Monday, April 30, 2007

Hearing, Jack-o


Sunday, April 29, 2007

English Studies' Anchorage, Flotilla

Bruce McComiskey begins his introduction to English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s) with a striking anecdote about the annual Raft debate among scholars from various disciplines at Alabama-Birmingham. The Raft debates start with a sinking-boat scenario. The main ship is in crisis, and all of the passengers have hurried into lifeboats, saving just one spot for a final survivor. The quandary, however, is that three passengers remain on the sinking ship, and all of them are professors at UAB who must vie with the others for the final seat on the life raft by making the most persuasive arguments for their discipline. The arguments--a braid of humor, deliberate provocation, and refutation, frame the event, which unfolds in front of colleagues and students. Audience applause determines the winner. The scenario, in effect, contributes a sense of urgency to an otherwise playful (if viciously candid) cross-disciplinary interchange. A professor of public health defeated McComiskey (who was representing English Studies) in 1999, but the outcome was inevitably the result of disciplinary incoherence, a problem the book sets out, following the early pages, to resolve: "What exactly is English studies?" (2).

The bulk of the introduction is divided into three sections: English Studies in Historical Context, The Problem of Specialization, and The New English Studies. For my own purposes, I'm attending primarily to "The Problem of Specialization," as I intend in one chunk of the dissertation to address specialization and its forms of relief (if they're not bona fide remedies). The rest of the collection is organized according to fields and subfields more or less belonging to the super-category of English Studies: Linguistics and Discourse Analysis, Rhetoric and Composition, Creative Writing, Literature and Literary Analysis, Critical Theory and Cultural Studies, and English Education.

I find the sinking-ship scenario striking because there's a certain shock in considering how my own defense of English Studies above any other discipline would take shape. I'm not alarmed at the thought of defending or explaining the work I do, but it would be especially difficult to do so while at the same time disparaging the work of another field. I mean that I know little enough about surrounding disciplines (a problem of specialization) that the spontaneous assertions I could make about the work of most others in the academy would be based at best on myths, stereotypes, and rumors. Perhaps in direct proportion to specialization, all disciplines suffer from obfuscation and misunderstanding. Meanwhile, the ship bobbed in the on-rushing waters....

I have another reason for taking note of the sinking-boat scenario, a reason I will say a few things about tomorrow (or later in the week).

Friday, April 27, 2007

Map, Map, Territory

What if Borges' (or, more properly, Alfred Korzybski's) map/territory contrast is just an overplayed maxim, a dwindling truism due for reversal? (Fine, so I'm not the first and only to consider the question.)

The aggregator turned up a report about laws in the Philippines and Malaysia that ban what is being called "participatory GIS", the ad hoc mash-up efforts combining cartography technologies with material models in an effort to define boundaries for lands held by indigenous groups. The ban on such processes is, in itself, fascinating (a way to keep the partitioning of the land specialized, in the hands of experts). But I'm also struck by the layers to this story, a coordination of compositional and rhetorical elements--mental models of spaces, the image-assisted translation of mental models into scaled relief maps made of various materials, the use of these constructs for legal claim-making, the implied omnipotence of Google Earth.

From the report, the moment of reconciliation between satellite imagery and the experiences and memories of the person and tribe (map as totemic?):

The modeling technique often starts by showing village elders satellite images, which they use to record their mental maps of tribal territories, hunting grounds, and sacred sites.

The material manifestation--something like a folk geodiorama or raised relief map--blends the latest digital technologies with everyday craft supplies:

[A]ctivist groups...have been helping indigenous communities mix computers and handheld navigation devices with paints, yarn, and cardboard to make simple but accurate three-dimensional terrain models.

Simple but accurate? Accurate enough to warrant a ban, anyway.

Mobility Rivalry

For the record, Is.'s crawling in earnest comes during the same week that Ph.'s learner's permit shows up in the mail from the New York Department of Motor Vehicles.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Meets, Matches, Trophies

No apologies from me for attributing the lack of blogging over the past couple of days to Ph. His sports schedule has gone wild--a track match yesterday, an indoor soccer meet this evening. Wait, what? What's this? Two soccer matches tonight? Yes, in fact, without any advance notice, Ph.'s indoor soccer team played matches at 7:00 p.m. and then at 8:00 p.m. tonight. The 8:00 p.m. game was worth sticking around for, even if it was unplanned: a 5-1 win in the championship of their indoor season. And despite the rigor musculus afflicting him from yesterday's track meet, gym class today, track practice this afternoon, and a semifinal game to warm up for the championship game, Ph. managed to net a goal and an assist. Whether or not he can bend his knees or touch his toes is another matter altogether. Of course, I won't get into the number of times he claims to have practiced the long jump before actually competing in the same event at yesterday's meet. Let's just say far far too many. Tomorrow it's an invitational track meet where it'll be the long jump, the 110 high hurdles, and one of the relays. And throughout all of the car rides from here to there and back again, he has my own H.S. track narratives as Icy Hot for sore muscles: the personal best 12' 8" I recorded (springs in those shoes?) as a sophomore is certain to make him feel better.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Dough Is Now Ready

Lately, D., Ph., and I have been experimenting toward a better homemade pizza. The toppings have been relatively easy. We have been simulating a couple of favorites from Minsky's in Kansas City--the chicken cordon bleu and the buffalo style chicken.

Cordon Bleu and Buffalo Chicken Pizzas

The toppings for each are as follows:

Cordon bleu: alfredo sauce, fresh basil, one chicken breast (cubed), ham (slivered, sliced into squares), green olives. Top with ~8 ounces of mozzarella or provolone.
Buffalo style chicken: cayenne hot sauce (I've been using Frank's), julienne carrots, one chicken breast (cubed), a few lines of ranch or blue cheese dressing. Top with ~8 ounces of mozzarella.

We've also tossed together more conventional pizzas: regular (cheese); pepperoni; or ham, mushroom, and pineapple, the one we had last night (along with a chicken cordon bleu). Yes, in fact, it has become a veritable pizzeria around here. Ah, I almost forgot to mention the reuben pizza (a.k.a. Big Reu): thousand island, kraut, corned beef, and a swiss/mozzarella blend. Very much like a reuben sandwich. It would've been better with a rye crust, no doubt.

All along the key has been the dough, the crust. I've tried store-bought mixes, pre-made (frozen) balls of dough from here and there, Pillsbury, and so on. In recent weeks we've experimented with homemade crust, however, and today I worked from a recipe that turned out good enough that I think we'll stick with this one for a while. I mixed it in the food processor before kneading it by hand; the combination was a little bit sticky, so it took more flour to get it right. I followed everything in the recipe except that I split the four cups of flour into two cups of whole wheat and two cups of all-purpose because we wanted whole wheat crust. I also added a tablespoon of honey, but the flavor, in the end, was barely noticeable. After rolling out the dough, I forked holes into the surface and pre-baked the crust for seven minutes at 400F before adding the toppings. With the toppings added, I baked them for twenty minutes at 400F, reversing their rack positions from top to bottom and bottom to top after ten minutes. Perfect. Best pizza I've ever had a hand in making.

Sharky and Plastic

Following a conversation with our neighbor this morning about how unfortunate it was that our current house was listed for sale, I made a mental note to record this one in the Strategic Self-Improvement Log (SSIL, pronounced siz-uhl): No. 19. In otherwise pleasant Sunday morning conversations with casual acquaintances, cut down on the sweeping references to real estate agents as "sharky" and "plastic." It makes no difference whatsoever whether the other person takes a jab at realtors before you do.

Seriously, though, my bitterness is subsiding. I've had the better part of three weeks to decompress after learning of the imminent ouster from our happy digs, and ten days out of those three weeks have been focused on the impending move--a late June transfer of goods that should, landlord willing, settle us comfortably into the final residence we'll ever know in central New York.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Baby Oubliette

Since she reached eight months (on 4/1), Is. has grown keenly aware that most of the sitting posts (bouncy chair, door-frame jumper, pack-n-play, and Baby Einstein contraption) are the functional equivalent of an oubliette. I don't mean to imply that we are torturing our daughter by putting her in these what fun! places, although if you asked her (could she talk), she would almost certainly add a few indignant qualifiers. It's just that she is cognizant of the shift in attention--often away from her--when she is put in one of these devices for more or less independent play. The shift in attention might be understood as a momentary forgetting, but that's not the only correspondence: like the medieval chamber, the Einstein can only be escaped from the top.

Baby Oubliette

Directly quoting the exchange between Hoggle and Sarah in Labyrinth, D. pointed out Is.'s association of the Baby Einstein with an oubliette:

Hoggle: This is an oubliette, labyrinth's full of 'em.
Sarah: Oh, I didn't know that.
Hoggle: Oh don't act so smart. You don't even know what an oubliette is.
Sarah: Do you?
Hoggle: Yes. It's a place you put people... to forget about 'em!

Why not call it a developmental stage? Had Piaget a Baby Einstein for his rugrats, he'd have accounted, no doubt, for the moment in month nine when they were--while nearing autonomous mobility--being gently cordoned off from the rising hazards on all sides. It's very much about containment for safety's sake (or so we tell ourselves). While this entry is focally concerned with my latest early childhood research, I can't resist keying on the forgetting (oublier) in its etymology as a way to extend the oubliette analogy to blogging--to the in-through-the-trap-door for safe-keeping and forgetting that describes, in part, what happens here. Einstein aids this association: ""I never commit to memory anything that can easily be looked up in a [blog]."

Friday, April 20, 2007


A year and a day ago, I took a photo of SU's quad from its SE corner.

SU Quad

Today, I took another one from the same spot.


Much has changed_ [! ? . , ...]
(Provide your own punctuation.)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Clouds, Graphs, Maps

A couple of days ago Mike posted notes on my CCCC talk from late last month, and I was reminded that I'm at least ten days past due on the video I said I would produce following the conference.

I recorded the talk to an mp3 yesterday afternoon and went to campus last night where I planned to use iMovie to sync the audio with jpegs of the slides. Because the slideshow includes text, I needed to get the resolution right, but, well, it started to get late. I started to get impatient. I was able to output a reasonably readable mp4 file, but for whatever reason, I couldn't get Google Video or Daily Motion to encode it. Finally Jumpcut accepted the file, so it's available below the fold (even if much of it suffers from jaggies). The original mp4 is available for download here.

Also, here are the links to most of the stuff shown in the slideshow (all except the graphs).

CCC Online Archive
Sliding Tagclouds by Issue
Sliding Tagclouds by Volume
Author-location Map
Author-Grad Program Map

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Re Lease

Signed a lease today. This means two things (sung to any tune you like). One: we have a place to live for next year. Two: all of the people who were mobilized to variations of sympathy ("poor dears"), rage ("why I oughta") and generosity ("we'll keep an eye/ear open for rents") can accept our heartfelt thanks and go back to whatever they were doing.

Pictured: A lovely property similar to one of the houses we looked at in recent weeks.

It's quite a relief to have this settled. In the chaos of the last two and a half weeks we looked at as many as thirteen or fourteen places. The one we selected is a first-time rental in a non-student neighborhood close to a P&C grocery store, the bus line (to campus and to Ph.'s H.S., which will remain the same), Y.'s veterinarian, and Barry Park (which has a duck pond, outdoor hoops courts, and fields where Ph.'s soccer team practices). The house has a 1/2 acre fenced yard, bordered on the West by SU's practice fields for soccer and lacrosse. Yes, unobstructed sunsets, even if we have only three cloud-free days in central New York each year. And the inside is cozy. It's in amazing shape compared to most rental properties in the University neighborhoods.

The only other thing to be said about it right now is that the house number combines the first three numbers from the Hugo's winning lottery ticket on Lost. Those numbers on the hatch? The values Locke kept punching into the computer? Yeah, those. We're moving into a house with a few of those numbers boldly marking the front porch. 15-8-4. D. and Ph. think I'm making something out of nothing, but if I've learned anything from two-plus seasons of acute attention to Lost it's that the numbers are nothing to kid about.

Continuing the subject of trepidation inducers, Ph. passed the test for his NY driver's permit this morning. The person administering the tests at the DMV gave Ph. a wink of encouragement and said "Maybe your dad will let you drive home." Trouble is, the Element is the only set of wheels we have right now, and Ph. isn't especially practiced yet (enthusiastic though he is about getting behind the controls). Might be my ultimate and irreparable shortcoming as a parent, but I've got some serious meditation (therapy?) to do before I'll be ready to give driving lessons. So, even with the housing fiasco of '07 happily resolved, if I continue to seem anxious, remember that Ph.'s carefree self will soon be motoring around these parts with me as his nerve-wracked passenger.

Goodbye, Cruel World

Sad news at the death of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. yesterday. I mention it mostly to mark the loss, to place a small × on the calendar. Curses! More thoughtful tributes than this one will, no doubt, turn up in the days ahead. I haven't read anything by Vonnegut in a few years, but discovering his writing signaled a moment for me, a steel/flint encounter as shocking as spark-producing when I (accidentally?) picked Breakfast of Champions from the shelf of Park U.'s underground library during my sophomore year of college. Vonnegut's was the first stuff I stumbled upon where I knew I had to read everything else he'd written, and then did, every kicky, smutty, banned word of it I could find--a treasure trove of zaniness, humor, and wit.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Did Bitzer Draw?

Did Lloyd Bitzer ever draw his situational model? Or are all of the visually rendered triangles drawn from his textual account?

If he didn't draw it (I can't find evidence that he did), are responses to the model's viability fueled instead by its proliferation as an abstraction pulled (like a rabbit from a hat) out of Bitzer's textual account? How did the textual model evolve into a disciplinary fixture, a visual commonplace? How was it translated from text to geometric figure? Should we enjoy free license to convert anything with three points into a triangle?

Rhetorical Situation

I've been reading a little bit (not nearly as much as I would like) about models lately. There's a small slot in the diss-as-proposed where I will account for Flower and Hayes' process model and the related fracas (simplistic! rigid! universalizing! yeah, so?). I'm wondering whether it was a moment when the baby (visual modeling) was tossed with the bath water (the critical rinse of this one as simplistic, rigid, and universalizing). The Flower-Hayes construct isn't the only visual model floating around R&C. But what are the others? Bitzer's triangle. Burke's pentad. Berthoff's ladder. Others? And so I'm thinking about whether these were first rendered visually or textually, whether they were composed first as discursive or presentational. The production and circulation of the visual derivatives is curious, isn't it?, if they manifest primarily as a readerly acts--as interpretive moves or as gestures of uptake.

In "Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models," Michael Pemberton gives us a continuum. Roughly:

Data - - - Models - - - Theories - - - Paradigms

The diss, as I'm thinking of it today, is concerned in an early chapter with a portion of the tracks, a segment of the continuum (the Rochester to Albany of Amtrak's Empire route, we could call it):

Data - - - Models - - - Theories - - - Paradigms

Important to consider here is the reversal. The back track. Not only the path from data to paradigms, from local to global (help me, Bruno), but the return (chutes to Berthoff's ladder). The re-volution (where local at all points crumbles the grand empire, wherever you jump in). The trip from theories to models (home!), as seems to be happening for Bitzer, Burke, and Berthoff (a la Langer), mustn't be glossed. But there I go, too easily conflating visual models and textual models, too hastily treating them as twins rather than the cousins they happen to be--a whole family of models live at that depot ("Models") in the continuum. I'm trying to get acquainted with them, initially by searching for, among other things, clues to "Did Bitzer draw?".

Sunday, April 8, 2007


It chills me to spend Easter Sunday--any Sunday in April for that matter--bundled indoors away from the snow and cold. But that's what I've done today. To pass the time, I sat and read/wrote/graded projects (annotated bibs plus) and book reviews from 205ers. Not altogether unpleasant (waves of impressive stuff, in fact), but I probably should take more frequent breaks. Walk away. Breathe deeply. Remember that a semester relative to Time Eternal is comparable to one hundredth of the time it takes to flick a light switch. On/Off?

Anyway, that's enough. Busy week ahead. Find a place to live. Revise and circulate the diss prospectus (set a date for another goal-line defensive stand). Cap the "church league" regular season with a showdown against Northwestern. Draft some CCCC '08 proposalificence for collective tuning. Conference with 205ers. Settle home-again travel arrangements from C&W next month (trains out of Motown?). Post notes on Pemberton's "Modeling." Put in for fall teaching preference. And then on Tuesday....

Saturday, April 7, 2007

With E. Bunny

Is. with E.B.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Continuance

As you know from the previous entry, last week was a wash. A waste. A downer. Some things have changed since then.

First, I had a phone conversation with LaLo (lord of this land) and he conceded to a July 1 closing date (extra month) and threw in a modest "inconveniences felt" fee. Considering that we're under no legal obligation to accommodate the sharky realtors, those two gestures have brought me back from last week's fits to the world of the quasi-sane, quasi-cooperative.

We're home this evening from the tenth property we've seen in the past eight days. It won't do. It was like walking up on the set of This Old House. But it wasn't Bob Vila. More like Zed Vila and his two helper-friends, one of whom was smoking cigs and sipping beers as we made way through the thick curls of paint vapors awaiting us at each corner. Hundreds of corners there were! This joint had smaller rooms off of every main room. I kept having the feeling I would hit my head on the low archways or scrape it against a rusty nail while peering in on one of the seven or eight nooks. Worse still, when it is finished, it will rent for $1700/mo (four students, $425 apiece). Good luck, Zed.

Among the ten properties we've looked at three or four remain in the hunt. All of them require us to compromise something; Ph. will be in a new school, the space will be much less, the rents will be more, and so on. At the same time this means that we have checked out five or six properties that are no longer considered options. Five or six phone calls. Five or six walk-throughs. Five or six small talks with niceties like "this has possibilities" or "we really like the location" tossed in. One rejection was especially easy because the ad said "recently renovated" "grad students preferred" and "new appliances." When we arrived, however, two of the bedrooms were occupied, there was a gigantic water stain on the ceiling, the dried memory of a toilet plumbing crisis on the second floor some months earlier. Said LaLo, "I need to do something about that, but I'm not sure it will get done before I rent it out again." Nice. Then we saw the kitchen. The range was wrapped in sheets of aluminum foil which were covered over again by thick black carbons of weeks-old overboil and spillage. I had to ask: "The ad mentioned new appliances?" LaLo had answered this one before: "It's fairly new. Only five or six years old. It needs to be cleaned. But the grad students who live here are too busy with their studies to clean." Me: "Guess so."

We'll find a place. We will. We have to. It's just that I'm not so sure it'll be in the University neighborhoods. Might mean a new school for Ph. Might mean Yoki will be on the auctioning block. And it almost certainly means a few more headaches, a few more detours, and maybe even a few more visits to shabby, overpriced properties before we settle on the right one.