March 21, 2020

Document Your Life

Look for something do while staying home?

You may interpret that question differently depending upon whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. I’m an extrovert, so, yeah, the whole staying home thing is a challenge.

I’m encouraging everyone to document this moment in history on video using your phones. Tell your personal story.

Now you might be thinking: Dude! We do this everyday already. It’s called social media.

Yes. True. But…

  • Let’s get those phone videos turned to landscape format.
  • Start recording your experiences. Think bigger chunks — sequences — not little snippets that last seconds.
  • Talk to us. Tell us what’s going on. What are you thinking and feeling. Tell us why it’s important to you. Write a script if you have to.
  • Use text to give it a title and identify people and places.
  • Publish and share.

The personal and day-to-day are some of the most interesting bits of history.

March 12, 2020

Back to Camp

Shane Franklin, Senior Producer for Carbon Trace Productions, and I head back to Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico on Saturday to finish filming Witness at the Border — the sequel to our documentary film Witness At Tornillo.  We’ll be there for a week.

Well, assuming the border doesn’t close while we’re in the refugee camp.

And there’s the whole coronavirus thing to deal with.

This could be one hell of a trip. Or, as one wag of a student put it today in class: “It could be a whole new documentary!”

Many of my students have been expressing the “feels like I’m in a zombie movie” emotional response to coronavirus — today especially as Trump finally addressed the nation on the … what? … epidemic, pandemic, something else? MU, just up the road, has closed for a couple of weeks. MSU might. Depends. We’re heading into spring break, so the powers-that-be have a bit a breathing room before making any decision about closing school. MSU has suspended all spring study-away trips and banned travel to China.

The big Broadcast Education Association conference, where our 2019 student documentary Zero was to be honored, has been called off. If you’re of a mind to, please click that link, pay $2, and watch it.

The Kansas City FilmFest International 2020 has been postponed until later this summer. Witness At Tornillo is an official selection.

But I’ll be spending this next week with people who have it a lot worse than I do. We go into post-production upon our return. The film will be ready for screening by fall.

BTW, the donation link mentioned in the video? Just click here. Thanks!

Witness at the Border |Fundraiser| from Carbon Trace Productions on Vimeo.

January 1, 2020

The Crisis Is Here

Happy New Year!


First, read this excellent summary and commentary about the “fourth turning,” a part of the larger theory of generational dynamics as explained by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their many books on the subject they pioneered.

Next, read Heather Cox Richardson’s (do it everyday) letter today (you can also subscribe by e-mail) regarding: “2020 will be the year that determines whether or not American democracy survives.”

We’ll talk about, er… nope, I’m all about the rhetoric of lecture now… I’ll talk at you about things that transpire from here. I’ll also try to tell you some stories.

[Note: I no longer allow public comments on Rhetorica. If you have something to say, send me e-mail.]

December 29, 2019

Carbon Trace 2020 Reel

I haven’t gone away. I’ve simply changed my focus. I make documentary films with my students now. I’ve been doing this since 2014. I now have a non-profit called Carbon Trace Productions, which you may recognize as the name of my now-closed bicycle blog.

Here’s our 2020 reel of highlights going back to 2015. You can watch several of our documentary films on the Carbon Trace website. Just click the proper link in the menu.

CTP Reel 2020 from Carbon Trace Productions on Vimeo.

December 19, 2019

I Once Was A Textual Analyst

Back in the day, I was a textual analyst. This very blog began as a grad-student project in the textual analysis of campaign rhetoric in 1998. It morphed into Rhetorica in early 2002. I kept up the same general schtick in examining the press-politics relationship for many years.

Then it just became pointless.

That may have been a hasty decision on my part when I made it… how long ago now? Because this week we have seen the distribution of a presidential text so extraordinary as to be the real nail in that old coffin of this blog and my project.

The Trump letter to the House of Representatives regarding impeachment: I’ve linked you to The New York Times and its laughably who-gives-a-shit fact check.

Well, some people still give a shit, but they are opposed by an authoritarian faction that is by turns shameless in producing crude propaganda based on lies and distortion and an inability to actually tell the difference between that and the facts of reality.

They had many choices in 2016. And they picked this guy. And they support this guy.

November 8, 2019

Here’s a Quarter; Call Someone Who Cares

The New York Times ends its book review of A Warning, by Anonymous with a quote from Donald Trump: “These are just words. A bunch of words. It doesn’t mean anything.” The President was not critiquing the new book. The quote comes from another place and time. But if he does say such a thing about this book, it will be one of the (very) few things he’s ever said or done that I’ll agree with.

Anonymous is a conservative coward.

I read the wretched Michael Wolff book Fire & Fury. It was a stinker. It was entertaining. It might even have been accurate. But who can tell? Wolff gives us utterly nothing to go on but his word. Not good enough.

I read Bob Woodward’s book Fear. I’ve read many of his books over the years. He’s been generally reliable. But I came away from it thinking “meh.” I mean, anyone could guess at the general nature of the Trump presidency just watching the man operate in public, just listening to him flap his gums. All Woodward did was add some “reported” details (and, yes, we have to take him at his word … but the man has a track record).

There is no way I’m reading A Warning. Everything I say here is coming from my understanding of the book from the Times’ review and my reading of the original op-ed published in the Times.

I won’t even read it for free.

You see, the idea that there’s an adult in the room trying to save us from Trump’s worst excesses is just poppycock.

If it’s really bad, then go public. You have a whistle-blower and multiple, testifying (OMG so apt) administration officials you can emulate. And isn’t that just the juicy irony here? At a time when people are stepping up, this guy offers us a lecture about what a good conservative steward he is … from behind his momma’s skirt.

This part of the Time’s review was interesting:

Anonymous declares that this “American spirit” was best exemplified by the bravery shown by the passengers on United Flight 93, who rushed the cockpit on 9/11. We’ve seen Flight 93 used as a conservative analogy before — by another anonymous author no less, writing under the pen name Publius Decius Mus, who argued before the 2016 presidential election that “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto” and consequently that voting for Mr. Trump offered the only chance for the republic’s survival.

That the same violent tragedy has been deployed to argue one point and then, three years later, to argue its utter opposite is, to put it charitably, bizarre. But then Anonymous, a self-described “student of history,” doesn’t seem to register the discrepancy. Nor does Anonymous square the analogy with an episode mentioned in the opening pages of “A Warning” — of senior officials contemplating a replay of the Nixon administration’s so-called Saturday Night Massacre by resigning en masse. The idea of doing anything so bold was floated within the first two years of the Trump administration, and then abandoned.

Too bad the title Fear was already taken. That’s anonymous.

[Note: I no longer allow public comments on Rhetorica. If you have something to say, send me e-mail.]

October 5, 2019

The Rhetoric of Lecture

One should never assume that the opinions (no matter how learned) of academics are facts, knowledge, wisdom, or theory. Good academics don’t make these assumptions. Let’s call this “learned opinion,” i.e. opinion based upon learning and study.

One should never assume that descriptive statements or predictions about the world based upon learned opinion have a rock-solid connection to reality.

Learned opinion should be somewhat better than random opinion because, well, it’s learned (again, based upon learning and study). This is why journalists ask academics to be sources for news articles — their learned opinion or research (i.e. knowledge production) is a little better at getting to the heart of the matter compared to other sorts of sources. That, and academics are usually easy to get on deadline (expediency bias).

Let me make one more assertion about what “good academics” should think/do/be: Good academics should be comfortable with being spectacularly wrong — both in learned opinion and academic study.

Damn, was I ever wrong 🙂

You’re going to have to revisit this from Rhetorica by visiting because of the snafu last year that wiped out my entries.

OK, here it is: I thought the internet, its interactive nature, and open comment systems would lead to a robust and cogent civic discourse.

Ooooops. I should have given you a liquid/computer proximity warning. Sorry. I’ll wait while you get the paper towels.

Back then I was all about the differences between the rhetoric of lecture (old, 1-way media tellin’ it like it is) and the rhetoric of conversation (new, interactive media where everyone talks back to create pesky reality). The differences are real enough. But the assumptions and predictions I made based on these differences turned out to be, shall we say, spectacularly wrong.

This isn’t anything you haven’t read before. All of us in this particular game have been dealing with the 21st Century not turning out quite the way we imagined. Consider this a finger exercise on the keyboard ahead of, maybe, something else.

A couple of things as I consider what to do with Rhetorica now that the 2020 presidential campaign is upon us:

  1. I have renewed respect for the rhetoric of lecture.
  2. Comments are no longer a thing on Rhetorica — no matter what I plan to do with it — because, frankly, I don’t give a shit. I’m lecturing.
  3. You can contact me the old-fashioned way if you feel the need to respond.
July 4, 2019

Moving Forward; Preserving Rhetorica

Happy Fourth of July.

I am completely unable to get the archive file for all the posts to work.

So here’s what I’ve begun doing: Using, I am selectively re-publishing posts from the past.

That’s as good as it’s going to get.

UPDATE: I found a number of old posts had been marked as drafts in my last attempt to re-post from my archive file. I’m going to go through and publish them.

January 23, 2019

Nothing Is Ever Easy

You’d think with as much experience WordPress has at running a content management system that it would have a smooth process for importing content — especially backed-up content.

But, no.

Turns out the import system is full of problems.

Again, I’m working on it. All Rhetorica content still exists. It’s just going to be a bigger hassle getting it all back into place than I thought.

Stay tuned…

January 15, 2019

Working On It

I tried importing from my .xml backup file this morning with limited success. It seems most of the work is there, but it has been set to “draft.” No clue why.

I may go through and re-publish each entry.

I may try re-installing WordPress with a new database and then import the file.

Stay tuned…

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