Monday, December 29, 2008

Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics

Paul Krugman, this year's Nobel laureate in Economics, is a Princeton professor and a New York Times columnist. He predicted the end of the housing bubble early.

His new book takes on the crisis.

Krugman, Paul. The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008. W. W. Norton, 2008.

There's a review in Daily Kos here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A New New Deal

There is going to be a lot of debate in the next months and years about economic and national recovery. Here's a brief sketch in The Nation by Robert Borosage and Eric Lotke, "A New New Deal," that usefully summarizes one version of the agenda.

Borosage and Lotke make the traditional but useful rhetorical point, sometimes implicitly, that new policy, especially big national policy change, comes about because in a crisis or widely felt problem, policy thinkers already have reforms worked out in some detail and are just waiting for a chance at implementation. They also add the observation that pressure from further left can move the center in the direction of broadly liberal change (and of course the same thing can happen on the right).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pennsylvania Winter

Merry Christmas from Pennsylvania.

Poster: WPA Federal Art Project poster 1936-1939 from Library of Congress collection.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The Senate Armed Services Committee has released its report on United States abuse of prisoners in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The report concludes that:

Conclusion 1: On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.

Conclusion 2: Members of the President’s Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA’s interrogation program during that period. . . .

Conclusion 19: The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

See the report here.

New York Times article with background here.

Abu Ghraib photo from Wikipedia; believed to be in public domain.

Alison Bechdel, DTWOF


DTWOF is Alison Bechdel's blog and comic strip, now apparently on a sabbatical. Here's a link to her entry for the end of spring semester 2008, with some premises that will be familiar to academics coming to the end of another semester.

Alison Bechdel is the author of Fun Home, her graphic autobiography of growing up in a small town in central Pennsylvania.

And don't miss OM-MO, the Zen strip.

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For was published in November 2008. Dwight Garner's New York Times review is here.

The images here are copyrighted by Alison Bechdel.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

This Is Not Drill

Today, December 7, is Pearl Harbor Day -- the anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

The image shows a naval dispatch sent by CINCPAC -- Commander in Chief Pacific -- to all major naval commands and fleet units. The telegram reads: "AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL"

For this and related documents, have a look at the Library of Congress web site, which has links to a repository of documents relating to the events of that day, including man-in-the-street interviews by folklorists.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's war message, delivered to Congress on December 8, 1941, is available at the FDR Library and at the American Presidency project.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


This week posters have been appearing in Paris urging French President Sarkozy to engage in serious negotiations for climate change.

Barak Obama is not yet president, and yet his image is already being matched with Lincoln, FDR, and John F. Kennedy, and now it is being used to call other national leaders to serious policy work.

News of the Sarkobama campaign, now revealed to be a Greenpeace project here; here; here;

Graham Spanier for Secretary of Education?

Marc Ambinder reports on his blog at The Atlantic that Graham Spanier, President of Penn State University, is being considered by the Obama transition team as Secretary of Education in the new cabinet.

Ambinder reports, "For Education Secretary, Democrats say that Graham Spainer [sic], the president of Penn State University, and Ray Mabus, the former governor of Mississippi, are said to be in the running. (If Joe Paterno gets a vote, then maybe it's Mabus.) Others include John Deasy, the superintendent of the Prince George's County public school system, Linda Darling-Hammond, a well-regarded academic from Stanford and an Obama education policy adviser, and Ronnie Musgrove, another former Mississippi governor who lost his bid for Senate. "

The story was picked up by Aubrey Whelan at the Penn State Daily Collegian, who writes a followup.

Aubrey Whelan, "Cabinet May Add Spanier," Daily Collegian (Penn State University), 4 December 2008; Marc Ambinder, "Obama Will Announce Richardson as Commerce Sec. Tomorrow," a reported blog on politics, The Atalantic, 2 December 2008.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Anti-Intellectual Presidency

John McWhorter reviews The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush, by Elvin T. Lim (Oxford University Press, 2008) --

Lim pays some lip service to larger trends but focuses on a narrower analysis, carefully posing that the increasing anti-intellectualism in presidential rhetoric resulted from a “tyranny of small decisions” effected by speechwriters and presidents taking their cue from the linguistic tone of the administrations preceding them. This analysis, however, can explain only so much. Truman may well have despaired of equaling Franklin Roosevelt’s eloquence and instead emphasized his own flinty straight-talking persona, while Lyndon Johnson was linguistically insecure and simply did not seek eloquence at all. This kind of analysis, however, fails to explain why in the nineteenth century even a plain-spoken ex-general such as Ulysses S. Grant pitched his official statements at the grand level, while a plain-spoken ex-general such as Dwight Eisenhower did not—or why Richard Nixon’s oratory was even more conversational than Lyndon Johnson’s.

The overarching explanation is the cultural context of an American culture that embraced informality in the 1920s and kept at it ever since. Clinton, for example, was not simply possessed with an animus toward flowery speech, and he certainly did not consciously decide to sound less formal than his notoriously inarticulate predecessor, George H.W. Bush. He was, instead, someone who had smoked pot in dormitories while listening to the kind of music that the parents in Bye Bye Birdie reviled—and that was the source of his rhetoric.

The review: John McWhorter, "A Rhetorical Question," First Things (October 2008).

The book: Elvin T. Lim, The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush, (Oxford University Press, 2008).

More reviews: Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed; David Broder, Washington Post;

Marcellus Shale -- It's a Gusher!

From the Penn State Newswire, 12 August 2008

Deep-well natural gas drilling a concern for state's water quality

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

University Park, Pa. — Reminiscent of Pennsylvania's halcyon days of oil production and coal mining early in the last century, the current boom in natural-gas well drilling is a concern for the state's streams and groundwater, according to an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Decades ago, we weren't careful with coal mining. As a result, we are still paying huge sums to clean up acid mine drainage from that period, and we will be for a long time," said Bryan Swistock, water resources specialist with Penn State Cooperative Extension. "We need to be careful and vigilant or we could see lasting damage to our water resources from so many deep gas wells being drilled across Pennsylvania."

This latest wave of gas-well drilling is unlike other previous exploration because the wells are so deep, tapping the Marcellus shale formation, which is a mile or more below the surface of much of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York. Scientists have known for years the gas was there, but it wasn't until new drilling technology was developed that it could be extracted. This method uses hydraulic pressure to fracture the shale layer so trapped gas can escape.

"Fracking, as they call it, can require several million gallons of water for each gas well, and some wells may be fracked more than once during their active life, which might span more than a decade," Swistock explained. "Where that water comes from, and what the drillers do with it when it is recovered, is a big issue for our state. The fracking water can have various chemical additives along with natural contaminants from deep underground when it comes back to the surface, so it needs to be collected and treated or recycled properly."

In other states, fracking water has been found to contain numerous hazardous and toxic substances, including formaldehyde, benzene and chromates. Most municipal sewage-treatment plants can't or won't accept gas-well waste fluids. Another potential hazard from gas-well wastewater is the release of radon and other naturally occurring radioactive materials, noted Swistock.

''Radioactive substances are not uncommon in Pennsylvania groundwater to begin with,'' he said, adding that the waste fluids that come with gas production also may contain high levels of salt, various metals such as iron and manganese, and traces of barium, lead and arsenic. "Although highly diluted with water, the proper treatment of all gas-well waste fluids is a big issue that needs to be addressed."

People who live close to gas-drilling operations should have their water tested by a third-party, DEP-approved lab, advised Swistock. "Homeowners who have their own well or spring and are within 1,000 feet of a gas-well site are very likely to be visited by water-lab employees hired by the gas company," he said, adding that homeowners should take advantage of this free testing and make sure to get copies of the results, which they are entitled to by law.

"If homeowners decide to do their own water testing, it's important that they have an unbiased expert from a state-certified lab collect the samples in case the sample results are needed for legal action," he said.

The timing of sampling is also important, according to Swistock. Well owners should have their water tested within a few months before the start of the drilling. Once a company has started drilling, it's too late because there won't be a record of the well water's quality before drilling. If a resident decides to test for any impacts after the drilling has occurred, that needs to be done within six months because drillers are presumed responsible for any damage to water supplies within six months after drilling has begun.

"Although we have occasionally seen effects on water supplies beyond 1,000 feet, the regulation that is written into the gas and oil act states that any water supply within 1,000 feet of a gas well is the driller's responsibility for six months after drilling," he said. "If there is any complaint, the driller is guilty until he is proven innocent; outside the 1,000-feet distance and six-month time frame, the burden of proof shifts to the homeowner."

While contamination from waste fluids is one concern, another is where the companies will get all of the fresh water they need for drilling and fracking. Swistock warned that taking too much water from headwater streams may disrupt sensitive aquatic ecosystems.

"Our mountain streams, many of which harbor wild trout, are precious resources and we cannot allow them to be dewatered to dangerously low levels," he said. "Two drilling operations in Lycoming County recently were shut down by the state Department of Environmental Protection because they were drawing huge volumes of water from small streams in violation of the Clean Streams Law."

Complicating the water-usage issue is differing oversight across the state. Both the Delaware River and Susquehanna River Basin commissions require permits from well drillers who plan to withdraw large amounts of water. The Ohio River basin currently has less oversight.

Growing up in Indiana County, Swistock saw both the benefits and negative effects of gas-well drilling. "The economic impact can be tremendous, and the environmental effects can be minimized if we are careful," he said. "The newer, deeper drilling in the Marcellus shale is different than the gas-well drilling we are accustomed to, and it's happening very quickly.” We need to adapt our regulations and strengthen our regulatory agencies to make sure we are prepared to protect our water resources."

Thanks to Diane S. Hope, the William A. Kern Professor of Communications at Rochester Institute of Technology, for the link to this Penn State story, which I had missed.

The local papers have been full of stories about the Marcellus Shale, and lots of landowners are reportedly being approached to sell the drilling rights to their property. The process is developing so rapidly that there has not been time for a public debate to mature before some landowners have committed to allowing drilling on their land.

More at Wikipedia.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Health Rhetoric

In The Economist this week, an interesting analysis of the rhetorical and policy wisdom of appointing Tom Daschle Secretary of Health and Human Services and putting him in charge of persuading Congress to pass comprehensive and universal health care for the United States. Such a program was originally to have been part of the package that gave us Social Security in 1935, but health was dropped because of Congressional resistance. Congress has been resisting ever since, with the notable exception of Medicare, passed under Lyndon Johnson. The Economist appears to argue that the problem is partly a matter of policy, partly a matter of politics, and very much a matter of rhetoric. The choice of Daschle is itself read in partly rhetorical terms.

This looks like a pretty shrewd pick, and the fact that it is the first cabinet job to be sort-of-announced is an indication that Barack Obama is in deadly earnest about one of his main campaign promises: comprehensive health-care reform. . . .

By appointing a big cheese to the health job, Mr Obama seems to be defying the gloomy view that the state of the economy rules out such an expensive initiative. His proposed plan has been costed at anything from $50 billion to $100 billion a year, which many people argue can not be afforded in the current environment. He could, of course, make the opposite case. The deepening recession is likely to have dreadful consequences in health-care terms, as people lose their jobs and the health insurance that goes with them, and as companies scale back or even abandon the packages they offer their workers. So reform is more urgently needed than ever.

In addition, there is such widespread agreement on the need for fiscal stimulus at the levels of hundreds of billions that it might, paradoxically, become politically easier to slip another large programme into the mix, especially one that benefits ordinary people rather than bankers. Last, stressed American companies are actively backing radical reform, because the burden of health insurance costs is crippling their ability to compete abroad. In the early 1990s, they opposed it, and helped to kill it off.

This last observation is perhaps crucial -- American business is crippled by its health care obligations. A comprehensive and universal federal program could make American business more competitive and might even reduce the incentive to send jobs abroad. If businessmen pressure Congress for reform, that may at last make it happen. The time is right, and the rhetorical forces that have stalled reform may now be aligned to create change.

The photograph that accompanies the article in The Economist abstracts Tom Daschle in the act of speaking, with an operation apparently in progress behind him. The positioning places him in the apparent role of speaking for doctors, nurses, and patients--a switch on the traditional opposition of the American medical and insurance establishment to universal health insurance.

See "A Shrewd Choice: Can Tom Daschle and Barack Obama Fix American Health Care?" The Economist, 21 November 2008.

photo credit: AP, from The Economist

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Naples and the Camorra

Roberto Saviano is the author of Gomorrah, a book about the Neapolitan mafia, now a motion picture.

The BBC has an interesting story about the situation in Naples, with hints that the code of silence is under pressure from citizens who are no longer willing to put up with "the system."
"The Camorra grows rich on silence," says Judge Franco Roberti.
Saviano is under guard. The Camorra threatens that he will be dead before Christmas.

BBC News, "Breaking Camorra's Silence Code," 21 November 2008. Photo: BBC.

See also Alexander Stille, Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic; Leonardo Sciascia, The Moro Affair; Norman Lewis, Naples '44: A World War Two Diary of Occupied Italy; Le Mani Sulla Citta (1963; Hands Over the City) by Francesco Rosi, with Rod Steiger; Rachel Donadio, "Underworld," New York Times, 27 November 2007 (review). IMDB on Gomorrah; movie site and trailer.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

22 November 1963

Today is the 45th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas -- 22 November 1963.

From the President's diary, online at JFK Library.

See exhibit at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. See also John F. Kennedy, "Remarks Intended for Delivery to the Texas Democratic State Committee at the Municipal Auditorium in Austin," 22 November 1963, at the American Presidency Project.

History seemed to go crazily off track on that sad day 45 years ago.

Photo credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts. Public domain.

Passerby Eats Shoots and Leaves

This just in from our local paper --

UNIVERSITY PARK — As spiraling trails of orange fire punctured Thursday night's sky, a frightened flock of southbound crows sparked quips about droppings from passers-by.

You've got to watch out for those passersby -- they cannot be trusted.

Friday, November 21, 2008

FDR at Gettysburg on video

FDR throws out the first ball, Washington, D.C. 24 April 1934
FDR Library, Hyde Park, New York

During his presidency, FDR gave two speeches at Gettysburg, in 1934 and 1938. I've been remembering them this week, since November 19 is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

YouTube has video transfers of some newsreels made on the occasion of FDR's speech at Gettysburg on July 4, 1938, the 75th anniversary of the battle. Reading the speeches now, it is possible to see how, all those years after the end of the Civil War, Roosevelt is still working to re-unite the country. The veterans on that occasion, old men who returned for their last reunion, seemed willing to shake hands and meet as friends. All these years later, 80 years after Roosevelt's 1938 speech at the dedication of a peace memorial on the Gettysburg battlefield, the first comments on the YouTube posting of Roosevelt's speech wave the banner of the lost cause bitter-enders, still not ready for peace.

For more on FDR's 1934 and 1938 Gettysburg speeches, see -- Thomas W. Benson, "FDR at Gettysburg: The New Deal and the Rhetoric of Presidential Leadership," The Rhetoric of Presidential Leadership, ed. Leroy Dorsey (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 145-183.

~ O ~

Steven Heller interviews Sol Sender, designer of the "O" sign, in the New York Times, 20 November 2008.

Q: What were you thinking when you conceived this idea?

A: When we received the assignment, we immediately read both of Senator Obama’s books. We were struck by the ideas of hope, change and a new perspective on red and blue (not red and blue states, but one country). There was also a strong sense, from the start, that his campaign represented something entirely new in American politics — “a new day,” so to speak.
Obama campaign logos can be downloaded from the campaign web site. Sol Sender comments that one of the advantages of a good logo design is that it can be adapted to a variety of uses -- here are some examples from the Obama campaign site. I suppose seeing all these images together, and there are still others, gives some sense of the targeted campaigning, and the possibly fragmented result, of modern campaigning. On the other hand, there is a latent appeal here for convergence and perhaps unity, since these images are not solely appeals from the campaign to its audiences, but also images that can be downloaded or purchased, and then displayed on windows, car bumpers, tee shirts, and so on, so that the message seems to be going not simply CAMPAIGN--> VOTER but VOTER--> VOTER.

The voter-to-voter effect is perhaps given more power not only by the sophisticated design, but also by the sense that many others are sharing the same appeal. On the other hand, the sense that this is part of a much larger movement may be for some viewers dimished by the sense that the grass roots may instead be made of astroturf.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Prez @

If you are interested in the intersection of rhetoric and computers, this might interest you. And if you're not, what are you doing here?

Jeff Zeleny has written a fascinating piece in the New York Times on what it might mean for Barack Obama to give up his Blackberry phone and email. The information world of a president is crucial to every person in the world. The president has access to all sorts of information denied to the rest of us, but is cut off from much ordinary communication by "the bubble" -- a zone of security, privacy, and protection that can also push presidents into a place where they are entirely out of touch with the ordinary life of everyday persons.

Obama might be the first president, writes Zeleny, to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office.

Jeff Zeleny, "Say Goodbye to BlackBerry? Yes He Can, Maybe," New York Times, 15 November 2008.

photo: BlackBerry Storm from BlackBerry

Do You Study Rhetoric, or the Canon of Great Books?

What's in your bookbag? Robert K. Landers comments on the Great Books movement and its displacement by theory and politics. Is it necessary that this be a form of (politically) conservative nostalgia? I don't think so, but Landers seems to take that perspective.

Given what has happened to the study of the humanities in the past two decades -- with theory and politics playing a larger role and fewer people reading the traditional canon -- it is hard not to feel a bit nostalgic for Great Books earnestness. In academe, there is only what might be regarded as a saving remnant: "Among major universities, only Columbia, where the whole idea began" -- around the time of World War I, long before the mania erupted in Chicago -- "still force-feeds a much-abbreviated version of the Great Books curriculum to its undergraduates," Mr. Beam notes. "Tiny St. John's College, created by disciples of Hutchins and Adler, still devotes all four years to teaching the Great Books, as Hutchins vainly hoped the University of Chicago would do."

Molly Rothenberg, a student at St. John's in Annapolis, Md., told Mr. Beam of comparing notes when she was a sophomore with a fellow graduate of the public high school in Cambridge, Mass. St. John's sophomores study works by such authors as Aristotle, Tacitus and Shakespeare. Her friend was attending Bates College in Maine. "She told me they were studying Rhetoric," Ms. Rothenberg said, "and they would be watching episodes of 'Desperate Housewives' and listening to Eminem. They were going to analyze it. I just laughed. What could I say?"

Robert K. Landers, "Learning for Everyone," Wall Street Journal, 10 November 2008.

The Great Books movement endures as a foundation. St. John's College in Annapolis is not too traditional to be on the Internet; you can look up the philosophy and the curriculum for St. John's, and its current reading lists. Columbia College of Columbia University in New York provides an online description of its core curriculum.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Google Earth - Ancient Rome

Thanks to Sarah Benson of St. John's College for pointing us to this story on the BBC about Google Earth's new project that gives 3-D views of ancient Rome. You can find the BBC story here.

You can download Google Earth free here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is Russia Collapsing?

Murray Feshbach in the Washington Post:

Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power. Sure, Russia's army could take tiny Georgia. But Putin's military is still in tatters, armed with rusting weaponry and staffed with indifferent recruits. Meanwhile, a declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia's economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it's facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic.
Does it matter? It certainly matters to Russia, but our national leaders have perhaps not been clear about what it might mean to the United States and to other nations near and far. In the recent elections, John McCain made war-like and nationalistic hay out of the Russian invasion of Georgia, though he let the matter slide as it became clearer to those who took an interest that our client in Georgia had probably been tacitly encouraged to take stupid risks on the border regions with Russia. Russia behaved badly, but so did Georgia and the United States, though not in equal measure.

But the challenge to the next president is not merely rhetorical. Russia is a nuclear power, perhaps more dangerous to the world when it is collapsing than during the long stalemate of the Cold War. It will be interesting to see how diplomatic and public rhetoric are managed in the presidency of Barack Obama.

By a strange turn of associations, I was in Moscow in December 1991, the month the Soviet Union collapsed. I had been asked to travel there to consult with the Soviet Academy of Sciences--which became the Russian Academy of Sciences in the days we were there. Peter Olenik of Princeton and I were sent by the Carnegie Foundation and IREX to encourage the institutes of the Academy to install computers with modems that could connect their scholars to each other and especially to other countries. Not only the Soviet state but also the Soviet economy were collapsing. The ruble was nearly worthless and hard currency was simply not available to buy books, journal subscriptions, or plane tickets to international conferences. Carnegie had funded a project led by Michael Cole of University of California, San Diego, to experiment with person-to-person email connections between Russia and the United States, and our visit was part of the transition of that effort as Russia emerged from the rule of Communism and the Soviet empire. The idea was to form a culture of open cooperation and mutual trust.

It is very sad to see what has happened since those optimistic days.

Murray Feshbach, "Behind the Bluster, Russia Is Collapsing," Washington Post, 5 October 2008.

Chairman Meow

Seen on NY Times comics page, sourced to here.

Forbes I. Hill

This obituary for Forbes Hill appeared in CRTNET this week.

Gary Gumpert,

I am sad to report the death of professor, singer, social activist Forbes I. Hill on November 5, 2008. Mercifully he was aware and gratified before leaving us that Barak Obama was elected the 44TH president of the United States.

I was a long-time colleague of Forbes Hill at Queens College of the City University of New York. We both arrived at this unique city university in the 1960s. I knew him as a scholar with degrees from San Diego State University, the University of Oregon, and Cornell University. We shared the "sturm and drang" of a changing discipline and a time of social upheaval. I came from the "media" silo and Forbes from the tradition of "rhetoric." It was an exciting time of academic change that would shape the communication discipline for the 21st century. We shared Aristotle, but argued about the importance of media upon the new rhetoric. We both taught in a large multi-media lecture room enjoying and being stimulated by the magic of the energized and socially conscious students of that time. I saw Forbes change and absorb and reflect the changing times and field.

While a long time colleague, I have become aware that I only knew a portion of the man. I knew he was a passionate singer, and political activist. He was one of the founding faces of the Professional Staff Congress, the professors' union of the City University of New York. He was chairman of the Queens College chapter. We shared the anti-war sentiments of the 70's but I was unaware of the extent and depth of his social and political conscience.

We found out about Forbes death when one of my colleagues noticed his obituary in the New York Times. We had been aware of Forbes' long and dignified battle with prostate cancer. That story was reported in the New York Times last November. "Mr. Hill seems ready for a time when treating his cancer is no longer the right approach, replaced instead by a focus on preparing for the end of his life." His courage and relationship to community emerged in the interfaith memorial tribute held at the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims held in Brooklyn on November 9th. It was a moving testament to a long and meaningful life.

It was a time to remember a colleague and to learn more about what we did not know. The biographical information included in the memorial program told of Forbes growing up in California and his long college years during which he picked cherries, worked in the cannery and roamed around the country during which time he "met all kinds of people, from migrant laborers to fellow intellectuals. During this period he became active in progressive politics and causes." Forbes was born in 1928 and something that one of his three children or his wife Lynn mentioned in their eloquent comments caught my attention and upon returning home inspired me search the New York Times archives for mention of my former colleague.

A 1948 news item reported that "five campaign workers for Henry A. Wallace reported tonight that a band of men had dragged them from their headquarters here, and drove them ten miles out of town where they were released with a warning to 'stay out of Augusta'...Forbes Hill, 23 years old, had a black eye and a torn shirt and two of the women showed bruises when they reported the incident at Grovestown, GA., fifteen miles west of this city."

How much do we know about each other before it is too late?

Gary Gumpert
Professor Emeritus
Queens College

November 11, 2008, Number 10645

Communication Research and Theory Network a service of the National Communication Association

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Experiences of an English Soldier in World War I

World War I: Experiences of an English Soldier is a blog with letters home from a British soldier in World War I.

Today the last of Harry Lamin's World War I letters was published.

Veterans Day

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt.-Col. John McCrae

Monday, November 10, 2008

Paul Krugman -- Think Big

Paul Krugman in today's New York Times has interesting advice and a history lesson for Barack Obama -- think big. Krugman argues that Franklin Delano Roosevelt could have ended the Great Depression sooner had he enacted even bolder progressive measures.

Paul Krugman, "Franklin Delano Obama," New York Times, 10 November 2008.

Sylvio Berlusconi's Sex and Race Follies

Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi said in a Moscow news conference, after a meeting with Russian President Medvedev that the newly elected American president Barack Obama is "young, handsome, and even tanned." Berlusconi has a history of making crude jokes. This one reverberated around the world.

Here is the Los Angeles Times report:

Berlusconi, who has a history of controversial remarks, said the relative youth of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and Obama should make it easier for Moscow and Washington to work together.

Then, smiling, he said through an interpreter, "I told the president that he [Obama] has everything needed in order to reach deals with him: He's young, handsome and even tanned."

Medvedev did not visibly react.

Berlusconi, 72, later defended the remark, calling it "a great compliment. . . . If they have the vice of not having a sense of humor, worse for them," the ANSA news agency reported.

Berlusconi said the remark was meant to be "cute" and he lashed out at those who disagreed, calling them "imbeciles, of which there are too many."

Italy's only black lawmaker, Jean-Leonard Touadi, called the comment embarrassing.

Carla Bruni, wife of French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, was born an Italian citizen and became a French citizen when she married Sarkozy earlier this year. When she learned of Berlusconi's comments, she said that she was glad she had become French.

Los Angeles Times, "Foreign chiefs have funny way of offering congrats; Berlusconi says Obama is 'handsome and even tanned.' Ahmadinejad slams U.S. policies," 7 November 2008.

See also

Alexander Stille, Letter from Rome, "Girls! Girls! Girls! The P.M.'s Sex Follies," The New Yorker, 3 November 2008, 70-76.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How Bad Is It?

This opinion graphic appeared in The Economist on Friday, comparing the situations inherited by presidents from Roosevelt to Bush. Roosevelt's election in the benchmark year 1932, after the Great Depression had moved through the country for years, starting soon after the stock market crash of October 1929, makes our present difficulties seem more manageable -- but perhaps that's The Economist's way of arguing that though we have problems we could recover without a major move to the left.

That debate also takes the form of an argument about whether President-elect Obama should start with large moves or small ones; it was argued in these terms by David Brooks and Paul Krugman in the New York Times on Friday, 7 November 2008. And then there's the argument urging the new president do nothing and get out of the way of the market; the case is put by Andrew Wilson in "Five Myths about the Great Depression," Wall Street Journal, 4 November 2008 (if you buy his argument I'm guessing you did not vote for Barack Obama on November 4).

These issues are presented to us as doubly rhetorical. They are rhetorical in that they are presented to us as arguments for one course or another as issues of policy. They are also rhetorical in the sense that choosing the order of the agenda and small versus large moves has not only technical but also rhetorical dimensions, since each move creates the new rhetorical situation and the climate of opinion in which the next move can be addressed.

graphic credit: AP, in The Economist, 7 November 2008.

See also

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, "The First 100 Days," The Nation blog, 7 November 2008.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

100 Days and 75 Days

This image from today's New York Times exactly captures the hope, in some ways premature, for Barack Obama to get to work and fix America's problems. The photograph by Doug Mills of the Times, and the mise en scene provided by the campaign, suggest a president sitting with his cabinet in the White House.

Americans -- and the American press -- have celebrated the election of Barack Obama on Tuesday night, and by the next day they wanted him to take charge. Weeks ago, Daniel Schorr, a great figure in American journalism, expressed the longing that if Obama were elected he should immediately be welcomed as a partner by the current occupant so that he could get to work on change. Schorr obviously did not expect that to happen, but did suggest that perhaps we should move up inauguration day. Joe Nocera in the Times, in the story that accompanies Doug Mills's photograph, also expresses the widespread impatience for the president-elect to act, and act now.


It is of course Constitutionally inappropriate for a president-elect to start governing until inauguration day. Herbert Hoover tried hard to get Franklin D. Roosevelt to join him in economic and financial planning before inauguration, but Roosevelt quite properly would not be drawn. In those days, the wait was even longer, as inauguration was not until March 4. The change to January 20 came in a Constitutional amendment before Roosevelt's second inauguration.

On the other hand, in 2000, the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, which infamously declared the recount over, thus making George W. Bush president, despite his loss by more than 500,000 votes in the popular election and the fact of still-uncounted votes in Florida, came on December 12 -- giving George Bush too little time for adequate transition planning.

Americans may be forgiven for not being Constitutional scholars -- but Barack Obama actually is a Constitutional scholar, and he seems to understand well the nuances of presidential action. His repeated reminder during yesterday's press conference that he is not yet president, while still indicating his preferences on some policy matters, seemed a reasonable attempt to balance the Constitutional proprieties and the urgencies of public expectations.

Perhaps our ever-shortening news cycle and our saturation in the images of the campaign have helped us forget that there are schedules other than those of cable TV news and the Internet. We're about to get a reminder, and it already seems like a long wait. It will be interesting to see how the Obama campaign manages the problem of visibility versus Constitutional reticence as these 75 days before the first 100 days tick away.

photo credit: Doug Mills, New York Times, 8 November 2008.


Joe Nocera, "Talking Business -- 75 Years Later, a Nation Hopes for Another FDR," New York Times, 8 November 2008.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Now What?

The site has a set of forms for sending an account of your story or your vision to the transition. I know, I know, it's an occasion for sentimental, faux-movement self-congratulation, but it's not a bad idea to do some stock taking at this point and ask yourself -- and maybe tell the new president-elect -- what you hope for now.

I stumbled on the site and found myself writing this spontaneously

I hope for a country at peace, with widely shared prosperity and a commitment to accessible health care for all, accessible higher education, and open, transparent government that leads with both action and clearly argued commitments.

I hope for a country where the fellow putting a new floor in our 35-year old house doesn't have to lose a tooth because he could not afford the $700 that a root canal, which would have saved the tooth, would cost him and his family.

I hope for a country that can provide support that honors the commitment of Nancy C., whom I drove to the polls on election day to vote for Barack Obama after she had spent six hours in chemotherapy and was exhausted and in pain.

I hope for a country where the college students in my classes at Penn State can graduate from college without massive debts that will hold them down for decades, shaping their career choices and limiting their lives when they could otherwise be doing more to serve the public good.

I have high hopes for relief, recovery, and real reform.

Congratulations on this magnificent campaign and this historic election; now let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Tom Benson
Penn State University

Why not tell them what's on your mind at

President-elect Obama has created a web site where you can follow the transition and even apply for a job in the new administration. This is evidently part of the promise made during the campaign to open up the government. This will be interesting to follow.

This could be highly useful -- but perhaps it could also be a way of institutionalizing the permanent campaign.

Tell us your reactions.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Campaign Speeches You Didn't Hear

Did both candidates have two speeches ready for Tuesday night? Perhaps we will never see the manuscripts that were almost certainly readied for John McCain's acceptance speech and Barack Obama's concession speech, had the election come out otherwise.

And then there is Sarah Palin's speech on Tuesday night. The one that did not get delivered.

The New York Times reports today on the contention between McCain and Palin that ran through the campaign--the clothes, the Couric interview, the refusals to be guided by the campaign.

But behind those episodes may be a greater subtext: anger within the McCain camp that Ms. Palin harbored political ambitions beyond 2008.

As late as Tuesday night, a McCain adviser said, Ms. Palin was pushing to deliver her own speech just before Mr. McCain’s concession speech, even though vice-presidential nominees do not traditionally speak on election night. But Ms. Palin met up with Mr. McCain with text in hand. She was told no by Mark Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest advisers, and Steve Schmidt, Mr. McCain’s top strategist.

There was a moment in McCain's gracious speech when he thanked Sarah Palin and suggested she had a bright future; one could see Todd Palin give Governor Palin a look of acknowledgment and satisfaction--and it looked to me as if she was giving him a wink and a nod of confirmation.

Elisabeth Bumiller, "Internal Battles Divided McCain and Palin Camps," New York Times, 6 November 2008.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Now Let's Get to Work

Barack Obama, Grant Park, Chicago, 4 November 2008

John McCain concedes, 4 November 2008

Jesse Jackson, Grant Park, November 4, 2008

Jesse Jackson. Grant Park. November 4, 2008.

photo from Bag News Notes.

The sight of Jesse Jackson weeping in Grant Park inevitably brings back memories for those who were alive forty years ago of the hopes and fears of the Civil Rights era, and of other images of that time. In April we saw the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis. Here are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, 3 April 1968, the day before King was killed.

Memphis, 4 April 1968

Ballot Design

NY Times piece today on ballot design.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

PBS - YouTube "Video Your Vote" Project

Have you seen the Video Your Vote Project?

This is a fascinating project, and clearly a model for citizen civic video.

Is Megan There?

November 4, 2008
5:02 p.m.
Somewhere in central Pennsylvania


ME: Hello.

YOUNG MALE VOICE: Is Megan there?

ME: Sorry, there's no Megan here. That's the second time today someone's asked for her, so you may have a problem in your database.

YMV: I'm trying to reach Megan Benson. For the McCain campaign?

ME: Sorry, no Megan here, but we're Bensons, too.

YMV: Well, I'm calling for the McCain campaign. Did you vote today? For John McCain?

ME: No, we actually voted for Barack Obama.

YMV: Oh, too bad.

ME: Well, when it's all over in a few hours either McCain or Obama will have won, and you and I will both still be Americans, and we'll get on with it.

YMV: I'm not so sure about that.

ME: Why?

YMV: I don't want to live in a country where people's money is taken in taxes that then go to benefits for other people.

ME: Sure you do.

YMV: Huh?

ME: We've had a graduated income tax in this country for a hundred years; you believe in it, Barack Obama believes in it, I believe in it, and John McCain believes in it.

YMV: Well, I've got to go make some more calls.

ME: Okay, thanks for calling. Think about it.

Student Vote Suppression in Blair County, Pennsylvania

Students attempting to vote today in Blair County, Pennsylvania, were turned away if their permanent addresses conflicted with the local residence shown on their voting registration in the county. Such refusals to allow students to vote are improper.

The Chancellor of Penn State's Altoona campus acted to secure the intervention of the county solicitor and sent the following letters to faculty and students on campus.

Dear faculty,

I write to ask that you be understanding and flexible with students who may have been late for class or missed class due to issues surrounding their attempts to vote today. There were two issues: 1) long lines and several hour waiting periods at the polls, and 2) several students were denied provisional ballots because their permanent address is outside of our area.

Thankfully, the County Solicitor gave a ruling this afternoon that appropriately affirmed students' right to vote via provisional ballot. I have emailed all students suggesting that if they were denied the right to vote that they return to the polling precinct to request the right to vote via provisional ballot. Please see below the email message I sent to students.

I thank you for your understanding.

With gratitude,



Dear Students,

For those of you who attempted to vote today but were denied because of residency issues, the County Solicitor has ruled that you are entitled to vote.

Please return to the polling precinct and resubmit your request to vote. You should be issued a provisional ballot to allow you to vote in today's election.

If there is any further question or issue that you encounter, please ask the Judge of Elections at the polling precinct to call Ms. Ingrid Healy, the Director of Elections, at 693-3287 for clarification and approval.

You may need to be assertive in this request, but do not hesitate to do so, because as an American citizen it is your right to vote.


Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry, Ph.D.

Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry, Ph.D.
Penn State Altoona
3000 Ivyside Park
Altoona, PA 16601

See also Huffington Post on Iowa student voter suppression.

1000 students in line to vote at Penn State University Park campus today--at 7:00 A.M.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Times Topics: Political Advertising

The New York Times has a useful online index of its stories about political advertising.

See also Cara Finnegan's links to her nominations of top viral videos of the campaign at First Efforts.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

LIFE in Photos

NPR did an interview this afternoon on a newly published compilation of LIFE photographs.

Two More Days -- Four More Years?

Everyone I talk to these days is so excited about Tuesday's election, and breathless to have the long campaign be over.

This image is from today's Daily Kos -- no date or photo credit, I'm afraid.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

John McCain Has Abandoned Town Hall Meetings

Politico is reporting that John McCain, who initially said he preferred town hall meetings, has quietly stopped scheduling them since his audiences began to make speeches that created a backlash against McCain. At one point, McCain actually justified his attack ads by saying they were his only reasonable alternative after Barack Obama declined to appear with McCain at an extended series of town hall debates during the campaign.

UPDATE -- On November 3, C-SPAN is broadcasting tape of a McCain town hall in Peterborough, New Hampshire from yesterday, November 2. He seems relaxed and direct, and even was willing to differ somewhat from a questioner on a clean-coal issue (McCain said he would invest in clean coal, but would build coal plants now). Granted, were McCain to say this in Pennsylvania--and he has been saying it in Pennsylvania--he might be accused of pandering, but my sense just catching the question and answer exchange at a glance from Peterborough was that the citizen was advocating for clean technologies. So, at least there was something like a conversation and an airing of pros and cons. Where has this McCain been for the past two months?


The world press is very interested in the U.S. presidential election.

Rome, Italy. La Repubblica today --

Obama, appello alla radio
cambierò gli Usa"

Elezioni americane, -3. Il democratico si rivolge agli elettori. Ed è alle prese con la notizia di una zia clandestina che vive a Boston. Negli stati a rischio le ultime tappe della campagna elettorale. I sondaggi dicono che il senatore nero è sempre in vantaggio. Secondo Zogby, McCain si è avvicinato

Excelsior - Mexico City, Mexico --

Le Monde, Paris, France today --

Elections américaines : la fiabilité

des instituts de sondage en question

Peut-il perdre ? Les sondages peuvent-ils à ce point se tromper ? Ces interrogations peuvent paraître incongrues, tant tous pronostiquent une victoire du candidat démocrate Barack Obama à l'élection présidentielle du 4 novembre, même si la marge s'est un peu réduite en octobre.

The Irish Times, Ireland

McCain, Obama sweep battleground states in final push

Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama battled today in states that voted Republican in 2004 in the final, frenetic weekend of a long and grinding US presidential election campaign.

Mr McCain was in Virginia looking to turn out the vote on Tuesday in a state that normally votes Republican but appears to be siding with Mr Obama.
The Guardian, United Kingdom --

Editorial: The US stands on the threshold of the new era it needs. Americans should elect Barack Obama

Sign of the Times

CNN is reporting a Sarah Palin rally in Polk City, Florida at which no mention is made in any of the signs of John McCain.

McCain Push Poll in Pennsylvania

A few minutes ago I received a call from an outfit identifying itself as conducting a nonpartisan poll -- National Poller 08.

It turned out to be a push poll for John McCain, with accusations about gay marriage, guns, Fannie May . . . and then I hung up.

They called from 703-263-1345

the whocalledus site identifies this number as Natl Poler 08 operating under various names involving the phrase "pro life."

More on Palin Snub of Penn State President Graham Spanier

The Daily Collegian reports confirmation from Penn State's office of public information that Sarah Palin, campaigning on the Penn State campus, declined an offer to meet Penn State President Graham Spanier. Classy.

Pennsylvania 5th District - no longer safe Republican?

We've just been informed by a highly reliable source that an internal Republican poll of Pennsylvania's Fifth Congressional district, a "safe Republican" district for decades, is now showing a tie between Republican Glenn Thompson and Democrat Mark McCracken.

Thompson has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campaign. The district has been so safely Republican that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not send money to McCracken, who has spent almost nothing on the campaign.

This would be a historic upset for the largest Congressional in Pennsylvania.

What's Your Sign?

Every Obama-Biden yard sign in our small-town suburban neighborhood, where we've lived for over thirty years, was stolen last night. There must have been at least a dozen -- I have never seen so many. All gone. Way to go, real Americans.

Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel has died at the age of 96. The Chicago Tribune summed up his career today, and surely it is fitting to read what the Chicago papers have to say about this great man.

photo credit: Charles Osgood, Chicago Tribune, 16 May 2007 (1 November 2008)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ronald Reagan Chief of Staff Endorses Obama-Biden

The Daily Kos on an MSNBC interview with Ken Duberstein, chief of staff to Ronald Reagan, in which Duberstein discusses Sarah Palin's lack of qualifications -- and John McCain's lack of judgment in choosing her as candidate for vice president.

Bill Clinton at Penn State, take two

Here are some additional photos of Bill Clinton's visit to Penn State on October 29.

Jack Selzer, professor of English and associate dean
of the College of Liberal Arts introduced President Clinton.

The tone was cordial and serious, by all reports. The local paper went so far as to lead with the story that President Clinton presented a reasoned argument for the election of Barack Obama -- a real contrast to the usual frame of combat taken for granted with everyday casualness by the press.

On the other hand, there are rumors around campus, so far unverified by Senses of Rhetoric, that during her visit to campus to speak at Rec Hall, the day before President Clinton's speech in the same location, Sarah Palin refused an offer to meet University President Graham Spanier on the grounds that he was suspected of being a Democrat. If true, would not that qualify as churlish? Would you be surprised?

these and more photos are at Penn State Public Information

photo credits:

Bill Clinton and Jack Selzer, by AnneMarie Mountz for Penn State Public Information.

Bill Clinton speaking, by Greg Grieco for Penn State Public Information.

Penn State Public Information photo album of Sarah Palin visit.

The Morning Paper

The morning paper that comes to our door at 5:00 a.m. or so (and wakes the cat) is ready every day to read at breakfast.

Today in the Centre Daily Times:

Friday, Oct. 31, 2008

Phillies victory doesn’t cause riot

Why this man bites dog story? On Saturday night, after Penn State beat Ohio State in Ohio, there was a riot in State College.

Surviving the Academic Job Hunt

Debra Hawhee has a timely reminder of Kit Hume's Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt. Useful for humanists looking for tenure track positions in the humanities.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bill Clinton at Penn State

Bill Clinton spoke at a rally for Barack Obama at Penn State yesterday afternoon (while I was meeting with a seminar on Alfred Hitchcock). The Centre Daily Times, our local paper, which runs a story, photos, and video this morning, reports that 1500 people attended.

Photo credit: Nabil K. Mark, Centre Daily Times, 30 October 2008.

In Bag News Notes this morning, photos by Alan Chin of Sarah Palin and John McCain in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Barack Obama Television Speech, 29 October 2008

A video of the Barack Obama 30-minute TV speech on Wednesday, 29 October 2008 is at Huffington Post and YouTube.

Analysis by Jim Rutenberg at the New York Times.

Tom Shales in the Washington Post.

Is the Income Tax Socialism?

Sarah Palin and John McCain have been claiming that Barack Obama's tax plan is share-the-wealth socialism -- taking your money to give to somebody else.

We have had a progressive income tax system in the United States for a century, with adjustments here or there along the way, and some calls for a flat tax.

Some links on this issue (I'll add a few more to round this out)

Daily Kos, "Let's Put an End to McCain's Lies about Obama's Tax Plan," 29 October 2008.

GOP Holocaust Warning in Pennsylvania

The Republican Party is apparently targeting Jewish voters in Pennsylvania with a warning that Barack Obama might precipitate a second Holocaust.

Bonnie Goldstein, "How the GOP Scares Jews," Slate, 28 October 2008.

Errol Morris on Political Advertising

In today's New York Times, Errol Morris on political ads.

Errol Morris, "People in the Middle," New York Times, 29 October 2008.

Pennsylvania in the Balance

Judging by the commentators and the actions of the candidates, Pennsylvania is a crucial state in this presidential election.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden are leading in all the polls, but of course anything could happen.

In our mid-state university town, we have had visits this year from Barack Obama (during primary season), Sarah Palin (a photo op earlier in the month, and a rally on campus on Tuesday evening). Bill Clinton will speak on campus tonight.

From Getty Images, here is a campaign rally in Pottsville, Pennsylvania --

The image captures the dismay in the press over the McCain campaign's "I'm a patriot and a war hero and we don't really know much about the loyalties of that other guy." The appeal has worn thin, and though it does apparently appeal strongly to a core of constituents, it seems likely to remind independent voters, given the skepticism of the press frame, of how thin the McCain rhetoric is.

Our local paper this morning frames the story of last night's Sarah Palin rally as a desperate gesture: "The McCain campaign's last-minute dash for Pennsylvania blew into town Tuesday night as running mate Sarah Palin stood in a packed Rec Hall and declared that "this is a close race.""

Another front page story in the CDT is headlined, "Die-Hard Supporters Flock to Palin."

Sarah Palin photo credit, Nabil Mark, Centre Daily Times, 29 October 2008.

See also Bag News Notes, "One Woman in Pennsylvania," 29 October 2008.

ABC News on Palin lies about Obama in Western Pennsylvania.

Obama ad on McCain and winking Palin, at Huffington Post.