Monday, May 29, 2006


I think I'll use this video in my philosophy lesson plan:

Saturday, May 27, 2006

This thing is worth $1500?!

Apparently that's what says...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Modest Proposal

I spend about half my time in the US these days. As such I do feel that the domestic spying thing does affect me. Here is what I propose to thwart the random surveillance of the innocent: Let's all start our telephone conversations with the name of a landmark and something in Arabic. Like, "Hello, I wish I was at the Golden Gate Bridge, I feel like I've been under a real fatwa at work!"


I have no idea if these are the tags that they are watching for, but it bothers me that they are watching at all. I also think that it's counterproductive. The whole justification for domestic spying is that security agencies need more information.


Everything that they needed to stop 9/11 was at their disposal. There was ample evidence that bin Laden was planning a huge strike inside the US. The FBI had picked up Moussaoui on August 16, 2001. That gave them nearly a month to subpoena his computer, to investigate all foreign-nationals at flight schools, or both. What is being sought now is more raw data, as of August 16th, 2001, the US had all the raw data needed to at least attempt to thwart the 9/11 hijackers.

Anyone familiar with Bloom's taxonomy knows that it organizes thinking from lower order (knowledge) to higher order (analysis, synthesis, evaluation). There was already enough knowledge without domestic spying. The security establishment needs to figure out what to do with the knowledge it already has before it should try to acquire any more.

*Yes, I know that the above was probably an incoherent use of the word "fatwa," but you get my meaning, right?

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Remember Lost in Translation? I loved that film, and the soundtrack was also superb. One of the standout tracks, in my mind at least, was Phoenix's Too Young. At the time all I could find out about them was that they were from Paris, and that they had put out a couple albums that I have never really been able to track down. Anyway, after a bit of searching, I more or less put that out of mind until I was reading John Sakamoto's column this morning. It seems that Phoenix has a new album coming out, and based on what they've put on their myspace site, it sounds rather good.

Friday, May 12, 2006

We Have Sound, What About You?

What I mean is that I have We Have Sound, the debut album by London native, Tom Vek. has a decent review of it. Condensing what they said, I will say that Vek does a superb job of blending elements of indie rock with the loop-based music of his electronica background. Yes this is what everyone is doing now (Bloc Party, I'm looking at you), but there is something about Vek's execution that seems to make his effort noteworthy. There is definitely a raw character to a lot of this album and I think that's one of the elements that allows it to succeed in what is admittedly becoming a very crowded field. Anyway, I highly recommend checking this album out. All of you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Who's Afraid of Dan Brown?

I cannot get over the reports now that some Christians are concerned about The Da Vinci Code. First of all the books have been around for quite some time. (I say "books" because there is also the cash-grabbing illustrated version, and some other variations too I think.) Conservative commentator Mark Steyn has weighed in with one of his usual poorly organised rambling pieces (apparently the attack on orthodox Christianity is nearly as bad as a lack of the definite article in Mr. Brown's prose). Apparently Mr. Steyn is concerned that some folks might believe that Brown's book is actually a factual account. Apparently this is due to Brown's writing style.

Let's put aside the fact that buyers might find the book in the "Fiction & Literature" section of their local bookstore, apparently Mr. Steyn has never read a novel, because setting up the events as a factual, somewhat journalistic, account is nothing new. Timothy Findley did the same with The Wars and Dostoevsky's underground man seems to be writing a memoir. I suppose that some percentage of the population might be fooled by that, but then some people think that Iraq was involved in 9/11.

While Mr. Steyn correctly implies that Mr. Brown is a mediocre stylist, he overstates the threat that The Da Vinci Code poses to Christianity.

"Decertification of the profession"

In my course last night, the professor used the above phrase in the context of the teaching profession. The move by governments, in this concept, to standardise teaching curriculums, tests, rubrics, and everything else is nothing short of an attempt to decertify the teaching profession. Let's set aside for a second that anyone with comparable schooling to a teacher (ie: lawyers, accountants, et cetera) makes more money as it is, what many jurisdictions would like to do is to get rid of all those $80 000 salaries that the most senior teachers have. One way to do this is to simply lay out everything required of a teacher in such a rigid form that anyone can grasp it. Then the boards can turn around and say "Why are we paying you so much?" Given the public attitude towards teachers (not good), it would be a surefire vote-getter too.

When Dr. Rinaldo made these comments, it reminded of a story I had heard about one of the executives at Air Canada saying that pilots were, in his opinion, "unskilled labour." It makes me wonder if this may be one of the big trends of the next 20 years or so, the decertifying of kinds of specialised work. Technology will be one of the major excuses for this too, they can put rubrics online, increasingly they can get planes to fly themselves. Right? Well, not exactly, you can put all kinds of materials on the internet for teachers, but turning them into effective classroom tools takes real skill. Managing classrooms is not just a matter of reading a list strategies and picking one. You need to know your audience - what the specific needs are of your students, not just the hypothetical kids that were used to conceive of some lesson plan online. And flying a plane? I'm not a pilot, but I've known a couple, and all I'll say is that unskilled labour it is not.

All the same, there are a myriad of interests that would like nothing more than for all manner of work to be labeled as "unskilled" labour. I've heard the argument that unions are outmoded relics from an age of children in the mines and 14 hour days, but in the coming years, nothing will be more important than to have that sort of protection in all manner of professions. The decertifiers are coming.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Negation: Punk Rock & Church

Obligatory declaration of bias: I know a number of people who are very much involved the ministry of The Meeting House (TMH), and I really, really, enjoy the music of The Clash. That out of the way, here goes:

There was an interesting piece on CBC radio about The Meeting House (see part three, or listen here). For those of you not aware of churches in and around Toronto, it's a fast-growing one that is based out of Oakville with other locations stretching from Hamilton to downtown Toronto. The membership is somewhere around 2000 and it continues to grow, particularly among a younger demographic. Officially affiliated with the Brethren in Christ (BiC), a Mennonite denomination, it strives to look nothing like a traditional church.

There was the usual presentation of a popular new religious movement by the popular media (ie: a restrained suspicion that it is nothing but hype). Additionally, the segment seemed to level the charge that TMH is too marketing-driven. I think that it is fair to say that TMH is very marketing-savvy, I would disagree profoundly with the notion that it is "marketing-driven," there is a lot going on there. The segment did however get me thinking about something rather interesting about how the Meeting House styles itself - primarily as a negation.

The principle slogan of TMH is "A church for people that aren't into church" and its website opens with a few pithy quotes about religion. TMH concludes this flash show with the line "God hates religion." Certainly I can understand the validity of what TMH is trying to say with this kind of presentation, religion has track record that is maybe only rivalled by government for its overall dreadfulness (corporations are big gainers in this field, but they have only been around in their modern form for about 150 years - they need to play catch-up). It sounds like a perfectly reasonable set of assertions to put forward.

Reasonable - and yet it is still a negation. TMH is saying what it is not, that is arguably the primary way that it defines itself. It reminded me other negation-defined movements. Punk rock set out to be everything that 1970s prog-excess was not. It was a big "no" to The Eagles, Yes, and everything else that was bloated about 1970s rock. It was a great movement that probably saved rock music from itself, but by the 1980s it had died out. Why? Well, the punks ended up winning, they could get major-label deals, they could fill stadiums. But in doing so, they were now the establishment, there was nothing for them to negate. The same happened with the Dadaists, as they set out to be anti-art, but in so doing, they created a body of art.

When a movement is primarily a negation, it tends to have a limited shelf-life. It becomes incorporated into the mainstream and therefore is self-nullifying, the "no" becomes a secret "yes." The rebel becomes a member of the establishment. Look at the pathetic remnants of punk today. Tim Armstrong of Rancid writing songs for Pink, Hot Topic, neatly packaged "punk" bands that are nearly indistinguishable from boy bands.

The moral is that it is difficult to sustain a movement that is primarily a negation. TMH has a big building now. Sure it's a warehouse stuffed with tech gadgets, but it's still a building. Physical real estate is something that looks very church-y no matter where it is. If TMH redefines what church is (a definition that has evolved over the years, and remains ephemeral) then it will be a church for people who are into church.

TMH is growing, it is succeeding, but it had better be prepared, lest it become a victim of that success. Conversly as TMH becomes something that looks more and more like a typical North American church, it is most likely that any number of elements of TMH's success will be adopted by other churches. Thus the convergence will add to TMH's looking like another church. This is something that TMH has got to be able to deal with in order for it to continue doing what it has been doing.

Big Ideas

I've come to the realisation this week that I'm always going to be fascinated with the Big Ideas out there. Concepts, abstractions, all that stuff is going to stay in my head. I wonder if more schooling isn't so much a possibility as an inevitability.

Monday, May 01, 2006

In a Land Deprived of Two Giants

A couple days ago I read about the passing of Jane Jacobs, and now, John Kenneth Galbraith is no longer with us. The former an American adopted by Canada the latter a Canadian adopted by the United States.