Month: August 2004

Election Politics & Rhetoric

I was delighted, after the ridiculous, stupid, and sustained Republican duckspeak about “flip-flops,” to hear George W. Bush pronounce the so-called “war on terror” to be unwinnable, and to then declare the very next day that the United States would win that so-called war. I’ve heard all sorts of Republican pundits trying to spin what the President said, to no avail. It’s a huge, idiotic, and disingenuous reversal, and anyone who tries to explain it is showing her or his absolute contempt for the intelligence of the American public. But of course, that’s what Karl Rove’s crew excels at: the rhetoric of assertion that contends, If you say it forcefully enough or often enough, it’ll be true.

So here’s some counterspin for the conservatives stupid enough or duplicitous enough to perpetuate the “flip-flop” nonsense:
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That River Joke

You know, the one about the river in Egypt. Yeah, I think I’m in denial about the semester starting next week, and so I’m avoiding anything scholarly or pedagogical in favor of the personal- and family-oriented. To that end, here are three more pictures: Dad, Mom and Dad, and me and David.

My dad, reading Playboy.

My parents, with dad trying to be all smooth with cigarette smoke coming out his mouth.

Me holding my little brother. He's really mad.

George Lakoff on Rhetoric

A while back, Chris suggested that I check out George Lakoff’s Moral Politics, and I added it to my to-read list, where it’s sat since, having taken secondary priority to my more economically-oriented dissertation reading. Today, I came across a link to an interview with Lakoff that made me wish I’d checked him out sooner. Basically, he’s a linguistics professor who examines the way conservatives have done a far better job than democrats in rhetorically framing national political debates. An excerpt will give you the flavor, but the whole thing is worth checking out, especially for people interested in rhetoric and politics.

You’ve said that progressives should never use the phrase “war on terror”

Dissertation Progress

Earlier this week, I met with Charlie and Donna, the two comp faculty on my three-person committee, and the meetings were really helpful. Donna gave me some super-detailed constructive comments on my early, early draft of Chapter Five and suggested putting together an “assertion outline”, acknowledging that organizational difficulties in dissertating are often the most problematic, and Charlie helped me talk through a series of the assertions I make in the half-chapter, and how they relate to assertions I intend to make in the dissertation.

Here are some of those assertions:
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The Interlingua

Check out the penultimate fifteen words of this comment thread at Crooked Timber responding to a recent ha-ha-ha-the-MLA-is-silly essay at The Believer, describing “millions of hours of English grammar and composition classes” as “the interlingua of global capitalism itself”.

First off, I don’t know of any colleges and universities that offer straight “grammar” courses, and this signals to me that the commenter has a rather distorted (albeit all too common) view of what first-year composition courses teach. But of course that “interlingua of global capitalism” thing totally grabbed my attention. I might suggest that many rhet/comp scholars would immediately protest, “No, no! That’s not at all what we’re trying to do!” But I wonder how many English Lit scholars — the types perhaps more likely to attend annual MLA conferences — might nod their assent, and think, “Well, yes; nice of those rhet/comp folks to handle the grubby little economic side of things, since we’re all about capital-c Culture.” (Yes, I know that’s unfair of me. I’ve been to MLA, and enjoyed it.) And then I wonder what global scholars outside of English departments and rhet/comp programs might make of the “interlingua” thing.


Thanks & Welcomes

Found out today that some advice I offered helped a correspondent get a university rhet/comp job, which is a terrific feeling. Thanks for asking, L, and for giving me the opportunity to be of help: you’ll be awesome, I’m sure. And you’ve put a grin on my face that’ll be hard to get rid of.

Inherited Vices

I’m home again and sleepless, after having flown the redeye back east from Seattle. Got into Dulles at six in the morning to change planes, and realized that I was too awake to sleep away the time to New England, and too sleepy to read anything academic. I found an open bookstore in the airport, and browsed dazedly backwards through the alphabetic shelves. Nothing, nothing, nothing: I was disappointed to find that Dulles, a DC-area airport, had no George Pelecanos titles, because Pelecanos is one of the absolute best crime writers working in the genre, and it helps as well that his writing is so concretely grounded in the DC area, where I grew up. I would say that Pelecanos is a guilty pleasure, but there’s nothing guilty about the pleasure I get from his books, his verisimilitude, his skillful rendering of places I know, his grasp of the way that Washington, DC embodies so many of the racial and racist conflicts that go to the heart of American culture.

For those who don’t know: Washington, DC has more citizens than the state of Wyoming, yet is forbidden from having any sort of voting congressional representation, because the city is predominantly African-American and Democratic, and Senate Republicans block any attempt to put two more seats into the Senate. So the citizens of DC have no vote in Congress, and hence the slogan on their license plates: “Washington, DC: Taxation Without Representation.”

Anyway: my mom, who lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, and ran the Silver Spring library, introduced me to Pelecanos, who also lives in Silver Spring. For my birthday, she gave me a copy he’d signed of Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go, and I was hooked. Even if you don’t like crime writing, he’s as fine a writer as you’ll find, with his attention to nuance and setting, and the moral ambiguities of his characters.

But, well, yeah: the airport didn’t have any of his books. So I scanned up the shelves until I got to ‘C’, and there was Bernard Cornwell and his Richard Sharpe series. My dad loves the prolific Cornwell, and I’ve often given my dad Cornwell novels twice a year, one for his birthday, one for Christmas. Cornwell writes well-researched historical fiction, and while his characters are more cardboardy good-guy bad-guy than Pelecanos, it’s still rollicking good fun, and a hell of a lot better than the godawful Tom Clancy. The Sharpe series details the career of Richard Sharpe, an enlisted English rifleman who receives a battlefield promotion to officer’s rank in the early part of the nineteenth century, and as you might guess, it finds its termination at Waterloo. Sharpe encounters detestable superior officers, gets laid a lot, and helps win battles, all with supreme historical verisimilitude, and like I said, it’s great fun. So I picked up Sharpe’s Eagle in a $4 TPB edition at the airport, and had devoured it by the time I got home.

Maybe I should set myself a reward system: for each dissertation chapter I finish, I get to blow a day on a Sharpe novel. Sound reasonable?

US Airways Blues

Sure, I had to hustle some, but I got to the airport with 55 minutes to spare. Easy through the counter check-in, smoother than boiled okra through security, and then it’s kick back and wait at the gate.

And wait.

And wait.

We start to figure something’s wrong when it’s twenty minutes before departure and we haven’t started boarding. The announcement comes: the flight to Philadelphia’s cancelled and we need to re-book.
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Who Produces, Who Consumes

I recently mentioned the two articles in College English that evidence an explicitly economic focus in their titles; one from 1947, and one from 1977. I had the opportunity to read them both on my flights out here to the left coast, as well as the Henry Giroux article recently linked by the Happy Tutor, and a couple chapters from Zuboff and Maxmin. What I found was an interesting progression of economic rhetoric that helped me to solidify some of the conclusions I’ve started to develop about the nature of economic discourse in English studies, in academia, and in mainstream American culture.

It’s like this, see:
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