... (9)

My aim here is to extend this literature with a simple agent-based model capturing the second feature noted above, that individual thought--or computing--is inversely related to the strength of a social norm. In this model, then, agents learn how to behave (what norm to adopt), but they also learn how much to think about how to behave. How much they are thinking affects how they behave, which--given how others behave--affects how much they think. In short, there is feedback between the social (inter-agent) and internal (intra-agent) dynamics (10).

Epstein runs this model through several iterations, with different variables (sample radius, tolerance, noise, etc.), but the quotes above are probably enough for what I want to write about here.

As a communicative system, language necessarily operates by social conventions, which is why I think Epstein is relevant. If we didn't share linguistic conventions, we'd be unable to communicate. But each of us also has an individual stake in minimizing the amount of energy we devote to communication--if we had to define every word as we used it, it would take the better part of a day just to write a sentence or two. And so that second feature, which describes the degree to which a convention is thoughtless (i.e., not requiring conscious thought), is crucial to language use.

Hence the attraction of jargon. It is to my advantage as an academic to use specialized terms, even if they are mystifying to a large percentage of the population. Jargon does more conceptual work than so -called "plain language," but it only does so in a much smaller context. To put it another way, I can shrink my sample radius by using specialized language, but at the cost of the overall force of the conventions I employ.

Or to put it in another context, there are frequently calls for those of us who teach writing to do a better job of teaching grammar. Frequently, though, these calls mistake the role that grammar plays in writing. They do so because grammatical errors is very easy to spot (see?) and can be judged right or wrong. The problem is that a proficient writer takes grammar for granted; she no more devotes active thought (computing) to grammatical correctness than she looks up every single word in the dictionary before using it.

So the trick with grammar is that we must teach writers not to think about it, in the sense of making it thoughtless, or taking it for granted. And the trouble here is that direct grammatical instruction doesn't help students make grammar thoughtless--if anything, it diverts their attention and energy from other writing tasks. This doesn't mean that grammar isn't important--far from it. Epstein's examples of thoughtless action are some of our strongest and least ambiguous social norms.

Epstein suggests that we are interested in minimizing our sample radii as much as possible. In other words, we don't want to have to check with hundreds of other people before we do something. But when it comes to grammar, we might argue that our sample radius takes the form of the things we read. I read a great deal, and so my language use is undoubtedly influenced by an ongoing, subconscious negotiation between my own beliefs, attitudes, and structures and those of the texts I read. Students who don't read outside of their classes, though, have no sample with which to operate. And those whose main goal in reading is the extraction of information are similarly unlikely to internalize much about language use. The other piece of the puzzle here is also sometimes absent, and that's writing. If one is simply reading, but not putting those conventions to work by writing, then it's going to be hard to move to the point of thoughtlessness as well.

In other words, you learn to become a better writer by reading and writing, something that sounds tremendously obvious, I know, and something that most of the people in my field take for granted. But we've done a poor job of explaining (to ourselves and others) that grammar instruction isn't simply a yes/no question.

And the point of the last post? That network studies and/or statistical analysis may provide us with a way to interrogate not only the conscious decisions writers/speakers make, but also their subsconscious assumptions...

Jenny & Shiva 2

Jenny & Shiva 2

As I think is probably apparent, we had some trouble coordinating cats, open eyes, and smiles.

Jenny & Shiva 1

Jenny & Shiva 1

I didn't want to wait too long to get pics of Jenny and Shiva up here. Jenny's currently at Watson, but she has grudgingly approved a couple of these pictures.

evidence, part 2

Continuing yesterday's thoughts, and following Cameron's addition of the VP debate to his data set, I wanted to talk a little bit about what I see as the significance of this kind of analysis.

This is important for me because one of the basic questions that I find myself asking about network studies is the degree to which this kind of study is merely descriptive. In other words, what benefits are there to having this sort of evidence? What kinds of claims and/or strategies can build on network analysis?

We tend to think of language as something over which we have complete control. But anyone who writes over a fair period of time knows that this isn't the case. In my case, I can no longer remember the specific language of articles that I myself have written any better than I can remember others'. And yet, there are certain features--of style, semantics, vocabulary, etc.--that remain relatively constant, and which I do recognize when I go back and read my writing. "Relatively" because we absorb all those things as we come into contact with others' language, and that contact nudges us in various directions. I may use a word more often because I like it, or avoid certain sentence constructions because I find them confusing. But the deeper the patterns, the slower the change, and the less conscious control we have over them. We may have immediate control over something that we are writing at the present moment, but we don't think about every single word to an equal degree. We take any variety of shortcuts--language use is at heart a vast network of shortcuts and connotations, and we use those shortcuts and patterns as a means of conserving our communicative energies.

And so the virtue of a doing large-scale, statistical analysis of a set of textual data is that it may reveal those shortcuts, those subconscious preoccupations that emerge over the long term in the language we use. As I think I already mentioned, this kind of analysis is limited by small samples, and it's likewise limited by textual performances that are as highly scripted as the debates undoubtedly are. In other words, both things allow for more conscious, deliberate control over text.

And yet, there are things that can be said here. When I see, for example, the prominence of the phrase "hard work," my sense is that W is basically asking for the political equivalent of an "A for effort." Given how quickly they've been to accuse the Dems of "demeaning the sacrifice" of our troops, I think that they realize that, in the face of a very limited amount of success, they have to argue not that we've been successful, but rather that we've tried really, really hard. Of course, my gut response is that they've made a big deal out of the bankruptcy of such a tactic when it comes to teachers that they have no right to rely on it themselves. If teachers are to be judged purely on the basis of their students' test scores (i.e., quantitative results) regardless of how hard teachers work, then they should not shy from the same sort of accountability themselves. If it's not enough for teachers to "work hard" and "fail," then it's hypocritical of them not to abide by the same standard.

Now, a healthy dose of this is partisan interpretation on my part, I know, but the patterns unearthed by analyses like Cameron's, I would argue, give us avenues for that kind of interpretation, avenues that do carry some quantitative justification behind them. This doesn't mean that all language use can simply be reduced to statistical patterns--far from it, in fact--but rather that it is a mix of conscious art and subconscious pattern, and that to date, we've (and that's a disciplinary "we") been less inclined to pursue the latter element. I would say that the work of Don Foster is a notable exception to this, and I'm sure that there are others whose work I have yet to encounter, particularly in linguistics.

October 6, 2004

Red Facebook?

Just got a tip from Derek about a story in today's Daily Orange about theFacebook.com. Registration is required beyond the first page of the story, but it's free.

Apparently, the creators of ConnectU are suing the Facebook:

Winklevoss and his partners first envisioned in the winter of 2002 a Web site where students could post personal profiles and pictures as a way to improve the social life at Harvard University, Winklevoss said. Since none of them were experienced programmers, they enlisted several other Harvard students to help with the logistics and in November 2003, they approached Zuckerberg for assistance.

Winklevoss said that his group discussed details for the site and exchanged vital information with Zuckerberg under the assumption of an oral agreement "that he would become part of the team in exchange for a share of the benefits, glory, fame and money that would have occurred with the site's success."

How exactly Zuckerberg is to have "stolen source code" from people without programming experience is unclear. Heh. My guess is that the ConnectU folks are going to find that the "assumption of an oral agreement" isn't exactly binding. My second guess is that Zuckerberg took one look, figured out that he didn't really need them, and struck out on his own. The idea of a facebook is pretty public domain--lots of schools do it, and have done it since well before the Net--as are the various affordances offered by these kinds of sites. If Zuckerberg is an adept enough programmer to cost the CU people 2 months of delays, he's almost certainly adept enough to sufficiently adapt source code as well.

And it looks like the CU people realize this:

"We're moving on," [Winklevoss] said. "We'll spend as little time on the lawsuit as we can. The product will continue to grow and that's what we want to focus most of our energy on."


Thinking about a bunch of stuff today, but first, I'd like to go back to what the Vice President just said...

Kerry did it a couple of times, and apparently opened the floodgates. Driving up to Dallas last night, I listened to the debate on the radio, and by far, the most annoying aspect of it was the constant "going back" to previous answers. I understand the temptation to have the last word, but geez. I didn't get to see the candidates themselves, which leaves me hesitant to review the debate itself. Based on my hearing, I felt that the debate was pretty even in the sense that each of them seemed to accomplish what they were after. Cheney's "I don't know where to start" was really odd--on the one hand, it was clear that he was allowed to go off-script (unlike W, I suspect), but when he did, it seemed like he did so because he was flummoxed. (I've seen others say that he was disengaged.)

At any rate, there was a lot more substance, or attempts at substance, last night, and it matched up with a couple of things for me. First, Timothy Burke has a really interesting post today, one that starts from his attitude towards Larry Bowa's dismissal as manager of the Phillies and ends with discussions of evidence as they pertain both to academia and the current discussions about Iraq:

This has been a very large-scale issue with a lot of postmodernist or poststructuralist writing in the humanities and social sciences. Much of it, taken for what it seems to say, ought to make it impossible to make what passes for normal evidentiary use of texts and documents. But I’ve read so many manuscripts now where the author theoretically kicks out the legs of the chair he’s standing on and then tries to float immaculately on air. It might surprise some conservatives and skeptics who probably could uncork a rant about “postmodernist academics� in a moment’s notice, but I think this particular rhetorical gambit has become even more profoundly characteristic of conservative thought and writing than any form of consciously “postmodern� writing.

It seems to me that what Burke is getting at here, to a certain degree, is a contemporary version of what Paolo Valesio called the "rhetoric of no rhetoric," or for you fans of the manuFactor, the spin of no spin. The idea is something like being able to claim that your opponent's evidence is bad, and that somehow, this is evidence for your own claims. And at its root, at least in the context of the next month or so, it's really another form of negative campaigning. You deflect attention from your own record or your own failings or your own lack of positive claims by attacking your opponents'.

I don't know that it's a necessarily conservative strategy, but it makes sense to me that it would be an effective one for incumbents who wish to deflect attention. In this race, Bush and Cheney really can't propose "new" actions, because they've had 3+ years to do what they propose, and new strategies simply raise the question of why they haven't done it before. More broadly, though, this strategy imparts a kind of incumbency upon whoever adopts it, as it places the burden of proof upon an opponent, who must labor to demonstrate hir own lack of bias or the quality of evidence rather than confronting an opponent directly. It's a smart strategy, but it's also one that's largely dishonest. Not only does it distract, but it operates with a patently false assumption, that there's some zero degree of rhetoric, spin, bias that's achievable.

I have a second point to go with my "First," but I'll post it a little later.

October 5, 2004

currently reading

Critical Mass by Philip Ball
I must admit that I'm a little surprised to have not heard more about this book, Philip Ball's Critical Mass. At Amazon, it's paired with Wisdom of Crowds, which I've seen all over the place (and finally bought, I might add). Anyhow, CM is not your typical network book. Ball is a science writer who's done a number of different things, and many of them come together to confront the subtitle of his book, "How One Thing Leads to Another." In other words, like The Tipping Point, Emergence, and others, this is a book about change.

It's not quite as accessible as Johnson or Gladwell, perhaps, but that's because Ball locates network studies in the context of about 400 years worth of science, social science, physics, thermodynamics, economics, statistics, and so on. I'm only about halfway through, so I'll reserve my reviewy comments for when I finally finish it. It's probably not going to be specific enough for me to use it in my course next semester, but if there were a way for me to guarantee that everyone had already read it, I would. It's thick, and as it's only in hardcover, it's a little pricey, but it's also one of those books that really lays out cross-disciplinary connections in a way that's compelling for me.


About a month ago, I made mention of the infographic in the NYT about keyword frequencies at both the DNC and RNC. Along the same lines, both Cameron Marlow and Anjo Anjewierden have done similar analyses, this time on the smaller scale of the first Presidential debate.

I don't think that either analysis necessarily presents any surprises, at least for those of us who watched the debates carefully, but that's only because it's easier to grasp a 90-minute debate than it would be were the text(s) more substantial. In other words, relationships and frequencies are easier to gather (intuitively?) in a smaller set of data. What's impressive to me about each of these projects is that they confirm some of my impressions about the debate, and they can tackle much larger-scale texts than I myself would be able to. I hope that both Cameron and Anjo will add the results of the other 2 pres debates and perhaps even the VP one.

And I'll be watching to see how closely those subsequent events follow the patterns that they've laid out for the first...

October 2, 2004

What wouldn't I give to see this?

By now, I hope that this story is making the rounds, about the literally fake news story by FAUX News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron that appeared on the front page of the FAUX website:

The Fox News Web site on Friday retracted a story falsely purporting to quote Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry as saying at a rally the morning after debating President George W. Bush, "Women should like me! I do manicures" and "I'm metrosexual - he's a cowboy," referring to Bush.


So here's my question. Given the standards established by the Republicans for silencing dissent, couldn't the Democrats refuse by now to issue press credentials to FAUX, and require them to broadcast from a so-called "free speech zone"? I'm dead serious here. If U.S. citizens can be arrested for bearing signs or wearing t-shirts that disagree with GWB and his policies, then FAUX correspondents surely risk arrest every time they cover the Dems.

my spring course

One of the things I was really looking forward to, as I embarked both on my leave this semester and my trip, was the chance to finally start working seriously on the course I'll be teaching next semester. I started a blog for it last spring, but it fell by the wayside as I worked on the book manuscript, read dissertations chapters, etc. I'm starting to pick the material up again now, working my way through some of the reading, starting to think about how I'll lay the class out, and so on.

I mention this because I've posted an extended course description now for what will be CCR 711: Network(ed) Rhetorics, and anyone who's interested is more than welcome to take a look. I'm hoping to conduct as much of the course online as possible, and likewise hoping that I can recruit some guest bloggers for the course site. I want to try and network the course as much as possible.

I always try and find angles into my courses, ways to make them fresh for myself as well as the students, but this will be a course rooted strongly in my immediate interests, and I'm hoping to share my own process of exploration as part of the course. I place a lot of emphasis on modeling the processes of reading and writing for students, even at the graduate level, and this course should be exemplary in that regard. I'll be asking students to join me at the beginning of a "research program" rather than positioning myself as the final arbiter, or the expert.

Can you tell I'm excited?

October 1, 2004

These are not the Sinuses you're looking for

Just got back tonight from having not gone to see Mr. Sinus, but if I had gone there, then surely they must have spoofed upon Mac and Me. Goodness knows, with all the legal brouhaha they've recently been working through, that they wouldn't court controversy by choosing anything that hadn't been made a long time ago.

Finally caught a glimpse of Jodi, who's just now entering the second trimester. Me: "So how's it going?" She: "Three glorious days without nausea!!" (That was almost the title of this post.) She also updated us on the Scandal du Nom, and explained how she had had to go and claim a whole bunch of sinus-related domain names in anticipation of the big change. Or rather, all those things would have been part of the conversation, I'm certain, had that been where we'd actually gone tonight.

And it would have been hilarious, I'm sure, had we gone and seen them skewer Mac and Me. High-larious. The skit in the middle would have needed a little more rehearsing, I'm guessing, but it would have been great otherwise.

The only thing I wanted to hear from Coral Gables

"Mr. President, my position on Iraq has not changed because of politics; it has changed because the situation and the evidence changed. Adjusting a course of action to account for the best available evidence is not flip-flopping. It's leadership. Knowing what we know now, I would no more endorse your war than I would keep driving once I saw that the oncoming bridge was out. In Iraq, not only have you burned the bridges, but you've kept driving us towards them as if they were still there."

He came close a couple of times, and did a decent enough job, I suppose. Three other thoughts:

It was almost unbearable to watch the "expert commentators" weasel out of making any sort of claims about the debate, choosing instead to "wait until we've had a chance to see how it was received." In other words, here were CNN commentators basically admitting that they had to wait and see what everyone else thought before they'd be willing to admit to thinking themselves. Shameful.

But they had no monopoly on the shame front. Jenny and I watched the Daily Show afterwards, and while Clarke was clearly partisan, Rudy Guiliani crossed the line from partisanship to mindless TOOL. Guiliani actually described Saddam Hussein as a "weapon of mass destruction," and behaved as though that fulfilled Bush's rationale for going to war in the first place. Where's the Zellot when you need him? Rudy, you know what is a metaphor is, dontcha? Apparently not.

Okay, one last thought, and I'm done. When asked about the Sudan, Kerry delivered a concise diagnosis of the problem, and offered a specific policy change (shift our focus to logistic aid). Bush repeated almost everything Kerry said, minus the specific policy (and minus any explanation of why he's not done anything yet), adding only that the "rainy season" there was almost over. Ummm, Mr. President, why haven't you intervened in a situation your own Secretary of State describes as a virtual genocide? It hasn't stopped raining yet? Oh, okay. Thanks. If I hadn't decided yet to vote, and for whom to vote, that'd be enough for me.