Kairos CFP: dot mil

Here’s part of my excuse for not posting much lately. Alexis and I are pretty excited about it. And I might be soliciting some of you, dear readers, for contributions.

Call for Proposals

Kairos Summer 2010 Special Issue
dot mil: Rhetoric, Technology, and the Military
Guest Editors: Mike Edwards and Alexis Hart

This special issue of Kairos seeks to investigate the intersections between technology, rhetoric, and the military, as well as the connections between the military and literacy instruction. During World War II, College English published four articles (February 1944, May 1944, March 1945, May 1945) explicitly concerned with connections between literacy instruction in higher education and the contemporary military. Today, in a time of ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and anxieties about military action in Iran, such connections merit renewed attention. Furthermore, advances in communications technologies have complicated those connections. ARPANET, the first packet-switching network and direct predecessor to the global internet, went live as a Department of Defense project in 1969, and the intersection of networked rhetorics and military affairs has evolved in intriguing ways since. For example, email, web video, cell phones, video games, weblogs, and other digital technologies have become increasingly available as well as increasingly controversial within military contexts. For this special issue on rhetoric, technology, and the military, examples of possible topics of investigation might include, but are not limited to:

How soldiers’, sailors’, airmen’s, and Marines’ access to 24/7 networked communications technologies has changed the rhetoric of conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
Online alternative news sources and their influence on public perceptions of conflicts.
How digital technologies complicate concerns of operations security (OPSEC).
The Army’s ban on weblogging by soldiers without command approval.
The rhetorics and aesthetics of military-themed video games.
Distance learning for deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.
The use of just war theory, torture, protest, and other military-related subjects as topics for argument essays in first-year writing courses.
Corporal Pat Tillman and the public uses of the rhetorical canon of memory.
The rhetoric of PowerPoint in command briefings.
The use of netwar strategies by insurgency groups and conventional military organizations.
Media representations of the ethics and rhetoric of the “revolt of the generals.”
The rhetoric of recruiting.
Online “swiftboating” and the place of military service in political rhetoric.
The rhetorical framing of conflict in documentaries and news reports, as well as in first-hand accounts from on-the-ground warfighters.

Submission Guidelines:

For this special issue, we seek submissions for all sections of the journal (Topoi, Praxis, Reviews, Interviews, and Disputatio). We ask that contributors visit current and previous issues to determine which section best matches your work.

Topoi: Extended scholarly analyses related to the special issue theme.
Praxis: Longer classroom spotlights and brief digital tool-use narratives related to the special issue theme.
Reviews: Individual or collaborative reviews of books, media, and other texts of interest related to the special issue theme.
Interviews: Interviews with scholars doing work related to the special issue theme.
Disputatio: Short digital texts that invite or incite further commentary. This section operates like letters to the editor in more traditional journal venues; however, these texts take native digital forms, even if rudimentary in nature.

Additional Guidelines:

Please consult general submission guidelines at
Kairos can accept most web-ready file formats (check with the guest editors if you are unsure). Please keep in mind that this excludes word-processing documents.
We prefer URLs for review purposes. If you do not have access to open (or password-protected) webspace, please contact the guest editors in advance of the submission deadline to arrange alternate means of delivery.
We cannot accept email attachments larger than 2 megabytes (MB).
Queries to the guest editors are welcome in advance of the deadline. (Responses may take up to a week.)

Submission Deadline (Proposals): November 1, 2008

Contact both guest editors with a proposal via email. (Subject line: “dotmil submission: YOURNAME”.) The proposal should include a 1-2 paragraph explanation of the webtext’s topic and argument; a 1-2 paragraph description of the webtext’s structure, design, and associated technologies (including a URL and/or images, if authors wish); and a brief annotated bibliography. Authors will receive confirmation of submission, via email, within 2-3 days.

Publication Timeline:

Proposals due: November 1, 2008
Acceptance notification: December 1, 2008
Full webtexts due: March 1, 2009
Revised webtexts due: October 1, 2009
Publication date: May 15, 2010

Graduation Day

Saturday was Graduation Day for us, when the graduating class took their oaths and were commissioned as second lieutenants. It was a good day and a good speech by the Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, and a good ceremony, where I was happy to see a number of the cadets I’d worked with receive awards and recognition. And the military attention to the particulars of ceremony, if you’ve never seen such stuff, drew some emotion. Even though I knew what was coming, it was hard to resist feeling the grin and the slight tightness around my chest when the final words of the ceremony came, directed at the class of 2008, in the form of a preparatory command and a command of execution, with the emphasis on the second syllable of the command of execution:

“Class — dismissed!”

the cadet graduation hat toss

The Secretary of the Army’s speech was impressive. Low-key, certainly, and wide-ranging, as one tends to expect for graduation speeches, but he set as one of his introductory motifs Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 Bill for Religious Freedom, which states, in part, that

No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief.

Secretary Geren spoke out strongly against those who he called “zealots” who would oppress, restrain, molest, or burden those who do not share their religious beliefs, and while the implicit reference to the Taliban was clear, the fact that he did not qualify his critique suggests to me that it was likely aimed at zealots not only of one particular faith. And I find that commendable.

Toilet Bowl Sunshine

I’ve alphabetized and tabulated the survey results for words we like and don’t like in conference panel presentation titles. As I’d hoped, people had more than a little fun with the survey (thank you, Mr. Garcia, for risky, frisky, and Lebowski), but there are some interesting minor findings here, as well. (I’ll refer to respondents as “we,” but with such a small sample I’m not in any way suggesting that these findings are generalizable to a broader population of “we.”)

First: our likes are more diverse than our dislikes. The only repeated concept in the “yeah, I’d go see that panel” was punk, either as pseudo-punk or as punk rock. (Apparently, we’ll take punk any way we can get it.)

In terms of what we dislike in conference titles, there were a number of repeats: “post/process/ed” in its various forms (all from one respondent, who apparently really doesn’t like that construction), assessment, community, diversity, expressive or expressivism, literature or literary, praxis, Derridean parentheticalized prefixes, and — of course — Mark Bauerlein. I get the sense that some of these dislikes are tropes — as with the Derridean parentheticalized prefixes, modes of disciplinary talk that have reached the point of tiresome over-use — but with others, I’m not sure if it’s a sense that the terms or topics have been over-discussed to the point of redundancy, or if it’s a sense that use of the term in presentations has been consistently and problematically imprecise (as in the point Joe Harris uses Raymond Williams to make about the term “community” in what we call “discourse communities”).

Note, also, that the one term occurring in both columns is “queer.”

Results follow.

Read more

The Unbearable Ugliness of Panel Titles

In the interest of the advancement of knowledge and the quest for unalloyed truth, disciplinary status, and shameless self-aggrandizement, I’ve put together a research instrument that I have no doubt will lay to rest for all time the ugly questions surrounding improper areas of focus at academic conferences. To that end, reader, I’d be grateful for your input, if you’d be so generous with your time as to

take a very brief survey.

I’ll post the results here.

Or maybe propose to present them at an academic conference, in the interest of confirming certain folks’ ongoing fears.

Still Lazy After All These Years

On March 31, 2006, John Schilb referred to Mark Bauerlein as “lazy and paranoid” in response to Bauerlein’s uninformed attack in a blog post at The Valve on that year’s Conference on College Composition and Communication, with the evidentiary basis of Bauerlein’s attack being a few presentation titles.

In what one might see as a generous attempt on Bauerlein’s part to confirm Schilb’s assessment, he’s recycled his 2006 blog post at The Valve into a 2008 blog post at The Chronicle Review, with exactly the same method (cherry-picking presentation titles) and exactly the same evidence (the 2006 conference program).

The Plagiarized Field Manual, Part 1

(This post, the first in a series, builds upon, revises, and condenses a number of emails sent in somewhat different form to WPA-L, the writing program administrators’ listserv.)

The Army recently published a revised version of its field manual (FM) on counterinsurgency, FM 3-24. Field manuals are how-to guides for soldiers: step-by-step, easy-to-follow instructions for everything you can imagine you might have to do in wartime, from loading a boat to reading a map. They’re some of the most clearly written documents I’ve seen, and they’re also all in the public domain, since — like any writing I do in my current official capacity — they’re products of taxpayer dollars.

The counterinsurgency field manual, however, represents a shift in perspective on the Army’s part. Field manuals are efficient, straightforward, commonsense. For the most part, FMs are careful to avoid complexity and ambiguity, and eschew the complications that attend upon the intricacies of intercultural interaction. But the Army realized that what’s going on today in Iraq and elsewhere is a whole lot more complicated than what they were initially prepared for, and that realization prompted a fundamental revision in doctrine; a revision than actually engaged the complexities and ambiguities of intercultural interactions, and relied upon peer-reviewed academic scholarship in anthropology and sociology to do so.

So there’s the initial ground for debate, which has made the rounds in various forms on WPA-L and elsewhere: is it acceptable for the Army to adapt scholarship — yours, mine, anybody’s — to the warfighting and peacekeeping ends decided upon by the nation’s civilian leadership? (I’m doing my best here to make careful distinctions as to who does what, both out of a self-conscious awareness of my status as a civilian instructor at a military institution, and out of a discomfort with the ways I’ve seen academics sometimes unknowingly conflate military leadership with high-level civilian command.)

The scandal, though, is this: according to anthropologist David Price, the published version of the Army’s FM 3-24 on Counterinsurgency is deeply and thoroughly plagiarized, particularly in its Chapter 3, which patches together a wide range of verbatim or minimally edited passages from prominent sociological and anthropological texts without any sort of sufficient documentation in order to establish a series of definitional terms for use by officers, NCOs, and soldiers seeking to implement counterinsurgency tactics in the field.

Now, initially, when I saw this, I immediately got out all my old FMs: not a single works cited among them. David Price writes that “The cumulative effect of such non-attributions is devastating to the Manual’s academic integrity,” but apparently fails to grasp that this is in some ways a matter of genre: FMs are manuals for use in the field rather than the library, and the sergeants and lieutenants and captains who will put them to use are far less interested in where ideas come from than in matters of implementation. Some officers I’ve spoken to have echoed the observation that Army writing is community property and definitionally in the public domain, which likely contributed to the habits of mind that led to the failures of documentation. I don’t believe that excuses the plagiarism — particularly given Price’s point that “The most damning element of the Manual’s reliance on unattributed sources is that the Manual includes a bibliography listing of over 100 sources, yet not a single source I have identified is included” — but it does help to explain it.

But I’ve put my hands on a copy of the new FM, and the plagiarism is unfortunately damning, particularly given the hyperattention to citation in other areas. I don’t know whose intent it was, but the bottom line is this: there is clearly some intent to deceive associated with the citations in this document.

(More to follow.)

Months, Hours, Years

It’s only September, but I’m already deep into my second year as an assistant professor, and I’m feeling a bit at sea. My first year, I was protected; given the space to adapt to my institution and its habits and quirks, its possibilities and limits. Here, now, since mid-August, I’ve been plunged into committee and mentoring and extracurricular and planning work that sucks time away from my scholarship in far more concrete and visible and obligatory ways than the unfamiliarity of my first year did. Certainly, September is a particularly bad month, what with various mandatory government three-hour training session foolishnesses upon which I won’t elaborate, save to say that the alcohol and drug abuse prevention briefing began with a lecture on the dangers of absinthe, and went downhill from there. Would that I had the leisure for such dangers: I’m finding that I feel best when my weeks at the office run from about 7:15 to 5:30, and we’ll see how much that schedule lets me get done.

It looks to be a busy year, and while the book is gestating, I don’t think I’m going to be able to get an actual good solid start on it — for various professional reasons — until spring 2009.

So of my good rhet/comp readers, I’ll ask: is that too late, for somebody hired as an assistant prof in 2006?

Starting Again

I taught my first class of the semester on Monday. It felt good — it always does — to be back in the classroom again. New semester, new duties, new responsibilities: the bureaucracy here is the temporal equivalent of a gas, expanding to fill the available time. Which means I don’t have much time for leisure reading, but I’m riding my bike to and from work when the weather permits, and getting up early (5:15) to do PT before going in around 7. I’m trying to do the job stuff when I’m at work — I got some good work done in the office this summer, helping out with a Kairos issue (I won’t mind at all if you tell me how cool that logo is, and — while certainly partial — I really like what Steve did with his article), submitting one article for publication, and working on another, plus two more to go — and leave it behind as much as possible when I come home in the evening, but I know with the first batch of papers to grade, that’ll change. Still, I’m feeling well-adapted: I was one of the lead people working on our FYC curriculum over the past year, so I’m somewhat satisfied with the way we’ve worked the syllabus, and have much more comfort with the mesh between my expectations and my institution’s expectations than I did last year — to be blunt, it’s been a bit of a battle, and I felt like I took some flak last year. This year, I know the ropes, I know the responsibilities, and I know how the cadets are. Again, I love the plebes — the freshmen — because of their openness, their willingness, and their enthusiasm, but it’s also interesting to me that the cows — the juniors — that I taught last semester are now back as firsties with full firstie privileges, so I’ll run into them in their civilian clothes when I’m in town running errands. I’ll be mentoring some cows for the Marshall and Rhodes scholarship applications, and I’m mentoring a senior as a part of a pilot academic advising program, and that feels good as well. So: a new start, and I’m hoping it’s a good one.

Review and Response

Writing teachers often make use of a system whereby students write comments on one another’s papers, with those comments intended to help the student revise her writing. It’s a labor-saving pedagogical device, but when implemented carefully, it works well: students get a sense of how audiences read and respond to their writing, and revise accordingly. There is a name for this system.

Scholars who wish to share their insights make use of a system whereby their peers read and evaluate those insights and deem them worthy or unworthy for publication, and offer comments on those insights, with those comments intended to help the scholar revise her writing. It’s a labor-intensive academic practice, but our hope is that it keeps us honest: scholars revise, and only the best scholarship gets published.

While these two systems are similar, they are separate, and serve separate functions. However, there is a frequent tendency in our pedagogical and theoretical discourse to refer to both as “peer review.” I’d like to counter that tendency, because it too easily and conveniently elides the status differential between student writing and scholarly writing, and that status differential is something I’d like to see called into question. Mariolina Salvatori and Amy Robillard, among others, have already done substantial and significant work to make visible and problematize that status differential.

I think we need a more precise vocabulary that extends the work of Salvatori and Robillard and foregrounds the differences between those two systems in order to call into question that status differential. For that reason, I’d like to call our classroom work, wherein students read and respond to one anothers’ papers, “peer response,” and I’d like to call our scholarly work, wherein we review one anothers’ work for publication, “peer review.”

And I’d like to be a part of a conversation that discusses how we might productively blur those two terms.

Decades and Connections

Like Jeff, I recently received an invitation to my high school’s twenty-year reunion. I’m ambivalent about it: somewhat curious, but also not eager to spend a lot of money for a lame DJ and chatting with folks I mostly don’t remember. With my military service, I’ve taken a career path somewhat different from Jeff’s, but it’s interesting to think about what happens in twenty years.

Twenty years ago, I was a high school senior at Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring, Maryland, and then a college freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Twenty years ago, my first-year writing course was in Linda Flower’s composition curriculum, and my freshman psychology course — “Cognitive Processes: Theory and Practice” — was taught by John Hayes.

Twenty years ago, the American military was explicitly protecting economic interests in the Persian Gulf by escorting oil tankers when an Iraqi jet fired two missiles at the USS Stark and killed thirty-seven sailors.

Twenty years ago, Ira Shor described in Critical Pedagogy and Everyday Life the faceless, agentless agency of “a wildly growing and uncontrollable machine-economy [that] rushed across the land transforming everything it touched” and “created and peopled an educational frontier” in the form of the community college system (2); a system that some critics have suggested reinforces hierarchical structures of economic inequality.

Twenty years ago, Michael Joyce wrote the seminal hypertext fiction afternoon: a story. Bootleg copies circulated around the Carnegie Mellon dorms on 3.5-inch diskettes, where I encountered it. I thought it was something like a poetic interactive fiction, like Zork or Planetfall or Suspended. I also thought it was one of the most beautiful, puzzling, intricate, and compelling things I’d ever read in the way it went back and forth and traveled multiple times, multiple iterations, through various forking paths and nodes that changed in their meaning and nuance when I returned to them.

Twenty years ago, Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize in economics for his careful examinations of the ways technological development influences economic growth.

Twenty years ago, I was taking a freshman philosophy course from a professor I don’t remember. It was called “Philosophic Methods and Morals,” and it included a significant focus on logic and Turing Machines We analyzed and created various rule-bound (hypothetical) Turing Machines with read/write heads that moved back and forth on various tapes (paths?) depending on the symbol in each cell (node?). Working with these abstract computers was challenging, time-consuming, labor-intensive, but oddly fascinating in its crystalline intricacy.

Twenty years ago, C. Paul Olson wrote an essay called “Who Computes?” for the edited collection Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Power wherein he pointed out that “the computer as a tool does fundamentally reorganize material relationships and organizations of production and our thoughts about what production is” (183, emphasis in original). Charles Moran points out that composition still has not adequately responded to the economic critique Olson sets forth in the essay, but the way Olson demonstrates that better machines reduce work by replacing labor-intensive processes with capital-intensive processes (184) was a starting point for my dissertation.