1. Let’s make an NCAA March Madness bracket-pool for bloggers. 
    Takers?  No monetary gambling.  The stakes will be comments on the
    winner’s blog.  Don’t figure I have a chance at picking the
    victors of many games.  I like Stanford, Illinois and Memphis this year.  First-round
    dancer: Illinois-Chicago.
  2. I appreciate the privacy
    for athletes who are subject to drug testing.  But I also
    contend that we can’t trust the sporting arena unless controls ensure drugs
    aren’t affecting sports.  I generate the random lists and help organize
    one of the few random drug testing programs in small college
    athletics.  We hear plenty of arguments about the invasiveness of the
    test (a standard, five-panel DOT screening).  We also hear a fair
    amount of praise for challenging drug use head on and affirming the
    performative integrity of our student-athletes.
  3.  At a two hour follow-up meeting with the document-imaging people
    today, I noticed that the five laptops at the conference table corresponded
    in quality to the authority of the personnel using the equipment. 
    There were five reps from the doc-imaging company, five reps from the
    University.  To my left, the person with the most authority sat at a
    glitzy IBM Thinkpad; her assistant plunked in notes on a newish Dell; the
    three others moused around on run-of-the-mill Compaqs.  Should we be
    concerned at their hardware disunity?  Or the irony in leafing through
    an eighty-page paper plan for paperless workflow?
  4. Ph., who will turn 13 in ten days, asked me what I thought about
    helping him start a weblog.  His older friends have been carrying on about ejournaling. Dunno, I said.  Just plain don’t
    know. *Can I read it?* 
  5. I think my C’s carpool evaporated today. One of the riders ducked out
    because of too much other travel in the weeks ahead.  Plan B? 
    Damn, it’s going to cost a lot of chips to catch a flight at this late
    date.  It was going to be a long drive from KC to San Antonio (but a
    comfy one, thanks to good friends at the car rental place).  I planned
    on taking in a few sessions, bumming up and down the Riverwalk,
    maybe blogging the conference a bit, for the heck of it.  What now?
  6. Halfway through Spring Break now, so why am I more tired and more
    disorganized than I was on Monday.  Theoretical down-time gets turvied into catch-up time, time to work on my long list of stuff to
    do.  I’m getting a lot done, and idle time makes me stir crazy, so I
    guess there’s no problem with having a week off from teaching to get a few
    other things in order. 

I’m George W. Bush and I approved this massage.

Did you see Capricorn One–the movie about the staged mission to
Mars?  I looked it up, learned that it came out in 1978, that it got mixed
reviews.  It was one of the only action movies on laser discs at the house
of a childhood friend where I often slept over on Friday nights.  We
watched Capricorn One probably thirty or forty times.  Thinking
back, I can’t remember anything about the quality of the movie (granted, I was
nine or ten by the time we were watching it on disc).  But I do remember
the premise: the mission to Mars was faked, and the government and the media
were complicit in the scheme.  McLuhanesque, eh?

The movie has come to mind a time or two in recent months, reminders brought
on by an actual Mars
(it did happen, right?), the whole WMD spinabout (audio-taps
detailing uranium
), and now, the launch of Bush’s
ad campaign
.  Notably, his first ads are generating considerable hubbub
because they make full use of staging and arrangement.  Because they’re foregrounded
by the President’s voice making promises about his belief in the American
people, there builds a complex problem of discernment: how much to
believe.  I came across this from MSNBC (via I
Know What I Know. I Sing What I Said.

Another less-publicized aspect of the ad flap: the use of paid
actors–including two playing firefighters with fire hats and uniforms in
what looks like a fire station. "Where the hell did they get those
guys?" cracked Harold Schaitberger, president of the International
Association of Fire Fighters, which has endorsed John Kerry, when he first saw
the ads. (A union spokesman said the shots prompted jokes that the fire hats
looked like the plastic hats "from a birthday party.") "There’s
many reasons not to use real firemen," retorted one Bush media adviser.
"Mainly, its cheaper and quicker." FULL

Cheaper and quicker, indeed. So how do we whittle out the believable,
authentic bits from the spin? Of course, I don’t find the ads the least bit
compelling.  They’re politically unmoving.  I watch them out of
curiosity because they’re defining pop culture and creating a media stir. 
And they’re funny.  I laugh aloud at the line, "I’m George W. Bush and
I approved this message."  I know it’s become a mantra of ownership
among the leaders politic, but it’s so flimsy.  Does it mean the Prez
previewed the ad?  Revised its content?  Levied critical, reflexive
input to its production?  Whatever the case, it’s hard to regard it as
serious, responsible and emblematic of the best national leadership we can drum
up in ’04.  Don’t want to seem jaded, but voting is beginning to feel more
like damage control than a championed, contributory process.

Rugknots and Tardig

Saturday morning was unusual; it was the first Saturday morning without a
basketball practice since late October.  To fill the time, we made a family
outing toRugknots and Tardig midtown KC, picked up a few things at Wild Oats, an organic grocer,
then headed over to Waldo on a whim.  See, we got a certificate for a
Persian rug from A.–a good friend who runs a gallery in south-central Kansas
City, just beyond the Plaza and the campus of UMKC.  We don’t get over
there often; in fact, we hadn’t been in at least a year.  Originally from
Persia, just before it switched to Iran in ’35, A., now 80-something, gifted us
a generous certificate for a 3×5 carpet from his shop; we’ve put off the visit
for the past seven months because of the chaos of our incongruent

A life-long chemist by trade, A. wasn’t at the shop.  His son-in-law,
J., was filling in.  He called A. on the phone, handed it off to me. 
A. and I visited for a few minutes, much like we used to, back when I was an
undergraduate ghostwriting monthly letters to antique dealers on his
behalf.  We met because he and his late wife, P., were alums of my alma
mater; I was the recipient of the first award named for his wife, the first
recipient after her passing.  And I thanked him with a letter.  He
invited me to lunch at the Kabob House, and so on.  Over the phone, A. said
he was disappointed to miss us Saturday, but he hoped we would return this week
to have lunch with him.  He was giving a talk on chemistry to a group of
boy scouts in the afternoon.  Couldn’t be at the gallery Saturday for that

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Top-Shelf A&P

A new local grocery store celebrated its grand opening earlier this
week.  Today was my turn for getting the food that will fuel our upcoming
week, so after Ph.’s scrimmage (is there such a problem as basketball poison?
My hoops toxicity level is at an all time high!), he and I popped in at the
glitzy Price Chopper to see what all of the hooha was about.  It’s Spring
Break–what do I need more than beer and Ruffles? And beef jerky for snacks
between high-carb meals?  I spend more money when I shop a store for the first
time.  I went in today knowing that I would pick up a few extra
things.  It comes down to new ways of seeing products, I think.  Or
maybe it results from new products.  I’m a ritual grocery shopper. Aisle by
tedious aisle, I usually stroll through Bressette’s Sun Fresh every other Sunday
picking out the bare essentials for meals.  But in a new store, like the
one we shopped today, I discover unforeseeable combinations.  Like at the
deli counter for example, I picked up a pound of chicken barbeque for sandwiches
tonight, since the Sunday evening meal is the start of the new weekly cycle.  Barbeque, brussels sprouts and various pickled garnishes–cukes and
beets.  Why not?

The store: like all new stores, it was a spectacle of consumptive
splendor.  High shelves, bright lights, and none of the dusty, uncirculated
products nobody ever buys–such as blue corn chips or ham and bean box
meals.  Surprising sight:  two men wheeling laptop carts with corded
scanner wands through the aisles–different aisles–to record the inventory and
inform the backroom about barren shelves.  When I worked in a grocery, we
actually pulled all of the back stock onto the floor during the night,
force-shelved as much as would fit, then carted it all back.  Night after
night.  That was twelve years ago.

When we approached the check-out, I saw three familiar students scanning
groceries.  I chose lane nine where B., a student from Nairobi who I got to
know last semester, was pushing clientele and their products through the
line.  I met B. in a class called Reading and Culture for International
.  And now, today, in our new local Price Chopper, I felt my
teaching shrink momentarily.  Although it was bent on critical reading and
cultural critique, something about the experience of reading American culture
through the checkout line, through the products and purchasing habits of the
upwardly affluent and economically safe (right, why was I shopping there?),
well, it seemed unusually powerful, unusually telling. 

It’s not a bad store, as stores go.  Unlike others places where I tried them once and
never went back, the Price Chopper up the street has potential to attract my
bi-weekly stroll-grab.  Heck, they even have Vernors (Michigan native
ginger ale; I had it every time I was sick as a kid–every time). 

E Pluribus Trivium

I wrapped up Scholes’ Rise
and Fall
on Monday morning while I was waiting in the auto shop. 
Since then, I’ve been reconsidering it from a distance–the full displacement
brought on by a hearty paper load, full-time work, and other important
stuff-o-life.  I keep coming back to a few basic ideas set up by Scholes in
chapter four, "A Flock of Cultures."  Throughout, Scholes uses a
split chapter system, so, for example, chapter four has a postlude called
"assignment four" in which he details–in practical terms–an
application of much of the theorizing he summons in the early portion of the
chapter.  Before the "assignment" section, he proposes a
design  for a general education curriculum parsed into grammar,
and rhetoric. Scholes introduces this threesome under the
heading, "A Trivial Proposal."  He’s having fun with the
connotations of "trivial,"
enlisting it as something of lesser consequence (than the Western Civilization
and Great Books canonical approaches) and also as a modern resurrection of the
medieval model for foundational education–the basis preceding advanced
scholarship in "arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music." He
explains the subtle differences between each of the course-types.  For grammar,
a course called "Language and Human Subjectivity" would comb over
pronoun usage and alienation in language structures.  A second grammar
course would concern "Representation and Objectivity." 
Anthropological perspective, ethnography, the objective discourses pervasive in
the observational sciences: these would be done up in this second grammar
course.  For rhetoric, he suggests a course on "Persuasion and
Mediation," which "would obviously include the traditional arts of
manipulation of audiences but would also point toward the capacities and limits
of the newer media, especially those that mix verbal and visual textuality to
generate effects of unprecedented power" (125).  To round this one
out–and because Scholes spends relatively little time on it–I would toss in technology

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Math is dead.  Long live math.

Friday evening.  Lugging the end-of-term grading load has rendered me
too tired to report on the first fifty pages of Milgram’s Obedience to
.  I picked up a dusty copy from the library shelf yesterday
morning after class.  Found time to read some over coffee this
morning.  Collin’s
is helping me think about agentic shift from several different
angles. More on that sometime this weekend, I hope.

For now, I just want to share a comment Ph. made when he got home this
afternoon.  He and I have been spending late afternoons before D. gets home
from student-teaching, working on math.  The latest feat: drilling through
multiplying and dividing mixed fractions.  So today he mentioned that
they’ve started a new section–repeating decimals.  He summarized the
lesson: "you just put a line over the number to show that it keeps going

Forever?  Wha?!  We traded one of our usual banters where I act
surprised by something taught in the school.  It’s not a serious, deep, or
undercutting skepticism (usually); it’s more of a game meant to tease out the
lessons, to reinforce the in-school learning.  So I asked him what forever
means in mathematical terms.  "If you couldn’t use the overline to
show that it goes forever, when would it end?  It can’t really go on
endlessly, can it?"

Ph.: Probably not.
Me: So when do you think a repeating decimal ends?
Ph.:  When math is dead, I guess.
Me:  *nothing to say…long pause*  That’s an answer I won’t argue

Free Kick on Zeno’s Field, or It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Tending Goal

[Another soundtrack audio-blaring: O Brother, Where Art Thou?]

It occurs to me as I set out to key this entry that some things don’t belong here at EWM, some things should be off the edge of this weblog in a less
public space.  How will I know when I’ve crossed the line–fumbled in poor
taste by revealing something inappropriate?  Dunno.  Dunno.  I’ll
listen for the uncomfortable silence then.

About work: another busy week.  Eighth of eight in spring I online
courses, which means a heaping inflow of student writing from the accelerated
term is jamming my email box–but like coldstiff milkshakes to a small straw,
this too shall pass.  Ease will be restored.  Next week is spring

I’ve been talking about sports during the day; it’s one of my jobs to keep
two fingers on the pulse.  Latest:  there’s talk of a formal violation
of the NAIA
Coaches Code
.  Specifically this:

I will ever keep before the students under my direction the high ideals,
honesty, sincerity, and integrity which have made our nation great. I will not
encourage, or ever tolerate, any form of trickery or evasion of rules in order
to gain an advantage over an opponent.

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Agentic Shift

*clicking persistently, feverishly because this stupid computer is so slow*

Not really. That was one example of Milgram’s
"agentic shift" from class yesterday. It was one of the more
interesting sessions we’ve had this semester. I referred students to
chunks of Postman’s chapter on "The Ideology of Machines: Computer
Technology." They collaborated to generate questions for their chunk,
which, after fifteen or so minutes, was passed into the hands of the next group
who took up the work of mustering a response. A rich discussion spun out
of this simple arrangement: "computer" as it referred to a
who computes (pre-1940), voice bots and sometimes-undetectable
artificial intelligence, the technopolist ideology that relishes human-as-machines
models of efficiency, generally subscribing to the view that we are at our best
when we are most functionally productive (no excess) and refined in our acts
(without waste or deviation).

I’m still trying to get a grip on the idea of "agentic
shift." I haven’t read Milgram’s Obedience to Authority: An
Experimental View (1974)
. So it’s only a best guess that agentic
is a rhetorical event. Is it more than displaced agency?
Shirked responsibility? Does it flourish in the technological high

I’m wondering about this especially as it seems to relate to video
gaming. I want to be careful what I say because I’m not up on the latest
buzz in video game studies–only know that they’re here. But if agentic
is, as Postman calls it (acknowledging Milgram), the name of the process
"whereby humans transfer responsibility for an outcome from themselves to a
more abstract agent," then video gaming, and maybe all encounters with
technical machinery, fit. So maybe it’s possible to have a group agentic
(a collective of transference?), in which the group *thinking social
software here* transfers responsibility to an abstract agent-authority: the
software. Is this too much of a reach from Milgram’s Yale experiments or does this simply affirm–in a modern context–what Milgram proved forty years ago?

One Fell Off and Bumped His Head

In a coffee shop this morning, I waited patiently while the Fordists (hey,
it’s a Ford, where else am I going to take it) tapped and prodded my vehicle,
changing out the oil and detailing it through a DMV inspection. Need to
renew the tags, and someone with authority and license has to sign the paper
affirming everything (except the driver) is road safe. Torn wiper
blades and a burnt-out tail light. WTF! You’d be sick on my behalf
if I told you how much they charged. I had to have the

But I was at a coffee shop walking distance from the car shop. I was
sipping on some exotic, way-too-strong coffee. You know the kind that’s so
potent it makes your tongue feel dry? That’s the kind of coffee I was
drinking. Empty place, since it’s Monday morning, eight o’clock. I
was reading Scholes. Chapter four: A Flock of Cultures. All about
the etymology of canon and Hegel’s brand of history and problems with
Great Books and conceptions of Western Civilization. It turns to
suggestions for curricular design, and I’ve been meaning all day to write about
it, to expand the few notes I scribbled down. Maybe tomorrow.

It was an empty place, but a dad and his young daughter (guessing at the
relationships) took seats at the table next to me. The girl was two-ish,
chiming through songs (like the one about a crowd of monkeys jumping on the bed–see entry title). The dad was fumbling with a huge brownie (breakfast?),
dividing it into adult and child-sized portions. Now that I’m writing
this, I can’t remember exactly why I thought this was relevant to Scholes, to my
day, the oil change, or you.

So I think it was the daughter’s sense of unfairness in the brownie
apportionment. She was really young, but she knew immediately that her dad
was eating the bigger piece of the brownie. She kept asking him, "Da,
why you eating da big one?" And he tried to answer, "Because I’m
hungry." And she asked again. He tried a different answer,
"Because it is yummy." She kept asking. Geez. So I
was eavesdropping, but they were only four feet away, and I was still reading
Scholes with most of my attention. Her curiosity was incredibly
persistent, and it became more emphatic on the word "big."
"Da, why you eating da big one?" He didn’t say,
"Because I’m big, too." You know, spatial relationships,
proximity, size: early (and lasting) understandings of social justice.

(barb)Wired Teaching Environs


Administrators with responsibilities for writing programs will

6. develop equitable policies for ownership of intellectual
property that take effect before online classes commence.

After reading the C’s
statement on teaching, learning and assessment in digital environments
Friday, I’ve been wondering about the risks of working at the intersection of
writing instruction and digital environments without an explicit,
institutionally endorsed set of policies addressing intellectual property
in such spaces. I don’t worry that I’m at risk, but I have started
to ponder the ethics of graded, compulsory blogging in a FY comp course like the
one I’m teaching now. I am naive on this front, since I’m not sure I understand
some of the issues knotting up at this nexus. It’s clear to me that students own their writing. It’s clear to me that I can make reference to their writing, cite passages, model it for other courses and so on, with a student’s permission. But are tech-enriched writing pedagogies treading on student privacies, refashioning a safe, protected environ into a perilous venue underscored by the potential for public critique and effects beyond the
course? In dedicated face-to-face courses and dedicated
online courses (barricaded behing protections, authorizations) this seems much simpler than in grafted or hybrid courses, where
traditional methods swirl in the current of emergent technologies and digital
mediums. And with this, I’m back to a lot of questions, ones mainly about
the teacher’s agency in convening such ventures without having mapped the juts
and crags. Where to turn in this exploration absent an "equitable
[policy] for ownership of intellectual property"?