Friday, September 24, 2010

Analysis of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics

Because my TwHistory idea seems to fit better under the guidelines of the second assignment in Dr. Rich Rice's Engl 5361 class (Theories of Invention in Writing), I'm going to first focus on a rhetorical analysis of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics.
Journalism and rhetoric are soulmates, I suppose, in the ways in which we frame our vision of the society we experience through media. News media portray (and magnify) such a tiny fragment of life that the rhetorical emphasis is profound, and I wondered what basis upon which do we build our discourse. Are we Platonic idealists, or sophist pragmatists?
This code could help to form a better understanding of that position. It is meant to guide journalistic decisions toward a better community of practitioners but also a better society as a whole, a very Athenian ideal.
My analysis will examine the rhetorical choices made in the document itself, looking for direct connections to the classical foundations of rhetoric and to particular rhetors that separate those two primary positions of thought.
It's important to also note that this code is a voluntary commitment for journalists to make. It is not enforced in any way by a central institution, which means its power, fittingly enough, is purely rhetorical. It provides a framework for a messy and complicated job, and the execution of the framework typically involves a dialectic process, since no document ever could possible cover all of the variations of possible actions a journalist could take. Most ethical discussions in a newsroom are not black and white. They are in essence Platonic dialogues, searching for an agreed upon truth, in which extensive discussion leads to a moment of enlightenment, decision and action.
My analysis will be offered as a short slideshow video, prompting thought about the division between sophistry and Platonic idealism in the modern world.

Shape-shifting of the mobile phone

The mobile phone is getting physical, or blending into the physical world. ... This TEDTalk looks at what could be next.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Fascinating to see something like HistoryPin emerge, especially with a Google partnership, and the engine that comes behind that:

Very promising idea. Geolocated augmented reality data with mobile devices has been difficult to get to work properly on a large scale in the past, such as with Wikitude and Layar. I assume the AR overlays are the logical progression of where this service is going long term, although it appears also to be a desktop system as is. But if you test this out, let me know how it works for you and what you think.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Trying to tap the idea of a Tweet story

I think it was the John Quincy Adams Twitter feed, created by the Massachusetts Historical Society about a year ago, that first caught my attention. I had been using Twitter as a note-taking/sharing service for several months, but this exposed another interesting application of the service to me: Twitter as a way to tell stories.
Over the next few months, I every so often came across other groups or people trying the platform for storytelling, including the folks at TwHistory, sinking The Titanic again and recounting the 1847 Pioneer Trek of Mormon settlers and recreating Gettysburg. I also since have seen more attempts at this, even from purely fictional (and comedic) directions, such as the recutting of the film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" as a string of Tweets (they also incorporate FourSquare, but that's another blog post).
Anyway, when Dr. Rich Rice's Theories of Invention in Writing course this semester offered me an assignment involving creating a piece of rhetoric to be analyzed, "such as a scene from a movie," I thought this is just the excuse I need to try my own version of TwHistory (I really like that term) and to combine it with my work at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, and the Fort Vancouver Mobile project.
So I have this historical anecdote in hand, dug up by the project's assistant director Jon Nelson. This story, told through a variety of documents generated by different people, is related to the first module of the FVM project, recounting how Hawaiian pastor William Kaulehelehe was contacted and brought to Fort Vancouver in the mid-1800s. My plan is to create Twitter accounts for all of those characters and then tell the story, through their real words, via this modern form, then analyze the rhetoric they used to bring Kaulehelehe from his tropical paradise to this rainy frontier outpost. This all also will be delivered through a node in the Kaulehelehe module of the Fort Vancouver Mobile project, so I might end up creating a Twitter-like service to pull it off, just to give me a bit more control of the output. But we'll see.
To analyze the piece rhetorically, I plan to put together the story and have pop-up bubbles on a Camtasia-like presentation provide commentary on the rhetoric. How does that sound?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Platonic or sophistic?

Reading recently Plato's disparagement of the sophists, including the debate of Absolute Truth versus relative truth, it reminded me of the contemporary remnants of a similar polarizing discussion in social science, or the positivist versus the naturalistic perspectives. To begin with, I think a middle ground is possible, in which relative truths help us, through dialectic, reach toward greater truths that are closer to the ideal of Truth. I also think positivist and naturalistic approaches work best in tandem, rather than in opposition. But as a pragmatist, I think Absolute Truth is unattainable, and the naturalistic / sophist approach fits much better with navigating reality, particularly when studying the complexities of communication -- mixing humans, messages, channels and context. The sophists clearly needed more training on ethics (or more concern with it), but, the core of their beliefs, that each position in an argument can be presented persuasively, could be used as part of the dialectical process rather than considered outside of it. If we are dealing with humans, I think, truth has to be thought of as relative and negotiated, just because virtually everything we do is mediated or filtered through symbols or compressed and manipulated in some way. The only way to truly recount something in history is through a time machine, and even people who witness the same scene at the same time from very similar perspectives will interpret what happened differently. Multiply that scenario by 7 billion people, and the search for Truth almost seems laughable (sorry, Plato!). But, like every Utopian dream, or ideal, that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying to reach for it. Maybe the Truth just hasn't been revealed to us (or maybe it's just me). And it all will be clear one day, when we have evolved our knowledge base broadly enough to really understand things. Until then, I think being highly aware of the screen of symbols and the use of rhetoric, in all of its forms, different perspectives, etc., bring us closer to an understanding of Truth, in that we live a socially negotiated and mediated existence, and that virtually every stimulus that reaches us is then interpreted through the paradigm we have built throughout our lives.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Overviews of rhetoric

Recently read two overviews of rhetoric, covering thousands of years in the field:
Herrick, J. (2004). The history and theory of rhetoric. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
And Bizzell, P., & Herzberg, B. (2001). The rhetorical tradition: Readings from classical times to the present (2nd ed.). Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press.

Each of which raised many questions that I am assuming will be handled later in the books, but a few immediate thoughts on what I read:
Wayne Booth, a prominent literary studies critic, is quoted in Herrick as saying that rhetoric holds "entire dominion over all verbal pursuits. Logic, dialectic, grammar, philosophy, history, poetry, all are rhetoric." Then, what form of expressions, exactly, aren't rhetoric? I understand a rock isn't rhetoric, but when I start expressing thoughts about the rock in some way, talking about it, photographing it, classifying it, stacking it in a particular way, etc., then that is all rhetoric, right? What about a list of random words, or numbers, is that rhetorical in some way, because I am expressing the randomness of it all, and that there is such a thing as randomness (because order is a human construction) and giving rhetorical order by such nonorder? If everything we express is rhetoric, that seems sort of limiting to talk about, so I'm looking for ideas about where the line gets drawn, at least from Booth's perspective (and that of others who similarly propose a very large tent for this field).
Herrick also argues that rhetoric is "response-inviting." This seems contrary to much of the political speech I think about, intended to either be so vague as meaningless or so coded as to mean certain specific things to certain special interest groups or meant to present a defensible position, but I just don't think of rhetoric as always promoting interaction. Propaganda, for example, would have to be rhetoric, and I don't think of it as particularly welcoming to debate. I like the idea of rhetoric and its soulmate argumentation inducing more speech, but to imply that it "is" response-inviting seems a bit broad to me. Am I wrong?
On a related subject, in Herrick's section about rhetoric as community building, I wondered if the wedge tactics employed so skillfully by both major political parties today aren't the dysfunctional side of this coin that will lead to our country's, and our community's, ruin. We keep splitting ourselves up into binary issues, focusing incessantly on how we are different more than we are alike, and that might work for politicians trying to degrade the ethos of their opponents, but I think it is clearly tearing us down as a nation. If we are always voting for the least worst option, then we are never voting for the best option, and I think the worst of rhetoric -- neo-sophists? -- is at the heart of that characterization.
Bizzell and Herzberg, by the way, offer the all-important "canons" of rhetoric as:
1. Invention
2. Arrangement
3. Style
4. Memory
5. Delivery
Which made me think there must be a better arrangement of that, at least in terms of an anagram. So here are some options, courtesy of this Internet anagram maker:
These are the MAIDS of rhetoric, keeping everything tidy.
MAD IS you who forgets the canons of rhetoric!
DAM IS the word I say when I remember the canons, like, "Dam, I can remember those canons!"
AS DIM as I might be, I can remember the canons.
And so on ...
In terms of acronyms, by the way, I noticed someone in the MOO used ELP for Aristotle's three forms of persuasive appeal: Ethos, Logos, Pathos. So if I ever need ELP remembering that, ...
One last side note. Herrick states that rhetor should be pronounced RAY-tor. This is the first time I have heard it described that way, and every time I have heard someone pronounce it, they have said rhet-OR, or RHET-or, but never RAY-tor. If rhetoric is pronounced rhet..., then why would it be RAY, or should it be RAY-tor-ic? Help! I don't want to be the one dumb guy at a conference who keeps mispronouncing a core term of the field.