A later version of L’Enfant’s plan for DC, one can clearly see why you would assume DC is more than a bit marshy. Drafted by Andrew Ellicot, obtained from the Wikimedia Foundation.

“I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you with a much, much larger crowd and much, much better people.” -Donald Trump, Remarks in Pennsylvania on the 29th of April in 2017

While the fact that Trump would purposefully scorn the people who ACTUALLY got him elected is not surprising, it’s still non-traditional for a modern President to not attend the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Through the late Bush and Obama administrations, it became a sort of venting space for the holders of America’s highest office to express their sense of humor (or at least the one they had written for them), a properly humanizing venture away from the constant thrusts and parries of the 24 hour news cycle. However, Trump, who is alleged to almost completely lack a sense of humor, is once again back to his strange cycle of public denouncement and private reconciliation, holding his own rally on the date of the correspondents dinner in some mixture of spite and unwillingness to face a hostile crowd. However, like many people, I’m honestly burnt out on active rage against Trump- while I loathe the man, there’s little citizens can do to face the executive when the legislative branch is a much more important target. Instead, I feel I should look at a more common piece of political rhetoric in our day and age- the description of the fine city of Washington DC as a “swamp” that needs to be drained.

I had never thought to question this description as anything but a clever bit of history. It’s a common story in history classes that the city was built in a particularly swampy region of the mid-Atlantic, situated at the intersection of two major rivers (the Anacostia and Potomac) with countless other small tributaries nearby, which reportedly made summers here unpleasant. So imagine my surprise when I saw a link to this article in the middle of the election cycle, alleging that DC’s swampy nature was about as real as Comey’s investigation into Clinton. So, we’re confronted with the question- why do people keep repeating something that is evidently a lie?

It perhaps naive to ask a question with a quite obvious answer- it’s just a bit of rhetoric used by those who consciously position themselves against the “corrupt Washington establishment.” We tend to thing of swamps as negative- dark, dirty, filled with all manner of ungodly creatures and strange folk. Why not add this on to the constant barrage of negativity our fine city receives by degrading it more? It’s not hard to look and find politicians who campaign on the idea of punishing DC for being a flourishing urban area, even when they can’t find proper evidence of it. All this is to say that, much like most of our modern political sphere, falsehoods that feel good continue to be effective. C’est la vie, I suppose.

I found this flyer on a junction box in Tenleytown while getting dinner, and it seems to express a common frustration with much of the class so far. Picture by me.

While I admit City of Rhetoric is quite arguable around its central thesis, I feel the book’s greatest achievements lie in it’s discussion of various methods of “urban development” and the problems thereof. While many local politician will often argue that mixed income housing or redevelopment plans are ultimately a boon for the community, they often overlook the effects on the poorest residents- something that has as of late become an acute point among the more socially conscious urban dwellers. DC in particular has a horrendous problem with housing, having homelessness rates twice the national average, something not helped by the gigantic amounts of gentrification experienced in traditionally lower and middle income neighborhoods as of late. While I can’t say for certain the exact position of the poster of this flyer, as their website appears to have gone down, this has a lot of rhetoric to unpack, not only in content but in location.

This flyer is meant to highlight and shame several officials the authors see as complicit in the gentrification of DC. The figure who first pops out as you, and seemingly the one they aim to direct the most vitrol to, is our mayor Marion Bowser. The rest of the people pictured are appointees, directly or indirectly by Bowser, which makes her position of prominence make sense. These lesser figures are all, as you might expect, involved in urban planning and zoning- two groups with the most control over the rate and manner of city development. The one thing in particular that I very find interesting about this flyer is the center piece, evidently a photo copied sticker. While the “motto” of “GENTRIFY” is pretty standard, the use of stereotypical pioneer imagery brings several dimensions into this. The most obvious one is the subtle racial connotations of the pioneers- people who, if we look past the gloss of historical nostalgia, are best known for displacing and slaughtering innumerable native American tribes in the pursuit of profit. A comparison seems to be made between the gentrifying forces’ displacement of predominantly minority homeowners and the American pioneers displacement of Native Americans, quite an interesting angle.

However, the rhetoric of place of where this flyer is presents more dimensions. Tenleytown is a quite upper-class neighborhood, almost bordering on suburban, with high housing prices. Most residents likely do not have vitrolic feelings about gentrification, or may even see it as a beneficial act benefiting their city. This seems to suggest that such a flyer is not targeted at the residents, but rather at American University’s students, many of whom are quite socially conscious. It becomes a hair more ironic when you realize how many of our students are themselves from upper-middle class backgrounds, who tend to be the driving force in modern gentrification. While having allies is important, one can begin to question the legitimacy of such people in their feelings, or at least their last of reflection. However, ultimately a proper analysis of this may be impossible without viewing their website- but it’s a salient piece of public rhetoric nonetheless.

The video this gif was taken from has been making waves in the tech community, and been a source of considerable laughter for all involved (Bloomberg).

“Doug Evans, [Juiceros]’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force—“enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup.” -Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski, “Silicon Valley’s $400 Juicer May Be Feeling the Squeeze”

Sometimes  I get the feeling that we’re just throwing millions of dollars at bad ideas for the sake of buzzwords. Hear me out for a moment. You constantly hear on the news about a “new startup” attempting to make something to disrupt a certain industry- let’s say a company that’s like “Airbnb but with dogs.” This company makes a lot of publicity, maybe a video serving as a hypothetical demonstration, and suddenly people are coming in through the windows to give them money. You may say that my idea sounds ridiculous- but what if I told you that someone tried to make a juicer based on the basic Keurig concept?

Juiceros was one of those companies that really shouldn’t have been taken seriously, but somehow was. Realistically, there probably was a market for this, but it would be small and entirely dependent on cold-press juice staying in favor as a food craze. However, nevertheless this was seen as crazy enough to work, and became one of the rare hardware startups to get on the ground, based on lofty promises. And sure, the company did deliver on its promise- the product was released and functional, environmental concerns aside.

Of course, this all blew up in their face when Bloomberg ran a piece conclusively showing that the buyer could just as easily squeeze the juice themselves- replacing a $400 product with a modicum of manual effort. Quite understandably, they’ve become not only the laughing stock of the tech world overnight, but also a cause for reflection. This company, who would have been smarter just selling their juice packets themselves, received millions from Google, a company considered to be the golden goose of startup acquisitions, on the basis of unbelievable promises and a product almost exclusively relevant only to a tiny subset of the urban bubble. It begins to seem to any sane person that companies basically get money for nothing at this point- leaving everyone poorer, more embarrassed, and squeezing their own juice packets.

Works Cited

Nicholson, David, and Henry Baker. “Do You Need a $400 Juicer?” Bloomberg, 18 Apr. 2017. Gif of video by unknown author.

“As much as Andrés wants us to eat better, the man whose kitchens dish out pedigreed ham (at Jaleo) and a meringue “Rubber Ducky” made with foie gras ice cream (at Minibar) knows dining is as much about pleasure as sustenance. Or should be.” -Tom Sietsema, “Beefsteak review: Making vegetables bright, beautiful- and fast,” The Washington Post

Tracking down a picture of Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema is surprisingly hard (for likely good reason)- the most you can easily find is this caricature he uses on his column.

It’s not an uncommon proposition that America is a food culture- it embodies everything we hold as core values: openness to new things, a celebration of plenty, and a love of basal pleasures. While America cannot claim to have the same fine dining chops as countries like Italy and France, we are the country who invented the omnipresent culinary pornography of fast food. Of course, many have objections to the latter- everything from its unhealthiness and corporate nature to its lack of refinement.

The latter point is more interesting, as it’s the most subjective of these themes. Of course, it’s not hard to see how pervasive the concept of fast food as a “people’s food” has become- one only need to be reminded of the photo ops of Trump with items from McDonalds or KFC to see how this can be used as a rhetorical shorthand for a lack of pretention or elitism on behalf of someone with very little in common with his most receptive audience. Even when eating his famous steaks, he’s known for his quite “uncultured” taste for ketchup as a pairing with this expensive and generally extravagant cut of meat. This was one of the many widely mocked parts of our president’s public persona, and with the fact that this seemed to connect with a certain group of people, it’s perhaps good to reflect on why this is.

Of course, pleasurable food has different meanings to different people. Tom Sietsema, the writer of this piece, is the food critic of the Washington Post- a job entirely about identifying what a subjective taste most would agree with is. This is especially important when it comes to the restaurants he often examines, which can cost a sizable portion of a week’s salary for a simple entree. Of course, in context it’s interesting to consider the fact he equates the pleasure from a fast casual vegetable joint to the items found at an exclusive restaurant where $275 is the cost for an evening. Sietsema clearly likes this place- after all, two stars is nothing to sneeze at. But does what he considers dining for pleasure rather than sustenance even compare to what most American see it as?

José Andrés is DC’s most famous chef, responsible for several of the most notable restaurants in the district. He’s also the founder of the Beefsteak chain.

What I’ve been trying to get at with all this rambling is this: how does the way we approach food shape our perceptions of it and others? Consider the rise of the fast casual restaurant- the only fundamental difference between these places and a fast food joint is higher prices, more high quality ingredients, and a lack of drive ins. Sure, you could argue about seating and interior design, but even a fast food joint could have high quality seating. However, a man like Tom Sietsema would likely never touch a fast food joint with a mile long stick in a professional context, but if a famous chef decides to start a fast casual chain it’s suddenly worth a review and two stars for quality. Why has the consumer with the luxury of picking rejected fast food and embraced fast casual? It’s a mystery which I hope to probe into in my final essay- but until then, I’ll be left contemplating the differences between mere sustenance and gustatory pleasure.

The man on the left (Dan Bishop of Georgia) cared so much about where people used the restroom that he virtually ruined his state’s reputation and endangered its economy.

1. A good portion of Americans are far too interested in how and where others use the restroom- some even to the point of losing massive amounts of money because of a perceived morality of saying that certain people can or cannot use a restroom because of their gender identity. In the midst of this, American University has decided to provide gender-neutral restrooms on the first floor of their residence halls, in case that people who do not feel comfortable with the potential social situation of using the bathroom corresponding to their identity on their own floor still have a method of performing basic bodily functions. The Housing and Dining Program’s staff make this the main focus from the get-go, emphasizing the fact that it is for “anyone to use regardless of gender-identity.” The posting of this sign itself, versus simply denoting that it’s a gender-neutral restroom, is a political act of at-least ostensible solidarity, showing an understanding of the fact that freedom of gender expression is an issue many young people see as worth fighting for. The next sentence is a tacit acknowledgement of the fact that a sizable part of the student base is either uncomfortable with the subject or sees it somehow as an infringement on their rights, urging students to try and make it work without outside intervention. The school’s wording in this section is particularly interesting- it attributes some discomfort with the idea to it being “new and different,” which portrays it as simply a change rather than the “assault” on traditional values some see it as. It finally concludes with the note that there is a lock on the restroom if those using it need it, which is probably a fair compromise for people used to having restrooms that lock or feel uncomfortable about the fact that feasibly two people can use those restrooms at once. In any case, this sign is a very good way for the school to make their case for being accepting of people’s gender identities and fostering an attitude of inclusivity on their campus.

All of these universities would be given tax exemptions for land they owned- but for good or ill?

2. “Shall property be exempt?”
This sentence is the closest thing to the dictionary definition of a “loaded question” that I have seen in recent memory. The sentence, while ostensibly simply a question at it’s core, is phrased to make both a logos and pathos appeal before it’s even done being asked. It’s perhaps easiest to break this sentence into two halves, so let’s first consider “Shall property owned by the University System of Georgia and utilized by providers of college and university student housing and other facilities…” Already we can see the rhetor informing the audience that this lands seems to be primarily used for student housing, a necessary service that the likely entirely college educated assembly would know to be necessary, and maybe even remember from their own time at college. The phrasing glosses over the fact that this land could contain everything from a sexual health clinic to the campus bookstore, meaning that this land could be used for potentially less agreeable things or even sources of profit for the school system, which would be a far different question. The second half is even more interesting: “…continue to be exempt from taxation to keep costs affordable?” The clever rhetorical device here comes at the very end, where the phrasing seems to change the question from “tax exemption” to “affordable college,” the latter of which being a far more emotionally charged issue. While people may have valid points against allowing an institution to be tax exempt that would put their constituency to sleep, it’s far easier to get this measure passed if they turn it into an issue of keeping a public college affordable, which could make or break a candidate in the right community. In any case, it’s quite clear that the rhetor here knew exactly what he was doing when he phrased this question, and we can give him some credit for the fact.

WIlliam Gibson’s cyberpunk novel Neuromancer not only predicted the Internet, it now seems to be predicting a world where corporations have more power than governments. Cover art by James Warhola.

“Many consumers, especially those households with limited incomes, appreciate receiving relevant advertising that is keyed to their interests and provides them with discounts on the products and services they use.” –League of United Latin American Citizens, Multicultural Media, Telecom, and Internet Council, OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates

Unsurprisingly, the right side of the aisle has managed to pass yet another bill that infringes on consumer’s freedoms while claiming it enhances their experience as consumers. However, rather than ban seatbelts requirements (something I expect within the next 4 years), the Republican party has instead gone with a more simple strategy: make it perfectly legal for an internet service provider to sell your data. The first argument for it usually involves the fact the fact that advertisers have been doing that for years, and that not allowing internet service providers is just inconsistency. This is a false equivalency for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there are plenty of ways for a person to protect themselves from online snooping. Secondly, an internet service provider sees everywhere you go and can often collect the data you send. The Republicans have more or less sold all the personal information (which worryingly could be used to make lists of people of certain political viewpoints, religions, or races) of their constituents to the telecom industry with relatively little recourse, and no way to fix any problems that arise.

However, I’m more confused and concerned about their second argument: people don’t want privacy. This letter, sent by two Comcast-funded civil rights group and an actual telecom lobbyist organization, is attempting to argue the fact that the poor and minorities actively desire to have their information unknowingly sold to advertisers in a system that will likely not have an opt-out by the end of this decade. While I admit that I am not capable of speaking for everyone, I’m going to go off on a limb and say that this is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. Americans have been fighting against the surveillance state for more than 200 years. Why suddenly it’s somehow considered a remotely believable lie that it is, in fact, okay if a corporation does it is far beyond me.

It worries me greatly every time I see corporate funded legislation meant to exploit average citizens get rubberstamped through Congress purely because of party lines and the legal bribery that lobbying generally entails. While many in Congress seem to be banking on the fact that this will either not effect them or they’ll be senile before it matters, the fact is that this kind of legislation will disproportionately impact the lives of people of my age group and younger- we’re coming into adulthood in a world where mass surveillance and corporate manipulation of law are both normalized. The only funny part of this is the fact that William Gibson, coiner of the term “cyberspace” and technologically-prescient science fiction writer, is already often considered to have correctly predicted the rise of internet- but has evidently predicted the corporate dystopia we’re rapidly entering as well.

Citations

Warhola, James. Cover of Neuromancer, 1984.

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

The stereotype of the modern era has always been to demonize the sell-out, suggesting that one motivated by the money and corporate interests can never make True Art™. This is like great reassurance to every crappy garage band sitting on this planet’s face, but it’s got one gigantic logical flaw: artists, in order to create art, need to find some way to pay their way through a very fundamentally non-artistic world. Sure, there are artists who have managed to convert initial success into a continued, gilded mediocrity, but that’s a sign that the well they were drawing from was likely the life they left behind.

I bring this up because I’ve been recently thinking about an artist whose main contribution to the art world has been advertising- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The man, a painter and a lithograph maker, has been more or less entirely forgotten in the former category for his successes in the latter, single-handedly defining an era of Paris with his Japanese inspired composition and singularly deft hand. What one forgets about such a poster is that, for all intents and purposes, this is a piece of advertising, no different from a flyer about any sketchy night club in the city. The only thing that elevated this to belonging in an art museum was simply the fact that he made his beautiful compositions long before people started babbling about authenticity and its like. Of course, one can argue that the classical pitfall of the emotionally sensitive artist, substance abuse, suggests that he was nowhere near as corporate as many of the people we accuse of this today. However, I retort a simple fact: these were done by commission. Toulouse-Lautrec made his legacy through fulfilling commissions for posters, as well as entering competitions on the side.

Sure, it’s a good painting, but Toulouse-Lautrec lived in a hive of them.

What I mean to get at in all of this is that I far too often see people criticize things as having “sold-out,” as if financial sponsorship is the end of art. The fact is that “art,” as a concept, is the most poorly defined concept of debate in the past 200 years, and is not likely to be defined as long as modern human civilization continues to exist. Until then, the talented will keep being talented and people who haven’t held a brush or chisel in their lives will continue to shout about what art, really and truly, entails.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”- Samuel Beckett, Westward Ho!

There are relatively few writers who could examine the discourse of two humans from a seemingly third viewpoint quite like Beckett. Take for example the “thought” of Lucky in Waiting for Godot- there have been few writers in any language with the will or the idea to create an incredibly long and unintelligible sentence that still somehow stuck to the laws of the English language in the name of art. It is perhaps only natural that he would in turn be fascinated in the principles of lingual minimalism. The given phrase is not a real sentence or set of sentences in any academic sense- there is no given subject, and though it’s implied, this would likely get an F at the hands of any high school English teacher.

However, with an appreciation for the fact that you are allowed to “break the rules” makes us able to examine this from a higher perspective. The short, rapid burst phrases almost suggest a sort of mantra- a repeated phrase urging oneself to try again and “fail better.” The latter phrase is particularly interesting.  It’s a logical contradiction at first glance- failing is inherently negative- but one sees the echos of a similar concept all across our common lexicon. Consider the classic proverb: “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” All Beckett seems to be saying is a refinement on this concept- “No matter how many times you fail, what’s important is you improve on your failures and try again.”

The question is brought up of how does the punctuation effect this sentence. For examine, imagine we replaced all the periods with commas, and read it to yourself. It seems to come out a jumble of words- the clear stops given by the period help separate the disparate thoughts into a coherent series. Furthermore, following the suggestion of question marks just leaves a mildly manic sounding series of rapid fire questions. The punctuation here is purposeful and likely correct for Beckett’s purposes.

If we are to address the question of what his choice of sentence structure, or lack thereof, we ought to first put it in a more traditional format: ‘I ever tried and ever failed; no matter, I fail again and I fail better.” The one thing this lacks compared to Beckett’s version is a feeling of universality. Beckett’s phrase almost seems like both a personal statement and a piece of advice, he urges himself to “fail better” and at the same time seems to be telling you to do so. This is perhaps where the power of the statement comes from. And it does appear to be powerful- there’s at least one company named after the phrase.

Overall, Beckett urges us to follow a noble path: never surrendering in the face of adversity. In this day and age, it’s advice worth listening to.

This particularly “sassy cat” was found in the recent CIA leaks. I’m likely risking my life to inform you of how singularly sassy this cat is.

1) “There was so much to grok, so little to grok from.” -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

IC, FANBOYS, DC

While the meaning of “grok” remains elusive at the point when this sentence is read, it’s still quite simple to find contextual meaning. If we were to rearrange the independent clause of the sentence to follow a more standard format, we would get “So much there was to grok.” “So” appears to be functioning as an adjective and can more or less be ignored, though it helps to emphasize “how much” of the unnamed thing there is. “Much” as a noun is more or less uninteresting, though it does provide a somewhat obscure tone that fits well with the mysterious verb “grok.” The phrase “there was,” written in literary past tense,  suggests that whatever the ultimate point of the sentence may be, it’s fairly unequivocal that the direct object exists, at least relative to the verb. We soon reach the direct object itself- the infinitive “to grok.” This answers the question everyone was asking: “There was so much of what?” It is now crystal that there was much to grok- but then we recieve an incredible curveball- a dependent clause?! This independent clause appears to have no verb, perhaps suggesting that it may also be in the domain of “there was.” Performing the same operation as earlier, we can assume it would resemble “[There was] so little to grok from.” “So little” falls under much the same interpretation of “so much” in it’s parallel structure, as does “to grok.” The preposition from presents an interesting case. Perhaps this entire clause may instead be a prepositional phrase with an implied verb- “so little from [which] to grok.” In any case, we clearly see that the speaker notes that there are things to grok but a limited number of things to grok from- a tragic situation.

2) David Fleming concludes his City of Rhetoric by arguing that “education [should be] oriented to the ‘strong publics’ of decision making rather than the ‘weak publics’ of opinion formation” (205). For Fleming, then, composition courses, which traditionally have asked students to write pieces meant to help form opinions among the supposedly powerful, should instead have students practice activism, taking charge of fixing the problems of his or her society rather than relying on others to.  In other words, Fleming desires a transition from a reactive public to an active public.

The ideal point of the essays about our physical space is to analyze what sort of rhetoric emerges from it, whether it is positive or negative, and ultimately how to rectify it. Otherwise all all we’re doing is blabbing about a park or burger joint for no good reason.

3) While the content of this section is relatively similar either way, the argument primarily being one of ethos (namely the ethos of teaching vis a vis asking questions in class), the actual video clip adds a large volume of pathos- his emotional reaction to the indoctrination of complacency in the American school system suggests this is a personal issue for him. It’s perhaps interesting to see the effects of written versus spoken language when it comes to a writer evidently most famous for his explorations of how language influences us.

It’s not exactly easy for me to add content to this sort of thing, considering how it’s mainly based off of textual or embedded media. However, this made me laugh, so here it goes.

Part 1:

We  often walk around without giving the things around us much thought. Consider how often we stop to consider all the people we see on the street- virtually never. However, the one obvious exception seems to be signs- things purposefully build to get our attention and convey vital info to us in as little time as possible.  In the same way, pedestrians have been trained to obey crossing signals, and likewise for drivers and street lights. Nevertheless,  many of us simply tune our other surroundings as a result, by focusing on our devices or a space directly in front of us, walking around oblivious to our surroundings, not grasping the spirit of a place. Hence, many feel a disconnect from the places they live and work. As this essay will detail, although many scholars of psychology have addressed the idea that our disconnect from our sense of place leads to civic disengagement, these ideas have rarely been discussed in the context of urban planning.

Part 2:
The first thing a prospective AU student will come to on the university’s website is a looping video of everything the school holds dear: the pavilion outside the School of Communications, overly enthusiastic and properly diverse orientation groups, painting, and the horrors of the 2016 election watch party. While my descriptions are tongue in cheek, each clip is an attempt to introduce AU’s points of pride: our groundskeeping, ostensible cultural openness, and the fact that while we are a government focused school, we’re not ONLY a government focused school. Scrolling down a bit confronts you with a selling point AU would love to tout- nearly  90% of all their students going to job or grad school, and 90% having participated in an internship. Of course, this all falls apart when you notice the top employer is Teach for America, a group mainly known for their federal debt forgiveness program. You’re finally given a few cute pictures and recent social media posts- both things that appeal to those “tech-savvy millennials.” AU clearly wants to show that they’re not just for political science majors- but they don’t do a very good job of it.

Part 3:

“(IC)The sun[subj] came[verb] up a baleful smear in the sky, (DC) not quite shapeless, (DC) in fact able to assume the appearance of a device immediately recognizable yet unnameable, (DC) so widely familiar that the inability to name it passed from simple frustration to a felt dread, (DC) whose intricacy deepened almost moment to moment . . . its name a word of power, (DC) not to be spoken aloud, (DC) not even to be remembered in silence.”

There is no second independent clause in this sentence, technically making it entirely within the bounds of acceptable English grammar.

I have not the slightest idea what images belong in this (I’ve never read Pynchon and the AU website is self explanatory), so have this silly dog.