Say it with me: People, not pipelines!

I know that gasoline will help people get out, and these two are not mutually exclusive, but still: Is anyone else watching Bush's speech? How much time did he spend talking about the people? How much talking about the oil industry?

Lord of the Rings as told through Princess Bride quotations

Nice little crossover here, should appeal to many of you.

Hey, you know what? I have never seen or read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's terrible, and I'm as ashamed as I should be.


Hurricane coverage

I've been preoccupied almost all day reading about what residents of Louisiana and Mississippi are experiencing. I'm thinking especially of Daisy and a friend of mine in Jackson, Mississippi. I'm thinking about people whose families have lived in New Orleans for generations, centuries -- and about people who are being moved from New Orleans' Superdome to Houston's Astrodome, people waiting on roofs in that awful heat for helicopters and boats to come, all the time risking getting cholera and other diseases due to the standing water.

I've been reading Josh Britton's posts (via Professional-Lurker), Michelle Malkin's comprehensive post about relief efforts, the Katrina Help Wiki, and, like Daisy, I've been refreshing this page frequently.

I wish I'd taken pictures on my trips there.

UPDATE: Dr. B. suggests other ways to help.

UPDATE: A Boing Boing reader emailed with a vivid description of his or her experience as a rescue worker (via Brendan).

State Fair Videoblogging

My first-ever vlog post -- I bring you Karen and Amy playing Whac-a-Mole (Right click, save target as, or CTRL-click, save link as on a Mac).

And me, playing Whac-a-Frog. Yes, a few seconds into the movie I do say, "Do you have to get 'em in the lily pads?" (Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!) But in my defense, before we stepped-right-up to the booth, I was watching other people play, and they couldn't even get the frogs into the pond. The guy running the game said, "You gotta hit it like you're MAD at it!" I thought maybe you'd get a little prize for consistently getting them in the pond, but something extra big and cheesy for getting them in the lily pads. I should have known that would be way too easy.

For more, see my set of fair photographs on Flickr.

Also, a reflection on videoblogging: As I get ready to hit "Submit," I'm a little nervous and self-conscious. Videoblogging is different from straight-up text blogging, for sure; I'm putting myself out there in a way I haven't before, in an exceptionally goofy, silly moment at that. But it's honest, and risky in a good way, so I'll leave it up unless I'm asked to take the first one down. Please be kind.

"It don't matter. None of this matters." Or, composition pedagogy and Ritter's article on plagiarism

Yeah, it has taken me a LONG time to add something to this conversation. Consider this a prelude to my actual post about Kelly Ritter's article, "The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition" (CCC 56:4 601-631).

But first, I have to get something off my chest. Somehow, we started calling this thing a Rhetoric Carnival. I had originally suggested that we do something like a seminar or carnival, but really what we're doing is far more a seminar than a carnival or a carnival, conference program. Actually I don't care what we call it; I just don't want anyone to think I don't know the difference between the two. I know it's stupid, but still.

Okay, other posts: Rebecca and Mike have posted already; their stuff is well worth reading. Also, Brendan's comic kept popping into my head at various times during the article.

Now, to the article. For those who aren't Aqua Teen fans, you'll have to go here, or better yet, rent season 2, disc 1 and watch "Mail Order Bride"; I've just given you the perfect excuse. The frame below comes from a scene in that episode. I find the scene a fitting metaphor for [writing within] the rhetorical context of many writing courses (hope that doesn't sound too harsh).

Carl and Master Shake have chipped in and ordered a Christmas present for themselves: a Chechnyan woman to be their bride (Shake: "It's my present, to me, from me, for being such a good boy this year! You see what I'm saying?!"). She arrives, and Carl and Shake arrange a ceremony (the bride, disgusted with Carl and Shake, goes in the house and won't come out). Officiating the ceremony is Frylock, who can't pronounce the woman's name. Carl tells Frylock to just say Smith or Jones. Frylock then fails to pronounce Carl's last name. Carl says, "Just say Smith again, it don't matter. None of this matters."

Of course it doesn't. It's a farce, a silly ceremony held for a marriage that was thoroughly artificial in the first place. Shake wanted someone to cook for him, and Carl wanted someone for sex. They paid their money, and a woman was delivered to their door.

I thought about this episode most of the time I was reading Ritter's article. In many cases, the whole rhetorical context in writing courses is predicated upon exchange value, a piece of writing done in exchange for a grade. I got a lot out of Ritter's article, but the most significant thing I got out of it was a certain point of view about writing courses, one I don't agree with but that does make sense in a cynical way. Why are students doing this writing, really? Well, for a grade. In my own teaching, I've asked students to write minute papers in class about their essays' purposes, hoping to get them to articulate what they hope to achieve, how they describe their audience, etc. They've prefaced these by "My purpose is, first of all, to get a grade, but..." as well as "I'm writing this paper first and foremost to get a grade, but also to..." Even when I was only one person in an audience of many, I was still the audience. I was the one giving the grade, and if they got essays online, put their names on them, and turned them in, I was the only one who'd know about it, if I bothered to check, that is (full disclosure: I do check. I Google sentences from student papers, all the time, and I submit reports to the Office of Student Academic Integrity if the case warrants it.). On a basic, practical level, yes, the writing is done for a grade. Everything else is secondary.

Obviously this isn't what I really think, and it's probably not what most students really think, either. My optimism and hope aren't completely gone. But here's how the "for a grade" and "none of this matters" logic shakes out for me. On pages 614-615 of her article, Ritter writes (emphasis in original):

In my own discussions of teaching materials and research findings with colleagues, particularly those new to the teaching of first-year composition, I often hear queries such as "Can I steal that assignment?" or "Do you think I could use that syllabus as a model (or a template)?" In creative-writing courses, teachers often encourage students to "mimic" canonical authors so as to internalize traditional styles and to understand the value of voice and poetic form. These are only select examples of how the creative, collaborative notion of intellectual production in the humanities often leads to "borrowing" ideas back and forth, between complicit and entirely well-meaning individuals.

I know others have made the observation before that because teaching materials aren't seen in our profession as real scholarship, most people aren't going to mind if a colleague uses his or her syllabus, assignment handout, discussion activity, etc. Teaching materials don't matter as much. The same person who'd give you all the syllabi and assignment prompts she's ever composed and tell you to do whatever you want with them would, I bet, likely snarl and lunge at you across the table with the brie and baguettes at a faculty reception if you casually asked for a copy of the paper she just delivered at Conference X so that you could build on it and submit it to Journal Y.

About nine months ago, Jonathan gave me a copy of Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works. In it is one of Rimbaud's Latin compositions, written when he was 14. His teachers give him a passage from Horace, Ode IV, Book III, and he is asked to, using Latin verses, expound upon the theme of the lines, with a time limit of three hours for the examination. So he writes 59 lines of verse, drawing freely upon established characters (this includes real people and gods/goddesses) such as Orbilius, Apollo, Venus, the Muses, and Phoebus, and probably a host of common syntactical constructions and conventions I don't recognize. It's remarkable what a sophisticated poem it is for a Latin test taken by a young teenager, and he won first prize in Latin composition for it. The point of the assignment, though, is to measure the students' Latin grammar and vocabulary and mastery of the conventions of Latin verse. It's just an exercise for class. If another student had looked over his shoulder and copied, the kid probably would have gotten a bad grade and a beating, and that would've been the end of it.

I'm not calling for harsher punishments here. Rather, I want to highlight the pretend, trial aspect of writing for classes. Writing for class is practice writing; it's low-stakes; it's just an exercise.

As writing teachers, we've tried to demystify writing, to emphasize process, exercitation, the act of practicing as the best way to improve writing. Low-stakes writing is intended to reduce students' stress and encourage more experimentation and risk-taking in student writing, but stressing low stakes may increase the apathetic side of the "who cares? It's just an exercise" coin and lead to a different kind of risk-taking, the risk of getting caught plagiarizing. These are all thoughts I'm typing out as I think them; this is very much a discovery draft.

Context is key. Ritter asks some important questions about authorship on the survey she distributed to students; specifically, she finds that students think of "authors" as people who have written books or other texts (e.g. articles) that got published by a press. Most didn't consider themselves authors. While that's good to know, I'm not sure that stressing authorship is the solution (not that she's pushing authorship hard). Context and audience are, I think, more important. If a person has two writing tasks, one for a class and one for the campus newspaper, on which would he or she probably bestow more time and effort? One is read by many more pairs of eyes than the other. I know I'm a weblog evangelist, but I can't help but think that making student writing public, whether in the form of weblogs, print zines, or letters to the editor that might run in the campus newspaper, would only help to heighten the stakes of student writing in a productive way, so that those students who are inclined to be somewhat dismissive of writing for course credit and likely to buy a paper from an online paper mill would take their writing-course writing more seriously.*

Reading Ritter's article helped me understand better why some people wouldn't take writing assignments for courses very seriously. I'd heard others make connections between traditional notions of textual ownership and practices such as remixing, downloading music, and other types of appropriation to argue that due in part to the influence of digital technology, college students in their late teens and early twenties have a different view of intellectual property from that of previous generations. I have to confess, though, the connection still strikes me as loose and not all that clear. Ritter's explanation of the ethical rationale of buying papers from online paper mills, on the other hand, is closely connected with intellectual proprietary practices outside the classroom context. She points out that "[i]f a student logs on to an online paper mill and buys a paper that was put there by another students or paid contributor, thereby entering into a business transaction agreed upon by both parties, the consumer-minded student, unable to distinguish authorship from ownership, might wonder where the 'stealing' is in this transaction" (p. 615, emphasis in original). I find her example quite helpful; she does a fine job of connecting tightly the intellectual proprietary norms of mainstream culture and academia throughout the article. Her clear explanation helped me to realize how someone could sincerely believe that it doesn't matter who wrote a text. Michael Jackson owns the Beatles' songs; that he didn't write them is in many ways irrelevant. Anne Rice sold the rights to Interview With the Vampire, and the production company caved in to Tom Cruise's homophobia, which took away some of the story's nuance, and she was pretty upset about it as I recall reading, but it didn't matter that she'd written it. She'd sold it to them, fair and square.

Risk Management: Plagiarism and Parking Tickets

I live in a fairly large city, and it can be difficult and time-consuming to find parking sometimes. Sometimes I park in a metered spot without putting any money in the meter. When I have quarters with me, of course I put them in the meter, but sometimes I don't have any, and that's all the meter will take. So I don't put anything in there. Most of the time I go back out to my car to find no ticket, but occasionally I do get parking tickets. I know that when I don't put money in the meter, I run the risk of getting a ticket. When I don't put money in the meter, I feel a little guilty, I guess, but I can live with it, believe me. I have no aspirations to go my whole life without getting any parking tickets. Keeping quarters with me and putting them in the meter isn't something I take any pride in. Plus, when I get a ticket, I pay it, and if I factor the cost of the ticket in with all those times I got free parking, it evens out. Either way I'm paying for parking; the city's going to get their money one way or another.

Putting it in terms of doing writing for classes, I might say something like: I've got a packed schedule with classes, extracurricular activities, and a part-time job. Sometimes I buy essays online and turn them in for my classes. When I have the time and am engaged and motivated by the assignment, of course I do the writing myself, but sometimes I don't have the time or interest, and I have to turn something in. I know that when I don't do the writing myself, I risk getting turned in for plagiarism. When I don't do the writing myself, I feel a little guilty, I guess, but I can live with it, believe me. I have no aspirations to be a professional writer. Basically I just want to pass the course with a C or above. Plus, when I get caught, I just take the zero on the assignment, and if I factor that in with all the time and headache I save not having to do an assignment that doesn't interest me, it evens out. Besides, sometimes I get A's on the papers I buy. The grade I get at the end is probably about the same as the grade I'd have gotten had I done all the work myself.

More on the Ritter article later; for now I have to get back to dissertation work.

* Much of the work Mike has been doing has been part of the larger project of making writing courses more meaningful, assigning writing that has use value as well as exchange value. I agree with him that having students share their writing could go a long way toward infusing it with showing that it already has more than just exchange value.

Domain pointers! and now point here! Ah, I'd been meaning to do that for some time. My new host has Fantastico, so pretty soon I'm going to install phpWiki, Moodle, and possibly WordPress. I'm curious about the Image Galleries and Project Management tools too. Got any recommendations?

Movie Meme

Who would you like to play you in a movie based on your life?

Reese Witherspoon

UPDATE: I also considered Martha Plimpton, but I'm so not worthy.

But come on, who would probably really end up playing you in a movie based on your life?

Tori Spelling

Tagging, to see what they'll do with the not-so-subtle self-deprecating celebrity humor in this meme: Laura, Mike, and Jenny.

GIMPin' ain't easy

I have to make a poster for a poster session at this conference at which I'm presenting. A couple of choices, then: Go to campus and use PhotoShop and/or PageMaker, or sit around the apartment and download and learn GIMP, which I'd been meaning to do anyway. Not the most intuitive program I've ever used. The main thing I need to know, which I haven't yet found in the documentation, is how to insert (or place) a smaller image into a larger image. Anyone know how?

Alas, it would have been faster to drive to campus.

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