September 30, 2003

Fun with language…

Let’s consider this bit from a Robert Novak column:

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. “I will not answer any question about my wife,” Wilson told me.

Before I begin, let me say that I have no idea about any legalities involving this “disclosure.” My purpose here is to interpret a few sentences and say what I think they might mean in terms of who told what to whom and when.

Novak doesn’t say that two “senior administration officials” told him that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA operative. But they did tell him that she had suggested her husband for duty in Niger. So, by clear implication, the officials and Novak had to know, in order for the Palme suggestion to make sense, that she was in some kind of position to make the suggestion. We may infer that the officials told Novak, but it is possible that Novak knew earlier. If so, how did the officials know that he knew in order for their comments to make sense? Unless, of course, Washington wives are simply in the habit of stumping for their husband’s careers with “senior administration officials.”

Journalists, even pundits such as Novak, use certain codes to identify officials who do not want to be named. The term “senior administration official” is not used to identify functionaries. These two people who spoke to Novak would be among a very limited number of high-ranking (famous and powerful) officials.

Jack Shafer offers an excellent round up of the “scandal” so far. (via PoliticalWire)

September 30, 2003

Cry Havoc!…

Take that, scumbag spammers! The script works, and it is EASY to install. Jay Allen made a minor tweak to his instructions. And, as a card-carrying member of the group, I can attest that any idiot can install it.

Go to Jay’s site and start the process now. I was hit with 20 comment spams this morning, and the script blew them all away. Way cool!

UPDATE (8:05 p.m.): As promised, I have created a page about fighting blog spam. Right now, it links to Jay Allen’s script and lists URL fragments for banning. Check it out (link also on the right sidebar under blog resources), and let me know what else the page needs.

September 30, 2003

Cain’t rite good…

Geez, it’s no wonder my students struggle with their writing. Despite all that we know about how to do it well, high schools and many colleges continue to teach the tired ol’ 5-paragraph model emphasizing structure and correctness over content. We continue to give timed, handwritten tests on topics not chosen by students.

I did not learn to write in the two freshman English classes I took as an undergraduate (long story; don’t ask). I remember the exact moment when I “learned” to write: The evening I came back to the office of The Review at the University of Delaware after covering my first news story; I had 30 minutes to write it up.

One might argue that the structure of a news article–the inverted pyramid style–made it possible to write what my editors wanted to read. Maybe. But I’ll tell you exactly what I was thinking: “Oh, shit. My name’s going to be on this”!

From that first thought I wound my way through 15 years of journalism before landing in graduate school and reading Richard Ohmann’s English in America. He criticizes writing teachers and textbooks for treating students like “pre-people” with no history, politics, or civic/social interests. He charged that we treat student work as practice disconnected from anything they may care about and aimed only at getting a job at some later time.

A few years later I wrote a dissertation about how to encourage better writing. But it really was about more than that, which you can see from the title: Understand and Act: Classical Rhetoric, Speech-acts, and the Teaching of Critical Democratic Participation.

I don’t teach writing. I don’t teach composition. I teach rhetoric: critical engagement with one’s socio-political environment through writing and speaking. I cannot tell students what to write about or, really, how to write it beyond exposing them to my ancient discipline. They have to put it out there for the world to see and then teach themselves.

Take a look at Pirate Blog–an experiment in public writing by students. You will see lots of errors and read many funky circumlocutions and odd ideas. But, far more important, you’ll “hear” many unique voices talking about things they care about. They’ll get the details right as they discover how much they really do care.

September 30, 2003

Blog spam update…

First, let me thank Jay Allen for his hard work in creating a solution to the problem of blog spam for those of us who use MovableType. He has done the blogging community a great service. As you can see from yesterday’s entry, I’m still trying to make it work. Mr. Allen is holding my hand through the process.

This is not a big deal. We’ll discover the problem, and I’ll report it here so that others like me will be able to successfully install this script.

Many techie bloggers have already installed this script and report great success.

I’m confident that those of us with less expertise will be able to implement this script.

UPDATE (8:50 a.m.): It works! More later…

September 29, 2003

That’s entertainment!…

From Howard Kurtz’s column today:

CNN’s Tucker Carlson thought he was having a bit of fun when, during a “Crossfire” segment in which he defended telemarketers, he was asked for his home number but recited the number of the Fox News Washington bureau instead. Fox retaliated by posting Carlson’s unlisted Virginia number on its Web site.

After his wife was deluged with obscene calls, Carlson says, he went to Fox’s Capitol Hill bureau Friday to complain, and was told his number would be taken down if he apologized on the air. Fox spokeswoman Irena Briganti says Carlson was “completely irresponsible” and that the bureau was “inundated” with “vicious phone calls. . . . CNN threw the first punch here. Correcting his mistake was good journalism.”

Carlson, who apologized on “Crossfire” but also criticized Fox’s form of retaliation, now says: “They’re a mean, sick group of people. Don’t harass my wife and kids. Even the Mafia doesn’t do that.”

There’s no such thing as “a bit of fun” in journalism. Nor is there such a thing as revenge of the juvenile sort. Oh, I’m not claiming this stuff doesn’t happen. Instead, I’m asserting a narrow denotation and a certain connotation for the word “journalism.” Nothing that happened in this cute little incident may be properly called journalism as far as I’m concerned.

Rather, this is frat-boy nonsense. This is adolescents playing with expensive equipment without proper adult supervision.

September 29, 2003

Still more on j-blogs…

The ombudman of the Sacramento Bee weighs in on j-bloggers and the editing process. Tony Marcano wrestles with, among other things, the question: Is editing censorship?

September 29, 2003

: National attention…

If I were advising one of the Democratic candidates for president, I’d be pushing those tactics that help build a national reputation. Campaign politics is, in part, a game of percentages. And the percentage that the Mayer predictive model of primary campaigns highlights is difficult to dismiss: Since 1980 the candidate that “wins” the last national Gallup poll before the Iowa caucuses wins the nomination. Gary Hart was the lone exception (for obvious reasons) making this model nearly 100 percent accurate so far.

Crowing about fund raising is a good way to gain that attention because the press pays so much attention to it (it’s easy to tell a story with dollar figures). Howard Dean has been crowing about his fundraising and has begun a blogging marathon to reach the campaign’s $15 million goal this quarter. PoliticalWire notes that it is “particularly interesting that no other candidate is drawing attention to his or her fundraising.”

September 29, 2003

Stop blog SPAM…

Over the past two months, I’ve noticed and deleted perhaps four blog spam advertisements from my comments section. They’ve been either pornography or pharmacy ads. Over the weekend, I received and deleted seven spams (see below).

Using Sam Spade 1.14, I was able to track down the owner of one of the domains ( I have sent an abuse complaint to the ISP from which the spam was posted. I sent e-mail to the domain owner. And I called the company’s 800 number and left a pointed message for the manager.

How much of this is going on?

I will volunteer my site as a clearing house for blog spam information. Send me IP numbers, domain names, e-mail addresses, and 800 numbers of offenders. I’ll create a web page for this and keep a running tally so we can pool IP numbers for banning and other information for later, perhaps more drastic, action if needed.

UPDATE (3:08 p.m.): Here’s a possible solution from Jay Allen. This solution requires implementing 3 MT plug-ins. It looks very difficult. I’m just not sure I want to risk it. Take a look and tell me what you think.

UPDATE (4:05 p.m.): Jay Allen has left a comment scolding me for saying his solution is difficult. I should have qualified my remarks. The procedure looks difficult to me. But, after considering his comment, I have decided to try it. I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE (4:37 p.m.): Okay, I’ve just installed the 3 MT plug-ins, and I am pleased (embarrassed) to report that it was very easy.

UPDATE (5:42 p.m.): I have completed the task. I did not add the code to the preview function because I did not understand the directions–entirely my own limitations. I’m going to text it now on this entry.

UPDATE (6:15 p.m.): The first two tests of the system failed. I must go back and check everything. This will take a little time. I’ll continue to report here even if this process takes more than one day.

UPDATE (9:50 p.m.): My first three tests have failed, i.e. I posted comments with “banned” URLs and the comments appeared. As I understand it, they are not supposed to appear. I have been though the directions several times now over the past three hours. I am unable to make Jay Allen’s script work. I have sent him e-mail asking for help. I’ll keep you posted.

Earlier, I said I thought this looked very difficult. From the pleased comments on Allen’s web site (see above), it appears many people have made this work. From the tone/content of the messages, I assume these folks have a lot more experience with scripts than I do. If any non-techie blogger reading Rhetorica is able to make this work, please let me know. Thanks.

September 27, 2003

Blog spam, grrrr…

Okay, what’s with the blog spam? I’m now getting regular off-topic comments posted here that are advertisements for all kinds of crap that has nothing to do with Rhetorica. Sex ads. Prescription medication. You name it.

I am now officially sick of it.

How many of you are experiencing the same thing? What can we do about it?

UPDATE (1:35 p.m. 28 September): All of this blog spam–5 in the last 24 hours–is coming to one entry. I wonder why. What is it about this entry? Take a look, and let me know what you think.

September 27, 2003

Rhetorica update…

I’ve added a transcript of the recent debate to Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004. I’m plan to finish my analyses of the Clark and Edwards announcement speeches this weekend.

In other important news, you may have noticed that I changed the color scheme of Rhetorica. I’d discovered that many computer monitors rendered the intended teal color as more of a forest green, which made reading the navy blue/purple links difficult. Plus, the whole teal thing is so ten years ago.

Early warning: Next week’s guest on Radio Rhetorica will be fellow Kansas City blogger Jay Manifold, author of A Voyage to Arcturus. If you read Jay’s blog, and you should, you know we will have an interesting conversation–especially concerning the strange ways science, math, and technology intersect with journalism and politics. To listen live on the web, just click the “on air” button on the left sidebar and then follow the appropriate links.

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