June 28, 2004

Ideology vs. Expertise

There's a wonderful article in The New Republic by Franklin Foer: The Case Against Bush, Part 1: Closing of the Presidential Mind. It describes how this White House has systematically overruled the views of experts and forged ahead with a view of reality based on its own preconceptions.

"The most common explanation for this animus is that the White House overflows with political hacks uninterested in the nitty-gritty of policy. But the administration's expert-bashing also has deep roots in ideology. Since its inception, modern American conservatism has harbored a suspicion of experts, who, through adherence to inductive reasoning and academic methodologies, claim to provide objective research and analysis. To be sure, this social-scientific approach has its limits. Conservatives have raised genuinely troubling questions about its predilection for downplaying the role of 'culture' and 'values' in shaping human behavior. But the Bush administration has adopted a far more extreme version of this critique: It takes the radically postmodern view that 'science,' 'objectivity,' and 'truth' are guises for an ulterior, leftist agenda; that experts are so incapable of dispassionate and disinterested analysis that their work doesn't even merit a hearing. And the results have been disastrous."

One thing I didn't know before reading this was the background behind the administration's skepticism about global warming. It's rooted in a subtle PR apparatus funded by the tobacco industry to make all scientific research suspect: the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition. This phony group has outlived its usefulness and disbanded but the meme of "junk science" continues to inform government policy. The result: environmental damage, inadequate planning for post-invasion Iraq, stem cell research going abroad, and more.

What a mess. We have to vote these bums out.

June 25, 2004

To New Orleans and Back

After a week in a stupor coming back from China, I went off again to NECC, which I guess is the major conference of the year for me. I always use the NECC conference to force myself to push the WebQuest model another step forward. It helps to have a deadline and an audience.

On Monday Philip and I presented some research in progress called When Teachers Blog, in which we're analyzing what our preservice teachers are writing about in EDTEC 470. It was a roundtable session, which meant that we presented conversationally at a table with 10 chairs. By the time we were done, there were an additional 15 people standing around the table chiming in with their take on teacher (and kid) blogging. It was low-key and insightful. We're still working on the data and will continue to watch how many keep blogging for a semester after the course is over.

Monday evening, he and I did the requisite Bourbon Street thing, walking around with mint juleps in hand, watching balconies loaded with guys from Des Moines getting in touch with their inner fratboy and tossing beads down to women from Louisville flashing body parts better left unseen. We stood in line for an hour to swelter for another 30 minutes in Preservation Hall which felt more genuine than the rest of it, though deeply routine for the musicians.

Funny thing happened on the way to decadence. A guy gave us a cheery hello and offered us a wager. Looking down at Philip's spiffy footware, he said "I'll bet you five dollars I can tell you the exact street and the exact city and state where you got your shoes." Philip demurred, wisely not wanting to get involved. Still.... how could this guy know? We weren't wearing anything with "San Diego" printed on it. Alright, Philip said. Where?

"You got your shoes on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana." said the guy, which sure enough was true. Philip didn't pay up, though.

The next day I organized a Birds of a Feather session for WebQuest fans which drew about 60 people and went well.

The next morning was the big session I've been mulling over for months. Blogs and Wikis as WebQuest Tasks. My room held 475 people and there were 30-40 standing in the back and sitting on the floor. It went pretty well, I think, and it was blogged about. Got lots of nice comments afterwards. Think I should write it up as an article.

And now I'm home and it finally feels like summer has begun.


June 17, 2004

Hong Kong again, then home

An early morning flight from Taipei took me back to Hong Kong. Originally I was then going to transfer from there to my flight back home but then my best friend from college, Joe Doran, intervened. He comes to this area every six weeks or so to check on the manufacturing being done here for his family company in Massachusetts and as it happens he was to be in Hong Kong on the day I was leaving. He convinced me to change the ticket and hang out for an extra day. We had a great time at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and hitting the Temple Street Night Market again where I snatched up chopstick sets, table runners, t-shirts and other gifts and for $12 a new suitcase to carry it all home in. We ended the day at Delaney's, a place so familiar to Joe that I expected everyone to yell out his name as we entered. Joe's getting more Irish every year.

Thanks to tail winds, the flight to San Francisco was only 4 movies long, and thanks to the International Date Line, I arrived on the same morning that I left. I had been completely free of jet lag in China but the Universe balanced that out when I got home. I've been waking up in the middle of the night and falling asleep in the afternoons all week since I got back and thus not getting much done or being much fun to be with.

One highlight of the past week was a videoconference with the people I met in Romania last February. Using iVisit, we managed to hook up 8 sites in Spain, Romania, Italy, Poland and Finland for a 2 hour conversation. There were audio problems that I think we can overcome next time, but seeing the faces added a lot and made it worthwhile. I'm beginning to be a believer in videoconferencing on a shoestring.


June 07, 2004

Two Days in Taiwan

The blur continues. First a drive through Taipei and a Thai lunch. Next stop was the National Palace Museum in Taipei where loads of treasures from the Forbidden City were brought here by the Nationalists fleeing the mainland. Who knows what would have been lost in the cultural revolution if they hadn't. Lots of wonderful paintings, carvings, and incredibly intricate objects made of jade, ivory, gold, porcelain, and bone.

Then, a highlight of the whole trip, I got to spend some time with Frances and Jasper Wu, friends of the Dodges for over 10 years. We met on the first day of Kindergarten at the Waldorf School as we each dropped off our kids for the first time. Since then they have become members of our extended family. Frances' parents treated us to a feast at a traditional Taiwanese restaurant. Many unfamiliar dishes, all good.

The next day I did two presentations, one at National Central University in the morning and then on to National Taiwan Normal University in the afternoon. All went well. After an incredibly good Japanese meal with my host, Tak-Wai Chan, we finished the day in a brainstorming session with his doctoral students working on game-like and WebQuest-y applications of EduClick, a device they've developed for collecting input from students in a classroom in realtime. Great fun. We went up close to 11pm. Tomorrow (at 7am) I fly back to Hong Kong.

More pictures here.


June 05, 2004

24 hours in Guangzhou

It's all a pleasant blur. We took the train to Guangzhou, about two hours north of Hong Kong. Dave Merrill and I were slated to speak to grad students at South China Normal University. When we walked into the auditorium the room burst into applause. I felt like we had just come out of the green room onto the stage of the Tonight Show. Our two presentations, though it wasn't planned that way at all, were nicely complementary. SCNU has a beautiful campus and there were happy vibes in the air because of graduation week.

After the presentations we were treated to yet another amazing dinner with the vice-president of the university, followed by a ride down the Pearl River to see Guangzhou by night.

The next day, three of the SCNU faculty and I visited the Guangdong Folk Art Museum, a sprawling collection of carvings, porcelein, jade and you name it housed in the ancestral home of the Chen family. Another lunch which included my first taste of durian, a fruit so smelly that my hotel lobby had a sign forbidding anyone to bring one in. It was delicious. Then we went trawling through the shopping district looking for fancy chopsticks for gifts.

A zillion pictures may be found, right here.


June 03, 2004

Hong Kong Day 7

Spent some time shopping but not buying. Went to the Apliu Street Flea Market but none of the fleas looked appealing. Got together with the conference people for one last meal, a Poon Choi feast. You name it, it was in there. Quite good. Tomorrow I head for Guangzhou.


June 02, 2004

Hong Kong Days 5 & 6

Spent Day 5 doing some SDSU work and tweaking my presentation for Wednesday. The culinary highlight of the day was lunch at McDonald's where, in addition to Big Macs, they have Salmon Poppets... little fish McNuggets that weren't half bad. There's an interesting generational divide here in the fast food world: no one over 18 was at McDonald's either in front of the counter or behind. I felt very august.

The keynote was first thing on Day 6. The audience had the same reserve as I've seen before but I managed to get a couple of laughs out of the more fluent English speakers. It must have gone over fairly well because for the rest of the day people were asking to have their picture taken with me. Really! 20 or 30 times. Towards the end I was asking $10 per picture and they were stuffing bills down my shirt. OK, that last part's not entirely true.

Later in the day we piled into buses and went to Aberdeen for the conference banquet. It was held at Hong Kong Jumbo Floating Restaurant, a combination of a palace and a moored ship that you need to get to by a small ferry. Ten courses of wonderfulness. I really don't think I'll need to eat again for a few weeks. I'll probably have to pay extra airfare on the way home for all the extra tonnage I'm gaining.

41 new pictures are posted here.