Choice of 3 photo safaris

October 20, 2014

For Visual Rhetoric (COM 270): We will divide and conquer, a third of the room doing one of the following photo safaris.

Group A will write about a photo of their choosing, but they will write about everything except what is in the photo. Comment on the paper, the depth (or perceived depth), the ink or the pixels. What is before you, or between you and that which the photo is seeking to represent? Look at what the photo is made of, in other words, at the medium of the medium.

Group B will observe and write about what James Elkins calls “punctum,” or anything in the photo other than what you are supposed to see. For example, for the photo accompanying this post, everything but the elderly man who is the primary subject of the photo. Describe everything else. This safari is about “little journeys,” private readings, a visual amusement ride.

streetGroup C will discuss how they use photography. Susan Sontag suggests that you determine what a photo means by looking at how it is being used. It means how it is used. So how do you “use” photography? Why? Why do you use photography? Consume images? Dig deep here and look at what these uses might say about you. For example, think about the expression: “It didn’t happen unless it’s on Facebook,” which refers to images, photos. Think of how many times you and your friends did something or went somewhere expressly for the photos, for the images. What does this say about us?

Describing your memory palace and how it works

October 14, 2014

For Visual Rhetoric (COM 270): You were asked to watch Josh Foer’s TED talk on memory and the ancient practice of creating, imagining memory palaces. The one I created to remember where you all are from uses Curt Hersey, a bunch of black polecats, hundreds of Abraham Lincoln heads (with stovepipe hats, of course), Larry Marvin, an army base, and a clown car, among other things. Describe yours here, and what you used it to remember. How well did it work for you, and to what purpose? An exam? Impressing friends at a party? What?

Religion, culture & “connective tissue”

October 10, 2014

For students of COM 270: Visual Rhetoric:

I would call today’s Visual Rhetoric class discussion the best we’ve had this semester, and by quite a margin. We unpacked Bill Maher’s statements on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS. We talked about the dangers of conflating religion, culture, cultural practice and norms, and even pure politics. We talked about who gets to decide who is a “moderate,” who is “in the club” (and therefore who is definitely, even dangerously “out” of the club). We discussed the impulse to blame the “Other,” the “out” group: Sarah mentioned Malala Yousfazi’s experience (she just won a Nobel). And I promised you a link to Maher’s own Real Time “debate” with Ben Affleck (warning: language). We looked at Nick’s Booker video, listened to a slave auction, and recognized that to be “Other”ed is to be blamed for things we have nothing to do with, have no control over.

As I told you in class, we’ll hold off on the advertising safari, so don’t worry about that just yet.

I advised everyone to read chapters 3 and 4 of Apkon. I assigned you each to construct a memory palace based on Josh Feuer’s description of the ancient memory skill linked off our webpage, and to be read to share it.

I pointed you to the take-home midterm, which is due in ONE WEEK.

If you haven’t posted your “Other” experience to this blog (but not this blog post), do so before you leave campus for Fall Break. Which reminds me: Have an awesome break!!!

Yik Yak and the First Amendment

October 4, 2014

What should academic freedom look like in 2014?

Private and public campuses both are wrestling with this question, and on a number of fronts. A former UVa English professor is asking this in his lawsuit against the University of Illinois, for rescinding an offer to hire him after becoming displeased with that professor’s anti-Israel over the summer. Are his tweets protected expression under the First Amendment. Of course. But he hasn’t been censored. The legal question is whether by rescinding the offer to hire, has Illinois unconstitutionally punished him for his expression, or violated state or federal employment law in withdrawing the offer over his expression.

Twitter lives in a fascinating middle space between mass communication (public) and interpersonal communication (private, or at least not pubic), and the law hasn’t yet figured out quite what to do with this new hybrid form. To this point, I just heard today of Yik Yak, a new social media platform that works like Snapchat, only with text and for anonymous expression. Lawyers no doubt are licking their chops, and college administrators likely are adding this to their many reasons not to get good sleep at night worrying about risk, liability and Title IX.

So the question, posed by one of my JoMC 711 Writing for Digital Media students: Where is (or should be) the balance between creating a civil, rape culture-free environment for all students and any sort of absolute freedom of speech?”

To cite Yik Yak again, certainly the mixture of college students and anonymity is NOT the way to achieve this balance, though under the First Amendment, I believe clearly there is some cover of protection for truly anonymous expression. But near-adult college students and risk-free anonymous expression? Lawyers, start your search engines! It’s asking for trouble, as precedents JuicyCampus and clearly demonstrate.

And I’m sure Yik Yak will hide behind Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for legal protection, just like the many that have preceded it have. The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear a Facebook case in which a man either threatened or did not threaten his estranged wife with posts, both written and photographic. It is this “true threat” determination that will swing the case one way or the other.

Now most people understand that First expression rights aren’t absolute, a principle that goes back to 1919 and Justice Holmes’s philosophical question: Should it be protected expression to yell “Fire!” in a crowded moviehouse, recognizing that this can and has led to death by trampling (a fire in a Rhode Island nightclub a few years ago, for ex.). (Steve Martin asked the corollary in his standup act in the 1970s: Is it OK to yell “Movie!” in a crowded firehouse?) But the First is understood today to protect offensive, troublesome, disturbing expression, even especially so, because we don’t need the First for expression that isn’t any of these things.

So where should the line be drawn?

For the Supreme Court, that line would seem to be required to pass two tests: First, it can’t discriminate against some expression, or preference some expression over other expression (RAV v. City of St. Paul, ’92). This decision struck down a state law that forbade burning crosses or the display of swastikas because it therefore ALLOWED all sorts of other problematic expression. Abortion clinic buffer laws have to pass this same test.

Second, the discriminating line has to criminalize ONLY expression that is perceived as a targeted or directed threat, which is Virginia v. Black (’03), one of O’Connor’s last big cases, and the just-mentioned Facebook angry husband case. In the former, a burning cross in an open field in Virginia was protected expression because no one person could persuasively argue that that cross was meant to threaten him or her.

So there is a sort of Scylla and Charybdis (rock and a hard place) dilemma for college administrators trying to find the balance. These administrators, some of whom understand the value of academic freedom and the hard-won First rights we all should enjoy and some of whom do not, are asked to come up with and then enforce policy that attempts to discourage “rape culture” but that at the same time stops short of infringing on anyone’s First rights. This is really, really difficult, especially at public institutions (or “state actors”), which is why speech codes and hate speech codes at places like Stanford and Michigan have been found unconstitutional under the First when challenged in a court of law.

But anonymous expression? Especially problematic, because to take action against someone whose expression has heretofore been anonymous, you must know who he or she is, and to unmask that person is to go ahead and punish them before the case is even heard. When and where that should be allowed puts judges in a most difficult position indeed. Should Thomas Paine have been unmasked (he wrote The Common Sense pseudonymously)? The writers of the Federalist Papers, all of whom wrote pseudonymously? Benjamin Franklin? He used at least 40 different pseudonyms during his long, illustrious publishing career, including Silence Dogood and Anthony Afterwit. Really. And Mark Twain, O. Henry, Voltaire, George Eliot, and George Sand all are pseudonyms.

So this is a really hard nut to crack.

Coincidentally, this week we celebrated Tuesday the 50th anniversary of protests in the wake of student Jack Weinberg’s arrest for distributing civil rights literature from a table in a public square at U Cal Berkley in 1964.

What do the 45 words of the First Amendment actually mean? On a college campus where students are experimenting with so many things, including expression, often with little regard for the reputational rights of others? They will mean what our justices and judges say they mean.

Me and Derek Jeter

September 25, 2014
jeter card

An 18-year-old Derek Jeter in Greensboro, NC

I’m watching Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium, and depending on his wishes regarding the season’s last series at Boston, perhaps his last game ever. In the second inning during tonight’s game against the Orioles, Yankee pitching great Andy Pettitte recalled their days in Low A ball in Greensboro. I got to share a few of those days.

I’m from Greensboro and grew up watching the Greensboro Generals, later the Hornets, and even later the unfortunately named Bats (they now are the Grasshoppers, so maybe Bats isn’t so bad).

Don Mattingly, who in Greensboro in 1981 patrolled right field, became my first diamond hero. In 1990, I got to live out a dream by covering the team for the Greensboro News & Record and, on Sundays, to serve both the home team and visiting team as a chaplain with Baseball Chapel. In both capacities in 1992, I got to know an 18-year-old Derek Jeter, fresh from Kalamazoo, Mich., a contagiously upbeat Andy Pettitte, and a two-pitch stick figure of a starting pitcher, Mariano Rivera. Big Mo, then not-so-big Mo, spoke zero English at the time, which in inspired me to recruit my friend Carlos Montoya to come out to War Memorial Stadium on Sundays to translate our brief chapel messages principally for Mo, but also for the many Hispanic players on both teams.

For Derek’s first professional game in 1992, I organized an outing for our newsroom. So after a picnic along the third base line before the game, we settled in to see the Yankees’ No. 1 draft pick, a bonus baby shortstop who they said had a slick glove going to his right. Young Jeter didn’t disappoint, hitting a bomb over the left centerfield wall in his first game. Pettitte mentioned this in his cameo at Yankee Stadium tonight.

My memories of Derek are a bit hazy, but consistent. I recall him sitting on the trainer’s table on many a morning, before any other players had shown up at the ballpark, just to have someone to talk to, just to be around the game as much as possible. I remember him never missing chapel, always filing in with the guys. Always with a smile on his face. Just a ball of energy on and off the field.

And I remember his “Yes, sir” answers to my questions as a reporter. He was a perfectly dreadful quote, though I could tell behind those steely hazel green eyes there was a keen intellect at work. Even at 18 there were two Derek Jeters: the respectful, polite, thoughtful Jeter in front of the press, and the witty prankster just happy to hang out with the guys in the lockerroom.

So for three of the Core Four, (Jorge Posada never played in Greensboro), I’m so thankful to have a few memories of my own, a few to polish to a new shine tonight during Jeet’s last magic to the PA music of Bob Sheppard’s mellifluous voice: “Numbah 2, Derek Jeetuh . . . Numbah 2.”

Though I’m older than Derek Sanderson Jeter, he’s been a role model for me in my professional life in terms of consistency, dependability, work ethic and team-first approach. And after baseball? He’s going into publishing! Welcome to the team, Derek!!

Returning to my sportswriting roots

August 26, 2014

Before my escape into the academic bubble, or ivory towers as college campuses are sometimes called, I was a sportswriter. My dream job? Covering Double A baseball wall-to-wall, spring training to postseason. Double A cites are the best, and that level of baseball is so good, yet untainted by the spoils of the major leagues.

Anyhoo, this summer, on really a lark, I returned to sportswriting as something of a summertime hobby, to again become one of the “boys of summer.” Had a blast. Covering the Single A Rome Braves, I’ve got two games to go, including the season finale on Labor Day.

Here below is the last game I covered, Sunday’s bizarre 12-inning win over Charleston under storm clouds at State Mutual Stadium here in Rome:

ROME, Ga. — The Rome Braves and Charleston RiverDogs conspired this weekend to re-write the definition of one of baseball’s more unsavory statistics: the wild pitch.

A day after losing on three consecutive errant throws in the 11th inning, the Braves wrapped up a winning homestand by cashing in on a pair of wild pitches uncorked by Charleston’s Evan Rutckyj to win 5-4 Sunday afternoon in 12 frames.

“A wild pitch was the only way a game like this was going to end,” said Rome manager Jonathan Schuerholz, after seeing six pitches avoid catchers in two days. “That was crazy.”

Second baseman Reed Harper scampered home with the necessary fifth run on a ball in the dirt that squirted just far enough from the plate to ruin catcher Jackson Valera’s attempts to corral it. The opportunism made a winner out of reliever Andy Otero (4-4), who pitched two and two-thirds innings of no-hit ball, and it pushed Rome’s record during the homestand to 4-2.

The Braves (53-80) return Friday for the season’s last four games, all against Savannah.

Lost in Sunday’s madness, witnessed by about 2,100, was one of starter Steve Janas’s strongest outings of the season. In hurling seven innings of one-run, four-hit baseball, the Marietta native sat down 13 straight RiverDog hitters, six on routine groundball outs. He needed only five pitches in the sixth and but nine to buzz through the seventh.

The 6-foot-6 right-hander kept hitters behind in the count, his fastball low in the zone, and his defense actively involved in the action in front of them.

“I’m going to bribe the team with food to keep them playing good defense like this,” said Janas’s mother, Nancy Janas, who attended the game with a large group of friends and family. “The defense did a great job behind him today.”

Janas looked to be in good shape to pick up his third win, and first since June 2, but reliever Caleb Dirks couldn’t close out the ninth for his fourth save. In a nightmarish one-third of an inning, the lefthander served up three singles, unleashed a wild pitch of his own to allow Yeicok Calderon to score, then mishandled a slow dribbler to the mound to allow Valera to knot the score at three.

After Dirk’s fielding miscue, the Braves managed to catch trailing runner Claudio Custodio in no-man’s land between third and home. But the throw to catcher Carlos Sanchez, who was running toward Custodio, glanced off his shoulder. Charleston was in the driver’s seat, 4-3.

“That’s the one play that really bothered me,” Schuerholz said. “We pride ourselves on fundamentals, we practice that play, and we just screwed it up.”

But the Braves struck back.

In the bottom of the ninth, shortstop Codey McElroy led off with seemingly routine single to third, but after bare-handing the ball, RiverDog third baseman Kale Sumner airmailed his throw to first for a two-base error. McElroy trotted home a pitch later on Alejandro Pilato’s sacrifice fly to right, again evening the score, this time at four.

To set the table for the dramatic finish, Harper led off the bottom of the 12th by singling into shallow left field. Rutckyj’s 2-0 wild pitch to Connor Oliver allowed Harper to advance to second. He moved another 60 feet on Connor Lien’s hard grounder to short. From there it was a short dash to the plate when yet another errant throw pinballed off of Valera’s glove to end a nearly four-hour game threatened by storm clouds for much of the time. .

But the day belonged to Janas, who is “living his dream” pitching in Rome close to home, his Mom said. A sixth-round draft pick by the Braves, Janas is but one season removed from his junior year with Kennesaw State, a campaign in which he sparkled with a 1.14 ERA.

“Steve looked really good today,” Schuerholz said. “He worked ahead early, kept hitters off balance and worked quickly.”

In beating the RiverDogs, Rome won its second straight three-game series before heading to Kannapolis for a three-game set starting Tuesday.

In a pair of roster moves, right-handed reliever Daniel Cordero was sent to Danville, making room for lefthander Carlos Perez, who saw his first action Sunday after arriving from Rome. The right-handed reliever pitched the eighth, giving up no hits or runs and striking out one.


If you enjoyed that writeup, here’s the one previous, a win over Savannah’s Sand Gnats. Look for the ‘pesty’ metaphor.

Pre-rap poetry and lyricism: Reading the black press

July 26, 2014

In about a week, I will head off to Montreal to deliver a research paper on the poetry, rhyme and verse written by sportswriters in the pages of the big black newspapers of the first half of the 20th century. This is a grossly under-studied subject, with some really good poetry neglected really since it was written in some cases nearly a century ago.

My paper, “Sports, scribes and rhymes: Poetry in black newspapers, 1920-1950,” is an attempt to recover and contextualize some of this poetry, which was written and published as these writers crusaded for desegregation and equal opportunity for black athletes in
professional baseball.

It is also a timeframe that is coincident with the Harlem Renaissance.


Wendell Smith

Compounding the historical injustice is the amount of attention that has been paid poetry appearing in mainstream newspapers by the likes of Grantland Rice and Heywood Broun. Isn’t it time to recognize the black writers? I think so. In fact, read today, rhymes such as Wendell Smith’s well-known snatch about Jackie Robinson’s seat-filling first season in Brooklyn (“Jackie’s nimble, Jackie’s quick, Jackie’s making the turnstiles click”) can be seen or read as a precursor of art forms such as rap and hip hop.

Specifically, I’m looking at poetry by Smith, who you might have seen depicted in the Jackie Robinson movie that came out last year, “42,” as well Fay Young and Edward A. Neal of the Chicago Defender; and Dan Burley and Romeo Dougherty of the New York Amsterdam News.

I’d give you some of those poems now, but U.S. copyright law such as it is prevents me from publishing to this digital space anything after 1924. That leaves at least one, this poem by one of the more literary of sportswriters of the period, Romeo Dougherty (great byline!), a poem dedicated to the memory of black basketball great George Gilmore, a former standout center at Howard University. The poem is titled “Get Gilmore and the ball”:

And rushing down the court they came
Five husky men in all;
To stop his brilliant charge that night,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

His well-trained eye had gauged the time;
Wild cheering filled the hall;
He made his jump, they roared again,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

Again he stops and tricks the boys,
He’s pulled his famous stall;
In vain they tri to counter him,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

See! As he prances down the court,
No moments here that pall;
That same old cry is raised again;
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

The famous Howard quint of yore
With him could never fail;
And thousands cheered when rivals said:
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

With Alpha ‘twas the same old thing;
At Waldron’s famous hall;
While Spartan and St. C. agreed:
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

With Pittsburg’s crack Loendi team
He answered his last call;
Unflinchingly he heard again,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

Farewell, good friend, a fond farewell,
From players, fans and all;
No more we’ll hear that well known cry,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

When he died very young in September of 1920, Gilmore was a star in his prime playing for Pittsburgh’s Loendi Big Five (Pittsburgh was also spelled Pittsburg in the early part of the century, so that isn’t a typo in the poem), and throughout the 1920s, “black five” basketball teams thrived in cities like New York and Chicago.

I am working to get permissions for more of this great poetry, so that readers today can see what they’ve been missing and so that perhaps some of these writers can get a bit more of their due. Wish me luck!

If the topic interests you, look for much more on it and on the black press and black baseball in general in a book I’m writing for Routledge that should come out late next year: A Devil’s Bargain: The Black Press and Black Baseball, 1915-1955. The poetry paper will become Chapter 2.



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