Saturday, February 28, 2009

Visual Rhetoric: A Reader

Visual Rhetoric: A Reader in Communication and American Culture, edited by Lester Olson, Cara Finnegan, and Diane Hope (SAGE, 2008)

This book significantly advances theory and method in the study of visual rhetoric through its comprehensive approach and wise separations of key conceptual components.” -Julianne H. Newton, University of Oregon

SAGE Handbook of Rhetorical Studies

SAGE Handbook of Rhetorical Studies
, edited by Andrea Lunsford, Kirt Wilson, Rosa Eberly.

"Imagine four separate critical anthologies, all excellent and useful, each devoted to a specialized subject area within a broad disciplinary topic, and each containing a useful survey of the subject's historical context and intellectual pedigree and a brief introduction to the ensuing articles that demonstrate the current thinking within the field from a variety of useful perspectives. Combine these hypothetical titles into a single volume, add a statement of scope and purpose that combines personal history with an excellent survey of the intellectual and academic milieu out of which the specialized subjects arose, and one has the present title. Lunsford (Stanford), Wilson (Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities), and Eberly (Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park) offer 32 chapters in four divisions: "Historical Studies in Rhetoric," "Rhetoric across the Disciplines," "Rhetoric and Pedagogy," and "Rhetoric and Public Discourse." The many contributors remind the reader that rhetoric today is an ever-expanding, inclusive subject best characterized as an interdisciplinary creature ranging freely across (and even beyond) the fields of English, composition and writing, and communications. In its theory and applied practice, rhetoric has become something greater than the Greeks imagined, something better identified as meta-rhetoric, unlimited by its current conception and reevaluation of what "rhetorical" means.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."

(A.P. Church CHOICE magazine )


Robert Reich on Obama Budget

From Robert Reich on the Obama budget:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Finally a Progressive Budget

President Obama’s new budget is, well, audacious -- not just because it includes several big, audacious initiatives (universally affordable health care, and a cap-and-trade system for coping with global warming, for starters) but also because it represents the biggest redistribution of income from the wealthy to the middle class and poor this nation has seen in more than forty years.

Robert Reich's Blog, "Finally a Progressive Budget"

Restoring (some) Equality

We seem to be entering a period in which it will actually be possible to talk frankly at the highest levels of government about how government has contributed to economic inequality in the past thirty years.

The argument has been there all along, if you knew where to look for it, but the general public dialogue in the Reagan-Bush eras has derided the notion that the government had anything to do with rising inequality -- a widening gulf between the very rich and everyone else, a gulf that in some ways contributes to the inevitable crash of the market itself as the ability of the middle class to gain access to higher education and to spend on quality of life has eroded.

David Leonhardt in the Times on the Obama administration's new budget:
The budget that President Obama proposed on Thursday is nothing less than an attempt to end a three-decade era of economic policy dominated by the ideas of Ronald Reagan and his supporters. . . .

More than anything else, the proposals seek to reverse the rapid increase in economic inequality over the last 30 years. They do so first by rewriting the tax code and, over the longer term, by trying to solve some big causes of the middle-class income slowdown, like high medical costs and slowing educational gains. . . .

Before becoming Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers liked to tell a hypothetical story to distill the trend. The increase in inequality, Mr. Summers would say, meant that each family in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution was effectively sending a $10,000 check, every year, to the top 1 percent of earners.
David Leonhardt, "A Bold Plan Sweeps Away Reagan Ideas," New York Times, 26 February 2009.

See also Wikipedia, "Income Inequality in the United States."

Shut Up, Big Brother Is Talking to You

Alan Wolfe in The New Republic on Pleasant Grove City v. Summum

Government Talk Pretty One Day

Talk about judges making up law out of whole cloth--that, pretty much, is what the U. S. Supreme Court has just done. In Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, the Court, by a unanimous vote, concluded that a somewhat offbeat religious group has no right to place a monument touting what it calls the Seven Aphorisms on public land that already features a monument to the Ten Commandments.Link

A unanimous verdict suggests that Summum was on shaky legal grounds to begin with. But the decision of Samuel Alito, endorsed by the other conservative judges, relied on reasoning that drew strong objection from some of the Court's more liberal members. It's not complicated, Alito argued. The government, like any individual--or, for that matter, corporation--has the right to free speech. If it chooses to say that one religion's teachings should be represented in public and another's should not be, telling it that such a act constitutes discrimination in favor of one religion and against another is tantamount to denying the government its right to say whatever it wants. . . .

Alan Wolfe, "Government Talk Pretty One Day," The New Republic, 26 February 2009.

The decision is at Pleasant Grove City v. Summum

Friday, February 27, 2009


David Pogue on Google in the New York Times, with some interesting recommendations about recent applications and an appreciation for smart people.

David Pogue, "State of the Art: Geniuses at Play, on the Job," New York Times, 25 February 2009.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Recession Humanities

Patricia Cohen in today's New York Times presents an interesting sketch of the economics of the humanities in a time of recession.

Cohen includes a link to the Humanities Indicators Prototype of the Humanities Resource Center Online, a project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Difficult economic times often produce stresses on enrollment and employment in the humanities, followed by calls for a rhetoric to justify what studying the humanities, or the liberal arts more broadly, are worth when times are tough. Cohen's article is a useful prompt, and it is followed in the Times by some interesting and thoughtful reader comments.

Patricia Cohen, "In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth," New York Times, 24 February 2009.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

McEwan on Updike

Ian McEwan on John Updike in the latest New York Review of Books:

The Updike opus is so vast, so varied and rich, that we will not have its full measure for years to come. We have lived with the expectation of his new novel or story or essay so long, all our lives, that it does not seem possible that this flow of invention should suddenly cease. We are truly bereft, that this reticent, kindly man with the ferocious work ethic and superhuman facility will write for us no more.

In the same issue of NYRB there are excellent essays by Julian Barnes on George Orwell , and Richard Parker on big government's prospects.

Ian McEwan, "On John Updike," New York Review of Books, 12 March 2009.

Torture Now? Still?

The press has been reporting some wavering in the Obama administration about U.S. policies toward torture and related issues. Charles Kaiser offers a useful roundup of recent press and government statements.

Charles Kaiser, "Above the Fold: Cruel Intentions?" Columbia Journalism Review, 19 February 2009.

The Classless Society - A Cruel Delusion?

Sean McCann in the Wall Street Journal this week:
In the fall of 1933, Sherwood Anderson left his home in New York City and set out on a series of journeys that would take him across large sections of the American South and Midwest. He was engaged in a project shared by many of his fellow writers -- including James Agee, Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos, and Louis Adamic -- all of whom responded to the Great Depression by traveling the nation's back roads and hinterlands hoping to discover how economic disaster had affected the common people. . . .

In particular, Anderson found the people he met to be imprisoned by what he called the "American theory of life" -- a celebration of personal ambition that now seemed cruelly inappropriate. "We Americans have all been taught from childhood," Anderson wrote, "that it is a sort of moral obligation for each of us to rise, to get up in the world." In the crisis of the Depression, however, that belief appeared absurd. The United States now confronted what Anderson called "a crisis of belief." . . .
Sean McCann, "Will This Crisis Produce a 'Gatsby'?" Wall Street Journal, 21 February 2009.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

President Obama on the Home Mortgage Crisis

President Obama spoke this morning on the administration's plans to address the housing crisis. As rhetoric, the speech seems to me extraordinarily skilled. Obama explains the problem in a way that is both reasonably simple and fairly detailed, sketches the main parts of his proposed solutions, and ends with a call for responsibility and accountability. Without explicitly using the language of relief, reform, recovery, he touches on all three and shows how they are related.

Our housing crisis was born of eroding home values, but it was also an erosion of our common values, and in some case, common sense. It was brought about by big banks that traded in risky mortgages in return for profits that were literally too good to be true; by lenders who knowingly took advantage of homebuyers; by homebuyers who knowingly borrowed too much from lenders; by speculators who gambled on ever-rising prices; and by leaders in our nation's capital who failed to act amidst a deepening crisis. (Applause.)

So solving this crisis will require more than resources; it will require all of us to step back and take responsibility. Government has to take responsibility for setting rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced. Banks and lenders must be held accountable for ending the practices that got us into this crisis in the first place. And each of us, as individuals, have to take responsibility for their own actions. That means all of us have to learn to live within our means again and not assume that -- (applause) -- and not assume that housing prices are going to go up 20, 30, 40 percent every year.

This is the sort of clarity that FDR brought to the Fireside Chats, and a promising sign of things to come.

18 FEBRUARY 2009
Dobson High School
Mesa, Arizona
10:25 A.M. MST

Who Needs Newspapers?

On the shrinking newspaper: "With fewer watchdogs, you get less barking."

Are you subscribing to a local paper? A national paper?

Joe Mathews, "The Morgue," The New Republic, 4 March 2009.

What's at Stake in the Mortgage Mess?

David Leonhardt in the New York Times explains the problem and the choices in the home mortgage crisis. Leonhardt explains that,

there are two different groups of homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure.

The first group is made up of people who cannot afford their mortgages and have fallen behind on their monthly payments. Many took out loans they were never going to be able to afford, while others have since lost their jobs. About three million households — and rising — fall into this category. Without help, they will lose their homes.

The second group is far larger. It is made up of the more than 10 million households that can afford their monthly payments but whose houses are worth less than what is owed on their mortgages. In real estate parlance, they are underwater.

The problems are many here. Any solution needs to be big enough to stop a meltdown, but there are both moral and practical considerations in bailing out people who could stay in their homes if they chose to but might be tempted to walk away just to save some money -- even at the risk of their credit ratings. And there is a moral problem in bailing out people who got caught short on an investment because they were greedy or unwise. The public resentment to any bailout is likely to be fanned by Republican obstructionists, and by many dubious progressives, but failure to act could have a further depressing effect both on housing prices and on the economy as a whole. It is in all our interests to fix the problem.

An interesting rhetorical moment for President Obama -- how to explain the solution he chooses? We should find out today.

David Leonhardt, "Bailout Likely to Focus on Most Afflicted Homeowners," New York Times, 17 February 2009.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rich on the Debate and the Polls

Frank Rich in today's New York Times:

The stimulus bill is only a first step on [an] arduous path. The biggest mistake [President Obama] can make now is to be too timid. This country wants a New Deal, including on energy and health care, not a New Deal lite. Far from depleting Obama’s clout, the stimulus battle instead reaffirmed that he has the political capital to pursue the agenda of change he campaigned on.

Frank Rich, "They Sure Showed That Obama," New York Times, 15 February 2009.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Relief, Reform, Recovery

Economists and policy makers have been telling us that the present situation is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Some progressives have been calling for a new New Deal.

The public debate over this week's "stimulus" bill has struck me, for that reason, as somewhat impoverished.

In the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the case that simply re-starting the business cycle, kicking in a new boom that would lead to a new bust, was impractical and unwise. Instead, he offered an approach that is referred to, with some variations, as the three R's --

RELIEF -- Economic action to offer immediate relief to those most affected by the crisis.

REFORM -- Fixing the economic and financial systems so that the abuses that had led to the crash would not come again -- reforming the banks, the mortgage system, and Wall Street.

RECOVERY -- The return of prosperity in the private sector, which in the U.S. system is the engine of economic growth and offers the hope, under reasonable rules, of widespread prosperity.

I'm no economist, and so it is not really for me to say whether the stimulus bill passed by Congress this week will bring about recovery. But as a matter of rhetorical history, it has struck me as strange that President Obama and the sponsors of the bill have allowed the Republican opposition to define the debate as merely about stimulus -- as if recovery could be achieved with relief (in the short run) and reform (to prevent a return to this mess after another artificial bubble). If "stimulus" is the only theme in the debate, the Republican opposition can make a seemingly plausible argument about tax cuts. But their re-distributionist tax cuts in the past eight years and their neglect of regulation helped to bring about the crisis.

FDR taught that Recovery could not reasonably be expected by merely letting the business cycle do its work. Many people need relief now -- for example through extended unemployment benefits, some extension of various welfare benefits, health care, mortgage protection. And though most direct relief would not be expected for the long run, some of its elements might be needed by those worst off. Reform we desperately seem to need to restore sensible regulation to the market.

Or so it seems to a non-economist. In any case, one would hope for a rhetorical approach that makes the case for the role of RELIEF and REFORM in the planning for RECOVERY.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fireside Chat, 28 June 1934.

"The New Deal: Measures for Relief, Recovery, and Reform" Crossroads high school curriculum.

New Deal - Wikipedia

The Economic Crisis and National Security

It is being widely reported that a recent report by U. S. intelligence agencies warns that the world wide economic crisis is the greatest threat to national security.

Yahoo is carrying a story from Reuters, for example:

The global economic crisis has become the biggest near-term U.S. security concern, sowing instability in a quarter of the world's countries and threatening destructive trade wars, U.S. intelligence agencies reported on Thursday.

The director of national intelligence's annual threat assessment also said al Qaeda's leadership had been weakened over the last year. But security in Afghanistan had deteriorated and Pakistan had to gain control over its border areas before the situation could improve.

"The financial crisis and global recession are likely to produce a wave of economic crises in emerging market nations over the next year," said the report. A wave of "destructive protectionism" was possible as countries find they cannot export their way out of the slump.

In Congress, the economic recovery legislation passed with zero Republican votes in the House of Representatives and three Republican votes in the Senate.

see also:


Walter Pincus and Toby Warrick, "Economic Crisis Called Top Security Threat to U.S.," Washington Post, 13 February 2009.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Specter of Bipartisanship

Arlen Specter, one of three Republican senators who have agreed to vote for the stimulus bill, is reported in the Huffington Post as saying that at least several other Republican senators actually support the bill but don't dare do so in public, fearing a primary challenge.

To claim that the bill is not bipartisan because a Republican won't vote for it is dishonest -- the claim that instead of "job, jobs, jobs," we have "spend, spend, spend," is equally dishonest, since at this point to spend is to create jobs, especially when the spending is for the basic needs of those who are in the worst economic circumstances.

Paul Krugman - Failure to Rise

Paul Krugman on the bailout so far --

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach — a feeling that America just isn’t rising to the greatest economic challenge in 70 years. The best may not lack all conviction, but they seem alarmingly willing to settle for half-measures. And the worst are, as ever, full of passionate intensity, oblivious to the grotesque failure of their doctrine in practice.

Krugman gave the clearest early predictions of the mess we're in and is a useful voice now.

Paul Krugman, "Failure to Rise," New York Times, 13 February 2009.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kristof on the Bust Bowl

Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times today:

The neo-Hoovers criticizing today’s stimulus package make perfectly valid points about this or that flaw in the stimulus package. But the alternative is perhaps three million fewer jobs and the national economy looking like a balloon losing air.

Another thing: those railing against the stimulus are often the same folks who inherited an economy producing budget surpluses and transformed it into today’s fiscal catastrophe.

Nicholas D. Kristof, "Escaping the Bust Bowl," New York Times, 12 February 2009.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hendrik Hertzberg on Zadie Smith on Barack Obama

Read Hertzberg here at the New Yorker and Zadie Smith here at the New York Review of Books, on Barack Obama.

Two informal works of rhetorical criticism of a high order.

Abraham Lincoln Papers

Abraham Lincoln papers are available on line at The Library of Congress and at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project.

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Ray Basler in 1953, are available at the University of Michigan.