October 23, 2003

Stupid And Trying

I've said it before, and I may or may not it again: it's nice to be listened to.

For those of you who didn't see it (and let there be no mistake here: I hate you for that), in my super-comedy-cultural-comparison-extravaganza stand-up show at the beginning of the summer, I said, discussing the SATs:

I don’t even really understand the benefits of an exam where the preparation includes lots of learning question types and really very little actual learning of useful things (after all, nobody’s going to walk up to you at your job in ten years and say [faux poetically; dreamily] “Moon is to sky as Love is to what?”).

And, Lo! and behold, as part of the newly proposed overhaul of the SAT exam, they are going to scrap the analogy questions! Huzzah!

Of course, that's contingent on the new test being approved, which it may not be because it has many critics. The most vocal bunch argue that since the new test requires more actual academic skill (imagine that), and is less a measure of the elusive 'potential aptitude' tested by the current SAT, it is going to disadvantage students who come from poor, under-privileged backgrounds, and who therefore have not had as much schooling as necessary to perform well in the new SAT.

Well, I have news for those critics. Sorry, guys, but when it comes to going to university, poor and under-privileged students are already up shit creek because college fees in the US went up 40% in the last decade. And if their famillies can't afford to live an area with good public schools, then they sure as hell can't afford to pay $10,000 a year for four years of university.

On the other hand, since the new SAT would require students to actually demonstrate intelligence (eg. knowing how to actually write well instead of being ridiculously proficient at using analogies), it would encourage (necessitate, even) widespread educational reform that just might lead to higher standards in high schools to begin with.

And that can't be a bad thing, especially judging from the quality of some of the student fiction I had to read last year.

October 19, 2003

Remember When...

'Nuff said, really.

And by the way, I do realize that Bush Sr threw up on the Japanese Prime Minister, whereas this is a picture of Bush Jr and the Chinese President (obviously)-- but I feel that adds an extra dimension to the humour (because he knows very little about people from other countries, yes?).

October 17, 2003

She Objects to the Use of Real Breast Meat

From Netscape Celebrity News:
Actress Pamela Anderson urges KFC boycott

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Pamela Anderson joined an animal rights campaign against fast-food chain KFC Thursday, urging a consumer boycott of the franchise until it ensures better treatment of its chickens.

"If people knew how KFC treats chickens, they'd never eat another drumstick," the Canadian-born former "Baywatch" beauty wrote in an open letter circulated by the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

"It's disgusting!" remarked a clearly shocked Anderson-Lee-Rock. "They actually put their chickens into the food they serve! This must be stopped!"

"What does KFC even stand for?" continued the starlet.

Ms Anderson-Lee-Rock is apparently also canvassing support from her other celebrity friends, including an embarassed-looking Hugh Hefner, David Hasselhoff, and "hopefully that talking car he has, too."

October 16, 2003

Capitalist Fat Cats

Behold, The Leg-Lifter.

Sold at Amplestuff.com, it is a 'device' that allows overweight people to lift the blubbery legs their own muscles no longer can.

Now, let's be clear, here. I have absolutely nothing personal against people who are overweight. I don't mean, herein, to be insulting to them, because I realize it is as much a lifestyle choice as, say, being straight or gay (plus, now that I live in Canada, God knows I have to be tolerant of pretty much everything). I also realize that some people are genetically pre-disposed to be bigger than others.

On the other hand, I feel like I have to say: when you become so obese that you can no longer lift your own leg without the help of a blue strap, don't you think it's time to maybe do something about your weight?

Let me go back to what I said before. While I concede that being overweight is a lifestyle choice (and believe me, it pains me to say something so politically correct), I do not think it is a particularly intelligent one. While there is nothing intrinsic about being straight or gay that could be potentially fatal (as long as you're sensible, anyway), there is a clear causal link between being overweight and being at increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke, cancer, high blood pressue, diabetes, and sleep apnea (which is, rather terrifyingly, a condition where you stop breathing for periods of time during sleep).

And I mean, if you want to eat yourself to an early grave, like I said, that's your business. But you have to look at the bigger picture: 64% of Americans are classified as overweight, and close to one third can be called obese (to put that in perspective for you, on average, the global percentage of people who are overweight is closer to 20%).

My point is, if one person is so portly that they compromise their ability to perform their job (by, for instance, not being able to lift their own legs) and die a premature death from heart disease (or what have you), that's no skin off my back. But if over half of the population of a country is in that position, well, you have a logistical nightmare. 180 million overweight people (give or take) in one country is a huge burden (no pun intended) on healthcare, productivity, and the economy.

So what do we do about it? We actively encourage it, because, like all good things in America there is a hell of a lot of money to be made ($17 billion a year in plus-size clothing alone, if one estimate is to be believed). It's disgraceful that people are getting that rich from keeping other people unhealthy-- when the cost of a Leg Lifter would pay for a month's membership at a gym.

In short, America says: Eat food, get fat, buy more, be happy. And that, apparently, is a good thing. Well, I've got news for you: it's not. That's not a moral judgement, it's a proven fact. It's expensive, unhealthy, and almost entirely avoidable.

And if you don't believe me, let's see how you feel in twenty years when you can't get a bed in a hospital because they're all filled with overweight people having heart attacks.

October 15, 2003

Cultural Intolerance

I nearly snapped this morning. I really did.

For six weeks now I have been subjecting myself to the sanity-threatening ordeal that is ANTH202: Comparative Cultures. Three days a week (at 8:30am, which is, as far as I'm concerned, too early to be learning anything) I drag myself to lectures to hear about how whatever topic we're covering is, in fact, culturally defined.

And this morning, I swear I was ready to kill someone when the professor got started with:

"So, when we look at kinship, then, what we then find, then, is that kinship, then, is in fact culturally specific. Then."

Well, there's a surprise! Who would have thought that the 9th topic we've covered in a class about anthropology (the discipline that says everything is culturally specific) would be culturally specific, when the previous eight topics have also been culturally specific?

We fucking get it, okay?! Culture determines everything, you don't need to keep telling us. The thing that really killed me today was that I've actually started being able to guess which words he's going to put quotation marks around on the overheads. Do you think, maybe, when your students are able to guess what you are going to say halfway into the semester, that you have perhaps hammered the idea into the ground a bit much? Do you think that the fact that the TA is doing her make-up, three different people are asleep in the back row, and the guy with the laptop (read: me) is using his wireless internet to check his email means that your lectures are BORING and PREDICTABLE?

Let this be a message to you, P. Sean Brotherton: if you use the phrase 'culturally specific' one more time, I will cut you. Seriously.

October 09, 2003

And the List Goes On...

Yet another sarcasm-inducing soundbite from the girls of McGill University...

[shocked] "She cheated on him? My God . . . I mean, who cheats on Mike?"

Cheating on anybody else, that would be fine. But how could you even think of cheating on Mike (who presumably is a football player with a huge cock and a fast car)?

Hmmm... too bitter?

October 08, 2003

California Speaks: Stereotype For Governor!

California voters decided yesterday to recall current governor Gray Davis and install bodybuilder-cum-actor-cum-politician (apparently) Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Mr Schwarzenegger said "Thank you" to supporters amidst a solid minute of cheering at his victory speech late Tuesday night. "First of all, I would like to thank my wife," the new governor began. "I'd also like to thank everybody who made this possible, the cast, the crew, and of course, the Academy . . ." Mr Schwarzenegger then paused with a confused look on his face and shuffled his notes momentarily.

"Today California has given me the greatest thing of all," continued the star. "You have given me your trust by voting for me."

He added: "I've always liked a happy ending. Now all I need to do is throw Gray Davis into a vat of red-hot liquid metal . . . Does anybody know where I can find one of those?"

The cheers became more tentative as Mr Schwarzenegger's speech continued, with voters struggling to understand the actor's comically broken English.

"Who is he thanking now?" remarked one member of the crowd. "I can't really tell if what he's saying is good or bad . . . Say, I hope this isn't a problem when he needs to express his ideas on how to fix the economy."

Mr Schwarzenegger ended by thanking the people of California, which he dubbed "the greatest state of the greatest country in the world," (apparently still unaware at this point that it had elected him governor).

October 05, 2003

A Brief Examination of Examinations

I have a bone to pick with you, higher education.

Why is it that we are expected to kill ourselves reading and memorizing up to 600 pages of material per class and regurgitate it without books or memory aids once during an exam, when failure to properly cite or quote said material in any other context will result in disciplinary sanctions, notes on our permanent records and, potentially, expulsion?

Why is it, for instance, that we must, from memory, answer a question like: "In 'Nations and Novels', Sarah Corse discusses some of the differences between "prizewinning Literature" in Canada and the United States. What are three such differences? (2 points)", when any academic worth his salt would have to go and look up Corse's work if he ever wanted to write about it?

Final exams are antithetical to the educational process, because rather than encouraging students to really work on understanding the broad concepts of their chosen discipline (eg. social construction, Marxism), it forces students to waste their time remembering superfluous minutiae (eg. what one person discovered about literature in the US and Canada at the end of the 1980s), that they will probably have forgotten after a month anyway. If you are teaching a child to spell, you do not make them memorize how each word is individually spelt; you teach them broad rules of spelling like "I before E except after C", or "a T followed by an H makes a 'th' sound". That way, if they're ever asked to spell a word they haven't seen before, they can make an educated guess. Likewise, if you teach a college student to understand the concept of social construction, they will be better served than if you make them memorize the results of one person's experiment that studied social construction.

What's more, final exams are antithetical to real life, because (a) nobody can remember absolutely everything they're ever taught (even in the context of one university course) and (b) nobody would really want to live in a world where people didn't look things up. I mean, kudos to my doctor for getting through medical school, but if she's going to start putting chemicals into my body, I'd rather she looked up drug interactions in a reference book instead of just going on what she crammed one night twenty years ago.

In summary, then: I have a midterm in three days, and I'm not happy about it. So there.

October 01, 2003

Annals of Annoying McGill Students, Part II

I have a midterm in a week, and so today one of the TAs for the course in question held a review session.

"Now," he said. "Obviously I can't just give you the answers, but the professor has given me these sample questions which you can all try and answer, and I can tell you if you're on the right track or not."

And thus the session continued.

Afterwards, I overheard a girl saying the following:

"What was that 'I can't give you the answers' thing all about? Just fuckin' give us the answers, man. I think university is designed to make students not do well."

Yeah, and I mean, what's with that stupid 'no plagiarism' rule? It would be totally easier to just copy someone else's work. Like, what the fuck?