Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dembki's explanation: smells like mendacity

So Dr. Dr. Dembski has notpologized for plagiarizing stealing using the Harvard-produced video "The Inner Life of the Cell." It's all very touching, how mean old Harvard refused to sell him the DVD (as though that would have given him the right to use it) and so he was forced to plagiarize not the original, but someone else's mangled version:
A few months after announcing the video at UncommonDescent, I found on the Internet a version of the video that did add a voiceover, giving the relevant biology, and was in a format that allowed me to incorporate it into my PowerPoint presentations. I used the video a handful of times, including at a talk in Oklahoma this September.
Dr. Dr. Dembski's misuse of Harvard's video is pretty egregious even in the way he tells it. But right now, Dr. Dr. Dembski's convenient narrative has what Brick Pollitt used to call "the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity."

Here's my question: Where did he find this version? I've looked around at the intertubes a wee bit, and I can't find it. Nobody I know can find it. Yet Dr. Dr. Dembski managed to find this spectacularly ID-friendly version "on the internet." He must have worked pretty hard for that one!

Look, I'm a writing teacher. I deal with plagiarism from time to time, and with bullshitting behavior on a regular basis. Simply put, I found it on the internet is not an explanation, and it's not an excuse. I found it on the internet is what a person says when he's making stuff up, when he's spinning, when everybody except the person speaking knows he's caught.

Hey, it suddenly occurs to me that, on an abstract level, there's something about this pattern that seems like what might be called "the inner life of the cdesign proponentsist." Consider

Statement 1: I found it on the internet.
Statement 2: the Designer did it.

In each case, there's no natural explanation.

Back to the topic at hand. Given Dembski's past behavior, why should we believe him anyway? Unless and until the good Dr. Dr. shows where he "found" this ID-friendly, crapped up version of "The Inner Life of the Cell," his claim that he "found it on the internet" should be treated as just so much bluster.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Plagiarism and Intelligent Design

Plagiarism and intelligent design: two of my favorite topics. Turns out they taste great together.

Intrepid grad student blogger and creationism-whacker ERV has discovered an interesting factoid: Dr. Dr. William A. Dembski, whose co-authored Darwin-destroying textbook has just been vanity published, has been poaching a legitimate animation while lecturing about Intelligent Design around the country. The animation, called "The Inner Life of the Cell," is fascinating both with and without narration. Beth Marchant described it last July:
Created by XVIVO, a scientific animation company near Hartford, CT, the animation illustrates unseen molecular mechanisms and the ones they trigger, specifically how white blood cells sense and respond to their surroundings and external stimuli.
But Dr. Dembski's lecture takes the non-narrated version, clips the credits, and adds his own woo-filled ID-friendly narration. Is it a mashup? A remix? ERV has another name for it:
From my point of view, as a virologist and former teaching assistant, this isnt just copyright infringement. This is theft and plagiarism. Taking someone elses work without their consent, manipulating it without their consent, pretending it supports ID Creationists distorted views of reality, and presenting it as DIs work.
True enough. But how is it presented? This is my transcription -- slightly cleaned up -- of how Dembski introduces this video in the link to his lecture above.
A colleague of mine, Michael Behe, wrote a book back in 1996, called Darwin's Black Box, in which he was looking at systems like this. And what he found was, he looked at the -- actually inside the cell, he's a biochemist by training, and so he was looking at -- what he found were molecular machines inside the cell. I mean, it's just marvelous the sorts of things that happen inside the cell. You've got self-replicating robotic manufacturing plants, information processing, storage and retrieval, signal transduction circuitry, high-efficiency, high-tech nano-engineered motors, transportation and distribution systems, automated parcel addressing, UPS labels, ZIP codes, I mean things have to be delivered from one place in the cell to another, -- you've got all this going on inside the cell -- complex monitoring and feedback control -- all of this in the cell in molecular biology.

Now I want you to watch a little video, which as it were -- this is state-0f-the-art computer animation of what's inside the cell. And so just, watch and enjoy.
Now, what would I be expected to take from this introduction? First, there is the claim that Michael Behe somehow discovered the notion of molecular machines. Dembski says Behe looked at cells and "what he found were molecular machines inside the cell." But Behe discovered nothing. He did no original (observational or experimental) research. He did not even look at the cell but at literature about the cell. This may seem like a minor point, but it's a crucial distinction in science. He did no experiments. He measured nothing. He did no no bench work at all for that book (or for his recent follow-up, whose main contribution to science may be in launching to prominence the nascent career of the blogger known as ERV.) So attributing any "finding" to that book is simply wrong.

More important, the animation is introduced without context: it's simply described as "state of the art." If you were in that audience, wouldn't you think the animation was created by or for either Behe or Dembski? Isn't that what they want you to think?

ID types accuse others of plagiarism all the time. Dr. Dr. Dembski said this of Judge Jones's decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover:
Instead of original and impeccable reasoning, Jones uncritically took extensive material from the ACLU’s proposed “findings of fact and conclusions of law” and either copied it directly or modified it ever so slightly. Outside the legal system this is called plagiarism. But since judges are allowed to draw on briefs of the parties, this is called legal scholarship. Even so, courts frown on decisions in which judges extensively copy and paste from other briefs — which is exactly what Jones did!
What's good for the goose, etc. Let's look at that again.
Instead of original and impeccable reasoning, Dembski uncritically took extensive material from an expensive and carefully presented scientific presentation and either copied it directly or modified it ever so slightly. Outside the pseudoscience system this is called plagiarism. But since Discovery Institute fellows are allowed to draw salaries without doing any research, this is called aposcholarshiplogetics.* Even Christians frown on propaganda in which intellevangelistectuals extensively steal from other works — which is exactly what Dembski did!
*Thanks to Reciprocating Bill for that term.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A small post re: Finkelstein

Just a little post about Norman Finkelstein, who is briefly alluded to at Respectful Insolence. I responded in the comments, and of course the conversation became hijacked, as it does when someone like Finkelstein is discussed. So I won't comment further over there beyond pointing people here.

So: If you surfed over here from there, I'm responding to this comment from SLC:
I agree with Dr. Orac that the issue of Finkelstein is greatly off topic. I would have been willing to cease and desist except that Mr. Hermagores' [sic] characterization of of the investigation of Prof. Dershowitz by Harvard is totally inaccurate and unreliable. As I understand it, ther [sic] was an official investigation of the charge led by the dean of the college with which Prof. Dershowitz is affiliated. The charge of plagiarism is a very serious one which could have resulted in the firing of Prof. Dershowitz had it held up. As requested by Dr. Orac, I will have nothing more to say on the matter. (Emphasis added)
I'll just point out:
  1. According to the Boston Globe, "[Law School Dean] Kagan asked former Harvard president Derek Bok to examine Finkelstein's plagiarism allegation. Bok determined no plagiarism had occurred, law school spokesman Michael Armini said yesterday." So Dershowitz's current boss asks his former boss to investigate him. How "official" is this investigation?
  2. Nothing about that investigation, including its scope or methods, has been made public. Only its conclusions have been released by a Harvard Law School spokesperson.
  3. Unlike official investgations of (for example) Laurence Tribe, this "investigation" was undertaken by a single individual rather than a committee, and everything about it has been kept private.
There's nothing transparent about any of this. There is, rather, the conspicuous dust that comes from circling wagons.

(N.B.: one blogger suggests that what has been called "citation plagiarism" is not really plagiarism at all. I'm not convinced, but it's worth mentioning.)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Scordova Stands Up!

I am very glad that scordova has done the right thing:
My third loose end which I would like to tie up is that I would like to apologize to Ms. Smith if I have said anything that may be construed as an accusation of dishonesty on her part. Some concern has been expressed that any suggestion of dishonesty could be damaging to her career and I do not wish to damage Ms. Smith’s career as I’m in a similar boat as her. I vigorously disagree with her on various matters, but this should not imply that I am accusing her of lying or dishonesty. Perhaps I made some ill-tempered remarks, but it was not my intent to accuse her of lying or dishonesty. I simply disagree and at times was very irritated….
Good for him. Seriously. I'm not going to take anything away from that.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hermagoras Simpson

Below is a totally accurate, police-sketch level Simpsons version of me. (Note the presence of Blinky, the three-eyed mutant fish from Season One, on my T-shirt.) You can create your own avatar over at The Simpsons Movie site. (HT, Omnibrain).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Courtney Queeney, where are you?

Courtney Queeney was an undergraduate student of mine in a modern American poetry class at Duke. Later I was her advisor for her creative writing honors thesis. Her first book of poems, Filibuster to Delay a Kiss, is just out, is from a major publisher (Random House!), and looks great. Go read a couple of poems here.

Courtney, if you're out there, drop me a line, will you?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Eight Facts About Hermagoras

I asked for a tag, and I got it. Thanks Kristine!

We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.
Okay, here goes:
  1. I'm an identical twin. Until college separated us, nobody could tell us apart. Now it's easy: I'm the heavy-set English professor, he's the fit rich scientist guy. We lived in different states for twenty-plus years. In 2004 I moved within three miles of him, and within half a year he moved to the other side of the world (Singapore).
  2. For about a month in college I was in a Dead Kennedys cover band called "Sirhan Sirhan and the Lee Harvey Oswald Choir." We also played song by the Vandals, Black Flag, Minor Threat, and the Meatmen. Mainly we just goofed off, but we did play one short show in a women's dormitory at my university.
  3. I wanted to be a fundamentalist theologian before I discovered poetry. "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself."
  4. Back when I was a teenager I was the instrument for converting one of my best friends to Christianity. He was Jewish. I've had a hard time forgiving myself for that, especially as he's still (to the best of my knowledge) a fundie.
  5. Before the recent ugliness, I had never been kicked off a blog. As a kid, however, I was kicked out of the White Flint Mall in Rockville, Maryland for repeatedly going up the down escalator.
  6. I take Imitrex for migraines: the injection form, as the pill never worked for me. I had to take one on an Amtrak last year. Let me tell you, there's no feeling quite so wonderful and debased as shooting up a prescription medicine in the bathroom of a moving train.
  7. I love long poems: the early ones (Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, De Rerum Natura), medieval (Divine Commedy, Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Creseyde), Paradise Lost, Dryden, -- not so much Pope -- Samuel Johnson, Keat's Hyperion and Dream of Hyperion, Shelley's Triumph of Life and Adonais, Browning's The Ring and the Book -- oh, yeah. And love the modernist and postmodernist long ones too: Pound's Cantos, Zukofsky's "A," Olson's Maximus Poems, Bunting's Briggflatts, Stein's Tender Buttons and Stanzas in Meditation, Duncan's "Passages," Hejinian's My Life. I even like The Changing Light at Sandover. One summer I read nothing but long poems.
  8. I remain firmly convinced that Thomas Kinsella is the most underrated poet alive.
Okey, who should I tag:

Duae Quartunciae,
The Editors,
Adrian (just searching around for someone random to tag and I came across this. Pretty cool young blogger. Give him some love).
Jessica Smith,
Jaki Shelton Green,
Mike Edwards.

Some of these are far up the food chain and may not get a response. I mean come on -- the Editors? And I would have tagged Ron Silliman, but tagging him would be useless--he's already told us everything there is to know.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Who else can't speak for himself? Hermagoras, that's who. Because UD won't let him.

Welcome, Uncommon Descent members! For the record, I don't ban users or arguments (I will delete threats and suchlike.) As long as you're here, you might check out the reality behind ICON-RIDS (if you haven't heard about this before).

A letter to GilDodgen, responding to this:
I, Hermagoras, am banned at Uncommon Descent but apparently still discussion-worthy. Indeed, a whole post devoted to refuting someone (me) who is not allowed to respond. You guys are certainly committed to fair debate!

I was trying to make a fairly simple point, which I would have thought IDers agree with: that all observations and all "facts" are theory-laden. It's simple enough. I elaborated it in a post which Dembski apparently thought was off-topic and led him [to] ban me in precisely the terms I previously discussed on my blog. Hilarious. Then continued discussion (again I can't respond) about how I'm trying to be the clever one.

Nothing in my banned posts was were inflammatory, although I was annoyed at that ass Jehu for insulting my education. Perhaps I got a little to[o] technical on some rhetorical issues. In another comment that may have led to the banning, I disagreed with scordova on equivocation. (Shallitt and Ellsberry were not equivocating.)*

Frankly, I don't know why I was banned. I'm just guessing. Your leader never gives a reason. Instead he waves his hand [and] notes that I'm "no longer with us." Well, I guess I'm with the terrorists then.

Anyway, I'll avoid the lesson in rhetoric and just quote your own writing:

these facts certainly do speak for themselves, and they say that

Please read that a couple of times slowly. Let me know when the contradiction becomes apparent.
*[Update, not in letter to GilDodgen: amazingly, I now find that this comment made it through. I could have sworn it was in the moderation queue when I got banned.]

Further Update: Edited for various typos in my letter. Should have proofread; measure twice, cut once and all that. Changes marked with [brackets] and strikeouts (n.b.: most of the links were added in the bloggitation).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pixie is no longer with us

"Pixie is no longer with us."

That's a comment on Uncommon Descent, the intelligent design (and global warming denialist) blog. Apparently the user "Pixie" was kicked off the comment board for saying terrible things like this:
Tribune [another commenter], there is some ambiguity in both those cases; we do not know for certain why Gonzales failed to get tenure (maybe Iowa State did want anyone associated with anti-science, rather than someone who criticised evolution). Micheal Behe, Granville Sewell and Michael Denton still hold university positions despite their criticisms of evolution.

Larry, why do you think it is the teacher? Do teachers often have to write lines on the blackboard in your experience?

A general comment: Why should we suppose from this cartoon that there is a “Church of the Living Darwin”? Is a rejection of any and all criticism a distinguishing feature of religion?

No longer with us. The kind of thing you say when someone has died, or you've been betrayed. No longer with us. With whom, then?

Turns out that this is the standard language Dembski uses when kicking a user off the boards. The phrase turns up all the time. The lanky dictator of intelligent design waves his hand and poof! away goes a member. No longer with us. Remember, if you dare to comment over there.
There is one cardinal rule at this blog, namely, I [Dembski] make up the rules as I go along. In other words, these policies can change at any time. Moreover, if they change, it will most likely be in the direction of curtailing the time I need to spend with comments.
Read the comment policies and you'll get a sense of all the kinds of things Dembski finds unacceptable. You'll be banned for asking who designed the designer, for saying ID is "creationism in a cheap tuxedo" (actually the tux is pretty expensive), for linking ID with the religious right, and for pointing out that ID is not science. (Hilariously, NoeticGuru is still there. I would bet that Dembski et al. have discovered the snark but won't ban NG's old comments because it's been all over the blogs, and banning would force them to acknowledge the fiasco. They're hoping it will just go away.)

Here at little old paralepsis, we don't ban people for arguments. Not that that many people comment here, but arguments are not things you ban. It's a simple and, I would think, obvious principle.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Let the Mockery Continue

Just following up on the previous post: the first parody comment on Dembski's link seems to have made it past the censors (though really, it's hard to tell what's not parody). I thought I'd link to it here before Dembski et al. erase it along with the whole embarrassing episode. The poster calls him/herself "NoeticGuru," and writes:
Heh, long time lurker, first time poster here. But I’m glad that organizations like ICON-RIDS are showing up, and that proponents of ID are taking notice of them. I think that it will help show that ID isn’t a single religious doctrine since it can incorporate so many different non-materialistic philosophies. ICON-RIDS, for example, will probably attract a lot of followers with its ethical philosophy (you’ll probably need to scroll down a bit to get to his Transparadigmic Pleasurian socio-ethical paradigm, but it’s worth a read).

Since I’m also a dabbler in mathematics, I’ve been particularly impressed with Dr. Brookfield’s cosmological proof of cosmological physical incompleteness — I wonder how many mathematical polymaths ID will have to accumulate before Darwinists stop making light of the field’s credentialed researchers.

I love how NoeticGuru begins in the idiom of a talk radio listener. This "dabbler in mathematics" manages to get in a blurb for Pleasurian philosophy as well as a quiet dig at "Dr." Bloomfield's "credentials." Fine, fine snark.

Update: Just to give a sense of who is piling on: we have Stranger Fruit, Afarensis, Duae Quartunciae, Red State Rabble, Pharyngula, and Clever Beyond Measure.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

William Dembski links to a crank (so what else is new)?

From time to time, I surf over to Uncommon Descent to keep tracks on the intelligent design folks. They're an odd bunch over there: constantly proclaiming that this or that study is the stake in the heart of Darwinist OrthodoxyTM -- but then, nothing changes, and so a new stake must be discovered next week.

I commented there for a while but then I got banned, I guess -- anyway, my comments stopped showing up. I guess they were considered too snarky: this at a site where Dembski actually began a post by comparing the face of Jerry Coyne with Herman Munster.

What. An. Asshole.

Today Dembski posts the following:
It will be interesting to see how the National Center for Science Education Selling Evolution deals with the growing number of non-religious ID proponents. Check out the following link:
Yes, very interesting. No doubt the NCSE will be shaking with fear at this guy:
I don't hold any degrees from any university of any kind. My job as a citizen scientist is to represent science in general and the general public. I learned about the theory of "ontogeny recipitulating phylogeny" in my elementary school playground in 1968 -- from a friend (Calvin Jackson). Throughout the 60's and 70's I was a Darwinist. In 1979 I began to suspect something was wrong with Darwinism.
Meet William Brookfield, founder of "ICON-RIDS -- A Proposed Coalition of Non-Religious ID Scientists & Supporters." Or maybe it's "An International Coalition of Non-Religious ID Scientists & Scholars." Right now it's a coalition of one.

But what a one! Mr. Brookfield is also the founder of "The Brookfield Institute." He's not just an Intelligent Design proponent, but an "ID Pleasurian." What could that be, you ask? Mr. Brookfield provides the answer:
ID Pleasurian philosophy is a non-religious amalgam of ID science and Hefnerian Playboy philosophy. It serves as a strategically unified and archetypal counter proposal to orthodox ascetic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam. It is also somewhat resonant with Wiccan and “mother nature”- based pagan cults (in the west) and Tantric Buddhism (in the east). Pleasurian-ism is an earthy, sensuous and physically celebratory form of “monistic idealism” or infocognitive monism.” Pleasurian science is naturally driven by the "pleasure of finding things out."
Why in the world would the NCSE care to "deal with" this?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Funniest Comment EVAH

Check out this picture from a Flickr set of the creationist museum. Then look at the first comment. I got the giggles and just could not stop.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Rhetoric of Now: Memory

Update: In the comments, John points out (rightly) that I've misremembered some details of the Simonides legend. Specifically, although there's a forensic aspect to the case, it's really about identifying the bodies. Thanks to John for alerting me to this. Corrections are marked below: deletions are marked by strikethrough and additions with underlining.

Apologies for the long delay since the last installment. This entry, for Memorial Day, is on memory.

In classical rhetoric, skill in memory was considered essential to good speaking and good citizenship. Memory is one of rhetoric's five parts or "canons" (the others being invention, style, arrangement, and delivery). Memory supplied the speaker with anecdotes, examples, and maxims that could be brought to bear in a variety of situations. It allowed the speaker to connect with his or her audience, bring forth detailed examples, and energize a dry or abstract discussion.

Our current administration does not seem to share this exalted view of memory. Consider the U.S. attorney firing scandal. In his March 2007 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kyle Sampson "used the phrase 'I don't remember' a memorable 122 times," according to the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. Alberto Gonzalez couldn't quite match that in his testimony: he only "said 71 times that he either could not recall or did not remember conversations or events." President Bush responded to this attack of amnesia with sympathy, noting that the Attorney General "answered every answer he could possibly answer, honestly answer." Well, if you're only talking about honest answers . . .

What I want to address here is how the administration, for all its forgetting, uses and abuses memory as a central tool of policy.

In the Institutes of Oratory, Book 11, Chapter 2, our old friend Quintilian notes how memory comes and goes:

Most . . . are of opinion that certain impressions are stamped on the mind, as the signets of rings are marked on wax. But I shall not be so credulous as to believe that the memory may be rendered duller or more retentive by the condition of the body. I would rather content myself with expressing my admiration of its powers as they affect the mind, so that by its influence, old ideas, revived after a long interval of forgetfulness, suddenly start up and present themselves to us, not only when we endeavor to recall them, but even of their own accord, not only when we are awake, but even when we are sunk in sleep. This peculiarity is the more wonderful, as even the inferior animals that are thought to lack understanding, remember and recognize things, and however far they may be taken from their usual abodes, they still return to them again. Is it not a surprising inconsistency that what is recent should escape the memory and what is old should retain its place in it? That we should forget what happened yesterday, and yet remember the acts of our childhood? That things should conceal themselves when sought and occur to us unexpectedly? That memory should not always remain with us, but sometimes return after having been lost? (Emphasis added)
Memories get classified and categorized in a variety of ways. One type of memory viciously exploited by the Bush administration is the so-called "flashbulb memory." This is the memory (often recalled in vivid detail) of a major traumatic event, sometimes a public one like the Kennedy assasination, the Challenger disaster, or September 11. For a time it was thought that flashbulb memories were quite accurate because the trauma fixed the memory very quickly. More recent research, however, has shown that flashbulb memories change over time. A 2004 study by Weaver and Krug (published in the American Journal of Psychology) examined flashbulb memories of September 11. The authors found that people have high confidence in their 9/11 memories but that memories declined in accuracy over time. What this means is that later surveys found that recollections of September 11 matched less and less with what the subjects reported in the first 48 hours. (The abstract and citation info are here; I can send you a PDF of the whole article if you drop me an email.)

Interestingly, memories of September 11 reported a week or more after the event remained consistent. Weaver and Krug refer to this week-long period as consolidation:
During this consolidation processes [sic], memories are especially malleable. Information can be added to the memories (such as watching the video of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center). Even more likely, details can be lost; recall that at one time on the morning of September 11 there were reports of a car bomb exploding outside Capitol Hill. For most of us, this information is no longer a part of our memories of that morning. Some events whose significance is not apparent at the time occupy a greater role in our memories than they may have occupied during the actual event. Other events that appear to be significant turn out not to be and therefore are discarded. (Weaver and Krug 526)
I bring this up because the memory of September 11 is one of the favorite images of the Bush administration. Unlike the Attorney General's memory lapses, Bush's invocations of "the lesson of September 11" are beyond counting. I have no doubt he will invoke it today, Memorial Day 2007. Yet even in this slight shift — from memory to lesson — we see the transformation of image into emblem, of was into ought, of fact into mission.

For President Bush and his enablers, every new death is a memory to be exploited, a confirmation that we should never forget "the lesson of September 11" — even though whatever lesson September 11 offers is a lesson President Bush has never learned.

We must resist this transformation. We must refuse to consolidate the memory of the newly dead in Iraq with the events of September 11.

But does this do any good? In his heartbreaking op-ed in the Washington Post, Andrew J. Bacevich thinks not:
Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others -- teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks -- to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.

This, I can now see, was an illusion.

The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."

(If you haven't read Bacevich's op-ed, please stop now and read it. Come back only when you've stopped shaking.)

For all of us who want to end this war, this past week has been profoundly disappointing. But I think Bacevich sells himself short. All our voices have not (yet) stopped this war. But our voices, added to the memory of this grim time, may help those who come later build a country again.

One of my favorite lines in Apocalypse Now is spoken by the crazed Lt. Col. Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall: "Someday this war's gonna end..." That he does not finish the sentence suggests both that he is happy with perpetual war and that he has no idea how to deal with peace.

Listen folks: Someday this war's gonna end. All our voices together may or may not hasten its ending. But the memory of what we said and did will help us complete that sentence for ourselves and for each other.

Did you know that the art of memory was invented? Yes, it's true, or so they say: by the Greek poet Simonides of Keos. But get this: the art of memory was invented to investigate the murders caused by aftermath of a collapsed building. Here is how the Renaissance rhetoric scholar Thomas Wilson tells it in his The Arte of Rhetorique, Book III. I've modernized the spelling a lot and the punctuation just a bit.
The invention of this art is fathered upon Simonides; for when the same man (as the fable records) had made in behalf of a triumphant champion called Scopas for a certain sum of money a ballad such as was then wont to be made for conquerors: he was denied a piece of his reward, because he made a digression in his song (which in those days was customarily used) to the praise and commendation of Castor & Pollux (who were then thought being twins, & got by Jupiter to be gods) of whom the champion willed him to ask a portion, because he had so largely set forth their worthy doings. Now it chanced that whereas there was made a great feast to the honor of the same victory, and Simonides had been placed there as a guest, he was suddenly called from the table and told that there was two young men at the door, and both on horseback, which desired most earnestly to speak with him out of hand. But when he came out of the doors, he saw none at all: notwithstanding, he was not so soon out, and his foot on the threshold, but the parlor fell down immediately upon them all that were there, and so crushed their bodies together, and in such sort, that the kinsfolk of those that were dead, coming in, and desirous to bury them every one according to their calling, not only could they not perceive them by their faces, but also they could not discern them by any other mark of any part in all their bodies. Then Simonides well remembering in what place every one of them did sit, told them what every one was, and gave them their kinsfolk's carcasses, so many as were there. Thus the arte was first invented. And yet (though this be but a fable) reason might beat thus much into our heads, that if the like thing had been done, the like remembrance might have been used. For who is he that sees a dozen sit at a table, whom he knows very well, cannot tell after they are all risen, where every one of them did sit before?
Let me translate: Simonides gives a poem in praise of Scopas, but wasn't paid fully because Simonides had also praised Castor and Pollux in the same poem. Simonides gets called out of the banquet room by two young men; nobody's there when he checks, but the building collapses right then and kills everybody; the bodies are unrecognizable. Simonides, however, remembers who sat where, and by careful examination, identifies the bodies. he determines the killer to be those who survived. In other words, Simonides used memory evidentially. , to find the perpetrators.

The Bush administration has used memory in precisely the opposite manner: to obscure rather than discover; to create fantasy enemies rather than to locate those who have already attacked. For the Bush administration, it is not only the victims who are unrecognizable; it is also the attackers, who bloat and swell into a phantasmagoria of Muslim evilness.

We must not allow our anguish over this week's vote to blur our memory of what happened. Not all Democrats voted to capitulate; not all Democrats who did are unredeemable otherwise. Let's not consolidate too quickly; let's be subtle and forensic, and let's contribute to the memory we can use to recover.

In ancient rhetoric, memory was an oral art, meant for use in legal and political speech-making and debate. Now, of course, we have memory systems: libraries, archives, and — oh yeah — the internets. Little of what we say or write will affect deliberation today or tomorrow. But someday this war's gonna end. And when that happens, we have to remember what was good about this country, and bring it back.

A small note in conclusion. We don't have many of Simonides's own poems: those we do have are fragmented. One well-known epitaph on a tomb reads: "Stranger, bring the message to the Spartans that here / We remain, obedient to their orders." For me, the power of this poem is the distance between its "we" (the dead who speak it) and "their orders."

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Another fragment reads: "Not even the gods fight against necessity." I can imagine every Senator and Representative who voted for a blank check reciting these lines. But they are wrong in two ways: a blank check is not a necessity, and elected officials are not gods.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mr. No Corruption

I won out over Bono
To run the World Bank
Then Saha she said "Oh No
My job is in the tank"
I placed a few quick calls
To some old friends at State
Diplomacy's all right
Only when it gets you laid

Now it's come back to bite me
My bank life ends too soon
Retirement's come early
I'll leave the end of June
I managed to hang on
Just long enough to lance
The boil I call multi-
Lateral finance

I'm Mr. No Corruption
Top fox in the henyard
Excuse me while I play my
Golden parachute last card.

for Paul Wolfowitz, with apologies to Warren Zevon

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some Missing Poets

Ron Silliman's blog is remarkably good. He just turned me on to the Eclipse archive, and for a lark I clicked on the archive label to see what I'd missed. Through this, I found two sites offering competing versions of UK poetry. Silliman compares as follows:
Archive of the Now is, on day one, the most significant new site for poetry I’ve seen in well over a year. It is a perfect complement to the Archive of the Then, Andrew Motion’s slick gathering of so much that is kitsch, the Bathos of Britain into which he & his colleagues have dropped a few token gems to dress the dross, with its megalomaniacal “world's premier online collection” claim on its home page.
Let me note that neither site contains anything by Basil Bunting, Austin Clarke, or David Jones. None of these would reasonably be expected to appear in Archive of the Now. But the Poetry Archive (Motion's site) should have all of them. Indefensible.

I've long thought that these three poets had a lot in common. A few commonalities:
  1. They were all interested in carrying on Modernist projects in contexts hostile to Modernist poetics.
  2. They were all interested in alternative prosodies that drew from minority traditions in English. Clark and Bunting, for example, were both interested in schemes
    of assonance prevalent in earlier poetries. (And not in the
    decorative way such prosodies were exploited by Auden.)
  3. All operated on the margins of publishing, and all shunned traditional career paths.
  4. All, but especially Bunting and Clarke, had publishing histories marked by extended silences (much like George Oppen in the US.)
There's a whole book to be written about these three. By someone with more time than I have.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Must ... resist... blogging ...

I really appreciate those who have commented here and at Kos about the Rhetoric of Now series. I'm pretty jazzed about it; it seems to satisfy something at the core of me, and it's profoundly moving to have so many notes of appreciation over at the Big Orange. But there will be a brief delay; I've got to wrap up another project, and so I won't be posting a new installment until at least the middle of next week.

National Clearinghouse on Academic Worklife

Via Zuska, we learn of an excellent new website for academics: the National Clearinghouse on Academic Worklife. A description:
Today, college and university faculty members face many challenges, including an increasingly diverse workforce and new models for career flexibility. The National Clearinghouse on Academic Worklife (NCAW) provides resources to help faculty, graduate students, administrators and higher education researchers understand more about all aspects of modern academic work and related career issues, including tenure track and non tenure track appointments, benefits, climate and satisfaction, work/life balance, and policy development.
An important resource, especially for young academics.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Rhetoric of Now 3: Ethos (George Tenet edition!)

This is the third entry in "The Rhetoric of Now," my series on how we can change our current political climate by understanding and employing concepts from the rhetorical tradition. The first entry was on stasis or framing of questions; the second was on kairos or rhetorical time. This entry will be on ethos.

Let's start with something George Tenet said on 60 Minutes this past weekend:
You know, at the end of the day, the only thing you have is trust and honor in this world. It's all you have. All you have is your reputation built on trust and your personal honor. And when you don't have that anymore, well, there you go.
George Tenet is a Greek American. I'm not sure how these concepts -- honor, integrity, reputation -- would be expressed in modern Greek. But in ancient Greek rhetoric, they all lead toward the crucial rhetorical concept of ethos: character, reputation, trustworthiness.

At some point in your education, you may have heard the term ethos, probably accompanied by its constant companions logos and pathos. But what do they mean? These three terms are what Aristotle called pisteis, or means of securing persuasion. Here's how Aristotle lays them out in the Rhetoric, Book 1, Chapter 2. (I'll highlight the parts about ethos).
Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. This kind of persuasion, like the others, should be achieved by what the speaker says, not by what people think of his character before he begins to speak. It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses. Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile. It is towards producing these effects, as we maintain, that present-day writers on rhetoric direct the whole of their efforts. This subject shall be treated in detail when we come to speak of the emotions. Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.

Roughly speaking, ethos, or character, is a term used for arguments that rely "on the personal character of the speaker." Pathos, or emotion, is used for arguments that depend on "putting the audience into a certain frame of mind." Logos, or reason, is used for arguments where the proof is found in the words themselves. And so we speak of logical proof, ethical proof, and pathetic proof. (I'll deal with pathos in a future post, and logos over several entries -- including the intriguing notion of "apparent proof." But it's worth pointing out that in rhetoric, saying an argument is pathetic doesn't mean it's bad; it only means that it relies on eliciting emotion.) So when Tenet complains about having had his trust, honor, reputation sullied, he's talking about what has happened to his ethos.

George Tenet has written a memoir about his work at the CIA. The book has been trashed by everybody from the astute (Larry Johnson et al.) to the insane (Christopher Hitchens). Yesterday I listened, twice, to Tenet's interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, and I almost felt sorry for the guy. In less than an hour, Tenet had to engage in an impossible amount of dissembling, backtracking, hair-splitting, and goalpost-shifting. Every interview he gives, his digs a little more deeply into his own grave.

What's happened to his ethos? And why does Tenet seem to think he can salvage it in a memoir of this sort (along with the interviews)? It might be helpful to know that there are two kinds of ethos. One is articulated in the Aristotle quote above; this is the ethos deriving from "the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible." When the speech is so spoken -- this is ethos, in other words, understood purely as a product of discourse.

Let me give an example. Of all the 120,000 registered users on Daily Kos, only a few have met me personally. When I post something on Daily Kos, and people there read it, they have to make a number of decisions about it based, in part, on how my writing allows them to imagine my character. Do I seem trustworthy? Do I seem fair? Whenever you read, you have to imagine a person who wrote those words and ascribe intention to that person. Probably the person you make up, the person you mentally construct out of these words, has something like a psychological consistency. Much as in the classic Turing test, you have to make up the person on the other end of the screen.

Rhetorically, I can construct an effective, trustworthy ethos in many ways. For example:
  • I can treat my sources respectfully.
  • I can write in a way that assumes you're intelligent.
  • I can be consistent in the way I treat friends and adversaries.
  • I can do my homework and not spout off without thinking.

Constructing an ethos of this sort is a never-ending task. My students in writing classes sometimes misunderstand this; they say, "I'm going to add some ethos to my paper." My response is to say, "no, no; your writing always has ethos. It's your choice whether that ethos indicates someone readers want to trust or not."

Aristotle is concerned that ethos exists only within texts. (Note: I'm using "text" here to mean both oral and written discourse. The ancients assumed that rhetoric was the art of oratory, but rhetoric became much more concerned with writing in the last few centuries -- and is currently expanding to treat visual and multimedia formats.) With Tenet, he seems to think that every speech is a new chance. And certainly the door to recovering a damaged ethos is rarely shut entirely. But Aristotle's view is challenged by later writers, such as Cicero and Quintilian, who argue that the orator must be a good person. (Clearly, this view was already present in Aristotle's time, or else Aristotle would not have to argue against it. Also, it's worth mentioning that the Roman orators didn't use the Greek term ethos,)

In Book XII, Chapter 1 of the Institutes of Oratory, Quintilian writes that "I not only say that he who would answer my idea of an orator must be a good man, but that no man, unless he be good, can ever be an orator." He goes on:

A good man, doubtless, will speak of what is true and honest with greater frequency, but even if, from being influenced by some call of duty, he endeavors to support what is fallacious (a case which, as I shall show, may sometimes occur), he must still be heard with greater credit than a bad man. But with bad men, on the other hand, dissimulation sometimes fails, as well through their contempt for the opinion of mankind as through their ignorance of what is right. Hence, they assert without modesty and maintain their assertions without shame, and in attempting what evidently cannot be accomplished, there appears in them a repulsive obstinacy and useless perseverance, for bad men, as well in their pleadings as in their lives, entertain dishonest expectations. It often happens that even when they speak the truth, belief is not accorded them, and the employment of advocates of such a character is regarded as a proof of the badness of a cause.

Why is Tenet having such a hard time fixing his reputation? To put it another way, why is all his writing and speaking insufficient? Because he seems to think that the ethos of the speaker is created anew every time he speaks. This is an Aristotelian view. In the real world, however -- which in this regard, at least, Quintilian seems to understand better -- Tenet's endless explanations display "a repulsive obstinacy and useless perseverance."

Thanks, by the way, to those who have encouraged me to press on with this series despite the limited response. I seem to have quickly developed a small but eager readership, for which I'm quite grateful.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Rhetoric of Now Part 2: Kairos

Cross-posed at Daily Kos.

This is the second in a series of posts on how concepts from rhetoric can be used to help transform the current political climate. For a broader context, see the first entry (on stasis theory). Today's entry is on kairos.

Kairos is usually defined as something like opportunity. James Kinneavy, who has done more than anyone in modern times to revive the concept, defines it succinctly in an interview as "the right time and due measure." But kairos was also a minor god. So take a moment, would you, to look at this bas-relief of the figure of kairos. Take your time; I'll wait.

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Back? Great. Look at him closely: he's got wings, and winged feet. He's coming fast; if he's headed your way, you have a moment to grab his extended forelock. But watch out! Once he's past you you can't grab on, because the back of his head is shaved. Strangely, he's balancing a scales on a razor blade, weighting one pan of the scales with his hand. Kairos, in other words, is not just opportunity; he is balance and dance, measure and cut, available only to those who face him right and grab when they can.

While I was writing this diary, it occurred to me that kairos might be behind the name of Keyser Soze, the legendary criminal in The Usual Suspects. As Verbal Kent says (before we find out who he is):

You think you can catch Keyser Soze? You think a guy like that comes this close to getting caught, and sticks his head out? If he comes up for anything it'll be to get rid of me. After that... my guess is you'll never hear from him again.

As Sharon Crowley and Deborah Hawhee explain, "The Greeks had two concepts of time. They used the term chronos to refer to linear, measurable time, the kind with which we are more familiar, that we track with watches and calendars. But the ancients used kairos to suggest a more situational kind of time, something close to what we call 'opportunity.'" But it's a lot more than that.

In Christian theology, kairos is associated with a kind of ripeness of time, a moment when things are ready. When Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is at hand," he's talking in kairos terms. In the South African struggle against apartheid, this notion was essential to the Kairos Document:

The time has come. The moment of truth has arrived. South Africa has been plunged into a crisis that is shaking the foundations and there is every indication that the crisis has only just begun and that it will deepen and become even more threatening in the months to come. It is the KAIROS or moment of truth not only for apartheid but also for the Church.

We as a group of theologians have been trying to understand the theological significance of this moment in our history. It is serious, very serious. For very many Christians in South Africa this is the KAIROS, the moment of grace and opportunity, the favorable time in which God issues a challenge to decisive action. It is a dangerous time because, if this opportunity is missed, and allowed to pass by, the loss for the Church, for the Gospel and for all the people of South Africa will be immeasurable. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He wept over the tragedy of the destruction of the city and the massacre of the people that was imminent, "and all because you did not recognize your opportunity (KAIROS) when God offered it" (Lk 19: 44).

In "Against the Sophists," Isocrates argues that oratory is quite different from mere literacy, in part because it relies on the contingency of kairos.

I marvel when I observe these men setting themselves up as instructors of youth who cannot see that they are applying the analogy of an art with art and fast rules to a creative process. For, excepting these teachers, who does not know that the art of using letters remains fixed and unchanged, so that we continually and invariably use the same letters for the same purpose, while exactly the reverse is true of the art of discourse? For what has been said by one speaker is not equally useful for the speaker who comes after him; on the contrary, he accounted most skilled in this art who speaks in a manner worthy of the subject and yet is able to discover in it topics which are nowise the same as those used by others. But the greatest proof of the difference between the two arts is that oratory is good only if it has the qualities of fitness for the occasion, propriety of style, and originality of treatment, while in the case of letters there is no such need whatsoever. (Emphasis added)

I want to avoid a possible misunderstanding here. This notion of "fitness for the occasion" isn't primarily about style, about shifting accents in different speeches; it has nothing to do with that kind of minor accommodation to an audience. Kairos is more essential to discourse than this: it is about recognizing that different moments evoke different responses and then seizing the moment in its totality.

Here is an important question: Is kairos responsive or inventive? That is, is kairos a matter of grabbing hold of opportunities inherent within situations, or of creating opportunities out of situations?
The former, narrow reading is understandable. It views the rhetorical actor in the passive terms of response. In the current American political scene, most candidates seem to take this kind of posture, expending most of their energies on situations that we already recognize as urgent: how to get out of Iraq, how to correct the recent acceleration of economic injustice, how to stem the tide of corruption. These are obvious questions.

A more capacious reading of kairos suggests that opportunities are made, not just recognized. This kind of reading was crucial to the civil rights movement. For example, in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr. responds to those who think his protest is ill-timed:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. (Emphasis added)

If we view kairos in this fashion, as something we invent and imagine together rather than simply a situation to which we respond, what are American politicians today missing? What can they learn, not just from Dr. King's actions, but from his imagination? I'm sure we can all think of some. I'll just mention a few.

First, increased foreign aid and debt relief as part of a security strategy. American politicians hate to talk about foreign aid, but I think they're missing a lot here. Discussion of immigration tends to resolve into predictable camps defined by xenophobia on the one hand and compassion on the other. But to my knowledge, nobody has seen fit to emphasize how improving conditions in countries that send immigrant labor to the U.S. could make conditions more tolerable in the home countries, and relieve some of the pressure that drives them north in the first place. This in turn could make the job of border security less impossible and might have the knock-on effect of reducing the depressive influence of undocumented labor on American wages.

Second, how to respond to the imminent housing collapse. This isn't that big yet, but it's likely to get big, and I haven't seen any of the candidates out in front of it. The first candidate to grab hold of this issue in terms of protecting low-income homeowners (not real estate agents or lenders) will change the shape of debate.

Third, how to rehabilitate public transportation. In American politics, highways are big, and trains are boring. But the climate change crisis demands radical solutions, and I'm amazed that nobody has come out with a radical transportation proposal that will help decrease our dependence on highways in an environmentally friendly manner.

Well, these are a few of my unaddressed issues. I'm just an English teacher; other people, who know something about economics and such, will have much better ideas. The point is that we have to quit responding and start creating. The time is ripe. But we need politicians who can imagine a plausible future, and challenge us to imagine it with them. We need politicians who are capable of seizing the moment by making it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Rhetoric of Now Part 1: Stasis

Cross-posted at Daily Kos and European Tribune.

This is the first in a series about how concepts from rhetoric can help progressives understand -- and change -- the current political climate. It is based on the premise that the noble and ancient discipline of rhetoric is not trickery or deception, but rather that rhetorical literacy is a vital element of a healthy political community. To quote the Greek rhetorician Isocrates, "the power to speak well and think right will reward the person who approaches the art of discourse with love of wisdom and love of honor." (from the Antidosis). I hold that rhetoric anticipates and surpasses the best aspects of the current vogue for "framing," and that the rhetorical tradition offers a more humane and generous way of comprehending the social world.

This series has two aims. First, I want to rehabilitate the discipline of rhetoric for politics. Rhetoric is enormously productive in academic life, but in politics it remains associated with professional liars like [insert your favorite consultant here]. Second, I want to provide a vocabulary for interpreting in our present moment. Each entry will define a concept from classical or modern rhetoric and apply it, from a progressive Democratic perspective, to an aspect of the present crisis.

For this first installment, I'll discuss stasis theory.

What is a stasis? In ancient Greece, stasies were questions or issues. The term derives from a word meaning "a stand." In an argument, the stasis can be considered the location of a dispute, the place where a speaker takes a stand. The roots of stasis theory are found in the Sophists (you know, the folks Socrates opposed). Later, in Roman rhetoric, stases were more carefully developed as a set of ways of defining arguments. Eventually most ancient rhetoricians settled on four stases. Let me define them and then talk about how they're used.

In his Institutes of Oratory (Book 3), Quintilian writes:
Let students learn, therefore, before all, that there are four modes of proceeding in every cause and that he ought to make it his first business to consider which four modes he who is going to plead. Beginning first of all with the defendant, by far the strongest mode of defense is if the charge which is made can be denied; the next, if an act of the kind charged against the accused can be said not to have been done; the third, and most honorable, if what is done is proved to have been justly done. If we cannot command these methods, the last and only mode of defense is that of eluding an accusation, which can neither be denied nor combated, by the aid of some point of law, so as make it appear that the action has not been brought in due legal form.
These are the four stases, the four "modes of proceeding."
1. Conjecture (stasis stochasmos). Call this the question, "does the thing at issue exist"?

2. Definition (stasis horos). Call this the question, "what is the thing at issue anyway"?

3. Quality or value (stasis poiotes). Call this the question, "is the thing at issue good or bad"?

4. Policy or procedure (stasis metalepsis). Call this the question, "what is the proper format for dealing with the thing at issue"?
A good example is given in the Teaching Company's fine audio course on argumentation. Professor David Zarefsky walks through the case of a person who is being accused of stealing another's car. To the accusation "You stole my car!," the accused can say "No I didn't" (conjecture), "It wasn't stealing, it was borrowing" (definition), "and a good thing too because I saved a life" (value), or "so call the cops why don't you!" (procedure).

A few points to recognize.

First: all arguments come into being at some point of clash or stasis. A person who creates an issue wants to describe the issue so that the clash takes place at a point of advantage.

Second: we can argue at a given point of stasis, or we can try to rephrase the question at another stasis. In other words, with stasis theory you can take a question and rephrase it in at least three different ways (many more, actually). Instead of arguing at the point you're offered, it's often worth playing around with the stases, seeing which ones work, so that you can respond at a point of greater effectiveness. If you can change the question, you have a real advantage -- especially if you can keep it changed.

Third: stases are related in a specific way. Arguments at the stasis of definition have already accepted the conjecture. Arguments about value have already accepted both conjecture and definition. And arguments about policy have usually -- though not always -- accepted conjecture, definition, and value. In other words, conjecture is far upstream in the argument, and procedure is (usually) downstream.

An example from the present crisis. In early 2003, a number of public arguments took place about whether the US was going to seek an additional resolution from the United Nations before invading. As it turned out, we were going to and then didn't. No surprise in the hypocrisy of our government. But this argument about the UN is an argument about procedure. Simply by having this argument take center stage, we have already accepted -- at least implicitly -- a number of conjectures (such as "Iraq is a threat"), definitions (such as "Iraq is part of the Axis of Evil"), and values (such as "Invading Iraq would be good if it were done right").

Of course, many of those who wanted an additional resolution didn't accept any of these things. But allowing the debate to unfold at the stasis of procedure effectively shut the door on those other, upstream debates. Nowadays conservatives all claim that "everybody thought Iraq had WMDs." Now, empirically, that's just flat-out false. But by pitching the battle downstream, our public rhetoricians -- that is to say, our politicians -- established the illusion of a de facto consensus upstream. This haunts political discourse to this day, it was avoidable, and all the corrections in the world won't allow politicians to rehabilitate a case they willingly gave up.

Next up: kairos, or rhetorical time.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Discovery Institute "debate"

Haven't posted in a while -- busy busy busy. But I did notice some funny bits related to the folks out in never-never-lan -- excuse me, Intelligent Design TheoryTM. But first, Inkling magazine had a contest to design a new species of Darwin fish. The total set of contributions is pretty great, as is the winner. Check it out.

Meanwhile, the ID folks at the DI have been having themselves a conference. The folks at Red State Rabble point out that the IDDI people only pretend to be interested in a free exchange of ideas. What a surprise.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NotMary Cheney writes an editorial

In the Washington Post, Liz Cheney makes the following argument for escalation (or against withdrawal, or against Hillary, or whatever):
If we quit in Iraq now, we must get ready for a harder, longer, more deadly struggle later.
It's worth noting that the policies of this administration brought us to whatever Hobson's Choice we now face. Are we really faced either with this unwinnable quagmire or something even worse later? Well, maybe worse than it is now. But if so, that's the fault of Bush, Nanny Dick, and the neocon cheerleading squad (Bush always had a soft spot for his fellow cheerleaders).

Doubtful, however, that it will be worse than what we face if we stay and stay and stay.

Hey, and Liz (can I call you Liz?): a big shout out to the old man for pimping this war and for covering up the smearing of critics.

Monday, January 22, 2007

So they don't fight us here

A few thoughts about the new report that Iraqi insurgents are planning to attack in the States. The most obvious thought is, why should they come here when they're already killing us over there? Given the number of Americans who died this last weekend (n.b. -- total subject to increase), why mess with a winning formula?

Second thought: obviously we should be wary, and I'm all for following leads and tracking them down. But how many leads turn out to be real? The ABC story gets quite breathless about precedent.

U.S. officials now require universities to closely track foreign nationals who use student visas to study in the United States. University officials must report international students who fail to arrive on campus or miss class regularly.

In August, the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement alerted intelligence agencies and state and local law enforcement about 11 Egyptian students who had failed to report to their classes at Montana State University. The students were ultimately apprehended.

But the last I heard, when those students were being rounded up for immigration violations, "None of the students [were] considered a terrorism risk."

Third, having worked at two large universities during the crackdown, I think student visa holders are pretty well tracked -- hassled, even.

Fourth, how come we hear about this now? The day before Bush's SOTU? Any chance we'll get a heightened alert from teh Chertoff?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Marketplace Imagines . . .

. . . what Morrissey's Eurovision song contest entry might look like. Money lyric:
Our former colonies rise as we fall
India booms, Britain's profits appall
So let's end it all with tall bottles of poison
We deserve it
We deserve it
We deserve it, we deserve it, we deserve it
Brilliant -- in its American meaning (audio link).