The World According to Google

This morning’s New York Times Magazine contains a fascinating look at “Google’s Gatekeepers”. Beginning with the case of Turkey’s insistence on a censored version of YouTube (ThemTube? UsTube? Some-of-YouTube?), law professor Jeffrey Rosen explores the limits of free speech in a web/world dominated by major capitalist corporations as (or more) invested in their own power than in the voices of “the people”:

“Today the Web might seem like a free-speech panacea: it has given anyone with Internet access the potential to reach a global audience. But though technology enthusiasts often celebrate the raucous explosion of Web speech, there is less focus on how the Internet is actually regulated, and by whom. As more and more speech migrates online, to blogs and social-networking sites and the like, the ultimate power to decide who has an opportunity to be heard, and what we may say, lies increasingly with Internet service providers, search engines and other Internet companies…”

In general, the article raises (kindly without pretending to resolve) important questions about the various versions of “free” speech, the limitations of the Internet as “public” sphere, the tensions among open access and accountability, data control and world domination, and (duh duh duh) the Future. Good stuff for a rainy Sunday.

The real meat of the matter is the issue of free speech in the Internet age, what counts as publicly acceptable or exceptional to a World Wide audience. Of course, Google and its subsidiaries have a policy of removing only porn, graphic violence, and hate speech — but in the reality of the virtual world, these already subjective determinations become even fuzzier. As Rosen points out, the international market mandates specific restrictions based on individual countries’ laws, and so Google has often had to filter content for specific contexts. For example, Germany and France have laws against Holocaust denial, so search engines cannot display sites devoted to such denial. To some degree, that seems reasonable and responsible… until you consider that those denials are merely submerged, not subverted, but their silencing. Moreover, as Rosen argues (I like this guy), “one person’s principled political protest is another person’s hate speech”; he illustrates this tension through demands by Joe Lieberman (this guy bugs me) that Google remove videos he judged to be “jihadist,” a concept on which I’m not sure his views are, well, balanced. Ah yes, best to just sweep pesky protesters under the rug.

These examples brings up the old question of whether silencing haters only lets them hate in silence or private — rather than exposing their hatred to the light of day and others’ responses that might challenge or even (optimistically) change those attitudes. I just had this discussion with one of my students: While it’s certainly important to “protect the innocent” from hate speech, does that offer true protection or a false sense of security? What are the dangers, for all sides, of denial? And can we ever really hope to negotiate oppositional viewpoints, let alone overcome them, without, well, engaging them in conversation?

(And how can we learn to ask such questions without feeling–or fearing to be dismissed as–idealistic and naive?!)

PZ and Kinetic Typography

Have I mentioned how much I love Presentation Zen? This time, Garr goes over Kinetic Typography (also called motion typography from time to time) with examples to boot.

I can tell you with my own experimentation how difficult this form is to manage. It seems almost relentlessly tedious with the amount of detail you have to go through technically speaking and you have to apply your creativity to try and produce something visually interesting. (Which is why many videos featuring kinetic typography are under 2 minutes).

Just check out his post. It’s quite worth it. Here’s an example that he shows in his post–just to wet your appetite. . .

Rhetoric in the News . . .

Here’s what you might find on the BBC newspage if you’re cruising around tonight:

It doesn’t give much insight into the rhetorical skill of Obama, offering up only the obvious, like pairing his intonations with sermonic delivery (here referred to as “churchy”). What irked me a bit was a missed opportunity by Ekaterina Haskins, the selected academic expert on rhetoric, to correct the popular (pejorative) understanding of rhetoric. Haskins, who is cited as being a professor at Iowa, but from what I can tell is a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic (but received her doctorate from Iowa), is quoted as follows:

Rhetoric always has the connotations of being about appearances rather than reality but he doesn’t sound false. He plays with the patriotic abstractions that allow for a certain kind of rhetorical manoeuvring and fills them with specific concrete examples.

While there’s a chance that the BBC snagged a quote out of context, I was disappointed to see the Appearance/Reality binary that rhetoric is so frequently and so unfairly thrown under reinforced and left mostly unchallenged. It is implicitly suggested that rhetoric is more than the connotations that typically accompany it, but her quote actually uses them to prove her point. I’m not sure that “he doesn’t sound false” debunks the Style/Substance divide that rhetorical studies have attempted to overcome for sometime now.  I’ve read a few pieces of Haskins’s scholarship (she’s a classical rhetorician, focusing on Isocrates) and it’s very smart stuff, so I’m surprised by this missed opportunity.

One of the goals of Harlot is to engage the public with an understanding of rhetoric that transcends this limiting conception. While I don’t want to speak for the project, I teach rhetoric as epistemic.  In other words, rhetoric simultaneously describes, discovers, and creates knowledge.

My thoughts two days later:

Am I just ornery?  Perhaps I’m being crabby and should be appreciative of the fact it doesn’t outright slam rhetoric as being useless and deceitful?  This is the view that the Rhetoric Society of America has taken.  Here’s a recent email from them:

Harlot, as I see it, will continue to work to make rhetoric an integral part of every informed citizen’s life, going beyond an understanding of rhetoric as good or bad, to rhetoric as something indeliably necessary.

post-election reflection

Whether or not you’re happy with the results of the 2008 Presidential election, you might be troubled by this:

Rick Shenkman, associate professor of history at George Mason University, recently published Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter.  Below is a YouTube video he created and shares on his blog, aptly named

How much can we trust all the rhetoric about how stupid Americans are?

Most accusations of American anti-intellectualism, ignorance, and unreason come from academics.  So, I’m wondering what nonacademics think.

  • Just how stupid (or not) are Americans?
  • How do we react to such accusations/arguments?
  • Does this year’s election support or refute Shenkman’s argument?


According to Yahoo News, “meh” has just been added to the Collins English Dictionary. I support this.

You know, I do have to wonder about the usefulness of adding colloquial language to dictionaries if that particular colloquial phrase is merely a trendy, faddish kinda thing. It’s not like I go around saying that so and so is the bee’s knees or anything. (Okay, I’ll admit to using supposedly “outdated” phrases like that just for fun at times, but as a predominant form of communication? No.)

So, will “meh” actually make it to the stature that other words such as “cool” have? Of course, I don’t know for sure, but I’d say yeah. Even if it doesn’t remain “meh” specifically, but transforms into “eh” or “uh” or something like that, it’s still a form of common communication that’s being used more and more readily. It’s often instantly understood too. Even without having a specific definition in some fancy British dictionary, the gist of the meaning is understood. It just works well.

Even I’ve been susceptible to its influences:

facebook status update

facebook status update

Oh, yeah. For Realz.

I mean, I could try to properly describe the kind of ambivalence and indifference that I was feeling, but “meh,” to me, is more of an expression of that indifference rather than a description of that same feeling. Ya feel me? “Meh” is like the actual tear, whereas saying “Kaitlin is indifferent” is like the word “crying.” Prospective readers understand so much about my particular state with just that one word without me going on and on about it.


So, yeah. It deserves to be in the dictionary. And that’s not so “meh.”

Email the Prez-(Elect)

Our new president-elect has a shiny new website. It contains a blog, news, events, a place to apply for a job in the Obama-Biden administration, a place to “share your story,” and that kinda stuff. I’ll admit. I’m intrigued. We’ll have a president with a site dedicated to interaction with people. Hmm.

Obviously, it goes without saying that he personally won’t be messing with his site, but the people who work for him. But, still. I can’t recall any political candidate with a site that so heavily relies on this particular kind of technology or interaction. Of course, this particular kind of technology hasn’t been as prolific–I get that, but I think it’s interesting that I was genuinely surprised when I heard about this website. The word “Really?” certainly came to mind.

I know that I’ve been so trained to expect my political representative to ignore what I have to say, that a site set up to listen specifically to constituents is, well, surprising.

More Trickster Rhetoric . . .

These quotes come from an excellent piece by Malea Powell, “Blood and Scholarship: One Mixed-Blood’s Story.”  I read the spirit of Harlot throughout these lines . . .

The only way for the mixed-blood to survive is by ‘developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity,’ and by turning those contradictions and ambiguities into ‘something else’ (Anzaldua 79).  Anishinabe writer and theorist Gerald Vizenor would have Indian scholars/mixed-bloods play trickster, to use our knowledge of the language and structure that compose the narratives that bind us as instruments to cut away those same oppressive stories.

Vizenor celebrates the humor and play room that are made available to crossbloods (what I’ve been calling mixed-bloods) in the simultaneity of our positions on the margins of American culture combined with our iconographic centrality against which much ‘American-ness’ is imagined.  Sharp humor (yes, sharp like a weapon) and radical temporal figurings (we are always at the past and the future in the present, and visa versa) help Vizenor to posit the trickster as a space of liberation.

For me, the trickster is central to imagining a ‘mixed-blood rhetoric.’ The trickster is many things, and is no thing as well.  Ambivalent, androgynous, anti-definitional, the trickster is slippery and constantly mutable.

I find the trickster in every nook and cranny of daily life as a mixed-blood.  But, more important, I see the trickster at work outside of Indian-ness as well, in the contrarinesses that inhabit the stories that tell, and un-tell, America and the Academy.  The trickster isn’t really a person, it is a ‘communal sign,’ a ‘concordance of narrative voices’ that inhabits the ‘wild space over and between sounds, words, sentences, and narratives‘ (Vizenor 196).

Trickster discourse does ‘play tricks,’ but they aren’t malicious tricks, not the hurtful pranks of an angry child; instead, the tricks reveal the deep irony that is always present in whatever way we choose to construct reality.  Trickster discourse is deflative; it exposes the lies we tell ourselves and, at the same time, exposes the necessity of those lies to our daily material existence.  Trickster discourse asks ‘Isn’t the world a crock of shit?,’ but also answers with, ‘Well, if we didn’t have this crock of shit, what would we do for a world?’ The trickster asks us to be fully conscious to the simple inconsistencies that inhabit our reality” (9).

More trickster rhetoric to come . . .

ReExperience and ReReExperience

Audio vs Text. That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. Specifically in conjunction with creative works. Let’s do a bit of a case study, shall we?

One of my absolute favorite poems of all time would be Richard Siken‘s “Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out”. Now, the way that I read this poem–in my head, that is–tends to ebb and flow. I speed up and slow down at various parts. The point being, that I have a specific rhythm that is innate to me and how I perceive text. This rhythm forces me to hone in on specific aspects of the poem that I, subjectively, find intriguing.

But when a poem is heard and not seen, then I’m forced to comply to the rhythm of the reader. I find it even more interesting when it is the author him/herself who reads. In this particular case, I can find two readings by Siken of this particular poem. (Apparently, I am not the only one who enjoys this one.)

Apostrophe Cast contains what we’ll call Reading #1. This particular reading is more serious and melancholy. It’s slow and simmering. Gruff. Intimate. What sticks out to me in this reading is the fairy tale motif. The princess, the dragon, flames everywhere. And even more so, the despair and desperation stick out.

But with the reading he gave at Loyola University New Orleans [correction, it’s a 1718 Reading which is brought to you by Tulane University, University of New Orleans, and Loyola, as Alex McG has informed me], which we’ll call Reading #2 (available on iTunes), is a bit more upbeat. It’s read at a faster pace. It’s frenetic and bitter sweet. Snarky and sarcastic. In fact, Siken himself calls this poem “the fun one.”

You can compare the two. For example when he comes to the lady. This passage:

You want a better story. Who wouldn’t?
A forest, then. Beautiful trees. And a lady singing.
Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on.
What a sweet lady. Sing lady, sing! Of course, she wakes the dragon.
Love always wakes the dragon and suddenly
flames everywhere.

And listen to the way Reading #1 approaches it:

Juxtaposed to the way it’s confronted in Reading #2:

Reading #2 contains a vitality that isn’t there for Reading #1. It’s like a wet cloth got thrown over Reading #1. Consider the way he speaks the very fist line of this excerpt. In print, there are two sentences: a statement and a question and, to my ears, #2 conveys that, but #1 makes the statement sound like he’s half questioning you. As if he’s merely guessing that “you want a better story” rather than telling you that you do.

Consider the lady as well. Both readings do present a sarcastic kind of address to her and her function, but each feels like a different kind of sarcasm. #1 sounds like the speaker has given up. He just doesn’t care about what she has to say anymore and the consequences of her actions should’ve been foreseen–predictable. #2, on the other hand, sounds provoking and antagonizing. That lady, you know she just had to go and do that.

Now, these differences. These different experiences, I suspect they lead to different speakers and ultimately to different poems. The poem that exists in Reading #1 is one of passiveness with a speaker who’s ready to roll over in bed and ignore the whole situation. Reading #2 has a passion and fervor that makes the speaker into someone who’s going to sit across from the coffee table, stare you in the eye, and plead with you to stay.

The one in my head, though. The rhythm that I come to when I read this poem, points me in a direction of middle ground with a speaker who sometimes wants to turn away and other times wants to stare you down. A speaker that confronts you with the things he really cares about–(ie, more applesauce)–and allow you distance when he’s swimming around and trying to avoid things–(ie, saying he’s not the dragon when he is the dragon).

Can you imagine the difference this makes, though? This ability to change the speaker can change an entire poem. With each new reading, the entire poem can change, the speaker can change, and the meaning can change. It has the ability to connect with people differently each time. Someone who wouldn’t connect with, say, Reading #1 might connect with Reading #2 or vice versa or not at all, but only with text. I find that exciting and perplexing.

campaign candy

Elections are like candy stores for rhetorical critics — or anyone paying attention. From lawn signs to public endorsements, talk shows to chalk art, campaign ads to Facebook rallies… it’s all just so damn tasty.

So, as the polls close, let’s take a moment to think back on all the good times. I think I have to stick with the RNC’s Palin bio as my favorite treat. C’mon — you know the alliterative glory of “Mother, Moosehunter, Maverick” gave you chills (you may have mistaken them for a shudder).

What’s yours? To refresh your memory:

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