Category Archives: Rhetoric

Inherent Incorrectness

I’ve enjoyed my debate with Josh in the comment space of this post. Comment space isn’t the best place to keep things going so I’ve decided to pose a question to my friend. It’s basically become a question of epistemology: how is it that we can know something.

Here’s the poser from Josh

I also think the leading intellectual on evolution (whomever that is) and Karl Marx are inherently incorrect. As a Christian and a capitalist, how is it logical for me to read work from either of those persons as anything but incorrect?

For me, there is a simple response: you assimilate the arguments and when the logic and the conclusions have been proffered, you attempt to disprove the ideas, if possible. We can attempt to disprove the conclusion that comes with 2 + 2, but we should never consider that disagreement with the person is proof against their ideas. Krugman, the economist, may offer conclusions that the reader may not like, but the disagreement should come as a counterargument, which should involve two items: a counterclaim and analysis to back it up. Josh proposes that since he is a Christian, he must by reflex disagree with some leading intellectual on evolution. This I can’t comprehend, as I think there’s no epistemological relationship between belief and faith and the goals of science.

Our disagreement came down to one hinge: the essence of the financial crisis stems from too much regulation or political influence (Josh claimed it was the democrats’ fault) or an essential market/bubble argument (I argue that the casino lost it’s game). We both agree that the bailout shouldn’t happen.

Politics and Lying

I disapprove of the current flavor of language (maybe we should call it a semantical ecology) that calls lying misrepresentation. Most “misrepresentation” is a form of cynical slanting, where a speaker or writer claims one thing knowing well enough that he or she is slanting. Dean Baker catches this:

Senator McCain claimed that Obama’s proposal would force people into a health care plan run by government bureaucrats. This is not true. Senator Obama’s plan would give people the option of buying into a publicly run Medicare-type plan, but this would only be an option. Under Senator Obama’s plan, no one would be forced to join the public plan, they would be free to stay with their current plan if they chose.

McCain knows that what he’s saying is a lie. The better thing to do would be to outline the real sense of Obama’s plan and then to present rational disagreement or objections to it, point by point. Speakers don’t have to live and breath by formats.

Of course, lying is a political habit now. Even Obama does it.

Reporting Cupcakes

Susan Gibb sends along this report on principals and cupcakes. But I wonder about the reportage. There’s a huge hole in the middle:

The controversy began when Frank Carbino delivered the goodies to the school May 6, intending to bring them to his daughter’s class for her birthday. He said he got as far as the school office when a secretary told him to leave the sweets on the counter for his daughter to pick up and bring back to her class.

Carbino said he protested, saying his wife had cleared the birthday plans with the teacher the day before. He then spoke with D’Amico, who told him school policy prohibited parents from personally delivering birthday cakes or treats.

“All I’ve wanted to do was just clear my name of the whole thing,” Carbino said. “It’s more of an integrity thing.”

None of this is being explained. The day has been full of weird reports. But I’m only able to guess who is representing stories with clear, coherent, and honest method.

First get us interested, explain thoroughly, and then make it matter to something.

Sen McCain do you have a cold? asks the reporter.

Yes, we are masters of the universe.

Here’s one conclusion: we need better case law on speech in digital contexts.

Doninger, Free Speech, and Borders

Reportage from the Second Curcuit Court of Appeals is coming in on the Avery Doninger case, an item often in the post space here. This case is about relationships. These relationships should not be overcomplicated.

It calls for a rethinking by school administrators of their role in public discourse. It’s not about whether a student can or cannot call their school principles names on a weblog. If a student does call their teacher or principle an asshole, then this provides an opportunity for the teacher or the principle to engage: “Why are you calling me an asshole?” That’s a starting point. On Twitter, I asked a question about Facebook semiotics. This was a serious question. On Facebook, I have students in my course who have added me as a friend, a term that has numerous meanings. These students have made the choice to add me to their lists. I typically accept their call. But this is potentially dangerous for them. Soon, they may want to retract because part of my role as instructor is to evaluate their performance.

But the student may also evaluate mine. Is it proper for a student on Facebook or in their own weblog to call me an asshole? Sure. Would my feelings be hurt? Sure. Honestly, who “wants” to be called an asshole without compensation? But it would provide me an opportunity. “Why are you calling me an asshole when I basically performed my function: which was to evaluate your performance? This is a function the student has agreed to in their role as someone who’s basically asked and paid for it. The opportunity comes with the response: “Why did you claim that I used too many generalizations or did not back up my conclusions about Romanticism with evidence from the texts” or “I thought I had supplied sufficient logic yet you claimed that paragraph 3 needed development.” These questions I can deal with, in private or in public.

People generally know that what they say on Facebook is public within the Facebook context. Same goes for the weblog.

The Doninger case is a waste of litigation space: can we not engage each other in real disputation? Again, I make a call. Administrators should not be out to enforce boundaries. They should have engaged the student in her comment space. They should have made their case in public using their own fingers. That’s what keyboards are for. For practicing classical speech! This is what I mean:

The school officials’ attorney, Thomas R. Gerarde, argued that the Internet has fundamentally changed students’ ability to communicate, allowing them to reach hundreds of people at a time. If a student leader makes offensive comments about the school on the Internet, the school should have the right to act, said Gerarde, who represents Mills Principal Karissa Niehoff and former Region 10 Superintendent Paula Schwartz. “We shouldn’t be required to just swallow it,” he said.

I disagree that the internet “has fundamentally changed students’ ability to communicate.” The same cause and effect relationship could have resulted from a slip of paper passed around in the cafeteria. Should the school have the right to act? Please: why is this not fallacious in that Gerarde’s assertion assumed a narrow definition of “act.” It did have the right to act in all kinds of ways. Officials have the right to comment on a student’s weblog now, at this moment, to ask simple questions: “Yes, we did make the decision to ‘Cancel’ (record correction provided by Andy Thibault [thanks, Andy]) Jamfest. Why does this make us douchbags?

P.S.: Correction added.

Reading Milton

I get tough questions this semester, which is excellent and refreshing. I run off to find an answer or a solution, but when I figure it I can only give back a hint:

. . . if no better place,
Thank him who puts me loath to this revenge
On you who wrong me not for him who wrongd.

Here’s one of those areas where line breaks get in the way and where meter is beating sense, and also nonstandard orthography.

Thank, in other words, God for this, not me. Satan is beginning to rationalize.

Why? We can read “me not” as the end of the clause and put commas between “loath to this revenge” so the sentence would read “Thank Him who made me what I am for assailing you, who never did anything to me, sure, but it was Him who wronged.”

Deducing Nouns

Collective nouns for animals are interesting. For example, tigers ambush and rhinos bust things up, therefore, we have an ambush of tigers or a crash of rhinos. We have lots of bird feeders, thus we have drays of squirrels in the yard, dray referring the nests they build, although I’m not quite sure of the etymology in the sense of dray and nest.

There’s a deductive poetics to the practice. I always felt that all you needed was a decent eye.

We have a shadow (not a murder) of crows. The grackles have visited the feeders. And they certainly arrived and left like a storm, hence storm of grackles.

There is practicality to this.

“So, what did you see?”

“Lots of grackles.”

“A storm then.”

“No, not a cloud in the sky.”

On the Subject of Reality

Since we’re on the subject of reality, here’s a way of putting it together. From Juan Cole:

I personally find the controversy about Iraq in Washington to be bizarre. Are they really arguing about whether the situation is improving? I mean, you have the Night of the Living Dead over there. People lack potable water, cholera has broken out even in the good areas, a third of people are hungry, a doubling of the internally displaced to at least 1.1 million, and a million pilgrims dispersed just this week by militia infighting in a supposedly safe all-Shiite area. The government has all but collapsed, with even the formerly cooperative sections of the Sunni Arab political class withdrawing in a snit (much less more Sunni Arabs being brought in from the cold). The parliament hasn’t actually passed any legislation to speak of and often cannot get a quorum. Corruption is endemic. The weapons we give the Iraqi army are often sold off to the insurgency. Some of our development aid goes to them, too.

The average number of Iraqis killed in 2007 per day exceeds those killed in 2006. Independent counts by news organizations do not agree with Pentagon estimates about drops in civilian deaths over-all. Nation-wide attacks in June reached a daily all-time high of 177.5. True, violence in Baghdad has been wrestled back down to the levels of summer, 2006 (hint: it wasn’t paradise), but violence levels are up in the rest of the country. If you compare each month in 2006 with each month in 2007 with regard to US military deaths, the 2007 picture is dreadful.

There are numerous important links at the source. He has an important factual repeat:

Repeat: US troop deaths in Iraq have not fallen and that is not a reason to support the troop escalation. And, violence in Iraq has not fallen because of the surge. Violence is way up this year.

Open Borders

I’m an advocate of open borders. I’d like to see gates and walls come down and any plan to maintain and build structures along the US Mexico border cease. This is, of course, a position of hypothesis that asks: what would happen if border gates, walls, and barriers were removed? And why would a particular a set of results happen given conditions? I enjoy conjectural tests and simulations.

If A results then what policies and positions would prove correct or incorrect? How would the idea and arguments behind nationalism and protectionism change? Why let oranges and poetry through and not people?

It’s a serious prospect. The United States invests billions in maintaining its borders, as do other countries, billions that could be spent in better, more constructive ways, such as on increasing the imagination of people. We know that walls will not keep people out. But can the arguments for borders ever go beyond vague comparative analysis without flexible spatial change?

Source: source: Leftside.

Border walls remove a huge swath of landscape from human vision. They hinder sight, seeing, travel, distance, and the imagination, a wasted canvas. They construct difficult metaphors to overcome in debates about identity, safety, economics, and law.

Conduct Space

From Reuters

Students in England could be banned from wearing full-face Muslim veils for security or educational reasons under government guidelines to be published on Tuesday, officials said.

The guidance paper from the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) would leave it up to individual head teachers to decide what pupils should and should not be allowed to wear in class, a DFES spokesman said.

“If they feel any garment imposes on a child’s ability to learn or is a safety or security issue they could be banned,” the spokesman said.

The new school guidelines come after a British girl lost a legal battle a year ago to be allowed to wear full Islamic dress in school. Shabina Begum’s case was likened to a row in France triggered by a ban on Muslim headscarves in state schools.
Reuters Pictures

Muslim veils have been a hot political issue since senior minister Jack Straw said last October they made community relations “more difficult”. British Prime Minister Tony Blair then described the full-face niqab as a “mark of separation”.

I want to try this. I’m going to ban ballcaps and blue t-shirts from my classroom because they inhibit “community relations.”


In the United States we now have a concrete star chamber. It’s all about trust, right. The press, in mind, hasn’t done enough to inform and evaluate citizens about the language of 3929. If this can be said


(a) In General- Section 2241 of title 28, United States Code, is amended–

(1) by striking subsection (e) (as added by section 1005(e)(1) of Public Law 109-148 (119 Stat. 2742)) and by striking subsection (e) (as added by added by section 1405(e)(1) of Public Law 109-163 (119 Stat. 3477)); and

(2) by adding at the end the following new subsection:

`(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who–

`(A) is currently in United States custody; and

`(B) has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

This language “exists” outside reviewable scrutiny, doesn’t it? In other words, other than principles, who would be able to evaluate “properly detained” and “is awaiting such determination”? This last bit just kills me: “detained by the United States who . . . is awaiting such determination”?