Monday, December 29, 2008

What do "we" need to know about violence?

I just finished Slavoj Zizek's Violence and am wondering where it fits into my thinking war and peace in the global village.

Zizek argues that the correct response to violence is to "learn, learn, learn;" he thinks that language, which is often seen as the medium of reconciliation, is actually the medium of division and conflict (he surprisingly doesn't deal with the Tower of Babel); he thinks that academics put on a good show but don't actually do much, he thinks that "liberal communists" like Bill Gates provide aid with one hand, but only after they have reaped the benefits of the global capital oppressive system on the other hand. He also believes that violence, struggle, revolt are, in some cases, necessary.

As an educator and specifically a professor of "language," I could probably work with Zizek's notion of "learn, learn, learn," but interestingly, both the students in this class (WPGV 2008) and I feel compelled to act, to get out of the classroom rather than just learn, read, propose, etc.. Educators, as many commentators have noticed, are in the awkward position of having to defend learning for learning's sake these days.

I'm trying to figure out, though, where Zizek rubs up against some of the other following people:
1. McLuhan: violence is a quest for identity.
2. Lynn Worsham: we have not brought emotion into pedagogy despite the violence and emotional upheaval of our culture.
3. Letters for the Living: a book about letting students write about the violence in their lives, as well as seek the moments and places of peace in their lives.
4. The Violence of Literacy: a book I need to read ASAP.

What I also need to figure out are the problems / questions I want to address. What do I need to know and think about violence to be a teacher of language? What do I want students to know and think about the violence of language and literacy? This second question might be the key, a question relevant to general composition courses, writing in the health professions, visual culture and language.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Here Comes Everybody: The final evaluation

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Okay book, but I keep looking for him to acknowledge and work with the Joyce reference in the title ("Here Comes Everybody" is the "hero" of Finnegan's Wake), and / or acknowledge the McLuhan influences that show up everywhere. The curse of being an academic--I am interested in the connections!

He does a nice job with technological determinism: he points out that the printing press didn't initiate the renaissance, but it significantly furthered it. He does a nice job of explaining why he thinks people contribute to Wikipedia, and he shows through a couple of different examples that social media sites rely on a few people to do a lot of work and many people to do a little work--good reminder for me every time I try to initiate a social media project that gets minimal buy-in.

Hhmmm, maybe I am liking the book more than I realized! Better keep going.

Dec. 28, 2008 Update.

I finished this book a while back; might try to use it in my electronic communication class. Definitely trying to apply some of his principles to my "organization without organization" http://africansoulamericanhear....

View all my reviews.

Zizek: Violence

Violence: Six Sideways Reflections Violence: Six Sideways Reflections by Slavoj Zizek

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Finally finished Zizek's Violence after having started it late summer or fall. Zizek offers the provocative arguments that instead of acting in response to global crises and violence, we need to "learn, learn, learn" and not perpetuate "our" academic activism of dialogue and critical inquiry. Seems a little contradictory that he supports learn, learn, learn but not dialogue. That said, I do continue to find Zizek compelling and interesting, a leftist McLuhan, a joker, but each joke a serious stab at dogmatic slumberers and liberals.

View all my reviews.

The Middle of Everywhere: Good Reads comments

The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community by Mary Pipher

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fascinating book; heart-breaking stories; need to keep reading but wanted to see what others have said.

Dec. 28, 2008 update.

I finished this book back in August but forgot to update my thoughts. I enjoyed the broad view, but am thinking about a book that might follow three refugee families I know in more detail. Pipher gets at many of the challenges refugees face, but I am stunned by how so many small thing can make life precarious for those resettled to the US and other countries.

View all my reviews.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Library Project Money Bomb!

A Library Project for Southern Sudan is dropping a money bomb on Dec. 14; please visit their site and donate what you can. But first, check out their video.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Resisting AFRICOM video

A nicely crafted piece of rhetorical video.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trip of a Life Time essay available.

I published a personal essay, "A Trip of a Life Time Doesn't Need to Come to an End," in the NDSU Magazine. The hard copy has many great pictures, not just the one at the top of the page.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

When I told friends and family members I was going to southern Sudan as part of a documentary film crew and humanitarian aid project, many asked me in different ways, "Do you think this trip will change your life?" I always answered with confidence, "no." I was just hoping to survive the trip without getting sick, shot at, killed in a plane crash, or stranded in a remote Sudanese village. I was pretty sure the trip would be memorable, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but not life changing.

Of course I was wrong.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Study Abroad Notes: Field Research on the XO program

I am attending a Study Abroad meeting, learning how I might set up and run a faculty-led short-term study abroad program. I just learned that I need to start working with International Program Office 9-12 months in advance; also learned that I could have gotten emergency evacuation insurance much more cheaply through the IP Office than I did commercially last year! Costs are likely to be significant, perhaps prohibitive. Need to be upfront and realistic about costs, including the $500 in shots and medication, airfare, visas, etc. If enrollment goals are not met (costs not covered), would need to decide whether to go at a loss or cancel class.

I'm trying to imagine an appropriate study abroad experience for English majors (ugrad and grad) that would take them to Africa. I am particularly interested in making this into a research class that might set up a study of something like an XO Laptop program in Rwanda. Students would presumably do a little of observation, interviewing, perhaps teaching, maybe an introduction to video research. Probably a course that would make sense to graduate students; might seem too foreign for u-grads. Maybe I need to try this research out myself, first.

Found a blog by Dan, who traveled to Ethiopia to assist with the first XO deployment in that country.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Floating some ideas

Many project thoughts of late; wondering which ones I should pursue. Wondering if anybody wants to help.

1. A "global development / connections" initiative for the 7CS. Been thinking a lot about how to develop better connections with universities around the world, but why limit such projects to a pair of schools; let's get a lot of fish swimming!

2. Wondering about "Teachers without Borders." Heard about the tremendous need for teachers in Rwanda and Ethiopia, familiar with the tremendous need for teachers in Sudan. Start a local chapter? Join the global movement?

3. My idea for a Virtual Peace Garden in Second Life is still very much in the incubator; need to get some significant technical help with this baby. Maybe the Computers and Writing theme for 2010 will drive some traffic my way.

4. McLuhan's 100th Birthday is coming up: 2011. Occurred to me today that I ought to propose some sort of digital book happening for the Computers and Writing community. Need to look up the digital press. Anybody want to contribute to this unformed idea?

Must now turn computer over to son. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

African Soul, American Heart Premiered!

I should have been much more active blogging the lead up to our documentary film premiere, but I can at least report on a very successful day. We had over 300 people attend 2 showings; we had great questions from our audience, and lots of interest in our project.

More photos on Flickr. More news to follow.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

My GPACW Panel contribution

The Modal Divide: It will pass, but we still have lots of work to do.

Quick answer to the prompt: how will the modal divide by decided? The modal divide is largely generational and will become moot.

I don’t worry much about the modal divide—our program has room for teachers who want to explore with their students what it means to compose, but more traditional instructors can also stay within their comfort zone.

Our TAs are trained to teach in our genre-based, rhetorical program; we moved away from the essayist, text-only approach in 2003. They are trained to teach multimodal assignments like:
• Ppt music videos
• Visual commentaries (on the page and for the screen)
• Audio essays
• Weblogging as invention and reflection
• Print-based assignments with strong design elements.
Many TAs creatively and confidently develop their own assignments and approaches. We are constrained by some of our institutional limitations: access to video cameras and video editing software is the most obvious example.

Our more traditional instructors have shown an interest in design assignments, and they are interested in being pedagogically progressive via problem-based learning and service learning. They do a great job for us, and I’m convinced that requiring them to step outside their comfort zone would not make for better classes or better student writers.

So, the modal divide will become moot b/c todays TAs will become tomorrow’s faculty, but a text-based, word-focused approach will still be with us for quite a while, and as one slightly resistant colleague puts it: students need much more help with their words than their design. Staying committed to words-only, however, will simply not be possible; to do so would make compositionists anachronistic, and almost completely out of synch with our environment. One set of things computer do especially well is combine all modes of material, facilitate design, and deliver compositions in the broadest sense; why wouldn’t we want to be a part of such exciting work?

I would even like to be so bold as to say that the discipline has more or less made the multimodal turn; there is still lots of interesting work to be done—the how—but as this conference theme implies, we are pretty close to being done with questions like “should we make the turn?”

Marshall McLuhan and IA Richards pointed out 40 years ago that there are two other things that computers do really well; and it seems to me that we are further behind in taking advantage of these capabilities than we are in taking advantage of the design capabilities of computers. These two capabilities are perhaps not as obviously about “composing,” but the first one is a grand vision of networking, the second a call for the kind of database supported composition programs now in place at Texas Tech and University of Georgia.

McLuhan, the global village builder, says:
the real use of the computer is not to reduce staff or costs, or to speed up or smooth out anything that has been going on. Its true function is to program and orchestrate terrestrial and galactic environments and energies in a harmonious way. (Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, WPGV, 89)

Richards, the educational programmer says:
The computer can now collect, scan, analyze, and report on learners’ performance amply enough and minutely enough to show the designer of instruction more about what his arrangement is doing than he could have thought possible only a few moons ago. (IA Richards, Design for Escape 24)

Now that we are all multimodal, I hope that we might begin to explore other true functions of writing and teaching with computers.

GPACW 4: Technology and change

Karl Klint from St. Cloud State ("A Position for Millennial Written Language within Education Settings") developing an argument for thinking about text messaging contextually. Running through a short history of communication adaptations to technology (i.e. the telegraph's effect on the production of minimalist prose). Text messaging a by-product of the technologies; sees the likely movement of text-speak into academic settings.

Jennifer Consilio and Michael Kapper, "Playground of the Mind: Online Play with Identity and Words," argue that students can learn (already know?) rhetorical concepts from their web 2.0 experience, which can in turn be applied in academic settings. Six word memoir gets a plug.

Sites to check out: The Shannonizer: converts prose into the recognizable style of your choice.
Worlde: tag cloud generator; word analysis tool.
Twitter: a tool for thinking about the general audience.
Yahoo Avatars. Robust avatar design site.

David Russell is reporting some good stuff on Twitter: "GPACW 4A. Free templates for science posters online. Federal free graphing program online. "

Interesting discussion; made me think about the need to incorporate Facebook profile analysis into job package; relevance of range of discourse for upper division writing, something I have been struggling to figure out.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Session 3: Four Videos and a Paper

The very talented and creative students in my graduate course, "War and Peace in the Global Village: Rhetorical Acts Post 9/11," showed off their excellent work.

Jenn Roos started with the paper, a very interesting "tri-modal" essay in which she juxtaposes Baudrillard (body text), McLuhan (marginal text), and images (including font experimentation) in a way that does not negate some of Baudriallard's bold claims about terrorism and globalization, but it does undercut them with McLuhan's more optimistic statements and images that also resist Baudrillard's reading of the globe.

Bob Becker explored Kenneth Burke's concept of "the negative" to show what GWB and others' rhetoric said about "us" and implied about "them" post 9/11.

Aaron Quanbeck set passages of McLuhan's WPGV to video clips from the 30s, 40s, and 50s in a film he calls "Vintage Modern Problems. "

Landon Kakfa produced a series of 4 spoof advertisements for "Freedom and Democracy," two of America's finest products.

Niles Haich assembled footage from popular movies and concepts from B., M, and others in what is a traditional "wandering" essay--but in video format. Wandering in the best sense, of wondering.

Good Q&A followed; very positive reception for these 5, four of whom were making their conference debuts.

Kathy Yancey's Keynote

Kathy Yancey delivered her usual stellar talk about composing in the 21st century. She argued for a writing curriculum, not just a first-year writing class or program, that would engage students in broadly conceived notions of composition. Her proposal recommends:

--three spaces of composing: print, screen, network.
--a choice of technologies so that composers develop proficiency in many.
--composing for many audiences.
--network literacy
--theory / framework / vocabulary of writing.

The NDSU writing program does most of these things; could probably do more with networking. The theory / framework issue makes sense, but she didn't really grapple with that. Makes a big difference (perhaps?) if one's theory comes from McLuhan-to-Ulmer (electracy) or a more modest theoretical shift from classical rhetoric to the new rhetoric.

GPACW 2: Pedagogies

Les Loncharich from MSU is revisiting the issue of "from analysis to design." Arguing for "visual composition" as distinct from "visual design;" we are concerned with rhetoric; designers less so. Les is sketching a research agenda for himself; looking for feedback from us.

Geoff Sauer's "Teaching with Databases and (Against?) the Textbook," draws on his experience working with Intro to Technical Writing (314); exploring a tension between the clarity and coherence of the textbook and the messiness of real life (e.g. the resume). Eserver provides filtered access to practitioner articles; Geoff argues that rhetoric and composition should be building a similar database that would supplement textbook instruction.

Alexandra Pickens, "The Impact of Media in the Writing Classroom: A theoretical and pragmatic approach." Provided some context from St. Cloud U: mix of smart classrooms and no-tech classrooms; given opportunities to teach in smart classrooms without context. Does a nice job of looking at specific technologies (i.e. a doc cam creates a community reading experience; handouts create isolation).

One of the other presentations going on write now is looking at the potential of Photo Story 3:
Could be useful for the photo essay assignment, although it might smooth stuff out too much.

GPACW 1A: Across Disciplines--Establishing a Center for New Media Studies

Attending the St. Cloud presentation on new media center development. Kevin Moberly is providing the historical context for university disciplinarity, and the challenges that presents for new media scholars and centers. Judy is taking a systemic approach: talking about the administrative support for new media, but how even that level of support came into conflict with the germanic university structures in place. Matt is providing a personal account of how he, as a young faculty member, had to make some identity decisions about his place in (or out) of new media as the university explored the place of new media in the institution and the curriculum.

The presentation then opened the floor to discussion of their new media center plans and new media centers in general. ISU's New Media center is definitely the model those of us at GPACW can look at / look to for a guide. Geoff Sauer recommended Silverback as an affordable piece of usability software:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Marcel O'Gorman: Oh Canada!

I've seen Marcel O'Gorman's name around, but finally read his chapter "From Mystorian to Curmudgeon: Skulking Toward Finitude" in The Illogic of Sense. Really enjoyed reading about his process, his working through of Ulmer and related ideas. Then I checked out his website:

Oh Canada!! He says in the essay that he was frustrated by Ulmer's theory-heavy classes, and that he sought better integration of theory and art. I wasn't expecting him to now be a bona-fide performance artist! Great projects, worth a visit, and definitely worth further reading.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Breaking the Silence: Congo Week Oct 19-25

The NYT ran a story on the terrible problem of rape in the Congo. The story doesn't mention it, but this is "Breaking the Silence: Congo Week 2008."

On Wednesday, anybody can participate in The Cell Out.

At NDSU, we are running a general "Refugee Experience" simulation on Thursday. I've never tried to organize a simulation; should be interesting.

On Friday, I am participating in a more focused consciousness raising presentation.

Breaking the Silence: A Congo Week Presentation
Dr. Kevin Brooks, Department of English, will share information about
devastating wars that have resulted in nearly 6 million deaths in the
Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996. He will show clips from three
films that can start one’s education about the DRC, and he will
provide a guide to further resources. This presentation is part of a
global awareness initiative called Congo Week: Breaking the Silence.

The purpose of the Break the Silence Congo Week is to raise awareness
about the devastating situation in the Congo and mobilize support on
behalf of the people of the Congo.
Memorial Union, Gallery

What's happening at your school?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Guns, Germs, and Stealing

One point that came up a few times at the Human Rights Conference I was attending this weekend was that some American Indians had been acculturated into the emerging American culture and economy, but from 1890-1940, most were stripped of their property and wealth and sent to reservations. African Americans on the path to the middle class often lost their jobs to the European immigrants of this era. I heard this primarily from James Loewen, but also my brilliant colleague Kelly Sassi.

A similar pattern was being played out in Africa--the imperialist Europeans were exploiting the people, stripping of them of wealth they had, and stealing their resources.

So, in addition to Jared Diamond's ambitious explanation of why some parts of the world developed more quickly than others, and why some populations acquired more wealth than others, it struck me today that "stealing" might have been almost as significant a factor as steel (and in fact the two are related).

Hmmm, that seems like the first note for a choral mediation, a first note for a new MEmorial.

International Human Rights

Participating in Greg Gordon's "Brining Human Rights to Life" session. Referenced to movies of interest: The Interpreter (a Syndey Pollack film) and The Ghosts of Rwanda (a PBS Frontline documentary).

I should also comment on James Loewen's keynote last night. Covered some of the same ground as his workshop, but made a really compelling argument that the South won the Civil War in 1890, 35 years after it ended. Supporting evidence: the Republican party stopped supporting human rights, allowing white supremacy to grow unchecked. A state like Kentucky built something like 70 Civil War monuments between 1890 and 1940, 65 of them celebrating the south, only 5 the north. He also pointed out that the Republican party, since 1964, has pursued a white agenda by targeting the southern vote and heartland votes where lingering racism (and other issues) appeal to white voters, even though the Republican party does not generally help the working class and middle class white voters.

Friday, October 10, 2008

ND Human Rights Conference

I'm attending the North Dakota Human Rights Conference this afternoon. Listening to James Loewen, author of Lies MY Teacher Told Me and Sundown Towns. This afternoon he is talking about how to do local research, and specifically how to ask "what written and unwritten laws did your hometown devise and practice to discriminate based on race and sexual orientation."

Loewen identified the period 1890-1940 as the nadir of race relations in America. He then showed us that North Dakota had more counties in 1930 without African Americans than it did in 1890. He gave us other data points to show that the pattern was pervasive, as was racism in America. Great resources on his home page.

He also identified the Montana Indian Education for all Act, which seems like progressive education for K-12 but not embraced by colleges and universities in Montana, according to this article.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Blogging and learning?

I've been away from this blog most of the semester because my online time is spent at The Virtual Peace Garden. My students are responding to the course material, their projects, the world, which seems like a formula for a decent course, but some Sunday morning anxiety hit me--I've really abdicated my responsibility to give focused, detailed feedback.

Flash back: I was engaged by my undergraduate classes that used journals or other means of eliciting regular engagement with the material PLUS I was given substantial feedback, including a grade.

This semester, and really whenever I try to use blogs, even if my students write substantial entries (never an easy response to elicit), my own responses are probably less detailed and focused than they would be if I were writing only for that student, writing on his or her journal entry or real response assignment. I do less teaching and more commenting. Doing less teaching can sometimes be a good thing for a variety of reasons, but in this case, with this genre of the journal or response, I'm loosing my faith and perhaps cheating my students--assuming I would actually have constructive feedback to give.

Anybody else wrestling with the paper journal vs. blog dynamics? Anybody else feeling nostalgic?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Teaching Diversity Session

Attending a session on teaching diversity. Cynthia Ho from UNC Asheville is talking about her pre-modern women's writers class, in which she realized that she had been teaching literature like this without deeply teaching diversity. She had submitted the class for UNCA's "diversity intensive" requirement, but had been told that the course, as originally planned, did not meet the diversity requirements. As she reconfigured the class to more overtly and significantly address the ways in which these women writers were both privileged and oppressed, the ways in which these texts provide entre into the lives of Others, the ways in which power worked in the lives of these women and in the lives of the students. She reworked a nominally diverse class to become a richly diverse course.

Discussion brought up the importance of "multipositional" theory.

Bob Strong from St. Edward's University is talking about teaching diversity to non-diverse classes. ST. E has a clear rationale for diversity education; nice touch. Some great texts / resources: Race--the Power of an Illusion; The Genographic Project from National Geographic, American's Stone Age Explorers. Uses Guarding the Golden Door to help with the history of immigration and its impact on American attitudes toward race. Lerner's The Creation of the Patriarchy and other gender sources. The Power Dead-Even Rule: gender cultures and means of communication. Assignments: roots paper, socialization paper, application paper. Good tight course by the looks of the presentation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Gen Ed Conference Notes

I am attending the annual Assoc. of General and Liberal Studies Conference, and attended a session on low stakes writing. Reminded me how much more I get out of conferences when I blog them, and for all the reasons Richard Burke identified--makes me engage with the material, helps me retail, make connections to my own interests,etc.

In addition to Burke's fine presentation--a really great overview of low-stakes writing activities for courses throughout Gen Ed and across the curriculum--I attended a 3 hour session on the educated citizen and public health. One course the presenter, Dick Riegleman, recommends, is a Global Health course, and one of the themes emerging at almost every session is that students are engaged by education with a global component.

A Dean from WPI reported on what their students do globally, but what really caught my attention in his presentation was a first-year experience course(s) they are using, with titles like "Feed the World," "Power the World," "Make the World" etc.. Seems like an interesting possibility for thinking about first-year english classes, if not first-year experience classes.

Saw a presentation about engaging students in diversity issues; what really stuck out was a fascinating course on Gender and Globalization. Nice mix of readings, film, projects.

Currently attending a session on "Leadership for Change." The course is taught under a management prefix, but the course is writing and information literacy intensive. Looks a bit like our first-year course on steroids; not as much emphasis on working on a variety of genres, styles, audiences, etc.. More like a strong inquiry class, as would the the "Feed the World" type courses. Three books used in the course: We Make Change, Fearless Change, Change or Die. The writing included: a measurable goal, an elevator speech, progress reports, final presentation, final paper with reflection and self-evaluation, team work and collaboration. Could also work as English 320, our Bus. and Professional Writing class.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Winnipeg: MyStory.

I've anxiously been waiting for a chance to see Guy Maddin's new film, "My Winnipeg" because:

a) I am, more or less, a Winnipeger (and I as I found out, that means I will always be a Winnipeger).
b) I was pretty sure that the piece would be a brilliant instantiation of Ulmer's "mystory" genre, even though Maddin, I am sure, has never heard of Ulmer. It fulfilled my expectations on this count, more or less.

The film glides effortlessly through Ulmer's popcycle:
1. Community family -- the community history dominates the film,
2. followed closely by Maddin's mother as a dominating figure (Family)
3. Entertainment -- hockey, surprise surprise, plays a central role, but so does a fictionalized television show ("Ledgeman") and other entertainment institutions.
4. Discipline--the whole premise of the film is that Maddin, the filmmaker, is trying to figure out why he cannot leave Winnipeg, so he re-enacts and films key moments from his life circa 1963. Key line: he says, "Maybe I can film my way out."

My "disappointment" is that Maddin isn't able to film his way out, or, if he is, the solution is "Citizen Girl" who is able to solve all of Winnipeg's problems, rid the city of its ghosts, which brings Maddin the narrator to a realization: what's a city without its ghosts? Maybe that is a good enough insight; I guess I was hoping for a bit more. Endings are so very, very difficult, especially for us indecisive Canadians. I suppose he is saying / using Winnipeg is / as a Chora, not a Topoi, just as Michael Moore seems to use Flint Michigan as chora.

Other high points: really, really rich pyscho-sexual imagery, as with all of Maddin's films. The key image: Winnipeg's "Forks" --where the Red River and Assiniboine River meet, which, in fact, is much more like a Y than a fork. The question driving the film: Y Winnipeg?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Eric McLuhan, "Concerning Media Ecology."

My new/old issue of Explorations in Media Ecology arrived the other day, and Eric McLuhan's "Concerning Media Ecology" arrived just in time to give me a tetrad on terrorism to work with.

Obsolesces: order, law, planning, security, borders, nations, armies.
Retrieves: chaos, nomadic warrior, guerrilla, vigilante,
Enhances: Dread, paranoia, fear, uncertainty
Flips: War.

He also offers a "effect of terrorism" tetrad:

O: ignorance, insouciance, complacency, confidence
R: vulnerability
E: Fear, caution, vigilance
F: exotic evil, banal indifference

The first tetrad works for me; second one seems like it needs tweaking. Terrorism obsolesced the post-cold war calm, global bridge-building, peace, love and understanding; seems to have retrieved a kind of 19th century xenophobia, othering, distrust. E and F are closer to my perceptions of what's going on.

The article as a whole makes the larger claim that we are living through a renaissance more profound than THE renaissance, and it keeps pushing forward the McLuhan descriptions of our world as being both re-tribalized and re-nomadisized (I'm making the second word up). Erik uses mobile technologies to support the nomadic nature of 21st century life, but I kept wondering about the anchoring habits and technologies of America: home theater systems, second homes, vehicles as homes. People can be nomadic (perhaps are forced to be nomadic) but they want all their stuff with them at all times, don't they?

Other provocative ideas in this essay; good issue of EME.

Monday, September 01, 2008

War and Peace in the Global Village: My "Good Reads" review.

War and Peace In the Global Village War and Peace In the Global Village by Marshall McLuhan

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm still puzzling over this book, but after three or four times threw it, and considerable readings of the secondary scholarship, I am finally starting to make sense of it. I think it might have been McLuhan's attempt at his great attempt at a synthesizing work in the artistic mode, as he tries to write with Finnegans Wake, rather than about it. My reading notes can be found here:

View all my reviews.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Up the Yangtze: Cliches as archetypes?

Saw the documentary Up the Yangtze tonight; predictably disturbing to see the Yangtze rising, disrupting the lives of the poorest and most disenfranchised, American tourists oblivious to the realities beyond the simulacra created by the journey into "old China," the simulacra of the "farewell tour." Nothing very surprising, but a compelling film none the less: cliches as archetypes? The family tension created by the 16 year old protagonist who wants to go to high school, her family's inability to pay for it, requiring her to work on the cruise boat, provides the emotional punch.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Images of peace and the post-human presidency

I'm starting to get my head into my fall seminar titled "War and Peace in the Global Village: Rhetorical Acts Post 9/11." The first assignment asks students to remake McLuhan's WPGV for 2008 (40 years later). The topic / issue / theme (whatever you want to call it) obviously has not gone away. The text itself is a bear, but I found a few gems the last time through it, and now I am trying to imagine how I might write with the text, and not about it.

I've been reading a lot about the images of 9/11 and our post 9/11 world, but those are always images of war. What are the images of peace? Does peace have an image problem?

McLuhan lambasts the political leaders of his day for not understanding the weapons and technologies they were deploying, not understanding that the mechanical world of hardware was being replaced by a world of software, and that because these leaders did not understand the changing world, they kept lashing out in new conflicts, new wars. Violence, according to McLuhan is a quest for identity.

To the extent that I am following the campaign circus, I am disappointed by the up-swing in Obama's tough-guy talk. I much preferred the "give peace a chance" Obama, the Darfur Dharma. Got me thinking about the post-human presidency. I don't think people, real human beings, want war. The war refugees I know sure as hell didn't want war. To accept the presidency is undoubtedly to accept a post-human subjectivity, despite the equally powerful importance / demand of being a "real guy" (and it is still "guy"--but that's another story).

Anyway, this is getting longer than I wanted it to, but it seems to me that the post-human / cyborg identity needs to be run through the McLuhan laws of media, because we'd get something like Haraway arguing for some valuable enhancements and some equally valuable obsolescences; we'd also see this post-human presidency as a reversal, perhaps: post-humanism as "inhuman, as in-humane".

If we can imagine a positive, life-affirming, audaciously hopeful cyborg president, what would s/he look like?

Has anything in the world of computers and composition changed since 2001?

I just came across Jeff Rice's comments from a "Town Hall Meeting" at the 2001 Computers and Writing conference. This meeting would have been in the summer of 2001, before 9/11, but I am not sure that much has changed in the world of computers and writing since then. Jeff's final point in the talk is this:

I could suggest that in the future we will all have wireless hand held computers, use holograms to communicate with students (no classrooms – we beam ourselves out to their private homes), or something else that appears grand and promising. But I don't think that we are yet prepared to work with what exists now – to teach HTML, Flash, Photoshop, Premiere, etc. not merely to create web designers and graphic artists, but to teach innovation and invention principles as well critique – the basis of composition. I would instead call upon future computers and writing scholarship to explore new writing practices, to not be afraid to critique itself and its current usage of technology, and to search out new models for electronic writing, models that I think come from various areas like literature, theory, science, music, and art.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Writing After Derrida After McLuhan After Joyce

Leverette, Marc. “Writing (After Derrdia [After McLuhan] After Joyce).” Communication and Critical / Cultural Studies.” 4.4 (2007): 343-62.

Leverette’s article is the most sustained comparison of McLuhan and Derrida that I have read, and he quite reasonably sees Joyce as the lynch-pin for the two. Leverette does a nice job of framing them both as medium theorists, although working from Joyce in very different directions.

As has been shown, while seemingly structural opposites of one another, in McLuhan and Derrida (and medium theory and deconstruction in general), we find formal, material, and philosophical similarities, thus questioning how two seemingly disparate approaches to mediation can be said to “supplement” one another without being swallowed by the other in aporetic, systemic, and logical negations. McLuhan’s “medium theory,” being materially open to historical interpretation from a phenomenological non-technologically deterministic and formally closed in its interpretation of communication form, and Derrida’s deconstruction, formally open and embracing undecidability and materially closed in its ontological underpinnings of media privileging, each to the other, embrace and deny the grave contradictions and similarities between them in the same breath. (356-57)

I generally agree with Leverette’s analysis, but I was surprised that he did not approach a comparison through “the medium is the massage” and “enframement.” Maybe that is the next step in his work, or maybe I can finally get around to exploring that topic in more detail. I do need to puzzle through some of Leverette’s analysis more to understand the nuances of his comparison.

His conclusion is enticing, and comes back to the question of what is “writing.”

It is an act of experiment, introspection, and invention. It is not simply about mimetic objectivity, linearity, rationality. It is about producing, desiring, images, flows, lines, tangles, “thithaways” and “hithaways,” effects, and affects. It is becoming. It is of course a kind of production of the I. But it is always a production of the Other. As Derrida writes, “. . . the image that is reflecting in me in the water is deformed, deforming: I am an other.”
And (in this case at least) the Other is always already a proximal and specific someone. (357-58)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hanging with Zizek the wild man

Wow, not exactly what I expected when I went looking for Zizek on YouTube--he is a wild man! In this clip, he comes to the conclusion that love is violent, love is evil, which isn't so different from McLuhan's argument that education is violent, education is war and war is education.

I did some database searching today, and very few scholars are making a McLuhan-Zizek connection, which may or may not be significant. Both are a little to hot (by which I mean cool) to handle, so they don't seem to get a lot of application. McLuhan far outstripped Zizek on my database quests--how did the guy get to be such a name if so few people use him?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Zizek, the New McLuhan?

Douglas Kellner has an essay, "Baudrillard: A New McLuhan?" I'm reading Zizek's Desert of the Real and hearing echoes of McLuhan everywhere, from Zizek's approving use of G. K. Chesterton to his use of Laws of Media like language (the obsolescing of the soldier) to a Medium is the Massage kind of phrasing about the real impact of the 9/11 attacks.

I see that others have tred this path before me, at least in the blogosphere:

Will have to see what the scholars say.

Following the path of "affordances."

I looked up "affordances" on Wikipedia because I want to ask a student an exam question about "affordances;" Kress isn't mention, but James Gibson is identified as the psychologist who coined the term. Started digging around for info on Gibson, who wrote books like An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception and I started to think that Gibson must have been reading McLuhan, or vice versa. I've always thought "affordances" is just a million dollar academic word for "the medium is the massage." Couldn't find any clear and conclusive connections between the two, but ended up back at Wikipedia's entry on "Sensorium" which credits McLuhan, Ong, and anthropologist Ted Carpenter with stimulating interest in "sense ratios;" the article eventually comes around to Gibson. Kress does not yet have a node in THE Wikipedia. Take that! McLuhanites are populating Wikipedia while the New London Group snoozes and loses.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Darfur Olympics

Mia Farrow and others have organized an alternative olympics, a darfur olympics, encouraging people to pay as much attention, and give as much time, money, and energy to stopping genocide as "we" people tend to give to the olympics and sports more generally.

Farrow is delivering a daily video cast from Darfur; other videos can be found here.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Navigation of a Rainmaker: Sudanese novel

Navigation of a Rainmaker (African Writers Series) Navigation of a Rainmaker by Jamal Mahjoub

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was written just as the second civil war was breaking out in Sudan, mid to late 1980s. The main character is a lost soul who finally finds himself by killing a mercenary-type American who has come to Sudan to stimulate the instability, rather than work towards peace. The American's moment of revelation is an interesting statement of neo-colonial goals in Africa; the main character's challenge--to act or not to act--is a question that carries over from the most famous Sudanese novel, Season of Migration to the North. A good novel, but I'm pretty interested in Sudanese material so somebody looking for a "great book" might be a bit disappointed.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sudan and the Olympics

The US flag bearer at the Olympics is a Lost Boy of Sudan. The story gives a lot of the general history of Lost Boys--not much about the runner himself.

The Sudanese track team got coverage in the NY Times. They train in a half-built facility in Khartoum, they lift paint cans full of rocks instead of weights, but the team is made up members from different tribes who eat and train together. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball; maybe sports can break some old tensions in Sudan.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Learning from Joseph and other refugees

I wrote an essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education that just appeared online today and will only be available at this URL for non-subscribers until August 1 or 2, I think. Send me an email if you see this post after Aug. 2 and want to read about how much I learned from one of my students, Joseph, and the refugee community I met in Africa.

The article is permanently available for subscribers.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

NYT Literacy Series

I am sure the rhet-comp-literacy blogosphere is going to be buzzing in response to the literacy-technology-society series of articles that the NYTs kicked off today. As a once avid reader now frequently distracted by the Internet and its various acoutrements, and as the parent of a 9 year old who would really rather not read, just happily consume information in various forms, yet is still able to score in the 99th percentile on standardized reading tests, I really don't know what to make of the various literacy trends being documented.

If I put on the McLuhan goggles, I have to believe that commentators of various kinds are focusing on the figure, and not paying much attention to the ground. What is the real goal of literacy / education / information absorption? It certainly isn't high test scores.

On a global scale, I'd like to think that the goal is world peace, but as McLuhan (or perhaps somebody else) has noted, as literacy rates have risen, so has global violence. Lots of complicating factors here, but a few generations really plugged into the global village might have a chance to bring about more world peace than the series of generations absorbed by their isolating nationalistic texts.

Literacy and education are often invoked in the name of economic prosperity, personal, regional, and national. The countries of the world that have been able to stabilize their educational systems have generally increased personal and national wealth. I guess the nagging question here, however, is still "how much education, and what kind of education"? But maybe the grounded answer is that it doesn't matter much. Simply establishing and stabilizing an education system is likely a key to personal and national wealth, in part because a stable education system also means a stable society. There has likely been very little continuity in the history of literacy levels globally, and yet we muddle forward.

At an atomistic, personal level, literacy levels as a source of anxiety seem really problematic. What I'm trying to think about here is all the people in my life who are happy, productive, and successful despite "low" literacy levels (as measured by standardized tests and length of book read), and all the people who are unhappy, no more productive, and no more successful despite "high" literacy levels.

If the ground, rather than the figure, of literacy were the focus of the article(s), the issues would not be length of book read, or time spent reading for enjoyment, but the stability on a nation, region's, or family's life, the opportunities for education, the opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment. And unfortunately, or problematically, I almost always find myself coming to the realization that the content of education doesn't seem to matter very much. It must matter somewhat, but the medium / ground (understood in a very expansive, systemic way) matters just as much, perhaps more. No wonder educators hate McLuhan.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lee Friedlander: American Monuments

I just got back from the Lee Friedlander photo exhibit at the Minnesota Art Institute. I knew nothing about Friedlander's work, but was drawn to the description of his interest in popular culture and photography as a medium. I was most pleasantly surprised by Friedlander's interest in American Monuments; his work seems potentially instructive for the Visual Culture and Language class and my work with Electronic Monuments. I should try a series of photos on Fargo's monuments.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thinking Globally, Teaching Locally

Just read an interesting article in College English by Lisa Eck, "Thinking Globally, Teaching Locally: The "Nervous Conditions" of Cross-Cultural Literacy" 70.6 (2008):578-98. Eck provides a classroom report of taking her students through three stages of response to Tsitis Dangarembga's 1988 novel Nervous Condition. The stages are:

1. This is about you: (auto)biographical connections to this African novels coming-of-age narrative.
2. This was never about you: resisting the easy identification; respecting and understanding difference.
3. This is also about you: bridging difference, honestly recognizing "mixed realities" (a phrase from Fanon. "The legacy of colonialism is everybody's business, just as selfhood ought to be every young girl's nervous prerogative" (597).

Nice addition to the pedagogy of world literature I am trying to learn: the Levinas/Derrida "host-guest" relationship that some teachers advocate, and the indebtedness-exchange model argued for in Pedagogy in a few years back.

What is the What could be approached using this method: a coming of age novel (familiar), but coming of age under conditions almost unimaginable, a story and a future that could very much be about all of us.

Medium is the Massage X3

John Walter pointed to an art show running this summer in New Paltz, NY.

Chris Lingren is thinking about McLuhan, too, always. Great example from his daughter.

The blogosphere was buzzing a while back about "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" but of course Google used metonymically for "the web" and, perhaps not surprisingly, the article argues that the medium (the web) is changing our thinking, reading, etc.

This speculative instrument never gets old!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

CCC Carnival: Sp(l)itting Images

I was searching for "Richards and Speculative Instruments" last night, and as is the case with many of my searches, I ended up on Derek Mueller's blog. After reading the Richards entry, I visited the blog's home page and saw a call for a CCC carnival about Karen Kopelson's "Sp(l)itting Image; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition" 59.4 (2008): 750-80. Here's my contribution.

I'm going to start with the conclusion: it is time for rhetoric and composition to get past its identity crisis and get on with doing its work (inelegant paraphrase--sorry) (775). Agreed. As a graduate student and early in my career, I was more interested in theory talk and history, which undoubtedly had something to do with me trying to find my place in the field, and I did try to contribute to these identity debates, but I am now trying to move on. But let me tell you, its hard ; ) I am trying to finish up a project that I now recognize is still caught up in identity crisis issues to a certain extent, but once I finish that, I think I will be able to move on and focus on literacy research for the global village.

But even that project, I suspect, will be caught up in identity issues. My department chair might ask me, "were you hired to do research on literacy acquisition in Sudan?" and I'd have to say "no," or redefine my identity in such a way that I can say "yes." My dean might say, "what does this documentary you have contributed to have to do with English?" I might find myself at a conference trying to convince colleagues that they ought to reconsider their identity, that they might want to begin to see themselves as global literacy researchers. And when I send an article to CCC, the readers might ask, "what does this have to do with teaching writing?" Maybe Kopelson's article will convinced reviewers to not ask that question so often. Hhmm, I think I am digressing.

Let me get back on track: Am I going to get into a scholarly battle about theory and practice again? I hope not, because I do agree with Kopelson that there are "more innovative and far-reaching [I would add "pressing"] forms of knowledge [I would add issues]" that I can address. But why is it hard to get out of those debates? Here is a possible McLuhanesque answer: More than other fields, WE are the content of our discipline. When we write about theory, practice, and the classroom, we are writing about ourselves (our processes). In the electric age, post-objectivist age, we have become more comfortable with "re-search" as "I-search" or "Mystory." Maybe my point the last two paragraphs is that even as we get on with new / different / innovative / pressing research, we aren't likely to escape identity debates and crises. And maybe we will be a "better" discipline for it--I'm always struck by the lack of self-reflexivity in other disciplines.

I had some other ideas, but I seem to have spun myself around this one issue. I think I will sit back and see where the carnival goes.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Age of Nonpolarity by Richard N. Haass

My friend Martin, who is studying International Relations at the United States International University in Nairobi, sent me a link to The Age of Nonpolarity, which he is reading in his PoliSci class. The articles does a nice job of explaining the decline of American influence globally, the rise of multiple sites of power (countries, regions, cities, NGOs, corporations, etc.), and all of this description mirrors, in many ways, the kind of distributed telecommunications network we now find ourselves living in. Makes me wonder--is this an accurate description, or just a pleasing, familiar description? Probably a bit of both. ; )

I've being trying to think through the logistics of being a small organization working among giants, using the networking tools we now have available to us, but also just psychologically accepting / realizing that such action is possible. This article helps me see that indeed, the world political terrain is open to a number of players / actors, and that small players / actors can partner with larger player actors (Gates Foundation) in order to make headway; the large player-actors do not need to be government agencies.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Here Comes Everybody, part II--Open Source Africa?

Finished HCE. I was looking for some ideas, some insights, into how to leverage the power of social networking in support of the African Soul, American Heart film and aid project that I am working on, but my "take away" is that we are close to doing about as much as we can do. One of the ideas / concepts that Shirky comes back to over and over again is that a few people contribute most of the content to social network groups or activities (like wikipedia, a specific flickr event), but many people make a single contribution. The ASAH producer and I do most of the work, and we have a few people who contribute a little. Our film editor will contribute a lot to that specific project, others will contribute a little.

Oh, and that's another thing. These HCE projects need to be sufficiently open to mass collaboration. Editing a film shot by 3 people is not going to open itself up to mass collaboration. In terms of fundraising, we should be able to open things up a little more--invite people to host house parties--but most people can't easily contribute content to our project. If you are reading this, however, and you know how you can contribute, please leave a comment!

So, I started thinking--what kind of project might be a good HCE project? How about "Open Source Africa (OSA)?" I'm thinking of Douglas Rushkoff's "Open Source Democracy" as an illusion and guide. I know there are hundreds and hundreds of people working on various projects in Africa; would they benefit from a connected community? What would such a community accomplish? Shirky suggests, in his discussion of Linux, that if the explicit goal of an OSA was to "reform African governments," the project would fail. The goal is too big, seems to unattainable, seems like too much effort. Shirky suggests there are three rules for HCE projects:
1. they have to show promise, they need to bring people together, the concept needs to encourage participation.
2. the tools have to help bring and keep the people together, while moving towards fulfilling the promise.
3. the project has to make a bargin with people (or they make it with the project); they have to agree to the rules, participate in accordance with the group.

OSA, in light of this, seems like a project that is too big, too nebulous, lacks real promise.

So let me call out for help, again. Can anyone reading formulate a project with promise, a project that you think others would want to participate in? Does not have to be African-themed.

Epilogue: I realized after World Refugee Day that I had turned my blog into a blog-cast. My title, Ten Minutes a Day, implies personal reflection, thinking through papers, projects, life, and for the most part, that is what my blog has been the past few years. Then came the blog-cast. Now I'm really interested in trying to turn my blog into a conversation. My blogging has never been particularly conversational (either as reader or responder), but my work on ASAH really is about creating a conversation, creating a community, so that people want to learn more about Sudan, its history, its present, its future. I do need to figure out how to encourage people to contribute to the project, not just financially, but intellectually, emotionally, practically, even though most of the post is about how that isn't likely going to happen. Prove me wrong, people, prove me wrong!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Here Comes Everybody

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Okay book, but I keep looking for him to acknowledge and work with the Joyce reference in the title ("Here Comes Everybody" is the "hero" of Finnegan's Wake), and / or acknowledge the McLuhan influences that show up everywhere. The curse of being an academic--I am interested in the connections!

He does a nice job with technological determinism: he points out that the printing press didn't initiate the renaissance, but it significantly furthered it. He does a nice job of explaining why he thinks people contribute to Wikipedia, and he shows through a couple of different examples that social media sites rely on a few people to do a lot of work and many people to do a little work--good reminder for me every time I try to initiate a social media project that gets minimal buy-in.

Hhmmm, maybe I am liking the book more than I realized! Better keep going.

View all my reviews.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ben Affleck reports on the Congo

Ben Affleck has made 3 trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the past year; footage and commentary from his trips aired last night on Nightline. Affleck was pretty careful in framing his report--called it fact finding, educating himself before acting, claimed no particular expertise. He provided some nice commentary about the people he met in a refugee camp: teachers, business owners, everyday people who were forced to flee their homes because of instability and violence. This point can't be stressed enough. Africa obviously has a lower standard of living than the rest of the world based on a variety of measures, but where there is peace, there are schools and clinics and food; people are generally happy. Where there is war, there is chaos, instability, starvation, disease.

Reasonably interesting posts in response. Not a lot of celebrity hating, a few "take care of America first," comments, lots of good rebuttals to those comments, a few insightful comments from Congolese.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Winnipeg

I haven't seen Guy Maddin's new film, My Winnipeg, yet, but I suspect:

1. It will be a rich MyStory for all Ulmerites out to check out.
2. It will be a intriguing probe of film-as-medium, in honor of one of Winnipeg's most famous citizens, Marshall McLuhan.
3. It will be seen by about 1,006 people, my seven blog subscribers pushing the total into 4 digits.

Good review with footage at the LA Times.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Map: Sudan Aid Projects

I've been working on a Google Map of aid projects in southern Sudan, attempting to illustrate where in Sudan various American foundations are building schools, clinics, orphan centers, and other aid projects. This map is by no means comprehensive, and would benefit from further additions and probably some refinement of the pin placement.

View Larger Map

Friday, June 20, 2008

World Refugee Day: Angelina Jolie Video

Angelina Jolie has become the highest profile spokesperson for the UNHCR, and her short video address for World Refugee Day surprised me. Her image is not the first image, and I did not recognize her voice, but I was immediately struck by the weightiness, the resonance, of her voice. She does make an appearance, as her image and star power are obviously important to the UNHCR's campaigns, but this video illustrated for me one of the ways in which voice is just as powerful as image.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

World Refugee Day Video: Photos from UN Camps

This video announces a photo exhibit opening in Brazil today, June 19th, in conjunction with World Refugee Day. Photos consist of images from a handful of UN campus in Africa, including Kakuma and Dadaab in Kenya, the two I am most familiar with. Next year, I hope there is an official World Refugee Day tag used on YouTube so all projects like this one, the one I posted, official UNHCR videos, etc., can be linked up.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hands sheltering head: The 2008 sign for World Refugee Day

The UNHCR's photostream at Flickr has a number of photographs of refugees and UNHCR staff holding their hands above their head, with hands meeting to form the image of a roof. The World Refugee Day theme for 2008 is "Protection," and the UNHCR provides shelter for as many as 40 million refugees world wide on any given day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

World Refugee Day video from UNHCR

Another reminder of World Refugee Day, June 20th--EVERYWHERE.

Fargo's two events:
1. Lutheran Social Services Celebration: 1-5 pm.
2. ASAH Celebration, 6:30-8:00 pm at Zanbroz.

Short video from UNHCR embedded: lend a helping hand.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rem Koolhaas in Lagos, Nigeria

I watched Lagos: Wide / Close (2005) over the weekend. I'm not sure if I should call it a documentary, just a "film," an "interactive" film, although the interaction is limited, or an essay. It felt more like an essay, or even just an interview. Lagos consists of Koolhaas talking to a couple of different interviews about his research in Lagos Nigera, part of the the Harvard Project on the City. Koolhaas says he went to Lagos because demographic predictions say Lagos will be at 24 million people and the third largest city in the world by 2030. He wanted to to investigate how the city was dealing with the 12 million it has now: on first-glance, not well, but upon further research, Koolhaas noticed that the city's inhabitants were using Lagos' modernists design in creative and productive ways, even though the population far exceeds the infrastructure's capacity.

What really struck me was Koolhaas' comments on his reactions and his personal experiences; very similar to my experiences in Nairobi and Africa generally. He said that the dangers people raised prior to his going were incredibly exaggerated; he saw the expected poverty but he was not depressed by it. Instead, he was energized by the intelligence, creativity, and vision of the people he met. He also fell in love with the place; I wonder what drives this attraction--is it spectacle? is it exoticism?--because Lagos, Nairobi, and places like southern Sudan aren't the kinds of places one would expect to fall in love with.

Visually the piece was a bit like the Qatsi Trilogy: slow fly-overs and drive-throughs, although no speed-up or slow-down techniques used. A few interesting mirror-image shots that revealed interesting patterns. One brilliant shot a train pulling into a station, then pulling away, followed by the tracks almost instantly being covered over by the thousands and thousands of people moving in that market-transport area.

I found some Flickr photos of Lagos; check out the film (got it one Netflicks) if intrigued.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Peter Elbow via Tim Lindgren

This blog is called "Ten Minutes a Day," a reference to Peter Elbow's free-writing advice; Tim Lindgren, Fargo native and all-around great guy, posted a Peter Elbow inspired entry back in February that I just came across.

The Elbow material, via Tim, is:

1) No thinking without writing.

"Think of writing not as a way to transmit a message but as a way to grow and cook a message. Writing is a way to end up thinking something you couldn't have started out thinking. Writing is in fact a way to free yourself from what you presently think, feel, and perceive."

2) "You have to be a big spender. Not a tightass."

"I know perfectly well that the more I utter, the more I'll be able to utter and--other things being equal--the better I'll be able to utter. I know I can. Noam Chomsky knows I can. But it doesn't feel that way. It feels like the more I utter, especially the more I write, the more I'll use up my supply of meaningful utterances, and as the source dries up, they will get worse."

World Refugee Day Video: Protecting the Southern Sudanese

I put together a video in response to the World Refugee Day 2008 theme of "Protection." The video shows and explains some of the ways that the United Nations High Commission on Refugees has protected the southern Sudanese from 1988-2007, although I should clarify that the UNHCR continues to provide support and protection in 2008. Most of the original video comes from 2007, however.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Emergency Aid for Abyei's displaced citizens

My friends in are Winnipeg putting on a fundraiser for the displaced of Abyei, Sudan on June 14th.


For immediate release:
June 11, 2008

Winnipegger’s join in solidarity with City’s Sudanese to Raise
Funds for War-torn Abyei

WINNIPEG: An emergency Sudanese cultural event will take place on
Saturday, June 14th 2008 to raise money for the 12,000 families
affected by the current humanitarian and security crisis in Abyei,
Sudan. Beginning at 2 p.m., concerned Sudanese Canadians and citizens
of Winnipeg will assemble at the University of Winnipeg’s Bulman
Centre to collect donations for the estimated 50,000 civilians
internally displaced by the violent clash between Northern and Southern
troops along Sudan’s disputed border.

Fighting in the oil-rich area of Abyei which started May 13th 2008 has
been a point of contention since the signing of the CPA in 2005. “We
have decided to gather on Saturday to show solidarity with our people
that are suffering in Abyei, it may not solve the problems but at least
they will see that we have done what we can” says Biong Deng, acting
executive member of the LBGS (Lost Boys & Girls of Sudan) in Manitoba.

12,000 families are at immediate and critical risk of malnutrition,
starvation and disease in Abyei at the onset of the rainy season.
“It’s a precarious assumption to think that the suffering in
Abyei doesn’t concern us here in Canada…our national dignity is at
stake” says Tara O’Connor, Community Liaison Coordinator at the
University of Winnipeg’s Global College.

Performances by Mijok Lang aka Hot Dogg and Sudanese dance troupe

When: Saturday, June 14, 2008
Starts: 2 pm
Ends: 6 pm
Location: Bulman Centre @ the University of Winnipeg *Take the elevator
located by the Riddell Cafeteria and the Spence Street entrance to get
to the Bulman Center

Hosted by:
The Lost Boys & Girls of Sudan in Manitoba and the University of
Winnipeg’s Global College

For more information, contact:
Biong Deng (204) 218-7940

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Mark Bixler's The Lost Boys of Sudan

Bixler's 2005 book follows a group of Sudanese refugees in the Atlanta area from their arrival to 2004. These stories of resettlement and adjustment are interesting, but Bixler's historical work on the origins of the north-south conflict is concise and lucid, his detailed account of how the US state department came up with the idea of resettling almost 4,000 unaccompanied Sudanese minors is an account I have not read before, and his analysis of how the September 11 attacks functioned as a catalyst for the 2005 CPA in Sudan is fascinating. Former President Carter, I learned, was frustrated with President Clinton's aggressive (i.e. bombing) approach to Sudan, and it was only with the arrival of President Bush in the White House that--upon President Carter's prompting--the US began to play an active role in brokering peace between north and south Sudan.

Also interesting to read about the Valentino Deng and Dave Egger collaboration being written about in a round-about, slightly skeptical way, not naming any names, way.

Lost of other little gems. One story about a boy trying to pass his GED was fascinating. He struggled with literary interpretation, but when asked to do a "composition" about a movie he had seen, he wrote about Achebe's Things Fall Apart because he had only seen one movie. He ended up scoring better in composition than any other subject. A slight nod to the fact that good composition isn't about one's "English," which I suspect was shaky at best in this case. He presumably wrote about the book with authority, with a deep understanding of the colonial African experience, in such a way that the readers of the exam ignored the fact that he didn't follow the prompt, and probably wrote in non-standard ways. Good work, readers!

Hermione's Family Jewel

I helped my son and his friend make their first stop-action video, Hermione's Family Jewel. The 2:00 minutes movie (2:00 minutes so they can enter it in the Fargo Film Festival's Two Minute Movie contest) is an homage to Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, with a really quick scream-out to The Simpsons. The boys pulled in all the allusions, I just helped them get it down to 2:00 minutes.

I discovered The Free Sound Project while helping the boys: a creative commons sound fx database. Sweet and impressive.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Students without borders

I am going to an alumni event at the U of Winnipeg on Monday the 9th; the presenters are talking about their work with Students without Borders. These alumni, working with students at a couple of different institutions, I think, raised $250,000 and took medical supplies to Senegal as part of a 17 day trip.

This got me thinking about a "Students without Borders" arrangement between NDSU and U of W; what if we could get students from both institutions, particularly a mix of Sudanese and North American students, to form a chapter, raise money, and bring aid to various villages in southern Sudan?

One project too many for me? I got thinking about this while working on a reconsideration of War and Peace in the Global Village; I find myself drawn to the computer metaphor of "work around." There is little I can do to stop the fighting in Sudan (I even heard a NPR story that pointed out it is illegal for US citizens to negotiate with foreign governments!), but I can work around the systemic approaches and systemic problems through micro-aid projects. Big change needs to be systemic, but maybe small change on the margins can drive big change in the center. That reversal of dynamics, reversal of base-superstructure, certainly seems to be one of the implications of the digital revolution.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Web 2.0 in Africa

Doc sent me the link to this article about a Kenyan park ranger using blogs and tweets to raise awareness and raise money for preserving the wildlife and wilderness in Kenya.

I've been working with a Congolese refugee who is attending university in Nairobi, and have been thinking about encouraging him to blog and post photos of his life. I wonder if readers would donate to keep him in school?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I6: Instability of New Media

1. Video clips with definitions. Threads--unstable term, disagreement. Processes. Multiple.
2. Roles as readers?
3. New media as a game, as an ideology.
4. A folksomic poem from Flickr: images of writing; images of new media.
5. New media still looks a lot like hypertext.
6. Not your father's oldsmobile.

Too much to record, but interesting discussion of reflection. Seems tacked on to some students, but we in the field generally believe in its value. Bob W. drew the parallel to "the behind the scenes" genre; if students made "behind the scenes" or "director cut" reflections, they might be more convinced by the process and product of this kind of reflection.

Rorty's normal (writing) and abnormal (new media): a possible frame to use.

Kevin M.'s critique of Manovich and formalism is worth holding on to, although his attack on Manovich's dismissal of rhetoric over looks the fact that Manovich is drawing on a simplistic notion of rhetoric (just as Ong dismissed rhetoric in its current forms). Hits at "working at the interface"--rhetorical formalism.

Session H: Open Source Writing And/As Ideology

Benjamin Cline: Using William Brown's work on "the rhetoric of social intervention"--attention-power-need cycle. Focuses on the attention cycle--axiology, epistemology, ontology--and its application to the Ubuntu Forum, "Absolute Beginner Talk." Forum members attempted to not only help new Ubuntu users, but tried to shift their axiology. Great examples of responses that combined trouble shooting and proselytizing. Users wrote about Ubuntu making the world a better place; about OS users breaking into two camps--the pragmatists (most users--whatever works) and principled users (Ubuntu / Linux) [my terms, not Ben's].

Maggie Christensen: using 3rd space as concept for analyzing technology in the writing classroom. 3rd spaces as parallel to heterogeneous space (Foucault), as real and imagined, a space of multiple and conflicted values. Multigenre identity project an attempt to bump students into 3rd space. Satire, advocacy, technology autobiography used as assignments that ask students to think critically about technology.

Discussion: Maggie got a good question about demographics and identity; even older than average students still sorting out identity in 3rd space. I asked why people proselytize about technology and Benji added Richard Weaver's shamanic language into the mix of Brown's ideology, and suggested that all assertions are a kind of proselytizing. If technologies are extensions of self, proselytizing about technology is proselytizing one's world view; technologies are integrated into world views, ideologies.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thinking about next year's CW

Thinking about a proposal and paper on the One Laptop Per Child program and the meaning of "sustainability" for OLPC in southern Sudan. Sustainability of such an initiative seems incredibly problematic, but this figure could drive ground transformation; it could be used as a focusing figure for fundraising, for making the notion of rebuilding and transformation concrete.

Also thinking about The Virtual Peace Garden and sustainability: what would that take, mean, what would it do? Both would probably be speculative projects, but potentially interesting (to me, at least).

Session G: C+++: Concept, Challenges, Collaboration

Allegra Pitera: Videos from Detroit Mercy students are personal, historical, local: nice job of film without actors; all about the shot, the mood, the look. Good form for student videos. YouTube? Copyright issues?

Blythe Nobleman: image, music, text assignment. Describe a process through "film": IMT. Barther, Sontag's Plato's Cave, Berger's Ways of Seeing, Gombrich "Truth and Stereotypes." Interesting ideas for bringing multimedia into technical / professional class. Great example of a mathematical algorithm (phi) shown visually.

Dirk Remley: drawing on Michael Carter's "Doing, Knowing" piece from CCC 2007. CMS tools a medium for teaching collaboration, collaboration draws on research appropriate to their field. Outlined some challenges, but I'm fading.

Casey Boyle: wikispace also possibly transforming collaboration, but also conservative; innovation potentially gets edited out of collaborative composition.

Session F: The Auburn Curriculum

Michelle Sidler and colleagues presented on curriculum reforms at Auburn; they were forced to abandon their vertical curriculum and develop a horizontal curriculum. Key elements: scaffolded assignments, themed sections, information literacy replacing library visits, tabet pcs classrooms.

Scaffolding: analysis and evaluation of a single argument, compare and contrast two arguments, create and argument synthesizing 3 sources, extensive argumentative research paper.

Themes: business, cultural diversity, health & medicine, liberal arts, science and technology, sustainability.

Why tablets: flexibility, mobility, OneNote, actual writing. Stocking a lab with tablets is an unusual move, as they point out. No projectors; a conscious decision to emphasize collaboration and work around a teacher-centered classroom.

Information Literacy: reviewed 5 principles of ACRL. Did some information literacy tutoring with the writing center staff; good idea.

Assignments + Information Literacy: second assignment in sequence was supported by two IL sessions with library. Focused on key word search strategies. Comparison exercise: which of two articles is more scholarly. Academic search premier: get students to limit to full text and scholarly review. Nice assignment prompt: "Should the UN add "regular, efficient, and effective access to the Internet" to its list of basic human rights?" Moved into sociological abstracts, not all full text: opened up teaching of how to get non full text material.

Instructors are pretty satisfied with instruction; consistent with what folks at NDSU found when they surveyed instructor satisfaction with information literacy skills. Teach IL, and students will get it; assign but don't teach; they don't get it.

Kathi Yancey

Kathi framed her talk in terms of "radical change, not much change." Also used the NSF How Students Learn and the Alexander Astin research to frame changes in students. Some key points:

Stickiness: talked briefly about the role e-portfolio has had on teacher retention.

Assessment: student gets to identify what she values in her portfolio, in her education; assessment standards / goals emerge within her own reflection and organization.

Integrative learning: showed a student who was able to see connections among course work and life as part of his integrated learning; a hard concept to assess because the student has to map the learning. Having the archive / collection in place is important for students to be able to see connections.

Crystal Ball: ePortfolio as a place to do work. Has a robust set of tools: blogging, pages, IM, etc. Not just an archive (although it should be a digital repository.

Delivery changes delivery: what's the process, sequence?
What (new?) language describes thsi new work/ play?
What are the (new) rhythms for learning?

Personal Potential Index: can be illustrated through portfolios.

E: Portfolio and Assessment Strategies

Michael Neal: a nice discussion of the challenges of rubrics for new media and multimodal composition. Referenced Broad's Beyond Rubrics--a programmatic discussion of new media texts would be interesting.

Michael Day has posted his presentation on e-portfolios at Northern Illinois U. Showed / emphasized an online scoring form used--could be a useful addition to our assessment, even if we don't use e-portfolios. Sounds like only the TIs at NIU use e-portfolios; looks like only a handful of people read and score the portfolio. Helps me understand what it might take to develop e-portfolios more effectively. Using Mozilla composer and FTP to compose.

The third speaker, Brittany Cottrill, was not able to attend, but she sent her paper to be read: "E-portfolio alternatives, blogs, and academic showcases."

Discussion afterward had some emphasis on the role of prewriting and drafting in assessment. We have been discussing this in our program, and interestingly our teachers aren't particularly interested in seeing student drafts. I wonder if there is a place for a post-process analysis of portfolio assessment?

Session D: Drupal, Drupal, Drupal

Charlie Lowe explained that Drupal is a complex design tool, not simply a weblog tool or wiki; design choices available to site designer. Maybe Drupal is the tool for WPGV. See Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6,, (contact Charlie to join).

Dan Royer posted his presentation in a Drupal site. Covers the evolution of his experience with teaching a writing for the web course and how Drupal seems to be solving problems he was having: too much time spent on design rather than writing, messing with IE bugs, etc. Sees Drupal as the future: a skill that students need to have; Drupal as a tool that they might be able to take with them.

David Blakesley on Drupal design, theme work. Recommended 3 Firefox add-ons: Firebug, WebDeveloper, and IE Tags. Also graphic editor, text editor, and drupal module theme builder. Drupal theme sites listed.

What do I want for my course site:
1. A place for course materials (the book?)
2. A place to blog, probably collectively.To discuss readings, share notes, share work.
3. A bibliography (preferably annotated).
4. Possibly a site to host MEmorials.
5. A sandbox, a place for weekly experiments.

Keep the site open to student design, re-design. What are the images of WPGV, or maybe I should call the site the Virtual Peace Garden.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Michael Farris bringing all my threads together

Michael Farris was kind enough to comment on my "Things to remember" post from the end of the semester, and like him, I am behind on my blog reading. When I visited his site, I found this post about Jeremiah Wright that brings together many of my own current preoccupations: white privilege, rhetorical acts post 9-11, mourning, and memorializing. He references a Judith Butler work I am not familiar with--more reading for the class? I might be able to start my fall 2008 War and Peace in the Global Village class with Michael's post.

Session C: Copyright, copyright, copyright

Quinn Warnick provided a close, clever, textual analysis of the copyright code, specifically the fair use section;it is tiny and a mess! He quickly looked at the ineffectiveness of the copyright office, and encouraged universities to be proactive in understanding and supporting educator's rights.

Virginia Commonwealth presenters analyzed Condi Rice Raps from the perspective of copyright law. They acknowledge the ways in which parody presents significant challenges to copyright guidelines and laws, but argue that an open source model is needed to maintain the possibility of citation and integration in parody and scholarship.

Annetee Vee uses an FAQ to consider how computer programming (and open source) is a sponsor of literacy. Uses Wittgenstein's family resemblance to suggest resemblance of literacy and computer programming. "Proceduracy" is the linking term, traces of literacy, not simply functional. Proceduracy is dynamic, a common act in literacy and computer programming. Open source a particularly powerful sponsor of literacy--potentially.

Not sure how good my notes are this afternoon; mind bogging down.

Session B: Podcast, videos, websites.

Jim Tremmel from Austin delivered a nicely designed presentation on the value of podcasts in his rhetoric and rock class and his literature and music class. I actually listened to one of his casts a few years back--nice work. Presenting music and interviews via podcast is smart; nice presentation.

Janine Solbert's presentation reported on a writing with film class she taught, concluding with a student example of a visual argument. The student put together an effective final product, but what Janine emphasized was his massive journal and extensive research. Ideas for me to incorporate in Visual Culture and Language.

A Michigan State Group presented their research on Professional and Technical Writing Program websites; a study of 150 sites (randomly chosen from over 200, I believe) found many sites struggling to embody principles of design generally taught in the program. Sites also tend not to represent students; need more integration of students and other stake holders in design process.

Twenty minutes for discussion--nice job staying on time!

Ideas for website firing: we need more student integration, for sure; focus groups; Danielle spoke briefly about her interest in College websites--perhaps Andy and I can get a foothold there.

Writing Program as Technology

I've been thinking about Writing Programs as technologies for a long time, but it dawned on me this morning that there might be a good institutional research project on some of the interesting program-wide implementations of technology in writing programs. I learned about UGA's use of EMMA yesterday; they subtly distinguished themselves from the Texas Tech approach to anonymous grading through web interface. ISU Comm has focused more on the overt "literacies" (WOVE) rather than back-end mechanics. I wonder where I could find a "program" that isn't much of a program--MSUM?--and then do some institutional investigation into the dynamics of these programs, what is getting written, what kind of student learning is happening, etc.

CW session A: Video presentations (the medium is the massage).

Two good workshops yesterday that I haven't blogged, and a lively town hall discussion this morning. More on that later, perhaps.

Session A started today with two video presentations, which interestingly is something I have been talking about with people the last few days. Rik Hunter's video of WoWwiki made interesting use of voice over, clips from a WoW event, and screen shots of scholarly articles.

Dan Anderson showed a flash-based video with a more direct video address to the audience, student samples (a collage assignment from a literature class primarily), video interviews with students, quotations worked in, and great information graphics. He articled a "flow zone" which I think many of us doing multimodal / electrate assignments are trying to help our students enter.

Alex Reid started with "I'm actually going to talk to you" which got a nice laugh, and he proceeded to deliver a visually and verbally compelling presentation about the transition from private to public spaces we are making (or are being forced to make). He encourages us to thinking about the "classrooms as ambient interfaces" (a quote from Byron Hawk). Wrapped up with as a technology for making the private (conference presentation) public.

Great start, and the video presentations (perhaps) kept this session entirely on time. Q&A started at 10:57 am.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pain and the academic enterprise

I've been reading McLuhan and Fiore's War and Peace in the Global Village (again), and finally starting to understand it. "When one has been hurt by new technology, when the private person or the corporate body finds its entire identity endangered by physical or psychic change, it lashes back in a fury of self defense" (97). This statement makes sense (it could be less dramatic), but the light bulb went on for me when I reversed the direction of the pain. New technologies seem not to generate pain for me; elsewhere in WPGV, M&F compare new technologies to LSD, the computer as a facilitator of the inner trip. Old technologies--the classroom, the academic article--are more likely to cause me pain than online teaching, blogging, MEmorializing, etc.. I remember vividly the pleasure of my first email, my first newsgroup, my first webpage, my first video. I do even remember the pleasure of my first conference paper, but it was kinda funny and creative; my first academic publication (an extension of that presentation) was, I suspect, more painful, although the fact that I don't remember is probably significant. Generally academic publishing is among the more painful things I try to do, although I also understand (more or less) why I do it, and the process is certainly not without pleasure along the way.

This post was really initiated by this report, more than WPGV: "Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An In-depth Study of Faculty Needs and Ways of Meeting Them." The abstract identifies the kind of pain, the kind of tension, I often feel and am trying to articulate.

"Our work to date has confirmed the important impact of disciplinary culture and tradition on many scholarly communication habits. These traditions may override the perceived 'opportunities' afforded by new technologies, including those falling into the Web 2.0 category."

Is neglecting the (pleasurable?) opportunities of Web 2.0 going to leave academics in a world of hurt? Are those who embrace Web 2.0 going to land themselves in a world of hurt--in tune with the environment-at-large but out of synch with the academy? Of course there is always the middle way, the golden mean, or McLuhan's working at the interface of the two environments. That's probably where I'm trying to go, and struggling in both, hence doubling my pain. Good thing I am a masochistic, protestant, Canadian.