Sunday, May 31, 2009

Five Chapters on Rhetoric

Michael S. Kochin, Five Chapters on Rhetoric: Character, Action, Things, Nothing, and Art (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009).

From the publisher's description:

Kochin’s radical exploration of rhetoric is built around five fundamental concepts that illuminate how rhetoric functions in the public sphere. To speak persuasively is to bring new things into existence—to create a political movement out of a crowd, or an army out of a mob.

Five Chapters on Rhetoric explores our path to things through our judgments of character and action. It shows how speech and writing are used to defend the fabric of social life from things or facts. Finally, Kochin shows how the art of rhetoric aids us in clarifying things when we speak to communicate, and helps protect us from their terrible clarity when we speak to maintain our connections to others.

Kochin weaves together rhetorical criticism, classical rhetoric, science studies, public relations, and political communication into a compelling overview both of persuasive strategies in contemporary politics and of the nature and scope of rhetorical studies.

Michael S. Kochin is Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Tel Aviv University and has held visiting appointments at Toronto, Princeton, and Yale. He is the author of Gender and Rhetoric in Plato’s Political Thought (2002), which was named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boundaries of the New Frontier

Joanna S. Ploeger, The Boundaries of the New Frontier: Rhetoric and Communication at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009).

From the publisher:

Joanna S. Ploeger examines the communicative practices of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in suburban Chicago to show how the rhetoric of science functions as an indicator of the intellectual and political interests of scientific institutions. She delineates the rhetorical strategies by which Fermilab's founders, especially Robert R. Wilson, sought the consent, cooperation, and goodwill of its neighbors. Wilson's rhetoric was an attempt to distinguish Fermilab from other laboratories in the national network by emphasizing that Fermilab was not a nuclear-weapons laboratory and that its sole purpose was to advance theoretical physics for the sake of knowledge. To dissociate itself from weapons research, Fermilab incorporated the aesthetic of sublimity, emblematic of the laboratory's focus on high-energy physics, into the design of its buildings, grounds, public art, and outreach materials. Ploeger tests the success of Wilson's rhetoric through extensive interviews with researchers, administrators, and visitors at Fermilab.

Wilson's visual rhetoric strategies were unable to counteract the persistent belief that Fermilab was involved in nuclear-weapons research. In later years the end of the cold war diminished the urgency of physics research. This change in the national climate induced Fermilab's subsequent directors to stress the many potential uses of experimental physics, thereby opening Fermilab to a variety of projects at the cost of the aesthetic Wilson had tried to project. In tracking the evolution of the lab's representation of itself to its public, Ploeger's work combines rhetorical criticism, visual rhetorics, and qualitative analysis of interview data in studying a salient example that comes into focus only when all three methods are deployed collectively.

Joanna S. Ploeger (1967–2006) was an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa and California State University, Stanislaus.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Debating Social Security

Robert Asen, Invoking the Invisible Hand: Social Security and the Privatization Debates (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2009).

From the publisher:
This volume examines the rhetoric hiding beneath the debates over Social Security.

In Invoking the Invisible Hand Robert Asen scrutinizes contemporary debates over proposals to privatize Social Security. Asen argues that a rights-based rhetoric employed by Social Security's original supporters enabled advocates of privatization to align their proposals with the widely held belief that Social Security functions simply as a return on a worker's contributions and that it is not, in fact, a social insurance program.

By analyzing major debates over a preeminent American institution, Asen reveals the ways in which language is deployed to identify problems for public policy, craft policy solutions, and promote policies to the populace. He shows how debate participants seek to create favorable contexts for their preferred policies and how they connect these policies to idealized images of the nation. Robert Asen scrutinizes contemporary debates over proposals to privatize Social Security. Asen argues that a rights-based rhetoric employed by Social Security's original supporters enabled advocates of privatization to align their proposals with the widely held belief that Social Security functions simply as a return on a worker's contributions and that it is not, in fact, a social insurance program.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mussolini's Balcony

Mussolini speaking from his balcony in Piazza Venezia, Rome.

Our department's summer program in Rome started a week ago in a building on the edge of this square.

Torture Photos

What's the case against releasing the torture photos?

Watch CBS Videos Online

What's the case for releasing the Abu Ghraib torture photos?

American Photography



The New York Times initiated its new photo blog this morning -- Lens.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Bush Crusade

GQ released today the cover sheets from a dozen or so of the top secret private intelligence briefings hand delivered by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to President Bush in the early days of the Iraq War. The GQ slide show is here.

It is astonishing to think that those in charge of the war were indulging in these messianic fantasies.

" . . . your right hand will hold me fast, O LORD."

Frank Rich writes in this morning's New York Times that, "Until there is true transparency, revelations of the unresolved eight-year nightmare will keep raining down drip by drip."

Frank Rich, "Obama Can't Turn the Page on Bush," New York Times, 17 May 2009.

Maureen Dowd appears to be convinced, in a change of heart, of the same point, and now urges a full investigation. She has also been won over to the view, in circulation for some time and increasingly well documented, that torture was practiced by agents of the United States not so much to prevent further terrorist attacks as to knowingly force false confessions that would link Iraq to Al Qaeda, and thus justify the Bush war in Iraq. Dowd writes, "I used to agree with President Obama, that it was better to keep moving and focus on our myriad problems than wallow in the darkness of the past. But now I want a full accounting. I want to know every awful act committed in the name of self-defense and patriotism."

Maureen Dowd, "Cheney, Master of Pain," New York Times, 17 May 2009.

President Obama is no doubt in a difficult position -- and in fact in some ways in conflicting positions, needing to earn the trust of the defense and intelligence establishments, and yet to be faithful to the demands of justice and truth. We will never know everything about what happened, or who was responsible, and even as we know more and more we will never be entirely able to agree on the politics and the policies of the Bush administration, nor to purge ourselves of the pain inflicted in our names.

But we should at least be able to learn enough to lessen the chance that this will happen again, and that will take factual investigation and moral reflection, not simply an assertion that it's time to move on, or that uncovering more evidence would damage the propaganda position of the United States.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

At Home with Tourism

Chances are, wherever you live, that travel and tourism are a big part of your local economy. Not only are we all tourists, but we all live in tourist destinations. Tourism and travel are one of the top two or three businesses in the world.

This week our Communication Arts & Sciences students arrived in Rome for the start of their seven week study abroad experience, led by Professor Stephen Browne and graduate students Mia Briceno and Una Kimokeo-Goes.

Here at home in State College, Pennsylvania, we are reminded every day that we, too, are a tourist destination. In our local paper, The Centre Daily Times, this morning, we were informed that "Two years ago, visitors spent an estimated $352 million in the county. Tourism is considered the second largest industry in Pennsylvania."
Read more:

The Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau, which serves both visitors and the tourist industry, is here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Academic Employment

The American Federation of Teachers has today released a report, "American Academic: The State of the Higher Education Workforce 1997-2007." The full report is available on the AFT web site.

Key findings from the report include:

  • The number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members declined from approximately one-third of the instructional staff in 1997 to just over one-quarter in 2007.
  • The increased reliance on contingent faculty and instructors is manifested in all sectors of higher education, although the mix varies by institutional type.
  • Even if we focus just on full-time faculty positions, the trend toward hiring off the tenure track prevails.
  • The number of noninstructional staff grew by 24 percent from 1997-2007, with the most significant growth in the category of professional staff, which increased by 50 percent.
  • The number of administrators, the majority of whom were full time, also increased by a substantial percentage.

  • [from the AFT web site]

Monday, May 11, 2009

Automatic Online Photo Rating

From a Penn State news release:
University Park, Pa. -- An online photo-rating system developed at Penn State is the first publicly available tool for automatically determining the aesthetic value of an image, according to a Penn State researcher involved with the project.

James Z. Wang, associate professor of information sciences and technology, is one of the principal researchers on the Aesthetic Quality Inference Engine (ACQUINE), a system that judges the aesthetic quality of digital images. Wang said this tool is a significant first step in recognizing human emotional reaction to visual stimulus.

ACQUINE, which has been in development since 2005 and was launched in April 2009, can be found online at Users can upload their own images for rating or test the system by providing a link to any image online. The system provides an aesthetic rating within seconds.

Wang said the system extracts and uses visual aspects such as color saturation, color distribution and photo composition to give any uploaded image a rating from zero to 100. The system learns to associate these aspects with the way humans rate photos based on thousands of previously-rated photographs in online photo-sharing Web sites such as . . .
Penn State Live, "Online system rates images by aesthetic quality"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Moving in on Specter has sent out a series of targeted videos to residents of states in which Democratic Senators who voted against the mortgage foreclosure and bankruptcy reforms are vulnerable to primary challengers.

This is an interesting use of Internet video political argument, whichever side of the issue you are on, and it is additionally interesting that MoveOn includes on the web site where the video is displayed a script for the ad with accompanying documentation of each factual claim. Of course that documentation is itself vulnerable to argument, but at least this approach opens up the typical 30-second spot by making itself accessible to debate, in principle.

Specter is getting it from both sides these days, first for his "disloyalty" in voting against some measures the Congressional Republicans were for, then the reverse, then switching parties -- and immediately announcing his intention to be something more complicated than a "loyal" Democrat. He does his best to represent this as sticking to his principles, and there is evidence for that; his detractors argue that he is just stubborn, vain, and unpredictable, all in support of his own interests, and there is evidence for that view.

Principle or mulish stubbornness?

Loyalty or independent judgment?

Pragmatism or mere self interest?

These appear to be the rhetorical topoi at work in the rhetoric about Specter and about the Congressional Republicans.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Frugal Traveler's Research Tips

The New York Times Frugal Traveler has posted a blog entry on how he researches destinations and routes before his trips. The blog entry is here.

Frugal Traveler, "Research: The Traveler's Best Friend," New York Times, 6 May 2009.

Monday, May 4, 2009

White House on Flickr

President Obama talks with Supreme Court Justice David Souter, 1 May 2009

Click on the photograph for the link to the White House photostream on Flickr

Scholarly Communication in the Digital Age -- Texas A&M Conference

This conference is now long over, but records and references are still available; follow the links.

The Changing Landscape of Scholarly Communication In the Digital Age
Wednesday, February 11-13, 2009
Annenberg Presidential Conference Center Texas A&M University

NOTE: Streaming videos of the symposium are now available.

Click here to view.

There is no charge for participation in the symposium, but early registration is strongly advised.
This three-day symposium will cover the following major topics:

  • open access
  • intellectual property rights
  • peer-reviewed electronic journal and book publishing
  • improving access to publicly funded research and the scholarly work of faculty
  • the effects of new scholarly publishing models on the promotion and tenure process
  • how university presses can best contribute and sustain themselves in this changing landscape
  • the best uses of university resources to cover these mission-centered responsibilities and costs
  • the role of the university libraries as institutional repositories and facilitators for faculty scholarship

Letter of invitation from Dr. Jeffrey S. Vitter, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academics, Texas A&M University

Selected Background Readings

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fleeting Words

On FCC v. Fox Television Stations, in which the majority ruled that the FCC could fine television stations for broadcasting "fleeting" uses of dirty words:

Adam Freedman writes in the New York Times:
As much as one sympathizes with language prescriptivism in general (please, let us all resist “c u l8r”), censorship is necessarily a descriptivist endeavor. Indecency laws are tied to evolving community standards. In 1623, the English Parliament passed legislation to prohibit “profane swearing and cursing.” Under that law, people could be fined for uttering oaths like “upon my life” or “on my troth.” In the Victorian era, the word “bull” was considered too strong for mixed company; instead, one referred to “gentlemen cows.” Times change, notwithstanding the fervent wishes of prescriptivists to keep dirty words dirty.
The Supreme Court does not have a particularly sensible understanding of language or rhetoric, as it often proves in decisions about censorship, freedom of expression, and related matters.

Adam Freedman, "Gentlemen Cows in Prime Time," New York Times, 3 May 2009.

FCC v. Fox Television Stations, at SCOTUS Wiki

Coming to a Faucet Near You

From ProPublica:
Hydraulic fracturing [5] -- a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped deep underground at high pressure to break rock and release natural gas -- is controversial because of the secrecy surrounding the fluids and because the process is exempted from protections of the Safe Drinking Water Act and thus from regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress is currently considering legislation to address these issues out of concern that fracturing, and the fluids and waste that are part of the process, may be contaminating drinking water in several states [6]. . . .

One of the public policy problems connected with the fracking process is that the fluids, materials, and procedures used are claimed as proprietary -- they are not entirely open to public debate, making citizen deliberation more difficult.

Abrahm Lustgarten, "16 Cattle Drop Dead Near Mysterious Fluid at Gas Drilling Site," ProPublica, 30 April 2009.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Rick Santorum on Arlen Specter - Point of Order!

Talking Points Memo quotes former Republican Senator Rick Santorum on the Arlen Specter party switch:

"Arlen not only stuck his chin out, he stuck his rear end out and then he pulled his pants down and then wiggled it at us."

~Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), on an illegal sexual act Specter's party shift.

photo: Newscom / Zuma

Climate, Reform, Recovery

Paul Krugman argues in support of President Obama's case that relief, reform, and recovery can work together. In the case of climate change reform, Krugman argues, proper investment and reform now might actually help the economy to recover. Such investment would not simply be throwing money at a good cause, but would stimulate the economy and create conditions for growth. Krugman writes that "it’s important to understand that just as denials that climate change is happening are junk science, predictions of economic disaster if we try to do anything about climate change are junk economics."

Krugman does not deny that there would be costs, but claims that "the best available estimates suggest that the costs of an emissions-limitation program would be modest, as long as it’s implemented gradually. And committing ourselves now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump. . . . This short-run economic boost isn’t the main reason to move on climate-change policy. The important thing is that the planet is in danger, and the longer we wait the worse it gets. But it is an extra reason to move quickly."