June 7, 2004

I disapprove this message

It's been a while since I've seen W's commercials about how Kerry will raise taxes on the price of gas, and I'm assuming that this is no coincidence. Tonight, though, I caught a new one, about how Kerry is "playing politics with national security." The irony of that is too easy when the commercial itself is about the Patriot Act.

Anyhow, the commercial basically explains that wiretaps, surveillance, etc., are vital tools in the war against drugs, but that Kerry, who now stands against the PA, would deprive us of said tools in the war against terrorism. I know, I know. Again, really easy to point out that the difference is not whether or not the tools can be used, but rather the degree of latitude and accountability law enforcement encounters upon their use.

The point I thought I'd raise here, since I know that there's undoubtedly a horde of GOP staffers scanning the web for mentions, is that the Bush campaign might want to reconsider the wisdom of running commercials in upstate NY right now extolling the virtues of the Patriot Act. Or Portland, for that matter. Problem is most of the successes (and I assume that there have been plenty) are invisible, and that only heightens the visibility of the abuses and mistakes.

No big conclusion. It was just ironic to see this commercial for the first time after hearing about Kurtz and Mayfield for the past couple of weeks...

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 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 medium—whether television, radio, film, print, or Internet—for 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 us—in our blogs, in the beauty salon and bowling alley, in public demonstrations—and 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...

October 1, 2004

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.

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.

October 5, 2004


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 7, 2004

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 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., 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.

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 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 29, 2004

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.

November 3, 2004


I am deeply, profoundly disappointed. If I have time over the next few days, I'll elaborate. In the meantime, I offer Mark Morford from SF Gate:

It simply boggles the mind: we've already had four years of some of the most appalling and abusive foreign and domestic policy in American history, some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace and it's all combined with the biggest and most violently botched and grossly mismanaged war since Vietnam, and much of the nation still insists in living in a giant vat of utter blind faith, still insists on believing the man in the White House couldn't possibly be treating them like a dog treats a fire hydrant.

Inexplicable? Not really. People want to believe. They want to trust their leaders, even against all screaming, neon-lit evidence and stack upon stack of flagrant, impeachment-grade lie. They simply cannot allow that Dubya might really be an utter boob and that they are being treated like an abused, beaten housewife who keeps coming back for more, insisting her drunk husband didn't mean it, that she probably had it coming, that the cuts and bruises and blood and broken bones are all for her own good.

I listened to NPR and talk radio today for as long as I could. I got to hear people like George Lakoff, Thomas Frank, and others try to explain yesterday's results. For me, though, it comes down to one thing--the Reps are far better than the Dems at juking the system. I'm not suggesting that's the only reason that Bush won, but the fact that 1/4 of the states had gay marriage bans on the ballot guaranteed a sizable vote from the more intolerant of my fellow Americans. Any guess about which way that vote broke? The amazing thing about that (and I heard plenty of callers today announce that it was one of the reasons they voted for Bush) is that Kerry is no more liberal than Bush on that topic.

And the fact that these referenda were on the ballot yesterday is not an accident. Blah blah blah mobilize the base blah blah blah. The quickest way to get those people to vote is to play on their fear and/or hatred. And it worked again. Hooray for phobocracy.

November 9, 2004

The Long Tail of Politics

Is there an opposite of nostalgia (and by nostalgia I mean its etymological root meaning of homesickness)? I woke up this morning with what I can only describe as post-peripatetic depression. Okay, I could probably think of a better term, but for the last two months, I've had "somewhere to go" even when I was in the same location for a week or two. The prospect of laundry, groceries, undoing the mess I left in my apartment, or even removing the dust from that mess fills me with the will-to-nap.

The blog it eyes me suspiciously, as I owe it rundowns of both days of the conference as well as the final stats on my trip, but it will have to wait. I'll probably predate and put them up in the next day or two.

I stopped by campus yesterday for a faculty meeting on revising some of our grad program policies--figuring that, since I'll be taking it over in the spring, I should keep abreast of exactly what I'll be taking over. Afterwards, I stopped by Steve Parks's office. Steve is in his first year here at SU, having been hired away from Temple, and he's started a blog that more than a few of you will be interested in: it's Right now, it's basically Steve's blog, but he's hoping to build it up into something a little more collective. Take a look, add it to your 'rolls, etc. And be sure to welcome Steve, who's new to all of this.

Steve and I had a nice chat yesterday about all sorts of stuff, but I wanted to jot down a few notes here about something that first occurred to me during Convergences and which I repeated during that chat yesterday. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a couple of entries about Chris Anderson's WIRED article on the long tail (although somewhat obliquely in the third entry). In the meantime, I've been thinking about it some. Here's one of the illustrations to Anderson's article:

long tail graph

The x-axis represents individual titles and the y-axis sales figures. One of Anderson's points is that the next generation of resellers (Amazon, Netflix, Rhapsody, et al) is not constrained by physical scarcity, like shelf space, and can thus afford to set their threshholds much further down the curve, making less popular works available to consumers. As I think I mentioned last week, one of the successes of this strategy is that, since Amazon "stocks" academic press books, I'm loyal, and more likely to order popular press books from them, even when I can get them at Borders. In other words, there's a certain amount of long tail loyalty that persists, and that's where they compete with the bricks-and-mortar booksellers. Amazon's more obscure titles also help them sell the big ones.

So, what if the Republican party is pursuing the same strategy?

I'm no political historian, so I could be entirely wrong here. I know that power law curves have been applied to voting numbers and elections, so try this: treat the x-axis as the various kinds of elections, from Presidential all the way down to local, and imagine that the y-axis is the number of voters. My hunch is that this graph would look pretty similar: tons of folks voting in national elections, with a long tail of relatively low-turnout local elections.

In the 90s (and again with the caveat here), the Reps did the whole Gingrich, Contract with America thing, and I remember hearing about a lot of conservative grass-roots organizing--perhaps you recall Gingrich's "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control"? While we're bemoaning the emergence of Jesusland, I wonder honestly if we're actually seeing the results of that work in the 90s.

Because here's the deal. Unless you're a celebrity (like the Governator or Daddy's little shrub), you work your way up the ladder--you start at the tail and work towards the head. But there are advantages to incumbency--people see your name associated with victory and are more likely to make that association when they vote--so that success in the long tail may gradually trickle a candidate up towards the head.

I've been thinking about this because Steve and I chatted yesterday about this entry of his, wherein the Texas Board of Education embarks on a crusade to purge our textbooks of "asexual stealth phrases." But this isn't happening because Bush was re-elected, or at least, not only because of that. It's too simple to say that this kind of censorship is happening because Reps care about school board elections and Dems don't, but there's something to this, I think, because it's equally oversimplified to lay all of it at the feet of the national polidrama. There are limits to how successful any one candidate can be at reaching individual voters, and I think this election made that painfully clear. As shocking as it may seem, there were an awful lot of people who seemed to think that W was, on a macro level, more representative of their micro interests. Seems to me that one of the potential strategies to combat this, rather than finding more and more conservative Democrats, would be to work in a coordinated fashion at the micro level. Which, unless I miss my guess, is what the Reps have been doing for the better part of a generation now.

November 17, 2004

The P word

Here's one of the most direct, no-nonsense statements I've seen about what needs to happen in the Democratic party: 3 November Theses. No "coalition of regret, devoid of feck" here, folks.

Never having been especially happy terming myself a liberal, I think that this is the document that convinces me of the need to reframe "liberal v. conservative" as "progressive v. fundamentalist."

[via joho]

November 9, 2005

I smell Recount!

November 8 will go down in history as one of the days prompting me to change my 100 things (apparently its obsolete design hasn't been enough to light a fire under my ass): as of November 8, my father is no longer the Mayor of Davenport, IA. Technically, I think his term lasts until the turn of the year when the new mayor is sworn in, but that's mostly a guess on my part.

The new mayor, duly elected and all, is Ed Winborn, one of whose sons I used to play softball with, and one of whose daughters I used to have a crush on. I also used to live a block or two up the hill from him, back in the day. It'd be a more exciting "Brush with Fame" story if he weren't taking over for a direct relative...

But that's not the whole story. Rather than seeking a 3rd term as mayor, my dad ran for City Council out of the 6th Ward in Davenport, and won by four votes, 1483 to 1479. Yes, that's right: four votes. And that was one of four races each of which was decided by less than 50 votes, I think.

So yes, there will be counting, recounting, and rerecounting, I'm sure. All the same, congratulations, Dad!

March 2, 2006

Dueling Posters

As you might expect, the news that Ann Coulter will be visiting campus has stirred the hearts and minds of at least a couple of people here at SU. I submit for your perusal just two of the posters appearing on the first-floor bulletin board. I leave it to you to determine their divergent origins...

Poster 1 (pdf)
Poster 2 (pdf)

April 21, 2006

The Rhetoric of Rollback

I don't have a great deal to say about this, but lately, I've been somewhat fascinated by the resignation of Scott McClellan. In particular, I'd like to recommend to you Jay Rosen's analysis of McClellan, whom Rosen sees as a crucial figure in what he calls the "Rollback" of media privileges at the current White House. Let me quote at length (although there's plenty more where this came from):

McClellan’s specialty was non-communication; what’s remarkable about him as a choice for press secretary is that he had no special talent for explaining Bush’s policies to the world. In fact, he usually made things less clear by talking about them. We have to assume that this is the way the President wanted it; and if we do assume that it forces us to ask: why use a bad explainer and a rotten communicator as your spokesman before the entire world? Isn’t that just dumb— and bad politics? Wouldn’t it be suicidal in a media-driven age with its 24-hour news cycle?

You would think so, but if the goal is to skate through unquestioned—because the gaps in your explanations are so large to start with—then to refuse to explain is a demonstration of raw presidential power. (As in “never apologize, never explain.�) So this is another reason McClellan was there. Not to be persuasive, but to refute the assumption that there was anyone the White House needed or wanted to persuade— least of all the press!

What's fascinating to me about this is how the WH has (successfully) undermined something that many of us in rhet/comp simply take on faith--the value of effective communication. Of course, one could argue that McClellan was wildly successful and effective in his (non)communication. But there's something deeply cynical about this, and directly at odds with the optimism necessary to teach writing (or speaking, for that matter). We have to believe that the skills and talents necessary to communicate well will ultimately carry their own rewards. Goodness knows, it's difficult enough to teach what is perceived as a contentless course without having that fundamental optimism thrown into question.

And I don't mean to suggest that we should all now experience existential crises because of one demonstrable moron, regardless of how centrally placed McClellan happened to be. The larger pattern includes a lot more people who were hired by the current WH not because they were in any way qualified but because they assented. McClellan's just one of many.

At the same time, though, when I think what a blow this administration has dealt to the idea of reasoned discourse, the idea that we can and should communicate with one another, and that we should make a good faith effort to persuade and to be persuaded--when I think of that blow, it makes me a little sad. I know that, as ideals go, this one is pretty impossible, but it's one of the ideals that underlies our society far more than I think we sometimes realize. As we teach our students to write themselves and the world, we do so with an ethic that is undercut both by the idea that "McClellan was there to make executive power more illegible" and by the fact that no one really ever called the WH on it, not the press, not those of us interested in rhetoric, not the general public.

Anyways. Anyone interested in contemporary rhetoric and particularly political rhetoric should zip over and bookmark Rosen's column.

That is all.

August 1, 2006

Academies & Publics

One of the very best thing for me about reading blogs, particularly those from separate contexts, is what Frans Johansson calls the Medici Effect (Amazon), the sometimes productive insights that come when you bang together ideas from different domains. It's also what Greg Ulmer calls conduction. But anyways, I was tidying up Bloglines this morning, and each of the following entries struck me for longer than usual. They're speaking to different issues, but in obvious ways, they started speaking to each other in my head:

First, Ray Cha's discussion of "academics in the role of public intellectual" at if:book. Cha looks at the recent CHE collection of high-profile academic bloggers commenting on the Juan Cole situation, and among other things, writes

I do not mean to suggest that every professor needs to blog. However, on the whole, university presidents and department heads needs to acknowledge that they do have an obligation to make their scholarship accessible to the public. Scholarship for its own sake or its own isolated community has little or no social value.

And then, over at Easily Distracted, Timothy Burke picks up a thread from some discussion of the Ward Churchill controversy, in a post called "Core Truths":

I think it’s worth trying to figure out how intellectuals can operate in multiple arenas or discourses. [snip, with a big However in between these two excerpts]

Quite aside from the problem of assuming the political virtue of doing so, I think it’s anything but clear that legitimating a distinctly non-scholarly epistemology inside academic discourse empowers those that hold to that epistemology: more likely all it does is slightly change the configuration of turf wars for academic resources within universities.

Often, when my wires are crossed as they were by these two entries, I'll try and sort through my reactions to come up with something more univocal. No such luck today, I fear. There are points I agree with in each, but also, as I think these excerpts demonstrate, a fundamental disagreement when taken together. You might say that the two entries, as well as the conversations that they are responding to, are unified by a concern for epistemologial spaces that differ or depart from the space traditionally demarcated (and thus legitimated) by the institutions of discipline and university.

Now, if I haven't confused these posts enough, I can easily imagine careful arguments to be made in opposition to each as well. And rather than try and sort through them here, I'll leave you to assemble your own conversational knot. Neither represents a discussion that a single blog entry is likely to conclude to anyone's satisfaction.

That is all.

November 5, 2006

For example, trending

I've seen this link crop up in several places over the last week or two, but you never know who's seen it or not. So...

Chirag Mehta's Presidential tagclouds

Chirag Mehta has generated tagclouds for Presidential documents/speeches (State of the Union Addresses and others), going back to 1776, and offered them for your perusal. (Usability note: I found it a lot easier to use the arrow keys to move the slider back and forth one at a time, but didn't figure out that I could use them until the fourth time I visited the site...)

It's an incredibly cool project, and what we're doing over at the CCCOA is obviously related, although our output is structured in different ways. Although we've got other things occupying our front burners at the moment, this site has definitely got me thinking about how we might build on our work there. More broadly, and perhaps relevantly, it's also got me thinking about how visualizations of trends in language usage might be folded in to some of the work we do in our field.

That's all.

January 10, 2008


Some miscellaneous reflections upon the occasion of the Iowa Caucuses, during which I had the misfortune of being in Iowa:

It is INSANE to me that we would continue to employ what is basically a 19th century system for choosing our leaders in this the 21st century. Iowa and New Hampshire have, as many many many have pointed out, an incredibly disproportionate effect on the process, and it is a process that is highly susceptible, as a result, to media manipulation.

Nowhere was this more clear to me than at ground zero, where I stopped answering the phone after my second or third day in town. Got to the point where I stopped answering the door as well. Got to the point where I would multiple television shows at once, so I could switch channels when the 5 minute spin breaks interrupted my viewing. There was a tremendous amount of money being thrown at the Iowa voters, and it put me in mind of what Baudrillard said a long time ago about information devouring communication. It was pure white noise after a while.

And yet, it should be said that Iowans take the process about as seriously as anyone could in those circumstances. We/they take an odd sort of pride in their caucus, and in their willingness to talk to anyone who's willing to talk to them. They don't take the national spin (Clinton is unstoppable, e.g.) as gospel, and most of the folks I saw and talked to made every effort to meet and/or see as many candidates as they could. They studied the issues, made their decisions, and as best as I could tell (having not caucused myself), did the best that they could. They turned out in record numbers on a bitterly cold night, showed up in uncomfortable spaces (school gyms, town halls, living rooms, etc.), and participated.

Sure, the bigger states are more important, but Iowa and New Hampshire, for their flaws, are manageable for candidates who don't have all the money of the frontrunners. And until there's a system which doesn't exert a subtle class pressure on the candidates, it could be worse.

And yet, the night before the Caucus, one of our local stations spent 2-3 minutes of the first 10 of its broadcast (you know, the actual "news" part) detailing the travels and thoughts of an area college junior who decided to bring a Mr. Potato-Head with him to meet the candidates, and had each one pose with it for a picture. The only one who refused? Joe Biden.

(That sound you hear is Biden earning my respect.)

The flip side of the pride and gravitas with which many Iowans approach the process is the Potato-Head of it all--the countless number of kooks and jackasses who ask these men and women to humiliate themselves in front of their Iowa audiences for a handful of votes. We don't see much of this in the coverage, because the media is too busy trying to earn their own keep by offering up grave pronouncements and exaggerations. (I refer you to Chris Matthews' WTF Lawrence of Arabia analogy. Nuff said.) They're far too busy trying to influence the process to be able to accurately describe it, unfortunately.

So those are my reflections. I didn't actually attend the Caucus, since I'm registered in NY. But it is all but impossible to be in Iowa during Caucus season and not to be bombarded by the spam that the process generates.

That is all.