the Ru!es

Language Log has an interesting post on periods, that is if you find punctuation interesting. I can. I’ll admit it. And if you’d like a pretty cool book on the subject, then I’d recommend Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Hey, it’s got spunk.

Anyway, my stance on grammar is this. Grammar is meant to be utilized as a basis for us to understand each other. When that meaning gets muddled because the structure is crap, then correct grammar and punctuation would be beneficial, but if the meaning is still comprehensible even with supposed punctuation “mistakes,” then I’m pretty okay with it. Now, I won’t go so far as to say that I’m completely on board or anything. There are things that would stick out to me. It’s pretty hard for it not to with my background, but if grammar rules are broken for stylistic purposes and the meaning is still comprehensible, then cool. Lay your meaning on me.

A Little Plug (‘N Play)

Gauti Sigthorsson posted his Screen Studies Conference presentation creatively titled “Home is Where My Archive Is.” It runs about 20 minutes and is most definitely worth the listen. If not for the actual complications Gauti brings up, but also for sentences like: “you’re functioning as my 3D PowerPoint presentation.”

Promiscuousness of Promiscuity

I just started going through a book called The Information Society Reader, a collection of foundational readings on the study of the Information Society, and a few pages into the editor’s introduction I had a déjà vu moment with this oddly familiar statement:

It can seem that the [concept of “Information Society”] is used with abandon, yet as such it is capable of accommodating all manner of definitions. Readers should look carefully for the definitional terms used, often tacitly, by commentators in what follows. Are they, for instance, emphasizing the economic, educational or cultural dimensions when they discuss the Information Society, or is it technology which is given the greatest weight in their accounts? One might then ask, if the conceptions are so very varied and even promiscuous, then what validity remains [. . . ]? (p. 10)

Webster, Frank (Ed). (2004). The Information Society Reader. London: Routledge.
(Or click here to see the text in Google Books)

Is this warning not incredibly similar to those we hear about the study of rhetoric? Varying definitions, an undefined scope of study, questions of validity? Lately I’ve felt lulled into a (likely) false state of security. How many times do we hear of academic programs stating with pride that they are interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity? Promiscuity is a characteristic more and more fields of study display with some pride. This crossing of borders has become something of an academic movement, but all movements have a beginning and usually an end, or even if it has lifecycles and never entirely dies out, the times when it tapers out can be painful – as the history of rhetoric can attest to.

What’s interesting to me about the study of the Information Society is that its inception has been some sort of uber-manifestation of interdisciplinarity. It’s flowed and found nodes of connection in the same manner as the Network Society itself. It’s almost like the global community’s entry into the Age of Information is what has made this move toward interdisciplinarity possible in the first place (both in terms of technology and of an emerging climate that condones and even celebrates such behavior), and it’s quite fitting – if not problematic – that the field purporting to study this new age should mirror it as well.

But I can’t help but think there’s bound to be a tide building against such breadth and promiscuity. And if so, I wonder when its time will come, what it will look like, and what the alternatives may be.

Robot Bears!

Maybe it’s being surrounded by fairly, hmm, let’s say “quirky” people, but it seems like I’ve been confronted with a Robotic vs Organic concept since my youth. In my earlier years, it was the infamous Ninja vs Robot Debate, which was a continuous argument about who would win in a fight. I was on the Ninja side.

Even now I belong to a forum that calls its members “bots.” Bots who type with robot fingers.

My experience is not an anomaly. Indeed, I can bring up a ton of examples of the Mechanical Anxiety that shows up in the media.

Dishwashing Bot

Sex and Marriage with Robots

Um, Colbert anyone?

Even The Onion weighs in:

In The Know: Are We Giving The Robots That Run Our Society Too Much Power?

And the one that perked my interest:

CNN’s Scientists: Humans and Machines will merge in Future

As a writer, it peaks my interest. How is it that we’re all nervous about the same thing? Well, I guess this might be a purely American anxiety. I haven’t run into articles from foreign presses with the same kind of stance, but I also don’t look at foreign presses. It’s the language barrier. Predictable maybe, but true.

Anyway, I call it an anxiety, because none of these articles/videos really go out of their way to embrace the mechanical, the robotic. I mean, it makes sense to be nervous about something that effects everyone, yes. Like the economy right now–it impacts everyone. But something like this–where it seems so trite and trivial and downright silly. Have we all watched one too many matinee movies on the SciFi channel? Or is there something about our humanness that we’re trying to grasp onto, to cling to, to keep ourselves from forgetting. Through our own industrialization and our so-called technological advancements, we are still fragile. We are simply skin and bone and tissue.

Ah, but let me ask you this: does skin and bone and tissue really make you human?

The Essential Part of Running a Website

Let’s say you’re playing around on the Harlot site. You’re enjoying yourself–reading some mad good works of writing, writing comments, adding content to the wiki, having discussions–and, oh no, there’s something you don’t like. The comments are not intuitive to what the reader needs. The design is hard on your eyes. The logo’s too big. Or a number of other issues.

Well, well. Do I have a post for you. Because this site is meant to be a space for you and your needs, we want to make the best space that we can for you. It’s kinda like your favorite coffee shop, but cooler. This is your opportunity to help tailor Harlot to you. So, hit me with the feedback. Good, bad, totally apathetic. You can email us at or leave a comment. Here if you like or under the Editors’ Letter.

Tell me what you think, what you want, what you like, what you think doesn’t work.

Now, realize that I may only be able to do so much for ya, and if you ask for a Thoroughbred, you might end up with a Tennessee Walker. Jus’ Sayin’. There is a limited amount of time and support.

To preempt some of the things that do come up, know that our first priority is to create a single login session for all of our systems. That means instead of signing in for all the separate entities: Blog, Wiki, and the home page, you will only need to sign in once for all three. Useful, eh? We think so. Of course, we have been working on it (or I should say that our amazing PHP Programmer, Jason, has been working on it), but you may just have to bear with us as we go through the technical woes.

I mean, we have a whole list of things we’d like to see, but I know that y’all will have concerns that we never even thought about. So, please, tell us what you want. Tell us how to make the site better for you.

The Politics of Motives

During the Vice Presidential debate last Thursday, there was a point when I scrambled for a pen and paper, and it was to write down the final two lines of this statement from Senator Joseph Biden:

I have been able to work across the aisle on some of the most controversial issues and change my party’s mind, as well as Republicans’, because I learned a lesson from Mike Mansfield.

Mike Mansfield, a former leader of the Senate, said to me one day — he — I made a criticism of Jesse Helms. He said, “What would you do if I told you Jesse Helms and Dot Helms had adopted a child who had braces and was in real need?” I said, “I’d feel like a jerk.”

He said, “Joe, understand one thing. Everyone’s sent here for a reason, because there’s something in them that their folks like. Don’t question their motive.”

I have never since that moment in my first year questioned the motive of another member of the Congress or Senate with whom I’ve disagreed. I’ve questioned their judgment (see the entire transcript here).

It was a strong statement, and it was delivered with force. But I was left thinking about how Biden must understand the difference between judgment and motive or, better yet, how he wanted his audience to believe he understands them.

I promise I’ll try not to talk too much theory, but at any mention of “motives,” my mind immediately travels back to Kenneth Burke, a notoriously difficult-to-comprehend mid-twentieth-century theorist, who would have us believe that the finale of one’s decision or action comes out of a motive regardless of how it may seem. One’s motive, even if unknown to the individual, is what drives a person to act and is what underlies that person’s judgment throughout the process. Motives, in other words, precede and therefore shape judgment.

But this point isn’t what Biden is getting at. In this instance the senator sounds more like Wayne Booth, another scholar, who argued that politics would be more straightforward and productive if politicians would simply agree on their commonalities first and lay out their differences second. If I’ve understood correctly, then, Biden is stating his commonality with all of Congress by saying he does not question a politician’s motives: A politician is elected based on her commonalities with her constituency. A politician is the people. The people are right because they are the people (and please note I’m not advocating circular reasoning here. I’m more so stating a basic assumption of democracy). Therefore, the politician – by virtue of having commonalities with the people who voted for her – automatically has good motives. If you question the motives of a politician, then you question the motives of the people. It’s an idealistic statement that doesn’t complicate itself by taking into account the imperfections of humans and the systems of order we create, but it’s a lovely idea.

Another important distinction Biden’s statement marks is the difference between logic (judgment) and a sometimes-unknowable drive (a person’s motives). Debating at the level of motives can often be fruitless in a Western, outcomes-centered society like our own. (Could you imagine Zen-like Congress?) But during the two presidential campaigns of the current administration, we saw a different move. George W. Bush spoke from his “gut” – not logic, but feeling and faith. His beliefs were undeniable because he felt they were true. And it worked. He’s been President for two terms. Regardless of all the talk about whether the Republicans stole the elections, the fact that so many people believed in his approach speaks volumes.

And so I’m left wondering whether Biden’s divorcing of the faculties of the mind (reason and will) is a move that’s appreciated by the voting public. It’s not a new idea. Certainly not – it’s been around since the Age of Enlightenment. But it’s a shift from the current administration. I understand that social consciousness changes according to its own rules, but if it turns out that the public respects this distinction, I wonder what has driven the shift. The bad marks of the current administration? (And I’m not revealing my own leanings here. The President currently has a job approval rating of anywhere from 28% – 34%.) Or a shift back to the ideals of the separation of Church and State? (Not that believing in one’s gut translates into religion, but both are a matter of faith.) Hmm.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Questions but no answers. In fact, I have a bunch more questions related to the VP debate:

  • Journalism: During the first presidential debate, American Cable News Network CNN showed at the bottom of its screen (in the form of a line graph) real-time reactions from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. During the vice presidential debate (and the following second presidential debate), they swapped out the three categories for those of Men and Women. What is CNN News reflecting latest news and breaking news by choosing and televising these distinctions? On the other hand, what is CNN creating in the minds of its viewers by feeding us such content?
  • Presentation: Folksy versus refined. Which works better in the current climate? How is the current administration (and its two preceding election seasons) affecting our responses? What other (dis)identifications can we point out between current and past political candidates?
  • Interactions: From the initial greeting of the candidates to their conversation on the stage, who referred to whom by first name? Who spoke directly to the other candidate and when? How did such moves affect the tone and content of the debate?
  • Taking jabs: The candidates occasionally played with and prodded at the terminologies used by the opposing campaign. When did or didn’t they work? Were there times when the points hit hard but were made at the cost of the candidates’ own standing?

These topics are not by any means exhaustive, but they’ve been on my mind. What’s on your mind?