Friday, July 30, 2004


In the morning, we'll be loading the buggy and driving toward Michigan where we'll spend a week playing euchre, dangling our toes in Lake Huron, and sipping cans of Miller Genuine Draft with family.  It's not a reunion, exactly, because the Mueller side of the family has never organized such things until now.  We'll stop for a night's rest in Sheboygan, Wisc., visit with bunches of extended family, fuel up, then finish the drive on Sunday with the Seattlers who are flying into Milwaukee before turning north along the lake shore.

From Drummond Island, we're tripping to Mt. Pleasant and Muskegon, then back to Kansas City where, if we hold up, we'll load a truck and drive another 18 hours to Syracuse.  Altogether...3,093 miles of driving in the next two weeks. Sad to say, I expect to be mostly disconnected for the next two weeks.  I called a few places on the island and found one spot--North Haven Rentals and Gifts--with a leased-access dial-up connection.  c15 per minute.  No wifi?  What kind of uncivilized place is this?!  How will I keep my blog?  A blogger's worst fear: seclusion (granted, though, I won't be secluded in a strict sense, since there will be family).

No telling whether I'll manage to find a connection or whether I'll have time to write an entry in the next two weeks.  The land line (and DSL connections) are already scheduled for shutoff; this computer--the desktop--will be in a plastic bin soon.  And sp&m will probably stink up this joint; ignore that.  On this vacation (before lugging all the boxes and bins), I'll try to be patient, distract myself from the e-w(m)ithdrawals by reading, scour the stuff I'll be teaching from in the fall, veg.  Then I'll return, and this brief *pause* will be off the bottom of the page in no time.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Great Rubber Band Crisis of 2002

House-packing reminds me of things like this:

<suspenseful theme music>

You never heard of it?  The Great Rubber Band Crisis of 2002 lingers on, carrying forward all of the reactive damage from that school day just a few years ago.  Today, when D. went looking for a rubber band while packing, I reminded her that we kept none, that we summarily banned all rubber bands from the house, destroyed them, snapped them into oblivion two years ago.  


I don't want to embarrass anyone, least of all Ph., who catalyzed the Crisis with a buildup of contraband sneakery, locker-stock hoarding and pen-cap projecting.  Why are the rubber band supplies from home dwindling?  Call from the school.  And so on.

</suspenseful theme music>

Monday, July 26, 2004

Candied Camera

We're staying at the Genessee Inn, wrapping up our three night stay in Syracuse City, flying back to KC late tomorrow.  We signed a lease today, committing to a one-year occupancy in a three-bedroom flat (with abundant basement/attic storage) on the edge of Thornden Park, just east of the University.  Ph.'s school is five blocks one direction; the U. and HB Crouse are five blocks the other direction.  For the small few inconveniences of renting (after owning for a few years), we are just around the corner from the Syracuse public pool, two blocks from the Westcott strip--eateries, a small movie house, public library--and renting from a friendly, fair landlord. Should work okay for year one.  Bikable, walkable, bus route: that's what we wanted.Warp

Our stay at the Genessee has been more pleasant this time; I'd gladly recommend it.  Turns out, however, that the ice machine/vending room on the fourth floor here is a steamy 95 degrees.  Here's a look at a wilted Hershey's bar we didn't buy from the vending machine this afternoon.  Who will have such a soft candy?  Pour thing.  Got me thinking that a vending camera would be fun--maybe a web cam in a trickster machine, where the candy never drops, the wrong package comes out (always a mallow cup!), or a heated compartment keeps the candy disappointingly gooey. 

Don't have as many restaurant dispatches to report from Central New York this time.  We've been unadventurous since dinner the other night, preferring chains, convenience, and the hotel's continental freebies for two days. Yesterday we scouted the mall in Syracuse, Carousel Center, before I succumbed to my inevitable mall lethargy.  It's quite a place--car dealership, stores galore, and a huge indoor carousel. Makes me sleepy walking around in such a mallacious mall, and it shows a side of generic mall culture carrying powerfully from city to city to city, all the same.

In an hour we're meeting up with a few CCRers at Kitty Hoynes in Amory Square. AS is one of the noted historic attractions in downtown Syracuse--which, for today, I'm calling Drearacuse because we have had grayness and light rain all day and because I now have an address here, which means I should be more observant of the weather. They say it snows from time to time in the winter, too. D. and I managed a jog-walk around a few of the nearby neighborhoods just before the sprinkles started this morning.  And now the TV predicts flooding.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Corder, 1976, "What I Learned at School"

 Corder, Jim. "What I Learned at School." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 43-50.

Big Idea
Jim Corder's essay playfully reconsiders his overeager commitment to write nine essays in one semester--projects written from the same nine calls issued to his students.  Corder lays out a few important lessons, and goes on to explain the antithetical teetering between the openness of invention and the closed-ness of structure. He acknowledges that much of what he wrote during the semester-long experiment stemmed from ideas he'd been thinking about for some time.  To that end, Corder concludes that "a semester affords precious little time for genuine invention, exploration and discovery" (44), and students often labor against inadequate inventive time.  Corder's lessons, however mundane and ordinary, are important, common-sense reminders about rethinking what we teach and frequently returning to questions about what we do and why. The second half of "What I Learned" is a reprint of "Half Thoughts on a Whole Semester," the ninth and final essay composed by Corder in fulfillment of his promise to his students.  It's a self-reflective critique of his teaching, of his pedagogical emphases (invention and structure), and the assorted tenets about composition drawn from the experiment (to write one's own assignments with students). 

Wondering About
I've never tried the Corder experiment (if I might rightly assign the name of the experiment to him), but I think remember hear such practices mocked as preposterous.  How wildly adventurous and glutton for punishment would a teacher be to do all of the assignments with students?  This essay is forthright and fun; it's a glimpse inside Corder's self-consciousness about the problem of realizing a gap between writing as we stage it for our students and writing as we engage with it ourselves (habits and purposes rifts, I guess). It's not exactly clear what Corder would do differently as a result of the experiment.  It's illuminating stuff (albeit striped with functionalism), but I came away from the essay with more questions than answers about what this means for designing a writing course. 

I can think of a few occasions when, like Corder, I was tempted to backpedal or scrap plans--the souring of a pre-semester planning buzz.  The flops were never disastrous; I learned, corrected, made changes for subsequent semesters.  Teaching is endless experimentation, after all.  Even when it's perfect, student dynamics assuredly flip, redouble.  Corder is modest about his commitment, too; he downplays the significance of following through on his word, of keeping his end of the agreement rather than changing course, explaining himself out of it, leaving students with their work. He certainly could have said, "I take it back."  Some occasions should allow for flexibility, but I admire that Corder actually wrote the essays and acknowledged the cumbersome, inherent challenges in so doing.

Corder mentions his work with the TUTO rhythmic method.  Any idea what this is?  I Googled around for the method, but didn't come up with anything.  Has anybody heard of this?  My hunch is that it involves invention, pre-writing and generative heuristics, but that's a long shot.  I can't find anything on the TUTO acronym, period (TUTOrial?).

We won't win Braddocks for it, but I like the idea of formally writing through our lessons learned following a term of teaching.  I suppose many comp programs encourage this sort of self-reflection for their TAs and other folks who take seriously improvement in their teaching.  But lots of part-timers (and perhaps too many long-term full-timers) stop working through their teaching questions.  Could be a matter of not recognizing the rough spots, not having the time/energy to devote to self-reflection, or resigning to the inevitability of grand performances sometimes sailing and other times sinking because of variability. And so I'll sneak in a plug for blogs as teaching registers. Constantly thinking about how much information to reveal here keeps its exigency, but post-term reflections about assignments, pace, successes and would-do-differentlies are blogable, I think, and, as such, reflective blogs can be done responsibly and in ways that build toward an improved teaching manner.  Of course, private teaching notes can serve this purpose, too (and probably ought to if a blog isn't part of the mix).

Here are a few more pieces from Corder.  His short essay is worth a read, especially if you've ever entertained the idea of doing assignments with students or if you're interested in the pull between invention and structure.

His lessons:

1. I learned that writing out one's own assignments is a marvelous corrective to any tendency one might have for using merely habitual assignments or for witlessly making thoughtless or stupid assignments.

2. With some of the arguments and assumptions that undergird freshman composition I am familiar.  I know that "the ability to write a literate essay is the hallmark of the educated person." I know that "a competent student out to be able to produce a decent piece of writing on call."

3. I learned that I often did precisely what I urged my students not to do: I hurried; I waited until the last moment, because that was the only moment there was; I accepted available subjects that came easily to mind; I wrote some "nice" essays and some "acceptable" essays; once or twice I turned in rough drafts as if they were finished papers.  Perhaps I should add that I did usually get semicolons in the right place.

4. I need to say more about items 2 and 3 in order to tell what I really learned, to tell why writing nine essays is a task very nearly not doable.  Perhaps what I really learned is that I have not learned enough.  Or perhaps what I really learned is that part of what I know about writing (though right enough in its way) is not germane or immediate or companionable when one is doing the writing.

One more quotation

"I was sitting there looking at the assignment when another dark thought came: 'I know how to write this thing,' I remember saying to myself, 'but why in hell would anybody want to?'" (45).

Corder's Laws of Composition (thinned version)
Ninth law of composition: Everything comes from somewhere and goes some place.
Eleventh law of composition: Some things precede other things. Invention precedes structure. Thinking and feeling and being precede writing.
Eighteenth law of composition: You are always standing somewhere when you say something.
Twenty-fifth law of composition: Invention is an invitation to openness.
Twenty-sixth law of composition:  But structure is a closure.  You can't organize an essay or a sonata unless you have ruled out other organizations.
Twenty-seventh law of composition: Invention and structure, then, represent a way of being in the world.
Thirty-second law of composition: What follows feeds, enlarges, and enriches what precedes.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Phase Transitions

"Had the Soviet security apparatus decided [to retain Lev Landau in Moscow's Lubyanka prison in 1989], physics today would be very different. Landau explained [Pyotr] Kapitsa's discovery within a few months, and over the next three decades left his mark on virtually every area of physics, from astrophysics and cosmology to the study of magnetic materials.  Landau also invented a revolutionary new theory of phase transitions, a theory of how substances of all kinds change their forms" (158).Phase Transitions

Stole away several pages of Mark Buchanan's Nexus on the flights today from KC to Detroit to Syracuse.  Once in town, D. and I checked out an apartment, four houses, and, after a delectable dinner on Marshall Street, drove around a bit more until it was too dark to see.

I'm tired and scattered-feeling, but I wanted to post a few notes about Landau while I was thinking of it.  According to one of Buchanan's end notes, "Landau's explanation [of Kapitsa's discovery?] later won him a Nobel Prize.  He showed how the laws of quantum theory turn liquid helium at low temperatures into 'superfluid,' a bizarre new liquid form of matter that lacks any trace of internal friction.  A superfluid set swirling in a cup will swirl forever, never coming to a rest." 

Buchanan builds up to this through a snaking series of segments on ecosystems, networks and organic structures.  Buchanan's explanation of the molecular phases of water and Landau's superfluid state strike me as incredibly useful for retooling metaphors of ideational flow--thought, distributed.  Next to his section on Tipping Points called "How Ideas Acquire People," Buchanan has me thinking that systems lacking "any trace of internal friction" are so delicate that a superfluid state (superfluousness?) cannot prosper except under artificially controlled conditions. Only with total control and subjectivity is sustained superfluidity possible.  (Get your glue stick; this is going to need some holding together.)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

In Signs We Trust

Sold...more or less.

Signed a contract today.  Closing's set for August 9.  You probably thought the Saint Joseph thing was a gimmick. Can I get a collective sigh of relief (for putting an end to all the house-related entries and for side-stepping imminent financial ruin)?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Learning to Sit

At Fashion Square Mall, Saginaw, Mich., my mother bought an overpriced little Yorkshire Terrier in 1990; "little" means he was smaller than the large outdoor dogs we kept in a pen on the edge of the yard. "Little" means he was vulnerable. He would be staying in the house.

Max grew to be large for a Yorky. At eighteen pounds, he muscled over other toy pets. To the veterinarians with wide eyes and park walkers who would stare, whisper, finally ask, we explained he was just a bit over-sized, big boned. Always tall, Max, and wide.

After weeks and weeks of combing through options, we got a call two days ago that a pet rescue was available. "Get in the car, folks. We're saying farewell to Max, today." And we drove to Shawnee Mission, Kan., to Animal Haven: a dog playground abundant with frolicking and free play, shade, half-filled plastic swimming pools. A black lab stood in one of the pools, stooped like a flamingo, watching. Max trembled; always small and fragile.

There was the time we thought he was nearly gone, one warm weekend afternoon during our first months in this house. Ph. had a soccer match; I was the coach. Scuttle, scuttle before heading off for a match. But Max was on the deck, frozen, quaking and hunched with his head close to the wood surface. His mouth was bleeding. This was it. Did he eat something (glass, nails, metal burrs)? What? Time was short; we had to rush off to the match while D. stayed behind to console Max, take him to the emergency vet, since we were sure he was dying. D. tugged on Max, and pulled. He seemed heavy; he wouldn't separate from the deck. Turns out he'd lain down on the deck and his tag had fallen through one of the gaps between the boards, shifted, and lodged in a perpendicular T-lock. He was stuck. Following a quick check-up (to find out he'd only bitten through his lip from the resistance and trauma), D. brought him to the fields where his light step said relief, liberation, resurrection.

Here's a little piece of the email I sent to help him find a new home:

His hair currently (for summer) isn't cut Yorky-standard. It's rather short for his comfort. In fairness, he tends to have unsavory breath, and the vet has said we might consider having his teeth cleaned, but we've never gone ahead with that.

He's good around kids, and hasn't ever shown signs of aggression toward people or other animals. In his young days, he would chase squirrels and cats, but he never caught any of them (okay, if I was telling this story to him, I'd allow that he caught one or two!). He thrives on positive attention. He's happy when new people come to the house, and he has an odd habit of sitting on people's feet. He's not a licker, and in his old(er) age, he's mellowed out. He doesn't run in the house, chew on anything (never did) or leave much--if any--hair behind. He tends to have dry-ish skin on his lower back, and so he'll try to itch his back on things from time to time, especially with the shorter haircut. He also has a small mole-like thing above one eye, but the vet said not to worry about it, and it hasn't changed in size for the past three or four years--since it first showed up.

cookie peppy brandy (freak-a-leak) jake fang sheba
(freak-a-leak) minerva tony pigeon max (freak-a-leak)

For the first time in thirty years (minus a few of those early, newborn months), I'm without a dog. Cookie was the first; several others followed. According to my count, there have been ten, including Max. While I was an undergrad, Tony was boarded at my parents', but I saw him fairly often. My dad reminded me regularly that Tony was my dog. For the last fourteen years, Max has been a part of the mix. He lasted longer than any of the others, outliving Brandy, Sheba, Mini, Pigeon and Tony--those whose lives coincided with his.

For the last ten weeks or so, we've known that, inevitably, we would have to give him up. The slow sale of the house here in KC meant we couldn't buy a home in Syracuse, which meant we would have to rent, which meant we would have trouble keeping pets. Sure enough.

Max wouldn't have liked the snow, anyway. He doesn't even like walking on grass. We had two options: find him another place to live or, er, do the unthinkable.

There's really very little else to this story, but it's unusually sentimental for me. Max was my mom's dog. I inherited him when she died seven years ago. "Who will take in Max?" I will! He was never anybody's favorite pet, never easy to train, never at ease with his place in the world. Skittish, you could say--terrified of feet and all types of balls. He had quirks, a small dog's stubbornness, and a grotesque, unrefined personality. He was simple. Never learned to sit on command. His cohort--Sheba and Tony, mainly--could sit when told. They'd sit, Max would have a look, see the snacks distributed, finally sit too. I don't think he ever connected the command with the action. It was the snacks, imitation, and delayed social intelligence among dogs. Do what they're doing. He was easily thrown off by noises; he would run to the back door when the front door opened. Sensed thunderstorms three or four hours before they arrived. And we joked about him, his clumsiness, his lack of grace, his surprisingly long life.

So to give him up the other day has convened a strange vacancy. No nudged trips to the grass. No slow-paced click-click of his long toenails on the hardwoods. And since we'll be leaving soon, too, his presence won't linger much longer than ours. Where he's headed, some generous crib in Springfield, Mo., there'll be other dogs to socialize him (roll over!) and abundant spoilation (good boy!) to help him forget and to spur a few more years of simple joy. Woe but for the blessing of always-fading memories.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Go to work, St. Joe

Do your thing, Joseph!We're resorting to witchcraft to get this house to sell.  Legend says a small statuette of Saint Joseph (the Builder, the Worker, etc.), planted upside down and feet toward the road, will expedite the transaction.  I guess it's spun out of the "no room at the Inn" problem.  Need a place to stay?  Try this house.  We looked around for a small figurine a few weeks ago, but didn't find one.  Dismissed it as mere voodoo and superstition, anyway.  But a package arrived yesterday; D's sister came through for us, sending this little guy from Colorado Springs.  Since nothing else is working, I troweled a small hole, positioned him just so, filled it in, and packed it with my heel.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

En Abyme

Ended a seven-year career at the U. yesterday.  It's been more like twelve years, really, considering I showed up back in '92 with a rusted Chevy station wagon, a few duffels of crap, a pile of books, and a basketball.  Time flies.

Now, I'm technically on vacation.  I've still got a few course development projects floating around, a house to sell, boxes to pack, a trip to NY next weekend, a mini-vacation at Drummond Island (Gem of Huron!), and hearty hunk of familiarizing and forethought for teaching and studying at SU this fall. 

Nothing much has wrapped up smoothly in these last few weeks.  We haven't hired my successor at work, which means all of the systems are rather in limbo--trembling toward collapse b/c nobody's at my desk to hold them up. I'd say it's like force and energy to a black hole, but I was relieved the other day to hear that Steven Hawking revisited his theories on the absolute envelopment of black holes into nothing.  Turns out it's not nothing, but something.  Radiation.  Histories.  Now we'll need a new metaphor for totalities of loss.  In the meantime, to the hole!

And no, I'm not drunk from celebrating the end (beginning!).  In fact, despite sipping down a few Corona's last evening at a kind, generous going away party, I left feeling kind of sober about my departure.  All along I'd been looking ahead, feeling happy about the switch.  But folks started filing in, eating chicken wings, smiling and laughing, and showing their incredibly warm, friendly best.  Before long, we shuffled to P.'s basement, where they played a documentary put together by M. and E., a flattering splice-mix made up of interviews of many of the people I've known, music, video of buildings (like Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel, where D. and I got married last summer, like the Breckon Sports Center, where Ph. hasn't missed a basketball camp in four years, like the ill-furnished offices and classrooms in Copley-Thaw Hall where I sat in graffitied desks while sorting out King Lear, Frankenstein, and Go Down, Moses all those years ago).  Which way to look, Gloucester?  

I'm not so much down as adrift, reminiscent, deeply affected by the scene of tribute, memories, folks saying goodbye like it's permanent and final.  Like I'm off to outer space.  Tinges of guilt come and go, too, from the everyday reminders that I'm stepping out of a stabilizing role in a place where stability is cherished, where a fair amount of my day to day work has kept things normal-seeming: web upkeep, news releases, photography, statistical compilation and reporting, hiring and policy development, compliance, drug testing, publication design, event coordination (halftime shows and such), work-study supervision, screening warm-up music.  On Monday?  TBA.

There's not much of a point to this.  It's all just to say that I didn't realize the scale of what I was voluntarily leaving behind in KC until everybody started gangpiling me with memories, hugs, sad faces.  Why blog it?  I want to remember.  There'll be time in the next few years when I'll want to recall July 17, the day I keyed notes about the 16th, when I'll want to jog fond memories of all the resilient friends and colleagues along the way.  I'll just click, click, and there it'll be.  Right where I put it.  And the video; I like to think I'll be able to convert it to .mov or .mpg, so it can fill a place here as well.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Peering At You Peering At Me

Reported in Wired News, Facetop, a video feed in a background layer, enabling interactive co-contributions to whatever's on the (mostly transparent) desktop:

Now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have designed a new system that cleverly blends a video-conference feed with a transparent image of a computer desktop into one full-screen window.

Called Facetop, the system simultaneously transmits a video feed of users along with a shared, transparent image of the desktop. It allows two colleagues to work on the same document, Web page or graphic, while communicating face to face.

The face fashions a visual backchannel (like way back when nods were it): Look at me when I'm pointing (my icon-finger-eyes) at you. Planar, but eerily holographic, too.

Mortensen/Kirsch, 1994, "Authority"

 Mortensen, Peter and Gesa Kirsch. "On Authority in the Study of Writing." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 321-335.

Big Idea
Clearly enough, Mortensen and Kirsch set out to complicate conceptions of authority beyond the autonomous, paternalistic, heavy-handed sort long understood to be the source of oppression, as in a hegemony of control and order.  This essay emphasizes the role of ethics and care in contextualized authority systems, where power is understood through community assimilation and distrust of autonomous authoritative forces are out in the open.  Mortensen and Kirsch urge a shift away from long-accepted connotations of authority as the continuation of autonomous and paternalistic legacies.  More complex variations of authority look at knowledge sources as contextual, assumable, provisional, situated (or locally distributed), and ethical.  By turning to feminist critique, the essay seeks to loosen and re-associate the significance of authority in relationship to discourse, power, and community, the buzzwords of the 90's in writing and rhetoric.

Wondering About
"On Authority in the Study of Writing" leads with a note about Barthes and dead authors, followed by mention of modernity's unraveling of authorship resulting in language re-styling English Studies, followed by the question, "How are we to account for the theoretical erasure of the authority that constitutes the writers--the authors--we face every day in our composition classrooms?".  Authors are dead; authority is dead.  Right?  That's the linch pin for Mortensen and Kirsch, since authority is alive and well.  But where?  They're certainly not faulting Barthes for his excise of authors; in fact, his move gave us good cause to look at all of the other, perhaps more complex manifestations of authority, various forms wrapped in power, discourse, and community dynamics.  I'd say this essay does a terrific job of sizing up those forms, pointing them out, and reminding me that they aren't all evil (which is often my suspicion).  In fact, M&K's answer to the question is that there are at least two predominant perspectives on authority--assimilation and resistance--and we (with our students) ought to know both of them as well as other, subtler forms.

I'm not ready to answer M&K's question about "theoretical erasure" because I'd prefer to ask it just a bit differently, replacing "erasure," I think, with "complexity."  Of course this kind of critique can give way to endless tinkering.  I won't do that.  But just this one turn--complexity rather than erasure--would allow the question to point out what I think this essay does.  Old, autonomous authority isn't dead; it's just buried (read: nested, resting).  And maybe we should be just as distrusting of new authority (contextual, assumable, provisional, situated, ethical) because it's more elusive, harder to know, but potentially as controlling, power-wielding, and uncaring.  Potentially.  And then "how are we to account for the theoretical [complexity] of the authority that constitutes the writers--the authors--we face every day in our composition classrooms?".  Rhetoric: running the range of persuasive, effective, compelling postures in variously authority-laden situations. 

In differentiating cognitivist views of writing as situated between the "twin seats" of the "individual mind and the autonomous text" and social views of writing as co-constructions of knowledge, M&K's essay makes some interesting suggestions about the place(s) we often locate authority.  Whatever the perspective, cognitivist and social approaches to writing struggle with embodied authority--in the unified mind-strength, the tome, or the community.  One answer is to turn toward foundationalist/anti-foundationalist binaries and Pat Bizzell's contention that, "using gender as a lens," we can re-vise models of autonomous authority.

Other interesting bits: reference to John Trimbur on disensus (324) and Bakhtin on centrifugal (gravitational, centering) and centripetal (agitational, radiant) forces and "internally persuasive discourse" as "the constellation of voices we appropriate as we learn how to differentiate ourselves as individuals in a particular social setting (326).

As I read Mortensen and Kirsch's article, I had Milgram's Obedience to Authority on my mind, too.  See, I read through the bulk of his study on subjects, teachers, shock distribution, the agentic state and so on back in March or thereabouts, but I left off at chapter twelve, "Strain and Disobedience."  Picked it back up the other day, and in c.12, Milgram says,

Theoretically, strain is likely to arise whenever an entity that can function autonomously is brought into a hierarchy, because the design requirements of an autonomous unit are quite different from those of a component specifically and uniquely designed for systemic functioning.  Men can function on their own or, through the assumption of roles, merge into larger systems.  But the very fact of dual capacities requires a design compromise.  We are not perfectly tailored for complete autonomy, nor for total submission.
     Of course, any sophisticated entity designed to function both autonomously and within hierarchical systems will have mechanisms for the resolution of strain, for unless such resolving mechanisms exist the system is bound to break down posthaste. (153)

The characterization of human systems as designed and autonomous reverberates with a kind of gross, mechanistic industrialism.  And Milgram's work on strain resolution reads like a self-help checklist.  But it's useful, I think, to consider the blend of authority with strain, to wonder about what authority does and how authority does it, and to reflect on what it means for design compromise to figure into this.  Is it more than obedience?  We have an entire pharmaceutical industry getting filthy rich on "mechanisms for the resolution of strain."  It's also interesting to think about this in the context of the hot potato of suspended accountability related to the WMD reports.  An authoritative intelligence community absorbs the nebulous charge of failure (spread around air-thin), the CIA director takes a bounce, the community's reputation undergoes strain followed by a new call for diligence and obedience, and everything is fixed.  When authority belongs to a community (particularly an inexact, classified community), the "design compromise" involves a rhetorical shift of dispersion which basically amounts to a vanishing act.  [Please forgive this dizzy-making; I'm reluctantly posting it to EWM, but these are mostly rough notes to myself.]

"How are we to account for the theoretical erasure of the authority that constitutes the writer--the authors--we face every day in our composition classrooms?" (321).

"So alive or dead, functional or not, the concept of authority is very much with us.  Or perhaps we should speak of concepts of authority, concepts that we might array from the most contingent to the most determined" (321).

"Among these limits is a tendency to objectify authority, to cast it as something fixed and autonomous that writers or writing can possess.  We propose, instead, a dialogic model of authority, one which infuses authority with ethics" (322).

"Models of autonomous authority presuppose that discourse communities function largely as egalitarian forums" (322).

"For Bakhtin, communities always contain forces contending oppositely for stasis and change (270-72). On the one hand, community members maintain a predictable state of affairs through acts of accommodation.  That is, for the sake of mutual benefit, people accept the conventions which constitute authorized ways of doing things in the community--like interpreting discourse" (325).

"We entertain this discussion of care and authority not because we see it as a simple or even necessary approach to interrogating authority, but because it provides a heuristic for thinking through alternative ways of reconceptualizing authority.  Yet unlike authority, care can never be fully autonomous, autonomous care being essentially narcissism. Rather, care inheres in relations between people and, therefore, assumes community as its first domain" (330).

"Rather than understanding authority as stemming from a totalizing impulse, then, it becomes a phenomenon knowable only in context, as it continually constitutes (and is constituted by) particular communities" (331).

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

North by Southeast

Great news for land surveyors in the NY Times today.  Seriously, though, I have no idea what it all means or whether there are merits to the science (which is clearly speculative, inconclusive, foretelling of widespread catastrophes, etc.).  Because I've often thought of things like the Earth's gravitational polarity as stable, it's wild to consider re-polarization, the shift of magnetic North over time (see the multimedia link), and, in a crazy-shaken world, the effect of knuckle-ball Earth spin in the millennia ahead. So much for East meets West; East is West (granted...always has been).

Monday, July 12, 2004

Recognize the Non-Obvious

Passed an hour at the public library tonight after an ordered exodus for house-showing.  There, I picked up Wired Magazine, flipped through a few pages and learned about this:

NORA: Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness Software

Among other things, NORA "extends identity recognition with relationship awareness by detecting both obvious and non-obvious relationships."  It's the non-obvious part that intrigues me.  To the extent that it's obscure information, how is it discoverable?  It is pitched like the Sherlock Holmes of software apps bent on digging up the dirt on criminal associations and long-forgotten debauchery. From SRD's site:

NORA delivers unique Relationship Awareness capabilities.
The unique capabilities of NORA to discern obvious and non-obvious relationships in real time against streaming data provides a view through up to 30 degrees of separation that enables an organization to recognize the full value or threat of an identity.

NORA sends messages to subscribers when it finds something of particular interest. The gaming industry, for example, uses NORA as a real-time "trip-wire" to flag high-risk or previously charged cheaters and alert managers that an individual may pose a potential problem and should be watched more closely. The levels of protection gaming enterprises gain from this "trip-wire sensor" reduces the risk, in their case, of fraud.

Thirty degrees, eh?  Damn.  I'm sure I'm connected to some ex-cons by fewer than thirty separations.  NORA basically infiltrates the connections with a kind of surveillance, then reports non-obvious associations for use--I guess--in characterizing prospective employees, scammers, felons, crooks and plagiarists. But wait, there's more:

Internally, NORA can reveal employees who:
  • Share the same address with people you've arrested.
  • Are related to slip-and-fall victims.
  • You've already fired or arrested. [...]
With CRM, NORA uncovers:
  • Relationships between highly profitable and less profitable customers.
  • Nature of customer relationships, e.g., family or colleague.
  • The network value of your customers.

Amazing.  And it manages to do all of this (according to SRD's home page) "while protecting personal privacy."  How is that, exactly?   I noticed that "relationship awareness" is trademarked, and so I don't want to get into any trouble for bringing this to EWM.  It's just that I'm confusing myself by trying to resolve the gap between "awareness" and "non-obvious."  Maybe that's where the "value" element comes in.  The processing of "non-obvious" into "awareness" is worth something. So we ought to pilot a program in "non-obvious" studies--unaccredited for obscurity's sake, of course.

Friday, July 9, 2004

Network Captives

I admire Jeff R. and Will R., read their blogs like clockwork; their exchange(s) over the last 24 hours have been worth following, if you haven't been keeping up.  I'm here giving nods to the naming contentions as we slide between the print paradigm and electracy's futures.  In that slide, some folks pack heavy, others pack light.  I suppose there's a way of taking up the rift that contends, as Jeff often reminds me, the new media/digital turn doesn't need the lingo of literacy (or even the name).  As necessary and tricky as it is to re-vocabularize rhetorical agilities in a digital age, I wonder what--if anything substantial--is at stake.  It is, of course, about more than the terminology; it's about what we do and what what we do does.  Jeff's assessment of the high stakes are fair, clear:

In composition, I don't think we are anywhere near tackling this issue because it will undermine and reconfigure many of the truths we have accepted and hold so dearly. If we are to recognize that literacy no longer exists, what will become of composition studies which bases its identity on the ways writing empowers individuals to be productive members of society (see Brandt, Rose)? What will happen to topic sentences and Writing Centers, professional writing, or the first year textbook? Serious damage.

I can imagine this angle--in retrospect--shedding light on the grand transformation from orality to literacy.  Switch in and out a few indications of oral traditions giving way to Guttenberg's giant, and, perhaps from some perspectives, you have "serious damage" or at least wreckage, abandoned traditions, even widespread human cognitive re-patterning.  Forgive me for jabbing in the dark here (since I'm not well studied on Ong, for one), but one must preclude the other.  True?  Why must electracy unravel literacy as literacy unraveled orality?  Is it because electracy is meanwhile enfolding a textualism of all, braiding realities and programs and tunes..."I don't know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she'll...."  Maybe I haven't read closely enough; maybe effacement is inherent in these revolutions.

[Long hesitation...reading list has grown by twenty or so titles (Ulmer, Graff)...having Friday decorum...where's that coming from?]

I set out to make notes on Will's mention of collaboration.  My first thought is, Yes!, we are on collaborative ground with weblogs and wikis.  Open texts, and so on, just as Jeff sets them up as places where "writers and readers tap into, alter, appropriate, confiscate, download, share, etc."  But then I keep thinking these few thoughts about what I haven't seen blogs do:  1. Blog entries are rarely revised.  2.  Blog entries are rarely written collaboratively, perhaps because most blogware doesn't configure easily for partnering or group authorship.

The tapping and commenting and fisking--linked, interested, etc.--seem more prevalent than the sort of sharing and appropriating, which is to suggest that blogging as spontaneous media doesn't prefer to wait.  Entries are often buried in a matter of days, comments with them, and the temporality machine rolls, calendars overturn.  I get the feeling that blogs play the moment, invite the rush; whereas collaborative efforts can be slow and laborious, blogs thrive on freshness, vigor, never expiring. 

This is a jumble of (unfair, perhaps) assumptions.  I've been thinking lately about the expenses of collaboration, the problem of over-collaboration, of turning always to meetings about meetings, of everyone (including the ambivalent and disenchanted) having a say and of feeling like that just takes toooo loooong for some matters.  In part, I'm feeling jaded by the call for collaboration because I'm seeing it done in a way that turns to wheel-spinning, indecisiveness, and gross, endless shifts of leadership and agency to the (idle, vacationing, phone-message ignoring) network.

Thursday, July 8, 2004


We're moving to NY in about one month.  Summer is scooting by incredibly fast: goodbye get-togethers, constant (hauntingly constant) house-cleaning and perfecting (as in the inhumanity of sweeping the floor for sixty days or leaving behind nary an item of clutter), out the door on a moment's notice for showings, pet adoption woes.  I've even been helping the neighbor lady's mother find a cleaning job so she can get financed to buy this place.  

If I ever sell a house again, I'll do things differently.  1. List it FSBO.  2. Register the property on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).  3.  Tack on a flat rate selling bonus for a closed transaction by a specific date.  4.  Crank out a few full color fliers and a web site. 5. Price it low.  6.  Make sure the exterior is flashy.  Nobody makes it to the gorgeous interior if the outside is, as ours has been called, "drab."  I've never had a good time in sales jobs or the sales side of jobs I've held, and so I won't carry on about the profession of real estate brokering.  But I have opinions now--hard-learned.

Where will we live when we pull the last plug in KC and relocate to 13244?  Here or there.  A cozy apartment is on hold, but we're still holding out hope for a different, roomier option. Might even take a plane ride one more time to firm up choice digs. Optimizing proximity to campus, Ph.'s school of choice, and affordable rents into one: labyrinthine (that said, huge props to the CCR folks for unbelievable support in the process).

Why else is July a jumble?  Replacing myself at work keeps hitting snags.  Protracted interviews, lunch follow-ups, interrogations of work samples all resulted in a declination. Got a new stack of resumes today; set another interview for the morning.  On top of that, I'm pounding through some of the more difficult challenges I've ever faced with the online courses, their maintenance, redevelopment, systemic supports, core outcomes statements, and big stakes (well, okay, relatively small stakes, depending on how you fight fights) wrangling over enrollment caps in all English courses set against per-student salary structures for contingent faculty.  Grrr.  It's messier than I want to blog.  All blogging is messy? No...I mean Mess-ess-y. Unrecognizable.

All of this stuff--as well as I think I'm handling it--has snuck into my neck and lower back, forming knots, funking up my sleeping habits and infiltrating my system despite any hearty attempts to meditate it away, release it to ease.  These stressors accumulate into a kind of sub-affect, subliminal intensity of circumstances, and inescapable duress.  So the strain isn't a mood-breaker or a pout-maker, but it has rattled the ordinary patterns I knew just six weeks ago.  This is as near as I'll get  to putting my cause for bumbled blogging (and lots of other things) to words. And to beat the forces back, I've been studying many of the insightful web sites about stress, where I can find soothing advice such as, "Wear comfortable and loose clothing when possible. Take off your shoes when you can."  untying...untying...loosening. Shoes are off.  (Will they know if I didn't follow the instruction to "print out this document and read it offline"?)

Monday, July 5, 2004


Be patient, dear frog.This happy lud-ditty (MP3) has been playing a loop in my head for the last three days.  I have no explanation.  (And no, I haven't even been gaming...just woke up Saturday...hopped out of bed.)

Fortunately, I was able to find it and several other game jingles at the Digital Press Sound Byte ArchivesThis tune (MP3) still makes me nervous, and I was never any good at Tron.

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Bursting in Air

We're having a fruit bowl and grilled meat with friends later.  Smoke bombs, carbon snakes, etc.  Maybe a trip to Parkville for the big show, although a perceptive neighbor stopped us when we walked the neighborhood last night and reminded us on the Fourth, it should be called "No Parkville."  Traffic's a pain; fireworks are bombastic.


Happy Fourth!

Witte, 1984, "Topical Structure and Revision"

 Witte, Stephen. "Topical Structure and Revision: An Exploratory Study." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 132-155.

Big Idea
Stephen Witte's 1983 article reports on the quantifiable patterns of topical structure in a sample of written revisions of a common text.  Through comparative readings of revised texts and a common seminal text (from which the revisers set out), Witte's study surmises that the reviser's treatment of sentence topics correlates to the writer/reviser's understanding of the text's discourse topic.  The relationship between a discourse topic and sentence topic figures significantly into Witte's work; he adopts a vocabulary of specialized terms such as "topicalization," "theme/rheme," "macroproposition," and "hypertheme" in his elaboration of methods.  According to Witte, sentence topics may or may not house discourse topics, but the writer/reviser's prior knowledge and readerly understanding of the seminal text's discourse topic guides the choices applied throughout revision.  Witte acknowledges his methods are suited to informational texts, collaboratively revised. Notably, he delivers some eighteen-plus name references in the first three or four pages of the article (a cluster of comp/rhet folks as well as several {unfamiliar-to-me} structural linguists from the Prague School).

Wondering About
With all due respect, big chunks of this essay were a muddle; lesser chunks were interesting in a structuralism-amuck, 1983-snapshot kind of way.  Witte's theoretical lead-in to the more empirical study sparked a few interesting issues.  Without explicitly discussing sentence topics in terms of links and relationships, Witte is centrally concerned with syntactic cues, their systematic connections, and the role of the writer/reviser in reshaping those cues toward a more coherent, unified discourse topic. We could bend this analysis to rhythm or pulse--the discourse topic's dependence on the coordination of smaller units.   As provocative as this is, the structuralist drawback impends: the study builds from a kind of de-natured, de-cultured "writer's hand(s)" (not unlike de Saussure's featureless talking heads).  The situation is absent: topoi sans kairos.  

The portions of the essay that scale the revisions from high-score to low-score based on the sentence topic patterns (matches, deviations, etc.) were hard to read.  It's filled with statistical references, and it's never easy to connect the high/low assessments to specific texts (only a few of which are sampled).  Witte notes that one of the setbacks in his study is the problem of "no average text."  In fact, the whole piece is responsibly self-conscious; he incorporates lots of reminders that this is "an exploratory study," and it's simply a frame for writing researchers to consider.  But how should we use this? What other applications might Witte's work hold?  I don't have a lot of ideas about this, but as I read, I started to think that much of this analysis could be applied electronically (especially the clause-length stuff).  In other words, when I want to see revision (separated from the document), I simply use Word to compare texts.  The changes are highlighted, easy to view.  I've never considered the quality of a revision in terms of altered topic patterns; instead, I simply have a glance at the depth of revision, the way the writer responded to specific in-text suggestions or questions, and any oversights, omissions, or clear decisions not to make changes.  And while I'm not in favor of computers as stand-alone readers, I continue to wonder how technologies can assist our reading by helping us see patterns in texts (not to kick out sloppily composed standardized exams).  Witte's approach, I think, could be rendered into a software application--an application that might be useful if we use it to see texts differently rather than measuring those texts as successes or failures. 

Witte's approach to measuring sophistication of revisions based on topic patterns doesn't acknowledge rhetorical strategies, deliberate re-arrangement, topical abstraction or exemplification.  All of these forces ought to figure into revision--even in classifiably informative texts, and studies of topic structure alone might not reveal such developments.  It also sets up knowledge of audience and revision in fairly narrow terms.  Revision isn't always (ever!) a sealed-off, exclusive, after-writing stage; knowledge of audience, however carefully ascertained, is imperfect, incomplete.  Similarly, while the sentence topics can be identified and tagged, discourse topics spill, morph, shift--endlessly.  By this, I mean the sentence enjoys punctuated boundaries; a discourse topic flows and is not frozen in time. 

"Although making inferences about composing processes from written products is somewhat risky, the method I have outlined and applied to controlled revisions of college writers appears to be a promising one for studying the textual causes and effects of revision.  It is a method which may allow researchers and teachers alike to study the decision-making processes writers use during revision" (153).

"Whether the findings hold for other kinds of texts collected under different circumstances and evaluated by different kinds of raters remains an open question" (153). 

"In this regard, topical structure analysis--unlike the analytic methods designed to examine the effects of the revision--enables the researcher to explore the relationship between the textual causes of revision, the text features to which the writer as reader responds, and the effects those changes have on the revised text" (153).

"Thus in revising the original text, the high-score writers chose to reduce the number of sentence topics and to develop more fully those retained, whereas the writers of the low-score texts chose to increase the number of sentence topics and to develop each of them less fully" (153). 

~muddle~ "Differences between the two sets of revisions can also be attributed to differences in the mean number of t-units per sentence topic.  The low-score revisions averaged 1.89 t-units per sentence topic, while the high-score revisions averaged 2.59, about 27% more than the low-score ones" (150). ~muddle~

"The two groups' differing constructions of the gist of the original governed their choices of sentence topics.  These different sentence topics, in turn, led to different decisions about content which could be deleted from the original" (149).

"But on what basis did the two groups decide which elements of the original text to delete? I suspect that they based such decisions on their constructions of a discourse topic or a gist for the original text, because those constructions seem to differ in important ways" (147).

"When what is said (by the principal verbs in the text) about the discourse topic is combined with the discourse topic, the product is the 'macroproposition,' 'gist,' or 'point' of the text" (140).

"As I have explained it, topical structure analysis would seem to be a useful tool for studying the textual cues which may prompt revision and for studying the effects of revision on text structure, primarily because it accounts for and illuminates the interaction of reading and writing during the revision process. Topical structure analysis should enable researchers to chart more efficiently the actual decisions writers make as they revise texts" (140).

"Such a view of the relationship of subtopics (i.e., sentence topics) to the discourse topic surmounts the problem of using the orthographic boundaries of sentences and paragraphs as the principal semantic or meaning markers in extended discourse. (Sentence boundaries can vary independently of meaning when writers choose to produce compound or compound-complex sentences, and I can find no evidence that writers segment texts into paragraphs in consistent ways.)" (137).

Thursday, July 1, 2004

In Three Notes


1. Back to the box office for the anti-Fahrenheit 9/11: America's Heart & Soul.  I hear it's a "must see" documentary about the glee and grandeur that is so vital to the Fourth of July.  So as not to battle the huge crowds packing into theaters for this film, we'll probably wait for it on DVD.  I'm only guessing, but I'll bet there's a scene where a cast of Iraqi sympathizers pry a screaming Michael Moore from the jaws of Goofy.  That'd be entertaining.  Nothing sends June doldrums packing like trumped up patriotism, Disneyfied.  Get the low down skinny on A H&S here and here.

2. Marie at Blue Ridge Blog shutter-snapped a vibrant moth (Hyalophora cecropia).  Her photos are always worth a look, especially for folks like me who might never make it to Boone, N.C. (or who, when visiting, wouldn't make time for the moths and country-scape).  Now, if I can just figure out how to talk Marie into letting me have that guy's photo for my for sidebar.  Here's the post and repost. It's gotta be the most splendid moth I've seen, earth wide. (Okay, I confess, I haven't really traveled the world peeping out moths, nor am I anything of a moth expert.  I'm a Stein-quoting sham...but I would like to immortalize H. Cecropia here at EWM.)

12...11...10 more days before I pack my office on my last day at the U. Turning in my keys on the 16th. Been there seven years, but we're loading up a truck and heading East in a few weeks, winding up to the last, chilliest loop in the rust belt.  We're all itchy with housing anxiety, since the (gorgeous, affordable, conveniently located, perfectly kept) house in KC hasn't sold yet.  I wonder if NASA's SLEUTH urban sprawl predictor can tell me when our house will sell. Stress aside, if it's the only thing I know, this: sometimes you have to roll with it.  We've got a rental on reserve in Syracuse, and, well, graduate school is bound to financial duress.  And I can always say I didn't see America's Heart & Soul because I didn't have the cash to spare (and because there's no way Disney's feel-good counter-documentary will comment on poor and disenfranchised folks anywhere near as cogently as Moore's work does).