Tuesday, November 30, 2004

End of November wrap-up

I've added a couple of goodies to the blog, including the Blogrolling-managed list of blogs and the Weather Channel weather magnet. For a while I was contemplating a move back to the Weather Underground one, but actually I like the appearance of the Weather Channel one better. Sorry for all the trouble, you folks at Wunderground! (But you shouldn't have gotten me worked up about the "CN" in the first place...)

Life has been ... interesting in other ways this month, but I won't be going into that for a while. (Reminds me of the "Human Bomb" episode of the old George Reeves Superman series--"No comment until the time limit is up!")

See you in December! (Some folks literally...)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Dubya the movie

You've probably seen this "trailer" for "Dubya the Movie", but I've got to make a link to it. It's just too perfect--especially the actor they've got playing him.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Response from Weather Underground!

I received a response from Weather Underground about my complaint! "They" wrote:

Thank you for the bug report! We're aware of the problem and we'relooking into it. We hope to have it fixed today.
A "bug"? Well, if you want to call it that... Anyway, here's the revised/original sticker:

Click for Taizhong, Taiwan Forecast

Or this one:

Click for Taizhong, Taiwan Forecast

But now I've got to decide whether I should put the sticker back in its old place or not...

Sunday, November 21, 2004

"Contesting Public Memories" conference

Syracuse University will be hosting a conference on public memories next year. Here's part of the call for proposals:
The "Contesting Public Memories" conference seeks to expand the broad interdisciplinary conversation about public memory. Conference organizers invite submissions focusing on the dynamic interplay between and around public memories. While the conference theme is designed to be broad and inclusive, our sense of the contention of public memories includes: efforts to resist, resurrect memories, or redefine memories, etc. This broad theme, in turn, is organized around three sub-themes: Places, Events, and Persons. Within these sub-themes, we envision topics ranging from theoretical to practical, and from global to local.
Proposals are due April 1, 2005. Wonder if anyone will be submitting proposals on 228? (See the National Archives exhibit [in Chinese]; see also George Kerr's book Formosa Betrayed, which describes 228 in detail.)

Adventures in gardening

Well, the edible amaranth (a.k.a. "Chinese spinach") that we planted a couple of weeks ago started sprouting last wek, and then a couple of days ago all the sprouts, with one accord, died. The coriander and the Chinse celery never even came out of the ground. And the cactus I bought from the landscape architecture students last year got some sort of fungus on it and died a few months ago. I think we have a feng shui problem (or maybe I'm just an incompetent gardener...)

Friday, November 19, 2004

The politics of weather goes underground...

You might have noticed that I've taken the "Taichung" (or "Taizhong") weather sticker off of this site. The other day I visited my site and found the letters "CN" after "Taizhong" on the sticker. I immediately removed the offending code and sent this e-mail to the folks who run the "Weather Underground" site:

I used to have a weather underground sticker for Taizhong, Taiwan on my website http://jonintaiwan.blogspot.com. Now I've taken it off because someone added "CN" or "China" to the sticker. Why in heaven's name did you have to politicize the WEATHER, of all things???

Jonathan Benda

We'll see how they respond...

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A note from an Ohio "Blue"

Eric Gardner, my long-time friend, fellow OU alumnus, and man of a thousand beard styles, sends this from Cleveland (I'm quoting with his permission):


Just a note of hello and reassurance. Even though Ohio went "red" (for Mr. Bush), there exist here a sizable (no, not all overweight, although too many of us are) minority of "blues" (and we are unrelated to the"Blues" and the "Talls," those extra-terrestrials purported to be living in our midst out in New Mexico).

In "Civil Disobedience," Henry David Thoreau reminds us that voting is much more about expediency than it is any sort of guarantee of determining correct moral or political action. He cautions us against weakly expressing our desire for virtuous outcomes by way of voting and instead implores us to "Cast [our] whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but [our] whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight."

"Blue" Ohioans will surely exert positive resistance to check any extremist or absurdist "red" policies--Thoreau's "counter friction to stop the machine" [of government]. We must continue to educate and inform ourselves to do so best. Let us begin each to resist positively in our own way. I have already shaved my mustache and am growing a Lincoln beard ("Mr. Bush, I knew Abraham Lincoln...and you're no Abraham Lincoln.").

I hope this note helps. I find it hard to speak for and defend the whole state of Ohio, but even at the risk of megalomania, felt I should say something.


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Faith and rhetoric in the U.S. election (and beyond)

E. J. Dionne, Jr. has made some important points about the language of faith in his recent Washington Post column (registration required):

What's required is a sustained and intellectually serious effort by religious moderates and progressives to insist that social justice and inclusion are "moral values" and that war and peace are "life issues."
Much to some intellectuals' dismay, a lot of people (Dionne, Ellen Goodman, and others) are suggesting that Democrats need to reach out to the people who voted for Bush because they felt he was a moral man and a man of God. As Goodman and others have said, we have to get beyond being embarrassed by words like "morals" and "faith" if we're going to persuade anyone that we have an agenda and values worth taking a look at.
One thing a lot of Democrats are thinking about these days is "what went wrong?" How did so many people go for Bush despite all the evidence that he had done a terrible job in his first term? How could they not have gotten Kerry's message? CNN.com quotes Representative Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota as remarking that "the Democratic party nationally is perceived as being out of step with mainstream values."

Chris Dykstra, writing on the New Patriot blog, addresses the need for Democrats (and liberals in general) to reframe their arguments in ways that ordinary Americans (the ones who voted for Bush) will understand and accept. He argues that one of the main reasons that Bush is back in the White House for another four years has to do with the way the Republicans have used language to try to evoke particular emotions in Americans:

Radical Legislation is gilded with emotional titles, such as "Patriot Act" for example, or "Clear Skies." The justification for war is simplified and reduced to words a child would understand and repeat. Why do they hate us? "They hate us for our freedom."

Dykstra uses such words as "propaganda" and "packaging" to describe what the Republicans have done (and what he thinks Democrats need to do), but what he's basically talking about is rhetoric. Although his article doesn't use the word "rhetoric" (at least not in any positive way), he's basically arguing for liberals to use the same strategies as the Republicans in order to gain a hearing by the people who voted for Bush last Tuesday.

This suggests that the Democrats need to go back to the Republicans' speeches and writings and identify those commonplaces that resonate with those who voted for Bush. They have to understand how the Republicans used those commonplaces to invent arguments justifying actions like going to war with Iraq and supplying Federal financial support of church-run organizations. Then the Democrats need to invent their own arguments based on the same commonplaces and use them repeatedly, consistently, and fearlessly. Dykstra gives an example:

Democrats must begin to use the language of faith. Even if our intent is secular, i.e. the separation of church and state, prayer in schools, etc. it must framed as a way to support faith. In other words, strong legislation prohibiting prayer in schools must be called the: Faith Protection Act. The argument would be that limiting prayer in schools protects all faiths from government control. We must proactively identify a progressive legislative agenda (separation of church and state) then sell it by framing it as a way to protect something conservatives cherish (faith) from something conservatives fear (government control).
The use of commonplaces might strike some liberals and intellectuals (and even rhetoricians?) as embarrassing--or even worse, lazy and possibly even ethically suspect. Richard Lanham has suggested that in modern times, rhetors are less likely to use commonplaces "because we no longer trust traditional wisdom, are far more interested in investigating the world anew" (170). We're much more comfortable with complexity because the world seems much more complex than the Republicans would lead us to believe. We don't trust appeals to emotion because we believe decisions should be made based on evidence and rational deliberation. As a group of people who claim to represent diversity (as opposed the Republicans, who are often accused of really representing only the rich and the Christian Right), liberals often seem to take an unnecessarily narrow view of the kinds of rhetorical approaches that we should use to forward our beliefs. But as Lanham reminds us, "[f]or an oral culture, ... commonplaces, like all formulas for thought, were where thought and utterance began, not just where they were conveniently parked" (170). This suggests to me that while we need to "simplify" by going back to the commonplaces, we needn't avoid complicating the simple. We need to work out strategies to appeal to the beliefs of at least some of the 51% who voted for Bush while at the same time pushing the envelope on what can be said.

(I notice that I've moved from referring to Democrats and liberals as "they" to "we." Oh well... I suppose that wouldn't be any surprise to anyone...)

Saturday, November 06, 2004

I just found out that Haloscan is holding the comments to my older posts hostage until I pay them US$12. I also see that Blogger has its own comments function, so I'm going to switch over to that and gradually get rid of the Haloscan comments by downloading them or something. So in the mean time, please click on the "Comments" link on the lower right hand side of posts you want to comment on. Thanks!

Update as of Nov. 13: As you can see, I've taken the Haloscan comments off of my blog. The comments that I could "save" have been copied to the "Blogger" comments section. Sorry for any inconvenience!

Friday, November 05, 2004

A note on English departments, applied and otherwise

Scott Sommers has a thoughtful post on his blog about the curiously named "Applied English" (or "Applied Language") departments that are popping up in universities around Taiwan. I want to add a few thoughts about this phenomenon and its disciplinary and administrative contexts. When I first heard of Applied English departments (Chaoyang University's was the first one I ever heard of), I had the impression that they were the "wave of the future" because they seemed to address some of the concerns I had about the relevance of the traditional English major to students' futures.

My perspective is that of a teacher in a more traditional English major program. One of the challenges facing traditional (literature-based) English programs in Taiwan (and abroad) is that of demonstrating their relevance to students' futures in the marketplace. As an advisor last year, I often heard students express concerns about whether their education would help them get a good job. They had the feeling that all the coursework they had to do in literary studies wasn't going to help them very much after they graduated. When I told them about Applied English programs, some of them seemed interested in the kind of curriculum I was describing to them--light on literary studies, heavier on language skills and business-related English training.

Traditional English majors, like (according to Scott) Applied English programs, are in large part a product of R.O.C. Ministry of Education policy. The curriculum of English or foreign language and literature departments in Taiwan was up until very recently mandated by the Ministry of Education. For years, the MOE had a pretty heavy load of required courses, including two years of British literature and one year of American literature. Individual schools could require more, but not less, than what the MOE mandated. The MOE-mandated English major was in large part a literature major.

When the MOE relaxed its hold on Taiwan's English departments, they were left with the task of figuring out for themselves what their educational mission was. Some programs are still trying to define their mission, in an age when prospective English majors are increasingly seeing little relation between the literature-heavy curriculum of the major's program and their future needs in the workplace.

Furthermore, as universities are pressured to professionalize by hiring more Ph.D.s and publishing more scholarly research, literature faculty in traditional English departments will probably find more and more of a gap between some of their teaching activities and their research activities. There are a number of ways in which this gap might be negotiated: some faculty will try to teach more courses that relate to their research (including offering more specialized courses in graduate programs); some might attempt to refocus their research to make it relevant to what they are teaching.

A third possibility is that the undergraduate English major will also have to professionalize along with the department as a whole. My department, for instance, recently passed a motion to require English majors to take more electives within the major than they previously had to take. One justification for this new rule is that undergraduates need to see their major as training for the profession of English studies rather than simply as training in language skills.

What effect this new rule will have on enrollments in the major is yet to be seen--even with the availability of major requirement information, many students still wander into the English major quite unaware of what they're getting themselves into and shocked at the amount of "impractical" content they need to study. This requirement is, however, an attempt to move the program in the direction of professional training, which seems to be "the trend" (as my students put it). There is also the potential for some redefinition of "English studies," as new courses might be added to the menu of electives students can take.

One colleague mentioned that this new approach (though it's not really that new, since it partially reinstates some of the courses that the MOE required years ago) indicates a change in the department from a "liberal education" ideal to a professional (or pre-professional) training mission. Interestingly, while the English major program at my school is developing a vision of professional training in terms of disciplinary training, the school's administration has recently raised the idea of creating an Applied English department in addition to the current major. Whether or not this will happen is anyone's guess at this point, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

[Add your conclusion here.]

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"Record" voter turnout in U.S. election (?)

CNN.com reports a "record" voter turnout for Tuesday's U.S. presidential election: citing Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, the article says: "Gans put the total turnout at nearly 120 million people. That represents just under 60 percent of eligible voters -- the highest percentage turnout since 1968, Gans said."

"Just under 60 percent of eligible voters"--it sticks in my throat. Why would there be such a low "record" turnout? Is it really possible that 40% of eligible voters didn't see enough of a difference between Bush and Kerry to bother going out to vote? Last Sunday's Washington Post Magazine has an article interviewing a nonvoter (registration required) that suggests as much. The election--and the government itself--seems a long way from the concerns of these people. Perhaps the problem of nonvoters has more to do with the choices than with the eligible voters themselves.

"Doom, despair, and agony on me..."

Everyone's reporting that Kerry conceded. The only site that hasn't confirmed it as of the time of this posting is the Kerry/Edwards official site. (Those poor saps are always the last to know... or at least the last to post...)

Anyway, how does the rest of the song go?

Deep dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all
Doom, despair, and agony on me...

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

A new rhetoric blog

The Blogora, "a public blogspace about rhetoric and rhetoricians sponsored by RSA [the Rhetoric Society of America] and hosted by the CWRL [the Computer Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin]" is a new space for discussion about rhetoric. It appears that there will be featured "bloggers-in-chief" who will run the discussion for a period of time.

Right now the discussion seems mainly about the political situation in the U.S. The posts are interesting and I'll probably continue to follow this blog, but I hope in the future the U.S.-centric focus will broaden out. (An example of this is that the category for posts about the U.S. presidential election is simply called "The Election.")

"Blogora" is a reference, by the way, to the "agora", which, according to the Columbia Encyclopedia, was
in ancient Greece, the public square or marketplace of a city. In early Greek history the agora was primarily used as a place for public assembly; later it functioned mainly as a center of commerce.
The agora is often used metaphorically (?) to describe the Internet.