FWIW, some thoughts on the 2016 presidential election

As I type this (I started writing this at almost 2 am and now I am finishing it at 6:30-ish, realizing the worse has come to pass), I’m watching the cluster-fuck/train-wreck that is the showdown of the presidential election. I was hoping to go to bed about 11 last night. I was hoping and assuming (had the polls had been correct, as I’ll get to in a moment) to be in bed hours ago, satisfied with the inevitable of Hillary Clinton as president-elect. As I type, not so much. Ugh.

So, some thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Fuck the pollsters, fuck the 538s of the world. Fuck all of them. I don’t know what happened, I’m sure we will hear more about it all in the coming days and weeks, and the problems of relying on “big data” alone are clear here. We can and will debate the details, but I will never look at 538 or a similar site and say “hey, they’re predicting a 90% win for Clinton, I guess that’s all good.” These sites are useless. My hope (and expectation, frankly) is they will go out of business, which is what Nate Silver and his smug-assed types deserve. As Mike Murphy (an NBC politico) just put it, “tonight data just kind of died.” Well, where is this data coming from? The data didn’t die as much as the data collectors. Fuck those people.
  • This election result makes too clear that the U.S. is a very very racist and sexist and divided country, even more so than I thought before. Too many white people fear non-white people, and too many Americans (mostly men, I assume) are afraid of the idea of a woman being in charge. And we are a very very dumb country in that we have managed to elect someone with no experience and slogans that make Pedro’s run for student council president seem entirely about him being a policy wonk, someone who bragged about grabbing pussy, someone who is involved in countless lawsuits and is likely to be involved in many many more scandals and messes. This is disturbing.
  • I don’t worry that much about me or my family, but I worry about the people around me. A few hours before I settled in to write this, I wrote about a crazy situation where some African-American students are potentially going to be expelled for conducting a peaceful protest against some hate speech painted on the side of some buildings on campus. I could not believe that this was the path EMU administrators were taking. But now, just a few hours later, this seems like the kind of thing that is going to happen over and over into the foreseeable future.
  • Media and technology matters. Trump won because he understood and used Twitter better than anyone, and he was also able to convince the mainstream media places that it was just fine to call in for interviews and so forth. Journalism wants to be a revered “fourth estate,” and they simultaneously want to make money from the celebrity of Trump. I know they can’t be taken seriously at the same time.
  • There are a ton of “what-ifs” that are interesting yet futile to think about. What if the Republicans had nominated a reasonable candidate, say a Jeb Bush? What if Sanders had actually gone after Hilary on her emails– would Bernie had been the candidate? And would he had won? What if Joe Biden had gotten in and made a run at it? No idea. Anyway, we could go on and on and on.
  • I’m unbelievably proud of my son who has thrown himself into the college Democrats at the University of Michigan. He worked really hard on trying to make a difference here, and I hope he doesn’t stop that. If anything, I hope this result motivates him; it certainly makes me think that I need to get motivated and to be a little less complacent and cynical about how these things work.
  • Hell if I know what’s going to happen next. I want to believe that our political system of checks and balances can prevent the worse and that Trump will govern differently than he ran. I want to believe that we are in for four or more years of what I have described as a “hot mess” of a presidency– scandals and controversies and criticism of Trump from both sides. The left and the likes of me are obviously not going to be happy, but when Trump is unable to fulfill any of his major campaign promises about deporting foreigners or building walls or whatever, the nut-job majority that got him into office in the first place is going to revolt as well.
  • I think I might just go back to bed for a few years.

Re-Learning Some Email (and Server) Lessons

The other day on Facebook, I wrote:

I’ll say this about Hilary’s email mess: lots of people (some of my colleagues, lots of my students) don’t think it’s important to discuss and teach things like “how to send an email” or the basics of how “the intertubes works” because this is just stuff people don’t need to know. Email and stuff, the argument goes, is like your car– you don’t need to know how it works to drive it. Well, I hope this convinces people that’s wrong.

Maybe this is all obvious, but given what’s happened with this election, maybe not.

I should point out that I’m voting for Clinton and I hope you vote for Clinton too. I don’t think a “President Trump” (geez, it hurts putting those two words together, even hypothetically) would necessarily be the end of democracy as we know it and/or plunge the U.S. into Mad Max-esque dystopia, but I do know it would be a hot hot mess.

I should also point out that I think Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person (based on previous experiences, at least) to run for president in my lifetime. In a lot of ways, this is Clinton’s problem because even though I have “been with her” from the start, she has done/said/supported things over the last 30 years I disagree with, which is inevitable based on being in public life for the last 30 years. And yes, there are other ways in which Hillary and her family (I’m talking about “the big dog” here) have sometimes done stuff that doesn’t seem completely above board– again, almost inevitable for politicians in the public eye for decades.

But this email mess? In my opinion, it’s not a reason to vote against Clinton because I really really doubt there was any criminality there, either intentionally or unintentionally. (And as a slight but relevant tangent: let’s just set aside the fact that government argues amongst itself all the time but what’s a “secret” and how information should be classified and about proper procedures for handling this information. The second Bush administration apparently had an email server owned and operated by the RNC that “lost”/deleted 22 million or so emails, lots other politicians have in the past or currently still operate some version of a private server, etc., etc. In other words, lots of politicians have done a version of what Hillary did, but the difference is Hillary is running for president.)

So vote for Hillary Clinton, okay? But let’s also learn (or really, relearn) some email basics based on these mistakes, both the ones that she has made and the mistakes I know I continue to make all the time.

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A Candy Bar Explanation of My Ambivalence of Clinton v. Sanders

As I write this post, the news is that Bernie Sanders is meeting with Barack Obama to (I guess) come up with an elegant way to exit the race to be the Democratic nominee for president, a race he’s pretty much lost to Hilary Clinton. Soon we will all be able to move on.

Frankly, I’ve felt quite ambivalent about the process. While I know many people (mostly indirectly and on social media) who had a religious and fanatic devotion to Bernie Sanders and/or a burning white-hot hatred of Hilary Clinton, I felt and continue to feel unusually ambivalent. I’m okay with either of them and have been all along. I voted for Clinton in the Michigan primary, but I was totally okay with the fact that Sanders won it. If the conversation right now was about how Sanders had pulled off the political upset to win the nomination, totally fine with me.

So the whole social media phenomenon of things like #iguessimwithher or the sentiment summed up in this excellent post at Good Bad Librarian! “I’m With Her (But We’re Seeing Other People)” or pretty much a third or more of my Facebook/Twitter feed for the last several months– this whole thing has been hard for me to understand and hard for me to explain.

And then it hit me: from my point of view, Clinton and Sanders are each a half of a Twix bar.

Surly you have heard of this candy bar (not necessarily my “go to” choice, but one I always enjoy), but just in case: as Wikipedia reminds us, Twix “is a chocolate bar made by Mars, Inc., consisting of biscuit applied with other confectionery toppings and coatings (most frequently caramel and milk chocolate). Twix bars are packaged in pairs, although smaller single bars are available.”

And surly you have seen the humorous commercials about the battles between “Left Twix” and “Right Twix.” The basic premise here is the two “inventors” of Twix split the company over vehement disagreements over what is actually nothing. “Left Twix flowed caramel on cookie, while Right Twix cascaded caramel on cookie,” and so forth. The comedy, obviously, is in the fact that the differences being observed between Right and Left Twix are non-existent.

So for me, that’s pretty much the Sanders v. Clinton debate. Though I am certain there are those who might read this and say I WILL NEVER EVER EVER VOTE FOR RIGHT TWIX AND THAT DAMN LEFT TWIX RIGGED THE PROCESS FROM THE BEGINNING.

Or is it Right Twix who did the rigging? I forget.

In the Primary on Tuesday in Michigan, I’ll Probably Vote for Hillary…

… though sure, there are a lot things about Hillary that do bug me. Long story-short, sometimes her and Bill’s careers seem a little too much like House of Cards, or vice-versa. She does seem a little too cozy with Wall Street, and I do wonder about why she’d run her own email server for personal emails instead of just getting a gmail account. So yeah, I understand my fellow Democrat (and even Republican) friends on all this.

… because at the end of the day she is the most qualified in terms of previous experience and a pragmatic record of getting shit done. I realize that in this election cycle, my support for a candidate with demonstrable “insider” experience makes me an “outlier,” but so be it.

… and I like Bernie Sanders too. If Bernie gets the nomination, I have no problem with that. I really don’t think there are many Democrats who are going to use the word “begrudgingly” in describing their support for the party’s nominee even if it isn’t their choice, which of course is not the case going on with the clown car called the Republican party. I think that Sanders running such a serious and robust campaign has made Clinton better, and if she gets the nomination, I hope she gets Sanders to do something big in the general election, maybe even as the VP. Or vice-versa.

… though I am tempted to vote in the Republican primary. I don’t understand exactly how this works, but as I understand it, Michiganders only need to be registered to vote– they can chose which primary they vote in (though I think you can only vote in one primary) regardless of party preferences.  If I did vote in the Republican primary, it wouldn’t be for Trump as a way of performing a little bit of “sabotage” or whatever. No, I’d vote for John Kasich. He’s kind of a jerky conservative guy too, but he’s the only adult in the room over there, and Trump scares the hell out of me.

.., and at the end of the day, I suspect that Clinton will clinch the nomination well before the convention, Sanders will gracefully concede, the Democrats will be unusually united because the prospect of President Trump is so disturbing, and Clinton will be the first woman president. But I sure wouldn’t want to take any of that for granted, that is for dang sure.

A few thoughts on a side trip to the Clinton Presidential Library

I was in Arkansas this past weekend for a meeting/work session/subject area consulting event that’s part of a program sponsored by the NICERC— it’s a long story, but it’s been an interesting opportunity for me to participate in something that is both actually interdisciplinary (as in like people from radically different fields than mine) and that is very STEM-oriented.

Anyway, after lots of work including a half-day on Sunday and before my flight back home Monday, I went to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. I took a few pictures; a few random thoughts:

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Exigency and viral feedback on “Innocence of Muslims”

This morning, I watched a few of the Sunday morning news shows, and part of the discussion is about the various riots across the Muslim world that came about from this movie (or a part of this movie), Innocence of Muslims.  A couple of comments/typing aloud sort of observations.

  •  This is a very veeerrryyyy weird movie.  Time had an interview with one of the actors who said that none of the experience made a lot of sense to anyone on the set, but basically a job is a job.  All the anti-Islamic stuff is clearly dubbed in and the 14 minute clip I link to here lends some credibility to this.  In places, it has the same obviously dubbed in jerkiness of Barack Obama singing “Call Me Maybe.”  In other words, beyond being anti-Islamic and racist and hateful and all of that, it’s just horrifically bad, so bad that I wonder if it would be better to think of it not so much as the cause but the opportunity of the events that continue to unfold.
  • I think it’s more complicated than a “video that went viral” on YouTube.  Not to rely too much on Time for this, but the article “The Agents of Outrage” points out that the movie (perhaps the whole thing?) was “screened in Hollywood early this year but made no waves whatsoever.”  It went up on YouTube and got in the hands of anti-Muslim Coptic Christians and infamous Koran burning Pastor Terry Jones in the hate blogosphere.  But it really didn’t escalate in Egypt and then Libya until someone named Sheik Khaled Abdaallah talked about it on his TV show in Egypt.  Abdaallah is described in this Time article as “every bit as inflammatory and opportunistic as Jones” (only he’s a Muslim highly critical of the Copts), so what we have here in a way is one extremist hate group versus another extremist hate group.  The point is I don’t think the video on YouTube itself spread virally before it was spread in comparably older mediums.
  • In any event, now there are protests all over the place, and I am willing to wager that the vast majority of the folks protesting at American (and apparently European) embassies around the world have not seen any of the movie that may (or may not) have been the exigency for these protests in the first place. I would even go so far as to say that if at least some of these protesters did see the clips of the video being circulated, they too would be confused.  I think most of the protesters now are protesting in reaction to the other protests and not the movie itself.  In that sense, it’s the other protests (and the coverage of them in the media) that have gone viral and not the original movie.
  • In the fourth chapter of my dissertation, I write about how easy it is in rhetorical situations mediated through technologies like the internet for the boundaries between the rhetor, the audience, and even the message itself to break down.  I specifically wrote about a “Mac vs. DOS” question to a mailing list and how that discussion moved far away from the original point of the question, and I argue that this is one of the inherent conditions of “immediate” rhetorical situations. But it is also simpler than that.  For example, there have been a couple of riots at MSU following basketball team losses, riots where the exigency was initially related to a game but which changed as the riots progressed.  And obviously, not everyone who participated in the riot as a result of the MSU loss; rather, some rioters took it merely as an opportunity to loot and cause damage.  I suspect there’s some of this going on with these riots.
  • Apparently there is some dispute as to whether or not Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed as a result of the protests getting way out of hand or if it was premeditated, thus making the protests a sort of “cover story” for a previously planned killing. And what isn’t really being talked about much is the extent to which this was all connected to the anniversary of 9/11 and the extent to which the killing was undertaken by al-Qaeda related groups.  Of course, this too is still emerging.
  • And what you also see here is just good-ol-fashioned culture clash.  Folks in these countries where there are strict rules on what can and cannot be said about Islam or what-have-you wonder why there aren’t laws against this sort of blasphemy in the U.S.   Americans (and I suspect many others in “the west”) uphold the value of free speech even when it is hateful speech, and we (well, at least I do) wonder why such a shoddily done and ridiculous video that should perhaps best be simply ignored has gotten this much attention.  Add to that a technology– YouTube et al– that make it pretty much impossible to keep this particular video out of the hands of people who want to see it (even though YouTube has blocked it in some countries like Egypt) combined with the  fact that the protests themselves are being broadcast online and you have a feedback loop here:  protest leads to protest.

The Situations of Occupy Wall Street

Just the other day, I came across this useful post from Jill Walker Rettberg, which is also discussing this useful post from Mike “Rortybomb” Konczal, both about the use of social media and the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Walker Rettberg is more or less summarizing Konczal’s analysis of the Tumblr site We Are the 99 Percent and also of the site Occupy Together, which is a sort of hub for all things “Occupy-ish.”

The point here with Walker Rettberg’s post and these (and other) sites is that these sort of events are perhaps only possible nowadays with social media of the sort you are reading right now, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.  I’m inclined to agree, and I’ve been thinking about all that lately because I have been fiddling around with finally getting off my butt and doing something book-like with my dissertation.  I don’t want to make promises here; saying that I am going to write this book is a little like saying I am going to stay on this diet, both the kind of things that are probably wise to bet against.

In my diss, I used the term “immediacy” to suggest both the profound sense of intimacy that can happen in these situations from proximity (albeit electronic proximity at times) and chaos that results in the immediate speed of these situations playing out.  The Arab Spring uprisings are another good example of this, of course.  The other aspect of the Occupy Wall Street movement (and the Arab Spring, for that matter) is that there is a lack of a singular rhetor/leader offering a single message.  This is probably more true with Occupy Wall Street, though that’s the point of Konczal’s post:  he’s trying to analyze the text on that Tumblr site to ascertain the concerns of the movement as articulated there.  And in brief, those concerns are student loans, children (which I also think might be interpreted as “the future”), unemployment, and health care.

As for my own thoughts about the whole Occupy Wall Street thing:  I am very torn.  On the one hand, I am sympathetic to the broad concerns about student loan debt, jobs, taxes on the rich (or a lack thereof), health care, and I guess what I would describe as the just general frustration that makes people think “nothing else is working; I’m going to go out into the street and beat a drum.”  On the other hand, the lack of a unifying message and leader(s) makes it unlikely that this group is going to get a lot of traction in the analog and very traditional situation of government:  that is, I don’t think the federal government is going to pay a whole lot of attention to these folks until they are able to swing elections.

The other issue I have is the “99 Percent” depicted on Tumblr and other places is that who is in that group is a little problematic to me; or maybe a different way of putting it is there is a certain level of inequality regarding who has it worse.  Most/many of the folks on that blog have legitimate “that sucks” kinds of stories, but there are also many that frankly look like college kids looking for something to protest/join.

Of course, I suppose all of that is just normal and is not a reason to not be frustrated.  I mean, I’m not in the 99 percent of most of the people depicted here– that is, I’m securely employed, I’m not worried a lot about debt, I have decent health insurance, etc.  At the same time, I want to help folks not as lucky as me, and I do worry about the future for my son and his generation, I worry about stupid government cuts in taxes to rich people, etc.

Four Thoughts on Wikileaks

Not necessarily in this order:

  • If the mainstream media did its freakin’ job, Wikileaks would be irrelevant.  The only reason this is much of a story at all is because MSM, too lazy and/or too afraid of and/or owned by “the man” to actually dig around and investigate and look for whistle-blowers on its own, is perfectly happy to have Wikileaks do their homework for them.  MSM isn’t in trouble because of the internets or whatever; they’re in trouble because they can’t do as good of a job of telling people what’s going on as a bunch of half-baked computer hackers.
  • I haven’t read anything on Wikileaks lately, but I have yet to hear a “leak” that that was something that is really too surprising.  Various cables about various world leaders might be embarrassing, but I think we already knew that the people running North Korea are nuts, the people running Afghanistan are corrupt, and even that a lot of the other countries in the Middle East would be kind of okay with the U.S. putting a beat-down on Iran.  Now, if Wikileaks uncovered something like  911 being an “inside job” or how the U.S. has been secretly supporting North Korea (just to keep tensions high) or about our contact with aliens at Area 51 or whatever– if any of that happens, then we’re talking.
  • I’m generally for the idea of Wikileaks, but it’s hard for me to get too far behind it in part because Julian Assange seems like a real piece of work.  Even before the rape/sexual assault charges in Sweden, he seemed kind of… I don’t know, smarmy to me.  He seems sort of like a more liberal/libertarian version of Matt Drudge, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
  • Derek and I were talking the other day about how Ratemyprofessor.com and wikileaks seem to be kind of similar– reckless, based mostly on rumor and unsubstantiated reports, mixed with a twist of “the truth.”

Three brief thoughts on burning the Koran

You have perhaps heard this story, about the nut-jobs in Florida (so many of them are in Florida) who are going to have a “Koran burning” on 9/11.  See, for example, “Pastor’s Plan to Burn Korans Adds to Tensions” from the New York Times from a couple weeks back.  At least three things occur to me, each of which has something to do with my line of work (well, sort of at least):

  • If it were not for Web 2.0/social media and the 24/7 news cycle, no one would have ever heard of these crazy people.  In other words, this is a highly “immediate” rhetorical situation, as I discussed in the Diss oh so many years ago, and it is yet another example of how technology directly impacts the ways in which rhetorical situations are processed by rhetors, audiences, and messages themselves.  Technology gives much, but it also causes bat-shit crazy stuff like this.  In any event, one wonders what would happen if this whole thing had simply been ignored, if we thought more carefully about the exigence for this situation, if this would even be possible before cable news, etc.
  • I am reminded of the flag burning debates of a few years ago with all of this.  Sure, this has a distinctly different flavor in the shadow of 9/11 and “war(s) on terrorism,” the non-issue of the Burlington Coat Factory turned  mosque/community center somehow vaguely near “ground zero,” and just a sort of general ill-placed fear of “Islam,” which is at least as diverse a religion as “Christianity.”  But I am also reminded of a Miss Manners article way back when, in which the always delightful writer Judith Martin pointed out that there was no point in legislating against flag burning because the reason why someone burned flags was to make a point by being terribly rude.  Of course, this is extra-über rude, but still.
  • Finally, this once again speaks to the extreme importance of the materiality of the book, and by “the book,” I mean the old-fashioned codex book, paper pages, pagination, a cover, the whole nine yards.  I don’t mean the Kindle or the iPad, and I hasten to add here that I really do like (love might be too strong) the reading experience on my iPad a lot.  I’m reading a couple of books on it right now, and I am going to be preparing for a day of getting some articles I’m teaching on my iPad after I finish this post.  Obviously, electronic reading and writing has an incredible power (see observation #1).However, if these crazy people got together and said “hey, we’re going to burn this here Kindle with the Koran on it,” or “we’re all gonna bring our laptops and erase our copies of the Koran all at the same time,” no one would have given a shit about that.  Not even a little bit.   What’s got everyone all excited is that these things are the actual and material thing that was previously the only definition of “book,” and they really will burn and give off flames, smoke, and heat.  Never mind that there are millions of other copies of the Koran, so it’s not like these people will have any real potential to damage the religion.

The “ground zero mosque” and maybe why blogs (and their “writerly spaces”) still do matter

Earlier today– I can’t remember if it while I was on my bike ride, grading/wrapping up stuff for the summer term, reading my Google Reader feed, or what– I had this feeling that my long suffering and delayed project, Blogs as Writerly Spaces, had kind of run its course.  I mean, I haven’t done anything with it in months and months (I have poked at it more recently than my link above might suggest, but still), and I kind of have a bit of a “milked dry” feeling about the whole thing.  I’ve worked my survey data (such as it is) and other research into at least five different presentations over the years, and it has been feeling a little wrung out to me.  Besides, blogging is kind of “been there, done that” nowadays, right?  How do I write a book-length project (or hell, even a decent article-length essay) about this phenomenon that has either become irrelevant in the shadow of Facebook, Twitter, and whatever is next?  Who cares about a medium that has either faded away or has been subsumed/consumed by MSM to the point where even freakin’ Stanley Fish has a “blog” as part of the New York Times?

Anyway, this was all in the back of my mind while listening to the radio on the way to Costco and I was listening to “Here and Now” and they had a story (mp3) about this story in Salon by Justin Elliott, “How the ‘ground zero mosque’ fear mongering began,” and I had a tiny twinge of second thoughts on my project.  Maybe there’s something there there after all.  Elliott has a time-line how this mosque/community center/whatever it is controversy got so out of hand, and how a right-wing conspiracy theorist blogger named Pamela Geller (her blog is called “Altas Shrugs”) started and fueled this whole thing.  Elliott has a time-line and corresponding links to Geller’s blog to make a pretty compelling argument how her blog made this into a story.  Granted, Geller is more “connected” than most bloggers (her bio points to appearances on various news outlets, and she was apparently on Hannity’s radio show, etc.), but I think Elliott makes a pretty compelling argument that this non-story turned into a story in part because of Geller’s persistence and blogging.  Take a look at Atlas Shrugs now and it’s clear that she’s still using this story, or it’s still using her.

The politics here are interesting in a way, but the dynamics of the rhetorical situation are much more interesting to me.  And maybe I ought to not completely close up that book project yet.