Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Flaky, like pastry.

Two different friends of mine are leaving the GTA for a long period of time, in the very near future. Both of them kept saying, "Yeah, J, we should get together and hang out sometime before I leave."

Phone calls and messages? Unreturned.

Emails? Un-replied-to.

Strip-o-grams? They didn't even tip the dancer.

I'm miffed at these folks, as you might be able to tell. And, I think I have a convenient scapegoat; it's a piece of technology that, I believe, actually rewards and enhances overall flakiness:

Cell phones.

Think about it... in the time before cell phones — you remember, when we used to fling our own shit at each other and grind wheat into flour using our bare hands — you used to have to (a.) make plans beforehand, and (b.) follow through on those plans. Because people were tougher to reach, you had to (c.) make solid plans, and (d.) try your ass off to get to wherever it was you had to be, whenever you had to be there.

But now that everybody can be reached anytime, I believe this is causing people to be much more lackadaisical in their attitude towards punctuality and reliability. Running behind because you spent too much time downloading goat-porn? "I'll just call and say I'll be a few minutes late." Feeling lazy and want to cancel? It's a snap.

Meanwhile, the person you're supposed to be meeting, or hanging out with, or fighting to the death, probably has other shit to do, and planned to be with you at that time, in that place. And because you're a flaky goddamn idiot bubblehead, you don't care anymore.

My grand conclusion is this:

Because people can talk to each other at any time, they run the risk of trivializing the importance of communication — and in a broader sense, human interaction in general.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Head in the clouds.

I was pretty sluggish all afternoon today at work. Luckily, all I had to teach was Grade 12 Physics; those folks pretty much take care of themselves. However, I was there until 6:00 fixing equipment for some demonstrations tomorrow; sure I stayed late, but that's gonna be one bitchin' fan-car zipping across the front desk.

On the drive home, though, my loopiness reached a new plateau. I was listening to As It Happens on CBC, and a defence lawyer for one of the "Brampton 18" — those guys who got arrested a year or so ago, who had plans to blow up things like the CBC Broadcast Centre — was describing things about one of his clients, a "Mr. Sheikh."

Only, every time he said "Mr. Sheikh," I couldn't help but think of "Master Shake," the ill-tempered character from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force:

I need to get more sleep.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Romance is hard.

Five observations:

1. A lot of the good ones are taken.
You know that really cool girl, the one you've had your eye on for some time? Sorry, pal, other guys see her, too. And one of them got to her before you did. It's shitty, but it happens. Often.

2. Meeting women can be difficult.
Big cities are cold and impersonal. I live in Canada's largest. I also happen to live in a part of it where the median age is likely in triple-digits. It actually surprises me when I pass an attractive woman within ten years of my age walking down my street.

3. People are their own worst critics.
You spend all your waking hours obsessing about this, that or the other little thing that's wrong with you. But, we all have our flaws. Nobody's perfect; hell, Tiger Woods may be the best golfer that's ever lived, but the guy's basically got OCD. So, relax.

4. Guys make the first move.
Women have periods and babies, and neither of those are fun. It's typically the guy's responsibility to initially break the ice. I'm honestly not sure who has the easier job here.

5. It feels awesome to have your ego stroked.
Even if it doesn't lead anywhere, it can make a guy feel like he's king of the world if he has an extended conversation with a woman he finds attractive.

That's all for now. I'm sure I'll come up with more, eventually.

* * * * * * *

Upon further reflection, I think #1 is probably the most significant, at least in my recent experience. Jesus, if I had a nickel for every time I talked to a really great girl and she slipped a "myboyfriend" reference in there, I could quit my job and buy a solid gold house. Why is that? Are attached women natually more open to conversation (especially with me)? Are they more at-ease, knowing they can whip out that ace-in-the-hole anytime they feel uncomfortable? I don't believe in things like curses and karma and such, but I swear this has happened to me much more than my fair share of times.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I wish I was fucking kidding.

Reporter at press conference:

People think there's a risk of a recession. How do you rate that?

George W. Bush, solid C-student, failed businessman, former owner of the Texas Rangers baseball club, currently the most powerful person on the planet:

Y'know, you need to talk to an economist. Uh... (pause) I think I got a "B" in ECON 101. (chuckle) I got an "A," however, in keeping taxes low.




Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I've never wanted to shoot anyone more than this.

For the record, I've never watched The View: four or five aging celebrities talking about vapid topics that appeal to people who, I suppose, watch a lot of daytime television. (Me, I'd rather get really baked and watch The Price Is Right.)

So, one of the hosts, Sherri Shepherd (who is apparently new to the show), is put on the spot by Whoopi Goldberg... apparently Shepherd doesn't believe in evolution. Goldberg decides to pry a little, perhaps ask a softball question to get Shepherd back on track:

I could barely believe this. But, at the same time, I could perfectly believe this.

The next day (today, I gather), Shepherd offered an "explanation," which basically amounts to, "Well, I'm just a mom, I don't need to know whether or not the world is flat":

I'm not sure which is worse, to be honest. Frequent site-contributor ECB has a theory: "She didn't know whether the Earth is flat or round. Someone from the show probably pulled her aside afterwards and said, 'Alright, we've gotta do damage-control. Tell them you were nervous.'" Sounds like a pretty good explanation.

Anyway, before the first clip ended, Goldberg was leading up to a question that I wish would've been captured on that clip. If she wasn't... well, I think the question needs to be asked anyway.

If you don't know the basic scientific fact that the Earth is round, how can you make a judgment on whether or not the theory of evolution is valid or not?*

ECB agreed with me, and added this idea:

If you go into a doctor's office, and you trust the science behind medicine, why should you trust the science behind evolution? It should be an all-or-nothing proposition: either you believe in science, or you can go off to your witch-doctors or pray to your god and hope you get better.

I'm not sure I agree with this entirely, but it's certainly a valid point. Anyway, the moral of the story is, I suppose, If you've got kids to feed, don't bother yourself with none o' that fancy-pants book-learnin'.

* This reminds me of the kid I taught a couple of summers ago in summer school, some cocky asshole who flippantly told me one day, "Oh, evolution is all false. None of it is true. Carbon-dating is a lie." This pissed me off, so the next day I brought in some university-level textbooks in physics, calculus, chemistry and astrophysics, dropped them down on his desk from a few feet up, one by one, in front of him and said, "Alright, if you're going to dismiss carbon-dating, you can just learn some basic nuclear physics — bang! — and then the calculus behind exponential functions — bang! — and don't forget some work on radioisotope ratios — bang! — and how these isotopes are manufactured in the first place — bang! — and then you can come and talk to me about how it's all make-believe." It's probably my greatest moment in teaching so far.

This is why I love Jon Stewart.

Last night, on the Daily Show:

Alan Greenspan: "...well, you know, forecasting the economy is no better or worse than it was fifty years ago. It's based on human nature — panic and euphoria. If I had a better way to figure out which one people feel, I don't need any of the other data. The trouble is, we can't figure that out. The reason is that human nature isn't change. We can't improve ourselves."

(long pause)

Jon Stewart: "You just bummed the shit out of me."

Greenspan, of course, was the head of the US Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006. This means he was one of the most powerful people in the world for almost two decades.

Congrats on the Emmy, Jon. You deserve it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

In my job, I learn something new every day.

Today I learned that, if you place a room-temperature egg into boiling water, it will crack almost immediately, no matter how carefully you do so.

It took me three eggs to figure this out.

My physics class (who the eggs were not for) thought it was amusing. Then someone suggested I put the egg in the water before I heated it.

...what the hell do I know about boiling an egg, anyway? I didn't eat eggs on their own (i.e., not within French Toast or some other concoction) until I was 20, and to this day I only eat them scrambled. Frankly, the thought of digging into a hard-boiled egg pretty much disgusts me.

So yeah. That's what I learned.

Feel free to share what you learned on Monday, September 17th, 2007.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The campaign trail, baseball, and the Bluths.

I'm not a member of any political party, and I don't ever envision myself as one; as such, I support individual candidates as I see fit. I've voted for, at my count, candidates from three different parties (I bet you can guess the first two, but you'll never guess the third, not in a million years... and no, it's not the Natural Law Party). Today I hit the streets in support of an NDP candidate in a riding in the GTA — stuffing mailboxes, talking to folks, having dogs bark at me — and, aside from a touch of sunburn, I'm none the worse for wear.

What was doing badly, however, was the Liberal sign on my building's front lawn, which kept getting planted in the bushes by some mysterious ne'er-do-well... who my super's brother, while chillin' on the front steps on Saturday morning, caught red-handed. Who was this political interferer? None other than ANNOYED QUEBECOISE, one of the few people in my building who I've actually met. Saturday evening, I saw her in the stairwell and, in my best "flustered" tone, gave her a piece of my mind.

Shit, I should get an even bigger sign.

Saw a commercial on TV just now... "John Tory: Leadership matters." What have you led, John? The CFL ("Go Ottawa Rough Riders! I mean... Go, Ottawa Renegades! I mean... gee, Ottawa, it's too bad you don't have a team anymore.")... Rogers Cable (remember "negative billing"?)... an unsuccessful campaign for the mayorship of Toronto... and now, a party that can't escape its misguided — not to mention highly unpopular — "public" education policy.

* * * * * * *

My Tigers swept the Twins today, and the Red Sox are up 1-0 against the Yankees at the moment. If Boston wins, the Tigers are going to be 1.5 games back of New York for the Wild Card, which would be nice. What's even more intriguing is that Detroit is 4.5 back of Cleveland... and the Tigers and Tribe are playing three games starting tomorrow. If Detroit sweeps Cleveland — and the Tigers' pitching is back on track these days — that would make it only a 1.5-game gap for the division lead. Fuck yeah.

* * * * * * *

I've watched 12 episodes of Arrested Development in the past two days.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's erection time.

Sorry... that should read "It's election time." Too bad I'm too lazy to go back and change it, eh?

Anyway, I digress.

Erection Update: September 12th
  • Liberals press hard with "keeping public schools public" message
  • Tory's Tories trying to divert attention away from contentious education issue
  • Rosario Marchese (NDP — Trinity-Spadina) wears sharp new glasses on local cable channel debate
  • Campaign sign on J's front lawn mysteriously re-planted farther from road
  • J re-re-planted sign closer to sidewalk
  • Sign re-re-re-planted far into bushes by shadowy anonymous cretin
  • J re-re-re-re-planted sign closer to sidewalk
  • Only person talking about Mixed Member Proportional referendum: hunky, single, mostly-STD-free blogger with "mad bedroom skills"
I was out the other day, going door-to-door for a particular candidate in my riding who may or may not be the current Minister of Education (and who may or may not have a high-quality handshake in which I may or may not have partaken at her campaign office), and it was interesting to hear, on more than one occasion, something along these lines:

"Well, y'know, I've been a Conservative all my life. But this thing with the school funding, that's just a mess, and I can't support it."

I had a hunch that some PC supporters would feel this way, and it was right. Bill Davis' decision to fully-fund Catholic schools in the mid-'80s, on his way out the door, remains extremely unpopular with a lot of people (including Conservatives and my parents*) to this day.

John Tory decided to roll the dice with a slightly-altered version of the private school tax credit the PCs implemented in '02-ish. It was unpopular enough then; it's easy, for example, to point to upper-class families, sending their boys to UCC and girls to Havergal, receiving tax breaks. But when you throw in religion... that generates way more zing! for the average Ontarian than the bourgeois ever could with their snooty private (secular) schools. It was a gamble, he lost the bet, and now he's trying to get Ontarians to look at the bright, shiny tax-break he's dangling in front of them.

Don't be fooled, folks. He may sound nicer than Harris; he may be less greasy than Eves. But he's still cut from the same neoconservative cloth as both of 'em.

* My parents aren't particularly Conservative. They've voted blue sometimes, red other times... in small towns and rural areas, people vote more for the individual MP/MPP than for the party. I'm pretty sure they've never "gone orange," though.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Four down, approximately 176 to go.

By my calculations, we've finished approximately 2.3% of the school year already.


My classes were fairly uneventful this week, but that's to be expected. You see, we're still in that sweet sweet grace-period at the beginning of the semester where everybody pretty much plays along with the program. Most kids show up on time, the first little assignments are handed in, and everyone gets along fairly well.

(Of course, with one crew last year, a fistfight broke out four minutes into the very first class. You can just imagine how that class turned out. Jesus, I oughtta send letters of apology to the kids who had to put up with all that bullshit every day for a whole semester.)

The key is to keep everyone humming along at this nice pace. When students start missing classes, I gotta get right on 'em, phoning home and such; I can't let things slip, or else they'll start to develop some really bad habits that'll be hard to break later.

I know what some of you might be thinking: "C'mon, J, they know what the deal is... if they don't hand shit in or they don't show up, don't chase them down. It's their responsibility, not yours." Believe me, it's tempting for me to take that attitude... but on the other hand, these are kids I want to succeed. I'm willing to invest the time and effort to ride their asses (metaphorically speaking), because sometimes that's all a kid needs. Most importantly, in order for them to buy into any system you want to create, they have to see you as a real person: enthusiasm for the subject, creativity and flexibility in terms of the classroom environment, and an ability to walk the fine line between "authority figure" and "reasonable person."

Mostly, though, you gotta show you care about them as people. Fortunately, I do.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

And sometimes, it backfires.

Good news on the Ontario election front...

Seems as if John Tory's latest "let's fund private schools with public money" is not going over well. I think Robert Fisher captured it pretty well in a teaser-preview for the CBC Radio 1 Toronto news on my drive home tonight: "The Conservatives are in damage-control today over John Tory's plan to give public money to private schools. 'There's more to our platform than just that issue,' he said."

This means:

1. People are talking about this issue. A lot. And when people talk about issues, politicians will lend an extra-sensitive ear to their discussions and fine-tune their message towards that public sentiment.

2. If Tory's so worked-up about diverting people's attention away from this issue by trying to dazzle them with something else, that must mean people hate his idea pretty passionately.

And that's a good thing.

I cannot tell you how much I hate the idea of public funds for private schools.

But I imagine that, over the next few weeks, I'm sure as hell gonna try.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

John Tory, you can just piss off.

So, there's an election coming up in October in Ontario. (Be sure to vote, eh?)

And, John Tory — the accidentally-eponymous leader of the Ontario PC party — has decided to make education the leading issue so far. Namely, he wants to "bring faith-based schools into the public system." (He went on The Agenda on TVO tonight, going toe-to-toe with Steve Paikin.)


Tory makes the argument that, since we've had Catholic schools for 150 years in Ontario, why shouldn't we fund students in schools based on other faiths... with public money?

He says, "We're trying to bring more students into the public system. We're trying to expand the system."

Does he think we don't have memories of the early 2000s? Lest we forget his predecessors, Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, who started writing cheques to parents whose kids went to private schools? Public funds, private schools.

You can dress it up any way you like, John. You can try to make the excuse of, "Well, since there are Catholic schools which are funded, we should fund, for example, Jewish schools."*

Paikin: "Do you believe a public education should be a secular education?"

Tory: "Well, we've gone 150 years down the road... the Catholic system is a success story, so that's a viable option. ... I'm going to build on that success."

I've read multiple times that the UN has publicly scolded Ontario for selectively funding Catholic schools, and not any other faith-based system. Now, there are two possible roads you can go down, if you want to rectify this situation:
  1. Fold the Catholic system into the public system.
    This seems like a pretty simple thing to do. My students learn that F=ma... it doesn't matter if they're Catholic, Zoroastrian or Ra-worshippers. You want to add a Jewish slant to it? Do it on Saturday.

  2. Fund every religion that comes down the pipe.
    Scientologists? Tory didn't dismiss the idea... which is just fuckin' crazy. Just like the Scientologists.
I was typing as Paikin and Tory were talking, but this captures an exchange they had pretty accurately:

Paikin: "If we want to teach that the ultimate authority is God, should we do that in the public schools?"

Tory: "I'm not troubled by that. We should spend more time in public education talking about what unites us. Including the Muslim faith. These are good people who are contributing to Ontario's society. There are maybe people in the Muslim faith that say things that they shouldn't say, that we don't like them to say. But we should be careful not to stereotype them, and we're saying, 'Be Canadians, live your life'..." I'm paraphrasing here, because I can't type as fast as someone talks. Also, John Tory likes to pander to Muslims.

Maybe he should just to back to being the commissioner of the CFL.

Hell, when you have a writer from the National Post, Robert Fulford, saying things like, "It's unfortunate that the Conservative Party has brought this into their platform," you know you've taken a wrong turn, policywise.

* There just happen to be a lot of Jewish voters in the so-called "905 area," ringing Toronto. There are lot of seats in the Ontario Legislature that are really close, vote-wise, between the Conservatives and the Liberals. I'm just sayin', is all.

* * * * *

Incidentally, I teach in an exceptionally ethnically-, culturally- and religiously-diverse public school in Toronto. Seriously, the thing looks like a Benetton ad. This morning, I had a classroom in which there were three Afghans and a kid born in Armenia, shooting the bull together. So, let's just create a Muslim school, and an Armenian Christian school instead, so they never have to interact with each other in an educationally-meaningful setting. Uh-huh.

Besides, isn't the cleaving of society into different sects based on where they get bored every week, like, soooooo 16-th Century?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Republican senators, hot guitarists, and David Brent.

Why is it that all those sex scandals and stuff always happen to ultra-conservative, ultra-Republican red-staters and never, say, some openly gay Democratic congressperson from San Francisco? There really isn't any better comedy than what's going on with Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho)... the dude plays footsies with a cop in the next bathroom stall (apparently that's code for "hey, let's screw" in gay circles), pleads guilty to cops right after getting arrested for "disorderly conduct," and then comes back with a lame, "Um, I'm not gay, and I didn't do anything wrong" — after confessing that he did! Dude, just come out and say you're gay... or at least bi, as to potentially placate your wife, who has to be about the most embarassed person on the planet this weekend.

YouTube is a veritable font of music videos. I didn't have cable until I started university, and MuchMusic seemed to only want to show Our Lady Peace videos through the mid- and late-'90s, so there was a bunch of stuff I've never seen before, including the spunky "Ladykiller" by the band Lush. Holy shitballs their guitarist was/is hot... her name is Miki Berenyi, she's half-Hungarian and half-Japanese, and was raised in the UK. No wonder she was rated Hottest Female Guitarist Ever by Outsideleft, ahead of even Ruyter Suys of Nashville Pussy, who I once saw doff her top in the second song of their show to reveal a leopard-print bra, and then later make out with the statuesque babe of a bassist they had at the time. Hot.

If you've only ever seen the US version of The Office — very fine work, indeed — you owe it to yourself to watch the original UK version. It's only 12 half-hour episodes long, so it's easily doable in a day, but you can not skip the two Christmas specials. Ricky Gervais as David Brent produces more cringe-inducing moments per minute than you would ever wish on your worst enemy, and the characters are so kooky and rich that, after a while, you won't remember if you only saw them on TV or if, maybe, once upon a time, you worked with Gareth or Dawn.

Anyway, that's all. I'm going to enjoy the rest of my weekend by eating, sleeping and drinking, perhaps all at the same time, if that's even possible.