Three thoughts on poly-ticks

Thought (frustration, really) #1: Reagan, both Bushes, and Clinton never had close to 60 votes in the Senate and they got stuff done.  What is wrong with the current Democratic leadership– Obama, but also the folks in Congress– that they can’t get things done?  Haven’t these people done this before?

Thought #2: I think the main reason why the Democrats lost the senate race in Massachusetts (and btw, I think they lost rather than the Republicans winning) boils down to “hubris.”  Democrat leadership in DC and in Boston simply assumed that it wouldn’t be possible for a Republican in bluer than blue Mass. to win “the Kennedy seat” in the Senate and they assumed they could have run a potted plant for the job and win.  Hubris, and the lesson should be to take every election seriously and don’t assume anything.

Thought #3: I am (or at least vote) Democrat for all sorts of different reasons, not the least of which is I identify with the progressive ideals, the empathy for my fellow citizens of the country and the world, the thoughtfulness of the approach, etc., etc.  The Democrats (at least the current version) is the “thinking person’s party.”  In contrast, the Republicans– especially in this particular instance of debating health care and the senate race in Mass.– tap into the “reptilian brain” that is in all of us and below the levels of reason.  The Republicans know that people respond unconsciously and powerfully to fear and self-interests.  And I have to say I think that the Democrats are going to have to make at least a nod to the reptile brain that is (unfortunately) a bit too forward in too many Americans if they are going to hold in 2010 and/or win in 2012.

A few thoughts on Obama, education, indoctrination, and immediacy

The latest crazy far right Obama worries about his “back to school” speech is symptomatic of lots and lots of different things.  I think part of it is about race because the crowd who is afraid to have their children exposed to the president while in school is (basically) the same ones who are worried about Obama’s death committees, who don’t believe Obama was born in the United States, and, back in the campaign, the same ones who said that Obama was an Arab Muslim and dangerous man.  But I also think these folks would say crazy stuff about Obama’s plans if he was a white guy, too.  Part of it all is rooted in legitimate concerns and differences of opinion, though anyone who thinks that Obama’s plan is somehow like the Nazis and who fears the impact of the government being involved in health care in this country doesn’t know anything about the Nazis and they are unaware of the extent to which the government is already involved in health care via Medicare, Medicaid, the CHIP program, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Besides all that, I think this stuff is an example of my dissertation work, which was about the ways in which rhetorical situations become problematized as the result of technology.  Basically, I argued that communication technologies– radio and television immediately come to mind given this example, but I focused more on internet technologies like email and the web–  skew previous notions of both “rhetorical situation” and kairos.  I used the term “immediacy,” because things that are “immediate” lack clear boundaries and are close together, and “immediate” has both connotations of quickness and confusion, of intimacy and chaos.

A simple example:  last night, on the NBC news, they had a story about Obama’s indoctrination message stay in school speech that featured a snippet of video of a couple who were terribly afraid of what the president might say to their children about gay marriage.  It was only a few seconds, but in those few seconds, those parents– who were both crazy and wrong– were given an enormous platform to play the part of the rhetor, and were thus able to either change or confuse the message for a large segment of the audience.

Now, NBC was showing these people in the name of “objectivity” and “fairness” in that journalistic tradition of showing “both sides” and they did follow up the few seconds with these parents to quote from Obama’s speech, which, in a sense, discredited them.  This of course presumes it is even possible for journalism to be purely “objective” and “fair,” and it is also presumes a reasonable method for approaching objectivity on a topic is to simply present “both sides,” even if one of the sides is completely and utterly wrong (in this case, parents afraid Obama will talk to their children about gay marriage).  But let’s just table that for the moment.

In a conventional rhetorical situation, these fringe elements would not have the opportunity to voice their arguments at all.  But in a rhetorical situation heavily mediated by technology, rhetorical situation become immediate and fraught with challenges.  The Rush Limbaugh-types on the radio, the Bill O’Reily-types on the television, and the thousands of bloggers, emailers, and other (inter)network communicators flatten the dimensions of a rhetorical situation to allow a chaotic mish-mosh where the definitions between rhetors, audiences, purposes, and messages themselves all exchange roles.  Health care reform becomes about death panels, and a president talking about kids staying in school becomes a socialist indoctrination favoring gay marriage.

Now, it’s not as if rhetorical situations were ever that clear; in the classic “egg versus chicken” debate that is Bitzer and Vatz, it seems clear to me that rhetorical situations both occur and thus demand discourse to fill them (Bitzer notes the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but I would also add the speech atop the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11 by George W. Bush) and are created by the rhetor with discourse (Vatz notes the Viet Nam war, and I would add the war/debacle in Iraq).  But what the Internet, talk radio, and the 24/7 cable news cycle has done is sped all this up, making already potentially dangerous and chaotic moments even more ripe for miscommunications and misunderstandings.

And in my own narrow way of looking at things, this is all the more reason why I ought to think about going back to that dissertation project and maybe writing something about it.

And just a brief word about Barney Frank

The above video is where Barney Frank asks a woman (who asked why he continues to support Obama’s Nazi policy on health reform) on what planet she spends most of her time and where he describes her as being a dining room table. As of right now, there are hundreds (thousands?) of articles out there that have headlines like “Frank fights back” or “Frank unleashed” or “Frank lashes out,” which kind of suggests in a way that he was either flying off the handle or taking some kind of risk in calling this nutjob a nutjob.

I actually think that Frank has done his political calculations quite accurately and he’s set an example for congresspeople across the country and on both sides of the aisle. I mean, what really is the chance that this woman (and other booing protesters at Frank’s town hall meeting) voted for Frank in the first place? What’s the chance that these folks would vote for him in the next election regardless of what he says? It seems to me that what Frank is really doing here (besides speaking the truth about these crazy people) is appealing to his base. Pretty shrewd, if you ask me.

Two health care links from Daily Kos

I haven’t read much of the Daily Kos since the 2008 election, but I stumbled across it this morning and came by two good posts about health care I thought I’d share:

First, here’s Christopher Hayes of The Nation explaining in pretty straight-forward language what the “public option” for health care really means:

Second, there’s this post by someone named Hunter called “Stating The Obvious: Healthcare Reform Edition.” Read it, but just to summarize:  1) Anyone who starts talking about this program being about “communist fascism” doesn’t understand either “communism” or “fascism” and should be ignored; and 2) You cannot be “against socialized medicine” but for Medicare since, by definition, Medicare is indeed socialized medicine.

If Twitter ever had a purpose, see #IranElection

Of course, I’m mostly interested in the idea that there is something resembling democracy and free elections in Iran, but as someone also keenly interested in new media and writing technologies, what’s been going on with Twitter and the Iranian Election is just fascinating.

Here’s a link to but one article about it, a NYTimes piece, Social Networks Spread Iranian Defiance Online. Basically, the unwashed masses of the Twitterosphere (it hurts to type that word) have more than cleaned the clocks of Main Steam Media in keeping people in touch and involved. I don’t know if the Iranian election was rigged or not (I think it probably was though), but I have learned a hell of a lot more about what’s going on in 140 character bursts than I have listening to NPR.

So, if you haven’t done the Twitter thing yet because you thought it was a waste of time along the lines of Facebook (and, truth be told, it probably is a waste of time mostly), sign up and do a search for #IranElection. You’ll immediately see what I mean.

Ann Arbor city council doing stupid emailing during meetings

This was an amusing way to wake up this morning:

Some question appropriateness of mocking e-mail banter during Ann Arbor City Council
meetings in the AANews. Here are the opening paragraphs:

After his presentation to the Ann Arbor City Council, Washtenaw Audubon Society member Will Weber had every reason to think city officials shared his views about protecting birds during migratory season.

But while they publicly endorsed the efforts, the same City Council members who backed “Safe Passage Great Lakes Days” in March mocked its significance in e-mails that flew back and forth during the council meeting.

“The highlight of Hohnke’s legislative career a non-binding resolution to dim your lights to help birds,” Leigh Greden wrote in an e-mail to fellow council members Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall and Christopher Taylor.

Greden’s March 16 missive prompted a dozen messages in which the four council members made sport of environmental or wildlife protection measures that they had passed.

The article goes on to recount a couple other conversations in which Ann Arbor City Council members walk a fine line between being just human, childish and/or assholes. I think my favorite part of the story is how these emails came to light:

Sent from city e-mail accounts, the messages were released by the city in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

The Detroit-based law center was seeking communication about the city’s planned underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue. What it got, in addition, were a series of live e-mail exchanges among council members during three meetings in February and March.

So, what have we learned here today?

  • Be careful about your email because it never ever goes away, even if you think you deleted it. I worry about this with my colleagues, actually. I’ve been on committees where fairly private/sensitive information found its way into email. I’ve been guilty of sending some of those emails myself. I recently had a conversation with a quasi-administrator-type person about a way to get reimbursed for something (I ended up getting paid the old-fashioned way, taxes and all) and this person told me to erase all those emails because they might get us in trouble. (Deep sigh) Well, if Kwame taught us anything it should be that stuff like email and text messages simply do not go away. Oh, and I don’t think those emails would have gotten anyone into trouble anyway.
  • People just can’t resist back-channel discussions, even when they really REALLY should know better. So maybe we really shouldn’t be that hard on students who don’t pay attention 120% of the time, especially when the instructor is just standing there going blah-blah-blah.
  • Many of the folks on Ann Arbor city council kinda seem like Douchebags, and, according to this wikipedia entry, I believe douchebag is the correct slang term: “The term implies a variety of negative qualities, specifically arrogance and engaging in obnoxious and/or irritating actions without malicious intent.”

Anyway, besides the local political/humor angle, I will have to remember this for English 516 or maybe English 444, some kind of class where we talk about how uses of email can go wrong.

White House Flickr Feed

Obama with football This is really cool: I found out via Doc Mara’s Twitter feed that the White House, which has really changed the rules on how candidates and now presidents use all kinds of different sorts of internet media, has a Flickr feed at If I signed up for an RSS feed, I could get all the Obama et al picts I could possibly see, I suspect. Anyway, besides being fun to browse, it is probably something I need to include in 328 as part of the comic unit.