Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The end

When I started blogging for Maclean's, my hope was to continue to post here now and again, but it has just not proven possible.

So this is the end. I'll be leaving existing posts up for a while in case anyone is interested, but there will be nothing new.

Thanks to everyone for reading and do come say hi at Maclean's Oncampus!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rudolph the Realistic Reindeer (may offend)

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose.
And, if you ever saw it,
You would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer,
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Play in any reindeer games.

Then, one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
"Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

Then Rudolph, said, "Are you kidding me? Where the hell were you when all the other reindeer were laughing and calling me names? I don't remember Jolly Old St Nick telling the other reindeer to let me play in the reindeer games! Oh, but now I can be of some use to you. Now, you need me, and now you want my help? Fuck you! Lead that team of bigots and assholes? Go to Hell, Santa!"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Need more Pettrichor?

Well, you're going to have to settle for what's here.

But if you want to read more of my blogging, check out my education-themed blog at Maclean's OnCampus:


I will still be blogging here, especially when it's too spicy for the mainstream media, but I've promised Macleans a post a week over there. I hope you like it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fast talk: On Smelling

If I had to give up one of my five senses, it would be smell. I estimate that at least 95% of what I smell I would rather not.

I've heard that food doesn't taste as good if you've lost your sense of smell, but, frankly, that might be a relief. If food didn't taste as good, I would probably be a lot healthier. I once knew a guy who had a nasal condition that eliminated most of his sense of smell and he was as skinny as can be. I suppose smell is useful for detecting fires and things like that, but seriously, when was the last time you smelled your way out of danger? And there's always the smoke detector.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Strangest Conversation

Recently, I posted what I thought was a zippy little off-hand comment on someone's Facebook status which mentioned the need to have free university tuition. Then others started to respond and things kind of got out of hand. Here is a lightly parodied version:

Me: Free tuition would be bad for universities. People value what they pay for, so manageable tuitions, that don't unfairly burden graduates with debt, would be better than free tuitions.

Another person: How can you say that! People should not be kept out of university because they can't afford it! You obviously know nothing about education.

Me: Actually, as a university professor I know something about it, and I worry that free universities would lead to university standards slipping as they have done in high school -- because people would come to see universities as just another level of education to get through.

Someone else: You're obviously one of those free-market, right-wing elitist shitheads who think only the rich should go to university. Why not try selling your crap to someone who wants to go to university but can't afford it?

Me: No, you've missed my point. I think university should be much more affordable, just not free. There's surely a middle ground. Students could all afford $5 for the year, right? And for that matter, probably $100 or even $1000.

Still another person: With ridiculous ideas like these, you have no business being a university professor. Your arguments don't make any sense and are not backed up by sources. It's not appropriate for university professors to make these kinds of statements and you should really take some time to learn what good intellectual writing looks like since you clearly have no clue.

Me: What? This is a Facebook comment section! In a scholarly article, I would cite sources, but this is a casual conversation. As for my qualifications, if you are worried that I don't know what academic writing looks like feel free to check out my book which is held by libraries around the world.

Yet another: Ooh, he thinks just because he published a book, he must be right about everything! I could have published a book if tuitions weren't so high, but since you think high tuitions and massive debt are just great, you obviously don't care about people like me!

And so it went.

What struck me most about this strange conversation was that nobody seemed interested in reading what I had actually written or answering it on those terms. People continually assumed that if I were not in favour of free tuition I must be in favour of high tuitions and all that mean-spiritedness that presumably went along with that.

Now, maybe free tuitions are not such a bad thing. Many countries have free university tuition, and maybe they have found a way to keep standards high. I would be interested in knowing more about that. But not many people in the online conversation I've reconstructed above seemed willing or even able to see any of those complexities. It was either you are a fair-minded human being who beleives tuition should be free, or a selfish monster who believes students should suffer as much as possible.

I wonder if this is the way all political discussions are becoming: a series of binaries: pro-life or pro-choice, pacifist or war-monger, right or left, cultural relativist or racist. If so, our democracy is in for a rough ride.

And I should probably keep my thoughts off of Facebook.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

You, Me and Other People

American politicians love to criticize people who are nominated for things, and a recent Time magazine article mentioned that a current fight centres around US involvement in international treaties and laws. The worry is always about national sovereignty: "Why should our people be subject to rules and decisions made by people we didn't elect?" I heard similar objections when I was in England by people suspicious of the EU Parliament. A variation emerged in Canada when Stephen Harper said he was all about a "made in Canada" solution to global climate change.

You can see the emptiness of the argument by extending it. If I demand to know why I, as a Canadian, should be subject to decisions made in Geneva or New York, I must also ask why I, as a Nova Scotian, should be subject to decisions made in Ottawa. For that matter, why should I, as a Cape Bretoner, be subject to the whims of government officials in Halifax? Damn it, why should I, a resident of Glace Bay, have to kow tow to the fat cats in Sydney? I live on Quarry Point, so why should I care what the gang over in The Hub thinks? In fact, why should I, as a free individual, have to listen to anyone at all?

The answers are obvious and they extend right back to international cooperation. Simply put, as the problems get bigger, the solutions require more people. I can handle some things on my own, but I don't have a place for all my garbage, so I rely on my local government to collect my trash. My municipality can't run its own education or health care systems, so those are done by the province. Each province can't have its own military; the Federal government looks after that. Canada alone cannot solve our climate problems or eliminate nuclear weapons or any number of the big problems of the world. That has to be done on an international scale.

At every level, some personal autonomy is lost, but the benefits are worth it. I don't get to choose the day the trash gets picked up, but I don't care as long as it gets picked up. I don't choose the local high school principal, and I don't want to. I'll let others do that. Ditto for defending that borders. We all enjoy benefits from citizenship even if it means other people are making decisions that affect us. Alaskans benefit from being citizens of the USA just as Yorkshiremen benefit from being citizens of the UK, even if it means taking direction from the Congress in Washington or the Parliament in London; Chiang Mai depends on Bangkok, and Brisbane relies on Canberra. Fill in your own localities here.

Why should we give control to those that we ourselves did not elect? Because sometimes that's the only way it works.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fox Hole

I have just read yet another angry comment about comments on Fox News regarding the Canadian military.

Enough already.

For one thing, no one has yet explained to me why the original comment -- that Canada's military would take a year off after Afghanistan -- was not silly and not deserving of ridicule. For another, every time someone makes a stink about this, it insults the very military they think they are defending. To get up-in-arms about Fox News blather is to imply that our soldiers are going to be hurt by it in the first place, and that's ridiculous. It's like your mom coming on to the diamond to argue balls and strikes. Shut up, already. It's embarrassing.

The only sound response to the original comments about Canada being a ridiculous country that no one knew was even in the war is as follows: "Canadian men and women are putting their lives on the line every day to defend an oppressed people from extremist thugs. They are serious, disciplined, well-trained, and the ramblings of comedians on late-night talk shows couldn't bother them in the least. They have more important things to worry about."