30 June 2008

Exercise the body and the mind

According to this article from cbc.ca, the tango may help cure depression.

[Rosa] Pinniger is studying cognitive and behavioural therapy and wonders if tango can help people fight negative thoughts.

She likens tango to meditation.

"While you're doing tango you can only be in the present — you really have to focus, concentrate, and it doesn't allow your thoughts to drive into your mind," said Pinniger in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

She adds that in meditation people have to focus on breathing, while in tango there's a parallel type of concentration needed.

29 June 2008

"Feminism" is not a dirty word

A few weeks ago Google Reader deposited this to my page. It refers to a definition from Urban Dictionary, a sometimes amusing, sometimes educational website with definitions of common slang, jargon and other colloquialisms. Thanks to UD, I've learned terms like CH, gay crashing, and the definition of dumbass.

Urban Dictionary can provide countless minutes of etymological entertainment, but it seems to also provide an unmoderated outlet to assholes and jerks who think it's clever to post factually inaccurate, often insulting "definitions" that have little to do with the definition and lots to do with the prejudices of the person submitting the definition.

The definition of Feminism is what sparks my current contempt.

1. feminism

A movement to promote women's interests at the expense of men.

Despite claims by some moderate (and misled) feminists to the contrary, feminism is not a movement for the betterment of men and women. If it was, it would be called humanism.

(Emphasis mine)

This is one of almost 60 definitions included. Some later entries display a bit less bias (some others swing the other way) but the majority are just inflammatory and serve no educational purpose and little entertainment value. Some border on misogyny. It doesn't appear that the entries are moderated (other than to make sure that non-celebrities are named in entries) and so all kinds of divergent viewpoints are extolled, which is both a pro and a con of the site.

Despite only being an excerpt, I'd like to address some of the claims of the definition quoted above.

Firstly, the idea that Feminism is a movement that takes place "at the expense of men" is fallacy. Feminists are not now, nor have they ever been interested in taking rights away from men. An example of a common anti-feminist notion is that feminism is responsible for putting men out of work. A closer version of reality is that many families require two incomes to sustain the basics of life. Who shall we blame for that? Or should we assume that salaries would have kept pace with the cost of living (plus the numerous luxuries made available to us through capitalism) had women stayed at home in the kitchens, nurseries and laundry rooms? At one time, men did most work outside the home (be it hunting, farming or lawyering), but I'd say industrialization was more effective in making that scenario obsolete than any organized protests or political action by women. I won't make up stats about it. I just think that machines and outsourcing have more to do with people losing jobs than women forcing men out.

Secondly, to the idea that feminism would be humanism if it included equality for men, I have to say that one needn't trump the other. Humanism advocates ethical treatment of all human beings. It is a secular belief. It supports democratic principles, but is not necessarily a political
movement. Feminism complements humanism, but adds some important distinctions. It recognizes that women are biologically different from men and as such have differing medical needs. It considers gender politics as a whole, including LGBT politics. It focuses on equality for women including:
  • wage parity;
  • media bias;
  • sexual objectification;
  • eating disorders;
  • mental health services;
  • violence against women; and
  • child-bearing and child-care.
And that's a partial list.

Yet there are still those who think that feminism = extremism. I've even had conversations with female friends who think that feminists are crazy, short-haired, shaggy-armpitted man-haters. It's only recently that I re-associated myself with the term. While I generally believe that labels are too imprecise to describe ones beliefs, they can be convenient too.

Years ago I belonged to a women's centre at my first university (of three). I helped plan two Take Back the Night marches and an International Women's Day event. I hibernated for a while; for some reason I became ashamed of my association with the "cause". But after some rough encounters with misogyny (sexist boss, abusive relationship, etc.), I have been slowly waking up. Since discovering human rights work four years ago, I've discovered that women are by far the largest percentage of victims (again, I won't make up a number), and men are the largest perpetrators. So, while humanism addresses that people need to stop treating each other like crap, it does little to create the social structures and supports needed to ensure that women do get an equal shot.

I fail to see how such a belief can be logically (even respectfully) equated with genocide. And if someone wants to claim that feminism is about extremism, they would do well to make their suggestions without threatening to rape me or suggest that I need to be put in my place.

23 June 2008


This is so cute, but so wrong.... Meet Kaitlyn Ashley Mahar:

America's Got Talent is based off the British hit, Britain's Got Talent, the first season of which blew people away. It's a nice idea that piggybacks on the Idol phenomenon; but instead of a bunch of young people singing, it's people of all ages doing all kinds of things.

Including the above four-year-old singing. Because she wants to, I'm sure.... Because all four-year-olds know that they want to stand on stage in front of strangers and sing. I'm sure Mom and Dad had nothing to do with that decision.

I'm just thinking that maybe there's something wrong with a country that supports the idea of denying a childhood to a four-year-old.

Oh, and while I generally support the fostering of talent for people other than cute skinny teenagers, I'm a little disappointed with the lack of originality at the show. Seriously? Same song, same shots, same climax.

22 June 2008

Risk Management

A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary, Life After People. I'm not positive, but it seems very much like a piggyback on The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, an author and journalist who write for some very prominent publications.

Origins aside (I haven't read the book yet), one might think that watching a depiction of the planet without humans would be frightening. On the contrary, I found it comforting to think that the planet is fine without us; life goes on. And that's why you need to think about global warming, climate change and pollution in a whole new way.

I taught my students about risk management this semester. I'll admit that it was a glossing-over of the subject. When I did internet research on the topic, I found page and pages on the topic. Apparently, it's not as easy as tipping a scale.

I came across this video on matthewgood.org. It's not about music; it makes a compelling argument as to why we should act to clean up the planet. The important thing to remember is that it's not about saving the planet; it's about saving humanity. The planet will do just fine without us. At least until a giant meteor or asteroid come along. Or until the sun explodes.

Greg Craven is my Hero of the Week. Now, pass it on.

19 June 2008

How many reasons do you need?

Reuseable bags are everywhere. I keep them in my car, in my house, and I even have one folded up in my purse. What's the point? Check this out:

Twenty-Five Reasons to Go Reusable

Posted using ShareThis

16 June 2008

I'm not an American but....

I think this is something all Americans should consider.

15 June 2008

A is for...

There are many people who believe, for one reason or another, that women shouldn't have abortions. All life is sacred, perhaps (except murderers and rapists, but that's another post). Or maybe there are so many who can't have a child, those who can should feel blessed (or give it to someone who wants it). In fact, some people will use pop culture to support their position against abortion. And while I don't dispute these as valid reasons, they are missing something.

What's interesting to me is that, without considering the reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion, many people say we shouldn't and leave it at that, as if that in itself solves the "problem".

I am pro-choice. Many anti-choicers ("pro-lifers") would rebrand that as "pro-abortion". I take great exception to the implication that I think every woman should go out and have an abortion. As a woman, as a feminist, and as a compassionate human being, I think that women need to be able to make some choices about their own bodies. Some of those choices might be to avoid conception altogether, but once in a while a woman might need to choose not to have a baby.

If we still ignore all the reasons why a woman might feel she needs an abortion (age, health, wealth, rape, etc.), we're still left with the fact that women will have them. Take this compelling article from the New York Times. Do anti-choice/"pro-life" advocates actually think that abortion will end wholesale if the practice is made illegal? Or is the idea just that women should have to endure a variety of painful, unsafe, unhygenic and possibly lethal options if they're so stupid as to get knocked up? I guess it's their own fault for having sex in the first place. People seem to forget that there's no medical equivilent for men and that they can walk away from sex (whether consensual or not) without having to worry about the baby they may have created. And weak paternity enforcement laws back that up.

And don't get me started about birth control or Plan B as a chemical abortion. Please.

If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, I sure hope that vasectomies are the next target. Because if women are forced to deliver the babies, we should damn well make sure that men can't be prevented from putting them there in the first place.

Thanks to Feministing.com for posting the article first.

08 June 2008

Plugging away

Despite this being my third post of the day, I feel bad that I didn't do more blogging this weekend. Staying in my condo seemed like a bad idea, and I tried really hard to spend as much time as possible being out.

I have a couple of post ideas that I'm working on, but I expect that they'll take time and effort. I have some research to do, and I don't know how I fit all that in with end-of-the-year work. In the meantime, I'll try to post interesting tidbits that I come across in my daily procrastination.

I'll start with this one. I'd love to see some feedback from readers about the principles of arranged marriage, and whether permutations are viable options.

I always wanted to eat a pigskin

Via GroovyGreen.com, here's a video from a guy who started a company to produce Fair Trade, eco-certified and vegan sports goods, starting with balls.

Fair Trade Sports from Groovy Green on Vimeo.

Who needs a shower?

It's nice to see celebrities doing their part for the environment.

02 June 2008

Tell us how you really feel

This is a really powerful statement.

I'd like to see someone argue with this woman. In fact, I dare them.

01 June 2008

Running out of steam

I have worked many kinds of jobs. I have been a gas station attendant, a grocery store cashier, an office jockey, a child care worker, and, most recently, an event planner. But none of these are anything like the job I do now: Teacher.

For those of you who only know teachers as those annoying pests who stood at the front of the class and lectured you when you didn't do your homework, move along. We all have our crappy-teacher stories. Hopefully, many of us have awesome-teacher stories too. I'm well aware that most people's crappy stories (or lack-of-impression stories) outnumber the awesome. Mine do.

As a teacher, I try really hard to have an impact on my students, although I won't always make an impression. I have found in other ares of my life that people either really like or really hate me -- there isn't much room for in between.

But there comes a point in the school year, where having an impact subordinates itself to another goal: surviving until the end of the year. It's that time of year. It has been for about a month now. Many people think that teachers are whiners who get paid too much for glorified babysitting. That we complain too much, considering that we get 2 months off in the summer, 2 weeks at Christmas, a week in March, plus all statutory holidays. And we only work 6 hours/day.

Here's what most people don't know:

  • Teachers only get paid for the days they work. In Nova Scotia, that's 195 days per year. We do get our paycheque 26 times a year, but it's basically a forced savings program. They pro-rate our pay over 365 days. In case you can't figure out what that means, we don't get two paid weeks at Christmas, we don't get paid for holidays, we don't get paid for a week off in March, and we don't get paid through the summer. In fact, all that time off has as much or more to do with the children than with the teachers, although I'll admit that you'd be hard-pressed to find a union willing to give up those breaks.
  • Summer vacation is not just some evil teacher-devised plan to unload your kids for a couple of months while we trot off to Europe. Depending on where you live, it used to serve a specific purpose. In some places, it was so the kids could help out with the busy summer farming season; in others, the idle rich would pack their kids off to the summer home for match-making and courting season. In others, cramming large numbers of kids in a small room during the two hottest months of the year is dangerous. Is it necessary? Probably not. But in North America, nowhere has been able to take a step toward a British-style school year, en masse. Plus, I wonder how many parents would actually want that. I don't have children, but I can only imagine it being easier to find childcare for two straight months as opposed to occasionally for a couple of weeks. Easier from a childcare-provider standpoint, too, since I think it'd be easier to employ reliable people for a longer one-shot than for a couple of short stints.
  • I would kill to take a week off in February and go south. One day I actually might. But teachers are at the mercy of sanctioned breaks, and cannot schedule vacation time that suits their emotional or mental needs. March is all well and good, but some of us struggle to survive that long.
  • Have you ever spent time with 38 kids in one room for an hour or more at a time? I have. And most public-school teachers have. If you think that keeping track of all of those kids, period, is "glorified babysitting", then you're welcome to come spend a day with my students. On top of that, take care of their emotional needs. Consider that, for example, 25% of the females in a junior high or high school classroom are going through PMS/menstruation at any given time, that the boys are going through puberty, that almost no one acts like they do at home when they're at school, and that they're all in competition for attention -- with each other and with you.
  • I don't know a single teacher who only works a six-hour day. And that includes the old, "lazy" ones who are itching for retirement so bad that the kids can see their sores. At my school, I show up "late" -- 20 minutes before classes start. I'm not exaggerating when I say that 85-90% of the other teachers are there an hour and a half before they have to be. We also don't get to go to the bathroom when we want. We don't always get to eat when we want (although, as a diagnosed hypoglycemic, I tend to break the eating rules regularly so I don't pass out and die in front of the kids). Most of us work through lunch most days (especially early-career teachers). We routinely stay late (an hour or more), and unless we're super-disciplined and organized, we bring work home.
  • Teachers do complain a lot. I don't deny it. But I doubt we complain any more than any other group of employees. The difference is that a lot of our complaints get broadcast in the media. When Departments/Ministries/Boards of Education want to make changes to how/when/what/how long/where/for whom teachers teach, often comment is sought from teachers unions or other professional associations. Because teachers ultimately have no power when it comes to decision making, I guess a lot of this commentary comes across as whining. But my guess is that if you worked a job where you didn't have time to go to the bathroom, you'd whine too.
Does any of this mean that I'm giving up? Not at all. I don't know many teachers who have. I sit in the staff room, and I listen to the teachers say "I don't know how I'm going to make it through," but I have yet to encounter one who has just stopped trying. In fact, despite the fatigue, many are more revved up than ever. With curriculum outcomes, course alignment, and common assessments, no one can afford to drop the ball at this point.

Just understand that, until a better system is implemented, teachers do need those two months in the summer. We spend the first one sleeping, and the second gearing up for September.