December 29, 2008

Science Fiction

I’m a long-time subscriber of The Wall Street Journal. It’s an important tool for Wife Rhetorica’s business. I simply enjoy a good newspaper.

I was horrified when Rupert Murdoch bought it. I may have been less than optimistic about his stewardship. But, for the most part, I think The Wall Street Journal remains a great paper, and, in some ways, it may even be a better paper (although the copy editing has slipped of late).

One disappointing change: The A-head story — those long, well-written features in the center of the front page — are now shorter and pushed to the bottom of the page. But the topics remain fascinating.

Take today’s feature for example — a little bit of science fiction. Apparently some Russian professor thinks the U.S. will be breaking up soon following a civil war. There’s even a nifty map showing in what “republics” the various states will end up. I was relieved to see Missouri will escape the Texas Republic (controlled by Mexico) and will end up in the North-Central American Republic (controlled by Canada). Whew! Dodged a bullet there. I feel sorry for Mexico, however.

What’s disappointing here is that this story would have been more fully reported in the old Wall Street Journal, i.e. some more background and context to understand the hows and whys of such ideas in the Russian mind. Yes, you get a bit of it. But it’s skimpy.

I mourn the loss of the old A-head stories. The rest of the paper, however, is looking pretty good.

December 25, 2008


December 22, 2008

Fun With Verbs

Here’s an interesting moment from FOX News Sunday:

WALLACE: Did you really tell Senator Leahy, bleep yourself?

CHENEY: I did.

WALLACE: Any qualms or second thoughts or embarrassment?

CHENEY: No, I thought he merited it at the time. And we’ve since, I think, patched over that wound and we’re civil to one another now.

I would fully expect Cheney to acknowledge telling Leahy to go fuck himself and be comfortable with it. He’s an adult. While I suppose we ought to expect a certain decorum from our elected officials, history demonstrates that they are every bit has human as the rest of us. That’s a good thing.

What fascinates me, however, is Cheney’s use of the verb “to merit.” Its denotation is “to be worthy of” or “to deserve.” It seems to me, however, that the connotation of “to merit” creates a bit of a klunker, as if someone just smacked an off-key cowbell.

Whereas “to deserve” has both positive and negative connotations, I’m having a hard time thinking of negative connotations for “to merit.” The noun “demerit,” if verbed, would seem far more appropriate — although the klunk would have been intolerable.

So why the choice of “to merit”?

It could be that Cheney uses this verb in place of “to deserve” regularly. In the context of an interview on a “friendly” cable network, however, could he shooting for a particular rhetorical effect? It seems to me Cheney is tidying up his public use of “fuck” and his moment of indecorum. He’s making it Leahy’s fault. He’s also elevating “go fuck yourself” to the level of a reasonable response — even an expected response.

December 18, 2008

The 1-mile Solution

Off Topic Alert

Dear Rhetorica Readers:

I dislike going off topic on Rhetorica. But today I want to present you with an idea that I think is worth your time. It’s called the 1-mile Solution.

Many of you are aware that I also write an active transportation (walking, bicycling) blog called Carbon Trace. I’ve been writing about this idea for a couple of weeks now. Yesterday, I submitted it to Below you’ll find a widget for the idea. If you think it has merit, I ask for your vote. is a liberal/progressive organization. But the 1-mile Solution is a non-partisan idea. It requires no new laws and very little money. It requires no infrastructure and no administration. The idea is simple and should appeal to liberals and conservatives alike:

A little more than a quarter (28%) of all trips made in the USA are within one mile of home. A majority of Americans use their cars to make these trips. I propose that we encourage people who are able to replace one trip per week by car within that mile with walking or bicycling.

That’s it.

But it’s also huge. The more gas we save, the more the price comes down and the less dependent upon the Middle East we become. The more we walk and bicycle, the healthier we get. The more car trips we can replace under one mile, the fewer greenhouse gases we release (you don’t even have to believe in global warming to know that’s a good thing!).

This is first time in more than six years of blogging that I have asked you to consider an idea of mine not connected to the rhetoric of press-politics. I do apologize. But I also hope you’ll click that button. And I further hope you participate by posting an idea of your own — no matter from what wing it originates.

Thank you.

Andy Cline

December 16, 2008

The Rhetoric of Shoes

What is it with shoes?

Nikita Khrushchev brandished one at the United Nations. Richard Reid tried to use one of his to blow up an airplane. And now Muntadar al-Zeidi, in a stunning incident in Iraq, hurls both of his at George W. Bush during a press conference. Before I delve into the rhetoric of shoes, let me say for the record that I agree with Marc Sandalow who writes today that words “remain mightier than swords. And a hell of a lot mightier than shoes.” In other words, ask the man tough questions; don’t throw your shoes at him. That, obviously, assumes more about al-Zeidi as a journalist than we should.

If we were to suppose such behavior possible of an American journalist then Helen Thomas comes to mind as a potential perp. But I think if her little red choo-choo went chugging around the bend she would more likely twist an ear and scold. But, of course, as crusty and cantankerous as she is, it is simply unimaginable that she would ever do such a thing. But, then, our country hasn’t recently been invaded and torn for questionable reasons. There’s no way to tell how any of us might react to such circumstances. That’s no excuse — just recognition that some idiots have reasons for what they do.

What is it with shoes?

I assume it’s a cultural thing (and if I had the time and gumption I’d run this down, but I don’t). The shoe, coming from the foot as it does, which is often smelly, and certainly nothing much to look at (assuming you don’t have a foot fetish), perhaps is a symbol for a kick in the pants. Kicking is often associated with ill treatment of the weak by the powerful. So its use against the powerful by the weak would seem to be a double insult.

But as Reid demonstrated, the shoe can also be a weapon without symbolism. It is a deadly weapon with the right features. A work boot could do serious damage. I suppose you could bitch-slap someone with a flip-flop. That would hurt in more ways than one.

I think al-Zeidi certainly had insult on his mind. A dress show can raise a nasty welt or cut if it lands just right. I assume he would have been happy to score a hit.

So what if…

Where was the Secret Service?

Think about this: Our president was in Iraq — a fairly dangerous place by some accounts. And a nut-case journalist was able to throw two shoes at him from close range. Two!


I assume one can’t smuggle nastier stuff into a presidential press conference. No rotten eggs. No feces. So what’s the next most degrading thing you can throw with the heft to reach its target and the symbolism to get meaning across if the aim is bad? A shoe.

We’re all glad Bush was not hit or hurt. And we’re all pissed at the insult to our leader and country. And we’re all hoping this guy is severely punished. And we’re all hoping the Secret Service gets, and keeps, its act together. Well, most people anyway. I did run across a new Facebook group for people who apparently think this is amusing or acceptable behavior. I won’t link to it.

And what of those sad people cheering this outrage? I think they are the real victims of those shoes. As long as they can hear and embrace that argument I wonder what argument we can offer in return.

December 12, 2008

Failure is an Option

A couple of years ago, I’m not sure exactly when, I made this remark (paraphrased): Losing The New York Times would not be a disaster; losing the Springfield News-Leader would be a disaster.

I was trying to make a point about local journalism, i.e. we’ll always have national coverage of some sort, but perhaps we won’t always have local coverage. And local is the big thing. It’s what people want.

I was wrong.

I was wrong (or failed to be right, or failed to consider, or failed to understand) in several senses:

1. Citizen journalism is getting better. Here in Springfield we have a small but active cit-j community that covers many topics of local importance. Some of that coverage is as useful as (although not exactly the same as) what we find in the News-Leader — a Gannett product that the corporate vampire is sucking dry of every last bit of life. Citizens will pick up the ball that professional journalism drops because they have no choice but to do so.

2. National news is just as important as local news; sometimes local news is national. And, in any case, the local is not disconnected from the national and the global. We need effective journalism that covers our entire world. Doug McGill’s concept of “glocal” journalism offers a better way to understand this. We need stories that connect us to the world and to our local neighbors. Sometimes these stories begin with journalistic efforts by media products such as The New York Times. Sometimes these stories begin with citizens (albeit highly trained) such as Doug McGill. Sometimes these stories begin with interested bloggers.

3. The death of a paper is a disaster if it has been fulfilling the primary purpose of journalism: to to give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing. If a paper fails in this primary purpose, then what’s lost are the comics, the TV listings, celebrity gossip, local ranting, and the shopping diva. But you can find this stuff elsewhere.

4. Not all newspaper companies are created equal. Some still cling to some tiny little vestige of the idea that they have a mission beyond simply making money. Of the two under discussion — New York Times Company and Gannett — which has shown it still tries to cling to the primary purpose of journalism?

So I will now reverse myself. Losing The New York Times would be a disaster; losing the Springfield News-Leader would not. We the citizens of Springfield can pick up the ball — already have in some cases because we’ve already had to. (I reserve the right at some later date to decide that both positions are wrong and that the truth may be found somewhere in the middle.)

News flash: The news about the MSM business model of journalism is bad these days. Just scan the headlines on Romenesko. What’s going to happen? I have no idea. But creeping into my mind these days is a dark thought: I think I’d like to see a company such as Gannett fail — utterly fail. I’d like to see it sell all its papers. And I’d like to see those papers purchased by local buyers.

Local ownership is no guarantee of anything except that each paper might then have a slim chance — with active citizens keeping a sharp eye out — to be something its community wants and needs.

December 10, 2008

Rhetorica Update

It’s the last week of classes at MSU. I’m now writing my final exams and doing other end-of-the-semester odds and ends. But, as usual, when things get busy at school things also get really interesting in the world of press-politics. So check back Friday. I should be back in the blogging saddle then.

December 2, 2008

Black Friday and Journalistic Complicity

The excesses of Black Friday are possible because journalism is complicit.

The real story of Black Friday should be about gross manipulation of the consumer by retailers creating the illusion of scarcity. What we get instead: Shopping guides and encouragement.

Be ashamed, American journalism. Your foot mark is visible on the body of Jdimytai Damour.