Monday, November 27, 2006

Sorries & Apologies & Waaah.

In case you haven't guessed by the date and my graduate student status, I've been (and will continue to be) taking a hiatus from blogging until after I've handed in all of my final projects (and handed back all of my students' final papers).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Voter ID Question

Last week, in response to my post, I received a comment that, while it didn't address my post directly, did raise a question that is increasingly common (one that, in fact, I read at least twice in letters to the editor this morning): "What reasoning precludes producing a photo ID as a measure to prevent election irregularities?" The simple measure suggested by many, would not be simple to enact for a number of reasons. I didn't address this in my post because, one, it was flamebait, and two, because rhetorical critcism does not suggest policy options, it reveals the complexities of discourse. This post is more formal, and while I won't suggest policy options, I will address the possible discursive arguments, pro and con.

I'll make two concessions:

1. Having a photo ID makes life convenient. You need one to drive, to purchase alcohol (unless you're under 30 in appearance), to cash a check, to fly, even (in some shops) to use a credit card.

2. Requiring photo ID would make it easier on voting clerks, and would eliminate a number of issues such as the one I addressed last week.

Now, on to why it will be difficult for such a measure to proceed. The first point I'll address leads into the second, and both respond, respectively, to the two concessions given above. First: although having a photo ID would make life convenient, it is not required by federal law. Nowhere in the Constitution or US Code does it state that all citizens must have a photo identification. Social Security numbers are required, but a social security card doesn't have a photo (and it would be impractical to require one: I've had the same card since I was seven. I don't look much now like I did then). Legislation has made it all but required: to live in modern America, it is infinitely easier to have a photo ID. As I stated above, you need one to drive, fly, bank, etc. However, all but required is not the same as required.

This leads to the second point: because the right to vote is constitutionally granted to all citizens (unless they commit a felony, and even then, it can usually be regained), it would all but require a constitutional amendment to make the photo ID a necessity. This may seem overblown; however, in today's litigious society, it isn't, really. The issues raised all along by minority voters against challenging tactics at polling places provide a case in point. Some (many) may not have a photo ID: I've worked in many low-rent establishments, and a number of the minority workers (most of whom were citizens) had no photo ID: they didn't use banks because they were paid in cash, they didn't drive because they'd never had the chance, some were homeless and their legal residence was a shelter.

All of these individuals were citizens and, by extension, had the right to vote, whether they had a photo ID or not. So why not simply pass a law? Two powerful complications jump to mind immediately. First, it would be extremely difficult given our concern with privacy and surveillance. Second, enacting such a law would be a process taking years - remember that old adage, that some of the most frightening words on earth are, "I'm from the federal government, and I'm here to help" - and would be inordinately expensive. Given the chance, the ACLU - and any number of young constitutional attorneys looking to make a name for themselves - would have a field day challenging any law short of an amendment in front of the Supreme Court.

It will be interesting to see how this issue unfolds.
Currently playing - Haydn, Symphony no. 81, Menuetto (3rd movement)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Today To-Do

No matter your political party, your schedule, your personal feelings: cast your vote today.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Finding Concealed Meaning in a Pile of Dung

I'm placing the religious rhetoric on pause for a moment to discuss an article [link] in the Washington Post today, entitled "MD Democrats say GOP Plans to Block Voters." From the article:
A recently distributed guide for Republican poll watchers in Maryland spells out how to aggressively challenge the credentials of voters and urges these volunteers to tell election judges they could face jail time if a challenge is ignored.
For obvious reasons, this has the Dems in a tizzy. They're worried about potentialities, rather than realities. Their focus, which remains on the potential for the handbook to prevent people from voting, is in the wrong place. One attorney for the state Democratic party gives us evidence of this, saying, "The tenor of the material is that they are asking folks, if not directing them, to challenge voters . . . It's really tantamount to a suppression effort."

A representative from Common Cause said that the technique is an "insidious voter intimidation tactic." They're right. It's slimy. It's also not the real issue. The trouble with bitching about the future is that nothing has happened yet. It's still in potentia. Prosecuting a political organization for informing its lackeys of filthy, evil tactics they can use won't work: ultimately, some damn activist judge will remind us of the whole Bill of Rights thing that protects speech, no matter how vile and insipid.

The real issue is with what the GOP representatives are saying to defend this little guide. From the article:
"I don't think that's borderline suppression," said state Republican Party Chairman John Kane. "It's making sure that people who have earned the right to vote are voting. We've had people die in wars to protect those rights."
For those of you who are slow on the uptake, I'll repeat the most important sentence: "It's making sure that people who have earned the right to vote are voting." Once more, even more condensed: "people who have earned the right to vote." Further: "earned the right to vote."

I have news for the Republican Party Chairman for Maryland: you don't earn the right to vote. It's a right that is assumed with citizenship. Let's quote that pesky Constitution:

Amendment 14 - Citizenship rights:
1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

Amendment 15 - The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State...

Again in Amendment 24 - The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State

And hey, how about number 26 - . The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State

So: everyone born or naturalized here is a citizen. Every citizen can vote in every election by which he is directly affected. Every citizen over eighteen can vote. This sounds like something that has been repeatedly ratified throughout our history: voting is an American birthright, conferred upon naturalized citizens, and as such is unearned. The only instance in which that right can be taken away is in case of a felony, in which case the rights of citizenship are removed; however, the instances of felony among the population as a whole are exceedingly rare (.3% of Americans have been convicted of a felony), and besides, removing them from the rolls is what your "purges" are all about. In either case, Americans do not earn the right to vote.

Rhetoric reveals, but it also conceals. What implications arise with this statement is taken apart? Possibilities include:
1 - That someone needs to license and/or certify that a voter has earned this right.
2 - That these someones are poll workers trained by the GOP "Guide-to-making-sure-the-youth/hippies/homosexuals/furrin-lookin' people/black people-don't-vote" (okay, that's an exaggeration)
3 - That our license/certification would be subject to approval by the government, now entirely in the hands of the GOP.
More interesting is that the statement is hidden behind some pseudo-patriotic jingoistic cliche: "We've had people die in wars to protect those rights." Yes. The placement of this sentence is an act of rhetorical misdirection: he follows an easily contestable (but almost true sounding) statement with a fact that, in this context, actually supports the opposite: men have died in wars to protect a right to vote that need not be earned. Neat trick, huh?

The Dems, instead of focusing on what the GOP guide to pollster pranks and fun might do in the future, need to foreground the discourse of the present while noting its effects (what is it supporting?).

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Ahhh. The joy of acceptance... Of being told (by someone other than one's own arrogance and ego) that you are RIGHT. That's right, kiddies. Yours truly was accepted for a peer-reviewed panel at CCCC. I'm one of 15%. That includes tenured profs.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Religion in the Public Sphere: Rhetoric & Reconciliation (I)

This election has brought the rhetoric of public religiosity to the fore, and with a vengeance. Sadly, socially if at least not legally, our candidates seem to be subjected to a religious litmus test by newspapers as well as voters. I'm fine with voters asking these questions in a public forum: you are bound by conscience to vote with your values, and although I feel that religion is only one of many sources of personal morality, if a voter puts a question to a candidate - as happened recently in a forum at Catholic University of America (but more on that later) - concerning the ways in which he reconciles his policy beliefs with his faith, that is not only his perogative, but also an interesting way to understand the thought processes of the candidate.

This post will come in several parts. Part I, this present post, is an introduction to the issues I plan to address. Public religious rhetoric is a broad topic, and in our society, it is a tangled, often contradictory web. Part II will discuss the interesting implications raised by the aforementioned public meeting at CUA. Part III will analyze the deeper rhetorical devices seen in public discussions of morality, as well as the complicated role of religion in electoral politics.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Revealing Political Rhetoric

"Politics is the struggle for existence" - Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, "Adagia"

Although political rhetoric has always been charged, emotional, even brutally competitive, the language used by news outlets reveals a good deal about the way that they deal with politics. The term long-used to describe our current style of coverage - "horse-race" politics - isn't quite as accurate as it once was. I think that a more pithy name would be "gridiron politics." Take a look at some of the recent language used in a Washington Post article discussing the antics of pedophile cum congressman Mark Foley (visual pun definitely intended):

"Strategists:" these people used to be called "consultants" or "advisors."
The "strategy" of these strategists "relies on waiting for the story to die down . . . while also accusing Democrats of exploiting a personal lapse for political gain."

Bluntly stated, the pot will call the kettle black. Let's not forget that these are the same people who "exploited a personal lapse" by trying to remove a man from office for lying about a blowjob received from a consenting adult. That, by the way, is a "personal lapse." Pedophilia is not a "personal lapse." It's a goddamn felony. Play defense - maybe wait for the punt, then RAM IT DOWN THEIR THROATS! Knute Rockne would be proud.

"The impact of the Foley scandal will be felt" - Hit. Hit hard.
"local factors could amplify the scandal's destructive power" - Men, Football is war. This is getting ridiculous.

The Washington Post is not alone in its rhetorical strategy; however, as a respected publication, it does set standards for others to follow. The worst aspect of it all is this: the coverage has become so competition-oriented, with reporters struggling to frame political stories in athletic or military metaphors, and reporters in other departments beginning to adopt similar binary structures of conflict, that I'm not sure Americans could understand actual, issue-oriented news coverage anymore.
currently on miPod - Carl Maria von Weber, Symphony no 2.2

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Voter Confidence Quandary

It's time I inserted my own voice into the controversy concerning electronic voting. As an increasing number of states consider moving to electronic voting, industry-leading Diebold continues to try to quell the swelling number of studies and reports of security flaws in its equipment. Meanwhile, a number of websites, including engadget,,, and have posted pages detailing methods by which the machines may be hacked. The Center for Information Technology at Princeton University, of all places, has published a full research paper detailing the massive and serious security flaws in the hardware and software (which Diebold still maintains are extremely secure) of the voting machines that will be used in 357 counties - representing ten percent of all registered voters - across the US in the coming November election.

My opinion? Electronic voting is a foolish outgrowth of what should be considered - following the dot-com crash - outdated and unfounded cyberlibertarian beliefs, more specifically:
  1. Technology will efficiently and accurately solve all of our troubles.
  2. The Free Market is better than governmental regulation in all cases.
To take these in reverse order: the free market cannot be relied upon to adequately secure individual human rights. The free market has a shitty record in this department because corporations - although they legally act as individuals - care only for the bottom line and pleasing shareholders. If you search Google, you'll find countless images and descriptions of child labor abuses during the Victorian era - before child labor laws: missing fingers (those tiny little bastards could remove objects from gears pretty easily), 16 hour workdays (until the Ten Hours act was passed, making it legal for 13-18 year olds to work only ten hour days), kids playing in the street in raw sewage, and more! Take a look at victorianweb's site about the subject. Hey, take a look at the good old USA, where the meat-packing industry was so corrupt that laws had to be passed against the canning and distribution of rotting meat and other disgusting practices. The free market may be great, but when deregulated, it's a bastard (and the leading cause of communism).

Technology cannot solve all of our problems. Even "secure" technology is rife with flawed security issues. No computer software is too tough to be safe from an enterprising hacker: Google "security flaws" and you'll get over 14,400,000 hits. Anything that can be programmed can be hacked. Hardware designed by human engineers can be modified by geeks nationwide.

Voting is the fundamental right of the citizen in our nation. The right to vote is too important to risk with any computerized system. Paper ballots, marked with ink (instead of punched cards) are the only means by which voters can be certain that a computer will not "miscalculate" or "accidentally delete" their votes - they can be sure that their vote is recorded accurately, at least until someone "accidentally throws away" their vote. The fact that we have to have this discussion makes me ill.
currently on miPod - Symphony no. 3, 1st movement - Antonin Dvorak

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Admirable and Rare

As often as I mention the chickenhawks running the war in Iraq, I am quite pleased to celebrate a politician who will put his money where his mouth is. The New York Times reports that Jonathan L. Paton, an incumbent Arizona Republican seeking his second two-year term in the U.S. House, will be at Ft. Benning, GA, preparing for a five-to-six month tour of duty in Iraq and - perhaps - Afghanistan [article link]. Paton, a longtime supporter of the war, is also a Lieutenant Intelligence officer in the Army Reserve.

Paton's decision to deploy is a sign of character that one does not often see in Congress, one that this Democrat is more than ready to applaud. Although five other congressmen are also reservists, congressmen are automatically placed on Standby Reserve, making it less likely that they will be called up. Paton chose to go, despite the loss of four days of campaigning in a heated race with four others seeking his seat. While on duty, Paton is allowed to hold office and remain on the ballot - as he should be - but not to campaign.

So I say to Lt. Paton: you are a fine example of the leadership that is sorely lacking in the United States Congress, and I hope that you return safely, with the legislative seat that you have earned not with words, but through your own actions. To the rest of congress, I say: more of you should have the courage of your convictions to act upon them, rather than just talk about them. The saddest fact about Lt. Paton's action is that in our current political climate, his detractors will call his actions grandstanding, a ploy to ensure re-election. This revolting statement ignores the fact that, as an Intelligence Officer, Lt. Paton is placing himself directly in harm's way, doing himself what he asks others to do.

currently playing on miPod: Oleander, "Champion"

Thursday, August 31, 2006

More Feces from the "Fart" of it All

Ohio. Lovely place. Home of the Cuyahoga River, which has caught fire no less than five times (June 1949, March 1951, November 1952, December 1951, and the "big one" of 1969) [see a picture of the 1969 fire on the site]. Home, more recently, to the second great American electoral fraud scandal of the 21st century (which is how old, now? Oh, SIX YEARS). Finally, someone's called them on it. Widely covered everywhere but in the national media (with it's huge "liberal bias" and all - see my last post for more on this), it's another case of widespread disenfranchisement of voters. A team of independent investigators has turned up massive irregularities, including denial of provisional ballots - which is illegal in the United States following the passage of the Voting Rights Act - as well as "loss" of legitimately cast ballots, election returns coming in hours prior to the closing of the polls, the closing of polls with voters waiting in hours-long lines in minority districts, and more.

Responsible for this? Well, the secretary of state runs the elections. I'm sure he has no guilt in the matter, despite resisting independent investigations into the matter for over a year, until he finally caved in to a subpoena. He was going to destroy the paper ballots - per state law, they are allowed to be destroyed after two years - until he caved again when threatened with a lawsuit. Now, according to the New York Times, he's temporarily placing the destruction on hold, but that doesn't do a hell of a lot of good, at least as long as he's got the authority to lift that hold whenever he pleases. Even in Florida, they've placed the ballots from the notorious 2000 election scandal into the state archive.

At this point, I'm sure that I'll be accused of partisan raving. That's all well and good - the corporatization of media organizations made sure that a profit-seeking press would have to resort to making all news adversarial and sensational. When day after day, we read about our world through a conflict-driven lens rather than an informational one, which buffers conflict through actual in-depth discussion, I expect nothing less.

The fact remains, however, that this should not be a partisan concern. The right to cast a vote is a fundamental cornerstone of American citizenship. This is not about Democrats, Republicans, Ralph Nader, George W. Bush, or John F. Kerry. This is not about abstract interpretation of legal fine points extrapolated from overly broad amendments to our Constitution. This is about our fucking right to vote. When any group engages in tactics designed to disenfranchise the citizenry, when "widespread irregularities" and "tampering" indicate that anyone has interfered with the basic right of a citizen to cast a vote and have it count, when evidence PROVES that something is not right, every member of our society should be concerned.

One small example of the tampering? In one precinct of Miami County, the official tally recorded 550 votes cast. The official signature books and ballots indicate that 450 people voted in that precinct. This means that 122% of the votes in that precinct were counted. More disturbing? In several other counties, blank ballots were found - ballots with votes recorded that indicated no precinct of origin - which once upon a time would indicate ballot box stuffing - Tammany Hall type shit.
currently on miPod - String Quartet no. 9, Antonin Dvorak

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

blogs vs. the media vs. the citizens

First, I'll state the following, which should be obvious to everyone but - apparently - is not: there is no communication, no statement, without bias. From birth, we are conditioned to see and think by our unique individual experiences. I'll give you a basic lesson in semiotics, ripped straight from Saussure's Course in General Linguistics: every utterance is composed of a chain of signs. Each of these signs is composed of a signifier (the word) and a signified (that which the word is supposed to connote). Each signifier initially holds a different meaning for the hearer - if I say the word "tree" to you, you may think of a pine, while I think of an oak - thus, chains of signifiers tend to lessen (but never erase) the lack of clarity. This is a thumbnail description, but adequate for my purposes - if you want to understand more, visit the wikipedia entry (this one's accurate enough, I've checked it out).

Anyone engaging in a communicative act must thus be able to adequately arrange his chain of signifiers to convey a meaning close enough to the thoughts coursing through his mind. Thoughts that are intended for communication must be arranged and ordered - translated - through the conscious mind. This is why we have such cliches as, "Words cannot express," "I don't have the words, " "Words alone are inadequate to ..." and so on. All utterances thus translated will have some taint of bias, of individual perception, because, after all, it is the individual perception that serves as the origin of meaning. Any attempt at objective language merely conceals bias by suppressing the appearance of interpretation: even the results of scientific experiments must be interpreted by the human experimentors.

Now to get down to the fucking point. The constant barrage of accusations of "bias" hurled around in our society is beginning to make me ill; furthermore, it's sickening our nation. Everyone is biased. Those who feel drawn to careers as reporters and analysts are not immune, they may, in fact, be even more guilty than the rest of us. Hate and invective on both sides of the political spectrum are exacerbated by and reciprocally fuel the "bias wars." Editors-in-chief of our media do not help things by assuming that accusations of bias, coming from both sides, mean that their coverage is, after all, unbiased. Think of the motto of the New York Times, coined by Adolph Ochs in the way-back-when: "All the news that's fit to print." Who exactly chooses what news is fit to print? Human beings, with human perceptions, and thus, human biases.

I know of someone who once claimed that all reporters should be round up and shot as traitors. They were letting their biases get in the way of their responsibility, he claimed, as the so-called "fourth estate" of government. Where did we get this "fourth estate" shit? By assuming that the "freedom of the press" clause in the First Amendment meant that the press, as an unbiased governmental watchdog, served as an unofficial "fourth branch" of the government. The trouble is, back when the First Amendment was penned, all newspapers were openly controlled by political parties. The American Star of Philadelphia was owned and controlled by the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson. The Federal Gazette was controlled by (surprise, surprise) the Federalists. The "freedom of the press" was basically a safety clause ensuring that political parties could freely organize without suppression by an opposition party in power. The expectation that the press should be unbiased didn't surface until the early twentieth century, and then only in the U. S.

Fast-forward to the rise of the blogosphere. One theory concerning the rise of the political blog in the U. S. is directly related to the "unbiased-biased media." Several observers in the U. K. write that the reason for the explosive growth in popularity of political blogs in the U. S. as opposed to the U.K. is the nature of media bias in the two countries: in the U.K., the press is openly biased, much like the early American press; thus, they don't need a pack of bloggers to point out every factual error or indication of bias, as we do.

I understand the rationale behind the political blogosphere: if a media entity claims to be unbiased, "fair and balanced," etc., then evidence to the contrary should be made public so that those responsible are held accountable. I will agree that we have a first amendment; however, in a capitalist society, we also have a concept called "truth in advertising," as well as slander and libel laws. The problem I have with the self-appointed media watchdogs is that they take it too far: in their reactions to "biased reporting," they automatically assume three points that they take as matters of fact:
  1. Any and all evidence of bias is deliberately aimed as an attack upon the "victim" of the bias.
  2. Any and all evidence of bias is also evidence that one political party or another is controlling the publishing medium in which the story appeared.
  3. It is possible to be unbiased.
Their accusations of bias frequently cause the media to swing violently in reaction, which fuels further accusations from one side or another. This, in turn, fuels the perception of the citizenry that the media is evil and out to get them. As citizens turn from the press - which, even if biased, will give them some idea about the goings-on of the world - democratic deliberation, the supposed heart of our system of government, falters and fails. Give a current-events quiz to a young adult and see if he or she gets better than four out of ten. Then, realize that in fifteen years, their kids will be even further disconnected from the world around them - of all influences that color our perceptions, parental influence is the greatest of all.

My advice? Take it as a matter of course: not everyone will agree with your point of view. Some events will paint your candidate/elected official of choice in a bad light. Some of their actions are shitty, and need to be shared. Some of the things that the opposition does may actually benefit the nation in the long run. Above all? Realize that although everyone is "biased," not everyone is deliberately misleading you. Grow the fuck up.
currently on miPod - Piano Concerto no. 23 II - "Adagio" - Mozart

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Book Review: Richard Lanham's Economics of Attention

I wouldn't normally plug any books on this blog: I think it's somewhat stupid to advertise for someone for free. However, Richard Lanham's new book, The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance In the Age of Information (University of Chicago Press, 2006), addresses so many of the cultural quirks and rhetorical fallacies that I discuss here that I couldn't avoid it. I'll admit, I read and enjoyed his earlier work on rhetoric and the digital - his 1994 book The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts was one of the texts used in a seminar I took last year - but this book takes the ideas he posited in TEW (most of which proved to be correct) and examines them twelve years later.

Lanham's book is probably one of the finest pieces of rhetorical theory and application to appear in the past five years. In the Preface, he addresses the very reason I gave for writing when this blog appeared:
"Rhetoric" has not always been a synonym for humbug. For most of Western history, it has meant the body of doctrine that teaches people how to sepak and write and, thus, act effectively in public life. Usually defined as the "art of persuasion," it might as well have been called the "economics of attention." It tells us how to allocate our central scarce resource, to invite people to attend to what we would like them to attend to. Rhetoric has been the central repository of wisdom on how we make sense of and use information since the Greeks first invented it sometime in the last millenium before Christ.
The book discusses the "information economy" from a rhetorical perspective: we live in a society in which information is so abundant, and so key to economic success, that those whose work is most attractive to consumers are those who thrive, while others fall by the wayside. The key to understanding the "information economy" is understanding the rhetorical means - visual and linguistic - by which our attention is garnered by information providers; for, as Lanham would suggest, these means are rhetorical: they are conscious decisions related to persuasive means, with all facets save audience under the absolute control of the designer.

I won't spoil the entire book for you. I will say, however, that anyone interested in rhetoric, language, or digital media should at least read this book, if not purchase it. Mine's already full of pencil marks and marginalia.
Currently on miPod - Overture (Suite) no. 4 in D-Major, 1st mvmt., J. S. Bach

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Egregious Excuses

I have no idea how our government thinks we function. It must feel that, in most cases, we're so blindly stupid that we barely have enough brainpower to keep our hearts beating, but a recent article in the Washington Post really takes the cake. Defense attorneys - military officers all, appointed for said purpose by our government - for soldiers accused of raping and murdering a fourteen year old girl and killing her family afterward actually had the audacity to use the "War is Hell" defense [Story].

As one witness called by the defense testified, soldiers patrolling a hostile region in Iraq actually had to face a threat of death. These soldiers - all of whom must have joined after we went to Iraq (they're still low-rank enlisted men) - evidently signed up to go to war and never thought that they would have to endure cold food or the threat of death. So, one night while having some drinks and playing cards - how horrifying - they came up with a plan to rape the girl and murder her parents and five year old sister. I suppose the latter didn't share her dolls or blocks with the soldiers.

I will admit: I never went to war. My father forbade my joining the military after his own service (two tours, 1967-68) in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. My knowledge, as such, is solely historical or secondhand. However, now as then, the vast majority of soldiers in hostile areas did not participate in disgusting acts such as this. Soldiers enlist. Soldiers fight in wars. I'm told that soldiers die in wars at the hands of other soldiers, and as such, that the threat of death is something that soldiers should expect. I'm fairly sure that premeditated rape and murder do not fall under accepted operational guidelines for our well-trained military personnel. As a matter of fact, rape and murder of any sort - especially the rape and murder of civilians - are prohibited by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and that the excuse of "war is hard on soldiers" is not an acceptable defense: there are none.
currently on miPod - "Andante Spicatto" - A. Marcello

Chickenhawk Jackasses

Yesterday (8/9/2006), in newspapers across the nation, Americans were subjected to yet another announcement in which our government - or agents acting directly on behalf thereof - assumed that our collective intellect was somewhere close to the "mildly retarded" mark (see last posting). In a not-so-stunning announcement, the Bush Administration drafted a proposed amendment to existing war crimes laws that would eliminate threats of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating and degrading prisoners [Story - Washington Post].

Interestingly, rape, murder, and torture remain on the list, while cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment of wartime prisoners (in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States is signatory) would be just fine. What I want to know is just what these jackass chickenhawks - remember, everyone in charge up there found an excuse to avoid Vietnam, the President and Veep foremost among them - who are presently playing at war in the sandbox consider "torture." Included on the now-acceptable list:
  1. forced nudity
  2. doggie leashes
  3. simulated acts of homosexuality
  4. wearing women's underwear and doing the "peepee tuck"
So, to clarify: forcing naked men to wear women's underwear and dog leashes while piling them on top of one another in stem-to-knothole position is just fine, but outright killing of them is not; and let's face it, a good number of people would prefer to die rather than be forced to engage in this. Sounds like torture to me.

To those of you who are ready to tell me all about the "terrorists" who would "gladly" do this to all of us, remember this: after lying to us about weapons of mass destruction and getting us into an unwinnable war - nobody has ever been successful in waging a modern war on two fronts simultaneously: witness the breakdown in Afghanistan because our forces are stretched too thin - our good president decided that the war in Iraq was not about WMDs at all, instead, we're there to promote the spread of democracy and Western values (that last one was implied rather than stated outright, but is no less true). How are we to set a good example when we encourage such behavior? It is, after all, encouragement, albeit backhandedly so. We prosecute "the troops" - all of whom we actively support - but after the brouhaha, we pass a law to allow our political appointees to abuse our prisoners - for whom we are setting a "good example" of "democracy in action" - in the exact manner for which we prosecuted "the troops."
currently on miPod - "In the Fen Country" - Ralph Vaughan Williams

Monday, July 31, 2006

"Tragedy" vs. "Common Sense"

On Thursday, July 20, 2006, the President addressed the NAACP for the first time in his six-year tenure in office. The gathered dignitaries were - surprise, surprise - rather lukewarm in their reception of ol' Dubya, whose initial election alone left a bad taste in the mouths of many African Americans, and whose administration has done more to curtail the advances of the Civil Rights movement than any since Woodrow "I Won't Pass a Law Against Lynching" Wilson.

Surprisingly, the president was somewhat candid, admitting that he "understood" that "racism still exists in America," and that he "understands" that "many African-Americans distrust my political party." He failed to mention the neoconservative pandering to the interests of white southerners, who have a notoriously bad track record - spanning back to the 1600's - concerning the rights of those with African heritage. Hearkening back to the last Republican President with any claim on the hearts and minds of African Americans, he labeled his party "the party of Abraham Lincoln" which "let go of its historical ties with the African American community." How have Republicans sunk so far in the estimation of the African American community? Perhaps by attacking such political ideas as Affirmative Action and Civil Rights.

Before my few conservative readers jump in with a remark about "reverse racism", I'll remind them of a remark about what the "squish" Bush (George Herbert Walker, that is) had to say on September 23, 1991 about the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism: "Zionism . . . is the idea that led to the creation of a home for the Jewish people . . . to equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and indeed throughout history" (New York Times 24 Sept. 1991 pg. A6). We know what happened in WWII, and we know what happened afterwards in the creation of a Jewish state. What Mr. Bush (the elder, and in my estimate, far better President) objected to is the logical fallacy through which those two actions were being declared equivalent because of a clause of racial exclusivity - that by ignoring the historical and cultural context of the events, the victims are named victimizers.

Affirmative action is designed - much like the UN resolution creating the Israeli state - to in some way atone for the imbalance created by centuries-old discrimination. Six million Jews perished during the Holocaust. Conservative estimates place about 30 million Africans who were directly involved in American slavery, of which no less than half perished en route to the New World. That's fifteen million dead on the boat - with no mention of those who died at the hands of their masters from brutality or deprivation. Add to this an institutionalized and state-perpetuated inequality, and we still have much to atone for.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Lumbee Rising

Negative rumors, ignorant piety, insulting and degrading slurs, and political intrigue have a long history in Native American affairs in the United States. The first instance of germ warfare in the history of the world involved Puritan settlers "charitably" giving blankets to "the savages" to help them stay warm for the winter. Of course, the blankets had been used by smallpox patients - a disease far more deadly to the natives, whose immune systems had never encountered it - a fact that the settlers (who usually burned such blankets) neglected to tell them. A journal entry from the time recounts a prominent figure in (white) American history gleefully noting that a smallpox scourge had "conveniently" decimated the native village, leaving plenty of good, already tilled farmland and nice household goods for the settlers to appropriate (read - steal).

I know. This is all in the past. We've given the natives recognition as inheritors of the land. Of course, this is after we have already robbed them of their culture, language, and freedom to roam. Native Americans are still troubled by some of the highest rates of alcoholism, high-school dropouts, and preventable diseases in the nation. To alleviate their guilt, the government of the United States allows Native American nations to erect casinos and receive education and health benefits. At last, justice... as long as a tribe can gain recognition. You see, tribes still must be recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Congress to receive these rights (really, a pittance to this government, which historically gained much more by its actions than it pays out in penance).

After centuries of racism and oppression at the hands of the white man, you'd think that there might be some solidarity amongst the tribes; however, the ongoing fight of the Lumbee Indians to receive recognition provides ample proof that this is not so. You've probably never heard of the Lumbee. Not many people outside of North Carolina have. You've heard of the Cherokee, the Sioux, the Algonquin, the Apache, the Seminole, the Cree, the Delaware, the Navajo, and a few others; however, you have never heard of the Lumbee, whose tribal rolls, numbering over 50,000, make them the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River.

The Lumbee, located primarily in the sun-baked southeastern region of North Carolina - or "Downeast" as Tarheel natives call it - are concentrated in Robeson County along the Lumber River, so named by the first English settlers in the United States (who named it so because they misunderstood the name of the tribe). They were among the first - and least hostile - tribes encountered by the English - remember, most of the east coast was named "Virginia" at the time. Many believe that the Lumbee were the subject of the drawings in DeVry's 1580 book about the "Virginia" colony, most of which were done on the Outer Banks and just inland, in what is now southeastern NC.

The Lumbee were friendly and accommodating. Most worked in the white man's villages and towns, partially assimilating long before we white folks gained such a stellar reputation for human rights appreciation. Because of this, and also because those who settled southeastern NC weren't land-obsessed (nobody in his right mind would fight over baked clay, swamps, and mudpits that regularly reach temperatures of over 100 between mid-May and early October, with humidity so high that you feel as though you've stepped into an armpit), the Lumbee escaped much of the indignity and cruelty suffered by tribes in other areas.

They didn't have to fight until the late nineteenth century, when people discovered that hog-farming and peach orchards did extremely well in that area. Their fight was also much shorter (but no less brutal) than other tribes, because by 1880, there were far too many white men for them to withstand, and they couldn't retreat to the west, because they were surrounded on all sides. Because of these factors, by the time the Lumbee were purged, they had already lost many of their customs and most of their language, and history has left them behind for more colorful tales involving the plains tribes and the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

For the better part of a century, the Lumbee have struggled to receive recognition from the federal government. This recognition would - as I noted above - bring millions of dollars in benefits for housing, education, and health, as well as open the door to casinos and gaming facilities to help provide for the tribe (southeastern NC, remember, is poor, poor, poor). This time, it isn't the white man who stands in the way of Lumbee prosperity. It is the Cherokee nation, who has suffered enough at the hands of the whites that one might think they would embrace their native cousins instead of opposing their recognition. US Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who sits on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, notes that their situation isn't likely to change soon: "You have numerous tribes around the country, some with ties to the Eastern Band of the Cherokees, [opposing] this federal recognition." [story]

Why would the Cherokee block this? They claim that it is because the Lumbee have lost their heritage, because they don't have historical documentation proving their rights to the land - fairly convenient since the Lumbee, who were never targeted until they had lost much of their cultural heritage, didn't have to sign a treaty (which would have been broken anyway), as I noted in the brief history above - and that because of this, argues Chief Michell Hicks of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, recognition would damage the "integrity" of all indian tribes.

Bullshit. The "integrity" argument is a lie: Walt Wolfram, one of the most distinguished sociolinguistics scholars in the nation, notes that the Lumbee have distinct linguistic patterns and lexical anomalies that occur nowhere else in the nation - that would be a dialect all their own. They have also recovered many of their traditions, mostly due to scholarly work done at UNC Pembroke (a historically Indian college).

The Cherokee oppose this because Lumbee recognition might steal some Cherokee thunder: the Lumbee tribal rolls are the largest in the Eastern US, and federal funding for Indian Affairs is tight (I wonder why?), and the Lumbee, because of their size, would receive a $77 million slice of that pie. It might also cut in on their action. Right now, if the twenty-million residents of the metropolitan areas of Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, Wilmington, Richmond, or Knoxville want to gamble, they have to take a nice, long drive to the Cherokee casino, tucked away in the recesses of the Appalachian Mountains around Asheville, NC. The Lumbee are located along I-95, the most heavily traveled interstate in the nation, which would make them convenient for anyone travelling along the east coast.

Makes you wonder. Makes me sick.
currently on miPod - The Shins: "Caring is Creepy"

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Election Rhetoric

Thanks to Dr. Ken Zagacki for posing the original question from which this brief entry grew.
From a cultural point of view, the rhetoric of contemporary American presidents is isomorphic. Whether they are liberal, conservative, or middle-of-the-road, their discourse stills bears the same, essential cultural marks. You can't be president of the United States unless you accept - at least on the surface - certain cultural pre-conditions. These preconditions are not political; rather, they are cultural embeddings consistently found in American political rhetoric.

In the tradition of Roger Williams, John Winthrop, William Bradford, and Anne Hutchinson, George Bancroft's History of the United States (10 vols. 1834-1876) documented the American stage of universal history. He described it as an "epic of liberty," which exhorted "The citizens of the United States . . . [to] cherish . . the men who . . . scattered the seminal principles of republican freedom and national independence." America, in this mythical epic of history, was the culmination of historic forces seeking to develop Winthrop's "City upon a Hill" (1630), upon whom the "eyes of all people" lay.

American presidential rhetoric is isomorphic in its expression of such beliefs. American presidents, liberal, conservative, and moderate, all declaim the United States as a nation of "special" destiny, "special" achievements, a frontier for humanity, changer of the world. Such claims evoke cultural myths that are deeply embedded in American interpretations of history and world events. From the beginning, the American myth has involved a cultural conversation (itself uniquely democratic) that combines three aspects of its history: the frontier, equality, and a new beginning for mankind, all of which are combinatory and recursive, each contributing to the others. Consider the following from nomination speeches:

"We meet at a special moment in history, you and I. The Cold War is over. Soviet communism has collapsed and our values - freedom, democracy, individual rights, free enterprise, they have triumphed all around the world . . . now that we've changed the world, it's time to change America" - Bill Clinton - 16 July, 1992

"I believe in the energy and innovative spirit of America's workers, entrepreneurs, farmers, and ranchers . . . Nothing will hold us back. The story of America is the story of expanding liberty [...] Our Nation's founding commitment is still our deepest commitment: in our world, and here at home, we will extend the frontiers of freedom." - G. W. Bush - 9 Sept., 2004

"I see America as the leader - a unique nation with a special role in the world . . . and this has been called the American Century, because in it we were the dominant force for good in the world. We saved Europe, cured polio, we went to the moon, and lit the world with our culture. And now we are on the verge of a new century . . . I say it will be another American Century" - G. H. W. Bush - 18 Aug., 1988

Despite the ideological differences among these candidates, all of them alluded to similar aspects of the American myth: freedom, special history, special destiny, and the power of the unique American frontier spirit. "Our" values are remarkably similar when expressed in the nomination speech. "Our" history is remarkably "special," and "our" character as a people has given us this history as well as the unique ability to leave a mark on the future. No matter the forum, the American presidential person must appeal to certain cultural universals - or myths - with which his constituency will identify. There are multiple reasons: it is an appeal to unity in a markedly divisive political environment: "we" are all Americans, and therefore "we" must all play a role in the national future, which "I," as one of us, will help lead. "We" can continue shaping the world, but to do so, "we" must be united in our unique destiny.
Currently on miPod: "Brain of J" - Pearl Jam (Yield)

Monday, July 17, 2006

All Apologies...

Sorry to all readers. I've been off for about a month for a number of reasons: baby, computer issues, vacation, and a birthday. Next time I'll post a brief warning beforehand, but I am back ... whatever that may mean for all of you.

Visual Rhetoric & Digital Politics III: Democrats

Visuals of Epic Proportions:
Democratic Heroes and Republican Monsters

The politics of emotion must appear
To be an intellectual structure. The cause
Creates a logic not to be distinguished
From lunacy
-- Esthétique du Mal

Politics is the struggle for existence
- Adagia

These two quotes from Wallace Stevens illustrate our political landscape quite well: the lunacy, the emotion disguised as logic, single-issue voters casting ballots for causes rather than candidates. Because political omnipresence is fast becoming the reality, political parties and action committees engaged in the "struggle for existence" must have a constant media space, a role fulfilled quite well by the World Wide Web.

One of the most overlooked aspects of the World Wide Web is the role played by non-photographic visual elements: banners, buttons, colors, and relational aspects of each. Biases established by print and television have made these blend into the background, just as a network logo and a small ink drawing do in traditional media environments. The power of seemingly minor visuals is subtle; however, the role they play is crucial: these messages pass into the brain unfiltered by the critical eye that looks for text and photographs. Because of this, these visual elements play an increasingly important role in creating the drama portrayed on the contemporary political website. Political entities with a strong web presence, such as the Democratic National Committee, use these visual elements to provide a setting that supports their particular message. Using principles of dramatistic criticism outlined by Roderick Hart (pp. 259-82), we can discover their rhetorical function.

The dramatic picture portrayed by the Democratic Party closely resembles the classical epic. The protagonist is defined by personal characteristics, painting a portrait of an individual embodiment of cultural identity myths. The antagonist is defined by verbals, that is, by actions serving as adjectives: his actions label his presence as monstrous, as the antithesis of the cultural myth. Perception of the cultural myth as "good" or "benevolent" is embodied in the very human actor of the protagonist; likewise, the embodiment of negative social forces must be antithetical to the human, and thus monstrous. The antagonist must be monstrous and powerful, but beatable by the human protagonist. The seemingly minor visual elements that appear throughout the Democratic Party's homepage establish a representative anecdote that identifies the characteristics of the cultural myth embodied by the Democrats. By serving an agonistic role, the visuals transform the Republican Party into the epic antagonist, a monstrous scapegoat embodying corrupted wealth, which is the root of America's contemporary political troubles at home - economic corruption - and abroad - the war in Iraq. Through this lens, the Party sets the stage for its transcendent message: if you vote Democrat, we will put an end to this corruption that is destroying our nation.

The foundation of the site lies in its background elements, the first elements to load: the banner and background colors. These graphical elements used to set the dramatic scene and character identity. The color blue, traditionally associated with the Democratic Party in American politics, is everywhere: blue comprises the background as well as the banner for eighty percent of the page. Photographic elements have a white background in the central information box. The rest of the page is red: an American political website would be remiss if it did not include red, white, and blue, but the red sidebar is cluttered with calls to action, and as a minor player in the page, red - traditionally associated with the Republican party - is clearly overwhelmed by the omnipresent blue. The hierarchical message is plain: the Democrats, even if not presently in power, are somehow stronger and better than the Republicans are.

The presence of American iconography throughout the page, as well as the use of American colors, establishes another portion of the Democratic Party identity: they are Americans, seeking to establish identification with other Americans. The banner is a deep, midnight blue, with a powerful, Romanesque font declaring the identity of the party in steely blue and gray capital letters: "The DEMOCRATIC PARTY." The turbulent blue, enhanced by a rippling flag, sets the stage for a coming storm. With the steely typeface, the banner's message is complete: the Democratic Party is establishing its identity as standing defiant against a coming storm, with the type establishing a classical republican (Roman) identity and setting the battle stage as epic in proportion.

The identity established by the Democratic Party thus sets the scene for its rhetorical message. Continuing the narrative requires developing the preceding hierarchical aspects and fitting them to the scene. The dissociative inverse of the implicit egalitarian values portrayed in the "Neighbor to Neighbor" iconography begins to establish the antagonistic relationship: because we support the everyday American, we are opposed to a social hierarchy that establishes privilege based on wealth. Instead of wearing suits and sitting in a boardroom or at a hundred-dollar-per-plate banquet table, the volunteers in the "Neighbor to Neighbor" picture are wearing blue jeans and sitting in a kind of institutional aluminum chair with which most Americans are instantly familiar: these are chairs we see in church basements, school auditoriums, and community centers nationwide.

Locative circumstances are among the most powerful indicators of importance in website design: the placement of navigation is relegated to the outside areas of the page, while the most important content is found in the center. The Democratic Party's most important associative visual element is a small, map-shaped icon of Iraq found in the exact center of the page. The visual rhetoric of the Iraq icon holds a number of associative and agonistic messages in its color, presentation, and features. First, the social implications of the color red, which in this case hold dual meanings of blood - for war - and politics - the Republican Party, are difficult to ignore. Whereas the map associated with the Democratic Party's "Neighbor to Neighbor" button had no borders and no traditional political parties, which implied unity and equality, the map of Iraq is unmistakably similar to an electoral representation of a "Red" or Republican state in campaign and election maps nationwide, even including a small white star indicative of the capital city. Iraq may not be a part of the United States, as the first scan of this image may imply; however, upon deeper examination, the concept of imperialism, of Republican colonization and politicization of Iraq, begins to coalesce.

With this single, nondescript icon, the Democratic Party is thus able to associate the Republican Party with a bloody, imperialistic war waged for political and financial gain. Imperialism for direct political and financial gain is antithetical to the egalitarian image embodied by the Democratic Party; add war to imperialism, and the life or death struggle necessary for epic drama coalesces. By associating the Republican Party with imperialism and war - and by demonizing the two - the Democratic Party dissociates itself from the corruption of the Republicans and implying a binary message: "The Republicans will send you to die for their gain," it says, "but we will not, because we will protect the everyday American."

Anticipating and counteracting the inevitable retort, that those who would flee this conflict leave the nation vulnerable to attack, the Democrats place the rhetoric of warfare and defensive strength throughout the site. The "Fighting Dems" button links the visitor to a page displaying Democratic veterans who are running for office, men who have defended the country abroad, who now fight for its future at home. More important than the "Fighting Dems" button, however, is another simple graphic that advises visitors to "Rebuild America," below which is a simple bi-color button reading "Democracy" in white on blue atop "Bonds" in white on red, and framed by stars. The explicit association of blue with "Democracy" becomes an agonistic visual praise by virtue of the implicit cultural association of blue with the Democratic Party. The lower half of the image, "Bonds," in white and framed by white stars, on a field of red, continues to cultivate the associational cluster relating the Republican Party to war. First, the colors, white on red, mimic the Iraqi map icon in the center of the page, and serve as a visual Homeric epithet: a repeated phrase used to attach descriptive characteristics within epic poems. Second, it establishes historical congruity with World War II, during which posters and advertisements, which have now achieved the status of cultural myth, advised Americans to "Buy War Bonds."

War bonds, implicitly associated with finances, provide the final step in the recursive series of images linking Republican corruption with the ruin of the United States: "bonds" are easily connected to Wall Street, high finance, and the "bond" market, thus bringing onto the stage the cultural stereotype associating the Republican Party with wealth and privilege, providing an additional agonistic associative tool by which the Democrats can demonize and scapegoat the Republican Party. This association is strengthened by a similar visual epithet found just beneath the "Democracy Bonds" button, a small navigational banner inviting visitors to a page exploring, "Republican Culture of CORRUPTION."

The identity of the heroic Democrats, who faithfully support the everyday American, is established by the setting: a strong, patriotic, populist hero, preparing for battle. The identity of the Republican Grendel is a classical epic antagonist: evil social forces embodied in a single entity without humanizing characteristics. The epic antagonist was defined by verbals, or actions masquerading as adjectives: he or they "did" x, y, or z before any physical description was given. In this case, the Republican verbals are portrayed through a recursive cluster of images that play active roles in defining what Republicans "do," and by implication, what Democrats "do not." Republicans sympathize with the wealthy. Republicans, having been so corrupted by money, in turn corrupt the nation that they lead, sending it to bleed and die for no other purpose than political and imperialistic gain, both of which add to their already great wealth and power, and by extension, their corruption as well.

Visual images on the World Wide Web provide setting and context, which in our media-savvy culture, textual and photographic content cannot: the messages of text and photograph pass through a filter of objectivity and judgment that background imagery bypasses. Their rhetorical value stems from their unobtrusive presence: we see them, but focus on the overt rhetorical messages in the text. The visuals on the Democratic Party website dramatize a transcendent "politics of emotion" in the guise of an "intellectual structure": if we keep Republicans in power, their corruption will only grow. Buy Democracy Bonds, which support the Democratic Party, vote for Democratic candidates, and the corruption that has threatened our existence will plague us no more.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Visual Rhetoric & Digital Politics Part II - The RNC

Before continuing with this entry, I suggest you read the introductory entry for the Visual Rhetoric & Digital Politics series, which will provide a good grounding for what I hope to discuss. I should note: this is a nonpartisan sequence of essays, meant to instruct readers who wish to learn more about the challenges facing deliberative discourse and cultural literacy in the digital era.

Although both major American political party websites display remarkably similar rhetorical features, the Republican National Party website [Link] is much more similar to traditional media genres in content and form; therefore, it presents an ideal starting point to examine the visual rhetoric of politics in the digital world. Distinctly “American” colors of red, white, and blue provide the background as well as the base for most icons and animations. As expected, the elephant logo of the party plays a prominent role in iconography, and an abstract American flag composes the banner at the head of the page. The generic expectations of visitors to American political sites, based in print and broadcast media, lead us to look past these icons as window dressing in a visually rich environment; however, if we examine their rhetorical value, we can see that they play a far greater role than that of “window dressing.”

Color saturation and modulation are completely the result of choices made by graphic and website designers, much more so than in a non-digital context. There are literally millions of color options available to designers, who merely have to enter a six-character alphanumeric code when creating a graphic or choosing a background (see for more). Given the distinct cultural associations of color and political party, the saturation and modulation of the colors red (Republican) and blue (Democrat) play a strong role in analyzing the visual rhetoric of the website.

Upon first looking at the background of the page, we notice that blue is everywhere, which initially appears anomalous: one would expect far more red than blue on the Republican National Committee website. Looking closer, however, we notice that the background blue – even at its darkest, is quite pale. It fades downward into the white background of the rest of the body. This is neither coincidence nor a pleasing aesthetic device. Color saturation is an indicator of power and importance, and this blue is pale and insignificant, fading into complete absence. Red, by contrast, is dominant and fully saturated, and at no point in the background does it fade into pink or white. The top of the abstract flag in the banner is a full, rich red; even the field of stars, always blue on the flag, is red in this area.

Even more important than the dominance of red in position – always on top – and in saturation is modulation, or shade. The red on the site is quite similar to blood: dark, rich arterial blood. When we examine the cultural connotations of red and blue, and the interplay of saturation, position, and modulation, the message created through color begins to clarify. We can extrapolate the weak – and weakening – saturation of blue into two subtle messages about the Democratic Party, long associated with that color. First, it plays into the notion of Democrats as weak – both on security issues as well as in character. Second, it evokes a message of political power: the blue fades away (runs) while the red remains strong. Republicans – like the red on their website – are dominating the political arena, pushing their weakening blue opponents into obscurity. Prominence, the display of red over blue, even in the starry field of the flag, only intensifies these messages. The modulation of red is calculated to imply a number of messages and symbolic undertones: red-blooded Americans, the blood of our patriotic soldiers overseas, and the lifeblood of the nation, the “heartland.” Although background is frequently overlooked, even here political rhetoric is actively evoking messages of strength, victory, and patriotism.

Logos, often considered relatively transparent, are recognizable rhetorical constructs: they are chosen to represent the perceived strengths of an entity, and they are refined throughout their existence to correspond with ideals and characteristics that said entity chooses to offer the public as it’s iconic “face.” The elephantine logo of the Republican Party is no different: elephants are associated with wisdom and power. The American flag colors are associated with patriotism – the blue of the elephant logo is the only strong blue on the entire page, but this logo predates the website by decades – and the transparent rhetorical presentation is of a powerful, wise, and patriotic party. A deeper rhetorical meaning hinges upon our understanding of the subvisual rhetorical message of the site: elephants are tough. Elephants are hard to kill, and they can trample those in their path. This association is much clearer in the “elephant breaks” used in the right sidebar of the page: two trumpeting elephants facing opposite directions with long, sharp points protruding away.

According to Kress and van Leeuwen, triangles, especially when angled like those in the break, “are a symbol of generative power . . . and represent action, conflict, and tension” (53). These triangles present the action of protection and a tension between the elephant and “outsiders,” which leads to the potential for conflict. The elephants in this pose are not the passive elephant of the Republican National Party logo. They are active: trumpeting and powerful creatures shouting a warning to all who approach. Their defensive posture offers two if-then ideational references: first, they protect their territory, a reference to the perceived Republican ideal of a strong military presence; second, they protect themselves, defending against local attackers from opposition parties.

The other icons present are, in the objective sense, representational maps of the United States, of which two are most interesting for identifying the subjective, rhetorical aspect of the iconography. The first, which appears in the “Donate” animation, portrays the importance of local action in national politics. This map is the only graphic in which red saturation is less than complete, although upon close examination, the blue is still far more muted than the red. The implication of the map, stated within the animation, is that all could be lost if the visitor fails to donate to the Republican National Committee. The red is shown as stronger than the blue by far; however, it is somewhat faded, which gives it subjective urgency. The message of this map is clearly rhetorical: the blue (Democratic Party) is weakening, but the complete supremacy of red (Republican Party) is still questionable; therefore, visitors are asked to support the red by donating via the handy red “Donate” button which appears shortly after the map.

The second map renders similar messages in a different context. This map, at the bottom of the page, encourages visitors to get involved in party activities. Both red and blue are saturated in this instance; however, the saturation of the blue is far less important in this image because there is so little of it. What is important is the scope of the colors: blue (the Democrats) is strong only in certain “liberal” strongholds such as the northeast, the upper Midwest border, a strip of the California coastline, and a portion of the largely immigrant and Native American southwest. Hawaii is an insignificant blue dot appearing beside a gigantic red Alaska. The map is not rhetorical only in the sense of the messages it implies, but also in what it chooses to obscure in its representation.

This map, as an icon, is diagrammatic of two possessive attributes that the Republican Party wants the populace to witness: the breadth and location of Republican strongholds in the United States, and the relationship of those strongholds to Democratic ones. Although objectively, people understand that the red coloring of the heartland is not representative of each individual citizen, the nature of voting districts makes it an apt representation of political power. The message is that the majority of America is Republican. Americans are fond of charts, of maps, and this map shows that most Americans, especially in the mythical “heartland,” believe in Republican ideals. The locative circumstances displayed in the map are also rhetorical in the location of blue, or Democratic, strongholds. The Republican map creates a strong division (via full blue saturation) between the heartland and the elite urban northeast, the odd folks in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the almost-Canadians of the upper Midwest, and the immigrants and Native Americans of the southwest. The map narrates a difference: “their interests,” those of the Democratic areas, are not in keeping with the rest of America, or “our interests,” the interests of red-blooded Americans.

The rhetoric of the map is based entirely upon locative circumstance and implied narration. All maps are, in a way, rhetorical representations of subjective narration; the implied narrative of this map rhetorically obscures the fact of population. Although relatively small in area, the blue portions of this map contain almost half of the population of the United States. In choosing to represent Republican vs. Democrat bases in this manner, the Republican Party is able to obscure the statistics concerning popular support of their policies. Their map shows an America united in Republican belief, with only a few dissenting areas, instead of the deeply divided electorate that exists in fact.

The breadth of rhetorical messages in this brief selection from the website demonstrates the need for rhetorical critics to look beyond traditional arenas when analyzing digital rhetorical artifacts. Theories grounded in traditional linguistic and photographic grammar are insufficient when addressing digital artifacts. The rhetorical power of a well made website, as demonstrated above, is not found solely in text, sound, and a carefully selected photograph. If our purpose as rhetorical critics is to defeat Twain’s maxim (see introductory entry), then we must closely examine all of the convergent rhetorical messages in a website, including - perhaps especially - the seemingly insignificant elements of background visuals, color, and iconography. Each has the potential to contribute to the rhetorical message, sometimes developing a narrative that the unwitting visitor fails to recognize, even after the message is absorbed.

currently on miPod - "Adagio in E-Minor for Violin" - W. A. Mozart

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Visual Rhetoric & Digital Politics

To understand politics in the digital age, we must be able to apprehend political rhetoric in textual, auditory, and visual elements, both individually and convergent. The textual and auditory elements of political rhetoric are widely studied; however, critics tend to dismiss much of the visual as textually dependent. When they do encourage the examination of visual elements within websites, they tend to examine them in the context of print-based media, looking at photographic selection and placement.

One of the more popular textbooks for courses concerned with the theory and practice of rhetorical criticism - Roderick P. Hart and Suzanne Daughton's third edition (2005) of Modern Rhetorical Criticism (Allyn & Bacon Press) - advises students engaged in a rhetorical critique of a website to ask themselves: "To what extent does the online artifact resemble offline communication? Are there clear generic parallels? Does this artifact borrow from more than one offline genre?" (p. 208). Questions such as these dismiss one of the most powerful tools of the digital realm: with software and hardware continually gaining capacity and capability, the visual enters the arena of message creation and transmission, providing not just photographic context, but also subtle taxonomy and iconography. In order to be fully aware, culturally literate citizens, able to engage in the more prudent and deliberative public discourse that is traditionally associated with democracy, we need to be able to critically engage all elements within a digital artifact.

The Internet is rapidly becoming a major medium in the political arena, an environment wherein people retrieve second-hand information with little examination of the visual rhetoric involved therewith. We can no longer address only the textual or auditory elements of political websites; as scholars and citizens, we must understand the messages conveyed by colors, icons, and animations within the website as well. This is the newest area of political information dissemination, and fully a third of the information conveyed is subtle and visual.

Inspired by the success of Internet-based political campaigning, national political parties have increased their web presence by a good deal in recent years. The cost of developing and maintaining websites and e-mail lists is relatively low in the political arena, and the benefits of web traffic and e-mail in fundraising and information transmission far outweigh any fiscal overhead. “Add me” forms and “Donate” buttons do much of the party’s fundraising and politicking passively, allowing viewers to perform actions that were far more expensive in the era of phone banks and mass mailings. The party line is textually available to all visitors; audio clips present the best of recent speechmaking; carefully selected photographs render party leaders in the best possible light. With these obvious and overwhelmingly dominant presences, based in traditional media genres, we easily overlook the interplay of color, background, and iconography, which lends great strength to them as rhetorical devices.

Over the next few posts, I'll examine the rhetorical features of color, background, and iconography on major political party websites.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Software Soapbox III - Graphics

Graphic and 3D rendering software is among the most expensive - at least if you want good software - and complex on the market. The price is high for many of the same reasons as office packages: most companies cannot survive without graphic software capability of some sort or another; however, unlike Office software (which has been around for as long as personal computing), which has a number of competing entities in the marketplace, graphic software - a relative newcomer (at least compared to other programs) - has very few options. "Photoshopped" is a de facto verb anymore, a testament to the dominance of Adobe's $649 package.

Although Photoshop is by no means a poor program - unlike M$ Word, in order to take advantage of today's computing power, Photoshop has to be a massive RAM eater - the price is enormous, far more than most students or "commonfolks" can afford. It's also not alone. Here are some of the best graphic programs on the market, along with price:

Adobe - Illustrator - $499
Corel - DRAW - $399
- PaintShop - $199
Autodesk - Maya 3D - $1249 - no, not a typo

Where to turn if one is a poor college - or poor graduate - student? If, for some laughable reason, one doesn't have around seven hundred bucks to spend on a software package?

1 - GIMP - Availability - Mac (X11), Windows, Unix
GIMP is the open-source answer to Photoshop. Fully-featured, powerful, reliable, and customizable, GIMP runs in the X11 shell for Macintosh OS X and uses about the same amount of memory as a complete Photoshop build. I'm a graphic junkie, and spend probably twenty hours a week performing hard core graphic work that puts my poor iBook G4 through the wringer (hey, my Ph.D. program is in Communication, Rhetoric, & Digital Media, after all). I've used Photoshop and GIMP for years, and I must say, GIMP does everything that Photoshop does and more. It's about a 90MB download, and uses as much RAM and processor as PS, but the cost beats all hell out of Adobe's latest expensive offering. GIMP is, simply put, the best open-source Photoshop competitor around. It is very stable: the only time I had it shut down while I was running it, I was working with five images, each of which averaged about 2000x1500 pixels, at 300dpi resolution (photographic quality - screen res is about 72 dpi). Basically, I ran out of memory (at the time, I only had 256 MB of RAM, I've since upgraded to 384, a basic requirement for high-end graphic work anymore). A full user's guide, screenshots, plugins, and support forum are available at the website. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it to anyone who frequently works with images.

Download it and learn more at, the homepage of the GIMP community.

2 - Inkscape - Availability - Mac (X11), Windows, Unix.
Inkscape is a vector-based drawing program, the Adobe Illustrator & Corel Draw counterpart to GIMP. Whereas GIMP is strictly a graphic manipulator, similar in function to Photoshop, Inkscape is an artist's package, allowing users to draw vector and pixel-based graphics that can either stand alone or be incorporated into other graphic programs (the default file format is .svg). I've just begun using Inkscape, but as far as I've been able to tell, so far it is as powerful as its corporate counterparts. A simple example of what Inkscape does is seen in the ratings stars in each entry of this page. Supported features include shapes, paths, text, markers, clones, alpha blending, transforms, gradients, patterns, and grouping. Inkscape also supports Creative Commons metadata, node editing, layers, complex path operations, bitmap tracing, text-on-path, flowed text, direct XML editing, and more. It imports formats such as JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and others and exports PNG as well as multiple vector-based formats.

Inkscape is not quite as stable as I'd like, and the menus are somewhat confusing when one first starts using the software; however, it is an excellent offering, and there is a good deal of promise for future releases. It is relatively stable, but there are still a few bugs to be ironed out, especially in the X11 shell versions in which a restart of the shell is required when switching from Inkscape to GIMP. Still, I recommend it, and hope to see more from it in the future. The website offers screenshots, documentation, support forums, and downloads. Overall, I recommend it, and I'm sure that it will improve with time - and far outstrip it's corporate counterparts.

Download it and learn more about it at, the community's website.

3 - Blender - Availability - Mac, Windows, Linux.
Blender is the first and only fully integrated 3D graphics creation suite allowing modeling, animation, rendering, post-production, realtime interactive 3D and game creation and playback with cross-platform compatibility - all in one tidy, easily and free downloadable package! Blender is quickly being transformed from an impressive 3D creativity tool to a full-blown games and new media design application. The site offers amazing support, from tutorials to manuals, to a user forum. It runs in native format in Mac and Windows. This package is highly recommended. It demonstrates the power of the open source community and displays the talent of its developers quite well. The website offers incredible support, from tutorials to manuals to a user support forum, as well as an amazing art gallery that puts Blender's abilities to the test. Definitely give this one a shot.

Monday, May 29, 2006


At 2:27 a.m. on 5/28/2006, my lovely wife gave birth to our beautiful daughter...

All are well...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The CIA - Best in Civilian Hands

Troubling: one of many fitting descriptive terms concerning the Bush nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden as the next director of the CIA. The bipartisan congressional outcry - Republicans as well as Democrats hate the idea - especially in our current antagonistic political environment, speaks volumes. Hayden has, as our president states, "vast experience," in intelligence-gathering; however, because he is, first, career military, and second, active career military, he does not belong at the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The history of espionage in the United States is scattered: although we have always used spies, it wasn't until 1946 that we employed them full-time. When crafting the National Security Act in 1947, which created our full-time intelligence system, Congress made a conscious decision to place intelligence-gathering fully in civilian, rather than military control. There are several reasons, foremost among which is that in the U.S., the military has always been under civilian control: our founders, while realizing that an effective military was necessary, realized that if a military is not adequately controlled, it can be used to take control of the government. This is an intelligent maneuver: recent world history alone holds countless examples of too-strong executives using the military to turn democracy into dictatorships. Thus the civilian "commander in chief," who is limited by our constitutional system of checks and balances.

"It hasn't happened here" is a foolhardy, illogical excuse. If it hasn't happened here, that doesn't mean it can't. It only means that we haven't yet had the proper convergence of situations in which "it" could, and did, happen. Four-star generals are exemplary military figures; however, career military officers are insulated from the realities of civil liberties, including due process, by nature of their chosen professions: the military, for a very good reason, is not democratic. Military officers exercise absolute authority under the rules of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: soldiers follow orders; they have no room for debate. Citizens do not follow orders, again for good reason: they must debate in order for our republic to operate properly.

We need a civilian head of the CIA. We need someone who understands accountability to the people, not just the President. Our intelligence operations, military and otherwise, must be centralized - just as the rest of our governmental operations are - under civilian authority.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mike Nifong should be disbarred

The nation has by now become completely inundated with news reports about Durham DA Mike Nifong winning the primary election; an election that many consider to be the reason he came after the Duke Lacrosse team so hard and fast in the media in the first place. I think, honestly, that he should be disbarred for violation of the rights of the accused. Regardless of what one thinks of the case itself, it is hard to ignore the manner in which he so blatantly violated the rights of the players, trying the case in the national media before physical evidence of any sort had been gathered. Now, the city of Durham has seen itself dragged through the mud in newspapers and national television outlets of all kinds, partly as a result of his disgusting pandering to the worst voyeuristic desires in all of us.

When the national media visits Durham, it goes to the worst parts of town: this so that they can fit the story to Nifong's vision of an elite institution whose rich students run rampant over the poor local citizenry. The national news photographs show perhaps 5% of the city: I lived there for four years, in three different apartments all over the town: central Durham (3-5 min from downtown), southwest Durham (near Chapel Hill), and North Durham, near I-85 ... and Duke University. I delivered pizzas (love the graduate school life, don't you) to people living in subsidized housing (what many call "the ghetto"). On the same route, I wound my way through some of the wealthiest suburbs in North Carolina - million dollar mansions on PGA golf courses. I also visited every type of home in-between. Durham was, and remains, a typical mid-sized city in the urban south, the northern corner of the Triangle metropolitan area.

What you don't see is the other 80% of Durham: the arts, the mecca of small specialty shops, the majority of the citizens who don't realize that they live in a hellhole dominated by northeastern college elites - because they don't. The Research Triangle Park - huge for pharmaceuticals and computer technology - is entirely within the city limits of Durham: billions of dollars of research and development that share a zip code (277##) with the disgusting hole portrayed in the media. Think about that.

Back to the topic. Mike Nifong should be disbarred, not re-elected. Why? He tried his case in the media: we had a classic case of the first amendment (free press) clashing with the fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments (rights of the accused: include impartial jury and speedy trial, as well as due process). The media had help: it was hard to turn on the damn news or open a paper without seeing his face. He manipulated a photo lineup: for traditional lineups, you're supposed to have five "fillers" for every shot of a suspect; instead, he had the police show her only photos of lacrosse players who were at the party. He ignored photographs and phone records placing one of the two arrested players far away from the house at the time of the alleged rape.

Regardless of what one thinks of the case, this is negligence. Prosecutorial misconduct - call it what you will. The man should be the night manager at a bowling alley, not trying cases in a court of law.
currently on miPod - "Come Back" - Pearl Jam

Friday, April 28, 2006

Happy Birthday, Hubble!

Sixteen years. The Hubble Telescope has been functioning for sixteen years - with only periodic maintenance from shuttle technicians. It's still in use. Question: how long do we use our computers without upgrading? I stand amazed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Visual Rhetoric and Politics...

It's always interesting to me to look at political sites (for either party) and think about the visual rhetoric expressed by the content. Not photographic content, which is far more interesting on political parody pages; standard party websites haven't yet stooped to manipulating photography on their main page. I mean backgrounds and minor graphic details such as buttons, banners, and color interplay, graphics that people don't study, that people don't internalize and filter as they do standard print artifacts such as alphanumeric text and photographs. One of the purposes of rhetorical criticism is the production of "metaknowledge," explicit understanding and evaluation of messages that pass through our lives.

Make no mistake: these graphics are messages, deliberately crafted (whether consciously or not) to convey a general feeling; thus the danger of allowing them to pass unfiltered. How do such things become messages? Think: how many images, sounds, and pieces of text just pass through your mind without a second thought? How do we "know" what things mean? We know because human beings are social animals: we communicate. Rhetoric is not necessarily windy, neither is it necessarily poetic or otherwise discursively exaggerated: Moliere reminds us that, while almost none of us speak poetry in the day to day, all of us speak prose. We persuade. We argue. We debate and discuss. We also unconsciously consume discourse: when was the last time you looked at a Stop sign and thought about it?

Like the stop sign, political visuals are deliberately crafted: color and shape have definite meanings in politics. A map can be seen as nothing more than a political artifact, a representation of perceived borders: I am here, I am not there. Look at the planet from space, and you see no borders. The use of a map shape in a political site, with colored pieces in the shape of smaller map shapes, has a rhetorical purpose. The Republican National Committee homepage uses map and color messages in a subtle and brilliant fashion. If you want to see the maps of which I speak, you can visit this page.

The first map, which was used in a "Donate" animation, shows faded red and blue. Keep in mind that the rest of the site shows only dark, blood red. Fading in this context suggests uncertainty: we're winning, but we haven't won. It enhances the effectiveness of the large, red button reading "Donate," in all caps, and does so quite subtly, in a way that the average visitor won't notice. The second map shows a bloodred "heartland" with isolated blue spots that represent highly urban areas. This, too, is a rhetorical appeal, one designed to demonstrate that first, 80% of the United States is "Red" country, and second, that those folks in big cities (notice the blue swath in the Northeast, following the Canadian border, and along the California Coast, the very immigrant southwest, and the isolated blue islands in cities such as Chicago, Charlotte, Indianapolis, etc) don't agree with the overwhelming majority. Its brilliance lies in its subtlety: the map is only a physical representation of space, and ignores population entirely. We all know that the popular election was not an 80/20 landslide, but this map displays something entirely different: power and victory.

In the interest of fairness, I should mention the Democratic National Committee homepage, which engages in similarly suble rhetorical devices. The bloodred map of Iraq in the center of the page has two major implications that immediately come to mind: first, the blood spilled in the nation, and second, an implication of political responsibility. The blood of the Iraq war is placed squarely in the hands of the Republican party (despite the fact that a number of Dems voted to go to war). Another interesting visual is the dollar bill button on the right hand side of the page, which is labeled "Republican culture of Corruption," the latter word in gray. The dollar bill is a subtle reference to lobbying money, which many Dems are tied to as well. The gray: think what you will of shades of gray or corruption. Here I must admit that I wrote about the visuals on the RNC site earlier in the semester: I'm working on the DNC visuals right now for a different paper, so my criticism isn't as broad as it otherwise would be. Nonetheless, you get my point: visual elements such as these are subtly designed to enhance the party message.

This is, of course, exactly the goal, as it is on all such pages: political parties want three things from visitors to their websites: votes, donations, and volunteerism. Party sites are designed to appeal to current party members, active or inactive. Active party members can learn the party's stance on current events; inactive members can be informed as to just why they need to be more active. Undecided voters may visit to learn party stances, but the odds are likely that they'll also be looking at the opposition: if they seek information, undecideds are far more likely to go to traditional news media outlets. Opposition members may visit, but only to shake their heads and mutter terrible things about "spin," then return to the homepage of their party of choice and gleefully read what they'll see as accurate, informative news.

Make no mistake: these graphics are deliberate constructs. Graphic designers and website creators have far too much control over color and pixel definition for it to be anything but. Whether conscious or not (some of it may be unconscious, but I doubt that most of it is), these are rhetorical devices. If the cornerstone of a deliberative democracy is an informed citizenry, then twenty-first century democracy demands that we become informed not just of textual and photographic content, but of the subtle, background content that enhances the former two.
currently playing on miPod - Symphony no. 3, second movement - Schumann

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Free speech & the Internet... What's the fuss?

What exactly constitutes a violation of free speech online? Consider two recent, and very different cases. In one, a group of college students from Harvard, MIT, Swarthmore, and others posted damaging internal documents about Diebold online. Diebold, if you remember, is the company whose electronic polling systems caused such a panic among voters' rights groups - the machines that incorrectly tallied votes in Cleveland, OH among other places. In the article from, Paul Roberts, a correspondent from IDG news service, discusses the students' actions:

"One of those who set up a mirror site was C. Scott Ananian, a graduate student in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of three students to mirror the Diebold document's on the institute's network. After downloading the documents from Why War?'s Web site, Ananian posted links to copies of the documents on his work computer on October 27, making the documents accessible through MIT's connection to the Internet.

Prior to posting the documents, Ananian followed reports about security flaws in Diebold systems, including a July report from researchers at Johns Hopkins University about software flaws in Diebold's AccuVote-TS voting terminal." [read the full article here]

In another case, the EFF started up its propaganda machine, whining about AOL censoring its members for circulating a petition concerning the "E-mail tax" that it is considering. This so-called "tax" is really a fee that AOL is charging legitimate companies who don't want their e-mail deleted as spam. Such companies would get lead billing in AOL users' e-mail inboxes, above non-paid messages from AOL members' e-mail lists. [read the full article here]

Which one is "censorship?" Both companies are protecting their fiscal interests: Diebold has a vested stake in online polling; AOL stands to make buckets of money by charging companies to deliver e-mail past its vaunted "Spam blocker." Both companies are attempting to quash those who stand in their respective paths to additional fortune. Both companies are enraging online free speech activists, many of whom don't understand the nature of rhetoricized speech, that which our founders were protecting. Which case deserves outrage, and which one is just a pointless gesture?

In all honesty, the Diebold case is that which should be a matter of concern. In this case, voting citizens were publicizing a legitimate, documentable concern about the accuracy of voting in the United States. Although their methods were unorthodox, their actions fall well within the purview of the First Amendment: they were engaged in journalistic activity that served the public interest, raising concerns about fellow citizens' loss through inaccuracy of voting rights. The so-called "copyright infringement" that Diebold is using against the students, a part of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, is a smokescreen. Students were not using copywritten material, such as the Diebold operating software code, to make a profit or cause a loss of profit for personal gain; rather, they were publishing internal documents obtained by unorthodox measures (similar to means that journalists use all the time, but a little more technological) for the purpose of informing the public. Again, a journalistic act that is protected by the First Amendment.

The AOL article is not cause for concern. AOL customers are not publicizing an issue of public concern, instead, they are complaining about the practices of a corporate entity that they voluntarily pay to provide a selective internet service. AOL is not a standard ISP: AOL is a corporate entity that provides an online forum with select options available to members, among which is restricted use of the Internet. AOL users, when they sign up, must agree to the Terms of Service, within which it clearly states that: "You may not use the AOL Network in any manner that could damage, disable, overburden, or impair our servers or networks, or interfere with any other party's use and enjoyment of the AOL Network. You may not attempt to gain unauthorized access to any services, user accounts, computer systems or networks, through hacking, password mining or any other means. We may take any legal and technical remedies to prevent the violation of this provision and to enforce these Terms of Service."

The actions by the AOL members were in violation of the TOS - AOL feels that certain members would benefit from selective paid e-mail advertisements; therefore, anyone interfering with this can be shut down: "We may take any ... technical remedies to prevent the violation of this provision[.]" Is it a crappy thing to do? Yes it is; however, AOL users may, at any time, terminate their AOL accounts and sign up for another service, one less restrictive. AOL served a valuable purpose in the early days of the Internet: people who were not technologically savvy could go "online" easily, with AOL software doing all the hard work. Most DSL or Cable Internet services cost the same as (or less than) AOL, and these ISPs will gladly come to your home and set up your computer to use their services.

Users worried about "e-mail taxes" will always be able to find an e-mail account that does not send commercial e-mail for a fee. Jettison AOL, and your problem goes away. The critical difference is in rights: people have the right to vote. People pay for the privilege of Internet use. You can take your money elsewhere for an ISP. You can't take your vote elsewhere without giving up your citizenship. I'm now officially tired of this, and I'm going to bed.
currently on miPod - "Way Out Basie" - Count Basie