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 archive.org 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.

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