Monday, March 30, 2009

Speaking as a Professor

From today's Chronicle of Higher Education:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held on Friday that a public-college professor’s statements can be considered job-related, and thus not “citizen speech” protected by the First Amendment, even if they were made in connection with activities not specifically covered by the professor’s contract. . . .

The university said it had fired him for doctoring student grades, and the appeals court described his First Amendment claims as “makeweight attempts” to fight his dismissal for violating the university's academic code. It held that he would have been fired even if he had not made any of the statements that he cited in claiming he was the victim of illegal retaliation.

Peter Schmidt, "Court Broadly Defines Job-Related Speech in Upholding Delaware Professor's Dismissal," Chronicle of Higher Education, 30 March 2009.

The court decision in the case is here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Some Man Who Would Take Responsibility and Act

Drew Gilpin Faust reviews James McPherson's new book, Trial by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (Penguin Press, 2008). Faust describes Ulysses S. Grant's first meeting with Lincoln, as recalled by Grant in his memoirs:
Grant's memories of their encounter on that day provide a telling glimpse into Lincoln's conception of his role as commander-in-chief, as well as into the frustrations that had plagued him as he searched for the kind of leader that Grant became. Lincoln explained "that he had never professed to be a military man," but had been "forced" by the shortcomings of commanders to take on a far more extensive military role than he either intended or desired. "All he wanted or had ever wanted," Grant reported, "was some one who would take the responsibility and act." Grant would prove to be just that man.
Here at Penn State, we have just had a visit from Kirt Wilson of the University of Minnesota, who on Friday gave a wonderful talk on Lincoln in public memory. Some of the themes of that meeting with Grant echo in Wilson's very different analysis of Lincoln's invention of shared rhetorical agency in the Emancipation crisis.

Drew Gilpin Faust, "The Progress of Our Arms," The New Republic, 18 March 2009.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Space Tourism

Are you a college student? Have you considered study abroad? Our Communication Arts & Sciences group leaves for seven weeks in Rome in early May. You are too late to sign on for this year, but there's always next year. On the other hand, you might consider space tourism, for prices starting at about $20 million.

From the New Republic: The first female space tourist was U.S. entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari. According to Space Adventures, Ansari took Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto's place in 2006, after he failed a medical exam prior to his scheduled takeoff. MAXIM MARMUR/AFP/Getty Images. Photo from the New Republic slide show.

Yale Italian Studies web resources

Yale University Italian Studies web site -- great resources.

Jumping at the Journal

A really interesting rhetoric-of-news story by Ryan Chittum in the Columbia Journalism Review on the Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch. Chittum explains how the shrinking of the news stories, while seemingly making them newsier, is actually eliminating the analytical perspective on business and finance developed by the WSJ.

Ryan Chittum, "The WSJ and the Limits of a 'No Jumps' Policy: Dumbing Down and Devaluing the Wall Street Journal," Columbia Journalism Review, 25 March 2009.

Home on the Range

Wade Goodwyn told an amazing story on NPR this morning about the power of home builders in Texas to influence the justice system. Just in case your populist outrage needs stoking up today.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The New York Times carries a story today about a movement in Italy to get more children walking to school. The Italians have developed the piedibus -- adults organizing to walk the children to school by safe routes. Already the environmental effects are considerable.

Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Students Give up Wheels for Their Own Two Feet," New York Times, 27 March 2009.

see also

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reforming Criminal Justice

Katrina Vanden Heuvel in The Nation:

Our criminal justice system is broken. The US represents 5 percent of the world's population but accounts for nearly 25 percent of its prison population. We are incarcerating at a record rate with one in 100 American adults now locked up--2.3 million people overall. . . .

Finally, there are Congressional leaders--none more prominent than Senator Jim Webb --who understand that the system isn't functioning as it should and there is an urgent need for reform.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, "Senator Webb's Act of Strength," The Nation, 12 February 2009.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Lovely short documentary Arrotino: Living off a Knife's Edge -- Michele Muzio the knife grinder -- by Alan Helix on YouTube.

See also the photo and earlier story at my Rome and rhetoric of tourism blog. Thanks to Alan Helix for bringing his little film to my attention in a comment on the blog.

Hillary: The Movie

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the film Hillary: The Movie, a 90-minute political documentary released for the 2008 campaign. At issue is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, whether it covers the film and whether, if it does, the law should stand or be declared unconstitutional.

Adam Liptak describes the oral arguments in the New York Times.

Adam Liptak, "Justices Skeptical of Campaign Law's Scope," New York Times 25 March 2009.

The link on the image above will take you to the film at The link to the web site for the film itself, sponsored by a group called Citizens United, is here, where you will also find a trailer.

Brian Snee has also posted a note on the film at our Rhetoric of Documentary blog here. Our 2008 book on The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary is about just this sort of film in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Poster v. Photo

The New York Times reports that the original photograph used as the model for the famous Obama Hope poster, which is the basis of a copyright lawsuit by the Associated Press, has now become a collector's item, too.

image: Photo by Sara Krulwich, New York Times, 24 March 2009.

See also

Arlen Specter Joins Filibuster against Labor Law Reform

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced in the Senate today that he would oppose the Employee Free Choice Act -- and not only oppose it, but join the Republican filibuster against it.

Once upon a time a filibuster meant endless debate. Now it means no debate, no vote.

Responses in Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, Washington Post, The Nation,


The Council of Editors of Learned Journals has begun a blog to explore the influence of Web 2.0 for journals, which are experiencing enormous challenges as content goes online.

If you are an academic, it's worth a look.

I have been serving this year as the chair of our Faculty Senate Committee on Libraries, which is just now preparing to send to the Senate a report written by Penn State's Dean of Libraries and Scholarly Communications Nancy Eaton on "Scholarly Communications and Open Access." This is a crucial issue for higher education -- for research, teaching, and outreach -- and the world is changing fast.

The CELJ blog is designed to operate for a fairly short time, attempting to put together a preliminary set of principles for academic journals in the new environment. Comments are solicited. Then the blog and the comments will migrate to a Wiki, where further refinement, revision, and amplification of the principles will be invited.

New Hard Times at New York Times

The New York Times has begun a new video series, inviting readers to submit short video interviews of friends and relatives who lived through the Great Depression.

The New Hard Times can be found here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hang Together

Jean Strouse in today's New York Times compares today's economic crisis with the collapse of 1907, when J. P. Morgan stepped in to support the market:

Moreover, Mr. [Warren] Buffett said he could “guarantee” that in five years or so “our great economic machine” will be running a lot faster than it is now, with the government playing an enormous role in how quickly it recovers. Last fall he declared that we had just been through an “economic Pearl Harbor.” Last week he said that in order to fight this economic war the country has to unite behind President Obama, the government has to deliver “very, very” clear messages and we all have to focus on three jobs:

Job 1: win the economic war.

Job 2: win the economic war.

Job 3: win the economic war.
This is an interesting passage, because it not only calls on President Obama to employ a clear and forceful rhetoric, but it also calls on all the rest of us to unite and support the president. That challenge may remind us how very much in this crisis we have all enjoyed the luxuries of spectatorship -- indignation, fear, outrage, worry, distraction. We have asked President Obama and his administration to "restore confidence."

Whose confidence? Those other people? Or you and me? And are not you and I responsible, in part, for our own confidence, for prudence and good sense?

On the other hand, calling on us to give the president our support, and pointing out that we'll fail if we don't, could develop into an implicit set of loyalty tests, with suspicions that critics are defeatists who are actually contributing to our economic insecurity -- we've seen that before in our American rhetorical history, too.

What an interesting time.

Where's your nest egg?

"Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." Benjamin Franklin

[image: Benjamin Franklin in 1783, from an engraving at the Library of Congress, based on a painting by Joseph Duplessis].

Jean Strouse, "When the Economy Really Did Fall Off a Cliff," New York Times, 23 March 2009.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

About Those Letters

I was happy to come across in the Medieval Review Gillian Knight's very positive review of Carol Poster and Linda C. Mitchell, eds., Letter-Writing Manuals and Instruction from Antiquity to the Present: Historical and Bibliographical Studies (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007).

In the academic world these things take time. (Disclaimer: I'm the editor of the series in which this book was published).

Campaign Donations -- Your Tax Dollars at Work

Michael Isikoff and Dina Fine Maron in Newsweek:
There was plenty of outrage on Capitol Hill last week over the executive bonuses paid out by AIG after getting federal bailout money. But another money trail could make voters just as angry: the campaign dollars to members of Congress from banks and firms that have received billions via the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Michael Isikoff and Dina Fine Maron, "Follow the Bailout Cash: TARP Funds Get Recycled as Political Contributions," Newsweek, 21 March 2009 [from the 30 March 2009 Periscope column].

The Rhetoric of Government Action

Frank Rich argues that the rhetorical effects now sought by the Obama administration, and crucial to the national well being, can be found only by going beyond the rhetoric of "outrage" into much more specific verbal rhetoric and the rhetoric of visible, public action.

To get ahead of the anger, Obama must do what he has repeatedly promised but not always done: make everything about his economic policies transparent and hold every player accountable. His administration must start actually answering the questions that officials like Geithner and Summers routinely duck.

Inquiring Americans have the right to know why it took six months for us to learn (some of) what A.I.G. did with our money. We need to understand why some of that money was used to bail out foreign banks. And why Goldman, which declared that its potential losses with A.I.G. were “immaterial,” nonetheless got the largest-known A.I.G. handout of taxpayers’ cash ($12.9 billion) while also receiving a TARP bailout. We need to be told why retention bonuses went to some 50 bankers who not only were in the toxic A.I.G. unit but who left despite the “retention” jackpots. We must be told why taxpayers have so little control of the bailed-out financial institutions that we now own some or most of. And where are the M.R.I.’s from those “stress tests” the Treasury Department is giving those banks?

That’s just a short list. . . .

Rich's essay is an interesting analysis of the rhetorical effects of words and "actions," and of the rhetorical importance of timing, or kairos.

Frank Rich, "Has a 'Katrina Moment' Arrived?" New York Times, 21 March 2009.

Saving the Newspaper

The debate on saving the newspaper continues to flourish, even as newspapers continue to shut down or shrink their newsrooms. An interesting new entry appears in The Nation this week -- John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers." From the story:
Blame has been laid first and foremost on the Internet, for luring away advertisers and readers, and on the economic meltdown, which has demolished revenues and hammered debt-laden media firms. But for all the ink spilled addressing the dire circumstance of the ink-stained wretch, the understanding of what we can do about the crisis has been woefully inadequate. Unless we rethink alternatives and reforms, the media will continue to flail until journalism is all but extinguished. . . .

What to do about newspapers? Let's give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers. The newspapers would have to publish at least five times per week and maintain a substantial "news hole," say at least twenty-four broad pages each day, with less than 50 percent advertising. In effect, this means the government will pay for every citizen who so desires to get a free daily newspaper subscription, but the taxpayer gets to pick the newspaper--this is an indirect subsidy, because the government does not control who gets the money. This will buy time for our old media newsrooms--and for us citizens--to develop a plan to establish journalism in the digital era. We could see this evolving into a system to provide tax credits for online subscriptions as well.
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers," The Nation, 6 April 2009.

To keep up with this story, have a look especially at The Columbia Journalism Review and the large set of reports and working papers from the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bipartisan Decorum

Richard Reeves has put a useful historical perspective on Dick Cheney's recent attacks on President Obama, comparing the incident with John F. Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs.
President Obama must have been a bit surprised when, on his 54th day in office, the former vice president, Richard Cheney, decided to go on television and brand him a danger to the Republic. “ “He is,” said Cheney, “making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”

That is not the way the game is usually played.
Richard Reeves, "Hail to the Chief--In Public, That Is," New York Times, 20 March 2009.

I have done some writing about the Bay of Pigs affair, with which Reeves compares the Cheney remarks, and so I found Reeves's history lesson especially striking: Thomas W. Benson, Writing JFK: Presidential Rhetoric and the Press in the Bay of Pigs Crisis (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003).

Columbia University International Research Centers

Columbia University has announced the opening of two new international research centers:
In a concerted effort to deepen its already extensive global perspective, the University is establishing Columbia Global Centers in Beijing, China and Amman, Jordan. They are the first of what the University plans as a network of centers around the world to promote and facilitate international collaborations, new research projects, academic programming and study abroad, enhancing Columbia’s historical commitment to global scholarship.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Des Moines Register Truth Squads the Healthcare Debate

The Des Moines Register has a straightforward and blunt answer to free-market myths about health care (I first saw this in Daily Kos).

It will be interesting to see whether such rhetoric can survive the coming storm of lobbying and propaganda in the health care debate.

Google Books Comes to Penn State

The anticipated scanning of Penn State Library's books by the Google scanning project has begun. Here's an announcement from the University:
Penn State sends first Google shipment

Penn State University Libraries is sending its first shipment of books to Google this month to be digitized as part of the CIC/Google Book Search project. Among the volumes are Penn State's distinctive English and American literature collections. When complete, the multi-year project will have digitized upwards of 10 million books from the collections of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), the academic arm of the Big Ten Conference.

Read the full story on Live:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Fallen Idol

The Fallen Idol

Directed by Carol Reed, U.K., 1948.

Point of view and dramatic irony deepen both the suspense and the ethical pleasures of the film, based on Graham Greene's story, "The Basement Room." I had seen the film, but had not seen this Criterion restoration before. The black and white photography is beautiful, the acting and direction so good one feels gratitude and awe.

Huffington on Bailout Bonuses

Arianna Huffington argues that what we are learning about the AIG bonuses is not only unfair but illustrates the lack of transparency in major government decision making.

Appearing on CNN today, Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said that officials at the Treasury Department had insisted that he modify a clause he had inserted into the stimulus bill that prohibited bonuses from being issued by bailed-out companies. This mirrors the legislative slaying of the similarly intended amendment co-sponsored by Sen. Wyden I write about below. The culprit behind the killing of the Wyden provision remains unsolved -- but Dodd fingering Treasury adds weight to Wyden's sense that members of Obama's economic team were behind the elimination of his amendment. And, in both cases, major decisions involving taxpayer money were carried out in a way that flies not in the face of fairness, but in the face of the administration's promises of transparency and accountability. . . .

The secrecy in which the bonus limits were eliminated in the Congressional conference after Congress had voted specifically to limit bonuses shows how difficult it is to maintain claims for a deliberative democracy. This is why transparency is so important to rhetorical culture. We will never achieve complete deliberative transparency, nor should we -- some things really do need to be kept secret or confidential, at least in the short run. But policy debate requires a high measure of shared knowledge--including access to the public historical record.

Arianna Huffington, "A Disturbing D.C. Whodunit," Huffington Post, 18 March 2009.

Kirt Wilson, "Debating the Great Emancipator"



a public lecture by
Associate Professor and Graduate Director, The Department of Communication Studies
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Campus

"Debating the Great Emancipator: Our Collective Memory of Lincoln's Leadership"

3:30 p.m. March 27, 2009
165 Willard Building

This event is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Scanned Any Good Books Lately?

Stanley Katz will lecture at Penn State tomorrow on the Google book scanning project:

The public is invited to join Dr. Stan Katz for his presentation, "Why there's no free lunch in cyberpublishing: Take two," on Thursday, March 19, 2–3 p.m., in Foster Auditorium, 101 Pattee Library, Penn State University Park campus.

According to a recent issue of Princeton Weekly, in the late 1980s, Katz went to Congress with a modest proposal: Why not allocate a billion dollars to digitize the contents of the nation's academic libraries? People thought he was crazy. They couldn't imagine why you'd want to do all that digitizing. Even Katz couldn't have projected the revolutions soon to come. Congress chose not to act—but today Google has undertaken the project in collaboration with over two- dozen libraries around the world, including the Penn State University Libraries.

In his presentation, Katz will discuss the proposed Google book settlement and its potential impact on readers, libraries and publishers. The Google book project originally promised to break a legal logjam: partnering with research libraries around the world, Google's effort to digitize their collections challenged strict interpretations of copyright law, especially the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. The settlement, which proposes to conclude two major class action lawsuits arising from the Google Book Project, will establish new rules governing access to out of print books, new mechanisms for clearing fees and copyrights for those who need digital access to older materials.

A new world is emerging, and it is a world in which decisions made in private commercial negotiation will set the rules for access to large segments of copyrighted materials. Katz asks, "Will this be a world the university community will be happy to live in?"

Katz is lecturer with the rank of professor in the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University and president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies, the leading organization in humanistic scholarship and education in the United States. His recent research focuses upon the relationship of civil society and constitutionalism to democracy, and upon the relationship of the United States to the international human rights regime.

The Shifting Ground Series is sponsored by the University Libraries Colloquia Committee and is free and open to the public. This presentation will be broadcast via Media Site Live at: This is an open presentation so no log in is needed.

For more information, call Martha Ney (814-863-5447) or e-mail

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Obama Explains: Fireside Chats for the New Depression

John Dickerson in Slate:

In an effort to educate the public on the state of the economy and his plans for improving it, President Obama is considering a series of short televised addresses similar to Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats. Press secretary Robert Gibbs has told the television networks that the administration may request more time than usual for a president. Gibbs did not provide a schedule but described the addresses as lasting about 10 minutes each. . . .

John Dickerson, "Fireside Chat 2.0: Obama's Plans to Adapt FDR's Model to Address Today's Economy," Slate, 16 March 2009.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Marjory Collins, "Irish American Policeman, Central Park, New York," September 1942.

REPRODUCTION NUMBER, LC-USW3-007749-E DLC (b&w film nitrate neg.), Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

Look Magazine, March 1937

"Children of the Forgotten Man. Humanity Hits Bottom in the Deep South."

Photo spread from Look magazine, March 1937.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 USA, Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Reproduction Number LC-USF345-003816-ZA DLC (b&w film neg.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Robert Reich on the AIG Bonuses

Robert Reich sensibly suggests that the way to end the abuses at AIG is to send it into bankruptcy and rebuild it from there. This course has the danger of cascading defaults, of course, but it would allow for structured re-building, and it would allow the bonuses to be cancelled.

I'm no lawyer, and no economist, but it is interesting to follow the rhetoric surrounding this situation, and the way the bonuses, more almost than any other even in the past months, has momentarily unified the country in populist outrage.

Huey Long would have a field day.

FDR would find a way to act, and would find a way to explain and condemn -- and point to a way forward.

President Obama seems to be finding ways to do this, but he can't be engaged in a running commentary -- nor could FDR in his own time. The onrushing news cycle keeps giving all the rest of us plenty to react to, but any president would soon wear out our patience if he or she commented daily on the latest buzz. Instead, comments, speeches, and appearances need to be timed (and placed) so that there is an ongoing sense that things are being seen, understood, and, where appropriate, acted on by the administration.

Would we be better off if our president maintained a public twitter account to report moment by moment reactions? No, I don't think so either.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the AIG Bonuses

Over the weekend it was revealed that AIG, which has received something like $170 billion in bailout funds, because it was too big to fail, was awarding tens of millions of dollars to executives in its financial services offices -- the people who pumped the world economy full of ponzi derivatives. The Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, was told by the head of AIG that the bonuses can't be halted because they are promised in contracts signed last year.

Outrage about this is pretty much universal in the United States, so far as one can tell. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reports that Congress will seek to recover the funds. Here is the report to her blog, issued yesterday:

AIG Bonuses Are Unconscionable - Congress Will Examine Legal Options to Recover Taxpayer Funds
March 15th, 2009 by Speaker Pelosi

While American workers see their wages decline and face record job losses, it is unconscionable that AIG, which is receiving more than $170 billion in government assistance, would permit such extravagant executive compensation practices without any accountability to the taxpayer.

I have asked Chairman Barney Frank of the House Financial Services Committee to examine options that are legally available to recover taxpayer funds of companies that abuse the privilege of taxpayer assistance.

I call upon the executives at AIG to right the wrong they have done to American taxpayers, who are footing the bill for the most expensive government rescue in history. They should renounce the bonuses and refuse the excessive retention pay they previously agreed to.

Congress, working with the Obama Administration, has put in place tough executive compensation and responsibility measures to ensure that taxpayers are protected and we will continue to take all action necessary to ensure transparency and accountability.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Roger, Just Pay the Two Dollars

A recent reminder from about the Obama administration tax plan:

This is ridiculous. The media has been obsessing about President Obama's plan to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans—from 35% to 39.6%—even asking if that makes him a socialist.

But do you know what tax rate the wealthiest Americans paid on the top portion of their earnings at the end of Ronald Reagan's first term? 50%.

Under Richard Nixon? 70%. Under Dwight Eisenhower? 91%!

Shocking, right?

And for all the whining about rolling back Bush's irresponsible tax cuts, the truth is that Obama's plan cuts taxes for 95% of working Americans. Further, it closes huge tax loopholes for oil companies, hedge funds and corporations that ship jobs overseas so that we can invest in the priorities that will get our economy back on track.

We saw a great chart in The Washington Monthly that shows just how absurd Republican complaints about Obama's budget are. . . .


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Academic Job Shortage

The recession has forced universities to modify their budgets to meet the enormous degeneration of their endowments and shrinking state budget appropriations. They are taking a variety of measures, most of which come down to lowering the costs of salaries and fringe benefits (chiefly health care) that account for most of the university budget.

In some universities, even the richest, this has led to hiring freezes. The problem is compounded because older faculty, who for the past generation have been living in a post-pension world, have been saving for their own retirements, typically through TIAA-CREF and private investments. Because the portfolios of those faculty have lost money, many older faculty are putting off plans for retirement.

And for the past generation, universities and colleges have been steadily shrinking the percentage of their faculty who are on the tenure track, turning instead to long- or short-term non-tenure-track faculty -- full or part time fixed term and adjunct teachers. These are often very good teachers, but they have high teaching loads, diminished salary expectations, little chance to engage in the sort of research and publication that would help them get into the shrinking tenure track. For universities, this turn away from tenure is not just about lessening job security. It is no accident that the declines in the robustness of faculty governance have come along with the shrinking of the tenured faculty.

These facts of the academic economy mean that there are likely to be fewer jobs for newly graduating PhD's, who have spent the past five or ten years in graduate school, working hard at very low salaries, postponing a lot of pleasures and plans in the hope of finding a great tenure track job. The recession means that for an even larger percentage of these students than usual, tenure track jobs just are not going to be there.

I love university teaching, and I'm one of the lucky ones -- lucky partly because I entered the academic job market long ago, when there were plenty of jobs opening up as the baby boom began to come to college.

There are still good jobs at colleges and universities.

But there are also alternatives, and some enterprising souls are apparently beginning to organize to face the new academic economy. I have to admit that as a graduate advisor, I really don't know how to advise my students to consider jobs outside the university -- and in fact the university uses success in job placement at tenure granting institutions an indicator of success for its graduate programs. Placement has become part of the job of graduate departments and faculty -- academic job placement.

These reflections are prompted, as I am sitting in a hotel room in Annapolis, Maryland, by two letters to the editor of the New York Times in response to an earlier Times article about the crisis of jobs in the humanities. One letter writer tells us of the many web sites and listservs created to help new PhD's find non-academic jobs.

Beyond Academe is a web site for historians looking for non-academic jobs. The site reports that "In 2004, the American Historical Association released a study on the career patterns of PhDs in history who had received their degrees between 1990 and 2004. Only 32% of these PhDs had obtained and currently held a position in a History Department."

At doctoral departments in my field -- rhetoric and communication -- we like to think that the most able students will always find the best jobs, and perhaps that is so. I like to think so. Students graduating from my own department have been getting very good jobs in recent years, and of course I think that they should. But it might not be a bad idea to explore in an organized fashion how to help our students discover all the alternatives.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown Speech to U.S. Congress, 4 March 2009

On his visit to the United States to confer with President Obama, Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressed a joint session of the U. S. Congress. The speech has been drawing increasingly enthusiastic attention.

In today's New York Times, Roger Cohen suggested that President Obama could learn something from Brown's example of uplifting and optimistic rhetoric on that occasion. Cohen alludes to a Jon Stewart story on the Gordon Brown speech.

We invest so much importance in presidential speeches -- to which most people don't actually listen -- that for decades there has been a thriving industry of creating hypothetical presidential speeches, and writing letters and columns urging the president to speak out. It's a mystery.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Patient Tales

Carol Berkenkotter, Patient Tales: Case Histories and the Uses of Narrative in Psychiatry (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009).

From the publisher:

In this engrossing study of tales of mental illness, Carol Berkenkotter examines the evolving role of case history narratives in the growth of psychiatry as a medical profession. Patient Tales follows the development of psychiatric case histories from their origins at Edinburgh Medical School and the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary in the mid-eighteenth century to the medical records of contemporary American mental health clinics. Spanning two centuries and several disciplines, Berkenkotter's investigation illustrates how discursive changes in this genre mirrored evolving assumptions and epistemological commitments among those who cared for the mentally ill.

During the asylum era, case histories were a means by which practitioners organized and disseminated local knowledge through professional societies, affiliations, and journals. The way in which these histories were recorded was subsequently codified, giving rise to a genre. In her thorough reading of Sigmund Freud's Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, Berkenkotter shows how this account of Freud's famous patient "Dora" led to technical innovation in the genre through the incorporation of literary devices. In the volume's final section, Berkenkotter carries the discussion forward to the present in her examination of the turn from psychoanalysis to a research-based and medically oriented classification system now utilized by the American Psychiatric Association. Throughout her work Berkenkotter stresses the value of reading case histories as an interdisciplinary bridge between the humanities and sciences.

From the series Studies in Rhetoric / Communication, edited by Tom Benson

Burke, War, Words

M. Elizabeth Weiser, Burke, War, Words: Rhetoricizing Dramatism (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009).

From the publisher:

In Burke, War, Words, M. Elizabeth Weiser reinserts Kenneth Burke's theory of dramatism into the social milieu from which it originated, fostering a new understanding of how this concept of motivation was itself motivated by war and criticism. Weiser's model of a new approach to historiography contextualizes

Dramatism was a direct response to the global crisis wrought by World War II and to Burke's then-ongoing debates with New Critics, sociolinguists, political activists, and government propagandists over the role of language and communication to affect the world. Central to Burke's germinal volume A Grammar of Motives, dramatism was a call to action advocating informed social dialogue at a time when an allied victory seemed dependent instead on rallying behind a single strong voice in a unity not unlike that mandated by fascism itself. Weiser contends that Burke conceived dramatism as an alternative to New Criticism and as a blueprint for a dialectical resolution that was an antifascist rhetorical response to war.

Weiser draws from published and unpublished communications between Burke and the diverse and divergent literati of his era as well as from Burke's scholarly, political, and even poetic writings of the time. From this context she is able to map the complex arc of formulating A Grammar of Motives in Burke's larger wartime discourse. For Weiser establishing the origins of dramatism offers a model for enhancing our understanding of other rhetorical theories as well as a specific renewal of purpose for dramatism as an action-oriented tool to engage intellectuals in our conflicted age as Burke had envisioned in his.

From the series Studies in Rhetoric / Communication, University of South Carolina Press, edited by Tom Benson

Sunday, March 8, 2009

They have no meeting place for council

Homer, The Odyssey, Book IX, from the Robert Fagles translation--Odysseus and his men encounter the Cyclops:

From there we sailed on, our spirits now at a low ebb,
and reached the land of the high and mighty Cyclops,
lawless brutes, who trust so to the everlasting gods
they never plant with their own hands or plow the soil.
Unsown, unplowed, the earth teems with all they need,
wheat, barley and vines, swelled by the rains of Zeus
to yield a big full-bodied wine from clustered grapes.
They have no meeting place for council, no laws either,
no, up on the mountain peaks they live in arching caverns--
each a law to himself, ruling his wives and children,
not a care in the world for any neighbor.

Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 1997), 214-215.

Here is another version of the passage from Book IX, in the translation by Alexander Pope (1726):

By these no statutes and no rights are known,
No council held, no monarch fills the throne,
But high on hills, or airy cliffs, they dwell,
Or deep in caves, whose entrance leads to hell.
Each rules his race, his neighbour not his care,
Heedless of others, to his own severe.

Homer's Odyssey is of course infused with rhetoric -- for a good primer on this see Andrew J. Karp, "Homeric Origins of Ancient Rhetoric," Arethusa 10 (1977): 237-258; reprinted in Edward Schiappa, Landmark Essays on Classical Greek Rhetoric (Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1994) -- Google Books version here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saskia Sassen lecture at Penn State's Social Thought Program

The Penn State
Social Thought Program

Saskia Sassen

Lynd Professor of Sociology
Columbia University

Author of Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (2006), A Sociology of Globalization (2007), Cities in a World Economy (2006).

"Neither Global nor National: Novel Assemblages of Territory, Authority, and Rights"

Monday, March 23, 2009
113 Carnegie Building
4:00 – 5:30PM

Thursday, March 5, 2009

FDR on Social Security

The Social Security Administration has put together a small online collection of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's speeches and messages relating to Social Security, illustrating his comprehensive vision--and his expert instruction--on the theme that the great goal is to restore security, and that this is to be accomplished by interlinked programs of relief, reform, and recovery. For a variety of practical, political reasons, FDR left comprehensive, universal, single-payer national health insurance out of his Social Security package, though he was very clear that all of the arguments supporting Social Security and unemployment insurance applied in the area of health insurance as well, and that eventually we would have to get around to it. He was never able to do that, and it has not happened -- yet. Maybe this time.

We live in different times, and yet it is remarkable how close the themes of FDR and his opponents are to the debates going on today, in policy and politics.

Here are some excerpts from his message to Congress of June 8, 1934, when he had been in office for fifteen months, introducing the idea of social security insurance:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "Message to Congress Reviewing the Broad Objectives and Accomplishments of the Administration," June 8, 1934.

You and I, as the responsible directors of these policies and actions, may, with good reason, look to the future with confidence, just as we may look to the past fifteen months with reasonable satisfaction.

On the side of relief we have extended material aid to millions of our fellow citizens.

On the side of recovery we have helped to lift agriculture and industry from a condition of utter Prostration.

But, in addition to these immediate tasks of relief and of recovery we have properly, necessarily and with overwhelming approval determined to safeguard these tasks by rebuilding many of the structures of our economic life and reorganizing it in order to prevent a recurrence of collapse.

It is childish to speak of recovery first and reconstruction afterward. In the very nature of the processes of recovery we must avoid the destructive influences of the past. We have shown the world that democracy has within it the elements necessary to its own salvation. . . .

Among our objectives I place the security of the men, women and children of the Nation first.

This security for the individual and for the family concerns itself primarily with three factors. People want decent homes to live in; they want to locate them where they can engage in productive work; and they want some safeguard against misfortunes which cannot be wholly eliminated in this man-made world of ours. . . .

These three great objectives the security of the home, the security of livelihood, and the security of social insurance--are, it seems to me, a minimum of the promise that we can offer to the American people. They constitute a right which belongs to every individual and every family willing to work. They are the essential fulfillment of measures already taken toward relief, recovery and reconstruction.

FDR's Statements on Social Security at

More documents on FDR speeches and papers at the American Presidency Project and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Battle Exhortation

Keith Yellin, Battle Exhortation: The Rhetoric of Combat Leadership. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008.

From the publisher:
In this groundbreaking examination of the symbolic strategies used to prepare troops for imminent combat, Keith Yellin offers an interdisciplinary look into a mode of rhetorical discourse that has played a prominent role in warfare, history, and popular culture from antiquity to the present day. In Battle Exhortation he focuses on one of the most time-honored forms of motivational communication, the encouraging speech of military commanders, to offer a pragmatic and scholarly evaluation of how persuasion contributes to combat leadership.

Yellin establishes battle exhortation as a distinct genre of discourse originating from humankind's war-prone history and the age-old need to inspire troops to fight. In illustrating his subject's conventions, Yellin draws from the Bible, classical Greece and Rome, Spanish conquistadors, and especially American military forces. Yellin is also interested in how audiences are socialized to recognize and anticipate this type of communication that precedes difficult team efforts. To account for this dimension he probes examples as diverse as Shakespeare's Henry V, George C. Scott's portrayal of General George S. Patton, and team sports.

Yellin also examines the constraints that shape battle exhortation, including the specific circumstances of a given war, the combat arm of the audience, the presence of nonmilitary observers, and the personal character and style of the speaker. Speculating on the future of battle exhortation while honoring its rich tradition, this work will be of keen interest to students of communication, history, and military leadership.

"Battle Exhortation is a fascinating and wide-ranging book on a neglected, but important topic: the rhetoric at work in the speeches of military commanders bracing their men for imminent combat. With its well-chosen examples spanning three millennia, its insightful readings, and interdisciplinary approach this lively study will be of great interest to students and scholars of military history, the literature of war, sociology, and rhetoric."-Peter Hunt, author of Slaves, Warfare, and Ideology in the Greek Historians

"Keith Yellin has produced the most comprehensive study of battle exhortations that I've ever read. It is thoroughly researched and balanced by his experience as an officer of Marines. Leaders at any level, in uniform or mufti, will benefit from this enjoyable work. It is a treasure that should grace the libraries of those who lead or aspire to lead."--Brigadier General Thomas Draude, USMC (Ret.)

"In Battle Exhortation Keith Yellin develops an area that has been but a sidebar in the study of military leadership and raises it to the same level of importance as the execution of military plans. Success on the battlefield is much more than understanding the enemy and appreciating the weather and terrain. Words are important. Yellin provides the 'soul dimension' to the study of military history and leadership. This work is a must-read for practitioners and students of military leadership."-Colonel Benjamin L. Abramowitz, USA (Ret.)

From the series Studies in Rhetoric / Communication, University of South Carolina Press, edited by Tom Benson

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Video Game Spaces

Michael Nitsche, Video Game Spaces: Image, Play, and Structure in 3D Worlds (Cambridge: MIT University Press, 2009).

From the Press:

The move to 3D graphics represents a dramatic artistic and technical development in the history of video games that suggests an overall transformation of games as media. The experience of space has become a key element of how we understand games and how we play them. In Video Game Spaces, Michael Nitsche investigates what this shift means for video game design and analysis.

Navigable 3D spaces allow us to crawl, jump, fly, or even teleport through fictional worlds that come to life in our imagination. We encounter these spaces through a combination of perception and interaction. Drawing on concepts from literary studies, architecture, and cinema, Nitsche argues that game spaces can evoke narratives because the player is interpreting them in order to engage with them. Consequently, Nitsche approaches game spaces not as pure visual spectacles but as meaningful virtual locations. His argument investigates what structures are at work in these locations, proceeds to an in-depth analysis of the audiovisual presentation of game worlds, and ultimately explores how we use and comprehend their functionality.

Nitsche introduces five analytical layers—rule-based space, mediated space, fictional space, play space, and social space—and uses them in the analyses of games that range from early classics to recent titles. He revisits current topics in game research, including narrative, rules, and play, from this new perspective.

Video Game Spaces provides a range of necessary arguments and tools for media scholars, designers, and game researchers with an interest in 3D game worlds and the new challenges they pose.

About the Author

Michael Nitsche is Assistant Professor at the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

I haven't seen this yet, but it's on my list. (It's a long list).

End the Filibuster?

Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

Two articles in yesterday's Times on ending the filibuster in the U.S. Senate -- both in favor of changing the rule that allows a minority to veto any Senate action.

David RePASS, "Make My Filibuster," New York Times, 1 March 2009.

Jean Edward Smith, "Filibusters: The Senate's Self-Inflicted Wound," New York Times, 1 March 2009.

See also the Times Topics on "Filibusters and Debate Curbs."

The Constitution requires a super majority in a few cases -- treaties, Constitutional amendments, impeachment, expulsion. But the current practice is a historical development and in fact does not require the all-night, round-the-clock speaking marathon that was the case even in my younger days. Nowadays, all it requires is the threat of 40 members to filibuster not only to "end debate" but to prevent a measure even being scheduled for consideration on the floor.

As a rhetorical theorist, historian, and critic, I have always admired the feature of Robert's Rules of Order that required a super majority to end debate -- this is invoked, usually inexpertly, all the time in meetings you attend where some impatient person shouts "call the question."

But the original rule, as it was explained to me when I was seriously studying Robert's Rules as part of learning to teach group discussion from Carroll Arnold at Cornell, was to be sure that the minority had a chance to express its views, while preserving the rights of the majority to act. In the current Senate practice, the minority is not so much protecting its right to debate as protecting its right to prevent majority action.

The filibuster actually magnifies the already very unrepresentative structure of the Senate, in which there are two Senators from each state, large or small.

I suppose the real test for our own views should be whether we are willing to give up the Senate filibuster when the other side is in power.

Robert's Rules of Order -- 1915 edition online here; "The Official Robert's Rules of Order" site here;

U. S. Senate Rules
here and here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009