Apropos of Nothing

“People are only upset at the exploitation of their part of the world… Somebody can be absolutely furious at the use of a word that’s not the proper use of that word, then steps over a homeless person on their way to work.” –Jon Stewart

The above is from an interesting discussion between Jon Stewart and Howard Stern (linked above). One takeaway for me was Stewart’s comment about the Internet. He says that a man his age views it differently from younger people. To the youth, the Internet is a democratizing forum where marginalized voices get amplified. Whereas, to Stewart, the Internet is a place where lies gain the veneer of truth.

As a long time user and champion of the Internet, I have always tended to see it as a positive, inclusive force. Lately, though, I’ve begun to see it the way Stewart does, especially in this era of 140-character communication, when all opinions and perspectives must be reduced to a single sentence. There seems to be little room for nuance these days. Hence, in part, my retreat to old-school blogging.

I feel that this backlash might also explain the glorious popularity of such podcasts as Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History.  Carlin famously performs his episodes in one take, after having read voraciously about a topic and having thought about it in minute detail. What he produces are hours and hours of extemporaneous insight packaged as delicious narrative.

The appetite for such a long storytelling session seems to be the product of a contemporary media landscape that over-celebrates the opposite. What we have now are simplistic analyses and perspectives, an all-you-can-eat buffet for sufferers of the low attention epidemic. I believe we might be on the cusp of a revolution of longform. Perhaps even the maligned novel might find its way back into the mainstream graces.

Another insight from Stewart, who has my dream life of running a sanctuary animal farm, is that “you have never seen a male Holstein cow.” (Mind you, aren’t cows by definition all female? I’m furious that Stewart used a word that’s not the proper use of that word.)

Also, R.I.P. David Cassidy.


Apropos of nothing:

And also this…

The Overly Complicated Breakfast™

Today’s entry is straight out cheat.  It’s my mother’s Guyanese chicken curry, with carrots, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and potatoes, along with some store-bought dal puri. So there.

And while we’re talking about food, my brother “Jack” packaged for me his “famous” barley soup, and implored me to “tell your friends”. So that’s what I’m doing:

“Jack” is in quotation marks because we Guyanese village folk never use our actual names. Interpol might be reading.

Laurier is not just a street in Ottawa…

These are interesting (i.e., uncomfortable) times for the politics of university campus life in Canada. Not so long ago, a scholar could and would be taken to task for too strongly taking a political or moral position on a public issue.

Now we’re at the stage where a scholar can be sanctioned for failing to take a strong enough political stance. Witness graduate student Lindsay Shepherd who screened for her class a clip of a debate on the use of gendered pronouns. At the centre of the debate was problematic Canadian professor Jordan Peterson, who incites strong reactions from intellectuals and anti-intellectuals on both ends of the political spectrum.

What Shepherd did was, in my opinion, admirable: she remained neutral on the debate and allowed her students to express their opinions without dictating their morality. Regardless of how one might feel about Professor Peterson and his take on things, I think that Shepherd’s approach was, to the extent that it is described in the linked story, pedagogically excellent. And yet her university criticized her for not being sufficiently critical of Peterson.

I would hope that most people reading this blog would understand why I find the university’s response troubling, if not maddening.

Speaking of troubling things at universities…

As noted earlier, I recently had a meeting with officials at my university to explore the creation of a research project to analyse temporal trends in student behaviour and accommodation.

Moments ago, a representative of another university just left my office, and we had spent our time discussing what we can do to address student behaviours that I found both perplexing and self-sabotaging.

Every year, for my 4th year class’s epidemiology midterm exam, I offer the same lifeline to students who struggled. To those who scored less than 60% on that exam, I offer the opportunity to write an online makeup exam that has the potential to raise their mark to a maximum of 60%.

This way, the students who did well are not penalized by having their rank jeopardized; and the students who just had a really bad day have the chance to salvage their mark.

I am not required to do this. It eats up a lot of my precious time, but it’s something I offer out of sheer generosity and concern for students’ futures.

Prior to the makeup exam, I also schedule a special 2-hour study session for those students who did poorly, ready to go over the exam content that these students really struggled with.

Every year the same thing happens, and this year was no exception: out of thirteen students given the opportunity to upgrade their marks, no one showed up to the review session.  NO. ONE. And the highest mark on the midterm makeup exam was 70%, with many doing quite poorly indeed.

What can I conclude from this behaviour?  That a fair proportion of students do not care about their grade? That they are not prepared to do the extra work to salvage a bad grade? Or did social anxiety, fear of public scrutiny, prevent them from seeking the additional help that I offered? I do not know. But I do know that I am very unlikely to offer the same opportunities in the future.

Education in our society is at a crisis stage for a number of reasons. This is but one manifestation of that crisis.

MMA is not gay porn

As is well documented, I’m a big fan of mixed martial arts, and have always resisted critics’ jibe that it’s just disguised homoeroticism…


Never mind.