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[ 132 ] September 12, 2012 |

Here’s the face Mitt Romney wants you to see when he’s discussing the attacks on U.S. embassies and the murder of a U.S. ambassador:

It’s solemn and presidential, as befits a candidate who just spoke in reverent tones about the responsibility of a President to his foreign officers. But Romney also used this as an opportunity to score political points against Obama:

I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values.

Conservatives can crow all they’d like about how the media’s making Romney’s attempt to score points into the story, when the focus should really be on the embassies and ambassador, but there’s one problem with their sad deflection. You know who thinks he scored points by condemning the Obama’s administration’s response? This guy:

This guy can’t believe how lucky he is. This guy wishes he’d found some foreign policy entanglement to use against Obama sooner. This guy couldn’t be happier that Islamist extremists are killing Americans again. Because this guy wants to be President, and he thinks he just won a $10,000 bet with himself that he will be.

UPDATE: Should anyone wish to start a meme. For example:

Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments. I’m not actually very good at coming up with these.

Read more…

Breaking Bad: “Gliding Over All” the invisible lines and immaterial connections

[ 16 ] September 11, 2012 |

(This being another one of those visual rhetoric posts.)

In the previous post, I claimed that the titular reference to Whitman’s “Passage to India” suggests that the central concerns of “Gliding Over All” were related to connectedness. I outlined the way in which the camerawork allows the audience to peer into Walter’s mind and observe him connecting the fly to Mike’s body by the power of intently staring. In retrospect I realize my claim is based on a manner of reading a visual text that’s not intuitive, and that I only do it because I’ve trained myself to. The full version of this argument can be found here, but for now a single image from it should suffice:


That yellow arrow obviously isn’t painted on “The Calling of Saint Matthew.” (I can personally attest to that.) I put it there to describe the eyeline match between the man at the table and Jesus. When we look at his eyes, we see that he’s looking at something and follow his line-of-sight. Is that line-of-sight in the painting? I would argue that it’s an invisible element that exists in the painting. Our eyes aren’t inventing that line-of-sight, they’re merely following it. The practical effect of this argument is that I see invisible lines all over my television. When a character stares at something I see the line shoot from his or her eyes and follow its trajectory. The longer the character the stares, the greater the intensity of the line, and the more thoughtful the act of staring seems to become. The classic example of this are the scenes in Antonioni’s Blowup in which Thomas uses his photographs to recreate the geography of the park in his apartment. Here’s the fence on the back wall:

Read more…

“We were told to ride out the storm, but it seems we were lied to[.]”

[ 34 ] September 11, 2012 |

That’s a handsome quotation from the Inside Higher Ed article about the Colorado State University ad discussed yesterday. From the article:

Louann Reid, chair of English at Colorado State, sees it differently. When asked if the ad discriminated against adjuncts, she said her department is seeking an entry-level professor with an entry-level salary and expectations, and added that the posting was approved by the university’s office of equal opportunity.

There’s a strange disconnect because the question—does the ad discriminate against adjuncts?—and Reid’s answer—the department wants to hire an entry-level professor with an entry-level salary and expectations. Do adjuncts not have entry-level salary expectations? Because I’m a short step above an adjunct and I can assure you that my salary expectations are entry-level. In a response Chad Black’s email, Reid made clear the reasoning behind that disconnect:

By specifying “between 2010 and time of appointment” we indicated that we are interested in applicants with up to three years in a tenure-track position as well as those who are just beginning their careers.

So they want their pool of applicants to consist of (1) the fortunate few who landed a tenure-track position between 2005 and 2009 and (2) those people who happened to finish their doctorate after 2010. Notice who’s absent from their ideal pool? Everyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to land a tenure-track position in the worst academic job market in recent memory. It seems like Colorado State wants to punish undeserving scholars for the crimes of having to pay rent and eat during an economic downturn. But it’s doubly cruel considering the fact that the hiring committees whose lines were plucked out from under them told applicants that the disappearance of the positions to which they’d applied wouldn’t have any impact on their future in the profession. Because as this callous ad demonstrates, it clearly did. Colorado State thinks the fact that schools didn’t have jobs to offer from 2005 to 2009 speaks poorly of applicants who failed to land non-existent jobs.

To which I can only say nothing because we’re in polite company.

UPDATE: Turns out sending pesky emails to the President of my professional organziation pays dividends:

Breaking Bad: “Gliding Over All,” said the fly to the money pile.

[ 26 ] September 10, 2012 |

(This being another one of those visual rhetoric posts.)

I’ve had a week to digest the mid-season finale of Breaking Bad, “Gliding All Over,” and for the first time in weeks I’m not going to talk about kitchen tables. The episode’s title, “Gliding Over All,” references Walt Whitman:

Gliding o’er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the waters advancing,
The voyage of the soul—not life alone,
Death, many deaths I’ll sing.

How is that relevant to the episode? Not in the way people online are discussing it. For one, I keep seeing it referred to as an ordinary “poem,” when in fact it appears, untitled, on the title page of “Passage to India.” And the interpretations I’ve read of its relation to the episode all focus on the “many deaths” because of Walter’s increasing comfort with lethal force. But take a quick look at the actual poem that bit above introduces:

Singing my days,
Singing the great achievements of the present,
Singing the strong, light works of engineers,
Our modern wonders, (the antique ponderous Seven outvied,)
In the Old World, the east, the Suez canal,
The New by its mighty railroad spann’d,
The seas inlaid with eloquent, gentle wires[.]

“Passage to India” celebrates the connectedness of the world. These canals and transcontinental railroads and undersea telegraph cables have made it visible and tangible the connections between distant peoples.

O voyagers, O scientists and inventors, [then] shall be justified,
All these hearts, as of fretted children, shall be sooth’d,
All affection shall be fully responded to—the secret shall be told;
All these separations and gaps shall be taken up, and hook’d and link’d together

The voyagers and scientists and inventors create the conditions necessary to acquire a new kind of knowledge: one whose “secret … separations and gaps” will be “hook’d and link’d together.” In short: titling the episode “Gliding Over All” doesn’t allude to the untitled poem’s “many deaths” but to the process of acquiring an interconnected vision of the world through technology that Whitman outlines in “Passage to India.” Given that Walter White and his contempories aren’t in the midst of a world-shrinking communicative revolution, it stands to reason that they’ll come into knowledge of how secrets are “hook’d and link’d together” differently.

Director Michelle MacLaren lets Walter have the first shot:

Breaking bad00002
MacLaren opens with an extreme close-up on a fly. The shallow focus blurs the background to the extent that the only thing the audience can see is the fly. Because we want the shot to be meaningful, we begin to study the wings and shadows of this centrally positioned and obviously important fly. We try to connect this fly to some structure of meaning. Is this an allusion to “the contamination” that deviled Walter in “The Fly” and the extreme actions he and Jesse took to “clean” the lab? The camera lingers on the fly for seven seconds—long enough for these questions to arise but not long enough for them to be answer—before racking focus reveals that we’re not the only ones trying to understand this fly:

Read more…

What’s the academese for “no fatties”? Why do I need to know? No reason, no reason.

[ 93 ] September 10, 2012 |

It has come to my attention that I’m now too old and too experienced to be hired to do my job. Consider the “Required Qualifications” of this listing for a position at Colorado State University:

  1. Ph.D. in English or American Studies or closely related area awarded between 2010 and time of appointment.
  2. A promising record of scholarship/research in pre-1900 American literature and culture.
  3. Ability to teach a range of subjects in American literature and culture between 1600 and 1900.

For years our “betters” have told those of up who earned our degrees between 2005 and 2010 that we needed to do whatever we could to survive—adjunct or lecture or accept positions at community colleges—and that when the market turned around we wouldn’t be punished for having done so. Seems we were lied to. If institutions require candidates who earned their doctorate after 2010, it indicates that they’ve embraced the idea that there’s a Lost Generation of scholars out there. A Generation so embittered by the paucity of prospects and the years spent toiling in academic recesses that its members can’t ever be reintegrated into a functioning department. We—I earned my doctorate in 2008—have been tainted by market forces beyond our control, but instead of bucking the inherently flawed system as they do in words and print, these aggressively benevolent “betters” are conceding that they’re powerless to do anything for this Generation in deeds.

“It’s not up to us,” they say.  (Only it is.)

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” they say. (Only they can.)

“If you’d landed a job in 2009 this wouldn’t have been a problem,” they say. (Only there weren’t any jobs in 2009 and they damn well know that.)

In short: the jobs promised to the Lost Generation are being outsourced to younger and prettier scholars for no particularly compelling reason, except that the younger and prettier scholars are younger and prettier. As Chad Black noted in the linked post, it’s not that there hasn’t always been a bias against those who don’t land a tenure track job after three years, it’s just depressing to see it codified in an advertisement—especially in light of what our “betters” have been telling about what will happen when the market turns around.


[ 49 ] September 9, 2012 |

Given that we’re all bone-tired of Anonymous Jenny, it’s been decided and decreed that from this point forward, Anonymous Jenny is to be treated as the abusive consumer Anonymous Jenny clearly is:

CASHIER: Cash or charge?

ANONYMOUS JENNY: Pancakes rule. Democrats hate pancakes. Come November, all they’ll eat is pancakes.

CASHIER: I said, “Cash or charge?”

ANONYMOUS JENNY: In Wisconsin the polls say that pancakes are high and Democrats don’t bounce.

CASHIER: Do you want to pay for your items?

ANONYMOUS JENNY: Mitt Romney is about to bury Ohio under pancakes. The Democrats will have to eat their way out. And they hate pancakes! I can’t wait to see that.

CASHIER: Security?

ANONYMOUS JENNY: Their Democrat bodies covered in syrup, their Democrat eyes crust-closed by jam!



Future responses to Anonymous Jenny should take the form of, for example, “YOU WILL CHOKE ON MY PANCAKES! YOU WILL SUP ON MY JAM!” More samples of appropriate responses can be found here. Anyone who engages Anonymous Jenny in any other manner risks being treated like Anonymous Jenny or having his or her comment deleted and replaced with a link to this post.

So it is written. So it will be. All hail the new Internet Tradition!

I would be a moral monster, were it not for…

[ 63 ] September 9, 2012 |

From a “hard-hitting” interview with Gov. and Ms. Romney:

DAVID GREGORY: There was something that caught my attention, I’m sure it caught yours from the keynote speaker of the Democratic convention, which is—sort of went to this charge that somehow neither one of you are as empathetic about what’s going on in the country to people who are out of work. And the line was from from Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, “You just don’t know how good you’ve had it.”  How did that sit with you?

MS. ROMNEY: The thing that I want to communicate to people, and that it’s so important that people understand, is that Mitt and I do recognize that we have not had a financial struggle in our lives.  But I want people to believe in their hearts that we know what it is like to struggle.  And our struggles have not been financial, but they’ve been with health and with difficulties in different things in life.  And one thing that I again like to remind people is that multiple sclerosis has been my teacher. It has been at times a cruel teacher.  But it has also been a great gift in my life because what it has done it has taught me to be more compassionate and caring for others that are suffering.  And I know that people are suffering right now.  And for people to think that we don’t have empathy just because we’re not suffering like they’re suffering is ridiculous.

Because life is a metaphor for baseball: Castro says that those born on third base don’t know how difficult it is to hit a triple. Ms. Romney responds by conceding that she doesn’t know what third base is and noting that standing in the warm summer sun is difficult too. Which it certainly is. Third base is a good place to be but by no means is it an inherently safe one. Most pitchers are right-handed so it’s easy to be picked off. Most batters are right-handed so when they pull the ball down the line hard and sharp you’re a target. And as Ms. Romney suggests, being on third base requires you to stand in the warm sun, meaning it’s possible that you’ll sunstroke or lock your knees and pass out or that swarms of angry hornets from the concessionary will ascend and attack you. That could happen. In fact it did happen to Ms. Romney:

She was standing on what she didn’t know was third base, minding her own business, when a small plane sucked a large duck into one of its propellers and caused a gruesome hail of engine and duck parts to rain down upon the field. A heavy metallic something brained Ms. Romney that fine summer afternoon and she’s spent the rest of her life finding it more difficult to stand on what she still doesn’t know is third base than she did before. This statistically improbable event introduced her to a concept with which she wouldn’t be familiar otherwise: suffering.

That’s a fine defense of her position so long as you don’t look too closely at what it entails: that everyone who’s born on third base but  isn’t the victim of a statistically improbable event is incapable of empathy. Had it not been for multiple sclerosis she wouldn’t be able to understand the suffering of those not born on third. She’s confessing that she’s not like all those other sociopaths who neither understand the advantage of being born on third nor empathize with the struggles of those who weren’t. She’s admitting that people who think everyone’s parents can bankroll their children’s education or small business have neither understanding of nor empathy for the struggles and suffering of ordinary Americans.

In other words: by predicating her empathy on her multiple sclerosis, she unwittingly asserts that if she hadn’t been so stricken she’d be just as incapable of empathy as the man she married. They’d both be standing on third base, oblivious to the suffering in the stands and the struggles beyond the stadium walls.

I didn’t know conservatives wrote poetry!

[ 16 ] September 8, 2012 |

The mysterious conservative poet known only as “Taboola” posted this masterpiece at the National Review:

If you can’t see the tiny print, that reads:

You may like:
Jon Voight ‘feeding’ daughter
Angelina Jolie 10 eye-catching looks
From last night’s MTV.
Is Karolina Kurkova
the most attractive swimsuit?
Hottest member of the GOP:
Sarah Palin.
Photo actress Aisha Tyler to Romney:
“You do not, Senator Lee.
Obama’s idea to amend Constitution
A One night stand. Harmless fun?
Or a Van Jones at Democratic Convention:
“I’m Being.”

That’s not bad, but I prefer the poem he or she published in The Daily Caller better:

For the visually impaired:

You may like:
Former Vietnam POW: I would approve
and dishwashing.
CNBC host Kudlow:
Obama would rather Fluke argue
“A vote for Obama is a vote for cute overload!”
Animal videos that will make
Grenades, machetes sold at store
adjacent to
Jeb Bush: “If Clinton’s
‘the first black president,’
I’m Micheal Steele!”
New Generation of GOP?

Feel free to capture and share the poetry of “Taboola.” Like any good worker, he or she will perform on demand. All you need to do is hit “Refresh.”

“Wikipedia informed Roth that it would require ‘secondary sources’ to verify his assertion that his novel was not inspired by the life of Anatole Broyard.”

[ 71 ] September 7, 2012 |

That seemingly innocuous statement is from the “Inspiration” subsection of the Wikipedia entry on Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain. I write “seemingly innocuous” because it points to a problem central to both Wikipedia’s operating ethos and literary analysis. Speaking to the latter first: this isn’t a case about what a text means or what its author intended it to mean so we can avoid the hairier arguments about whether meaning resides within a text or is communicated through it. This argument is about source material. Where something came from instead of what and how it means. According to a Wikipedia-approved secondary source, Michiko Kakutani, The Human Stain

is the story of a black man who decided to pass himself off as white. This premise seems to have been inspired by the life story of Anatole Broyard—a critic for The New York Times who died in 1990—at least as recounted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his 1997 book 13 Ways of Looking at a Black Man.

Kakutani’s review meets all Wikipedia’s criteria for a “reliable source.” Except it isn’t. She said the “premise seems to have been inspired by the life story of Anatole Broyard,” which indicates that she’s no more familiar with the source material than anyone else. Charles Taylor’s review of the novel at Salon constituted the other “secondary source” for the Broyard connection and made its way into the Wikipedia entry thus:

Taylor argues that Roth had to have been at least partly inspired by the case of Anatole Broyard, a literary critic who, like the protagonist of The Human Stain, was a man identified as Creole who spent his entire professional life more-or-less as white.

But as with Kakutani, Taylor’s evidence—mistakenly identified in the Wikipedia entry as an argument—is also pure supposition:

There’s no way Roth could have tackled this subject without thinking of Anatole Broyard, the late literary critic who passed as white for many years.

Given the “strength” of the “evidence” provided by these secondary sources, there’s no need to perform a detailed literary analysis to determine that the connection to Broyard didn’t warrant inclusion in the Wikipedia entry. Since no one else would the task fell to Roth’s biographer:

Read more…


[ 30 ] September 6, 2012 |

[Previous installments of Sekocom, Inc. games include DISADVENTURE!, DISADDENDUM!, DISMORALIZED!, DISINSOMNIA!, WHARTON!, GRADING! and DISBELIEF!. This installment holds no candle to those but since its sell-by date is fast approaching I figure better late than never.]

Copyright (c) 1980, 1982, 2006, 2012 Sekocom, Inc. All rights reserved.

DISCONVENTION! is a registered trademark of Sekocom, Inc. Revision 23 / Serial number 8940729

West of Apartment Complex

You are standing in an open field west of a white townhouse, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

> e

The door is locked.

> fuck door

I strongly advise against that course of action.

> fuck you

We only just met.

> open door

The door is still locked.


Fine. After a vigorous rutting, the rusted hinges snap and the frustrated door bends until its disappointed timbers give up and finish clattering themselves to the ground alone. You are standing in an open field west of a white townhouse, with a open door and an unsatisfied pile of wood. There is a small mailbox here.

> e

You are in the kitchen of the white townhouse. A table seems to have been used recently for the preparation of food. Next to it is an empty chair. A passage leads to the west, and a dark staircase can be seen leading upward. To the east is a small window which is open. On the table is an elongated brown sack, smelling of hot peppers. A clear glass bottle is here. The glass bottle contains: A quantity of water.

> w

You are standing in an open field west of a white townhouse, with a open door and an unsatisfied pile of wood. There is a small mailbox here.

> look wood

The pile of wood refuses to return eye contact.


Haven’t you done enough already? Leave the poor pile of wood alone. Just go east.


You cannot have sexual intercourse with a cardinal direction.

Read more…

Does the existence of conservative “individuals of color holistically demolish the Left’s paranoid, feverish, and disgusting fantasy that white Republicans speak with white bigots through some tribal Caucasian dialect[?]”

[ 53 ] September 6, 2012 |

No. You don’t need to be a white Republican to appeal to white Republicans: you merely need to tailor your rhetoric so that it appeals to white Republicans. Doesn’t matter what color you are. It’s not about the person on the stage: it’s about the audience that person’s appealing to. Meaning Deroy Murdock’s entire post is beside any and all points:

If Republican operatives truly are brilliant enough to use secret code to convince white bigots to pull the elephant lever in November, they should have been smart enough to control the podium at their convention in Tampa, Fla. As a black man, the Republicans’ racial code never penetrated my ears. However, my eyes worked just fine. And what I repeatedly saw were minority faces on my TV.

The racist dog whistles must have gone silent even for Labradors when a black woman and former secretary of state named Condoleezza Rice addressed the convention for nearly half an hour in prime time Wednesday night, just before vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan gave his acceptance speech, arguably Tampa’s finest. Similarly, and also in prime time, a Hispanic senator named Marco Rubio (R., Fla) introduced the Republican party’s presidential standard bearer, Mitt Romney, while 30 million people tuned in …

And Rice and Rubio were far from alone. Black Republicans such as Representative Tim Scott of South Carolina; Saratoga Springs, Utah, mayor and congressional nominee Mia Love, and former Alabama representative Artur Davis (an ex-Democrat) all addressed the convention and were televised, at least on C-SPAN. Leading Hispanic Republican speakers included Texas Senate nominee Ted Cruz, Puerto Rico governor Luis Fortuño, New Mexico governor Susana Martinez, and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley also wowed the crowd. She is an American of Indian descent, another ascendant minority group.

These amplified, televised, and loudly applauded individuals of color holistically demolish the Left’s paranoid, feverish, and disgusting fantasy that white Republicans speak with white bigots through some tribal Caucasian dialect.

His argument amounts to “Because people of color were on the stage the rhetoric couldn’t be designed to appeal to white people.” Except Murdock and his italics prove that argument wrong: if these people of color were “loudly applauded” then whatever rhetoric they used was effective on their audience. This is Rhetoric 101: all rhetorical appeals are effective on a given audience in a particular historical situation. It’s called “the rhetorical situation” and Murdock’s defined the Republican National Convention as one in which a person of color living in 2012 could muster up a message that appeals to a Republican audience. What does their audience look like? According to FOX News and the Washington Times it looked like this:

Read more…

Covering the convention coverage

[ 104 ] September 6, 2012 |

The consensus on Clinton’s speech last night seems to fall between “world-historically awesome” and “the speech by which all future speech will be judged and found wanting.” I wouldn’t expect anything less from the best Republican President in recent memory. But what’s interesting to me isn’t the content of the speech—whatever it was I didn’t watch it—but the reaction of conservatives to a successful speech by a prominent Democrat. Consider who’s discussing the two most popular transcripts according to memeorandum:

For your convenience I clicked on all of the possible links to conservative blogs or news organizations. Notice something? Either it’s taking them a very long time to devise an effective strategy to counter Clinton’s rhetoric or they’ve decided that refusing to write about it will make it go away. In their defense there’s a good chance they’re correct—not because they’ve chosen to ignore it but because conventions aren’t important anymore—but I can’t pass up the opportunity to note the wonderful irony of watching the party of Manly Men Who Make Money and War paralyzed into a panicked silence when confronted by the molehill they’ve mistaken for a mountain.

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