What is School For?

Posted: September 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

Perhaps an odd question coming from a university lecturer.  I am not suggesting it isn’t for anything, but I want to know what is it actually for? What is the purpose of going to school?  To learn.  To learn the basics? To learn about the world? To learn critical thinking?

A recent article tells the story of a Florida teacher who was fired for refusing to give partial credit for work that wasn’t handed in.  According to the story, she was told to give students 50% as a minimum grade.  My first reaction – Why the hell would you get credit for not doing anything???

Then an idea popped into my head.  Why do we even get credit? What if school was just the offering, sharing, disseminating of information and what the student did with that information was up to them and their parents.  No grades. Teachers purely as facilitators, never gate keepers.

There are so many posts on Facebook making jokes about how people never use the stuff they learned in school, and were never taught practical things like how to do their taxes etc. I suspect that it is true that most people don’t use ALL of the things they were taught in school.  I’m certain that no one remembers everything they were taught in school.

So why do we have grades?  Even the grades kids get in elementary of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.  My guess is these grades help to decide who goes onto the next grade.  Grades may be a way of identifying kids who are having difficulties. Possibly a way of deciding who has the requisite knowledge for university. Let me make it clear at this point that I’m referring specifically to grades 1 – 12, not university or other post secondary programs where you need to be assessed on your abilities to demonstrate qualifications.

There could still be assessments to identify kids who are struggling and this information could be given to the parents who could decide what to do (e.g. hold them back a grade).  There could be voluntary exams for entrance to university that only those who want to go to university would take.  There could even be tests and assignments for students to assess how they are doing for their own personal knowledge in terms of what they got correct, what they did wrong, what they need to improve on.

But no grades.  No passing or failing. No need for partial credit for non-existent work because the only reason that would happen is to ensure students pass.

It was suggested to me that this has likely been tried in alternative schools.  Also that some students are motivated by grades so while it may benefit some it may hurt others. Although it is possible that being motivated by grades is part of the same system and that could ultimately change.

I don’t like the idea of getting credit for not doing something – to me that seems like it would send an unhelpful message. Perhaps we need to think about why we give credit in the first place.

 

The pie of my eye

Posted: September 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

I love baking and I’ve discovered that I make a pretty mean apple pie. I’ve been told by a few people that it is the best apple pie they have tasted.  It also happens to be my favourite apple pie.

One thing I cannot seem to do is make anything look pretty.

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It looks tasty, and I could try to pass it off as rustic, but the crimping is uneven, and disappeared on one side during baking.  There was a tear in the crust when I was rolling it out and trying to patch it up left an odd, pale crater.  None of this will affect the taste, but it is frustrating when I really do try to make things look pretty.

The other frustrating thing is that I always forget to put the dabs of butter on the apple mixture.  Every damn time I get the crust on, patch holes, clumsily crimp the edges and when I turn to grab the knife to cut the vents, I see the plate with the little dabs of butter that I prepared earlier in an attempt to not forget them.

Then I throw a quiet temper tantrum.

I finish off the pie and put it in the oven, cursing myself and my Swiss cheese brain.

I am sure the butter would make it even better, because, well…..butter!  But I can tell you that if you forget this step it doesn’t make the pie bad. Perhaps it is best if I always forget so that I am unaware of just how much better it could be.

Taking Sides

Posted: September 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

My knee-jerk reaction is to believe Dr. Blasey-Ford, but the truth is siding with one or the other, without properly investigating, doesn’t really help anyone.

When Sen. Flake added his caveat to his decision, I was partly relieved because this is the message that tells victims of assault that I will take your claims seriously and look into it. I wish there was more than a week to do a proper investigation, because investing the time and energy to investigate thoroughly really, really sends that message, but….

I am also concerned it may be impossible to come to a definitive conclusion.

We need to keep in mind that if there is insufficient evidence to prove Kavenaugh assaulted Dr. Blasey-Ford, that does not mean he is innocent. And if there is insufficient evidence to prove he innocent does not mean he is guilty.

Kavanaugh continually said that Blasey-Ford’s claims were refuted by others at the party when what was actually said was that the people who were reportedly there, simply didn’t remember.  Some didn’t remember themselves being there, some didn’t remember Kavanaugh being there.  That is not refuting. That is not evidence of his innocence.  I am positive there were dozens of parties that I’ve been that I do not remember being at (don’t even say it Penny).  Even if I remember being at the party, I wouldn’t be able to remember who all was there.

I can actually believe it is possible for Kavanaugh himself to not even remember this incident, especially if he didn’t see it as bad behaviour or something wrong. We may like to think that if a guy engaged in this behaviour he would recognize it was wrong, or even  if he did know it was wrong to acknowledge it, but that is not necessarily the case.

That does not mean he is innocent.

If there is not enough evidence to prove he is innocent, that also does not mean he is guilty.  It may be impossible for him to provide evidence that he didn’t do anything. There may also be no one that remembers him NOT being there, or NOT being in that room.

What we need to do is maintain a stance of open-mindedness, kindness and care for the people involved so as to minimize trauma from investigating. In addition to fears of being dismissed, people don’t want to come forward if they think they will be attacked, scrutinized, have their character called into question, and blamed.  Attacking the accused and treating every comment about them as truth is likely hurting innocent people around them (e.g. spouses and children).  Attacking either side is only causing unnecessary hurt and creating conflict and division in all those who are watching.

Some of the comments from people in the media like Kevin Jackson attacking Dr. Blasey-Ford, saying awful things like she should close her legs and open a book, are absolutely appalling, and only serve to draw ire and backlash.  In one of his tweets he says he does not believe women should be believed no matter what.  That is also the point I am making, but adding the line “feminist want men to NEVER be believed” is absurd.  He makes these extreme comments only for the purposes of entertainment, being edgy, gaining infamy and followers and ultimately dividing people.

 

 

 

Victim Blaming

Posted: September 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

I just read an article in the news about a 13 year old girl who was sexually assaulted (I would define what they’ve described as rape) when she attended a carnival.

All I know is the information presented in the article, so this post is only based on that and the ideas and issues it raises.

The assault happened 10 years ago, and the girl is now suing the carnival management and the venue owners.

What is described is the girl and a friend went to the carnival, met a man who obtained alcohol for them and they all drank together in a semi-truck.  The girl began to feel ill, went to lay down in the bunk, was found in a ditch and taken to hospital with alcohol poisoning and tests showed she had been sexually assaulted.  No charges were laid due to “insufficient evidence”. The man has since died.

The part of the article that has prompted me to write this is response from the carnival management company, North American Midway Entertainment-Canada Co, and the venue owner, Northlands, to her suit. They claim the assault is due to the girl’s own negligence and failing to ensure her own safety.

It is NOT this girls fault, she was not responsible for being assaulted. She was not negligent.

Such a statement is appalling!  This kind of offensive defence of blaming the victim, of pointing out all of the problems with the victim is exactly the reason why victims don’t come forward.  This kind of argument HAS to stop.

The victim is never responsible for being sexually assaulted. No matter what they are wearing, no matter what they are doing. The person who takes advantage of a someone in a compromised situation, even if that someone put themselves in that compromised situation, is responsible for their actions.

The issue raised by the law suit is – Is the carnival management company or the venue owner responsible?

If there are laws, regulations, bylaws that the carnival management and venue owners were supposed to enforce to ensure the safety of they patrons and they did not uphold them, then there is responsibility there.  If they did uphold them or if there are no laws, regulations or bylaws, then I am unsure that legal responsibility (as opposed to moral responsibility) can be laid at their feet.

Either they did what they were required to do, or they did not.

THAT is the only reasonable defence.

What the victim did or what activities she engaged in, really has nothing to do with whether or not the management company or the venue owners did what they were required to do.

The only outcome of their current defence is to perpetuate the myth of victim blaming.

Then I think of the victim going through this suit.  Just hearing that statement from her lawyers would be devastating.  I don’t want even one of her braincells holding any doubt about her responsibility.  Ever.  Then I think about the trial. Going through everything in gory detail would be bad enough, but then I think about the defence attacking her character, her behaviour before and after the assault, trying to convince the jury or the judge that she is bad or flawed in some way and brought this on herself.  I want to grab this young woman and wrap myself around her to prevent any of those words ever touching her.

I do not have complete faith in our judicial system.  Recently a judge in Canada actually said to an assault vicim during a trial “Why didn’t you just keep your knees together?”  I know that not all judges are like this, but I am not certain the system will protect this girl.

I worry about the outcome of this trial.  If the management company and venue are found not guilty based on the judgement that they did what they were required to do, the  message will still be out there – they were not guilty because it was the girl’s negligence.

That is NOT acceptable.

 

Who gets my money

Posted: September 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

I’m pretty lucky.  I have a good job and absolutely no life, making my income higher than my expenses.  I’ve recently decided that because I can, I am going to try to only buy from companies that have at least reasonably ethical practices, and decent treatment of their employees.  I say try because I think sometimes business and capitalism in general creates situations that foster unethical practices and poor treatment of employees. Also I say try because there may be instances where I cannot find an alternative which is entirely likely.

Do NOT comment that my buying something from company X means that I’m a hypocrite. That is all or nothing thinking.  I am not saying I’m perfect.  I am not saying anyone else should do this. I am simply sharing an idea I’ve had for what I want to do.

So for example – Amazon.  Super convenient way to get random stuff delivered to my house.  Also a handy way to access stuff that may only be available in the U.S.A. And usually, super cheap.  BUT, Amazon has been all over the news about just how much money Jeff Bezos has and continues to make. In general I am not in favour of individuals becoming ultra rich, but for Amazon it is more about the disparity between Jeff Bezos and his employees.  When someone is making the news for how much money he is making, there is really no reason not to give your employees a good wage (here I would say not even just a decent wage – a good wage).  There are also accusations of working conditions, but these are very difficult to confirm.

Another example is Nestle.  Their practices with buying the rights to water make their practices unethical. Access to water should be a basic right of every citizen of every country.  To buy the rights to water and refuse access is simply unacceptable, especially when there are droughts in California, and tainted drinking water in Michigan!

One of the really tricky parts of trying to not support companies I don’t agree with is knowing what products they make.   Nestle makes a lot of bloody stuff!

Brands owned or made by Nestle

I started to look into this when I heard Nestle was trying to buy a local dog food company called Acana.  This is the food I feed my dog.  Luckily, it doesn’t appear this sale is going to go through, but I didn’t even think of products like dog food. Sure enough in their list of brands they make dog food.

We also sometimes by Presidents Choice Nutrition First dog food, so I thought I would look up who makes it.  I could not find this information anywhere. So I wrote to them and asked who makes it. The first reply was about the quality of their ingredients. I replied, but WHO makes it.  Their reply:

“The vendor information for our PC Nurtrition First line is not available to be disclosed due to proprietary reasons.”

I’m not even sure that makes sense.

Right.  Well if I can’t investigate the maker, then I don’t really want to buy the product.  I feel like this is information we should be able to access. I think it should probably be on the bag, but even if you make it available through some other means, fine. But if I ask, you refuse to tell me…..I’m not buying.

 

 

 

The Economy as a Campaign Tool

Posted: September 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

First, I am an outright socialist. Completely.  But I don’t think the data I present here is  biased towards the liberal government. What I talk about afterwards is definitely socialist, but the data is the data.

All of my life it has been tossed around that conservative governments are better for the economy than liberal governments.  The Conservative Party definitely focuses on less spending on social services, and other initiatives like environmental protections. Less spending sounds like more saving, so there is a narrative that fits.  But I have never actually investigated if this is true. Is there data that supports the claims?

First, I had to go and find out what are the markers that economists and governments use to measure the strength of an economy. This is a pretty easy to read summary of some of the indicators. Trust me, some were decidedly NOT easy to read.

https://www.moneycrashers.com/leading-lagging-economic-indicators/

Then I went off in search of data, keeping in mind that my understanding of the historical world economy and outside factors that would have impacted the Canadian economy is almost nil.  This is just a very basic exploration to see if there is any kind of visual correlation between government and economic indicators.

First I looked for historical economic data that stretched back as far as I could find in one source.  I decided that trying to piece together information from different sources would surely result in error.  I searched for 3 common indicators that I’ve heard used regularly as by politicians, governments and the media; retail sales, full time employment rate and GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Below I present graphs from tradingeconomics.com that I chose to present here because they are simple and easy to annotate with election results.

Then I looked up which party was in power over the period I could find data for and marked the election results along the bottom to indicate the government in power – red is for the Liberal Party, Blue is for the Progressive Conservative Party.

Historical Retail Sales

Full Time Employment Rate

Historical GDP

Now, I’m no economist, but I see absolutely no consistent pattern.  The worst that things got was around 2008 during the global financial crisis, but I suspect that had more to do with global events than anything an individual government was doing.  Each party has, at some point, claimed they inherited a mess, or offer external reasons for why things are not going so well during their term.  I expect external reasons, or at least bigger reasons than what one government is doing is a big factor in how the overall economy is going.

Make of these findings what you will.  You can argue that my exploration is too simplistic or that the effects of good government on the economy lag or are not measured by these indicators.  You could be right.  I read a lot about leading and lagging indicators and it really sounds like there is a considerable time lag between events and outcomes.

My point simply is, when you’re deciding on which political party to choose, don’t simply listen to what the people with a vested interest in convincing you have to say.  Look for the data. Use many sources of information to make your decisions. I present these graphs from one source, but I did look at several sources of information just to double check that they showed similar results.

Looking for evidence and data is particularly important when you may forgo consideration of other issues (e.g. gay marriage, funding services) based on a possibly inaccurate belief one party will be better for the economy.

The economy is important.  Jobs are important.  People need to survive, and more than that they need to have security.  People also need equality.  Access to health care. Quality education. We tend to sacrifice some needs for others but I’m not convinced we need to.

If you actually believe that we shouldn’t allow gay marriage or that we shouldn’t fund services for the poor, well you will vote based on that and you can take your cold, dead heart and leave my blog page thankyouverymuch.  But if you actually support these issues, but let them go because you believe the government you vote in will be better for  the economy, then please double check that your belief is supported by evidence.

Sexual Misconduct and Assault

Posted: September 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

This is a very complicated topic for me and I’m only going to cover a few components here.

A male friend recently ask how many women I know who had experienced sexual assault.  About half of the women I know well, who I would call friends, have been outright raped.  If we’re talking about unwanted touching, coercion, pressure to engage in sexual acts, being taken advantage of in powerless situations, then it would be every female I know.

Having said that, almost all of the males I know well, who I consider friends, have probably touched a woman who did not want to be touched, pressured or coerced a woman into engaging in sexual acts (or at least tried to) or took advantage of a situation where she might have felt powerless.  These men are still my friends. These men are good men. There was no malice in their behaviour.  They did not do this to hurt the woman.  I suspect that they had no real understanding that the woman would be hurt or an understanding of how much she could be hurt.

20-30 years ago, behaviours that would now constitute sexual misconduct (so excluding outright rape, but possibly still including date rape) were treated by my peer group as something that just happened.  No matter how awful it might be to experience, it was something you put up with. And not just because males pressured us into putting up with it. Many of the females in my peer group spoke of these instances as nothing serious and someone who couldn’t handle it was weak, or over reacting.  We also have to acknowledge the perception that if a woman found herself in this situation it was her own doing. Based on my own experiences and those of my friends, stopping at a certain point was impossible because you would be considered a “tease”.  At the time it was one of the worst things you could be!

On the flip side, the males I knew were actively encouraged by their peers to engage in these behaviours. It was their job to get laid through whatever means necessary. If you didn’t you were a pussy or a homo. I’m not going to get into how appalling these terms are, we’ll save that for another post, but we need to recognize the social punishment it was to be called these things.  Now obviously not every guy did so with behaviours that would be called sexual misconduct today, but if they did it wasn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing.

One idea that constantly comes to my mind – for me, these behaviours being minimized kind of helped me to brush them off and get on with my life.  I want to make it absolutely clear, that minimizing these behaviours or experiences often does considerable damage.  I also want to acknowledge that for me, it was a benefit. And I think for many of my fellow women, looking at these behaviours as nothing, helped us to deal with experiencing them.

I’ve reached the age where I span different era’s with different expectations and different standards of acceptable behaviour.  Things have changed. What happened in the past is not acceptable now and it must not be allowed to continue.  So how do we deal with people now, who committed acts in the past that would not be acceptable in the present?

This post was prompted by an article about Louis C.K.’s comeback to the stage a year after allegations of sexual misconduct.  At the time of the allegations, he admitted it and said that at the time he justified it by gaining consent, but now he see’s that it isn’t really consent when the person is in a position of lower power.   Here is an acknowledgment and demonstration of understanding.  That is pretty rare.  It is very difficult for someone to look at themselves and say I behaved horribly, I take responsibility, I’ve thought about my rationalization for behaving badly, and I see it was wrong.  I was impressed.

At his recent return, people in the audience didn’t know he was going to be in the show.  Some were upset that he was allowed back on stage.  Some where upset that he just went on with his set without saying anything about what happened  He didn’t apologize. People were angry.  The same week reports of others accused of sexual misconduct planning returns to their careers came out.  People start discussing if this should be allowed.

I look at my male friends, the social spheres they lived in, the pressures they faced to act certain ways.  Would I want to see them punished? No.  Would I want their past behaviours to affect them now?  No.

I look at the men who groped, grabbed, made crass sexual remarks towards me, who begged, coerced or pressured until I gave in even if I really didn’t want to.  Would I want them punished?  No.  Do I hope that looking back on their own behaviour they are able to see it for what it was, and what it is by todays standards?  Yes.

I look at the women around me. Our perception of these behaviours.  Our actions and reactions that, directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, reinforced these behaviours.  Do I accept that I did, said, implied things that maintained and promoted the idea that these are behaviours that are inevitable and just something to be put up with?  Yes.  Do I accept that my talking about dealing with these things as nothing and not getting worked up about it may have conveyed the message to other girls and women that not doing so is a sign of weakness?  Yes.

Would the threat of punishment lead to the denial of past behaviours?  Would it prevent people from looking at their behaviours reflectively? Openly? Honestly? In a way that could produce change?

Is refusing to let Louis C.K. and other celebrities from holding positions of public status less about punishment and more about not revering those who engage in bad behaviour?

I am certain the majority of people share the goal of preventing sexual misconduct. We need to think carefully about how best to achieve that to ensure we don’t just elicit denial, defensiveness, retaliation and in-fighting.

 

 

Who is your battle really with?

Posted: September 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

Ok, I’m chiming in. I want people to think about the situation from the beginning, not what it has turned into. Before the whole Kaepernick situation, to take a knee was something players did when another player was seriously injured. When Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem, he did it as a silent protest against racial inequality and the killing of black men by police. At the time, the idea of kneeling during the anthem as a signal that the country was “injured” was talked about and the reasoning behind the protest was not under dispute. It only became disrespectful towards the military when people opposed to this protest, namely Trump and his supporters, called it this. And don’t deny that Trump will turn anything into something it is not if it serves him. I ask you. Are you really protesting against racial equality? Are you really protesting against addressing bias that exists in some police officers? Instead of getting caught up in a destructive battle with someone you are not actually at odds with, do something positive to support the people you are defending. We need to fight racial inequality. The members of the military need our support and respect. Meeting on of these needs will not come at the cost of meeting the other. Do not let those who would divide us succeed.

 

A couple of months ago I took a class in making sourdough bread.  Wonderful class, mostly because we were sent home with some sourdough starter of our own!  Sourdough starter is how wild yeast is cultivated to be used in baking. According to the Kitchn, wild yeast already exists in all flour, so you really just need to bring it alive by adding flour and water and waiting a few days. It actually requires a bit more care than this, and many people find the initial raising of the starter to be too much work. If done successfully, however, the process creates a kind of gooey, stretchy, slime that is then added to typical bread ingredients to make sourdough breads.

I was over the moon to skip the difficult part! The instructor gave clear and straightforward instructions on how to care for the sourdough starter once we got home.  He said this was 30 year old starter. Really established starter. You couldn’t kill it if you tried, he said.  You could feed it chlorinated water and bleached flour and it still wouldn’t die.

I killed it.

I followed the instructions.  To. A. T.

I killed the un-killable starter.

I thought about contacting him for a second chance, but after initial attempts to find an email address failed, I gave up.

A friend said she had sourdough starter starter.  Some powdered stuff she had gotten from Alaska (Alaska?).  She’d had it for a while, had never gotten around to trying it, but said it didn’t have an expiry date so I was happy to try it.

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I tried.

It started out really well.  I followed the instructions, put it in a warm place.  Things appeared to be progressing exactly as described.

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But as the hours passed, something was happening.  The smell that was developing was appalling.  Nauseating. Certainly not the “delicious, sour, yeasty” smell described in the instructions.   One website said starter would be pungent, but this smell was how I imagine the corpse plant to smell.

I waited.  My partner said try it anyway. Lots of foods smell bad but taste good, he said.  I personally have NEVER experienced this.  Blue cheese smells bad AND it tastes bad.

I waited.  I stirred.  And by the end of the first phase of instructions things had gone from bad to worse.  The starter died.  Deflated, separated, and died.  So it would appear the smell actually was the smell of impending death.

Honestly, think this is probably more to do with me and my apparently homicidal tendencies toward sourdough starter than a problem with the product.  It really did start out fine.

I’ve signed up for another class on sourdough in a month.  It will be my last kick at the can and if it doesn’t work then, I will simply have to stick with regular bread.  I just can’t justify the senseless killing of sourdough starter beyond that.

This recipe from King Arthur Flour is by far the most interesting cake recipe I’ve ever made.

This is a layered sponge cake with meringue baked on top of the sponge.  Baked on top of the meringue is shaved almonds dusted with cinnamon sugar. Between the layers is a rich pastry cream and whatever berries you have on hand – I used blueberries and strawberries.

What I love about this cake is the crispy yet chewy meringue and the super tasty sugared almond flavour.  It is amazing.

The cakes didn’t turn out perfectly, but it is likely due to me modifying the sizes.

To maintain a baking hobby like mine, you cannot keep and eat all of the baking, so instead of big cakes, I often try to divide the batter into several small cakes so that I can give some away.  For this, I made two 4″ cakes and a half of an 8″ cake.  Half a cake? Limited number of pans.

I took the small cakes out earlier than the recipe said, and they were fine, but I left the 8″ in for the full time and it was over baked, leaving it a bit hard and dry.

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Next time I will definitely cook it for lest time.

Also, the small cakes did not deflate nearly as much as the large one did, so putting filling between the layers didn’t really work.

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While they look quite majestic, they are absurdly tall and impossible to eat.  I did discover that the meringue on the large cake came away from the sponge quite easily, so I think next time I will try to make the small cakes and put the filling between the meringue and the sponge and make that an individual cake.