Clients from Hell

For more evidence of why an extensive education in rhetoric might be valuable in the 21st century broadcast society, please see Clients from Hell.


Reflections: Rickert's Acts of Enjoyment

I thought I would share a few paragraphs from Thomas Rickert's Acts of Enjoyment:

The point, ultimately, is not that we should immediately change the pedagogical road we are on. This would risk falling into the same critical mode I am discussing, whereby psychoanalytic critique becomes the new authority underwriting more sophisticated control pedagogies. Rather, I suggest that we come to see the road differently, to think about it afresh, and perhaps to try detours or other routes, not by replicating the latest new pedagogies but by reinhabiting current pedagogies through an evolving sensibility. (172)

Thomas follows by arguing that one strategy for reframing (enframing?) the pedagogy we inhabit concerns surprise. We need to both foster an appreciation for open possibility and develop open-ended syllabi that transfer control of curriculum and pedagogy to, if not the students, the kairotic moment that contains the students, the teachers, and the work. This, however, comes with strong disclaimers:

This [surprise being unpredictable and uncodifiable] means that it [suprise] violates one of composition's most dearly held imperatives--that, as D Diane Davis, following Vitanza, puts it, "every theory be immediately translatable into workable classroom practice for the pedagogue" (Breaking 222; see also Vitanza, "Three" 160-161). Surprise cannot be orchestrated in advance as the glittering pedagogical prize achieved by means of good theories devoted towards just ends. Rather, the pedagogue is just as implicated as the students in the kairotic moment(s) that may arise; further it is this mutual implication that makes of the pedagogy a unique moment beyond the possibility of repetition or control. (172-73)

I am drawn to these passages because they articulate a theoretical grounding for the ways in which I have been shaping my expository writing classroom, moving away from traditional models of composition (the default syllabus for the course was based on the EDNA model) to more open-ended and student driven projects. When this class goes right, there is a serendipitous element to it. Such an element cannot be guaranteed.

Rickert is critical towards the critical mandate that informs many composition models--the idea that students' perceptions of the [material] world must be (either) deprogrammed or reprogrammed. Through a student-oriented (I'll avoid the term centered for a moment) digital pedagogy, I am looking to increase student interaction with others, to help them integrate into a community of their choice, to teach forms of participation. There is certainly a "politics" to this pedagogy, but I would be hesitant to label it a "critical" one. The course (to borrow from Vitanza) says "yes" to students in the zones they inhabit, and asks them to say "yes" some more. Such a concern on my part does not promise "good" behavior--students are encouraged to form identities, ethos, voices suitable to their community. Thus, I am not selling a postpedagogical pill to cure the "disaffected attitudes and behavior, including cynicism, apathy, disregard for others, and violence" that marks the postmodern, critical, post-Oedipalized subjectivity Rickert traces through Faigley, Sacks, Zizek, DeLeuze, and Cobain. What I have discovered after teaching this course for several semesters, is that students often develop concern for themselves, their representation, and for others when they interact with communities of their choosing online. And I consider this a good enough thing.

If I feel that something is missing from this pedagogy, and I sometimes do, it is that I have lost virtually any nothing of what Rickert refers to as "contention"--of the interruptive (Freud might call it the disequilibriative) moment. I'll admit my cultural studies background sometimes comes calling; my desire to throw a deconstructive monkeywrench into my students ideological narrative machine hasn't gone away. But I am choosing, for now at least, to endorse civic practices over critical theory because I believe the function of the ruined University lies more with ethics than with epistemology, acting than thinking, community processes than individual scholarship.


A Not-So-Sophistical Defense for Going for It

First of all, congratulations to the Colts for an amazing second-half. They played better and they won the game. And they don't deserve the criticism that "Belichick handed them the win."

  1. How often are coaches criticized for "coaching not to lose"? For being too conservative? Last night was an aggressive call, no doubt. But it was a call to win the game when you had your hands on it. Let's face it, this isn't like the Patriot SB teams that win with defense. When this team beats you, the ball is in Brady's hands.
  2. Those who have read Halberstam's excellent Education of a Coach will remember that it has a dedicated discussion of going for it on 4th down. In short, academic statistical analysis supports the idea that coaches should go for it on 4th down every time they have 4th and short. They should go for it on 4th down every time they are across their own 40. Statistically, the possible reward of keeping the football is worth any risk. Essentially, going for it on 4th down isn't a matter of overcoming difficulty on the field as much as overcoming the psychological and cultural perception of going for it on 4th down. Yeah, its a rhetorical thing.
  3. The Patriots hadn't put the running back in motion to create an empty backfield all night. Remember that the play in theory worked--Faulk was open and caught the ball beyond the first down marker. However, in practice, he juggled it and lost forward progress. These things happen. But saving the running back quick out (matched up on an inside linebacker, I believe) for when you really need it is the kind of things that the hoodie does. Once again, the human element and the statistical/theoretical element might be in conflict here--but that doesn't mean that going for it wasn't the right decision.
  4. As far as Belichick having to apologize to his defense, I think this needs to be revised: the defense has to apologize to the offense. The offense spotted the Colts a 24-7 lead. In the second half of that game, the defense played the roll of butter, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne the roll of hot knife.
  5. Finally, I think Belichick had visions back to the 2006 Playoff game. Remember that the Pats blew a 21-6 halftime lead in that game. Remember, too, that Belichick called the game conservatively in the fourth quarter--I do think that ghost showed up in the 4th quarter last night.

Was I surprised to see the call last night? Not really. Not as someone who has watched Patriot games for the past decade. The Patriots have always played to win the game. Last night, they just came up a foot short when they really needed it. And, oh, by the way, did anyone notice how the defense failed to even make Peyton Manning blink on that final drive? That's why you go for it on 4th down. You play (call) to win the game.


Why the New "V" Isn't "Battlestar"

This started as an email to Casey's question of what I thought of the new V last night. He remarked that the show had clear conservative overtones. My response:

I agree on the conservative overtones- but art is meant to probe and question reality, and our current reality seems fairly liberal, so that's not too surprising? Eh, that's bullshit. I was surprised to see a show so overtly critique Obama's political agenda. Especially since, while I don't have demographics, most sci-fi fans are likely liberal. Although there's always Ayn Rand--maybe they are playing to that audience?

Overall, I didn't think it was a great first episode in the way that Battlestar grabbed me immediately. I think the show is trying very hard to bridge Battlestar and Lost, to produce the kind of tension and mystery that marks those shows.

Ultimately, it will likely fail on those fronts--here's why: Battlestar and Lost work extremely well in that they, like any great piece of art (but especially the pomo stuff), problematize clear notions of good and evil, us and them. V doesn't have that option. They are evil (most of them), we are good, let the struggle resume. This, of course, is also the foundation of conservative politics. But in the long run, this kind of clear opposition doesn't speak to our contemporary milieu. Perhaps, as I intimated above, there are a group of conservatives today who fear that Obama brings an evil covered in smiles, and that we need to unmask the "Red-Lizard" threat. But I don't really think so.

We'll see.


Jon Stewart on Fox News

I discovered this at the Blogora this morning, and posted it to Facebook already. But I do have a few friends, well at least one, who resist the siren song of Facebook. So here's the video clip with my short, glib commentary.

The comment that MSNBC wishes they could be Fox News was on point, though I think the Washington Senators would have improved the analogy. The closing nod to Nietzsche, and the acknowledgment that the White House doesn't complain about MSNBC because "they agree with us," demonstrates that contemporary comedy is often more transparent, and thus more trustworthy, than either politicians or news agencies. Given Fox News' parodic claims to "balance," and Obama's intense interest in media new and old, the vituperate nature of this clash isn't too surprising. A reminder that the death of the author equates to the propogation of authors.

For those unfamiliar with Nietzsche, here's the relevant passage from his "We Scholars" in Beyond Good and Evil (I'll quote at length his comparison between meager intellectual laborers and true philosophers, but you really only need skip to the last line):

Those philosopical laborers after the noble model of Kant and Hegel have to determine and pres into formulas, whether in the realm of logic or political (moral) thought or art, some great data of valuations--that is, former positings of values, creations of value which have become dominant and are for a time called "truths." It is for these investigators to make everything that has happened and been esteemed so far easy to look over, easy to think over, intelligible and manageable, to abbreviate everything long, even "time," and to overcome the entire past--an enormous and wonderful task in whose service every subtle pride, every tough will can certainly find satisfaction. Genuine philosophers, however, are commanders and legislators: they say, "thus it shall be!" They first determine the Whither and For What of man, and in so doing have at their disposal the preliminary labor of all philosophical laborers, all who have overcome the past. With a creative hand they reach for the future, and all that is and has been becomes a means for them, an instrument, a hammer. Their "knowing" is creating, their creating is a legislation, their will to truth is--will to power.

What I find interesting here is that both Fox News and Obama represent this Will to Power--Kaufmann's choice of "legislate" works well for me, since both Fox and Obama equal share legislative power. Notice, too, that Nietzsche emphasizes "thus...shall" and not "it...be." Being here (object) is less important than emergence of Being, or the rhetoric of Being, of power to influence Being's becoming in the public eye. Thinking about politics over the past few months, it seems as if Fox News is beating Obama, that his Power is waning.

Of course, I feel compelled to say "Obama," as I am using it above, becomes something that Obama [flesh and blood] could not possibly contain or control. It becomes mimetic. As "we" host it, we invest in it. We invest more than it could hope to contain. Bubbles burst. Frustrations remain. As old notions of authority become evermore loquacious, I can't help but think of Nietzsche's "Night Song":

Night has come: alas, that I must be light! And thirst for the nocturnal! And loneliness! Night has come: now my craving breaks out of me like a well; to speak I crave. Night has come: now all fountains speak more loudly. And my soul, too, is a fountain. Night has come: now all the songs of lovers awaken. And my soul, too, is the song of a lover ("Thus Spoke Zarathustra")

It will be interesting, as we move toward 2012, to see and hear, in the era of increasingly democratized media, the overflow of fountains.


Links for Talk

I'm guest lecturing in a graduate course tonight on the evolution from literacy to digitality (my playful name for the talk is "From the Ear to the Eye to the Mouth: Orality, Literacy, and Digitality"). I didn't have time to make a web presentation, so I'm posting some links I might need here:


Talkin' Shop: Teaching Direct Quotation

I'm doing a nuts-and-bolts topoi approach to direct quotation today, and I thought I would share my brief overlay. I'm also interested in how other people approach the subject.

In class today we are going to focus on incorporating direct quotations into writing. Essentially, I consider quotes a 4 part process. There's the signal, the quote, the summary, and the analysis. While we'll be using this specifically for direct quotes today and this weekend, this is essentially the undelrying structure for most academic-argumentative paragraphs: a claim, followed by evidence, and analysis. The signal works to create ethos for the source: the source itself can either present logos or pathos (similarly, you can react to sources in the vein of logos or pathos).

  • Signal: who, what, where, when. Note that what/where can be a reference to a kind of media [article, book, poem, website, blog post], a genre [sonnet, dialogue, operational manual], or location/event [press conference, reporting from the steps of the White House]
  • Quote: in-line citations use quotation marks and are generally three lines or less. Block citations do not use quotation marks and are indented from the rest of the text.
  • Summary: especially for block quotations, you need to reduce a block of text to a single-line.
  • Analysis: Reaction, counter-argument, point to similar situation, offer further information, use the bridge, "in order to appreciate X's argument, it helps to know about/explore/etc

Here's an example; let's say I was writing a blog on the struggles of newspapers to survive the digital transition, I might want to point to the October 15th, 2009 NYT's article dealing with the Times Co. decision to hold on to the Boston Globe.

In his recent article, Richard Perez-Pena explains that the Times Co. has decided to hold onto the Boston Globe, at least for now. Perez-Pena explains that the Times Co. has been trying to sell the newspaper for the past month, but, since it hasn't received what it deems a credible offer, it has decided to pull the paper off the market. He writes:

Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University who has closely followed The Globe’s troubles, said it might be better for The Globe to remain with the Times Company than to go to a new owner that might do more cutting or replace top executives. “But the company has its work cut out for it in terms of rebuilding credibility with the employees and the community,” he said.

Perez-Pena explains that the Times Co. has been involved in bitter labor disputes over the past year, as advertising revenues continue to fall: this move, as Kennedy notes above, could be a solid first move in rebuilding an important relationship with one of America's oldest, and most significant, newspapers. However, I think we still need to be a bit skeptical here: the fact that no one even proposed a reasonable offer for a newspaper that only 15 years ago commanded 1 billion dollars, the highest price ever for a single newspaper (Perez-Pena), does not bode well for the future of the industry. Like many newspapers, the Globe was slow to adapt to the digitalization of America's infosphere. Time will tell if recent efforts are too little too late.

If you look above, I first contextualize the quote--not only supplying where/when/who it came from, but also providing some sense of what the whole article discusses. Then I focus attention toward a particular point and supply the quote. After the quote, I first reiterate what the quote said (providing a bit of new information). This is an important step that a lot of writers skip. Always make sure you summarize a quote, so a reader knows precisely what you think it says. Then, in the final part of the paragraph above, I analyze the material. I respond to it. In this particular case, I am somewhat critical of the optimism that underlies Perez-Pena's piece.

A few other small points:

  • Notice the first time I reference an author, I use there first and last name. After that, it is sufficient to only use the last name.
  • Notice that I don't have a citation after the direct quotation: the reason here is that it is obvious where the quote came from thanks to my signal. This is an electronic source, so there is no page number citation, were it a print source I would have to include that. NEVER USE A PAGE NUMBER IN THE SIGNAL TEXT.
  • Notice in my analysis that I make a parenthetical to the author--its because I pulled the price of the Globe purchase in 1993 from his article. I don't directly quote it, so no quotation marks.
  • Finally, there's two kinds of quotations, in-line quotations and block quotations. Each have there own rules for academic papers (the dreaded MLA and APA guidelines). We will deal with those later in the course. In terms of blogging: quotes longer than 4 lines need to be blockquoted. Blogger has a button to help you do this. Blockquotes don't receive quotation marks.


Wait Til Next Year?

As a Boston/New England sports fan, the first decade of the new century went rather well. Perhaps too well. Our cultural ethos is constructed around losing and misfortune. Might it be that things are returning to normal?

This was an odd year for the Red Sox. While the offense struggled mightily, and while the pitching staff failed to live up to the lofty expectations, the Sox still made the playoffs. To lose in a sweep is a bit unexpected; to see Papelbon blow the save seems fitting for a season in which he, and other beloved veterans, struggled.

The Red Sox still have a very good collection of young players. The bloated contract of J.D. Drew will haunt them for at least one more year (two if Drew stays healthy). It will be interesting to see what happens with Jason Varitek and Jason Bay in the off-season. ESPN doesn't have the CERA (catcher's ERA) numbers for Martinez behind the plate, but I am going to guess its not as good as Varitek's 3.87 (since the team ERA on the season is 4.35). It should not be overlooked that Martinez, and not Varitek, was catching yesterday as the Red Sox stellar, hard-throwing bullpen imploded. I was previously concerned about this.

Bay had a roller-coaster season. I imagine he is seeing dollar signs this off-season. The Yankees have a considerable amount of money rolling off the books this year. I still fully expect Carl Crawford to execute the one million dollar buyout on his contract to become a free agent. That will put Crawford, Bay, and Matt Holliday (ouch, that error hurt--I still think his numbers with St. Louis were an aberration--buyer beware with this guy) at the top of a talented group of free agent outfielders, that additionally includes Manny, a resurgent Abreu, Magglio Ordonez (injuries a factor here), and others. Most of the major markets--Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers (bye bye Manny?) will be potential buyers.

I have a feeling that the team will see a major shake-up this off-season: only time will tell if Varitek, Bay, Papelbon, or Mike Lowell returns next season. Papelbon in particular will be interesting to watch. The Red Sox still control him, but they have had difficulty coming to terms the past few seasons--and just barely avoided arbitration last year. I think part of the hesitation here is giving Papelbon, who has a chronic shoulder issue, a high-end long term deal. To avoid arbitration, and make the deal worthwhile for all sides, the contract would likely work out something like 32 million for 4 years (K-Rod got 37 million for 3 as an outright free agent). I had a feeling, when the Sox wouldn't pull the trigger on the Halladay deal, that Bard was being groomed as a future closer. So, as much as I love the glare, I wonder how much longer Papelbon will be in Boston. Please note that my wondering has absolutely nothing to do with his performance yesterday. He lived dangerously at times this season, but is still a top closer. I just think, medically and economically, the Red Sox front office has showed hesitation to lock up Paps as they have locked up Pedroia, Youkilis, and Lester.

As to the Patriots, it is very hard for me to watch Tom Brady right now, if only because he set the bar so high. But his deep ball looks as accurate as JaMarcus Russell's right now. I remember when Joe Montana returned from his elbow injury- though still great, he wasn't Joe Montana. That's how I feel watching Brady right now. Again, time will tell whether, like Donovan McNabb, he is able to recover from this injury or if, like Carson Palmer, Brady never quite returns to the level he was pre-injury.


Reading Cicero Otherwise

So I am more and more coming to the realization that I will likely have to learn at least Latin, if not Greek, in the coming years. My Latin is tolerable enough to work through small passages, but I admit to being reliant on translations. Reading Cicero in preparation for my graduate seminar this week, I was struck by what I believe to be a telling anachronism in a passage from J. S. Watson's 1970 translation:

For the proper concern of an orator, as I have already said, is language of power and elegance accommodated to the feelings and understandings of mankind. (20)

It was that last word that really struck me--mankind, since, to my knowledge, the Greeks did not have such a conception (this, I realize is a difficult statement--certainly, Plato and Isocrates, via Idealism and Hellenism, approach the concept, but I don't want to engage that fight here). Now I realize that Cicero is a Roman--but the opening section of his De Oratore is a pragmatic response to Plato's treatment of rhetoric. Essentially, Cicero argues that Plato, sitting in his corner (an allusion to Aristophanes' The Clouds), discusses important matters in dead, lifeless, bloodness, dry, academic language. The power of the orator comes in injecting life into this language--imbuing it with an animating passion.

It was this celebration of language that got my spider sense tingling--because, beyond the direct Enlightenment language of "mankind," I also hear an 18th century preference for understanding over passion. Readers of Addison and Samuel Johnson will be familiar with such an echo. To confirm my suspicion, I checked a few other [free, electronic] translations of the passage. First, from the 1904 E. N. P. Moor translation:

For the special province of the orator is, as I have said already more than once, to express himself in a style at once impressive and artistic and comfortable with the thoughts and feelings of human nature.

I hear in this one a remnant of Ramus--a reduction of oratory from style (I can't get into it here--but Cicero is suspicious of the term rhetoric, linking it to books, and prefers the term oratory, stressing the performative elements. Style has a default logography to it. Hmm.

From the 1822 Guthrie translation:

For, as I have often said, the province of an orator is to talk in a language that is proper, graceful, and suited to the affections and understandings of mankind.

"Proper" and "graceful" here are powerful Enlightenment concepts--connected to the Order of the Beautiful. A bit of interpretive induction suggests that the orators' power isn't suitable to the occassion, but rather to the Truth of Mankind. Again, I am reading beyond the lines, but I believe such a reading is productive.

Now, like I said, my Latin is rusty and was never close to fluent. But here's the original Latin:

hoc enim est proprium oratoris, quod saepe iam dixi, oratio gravis et ornata et hominum sensibus ac mentibus accommodata.

Rather than transform "hominum sensibus" as some form of "understanding of mankind"--which seems to [theoretically] universalist and [philologically] sloppy--I chose to go with a more literal representation of the words: one that captures sensibus as feeling/perception in connection with the senses. Additionally, let accommodata ring with its sense of "suitability" or "propriety." So, my amateur interpretation would look something like this:

For the particular being of oratory is, as said, weighty/pregnant speech furnished by a perceiving mind and adaptable disposition/soul.

While the use of soul might seem odd here, remember that this is Cicero's most direct response to Platonic censure. It is quite likely that he might want to tease out soul here--a way of exorcising Platonic spirits and celebrating rhetorical souls. Pregnant is a possible meaning for gravis--and I personally like it here, since it reminds us that the purpose of speech isn't transference, but growth. The notion of a[hu]mankind is proper to a transcendental, idealist, dualism which Cicero here, and in other places, resists. For Cicero, the orator is responsible, first and foremost, to the people surrounding her.

In historical rhetorical studies, theorists such as Poulakos and Vitanza often get accused of reading ancient texts with a postmodern bias (which they, and I, do). I wonder, however, if closer study of all translations wouldn't reveal the extent to which the texts we teach in graduate classes aren't, in ways that often escapes our attention, written from an extreme default modernity. There's a Levinasian slant to my reading--one drenched in a postmodern feminine [pregnant] ethic of responsibility, accountability, singularity, and transience. I think we can see in Cicero a celebration of the saying's power, a dedication to enacting change in the polis, and a skepticism of knowledge for knowledge's sake.

NOTE: I am working from a coffee shop today. I have found 4 other translations available at the USF library, so I will check those tomorrow.


Boycott Douglas Coupland--Or Not

Here's another opportunity to use social media to get something right. Douglas Coupland recently taped a YouTube promotion for an upcoming book. In the promotion, he blatantly rips off an idea from ZeFrank's The Show called "The Earth Sandwich." Now, ZeFrank isn't necessarily the first person to generate the idea of an Earth sandwich, but Coupland uses locations and terms almost word for word from ZeFrank's project, videos, and user-comments. On his blog, ZeFrank admits that Coupland does give a small attribution in the video, but also explains that Coupland emailed him about using the project in his book. ZeFrank requested a footnote accreditation. He did not receive it. Seriously. Boo. You can find Coupland's video on ZeFrank's site.

To be honest, I hadn't heard of Douglas Coupland before today. And I know that any amount of controversy this generates will only serve to provide him attention. So, don't think of an asshole here. Seriously. Don't even think of that asshole Douglas Coupland. Go watch ZeFrank to help prevent any such thinking.


Two Bad Ideas from the Guardian

I'm not sure about this story on computers grading standardized tests, because I don't know about the sophistication of the software or the levels of the students. My gut is to agree with Tim Oates, director of Cambridge Assessment:"Some approaches look like technology in search of a test, rather than assessment designed to accurately report attainment."

We've started a rather successful rhet comp reading group this semester--our first two readings have dealt with the "image" of teaching grammar and "correctness." This push toward automated software will exacerbate the problem rhet/comp has explaining why teaching grammar is often antithetical to teaching writing. Grammar is a matter of a-contextual order and precision, writing is a matter of highly contextualized and nuanced choices and experiment. That's why the medieval trivium included bothgrammar and rhetoric. And medieval universities assumed that a student needed four years of both subjects (along with logic--hence the 3) to gain proficiency.

Mistake Two: Terence Kealy provides an attempt at humor gone horribly wrong. "Let male professors sexually fantasize about their female students." Yeeeesh. Might as well make a monkey joke. Oops, that's on us.


A Few Resources for Class

Here's some cut and paste on my part from comments on the first two weeks of blogging.

First, a few notes on linking.

  1. When you link to another blog or publication, try to link to a specific article, not the general site. This makes navigation much easier.
  2. Make sure link text is detailed. Writing detailed link text is an accessibility issue, particularly for blind readers. While you might not think that many blind people will find your site, this is something you need to be aware of and should be practicing now to develop good habits.
  3. Treat links like greetings at a party. "Marsha, here's my friend Bill--he's a biochem major from Texas." Who knows, maybe you will facilitate a hook-up.

Second, and more importantly, a discussion/example of heuristic:

Here's my general advice for those of you who have developed a review-oriented blog project. Make sure you have a list of criteria (what in writing we call a heuristic) to get through every week. What are the important parts of a bar? What makes a place "the hot spot"? I can think of: atmosphere [lighting, decor, cleanliness], spacing [seating, dance floor, position of the bar, overcrowding], service [line to get in, wait for service, line at the bar, line at the bathroom], affordability [cover charge, bar prices], and entertainment [assuming there are live acts, dancing, pool tables or darts, televisions if it is a sports bar, etc]. By inventing a set of categories you will apply to every engagement, you will not only provide yourself with a helpful rubric for generating ideas, but also help organize your drafts.

Third, some brief notes on visual rhetoric:

  1. Basically, there are four elementary aspects to visual rhetoric, referred to as the basic C.R.A.P. (contrast, alignment, repetition, proximity). I only really care about contrast--make sure your font-color and background color contrast enough to make things readable.
  2. Using changes in color can be very effective, but be sure to maintain a consistent color palette. Color palette generators are available all over the web, here's a few: Degraeve Color Palette Generator works from a picture, Color Schemer provides a very basic palette, and CSS Juice has a list of 25 palette generators for people who like to play with such toys.


Santos on Hall on Kanye, Wilson, America, and Television

While I agree with Michael Hale's general critique that Americans pay more attention to "artificial" dramas--be it Wilson's outburst on the floor of Congress or Kanye's usurpation of Taylor Swift's moment, I resist his implication that such attention can be traced back to network's desire for increased ratings. Certainly, Americans like to deal with simpler issues, and either exhorting or (in these cases) largely condemning the behavior of public figures makes for polite discussion. It also helps that these actions are by and large judicial, and have no bearing on our future. They lie comfortably in our past. However, the larger decisions, such as America's health care, are deliberative and deal with the future. There is much more at stake, and much less certainty as to what will/could be better for us all. Such decisions take a complexity of thought and depth of attention that many people, dealing with the daily struggle of family, school, work, and/or life, cannot afford to give. Television could, perhaps, nudge us toward a more involved civic life--but in giving us artifice, it is not acting against our desires, but with them.

They Say, I Say -- Kanye West Assignment

Today I want to practice using the They Say, I Say bridges you read this weekend in reference to the recent Kanye West debacle. Take ten minutes or so to explore the following links and reactions to both Kanye's interruption of Taylor Swift and his apologies for the incident. Then, in a paragraph, use one of the bridges from pages 55-61 to formulate a meta-commentary on the situation [that is, your primary assignment isn't to comment on Kanye's actions, but to position yourself relative to an interpretation of those actions].

  1. Kanye West’s Blog Apology
  2. Of the apology, Michelle Collins of BestWeekEver writes “Only a few hours after the incident, Kanye blogged a sort of non-pology, saying that he’s sorry for what he did, but still believing that the action was completely and totally necessary BECAUSE BEYONCE DESERVED IT YEEZY.”
  3. LA Times writer Ann Powers contextualizes Kanye's outburst with the Joe Wilson and Serena Williams incidents, noting that all three share elements of "racial conflict."
  4. New York Times Op-Ed writer Maureen Dowd interprets Joe Wilson's rudeness as a primarily racial slur. While it does not directly address the Kanye situation, a number of other writers have drawn parallels.
  5. Columbia Free Times writer Kevin Fisher questions racist interpretations of the Joe Wilson affair--his comments could also be interpreted to the Kanye incident (he opens his argument addressing Kanye and then transitions into Dowd's interpretation of Wilson's statement).
  6. New York Times writer Mike Hale suggests that the attention paid to the incident says more about contemporary America's addiction to "artificial drama" (and our aversion to matters of actual importance).
  7. Pop Culture Blog The A.V. Club shares a number of "theories" (ranging from serious to sarcastic) regarding the incident. A number of these perspectives claim the VMA incident as either self-promotion on the part of Kanye or staged promotion on the part of MTV.

I'll also want to take a look at recent articles on apology as a way of thinking about what Kanye might have said and to prepare you for this coming weekend's blog post.


Not All Things Are Equally True

I've had a few posts up recently regarding healthcare reform, most recently T.R. Reid's 5 myths regarding international approaches to healthcare. Casey recently pointed me towards Ann Coulter's echo of Reid's piece, writing that he found it quite convincing. I think he's too smart for that--oh Casey, you are such a Socrates. Anywho, here's how a sophist would respond to Coulter's five points (I am particularly proud of point four):

  • The logic in the first point seems faulty to me. The solution to two private enterprises colluding together is to introduce a third? Or a 45th? What, exactly, prevents the 45 from colluding together? Multiplicity alone does not negate avarice.
  • The logic in point two: there are plenty of services the government supplies that 1) have no competition and 2) we cannot opt out of. Don't like the war in Iraq? Don't feel we need public schooling (or, for that matter, don't have children)? Pay up.
  • Point 3's anecdotal logic is too ridiculous to warrant comment. Only a die-hard conservative would claim that American insurance companies don't try to negate coverage. Without collective power, individual "choice" does not out-weigh institutional frameworks.
  • Point 4: back to analogy. Would you rather have health care work like: police, education, military, and fire departments, or like hamburger joints, dry cleaning, and insurance? Do I even have to comment here?
  • Point 5: Yeah, right.


4:37 Worth Your Time

Granted, it might be because our daughter is undergoing ridiculously expensive medical treatments, or that, over the last year, my wife and I have seen first hand how insurance companies and hospitals work over err... with...err... people. But watch this:

I'm not saying that there's not some holes in the arguments. But, I am saying that anyone who has had to battle insurance companies can testify to their rigorous (dare I say sophistic) measures.

Fun with Photoshop

Just in case you didn't know, apparently multiculturalism hasn't completed its world tour. This story from /. today: Polish Microsoft add changes a black guy to a white guy but neglects to edit his hand.

The official site has gone 404, the link connects to a mirror.


Plato Said, I Say

Plato, Book VI, Republic:

Let's agree that philosophic natures always love the sort of learning that makes clear to them some feature of the being that always is and does not wander around between coming to be and decaying. (485a-b)

Me: No.


McLuhan and Baseball

I've been thoroughly enjoying a re-reading of McLuhan's Understanding Media; I wanted to share this paragraph on baseball. McLuhan articulates something I have felt without being able to express for sometime. I think my interest in sabermetric evaluations of defense and BABIP stem from an unconscious desire to complicate and de-individualize baseball. Anywho, here is McLuhan:

Just where to begin to examine the transformation of American attitudes since TV is a most arbitrary affair, as can be seen in a change so great as the abrupt decline of baseball. The removal of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles was a portent in itself. Baseball moved West in an attempt to retain an audience after TV struck. The characteristic mode of the baseball game is that if features one-thing-at-a-time. It is a lineal, expansive game which, like golf, is perfectly adapted to the outlook of an individualist and inner-directed society. Timing and waiting are of the essence, with the entire field in suspense waiting upon the performance of a single player. By contrast, football, basketball, and ice hockey are games in which many events occur simultaneously, with the entire team involved at the same time. With the advent of TV, such isolation of the individual performance as occurs in baseball became unacceptable. Interest in baseball declined, and its starts, quite as much as movie stars, found that fame had some very cramping dimensions. Baseball had been, like the movies, a hot medium featuring individual virtuosity and stellar performers. The real ball fan is a store of statistical information about previous explosions of batters and pitchers in numerous games. Nothing could indicate more clearly the peculiar satisfaction provided by a game that belonged to the industrial metropolis of ceaselessly exploding populations, stocks and bonds, and production and sales records. Baseball belonged to the age of the first onset of the hot press and the movie medium. It will always remain a symbol of the era of the hot mommas, jazz babies, of sheiks and shebas, of vamps and gold-diggers and the fast buck. Baseball, in a word, is a hot game that got cooled off in the new TV climate, as did most of the hot politicians and hot issues of the earlier decades. (Understanding Media 326)

To appreciate the passage likely requires familiarity with McLuhan's particular (and perhaps unintuitive) notions of hot and cold media. Hot media are those which sensually overwhelm the audience, such as books, movies, radio, and television; audience members do not participate in the creation of meaning as much as they are absorbed by it. Cool media, on the other hand, invite hermeneutic participation, the audience feels less as if they are receiving a finished product and more that they are engaged in the creative process. For McLuhan, such a binary was perhaps best represented by two media that we would likely consider similar today: "low definition" television versus "high definition" movies. Television was spontaneous (represented by the game show) while movies were, literally, scripted. Television was caught in the flow of lived time, while movies existed outside of time--and what could be more out of time than baseball, which follows no clock? In such light, how do we interpret baseball's contemporary emphasis on game time and continuity?


This is Not OK

I saw this late-night on an infomercial.

Apparently, it was pulled from stores back in April after a bit of controversy. Now they must figure that the kind of people watching a midnight re-run of Monk won't be as politically mortified. I can't tell if this is intentionally racist, unintentionally racist, or not racist at all. But I'm pretty sure its not o.k. by any standard. Sure, president's can be monumentalized, but preferably not in Chia form.


Baseball Blog

I've been busy with work, so posting hasn't been a priority lately. I'm teaching another section of Expository Writing built around digital citizenship, so I decided (after some encouragement) to start a baseball blog. As the first post explains, I tend to like to spend my lunches poking around statistical encyclopedia's and analysis, so hopefully this will translate into some sharable material.


Old meets New - Ze Frank on Time.com

I've been enjoying Ze Frank's new posts over at Time.com. You should too.

He's got two up that I could find, this one on the Iranian election and this one on "Black and White."

As if the interactivity of The Show wasn't enough to make me love Ze Frank, now we have a commentary on the implicit repressive impulse of seeing the world in black and white. Cause, hey, sophistic rhetoric feeds off of grey.


A Disgusting Amount of Cute

If you are up for it, I offer My Milk Toof. Its good, wholesome, clean, and, yes, cute. Thanks to ZeFrank for posting the link. Speaking of ZeFrank, he recently did a presentation at Webstock on The Show, worth a watch if you were into the project. I liked how he discussed the impact of working with people rather than working with texts or information.


A Great Page from Everything is Miscellaneous

I'm finishing up another read of David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous--wow do I enjoy this book. I wanted to post this passage to my living memory since I think it would make a nice opening to my Historical Rhetorics seminar this Fall. For a bit of context, Weinberger is discussing how the "miscellaneous" properties of digital organization essentially call into question some of the most profound and fundamental assumptions of Aristotelian taxonomy/ontology. Here Weinberger is sharing an encounter with psychology professor Eleanor Rosch. Since I'm in a typing kind of mood, I'll create a few paragraphs:

To know what a thing is, thought Aristotle, is to see what is essential about it (that humans are rational animals), and not be fooled by just what happens to be true about it (that humans have their navels on the front). The definitinos of those essences determine which things are in a category and which are turned away. Here there is no messiness, only an order so precise and harmonious that it is beautiful.

Or so Aristotle and generations of thinkers assumed. So de we when we argue about, say, how to define race, knowledge management, or blogging. But suppose this sort of Aristotelian categorization-through-definition were shown to be an essentially artificial way of approaching the world. Suppose the neatness it strives for is impossible. Suppose messiness is not a flaw in our thinking but enables it.

In her office, lit only by the late-afternoon light slanting in through the window, Eleanor Rosch turned back my question about the over-all significance of her work: "What do you think its significance is?" she asked. In a different tone of voice, from a person seated less squarely or dressed less practically, this might have been a request for praise. Instead, it seemed to be a way to get at why I had come, as well as a dodge by a person unwilling to speak as immodestly as my question proposed.

I paused, unprepared. "I think you unhorsed Aristotle."

This isn't a matter of pulling down a dusty equestrian statue. When I asked for an example of Aristotle's continuing influence, Rosch said "For the past two and a half days, I was at a conference on the effect of the media on the Buddhist transmission into our culture. Attendees kept asking "Wouldn't it help if you first defined Buddism?" By that they meant an Aristotelian definition. If that's what we need, then the conference couldn't have happened." She continuted: "As far as I can see, there isn't a single course that could be taught at this or any other University [...] if we had to start out by defining the subject matter. No one at the conference could define Buddhism, but no one had the least doubt about what the conference was about." (183-184).

Now, what do you think it means?


The Story is not the Same

Work has been overwhelming of late, and I have been ignoring my blog and my friends. Sorry about that.

I have been following baseball more closely this summer than I have recently--its my lunch hour obsession. In addition to maintaining a fantasy team, I've been reading up on some of the new statistical analysis over at Baseball Prospectus. I find it really interesting stuff--and indicative of how complexity theory complicates traditional methods of assessment, but I'll save those posts for another day.

Today, I just wanted to share an email I sent to a former student and Cub fan. I had earlier expressed my empathy for the Cubs slow start this season, to which he responded that it was nothing new, and that losing builds "character." My response:

To think this word "character" a bit differently-- as a Red Sox fan, it is striking to me how much their World Series victory rocked Red Sox nation. Of course there was jubilation, but there was also a profound sense of loss, I think. And the second victory only punctuated that sense. At a psychologically unconscious level, I think winning the WS was quite disturbing for Sox fans since it robbed us of our identity, our character, our way of relating to the world.

Eventually, I firmly believe, the Cubs will win. They have grown into one of baseball's exclusive "large market" teams, providing them with a considerable financial advantage. As with the Red Sox, this will translate into a World Series victory. It will likely take a figure of Curt Schilling's stature--a leadership personality who commands the locker room, in the face of all that losing tradition, to envision and capture victory. Someone needs to wack a figurative bloody sock upside the billy goat's face, and the Cub's just don't have that guy--especially not when their best player can't keep his cool. But in the ESPN era, money does tend to translate into success (though sustaining success is a different matter).

So, to conjure up a quote that just doesn't mean to me what it used to, "keep the faith."

I might use this example later this summer--I am teaching a section of Introductory Composition and plan on using Jim Corder's "Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love." Losing the narrative of the "lovable losers" has been difficult for me--and I think traces of this difficulty can be read across Red Sox nation. All I can say is that, while I still watch baseball, something isn't there anymore, the experience feels uncanny, and I believe, in that moment, I am experiencing the withdrawal of what I thought was myself, so that, what is really missing is the me I thought myself to be.


Rhetorical Thoughts on Michael Vick

This started as a comment on FB, but I figured I'd post it here. I've been thinking about this for about a week--what Michael Vick needs to do to "prove his remorse." (I assumed that this is what spurred Cody Lumpkins' FB post--remembering him to be a Falcons fan). My idea is that all he needs to do is offer a short Public Service Announcement, something like this:

"Dear America, I am truly sorry for the suffering I caused each and every animal. I have had two years in prison to reflect on the seriousness of my crimes. I hope that this message will help convince young people out there to stay away from the heinousness of dog fighting. While I ask for your forgiveness, I urge that none of us forget this incident--that it serves to help end animal cruelty."

That's all he has to say. Then, he has to do some more PSA's and donate some time to animal cruelty. In fact, Cody, I think the question becomes "how CAN'T one show remorse"--for the answer to that question, see PacMan Jones. Everyone who matters in football is ready to give this guy a second chance--Goodell, Arthur Blank, Tony Dungy (who's words probably carry the most weight).

I think his rhetorical situation needs to be informed by the failures of A-Rod's steroids apology. Beyond the fact that A-Rod lied (d'oh for thinking that the American baseball media wouldn't look into the story of someone they already despise--they/we only ignore the facts when they/we like someone), he transfered blame to a "something" other than himself. In A-Rod's case, it was "youth." "Young and stupid." Well, at least one of those were true.

Vick could go the same route, and talk about "culture"--being brought up in a culture that values dog fighting. Were I defending him (postmodernist that I am), this is the route I would go--that the outrage against Vick is a bit excessive if viewed across the access of cultural difference. We can certainly still identify it as wrong, but hopefully such an identification would come with less venom if we undermine the absolute "natural" foundation for such an indentification. A few players tried to go the "culturally relative" route, by noting that there's not much difference between dog fighting and hunting, and they were publicly lambasted. And while I agree that there is a difference between dog fighting and hunting, I would say that its not that big a difference.... BUT

This is not the rhetorical route for Vick to go. Because I believe that many people do not care about dog fighting to the degree the media would have us believe. The truly, picket-carrying outraged are out there--and they will reject Vick no matter what. But I think the majority of the public audience would be willing to give Vick a chance so long as his remorse seems heartfelt (pathos) and as long as he "owns" his misdeed (instead of projecting the wrong-doing onto an era in sports, the stupidity of youth, his brother's pharmacist, etc.). I believe Vick deserves a second chance--and I believe all the rhetorical markers are in place for him to actually get one. What remains to be seen is whether or not he will waste it.


We've Run Out of TV

Meg and I are regular TV watchers, but, through the magic of netflix, we're running out of quality TV. Lost--season over. House--season over. Battlestar Galactica--gone forever (its still to soon for me to talk about it). Dexter--we're all caught up. 4400--cancelled. Criminal Minds--season over. Eureka--Sci-fi still has original programing? United States of Tara--season over. Weeds--new season doesn't start for another month (I think).

We're starting Trueblood soon (I managed to see a few episodes thanks to some free hotel HBO). But, already, I miss my programs. And I miss the regularity of living in New England in the summer time, where the Red Sox are on every night.


I (Still) Love You Papi

This is uncomfortable. I don't want to break up or anything, but I think we need to take a break from each other. Or, at least, think about moving things around. Maybe you could get your own place...

In short: its probably time for the Sox to move Papi out of the three hole in the lineup. His tenure at that spot has outlasted more than a few marriages (the average first marriage to end in divorce reaches 8 years). Papi's been hitting third since 2003-4); over his five years in the most pivotal spot for any batting order, Papi has helped the Sox win two titles and cemented a place in the "Greatest Clutch Hitters of All-Time" department. But...

0-7 with 3ks and 12 LOB hurts. Literally, it hurts me to think about it. Thankfully, the game wasn't televised in Florida yesterday, so I didn't have to watch it. But please, please, Terry, help temper the hurt. You had to do it with Tek last year, and the numbers would indicate its probably time for a change this year, too. Do this to help Papi recover his swing without the added pressures of hitting in the three hole. He's not just in a slump. He's lost his swing, his timing, his mechanics. I hope he can get it back (although his problem seems to stem from bat-speed--meaning its initially physical, not mental). Perhaps he should have had the surgery last season? Perhaps the rumors of PEDs should be paid more heed? Perhaps the whispers that he is an unathletic player who has always relied on natural talent rather than physical training will grow louder? There will certainly be a compulsion to track down the origin of Ortiz's slump. I don't really care why he's struggling--but I don't think we can deny that this struggle is physiological in nature--and I don't think he's likely to pull out of it anytime soon.

Francona's resistance probably stems from the fact that the Sox don't have another powerful lefty on the team--a real rarity for them. Francona is a hard-core discipline of the L-R-L-R lineup, so he'll hesitate to replace Papi with Bay once Youk comes back. This would translate into a line-up of Ellsbury (L), Pedroia (R), Bay (R), Youk (R), Drew (L), Lowell (R), Papi (L). Personally, I don't think having 3 right-handers in a row is as much of a problem as having three left-handers in a row (you don't hear about specialty right-handed relievers, do you?). These are righties who can hit fellow righties--Pedroia's career OPS is higher against righties than lefties, Bay's is only 30 points below, and Youk's OPS vs. righties this year is a solid 1.149 and for his career he only has a .009 differential between R and L. Put simply, these guys can hit anyone--you are not giving up a huge strategic disadvantage by stacking them.

But this is very sad for me--its been awhile since I've been in this position: having to watch a true Boston hero breakdown in the Boston uniform. Lately, thanks to free agency and frugal franchises, my heroes have broken down in other uniforms. Or at least outside of the spotlight. I felt some of this with Varitek last season, but I never primarily valued Tek for his offense--to me, he was a leader, a signal caller, and the guy that punched A-Rod in the face (this alone should secure him induction into the Red Sox Hall of Fame).

Papi, however, was a hitter, a pure (Designated) hitter. His lumbering stance and blood shot eyes symbolized pure intimidation. Now, these symbols are erased by the frustration of check swing dribblers and missed 88 mile an hour fastballs. The pathos of watching him hit right now is overwhelming.

Please, Terry, make it stop. Or at least do something to lessen the pain. 12 LOB. Yeesh.


Lost reference

In the spirit of playing the game (and thus, Casey might say, denying the experience), I'll posit that Jacob reading a book drawing its title from a radical Christian teleologist is probably not coincidental. Especially given Jacob's line about how everything just progresses them toward the end.

So what is Jacob? No idea. Jack: "The machine gets stuck. I guess it just needed a little push."


Some Thoughts on Lost

Before tonight's show, I wanted to share my theory on this season: that Jack has already "missed" his opportunity. I believe the entire series now revolves around Jack saving the young Benjamin Linus, preventing him from ever joining the others. Jack refused to save Linus because he knew, positively, that Linus was evil. Had he believed in Locke (the character not the philosopher--its his allegiance to the positive philosophy that's got him in all this trouble), he might have allowed the other to overflow his certainty, to interrupt his self-assurance. He might have given his-self over, face to face. (You didn't think I would get through this without a trace of Levinas, did you?)

This is why his character now seems so, well, lost. Or useless. He has missed his purpose. My guess is that we will eventually see Jack back in time again, in front of a young dying Benjamin Linus. And by that time he will come to believe in Locke, in something beyond positive knowledge, in taking a chance on something other than what he knows.

On a causal side-note: I believe the island designed Sayid to shoot Linus to present Jack with this opportunity. But, this doesn't actually break a linear possibility for time: in the previous past, Linus could have reached the other's any other way. All I am saying is that the island wants to undo Linus' affiliation with the others (perhaps to purify them?). I believe this reading coincides with how the show is revealing much of the island's history from the others's perspective--and, if you were paying attention last week, implying that, if left to their scientific-utopian devices, the Darhma Initiative likely would have undone the island's space-time continuum.

A final note: I think the fact that Sayid's name can be presented as "Say-id," given his compulsive, animalistic, lustful, and emotional nature is probably not coincidental. Then again, perhaps I'm analyzing this a bit too much.


Course Evaluations

Today is the last day of class at USF, so I passed around a course evaluation of my own design. This semester my class has focused on "digital citizenship": students maintained a blog all semester long dedicated to a topic/hobby of their choice. They then wrote a 8-10 page research paper responding to one argument from Andrew Keen's polemic Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture. All in all, I'd say it was a good course--I'll let you know what they think once I get all the info.

Here's the questions I asked them to respond to:

Exit Questions for Expository Writing: Digital Citizenship

  1. Did you find They Say, I Say a useful text? Did you think I did enough to present the text in class? I plan on using this text again, so please let me know what more I could do with it.
  2. I am definitely replacing the Lanham Style book. It didn't accomplish what I thought it could, and I apologize for making you purchase it. That said—should I replace it with a book on writing (specifically, a book that gives organizational strategies) or another book on “digital culture” that argues against Keen/series of articles responding to Keen (such as the Shirky, Weinberger, etc.). I am leading toward the first book.
  3. Did I manage to present three ideas this semester that helped you with your writing? What were those ideas?
  4. Was there a particular lecture/presentation on writing that you found useful? Remind me about it.
  5. What would you have liked me to address that I didn’t? What did you expect from the course on the first day that we didn’t do? What else would you have liked me to do? What do writing classes need to do?
  6. This semester I asked you to read almost all of Andrew Keen’s book in order to find an argument to engage. Would you have preferred to read a series of articles?
  7. Now that you are not a part of my course, and thus I cannot implement any draconian procedures, what is one “evil” thing I could force upon next semester’s students to improve writing instruction?
  8. How many hour a week did you spend on this class? Generally, did this class take more time than your other classes? Less?
  9. If a friend asked “is Santos’ course hard?” how would you respond? If they queried “should I take it?”
  10. Instead of using Google, should I have used Facebook? Would that have been too weird?

A quick note on question 9: my drop rate at USF is extraordinarily high. It is not an attendance problem--it is a retention problem. This semester I taught 2 25 person sections--both classes now have enrollments below 12. Students explained to me that my course isn't hard (in the sense of grading) but is hard (in the sense that it requires a lot of thought). It doesn't require a lot of thought because of the difficulty of material I assign; rather, it calls upon them to invent, every week, their own assignments. They are required to post 1000 words a week on their topic, but outside of a few occasions, I did not give them any guidelines for what their posts needed to do each week. At least, that's what a few students candidly told me a few weeks ago--so I'm hoping question 9 will help me to understand what I need to do to increase retention. But I will not spoon feed.


Free Your TV?

My wife and I always complain about our insane cable bill, but we're both TV junkies--so what's our alternatives? Well, it looks like "internet-TV" is about to take a huge step forward. Via /. via NYT, Adobe is about to announce a new "Flash TV," which would be a huge step in piping internet content straight to your TV. Got an internet connection? Got Netflix? Dump your cable. These days, even most professional sporting events can be watched online for a price.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't mention quality--and its direct correspondent, file size. Last year, I was closely following concerns over bandwidth--I have to believe that if streaming video goes anywhere near this mainstream, then this conversation will resurface will a vengeance. Especially since this other conversation won't go away. The web is not, despite popular belief, an unlimited resource. It depends on material cable--and, if high density file formats such as streaming video or even flash video go mainstream, then ISPs are going to have a much stronger case against net neutrality. I only hope that, if net neutrality is doomed, that the increases in cost are at least shared between provider and consumer; and that those increases are closely regulated by the federal government to prevent gouging.


Clinton on Johnson is Really about Rhetoric

Stephen Johnson has a neat post today on Bill Clinton's reaction to The Invention of Air. I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but I am looking forward to it this summer. Anyways, in his praise for Johnson's book, he makes an argument for the contemporary importance of books:

I spend all my time in the "how" business now. I predict to you that there will be a big demand in the future for books that deal not with how to become a millionaire in 36 days or two and a half hours. Not those. Serious "how" books. Books that answer the "how" question. How do you turn your good intentions into positive changes in other people's lives so that our common life is better for our children and grandchildren? The "how" question…

Unfortunately, the rest of Clinton's response falls into some fairly shallow and commonplace critiques of the web as a narcissistic cult of immediacy. The problem here is of treating internet users one monolithic entity--there's a diverse collection of social-intellectual practices developing around media technology, and not all of them are as opposed to extended thinking as Clinton implies (linear is another story, but I don't feel like getting into that right now).

I do think Clinton's "how" offers a nice contemporary description for the task of rhetoric: "how do you turn your good intentions into positive changes in other people's lives so that our common life is better for our children and grandchildren?" Notice the sentence doesn't rely on truth--I don't know concretely if my intentions are "true." Notice, too, that I do not necessarily have to "persuade" others of the validity of my intentions, nor do I have to persuade everyone. This, like Obama, is a localized rhetoric of small changes and social complexity.


Help Support Net Neutrality

I posted this to Facebook yesterday, and a few people have passed it on. Time Warner, a large ISP, is making a serious political and legal effort to counter net neutrality. I am presuming they are attempting this early in Obama's presidency, while he has many other issues to attend. I initially supported Obama specifically for his stance on technology and net neutrality, so I hope he will step up and shut this down.

Still, if you have a few minutes, please sign this e-petition to support keeping networks open and accessible. Here's what I wrote in the comments section of my petition yesterday:

I am a professor of rhetoric and new media at the University of South Florida. I want to reiterate the importance of allowing many-to-many communicative media to develop without these harsh economic hindrances.

Particularly, we need to support and develop networked computing ventures: cooperatives that unite the processing power of hundreds, if not thousands, of computers nationwide. I speak of projects such as Stanford University's Folding Home project (http://folding.stanford.edu/English/FAQ-PS3), which has already made great strides in researching particle physics and hopes to tackle major medical issues. These projects require a neutral internet.

America has always valued the free flow of ideas. It supported printing as an industry and journalism as a discipline. It deregulated telephones. The FCC monitors the airwaves. All of these legislative moves are to ensure that Americans have the highest possible access to information, so as to increase invention and facilitate democracy. Companies such as Time Warner put such ideals at risk. The future of American industry lies in areas such as biomedical research, green technologies, and physics. We should not put the development of these fields at risk so that cable companies and internet providers can increase profits. The internet is a resource.

Perhaps a bit over the top in a few places, but, hey, pathos works.


Hi There, Let's Talk Google

I've been writing in other places and neglecting the blog, but I thought I might try to spend some quality time here. To get started, there's an interesting story over at the NYTimes on the Google library project. I have long been a staunch supporter of the program: the general idea is to scan all books in existence into one massive, searchable digital library. This will include works under copyright (users will be able to see a portion for free but will need to pay for complete access).

Along the way, Google has discovered many orphan books--books still in-print, still under copyright, but without any clear owner. I believe these books should enter into the public domain. But, as the article reports, Google seeks to claim these works, adopting their copyright. This would make these books (a lot of which is scholarship) the intellectual property of Google, so to speak.

Now I find myself extremely suspicious of Google's motivations here. Google has yet to offer a formal statement over at their blog, but I'd expect one soon. No doubt they will argue that these books need to be adopted in order to protect them. But critics cite that this would give Google a powerful monopoly over books produced in the 20th century.

The Google Library project is something to be excited about--so long as it at least tries to remain altruistic in spirit. Jonathan Band's analysis of the recent (last November) settlement case between Google, authors, and publishers reveals that Google is in this for the money. Whether corporate greed completely stains the higher aspirations of the project remains to be seen.

But, for the first time, I'm a bit scared of the little scanner that could. One of the tell-tale indicators will likely be what Google decides to do with public domain works (whether they will be available for free, or whether access to them will be on a pay basis as it will be with copyright material).


Catching Up

Wow, has it been this long since I posted? A few quick thoughts before I head out to teach:

  • Rowan's MRI was clear--this is very good news. Retinoblastoma patients have a high chance to develop other forms of cancer, especially in the first two years. She will continue to get periodic exams, but we are encouraged that she is now cancer free.
  • CCCC's in San Fran was a great time. I saw a few really spectacular panels (more on this later). My own panel went well, although we ran short on time and I had to cut quite a bit from my presentation. Sometime this week I need to carve out time to send emails to all the people I talked to last week.
  • My parents are in town this week (and last week). Meg and I were able to take a short honeymoon trip down to Sarasota for a few nights. One experience urged us to start a food blog (more on this coming this weekend).
  • I am sad to learn that blogs are dead, but must respect the validity of the source. Perhaps someday, in a distant future, humans will evolve into a species capable of caring. Here's to hope and the future.


Some Quick Sports Thoughts

In between pieces of fruit (a healthy non-Subway lunch), I wanted to spout the following:

  • The injury is the best thing to happen to A-Rod this year. He needs to go away for awhile. Distance is good. There is nothing he can do on the field to repair his image or silence his critics. Unfortunately, hip injuries are baaaad. If this injury is as serious as some believe, then who knows if he will ever be "A-Rod" again.
  • T.O. will sign with San Diego. They have an offensive minded coach who has worked with divas before (Irvin in Dallas) and a strong-willed quarterback. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't touch this guy with a ten-foot pole. I'm hearing the Raiders, but I don't think Al Davis is that oblivious: after the Randy Moss fiasco, I think Al will sit this one out.
  • The Patriots made the right move. Yes, we gave up more talent than we will receive in return. But the Pats also got cap room. Look for them to resign a bunch of players that fans outside of New England have never heard of before the NFL collective bargaining agreement expires and teams face a year of free agency without a salary cap. NE will resign as many veterans as they can before that time (e.g., Richard Seymour, Vince Worfolk, Stephen Neal, Ellis Hobbs, Nick Kaczur, Logan Mankins, and Stephen Gostkowski). All those players are free agents after 2009. They comprise 1/2 of the starting defensive line, 3/5 of the starting offensive line, a starting cornerback, and the Pro Bowl caliber kicker. I imagine at least three of those players will renew before the start of the 2009 season--except for Seymour. He's had a few subpar years in a row, and will want to prove himself this year in hopes of getting a shot at Albert Haynesworth type money.
  • Which brings me to my final point: Albert Haynesworth's contract is the biggest mistake I have ever seen. I mean that literally. I cannot think of a single deal that makes less sense. Yes, Haynesworth recorded 14.5 sacks in two seasons from the D-tackle position. Yes he can push the pile and can chase down runners on the edge. But compare Haynesworth to, say, Warren Sapp. Compare Haynesworth to Bryant Young. Compare his numbers to Steve McMichael. His numbers in his first five seasons are so inferior to these three hall of famers that it is laughable. And you know what? D-tackles are not fine wines. They don't get better with age.


Colbert on the"Danger" of the Internet

This comes from Colbert's interview with Keen--it is presented as something of a nightmare. But I think it adequately describes a digital/rhetorical/sophistic new media environment, one in which there is not getting outside the cave. Responding to Keen's claim that digital culture destroys objective media and criteria for truth, Colbert responds:

isn't reality something we decide?

I never thought I would say this, but...

I actually find myself agreeing with Andrew Keen. Today Keen responded to Patricia Cohen's NYTimes article on how the pending economic crisis will affect the humanities. Keen concludes:

What I do know for sure, however, is that academic humanists -- especially the younger ones with a bit of life left in them -- better upgrade themselves before they get totally swept away by the digital revolution. Their traditional monopoly on wisdom, humanistic or otherwise, is being undermined by the communications revolution of blogs, Facebook & Twitter. Rather than learning to quote Shakespeare or W.E.B. Du Bois, I would advise aspiring humanities scholars to learn how to build their own intellectual brands and distribute their ideas more broadly and relevantly. Just as the death of newspapers is forcing smart young journalists to become self-employed entrepreneurs, so the imminent crisis of academic humanity departments, which will eventually do away with the archaic tenure system, offers a great opportunity to rethink what it means to be a professional educator in the 21st century.

Leaving the sarcasm aside, I agree that contemporary academics have to do a better job building their relevance, and that we have an opportunity to rethink the profession of higher education. Actually, I think this work can be traced back to before the Web2.0 revolution: to Lyotard's critique of metanarratives of progress and knowledge. Jumping back to my Lanham post the other day, we need to reconsider Kant's fracturing of the professors' public and private lives. For Kant, the professor must, in the "public" of his intellectual discipline, speak freely. But in his "private" duties as teacher and citizen, s/he must obey. Hence the motto "think, but obey."

A few centuries later, I think that disjunction has lead to the circumstances that Richard M. Freeman, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education (quoted from Cohen's article):

But what we haven’t paid a lot of attention to is how students can put those abilities effectively to use in the world. We’ve created a disjunction between the liberal arts and sciences and our role as citizens and professionals.

Cohen concludes that "baldly marketing the humanities makes some in the field uneasy." But let's qualify this through Lanham: after the influence of the Modern Enlightenment, framing itself as something other than "stuff" makes the humanities uneasy. After the Modern Enlightenment, becoming a discipline founded upon praxis seems so inferior to being a discipline that focuses on production. Let's become something otherwise.


I am confused... someone explain this to me

Granted, I didn't get through my morning coffee today. But something really confused me on the ride to work. I live about 20 miles south of University of South Florida. Everyday I drive on I-75 I experience an incredible irony: flying directly opposite to the Martin Luther King St. highway exit is a huge, billowing confederate flag. The flag pole resides on a small trailer park protected by a security fence. A few weeks ago Meg and I were treated to a surreal scene: a group of elderly women sitting around on a Sunday mending the confederate flag.

Today, however, a different flag appeared on the pole: a flag of the 13 original colonies, the Betsy Ross flag.

I have never heard of any connection between the confederate flag and the Betsy Ross flag. Some needs to explain this to me. Slowly. Since I still haven't had that coffee.


Lanham definition of rhetoric; the Aim of Education(s)

I need to remember this somewhere, why not the blog. Now you can remember it, too.

"Rhetoric" has not always been a dirty word, the opposite of sincerity, truth, and good intentions. For most of its life it meant the training in expression, spoken and written, that you need to play a useful role in human society. It became a dirty word in the seventeenth century, when science, trying to describe the world of stuff, wanted to abolish the distortions of human attention structures. Human communication ought to be like the United Parcel Service, an efficient mover of information boxes from one destination to the other. This model for human communication gains its power from its narrowness, but we need a wider model for an attention economy. Information does not come in simple neutral boxes and its distribution is a more complex matter altogether. We need a more capacious conception of human communication, one that can accommodate the full range of human purpose.

All the more do we need it because the digital computer has created a new expressive space. The screen works differently from the page. Words don't stay put. They dance around. Images play a major role and they move too. Color is everywhere. And sound, too, spoken and synthesized. Above all, a different expressive economy prevails. The printed page depends on an economics of deprival. No color, no movement, images in careful moderation. All these sacrificed to create an expressive field that encourages concentration on conceptual thought. It is a monopolistic attention economy, directed from the top. The digital screen depends on an economics of plenty. It allows competition between word, image, and sound for attention. It is a market attention economy, driven from the bottom. You can map onto these two contrasting expressive spaces all the arguments about top-down versus bottom-up, planned versus market, economies. Market economies, like the political democracy that accompanies them, demand a full-range conception of human communication, the kind a rhetorical curriculum has always provided. And this new rhetoric will have to be built on the digital expressive space as well as the printed one, and teach how to move easily from one to the other

I have been writing and thinking lately about how badly we need to re-articulate the purpose of education. The social demographics and cultural conceptions of higher education have changed greatly over the last 50 years. Higher education is no longer the elite privilege for an elite few. It should no longer frame itself as such; yet Kant's ghost still drives much of the work we do, it still emphasizes the public/private obligations of the scholar, still protects the scholar from public interaction, still--to capture Lanham--fetishizes a print preference for the neutrality of information. It still aims to produce scholars.

I realize, clearly, now that I have no interest in producing scholars (at least at the undergraduate level). I remember Nathaniel Rivers, Ryan Weber and I sharing a similar reaction to Whitehead's description of undergraduate education in "Universities and their Function" (circa 1829): "wow, that sounds like grad school." And that is where scholars should be produced: graduate school.

My interest in undergraduates is to produce citizens. I like Lanham's definition, those ready "to play a useful role in human society." Notice this definition says nothing about the creation of knowledge. This isn't to say that citizenship cannot involve aspects of scholarship. But I am calling for us [rhetoricians, English faculty, humanists, humans--let the pronoun stretch as far as you want it to go] to reassess why we do what we do. I think the difference in not only technology, but also culture and history, will lead us to very different answers than what Kant and Humbodlt argued for several hundred years ago.

Then again, I just watched The Flock of Dodos, and that shit is scary. But, as the movie suggests, perhaps if Kant had trained his scientists to be a bit more rhetorically saavy with audiences outside the Universities walls, this wouldn't have happened in the first place.


Student Strikes Gold

I had my students do an assignment in which they had to characterize blogs. One student offered these nuggets:

Fourth, the blog that is the most idiotic tends to win. This is just like high school. The weird blog is the ugly girl, who when stripped of her ponytail and glasses, is beautiful. The weird blog tends to have the most readers and the most responses, so the more stupid you think your idea is the more you are swimming in gold.

Fifth, and by far the biggest tip, nice blogs always finish last. Nobody wants to read why your life is awesome. We do not care about your big green powered house (unless it was built out of rubber bands), your pink Barbie convertible (unless it flipped and left you with a harry potter esque scar), or your 2.5 perfect kids (unless one really is only .5 and he is the most normal of the three). It is wired into our DNA to love a good train wreck, and then to drive by it at 7 miles an hour staring on the high way because we were trying to ‘safely pass it’.



Obligatory Post from a Sophistic Baseball Fan

[A little context: last week I used a series of ESPN articles in a workshop on direct quoting, hence the sometimes forced references. I think the workshop was successful, however.]

Dear Commissioner Selig,

I understand in the wake of recent news the desire to punish Alex Rodriguez and to strike his name from the records. I understand the desire to cleanse baseball.

I understand writers such as Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn discrediting Alex's testimony on the grounds that he had to know what he was taking. Perhaps they, along with Gene Wojciechowski and Rob Neyer and countless others, are right: Alex is still holding back on us. He hasn't told us the whole truth. Perhaps he is even still lying to us.

But, in terms of records and punishment, please understand you do not have to punish Alex. The baseball media will do that for you. I am sure Hall of Fame Voter Pedro Gomez is not alone in his stance that "As a hall of fame voter... I know I have made up my mind that I will never vote for anyone I believe to have used PEDs." Furthermore, as Gomez reports in "It's only just begun for A-Rod," he can expect harsh treatment on the road and at home, in front of suspicious, rough, and scorned Yankee fans. A suspension might be merciful on Alex at this point.

In the end, the desire to punish Alex extends from our own guilt, and an unspeakable desire to reprimand ourselves. All of us, baseball owners, executives, fans, and players are to blame for the willful ignorance necessary to produce the culture that Alex describes. As many commentators have argued, we will never know the extent to which performance enhancing drugs permeated the game. Let us not engage in a witchhunt. Let us not engage in revisionist history. Let us take responsibility for our own culpability, let us deal with a stained record-book, marked only by our guilt and disappointment. Let us allow this past to serve as a reminder that we need to work vigilantly to preserve baseball's future. Let Alex return to the field to pursue those once hallowed records; let us all remember what we sanctioned.

Marc C. Santos


"It is the opposite which is good for us"

Because a certain someone keeps trying to shove Parmenides down your throat, I thought I'd share some Heraclitus. Thanks to Plato's misunderstanding, most of us attribute to Heraclitus the trite paradoxical aphorism "you could not step twice into the same river." But, as the Interent Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains, Heraclitus' phrasing can be translated as more sophistic and complex: "On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow." For a river to exist as Word (as Being), there must be a constant movement (becoming) that betrays the rectitude of the written, graphic signifier (of course, this play of signifiers produces multiple translations). The play of existence not grounded in mere negativity, Parmenides distinction between static contemplation of "is" and "is not" ("On Nature" II). From the Encyclopedia's explication:

There is an antithesis between 'same' and 'other.' The sentence says that different waters flow in rivers staying the same. In other words, though the waters are always changing, the rivers stay the same. Indeed, it must be precisely because the waters are always changing that there are rivers at all, rather than lakes or ponds. The message is that rivers can stay the same over time even though, or indeed because, the waters change. The point, then, is not that everything is changing, but that the fact that some things change makes possible the continued existence of other things.

The beauty isn't anything that we can see. Beauty eclipses sensual experience. Sensual experience is the progeny of becoming's imperfect, invisible union, a coming into Being. The beautiful mystery underlies the isness of is.

Perhaps it is fitting that Heraclitus now exists only in fragments.

And I feel obligated to admit that Heraclitus probably surpasses Plato in his elitism and disdain for the common cattle of everyday life (much of Plato's allegory of the cave echoes the politics and characterizations of Heraclitus). But, hay, nobody is perfect.


Hearing what the Presidents Don't Say

Recently I have become enamored with the feed over at FlowingData, a collection of quality visualization projects. Today has several offerings, but I am most interested in Descry's project "Their First Words," which provides a searchable database of all inauguration speeches. The data is then presented in a proportional block-chart. Very smart, very slick.

Users can customize searches, and so I started with a simple search for "race|racism." The results surprised me a bit, but perhaps they shouldn't have. Before Rutherford B. Hayes, I could not find one use of the word (although the database spits back some results, the ones I examined highlight "race" as part of another word, such as "trace" or "embrace"). For the most part, before the Civil War, the word race was completely foreign to presidential inaugurations. When Pierce uses it in 1853, it clearly means privileged, white males:

"With the Union my best and dearest earthly hopes are entwined. Without it what are we individually or collectively? What becomes of the noblest field ever opened for the advancement of our race in religion, in government, in the arts, and in all that dignifies and adorns mankind?"
For the record, Obama used the phrase only once:

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed -- why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

Obama's passage seems to realize the hope of Hayes so many years before:

With respect to the two distinct races whose peculiar relations to each other have brought upon us the deplorable complications and perplexities which exist in those States, it must be a government which guards the interests of both races carefully and equally. [...]

In the effort I shall make to accomplish this purpose I ask the cordial cooperation of all who cherish an interest in the welfare of the country, trusting that party ties and the prejudice of race will be freely surrendered in behalf of the great purpose to be accomplished.

I think Hayes would be happy.

But then I tried another search: for "gay." Nothing. "Homosexual." Not a single response. "Same-sex." Nope. If my little supposition is right, and American interest and empathy can be somehow related to the president's inaugural speeches, then perhaps we can see why things like Proposition 8 aren't passing. And I don't foresee a Civil War coming this time to force the issue. So the question, for those of us who care about this issue, is how to press these issues into language--how to get those president's talking. I am also wondering if we necessarily want to get these presidents talking. After all, the bible might have been used to support slavery, but I don't think it makes any explicit proclamations. Homosexuality, on the other hand...

My last search was for "discrimination." There were only 8 uses of this term in presidential history: 3 by Polk in 1845, 2 by Taft in 1909, 1 by Pierce 1853, 1 by Buchanan in 1857, and one by Reagan in 1981. While my "research" here is nothing more than an hour's play online, I think this supports the fantasy that America has somehow solved the question of discrimination and equality. I mean, if we aren't talking about it, then it doesn't exist, right?

P.S., and I figure mxrk can have some fun with this: there is only one response for "racism." Guess who?


Complaining as Art

I laughed so hard reading this letter to the president of Virgin airlines that people looked at me funny as they walked by my office. Totally worth it. Rumor has it the airline has offered him a job in culinary quality control. (via Coudal).


Visual Metaphor: Walmart as a Disease

As if the choice of green was innocuous. In the previous century, when I was a snobbish New Englander, Walmart was an unholy place--a store chocking the life out of small, friendly businesses and full of the kind of people that hindered social progress.

Now, as a snobby, academic Floridian, I take Rowan to Walmart for fun. And for cheap coffee (they sell the Starbucks for like 6 bucks).

Anyway, go watch FlowingData's map of Walmart's growth. Via ZeFrank.


More Baseball: Manny's Market

Its January 31st, 2009. Many sports fans will consider today the day before the Superbowl. But I'm from Boston, so I consider today 13 days until pitchers and catchers. If the Patriots aren't in the playoffs, then its just the pre-baseball pre-season. This makes perfect sense to anyone from Boston.

With that in mind, here's my third baseball post in as many days. After yesterday, I got to thinking about when Manny's punishment would end. All along, I expected the Dodgers to throw down 3 years 60 million. But then, after looking up the Cardinals 2009 salaries, I looked at the Dodgers. Things aren't looking good for Manny; the Dodgers are already floating 118 million, the highest in team history. Granted, they offered Manny 22.5 earlier this season, but that's before giving Rafael Furcal 15.7 per season (which makes zero sense--a shortstop coming off injury with a career OPS of .764... yikes). They could still make the deal, but that jacks their salary figure to 2nd in baseball.

So, I did some digging. Here's my list of teams most likely to sign the Man-ram:

  • Oakland A's:
    An interesting home for Manny. A's. Though payroll rarely exceeds 60 million (only twice since 2000), they are only around 47m going into the season. And Manny Ramirez and Matt Holiday would make a great back-to-back. However, they only have 18 established players on the 25 man roster, so they need depth. Still Ramirez would instantaneously make them a contender for the West. And while the big free agent is not Beane's style, Manny is a sabermetrician's dream.
  • Arizona Diamondbacks:
    Once upon a time, the Diamondbacks won a World Series and managed to keep their payroll between 80 and 103 million (2001-2003). Give a team with their pitching an actual run producer in one of baseball's weakest divisions, and I smell Manny paying for himself. Their payroll rests around 67 million, so they could be a surprise player. If the Dodgers do sign Manny, then I think it will have been to keep him away from Arizona.
  • Florida Marlins:
    Don't laugh. The Marlins payroll totals 22.7 million--and yes, Manny would likely make as much as the rest of their team. Manny Ramirez puts butts in the seats. I won't say he pays for himself, but he does generate revenue and excitement. That's two things that the attention starved Marlins could desperately use.
  • San Francisco Giants:
    I'm assuming they've had enough with aging diva sluggers, and that's why they've been so quiet. But they have the need and the money to make this work. Their current salary is 14 million under the Barry years. But this team is so raw (or bad), that I don't think one slugger would make a difference. And San Fran was one of the few franchises who have seen a great hitter this century. Chances are Barry's blasts spoiled them--Manny wouldn't be as appreciated as he was in LA.

There's a few other teams out there who could take a shot--Minnesota and Cleveland could be in the mix. Thinking back to my baseball economy post, there's hesitancy in this market to risk committing this much money to such an unstable player. On a side note--I feel bad for the Brewers. After so much mediocrity, they are really investing in their franchise. I hope the fans can afford to come out and support the team.