Saturday, July 26, 2008

Edwin Black and Tech Comm

Why is Edwin Black (and Neo-Aristotelian Rhetorical Criticism) not used more in Technical Communication (TC)? As I understand it, one great criticism leveled at Neo-Aristotelian (NA) criticism is that it implies an impartial and contingent audience. In order to conduct a NA criticism, the rhetorician must delve deeply into the historical context of the artifact in the hopes of understanding the audience at hand. This is also something that TC strives to do for their deliverables. In other words, can NA criticism and/or Edwin Black's method aid technical communicators to develop effective strategies for audience analysis?

Rhetorical Transaction

For Black, a rhetorical transaction is a complex and a process of three elements of rhetoric: strategies, situations, and effects. These elements are understood as the following [1, p. 133-135]:

  • Rhetorical Strategies: the characteristics of the discourse
  • Rhetorical Situations: extralinguistic influences on the audience
  • Audience Effects: responses to the strategies in the situations

Taken together, these three elements converge to be a complex process (or phenomenon) that can be articulated to describe the effect of an artifact (or deliverable) which he names the rhetorical transaction. Certainly, one could approach TC through this heuristic in most genres including document design, proposals, and web design.

For instance, what are the characteristics of a given deliverable? This sounds like a genre to me. A proposal should contain certain elements while a resume would include different elements. All technical communicators should thoughtfully consider the conventional elements in light of the situation and audience effects. Also, "extralinguistic" influences sounds, to me, close to document design and other strategies of visual rhetoric while Usability would address the audience responses. All three work together to adequately describe the all important context of any deliverable. How would our service-level TC classes be enhanced if we, as instructors, thought about teaching writing through the lens of Black's Rhetorical Transaction?

Of course this is not a comprehensive treatment of Black's method but simply the initial musing for me on this matter. Black's subsequent writing on "Exhortation" and "Argument" may also offer good strategies for TC. I am simply wondering at this point. Hmm.. here is another dissertation topic.

-Safari Bob


[1] Black, E. (1978). Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Eh... What?

I ran across this article as I was traversing the 'Internets' today. Here is my favorite quote:

Then, how do we explain aliens if they are for real? The Bible teaches that Satan and his demons (the fallen angels) can take on take all sorts of shapes and perform all sorts of miracles in order to deceive mankind. In fact, some who have been claimed to be abducted by aliens say that these aliens have told them things that undermine the truth of the Christian Scriptures and the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

This is not say that God cannot create life on other planets, but the point being made here is that the supposed alien contacts popularly mentioned are not actual alien beings at all but the work of dark supernatural forces.

Eh.. What?

I love how this guy ties conspiracy theories, evolution, UFO's, and demons into a modern understanding of Christianity. This may be the most paranoid example of multi-tasking in modern theology I have witnessed. Someone needs to alert the Spanish Inquisition!


-Safari Bob

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What is the Role of Rhetoric Before a Biased Audience?

My reading of Aristotle contends that he approaches argument as contingent – or happening in the moment. Ideally, the rhetor addresses an audience that chooses sides at that moment or at least within the corpus of the oration. The effect of the rhetor is judged by the choice of the audience to either accept or reject the argument en toto at the expense of the opposition. Victory and defeat both depend on the skill of the rhetor and the construction of the argument while the audience is presumed to have little or no stake in the decision. My question is this: What is the role of rhetoric if the audience is biased (or intractable) before the argument commences? How is the purpose of rhetoric different before a hostile or sympathetic group of stakeholders? What is the role of neo-Aristotelian criticism in determining the motives (hidden or declared) of the audience that sits in judgment of the efficacy of the argument?


Wichelns addresses the nature of the audience through the eyes of the rhetor: “Something should be said of structure, something of adaptation to the immediate audience, whose convictions and habits of thought, whose literary usages, and whose general cultural background all condition the work both of writer and speaker” (15). The function of the orator is seen as “influencing men in some concrete situation” (24) and her method of imparting these ideas to her hearers (26) is analyzed. He concludes that we “must examine more thoroughly…the interactions of the inventive genius, the popularizing talent, and the public mind” (32) but, for Wichelns, the rhetor is still privileged with if not a neutral audience, certainly a sympathetic one.

Selzer provides an excellent primer of rhetorical analysis as critical reading of texts and provides a summary of three general ideas of audience (283) but fails to address the motives for accepting or rejecting a given argument. Audience is treated as neutral to or even “implied” (294) by the rhetor and persuasion is contingent on the skills and choices of the one constructing the argument. In his example, he demonstrates that Friedman was vulnerable to counterattack by opposition through a weak metaphor rather than the opposition’s predilection to do so based on their stake in the argument. Why did Friedman’s rhetoric not persuade his opposition?

Perhaps it is unfair to ask the rhetorician – or at least neo-Aristotelian criticism - to identify the motives of the audience. In fact, Leff and Mohrmann in their analysis of the Lincoln address at Cooper Union demonstrate that Lincoln actually was not addressing a potentially hostile Southern audience (181). Hitchcock, in his analysis of Jonathan Edwards, explores a certainly sympathetic audience (I can’t help it; he was preaching to the choir) and articulates the stylistic modes Edwards used to help the congregation concentrate on his message (117 for example). Perhaps this question truly lies in the notion of ethos in that if you truly disagree with the position of the speaker, how can you see her as credible?

-Safari Bob


Hitchcock, Orville A. "Jonathan Edwards" American Public Address, pp. 213-237.

Leff, Michael C. and Gerald P. Mohrmann. "Lincoln at Cooper Union: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Text" in Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Criticism, pp. 173-187.

Selzer, Jack. "Rhetorical Analysis: Understanding How Texts Persuade Readers" Chapter 10, pp. 279-307.

Wichelns, Herbert A. "The Literary Criticism of Oratory" in Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Criticism, pp. 1-32.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Creationist Ploy: Dinos Exist!

This is a new (to me) tactic of creationists: Dinosaurs exist in Africa! In 2002, Dr. Richard Paley (teacher of Divinity and Theobiology!) supposedly accompanied an expedition to find dinosaurs living in Africa:

This Summer (2002), I was blessed to be able to take part in some very important fieldwork which I would like to share with my readers. In order to further support the theory of man/dinosaur contemporaneity, I and a group of fellow creation scientists mounted an expedition to the jungles of Africa to track down and bring back photographic evidence of a living dinosaur, thus proving that these Behemoths had indeed survived the Flood as scriptural analysis clearly indicates. [1]


My favorite part of his report is when he stops an evil atheist from shooting a dinosaur:

"Put down that weapon! The power of Christ compels you!" I immediately commanded, the words flowing through me as if from Above. The power of my rebuke startled both him and the Apatosaurus, causing the former to turn toward me and issue a blasphemous curse while the latter disappeared down the trail. Before Stubbingwicke could notice that his prey was escaping, I ran to head him off. Now between him and the beast, I dropped my gear, rolled up my sleeves, put my fists up and issued a challenge: "If you want that dinosaur, you will have to get through me first!" Seeing that he had no choice but to deal with me, Stubbingwicke dropped his weapons, uttered some more blasphemies, and came at me with his fists. As I engaged him in fisticuffs, I called out to Johnny to take the camera and hurry down the path to get a photo, which the now-panicked guide nevertheless did. [1]

But wait! It gets better:

Like most Atheists, Stubbingwicke was all tough talk, but deep inside he was weak since he did not have the Love of Christ to succor him and give him strength. His cynicism and disbelief proved no match for my Faith and I eventually had him on the defensive. As my fists found their mark as if by Divine guidance, he finally fell to the ground on all fours, too tired and beaten to give any more fight. I stayed my fists and stood over his pathetic, subdued form. More curious than angry, I asked him what he hoped to accomplish by killing the Apatosaurus. His reply, snarled from a bleeding cut lip, was as shocking as it was plausible, and I can still remember it verbatim:

"Do you seriously believe that we don't already know about these dinosaurs? Why do you think I agreed to come along on this little Christian adventure of yours? To make sure you don't get what you came for, that's why!" [1]

Exciting, ain't it!

My question to you, O' gentle reader, is simply this: Do you think a dead 'dinosaur' would be more valuable to science or religion? Thank goodness that Jimmy at least got a blurry image for the website!

-Safari Bob

[1] Dino Expedition 2002

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Monkey God Ascends to School Board

CNN is reporting that a Hindu Deity has been named chairman of a school board in India: "Hanuman, the popular god known for his strength and valor, has been named official chairman of the recently opened Sardar Bhagat Singh College of Technology and Management in northern India" [1]. Apparently, after an exhaustive candidate search, all other potential administrators were found to be only human and paled in comparison to the possibility of a true deity as chairmonkey.

This could be a serious precedent for Intelligent Design proponents.

-Safari Bob

[1] Indian School Names Monkey God Chairman

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Amy Winehouse Tormented by Ghost - WTF? is reporting that Amy Winehouse has fled her home because " a poltergeist – who she has named Henry – is haunting her North London flat and is trying to harm her" [1]. Apparently, the nefarious apparition has repeatedly attacked her leaving scratches on her arms. She refuses to return to her home until someone can preform an exorcism and relieve the tormented singer of these pernicious phantoms.

Right... these are ghost scratches on my arms, officer.

What kind of world do we live in where crazy pop singers can't even brood in drug-induced angst in peace? Shame on you, Casper! Don't make me get the Ghost-Whisperer on your ass!

-Safari Bob


[1] - Amy Winehouse

Monday, May 19, 2008

Are Americans Getting Dumber? DUH!!

I ran across this article on whether or not Americans are foreswearing learning for TV and video games. For instance, how many Americans would have to look up the word "foreswear"? Why do Americans not have time for reading and yet plenty of time for watching reality TV or World of Warcraft?

What worries me is a seemingly prevalent mindset that learning is bad. Terms like "geek" and "nerd" have long been pervasive in schools. I remember being teased and harassed in the seventh grade because some classmates saw a book I was reading (Inside the Atom by Isaac Asimov). Certainly students that like science are often castigated for their interests [1] and this conduct seems to be spreading to all areas of education - especially to young girls. What is going on?

I have asked my students about this and they just shrug their shoulders as say, "I dunno." Does anyone out there have any ideas?

-Safari Bob


[1] See: Sagan, C. (1996). The Demon-Haunted World. New York: Ballantine Books, pp. 321-323.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Einstein Letter Proves that God is Worth Money

The New York Times is reporting that a letter written by Einstein to a friend about God has sold for $404,000! That's alot of money for a letter by a physicist about religion. I wonder how many prayer cloths ole Robert Tilton (aka the God Shark) would have to 'schelp' in order to buy something like that? Now, don't get me wrong; I would love to own it. But I cannot help wondering if the price rose so high because of all those spurious (mis)quotations about God that are attributed to Einstein out here on the Internets.

-Safari Bob



Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Four Common Misconceptions About Science

I am a member of a pipe-smoking forum and I encountered a thread discussing Expelled--No Intelligence Allowed. On an aside, has there ever been a title more descriptive? In any event, I was not surprised to find so many misconceptions about science and evolution. In fact, most of the people engaged in the discussion loved that movie and thought that "science is too big for its breeches". Good Lord n' Butter! Frankly, this kind of talk simply makes my butt tired. I responded by listing these four misconceptions and interestingly, this killed the thread.

1. Science is a method--not a belief system per se. This method is based (since Bacon and Newton) on inductive reasoning while theology and philosophy (like Aristotle) tends to use deductive reasoning. Inductive methodology is similar to the Sherlock Holmes manner of investigation while deductive reasoning is often expressed in a series of if/then statements (like Aquinas, Aristotle, and so on down to DesCarte). ID uses a deductive method that is loved by theology but generally reviled by science.

2. Evolution does not study the origin of life--just how it proceeds. This is important to understand because starting with an observation is important to inductive reasoning while starting with a presumption is deductive. Ideally, one may start with any observation and, through testing, follow the empirical evidence back or forward as evidence permits .

3. Empirical evidence is different in humanities and science. In humanities, empirical evidence may be derived from ethnography or interviews. In science, empirical evidence must be generalizable and repeatable as well as provide direction via predictability.

4. Scientific theories must be falsifiable which means that any model, theory, or even law can be tested in some way. Some philosophical, psychological and theological (ie social sciences) theories cannot be falsified. A classic example of this is Marxism or Freudian dream analysis. A skilled debater can argue these theories in any circumstance and, instead of being proven wrong (or false), these theories tend to fall in or out of popularity--based on current thinking rather than scientific data.

-Safari Bob

Monday, April 14, 2008

My First Political T-Shirt

Today I received in the mail my latest t-shirt: Darwin '08! With all the candidates scrambling to show that they are religious (ironically except McCain), I felt that it is important to remember that science education is also affected by politics. When did you last hear a candidate emphasize the importance of science education apart from economics? I am shocked at how many of my students either reject evolution out right or consider it as one of several viable possibilities to explain how life has progressed on the earth. Inevitably, these discussions lead me to sigh and admit that "I need a beer..."

In any case, the New York City Skeptics are selling these sweet t-shirts for the low, low price of only $18. Get 'em while you can!

-Safari Bob

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Is Science a Religion? Three Distinctions Why it is Not.

I am getting a little weary of hearing people talk of science as a religion - it is not a religion. Richard Dawkins addresses this notion as well as various religious thinkers (see this article as an example). Essentially, religious people see tenants of science as inexplicable and therefore akin to faith while scientists are consumed with evidence and therefore faith is irrelevant. In fact, Dawkins views faith as vice - in either science or religion.

For me, this question is simple because of perspective. Religious practitioners generally begin with the conclusion and then argue why this conclusion is true while scientists begin with a model (akin to the popular notion of theory) and then test it, which can lead to either validation or falsification. As evidence mounts, this model may gain more credibility and become a theory or even a law. This distinction (#1) alone convinces me.

Still, both do offer evidence to support their positions; this is to be expected and may confuse the bystander. These rules of evidence are both different and often incompatible (although I believe that any evidence that science amasses may be appropriated by a religious argument). Generally, because religion is a personal phenomenon, personal anecdote may be offered as proof for a claim while science demands evidence that is empirically verifiable and repeatable by a test or tests. Proof for a religious argument may be identified after the fact while evidence in a scientific context must be predicted before hand and demonstrated. This distinction (#2) alone convinces me.

Also, religion often uses a deductive logical structure which can be understood as a series of "if/then" statements. For instance, one may deductively reason that if God created a world and man is part of this world then God created man. This deductive reasoning was valuable to the origin of science (ie Aristotelian to Cartesian schools) but Bacon and others rejected this method in the 17th century for evidence-based inquiry. Inductive reasoning looks for evidence and, like a detective, the researcher follows the evidence to where it leads. Ironically, fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes practice a kind of inductive reasoning although these observations are often referred to as "deductions." Essentially, religion tends to be deductive while science tends to be inductive. This distinction (#3) alone convinces me.

While these three distinctions are enough for me to decide that science is not a religion, I understand that they may not convince someone that has already decided the contrary. Feel free to leave me comments on this matter.

-Safari Bob

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tobacco Review: Planta MMVII

I have little experience with the Planta Tobacco line other than the Original Danish Black Vanilla Mixture (I love the pipe rest in the top of the tin). I can find little on this company other than it is manufactured in Germany. When I was at Just For Him, we did not carry this line although I can not remember why.

Manufacturer's Description:
An all black tobacco with essence of Blueberry, smells like blueberries in the tin and leaves a blueberry scent in the air afterwards. MSRP: $25 100 gm tin.

As one opens the tin, an aroma of blueberries is immediately noticeable. The tobacco is a black cavendish cut, drier than I like, and packs easily. Upon the initial light, the aroma and flavor of blueberries is unmistakeable and soon fills the room with a sweet smell of waffles - a sure fire crowd pleaser. The bowl does proceed quickly and the flavor, though sweet, does burn hot and unpleasant. One is left with a sweet aftertase but the pleasure is blunted by the distinguished sting left by the raging inferno. I did enjoy this blend but only after adding some Lane BCA to cool the fevered flavor.

This is the kind of blend that is best relegated to the status of a gift. The tin is beautiful and the aroma is wonderful. Unfortunately, the tobacco is too hot on the palate to smoke straight. If you are gifted a tin of Planta MMVII, add some BCA, sit back, and enjoy.

Rating: 1 Puff out of 5

-Safari Bob

Monday, February 18, 2008

New Pipe: Mark Tinsky Coral Carved Bent Ball

I just ordered another Mark Tinsky pipe: a coral carved bent ball. I have two other Tinsky pipes and the Sunrise bent apple may be my best smoker. Normally I like smooth pipes but Gray Fox is having a sale. For only $113 (with free shipping) I should get a great smoking pipe for little dinero. If you like Tinsky pipes, you better get one while you can!

-Safari Bob

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tobacco Review: Samuel Gawith 1792 Flake

Samuel Gawith is an older tobacco company that has been making pipe tobacco and snuff since 1792 and production continues using the original recipes. Currently, Phillips and King imports the Gawith blends including Grousemoor, Squadron Leader, and Best Brown Flake. I first encountered these blends in 1998 and the Squadron Leader was most popular. Lately I have been enjoying flakes and I decided to crack open a tin of 1792 which I have never previously smoked.

Manufacturer's Description:
A full strength, mellow tobacco, comprising a blend of dark fired leaf. Our best-selling premium grade flake starts as 7 lbs of stripped leaf going through a steaming process prior to being pressed, the "cake" having been prepared, is wrapped in a selected leaf and packed by hand into a and left for a minimum of 2 hours. The next stage is to place the pressed "cake" into a steam press where it is baked at full heat for 2-3 hours. Once baked, the "cake" has taken on cobs characteristic rich, dark colour. The "cake" is then hardened by being left to cool. The final process of cutting the flake and adding a tonquin flavouring is carried out followed by hand wrapping and packing ready for the pipe. MSR: $8.55; 50 gm tin.

Tobacco Review
The tobacco is dark chocolate brown with a subtle reddish hue and is cut into 3.5 inch flakes that are moist and easily folded (I do not rub-out my flakes). I have no trouble lighting the flake, although I did have to relight several times as the bowl progressed. The "tonquin" flavor seems to remind me more of a gin or juniper that does meld well with a smokey sweetness that does fade about half way through the pipeful. The overall experience is a full-bodied smoke that has some complexity at first but dies over the span of the smoke. In some ways it reminds me of the old Robert McConnell Red Virginia - especially the last half of the bowl - as a malty flavor either develops or is revealed as the other flavors subside. After several bowls, I am not quite sure if I like it or not. It does burn cool and the flake combusts into a dark, gray ash.

Rating: 3 Puffs out of 5

-Safari Bob

Friday, February 8, 2008

Surviving 2012: Oh Please...

Get ready: The world is supposed to end on December 21, 2012 (12/21/12). "According to their calendar, the Maya believed that their world would end on Dec 21, 2012. Of all the dates put forth by prophets and cultures for a doomsday, this is one with an authentic almost eerie feel to it" [1]. Why does this one have an 'authentic eerie feel' as opposed to all the other ones throughout history?

I remember back in 1988 a popular tract was circulating among the christian fundamentalists supposing that Christ was to return in September 1988. I, and an intrepid band of fellow malcontents, were busted at a Bible College during an attempt to make light of this assertion. Obviously, this prediction was erroneous and the same author revised his calculations and came out with a sequel for 1989. Of course this also was fallacious and 'Grunge' music, Starbucks, and Desert Storm (Part 1) were all allowed to transpire.

Why do these 'Dooms Day' movements exist and thrive in our culture? Certainly these movements are not unique and they have existed throughout most of recorded history. Why do we as a species seem to revel in the possibility of our destruction? I have no idea but I suspect that 'Grunge' may be a manifestation of a nihilist bent that is blunted by a good 'Frappaccino' and appeased by a good war.

Hmm.. coincidence? I think not!

In any event, some segment of humanity seems to need to have a telos and that end must be loud and explosive. I wonder if this self-destructive fantasy is indicative of the need for narrative that seems to pervade the human condition; a desire to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and ending. Frankly, I have no idea but I am sure that this fear of the end will sell lots of books.

-Safari Bob


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tobacco Review: Mac Baren Navy Flake

I well remember my first foray into Mac Baren tobacco and the ensuing tongue bite that savaged my tongue like Sherman across Georgia. These tobaccos always sold well in my shoppe but I never could see the allure. I wanted to like them, and this brand certainly sells well both nationally and internationally, but I never could get past the tongue-bite. Still, many of my older pipe tobacco customers kept many of the best of Mac Baren on my shelves.

I believe it was 2003 when Phillips & King International bought the rights to distribute Mac Baren Pipe Tobacco in the USA and Gene Thompson (whom I knew from Lane Ltd and Dunhill) was hired to manage the pipe tobacco division of P&K. Gene is one of the 'good guys' in the tobacco industry and I miss harassing him on Monday mornings when I ordered pipe tobacco.

In any event, Gene brought Per Georg Jensen to Just For Him that year to give a presentation on Mac Baren pipe tobacco to our staff and customers and that presentation made a big difference to me on how to enjoy these tobacco blends. His method for packing flake tobaccorevolutionized my appreciation for these blends and I recommend that all pipe smokers review this site.

Now, many Mac Baren blends are in my regular rotation including Dark Twist, Stockton, Virginia Flake, Vanilla Flake, and Navy Flake. Here is the manufacturer's description:

From the moment Navy Flake first appeared on tobacconists' shelves, pipe smokers everywhere have shown their appreciation of this mixture. There are many reasons why Navy Flake has become a true Mac Baren classic since then. When Navy Flake was developed in 1965, much work went into the composition of the raw tobaccos. Selections of Burley tobacco were made from our extensive stocks and after countless tests the right Burley content was found. Similarly, tests were then carried out on Virginia tobacco. Different qualities of Virginia tobacco were selected and test smoked. Finally, a handful of these were selected for inclusion in the mixture. Once the right basic tobaccos had been found, a final important element was added to the mixture: a small measure of original Mac Baren Cavendish was added, and it is this which gives Navy Flake its full body. SRP: $14.95 100 gm tin.

Tobacco Review
The tobacco is layered on brown flakes with mottling that ranges from black to light golden hues. I fold the flakes and twist into the pipe - I do not rub out - and the tobacco lights easily. As the flake burns into a light, white ash I get a distinct rum and raisin flavor that soon fades into the background to be replaced by an earthy burley and sweet Virginia. The flavor is not complex but some liveliness is evident as the competing factions of this flake do rise to the forefront from time to time. The flake burns evenly but thoughtless puffing can raise the temperature.

Overall, this is a good all day flake that has a wonderful aroma that is not too aromatic yet pleasant for others to enjoy. This is a great blend for the Virginia smoker that has to placate a wife who demands some sweetness for the room.

Rating: 4 puffs out of 5

-Safari Bob


Saturday, January 12, 2008

A New Semester

The first week of my last semester of course work is done and I am taking a class that I have been looking forward to for some time: The Rhetoric of Scientific Literature. In this course I have the opportunity to conduct a small study of some sort dealing with some aspect of Science Rhetoric or Writing. I choose to explore the idea of Science 2.0 which is part of the Open Science movement.

Any thoughts?

-Safari Bob