notes on rhetoric

(more and more, i find myself straying from the usual content of this blog, that i might point out things that pique my interests...)

a few moments ago, i read the article "Demonstrators out in force for abortion case." given my interest in language in general, and rhetoric specifically, i took note of the various terms (non-proper) used in description of the two groups of "demonstrators" in question (with shared terms in parentheses):

group #1:

abortion supporters
abortion-rights supporters

group #2:

anti-abortion rights activists

now, i recognize i am not raising a new observation, but i was struck, especially considering the article's brevity, by the colors painted on both groups. it is less than difficult to discern that those belonging to group #1 are painted as supportive and pro-rights, where those belonging to group #2 are painted as protestant (lower-case "p") and anti-rights.

my views aside, this is subjective (and therefore sloppy) journalistic writing, but such writing is only symptomatic of a deeper problem: as the labels used in the article have become accepted in the abortion debate, emotional values had been placed on both groups, weighting the discussion, and hampering any future interchange of ideas takes place. regardless of which "side" is right (though the idea that such a dichotomy were actually possible is laughable), rhetoric (journalism included especially, because of its highly public nature) that is emotionally-laced has no place in public discourse (though the idea that it will ever be so removed is equally laughable, indeed).

sadly, there is a great deal of anger and pain built up on both "sides" of the discussion, and i doubt the rhetorical wrinkles will ever be ironed out completely. further, the thought comes to me that if i had any readership to speak of, i have no doubt it would shrink as a result of this post, however innocuous the ideas contained therein.

my point is this: it is never to late to try; rational discourse, the calm, reasoned exchange of ideas never hurt anyone.


Things my wife has said... #6

"Green. Green, for green giant. Grrrrapes!"



workplace hay(na)ku sequence #4

about a minute ago, i realized i'd posted nothing today, so...

here's something:

do i
hate my job?

every day
i can say,

i've done
nothing of worth."


Things my wife has said... #5

"Old people, dancing to hip-hop: it's just not right!"


Overrated Things

Installment #5

13. Über-Anything. Seriously,
über-this and über-that: I'm tired of it. I've been tired of it for quite some time, now. I realize the word became cool a long time ago, and has since been thoroughly abused into a less-cool state. I realize also that I have already listed clever lingo as overrated, but I feel this particular offender required special attention.

Also, I've got an idea for how to make yourself and/or whatever product/project you're pushing seem good enough to be labelled "above" other similar items/ideas: ACTUALLY BE THAT COOL. Describing yourself/your product/project in cool ways in no way makes you/it cooler.

Note: whatever you are/it is may truly be that cool, but adding the word über certainly didn't help the cause any.

14. Pointing Out the Corruption/Idiocy of Politicians. Again, seriously, we all know they're crooks, and we know that all-too-often they're un(der)qualified, even flat-out stupid. What I would really like is a way to get rid of the aforementioned politicians and replace them with people who are in some way still connected to the real world. And pay them less. Much, much less.

Note: I realize our government is (in part) staffed by a
system which professes the possibility to do (ideally) what I have just requested be done, but can we all agree there is something very wrong with the way the system is being handled and, further, that the system itself is not quite well enough to heal itself? And no, I am not necessarily proposing some sort of radical overthrow, toward the end of instituting some new form of government. I'm just saying something's gotta give. We need a shift toward sanity, am I right?

Maybe I'll just move to

15. Iraq, the War, and All Transmutations of the Subject. As an extension of item #14, this almost goes without saying. Simply put, this has been, and certainly will continue to be, beaten beyond recognition (no messianic allusions implied). Interestingly enough, this beating has been staunchly bi-partisan, coming from every conceivable direction, both for and against. Again, I'm tired of it, and quite frankly, I don't care anymore. My position? I'm all for withdrawl, or re-deployment, or even nuking the whole region - whatever the hell will make people stop talking about it. My point is, no matter what your position/involvement, there's probably a better use of all our time.

[for reference: installments 1, 2, 3, and 4]

a variation

on workplace hay(na)ku #3 - "lament"

is the
day after thanksgiving,

where do
i find myself?

my job,
wasting the day.


Christmas Cookies

There was the time, I think it was the first time, I heard Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." I was in a white Jeep Cherokee, and my blonde girlfriend was driving. She started singing along before I could ask what the song was. She told me.


"What?" The question sounded recorded.

"Nothing, I just didn't know he'd done a Christmas song."

The rest of the ride to her parents' house was silent, except for Sir McCartney and the children's choir. We arrived at the two-story colonial, she turned off the car, and we sat not talking for a minute. We each took the other's hand, and I stroked her right ring finger with my left thumb.

She said she should go inside, and I said I should go home. Getting out of the Jeep, I held on to her hand until I couldn't reach it anymore; we said good night across the hood.

The next day was the last school-day before Christmas break. In the parking lot after school, on the ground next to the driver's side of my car, I found a box of cookies (really, two plates, one upside down on top of the other, tied together). With the cookies - a baker's dozen chocolate chip - there was a note, and above the signature was written "I'll miss you." I looked across the lot directly behind my car, and the Jeep was not there. I read the note again and drove home. Later, I noticed the wire holding the plates together was dressed as holly ivy.

the elegant variation

"The Elegant Variation is Fowler’s ... term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

- Mark Sarvas

workplace hay(na)ku sequence #3 - "lament"

is the
day before thanksgiving,

where do
i find myself?

my job,
wasting the day.


I Agreed

There was the time I went to a friend's house for a party. His parents were there, I think. The same girl was there, too, but this was several weeks earlier. She was wearing a maroon top, but I didn't notice her come inside. She probably didn't; the house was surrounded by five or so acres of land, and there was a bonfire already going when I arrived, but I went inside first.

Still, I first found her in the kitchen, refilling her paper cup with pop. Other people were mingling about, and we talked awhile, until we were more or less alone. We talked a little more, and she suggested we go to the garage, where a ping-pong table had been set up. I agreed and re-filled my paper cup with milk.

The ping-pong table was at the mouth of the garage; if people were watching, they were doing so from a distance. We played three quick points over the next fifty minutes. Eventually, we put our paddles down and talked across the table. I still held the ball. She said we should get together sometime, and I agreed.

Later, she found me by the bonfire, and we said good night. Her jacket was zipped up halfway - it was getting cooler, as evenings in late summer do - and I could just see the neckline of her maroon top as she turned to walk to her car.


"Existence is not something which lets itself be thought of from a distance: it must invade you suddenly, master you, weigh heavily on your heart like a great motionless beast—or else there is nothing more at all."

- Jean Paul Sartre, from Nausea


Things my wife has said... #4

"I think I've got a tooth coming in!"

(this entry has made me realize something: while the idea of my wife's comments being taken out of context is indeed quite humorous, i should have realized that her comments do not often need such help and, further, are often devoid of any context to begin with. that said, future installments of "Things my wife has said..." will contain silly things that have erupted quite unexpectedly from my wife's mouth, whether or not they were imbedded in some coherent context)


The LS 5

Given my propensity toward an eventual career in a certain wildly fascinating field, I present S. R. Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science:

1. Books are for use.
2. Every reader his or her book.
3. Every book its reader.
4. Save the time of the reader.
5. The Library is a growing organism.

Things my wife has said... #3

"I feel like I'm in a Dr. Seuss book!"


Oh! Come, Let's Sing Ohio's Praise

Oh! Come, let's sing Ohio's praise,
And songs to Alma Mater raise;
While our hearts rebounding thrill,
With joy which death alone can still.
Summer's heat or winter's cold,
The seasons pass the years will roll;
Time and change will surely show
How firm thy friendship, O-Hi-O


i am taking a page from mr. elliot's book in the titling of this post.

i fail to understand why these people won't let these people use God's Word for what seem to me to be perfectly good reasons. further, copyright law aside, i fail to see how it's anyone's place - especially when the anyone in question is an entity whose mission is supposedly to help God's Word get into the hands of those who need it - to place restrictions upon, or even simply be lazy with, the spreading of scripture. last i checked, the whole point of having scripture - that is, the written account of what God wants us to be doing - is so more people can read and understand what God wants us to be doing. and i'm pretty sure restricting said understanding is not on God's to-do list for any of us.


The Greatest Statistical Graph Ever Drawn

UPDATE: 11.21

i've removed the graph, drawn by Mr. Charles Minard, of Napoleon's march into Russia. i hope to replace the linked picture with a scanned one in the not-too-distant future.

when the levee breaks

if it keeps on rainin', the levee's going to break (x2)
when the levee breaks, i'll have no place to stay

mean old levee, taught me to weep and moan (x2)
it's got what it takes to make a mountain man leave his home

don't it make you feel bad
when you're tryin' to find your way home
you don't know which way to go

if you're goin' down south
and they've no work to do
then you go north to chicago

cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good (x2)
when the levee breaks, mama you got to move

all last night, sat on the levee and moaned (x2)
thinkin' about my baby and my happy home

- Led Zeppelin

(i know it's quite late, but i realized these lyrics were too apropos to pass over)

A Sonnet, written in a hasty anger

Under Buffalo

Those days, when I wrote, I'd tear out a sheet
of notebook paper from its book and fold
it into quarters (I think that my feet
fit into size 8 shoes, to show how old
I was when I first practiced this fine art);
I'd slide the page in my back pocket when
I moved from class to class, and I took heart
in knowing it was ready, with my pen,
and I would write as I was moved to write.
Today, this morning, came the Mover near-
as winter's first attack had come last night-
and anger boiled up in me, filled my ear
with my own voice, promising this: I'll go
to an early grave, under Buffalo.

my all-time favorite...

...presidential campaign slogan:

"Who is James K. Polk?"


How do I fold thee? Let me count the ways.

V, on TV

"Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative."

- Kurt Vonnegut

(Perhaps, then, my growing disdain for television and its natural tendency toward stimulating anti-thought is at least tangential to my continued stubborn refusal to identify myself symbolically with either party)


workplace hay(na)ku sequence #2

working worked work

at work
i actually worked,

i work
on not working-

doing work
is hard work!

(the word work officially lost all meaning during the composition of this sequence)

Things my wife has said... #2

(to the tune of the Reading Rainbow theme song)

"Take a look
it's in a book-
Reading Railroad!"



random poetry

you examine what spark He'll form me?
go see! jibe, do quiz, yes!
paint can white, crave magic kegs, profound be.
girl, fall stream-down, quick jawbone.
high pacts, view why?=answers.


the above poem was based on the consonant poem structure


and as near as i can tell, it doesn't mean anything, but it was fun to write, and hard as hell. i'll have to do this again sometime, and see if i can make the result almost mean something.

(props to scott rettberg, from whose blog i got the idea, and who did it much better than i could)

Things my wife has said... #1

This is the first installment in what will (hopefully) be the long-running list (I know, I know), "Things my wife has said that were funny, but that, when taken out of context, are much funnier."


"Who am I?"


response to a comment

or, "linguistics freewrite"

to my previous post, "i swear i am not making this up," josh added this comment:

"More and more, I believe we are going to see bilingualism and less overall conformity to white linguistic norms. I think I'm all right with that, but I'm not quite sure. Indoctrination is wrong even in it's mildest form--and probably more deadly. It's hard for me to read that fax without cringing, but if the person speaks and writes fluently in another language, or can communicate effectively with those of his particular culture, then I feel wrong judging him for not being able to put together a declaritive sentence in English just because he lives in America. We don't live in the 1950's homogeneous society that never really existed and now flourishes, embodied in perfectly manicured lawns, buzz cuts, cars that can be fixed with a good hammer and a socket set, and big-breasted June Cleavers cleaning kitchens in the minds of conservatives everywhere. But no offense. Seriously."

none taken. seriously. and, while i agree that we are heading away from that kind of utopian linguistic uniformity, i cannot say i am "all right with that." at least, not yet. in college, i was known to professors and students alike as one prone to strict adherence to certain rules and traditions, while simultaneously flinging others aside in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. for the time being, my desire for linguistic uniformity falls into the first category.

indeed, we do not live in that america, and no doubt we never truly did, but i am distressed by the bilingual future you predict. biblically, the confusion of languages was a device of punishment and segregation. granted, the parallel is not the strongest one, but when a similar trend--that of linguistic "confusion," or quasi-intentional linguistic branching-off--is affected by men, it seems that difficulties must arise. still, while the differences, culturally speaking, must be respected and acknowledged, i must ask the question: what is the end if, inside a single country, geographically whole, multiple linguistic norms are accepted and used? further, how would such a multilingual society go about addressing the possible negative social effects while maximizing the benefits and the appreciable beauties inherent in the above noted linguistic trends we, as americans, will certainly view through the lens of multiculturalism?

but perhaps “distressed” is not the right term. rather, i feel concerned that the linguistic trends of the present will only place further stress on the racial tension we would all like to ignore, and that is what bothers me. i have no doubt that racial/ethnic groups are likely to further develop unique linguistic identities, as a natural extension of pride in belonging to larger social identities. this is not a bad thing—indeed, it is a beautiful thing, as there can never be too many different ways of symbolically expressing anything—but i fear that the trend will include adhering to the newly developing linguistic identities to the exclusion of understanding other such identities, both newly developing and developed. my gut feeling is that each racial/ethnic group will be guilty, to varying degrees, of such exclusion, to the detriment of all. if that assessment is correct, the only way to venture safely into the future, linguistically, is by preparing for the consequences of creating a multilingual society, whether they be the ones mentioned here, or be they completely different.

it’s almost enough to make me want a higher degree in linguistics.

(it seems appropriate here to insert a mention of blog against racism day. this subject may just have to be revisited then)


i swear i am not making this up

i realize this post is stepping outside the normal range of this blog's subject material, but i just can't help myself.

i received a fax at work today, and this is what the sender had written on the cover sheet (spelling, punctuation and capitalization are exactly are exactly as they appeared):

"This is my 3rd time faxing these same document For a card I never got one thank you I[f] it not clear please call me I sent these 3 wks ago."

just the other night, while talking to my wife, i bemoaned the deplorable level of grammatical knowledge (if it can be called knowledge) to which i am exposed on a regular basis. sadly, this note is just about average, so far as writing competency goes, among the faxes i receive daily. i am not an educational professional, so i doubt it is within my rightful range to comment much further. that said, i will minimize my comments thusly: is anyone else even slightly frightened by this? i am, and when i received this fax i nearly cried.


more and more impractical

All of the arts, with the exception of architecture, are practical jokes, making people respond emotionally and at no risk to themselves, because things aren’t really happening. A good example would be "The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci.

What I do, which is becoming more and more impractical I think, is make people respond to idiosyncratic arrangements of 26 phonetic symbols and ten Arabic numbers in horizontal lines on a page. And there was a time when this was a form of home entertainment, and so it was worthwhile for people to learn how to read. But reading it is actually quite difficult--I mean it is as hard as learning to read music, and it’s a remarkable skill. And if you take ink on paper and make people respond to it, they themselves are going to have to be performers. It’s like arriving at a concert hall and being handed a violin, and you’re expected to play. That’s what we expect readers to do, perform themselves, because they’re half of the performance.

But ink on paper is no way to tell a story anymore. Film and movies are the best way to tell a story today. That works, so you don’t have to be a performer yourself anymore. Because of our terrible high schools, we have a huge illiterate population, but they can sure as hell watch a movie.

I would guess that people who are literate somehow get their minds improved, or they get more personally involved in a story when they read it because their own brains are involved. Watching TV or a movie, your brain need not be involved, and you can just kill time.

- Kurt Vonnegut, Excerpted from an interview with Lacey Rose on Oct. 17, 2005.



"I have never been able to decide whether poetics is the most beautiful word in our language, or the most hideous."

- Robert Lowell, United States Poet Laureate, 1947-1948

A Conspicuous Post:

In Response, The Top 11 People with Whom I'd Like to Spend a Day (in alphabetical order):

1. Siddhartha Gautama Buddah
2. Geoffrey Chaucer
3. Frederic Chopin
4. St. Francis, of Assisi
5. Ernest Hemingway
6. Soren Kierkegaard
7. Clive Staples Lewis
8. Franz Liszt
9. Flannery O'Connor
10. Blaise Pascal
11. William Shakespeare

Alternate: Larry David


"Whither are we moving now?"

"All of these declarations of what writing ought to be, which I had myself--though, thank god I had never committed them to paper--I think are nonsense. You write what you write, and then either it holds up or it doesn't hold up. There are no rules or particular sensibilities. I don't believe in that at all anymore."

- Jamaica Kincaid

Indeed, how could one write at all, believing that Hemingway or Joyce had already done it best? Believing that an unwritten(?) code, the ruling iron hand of sensibility, has reached, and will always reach, through the ages, forever guiding the Writer's hand--believing that, paralysis and stagnation among the Commoners, and a wheezing, though omnipotent, aristocracy of writers is the Inevitable, is the End. Gentlemen, is not the End already neigh?


Overrated Things

Installment #4

10. Career-related Ambition. (My present employment situation notwithstanding, of course) The very notion that this characteristic is a desireable one makes me laugh. It's ridiculous and it causes more problems than anything else. And it's annoying, especially when overdosed.

11. Lists. (Present project notwithstanding, of course) This is another tricky one. While most lists are indeed well-intentioned and useful, the best lists are those that address broad ranges of issues, point out the culprits and propose solutions, usually elimination or avoidance of the thou-shalt-not variety. Thus, lists like "
Five things I'd like to see vanish from all poetry and poetics discussions", while perhaps on the mark, are not broad enough in scope to be socially useful, generally. Most lists, then, should be limited to the private sector and devoted to chore- and grocery lists. Those lists that attempt societal importance, then, should indeed look only to the granddadyy of all lists: The Ten Commandments.

Further, and finally, two questions, immediately answered, regarding lists: Overrated as movers and shakers of global social trends? Yes. Practical in small ways and occasionally amusing? Very.

12. Verbosity bred in the den of Arrogance. (Present list-item notwithstanding, of course) Never to be confused with the precise use of language. And don't get me wrong: I love a good new word. So if you're talking about, say,
scarab beetles, feel free to throw around words such as coprophagous. If, however, you are talking about how much you hate me or how much you hate my blog, or if you simply enjoy thrusting your vocabulary in the faces of those less familiar with defenestration, please, take some advice: shut it.