Saturday, June 25, 2005

Another Quiz, Another Blog Post

First, without further ado, Quiz 4: The Professional Steve.

And now for something completely different: a real blog post. No more ado there, either.

George Orwell once wrote about his favourite bar, the Moon Under Water, which was perfect in approximately every way, except that it didn't exist. In that spirit, I'm going to tell you a bit about my favourite burger joint: Gusto Burger.

Gusto is owned and operated by an squat, elderly gentleman, and has been for twenty-three years (at the same location, natch). It's only open at lunch and dinner time, and when the proprietor wants to take some time off - as he typically does for three weeks in the summer and a month in the winter - he simply closes the joint. He has no staff. He knows all of his regulars (and regulars are pretty much his entire clientele) by name, burger toppings, and personal history. The prices haven't changed in years - a burger goes for between five and six bucks.

The burgers, of which there are three types (beef, chicken, and veggie, all cooked on the same grill slick with beef grease) are huge and homemade. The toppings are fresh (you can tell, since you can usually see a partially chopped onion on the cutting board next to the grill, just over top of the shelves holding all of the necessary components of a well-stocked pantry). Gusto is licensed, and sells a wide array of beers - bottled, of course.

The decor is eclectic, with the walls covered in such things as photos of youth sports teams Gusto has sponsored, news clippings of regulars who have gone on to some degree of fame, and letters from around the world praising his burgers. While the place could probably seat fifty, it's usually empty but for the proprietor, who's often having a smoke out front of the business.

Here's the kicker: Gusto actually exists. Here, in St. Albert. My family used to go there occasionally when I was much younger, and I haven't thought about it in years, though I've passed it plenty of times (it being located right on St. Albert Trail). Yesterday, as I was walking past it while hungry, I was suddenly struck with the impulse to check it out again, to see if was as good as I remembered.

That experience will be narrated here next time.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Quiz #3

To those of you who come here more for my insightful political commentary than for my quizzes,
1. you have truly bad judgment;
2. I'm sorry.
3. I've restarted posting on POI, so perhaps you can get some of your fix there.

For the rest of you, behold: The Interminable Academic Odyssey

(Oh, I should also report that my mother is now in sole possession of first place after two quizzes, with a stellar seventeen correct answers out of twenty, though my father, after getting seven right answers on the first quiz, could equal that if he aces the second one.)

(Also, somebody named "Lisa" took one of my quizzes. Among the people who took my quizzes without my recognizing them, "Lisa" stands out as being the only one who doesn't appear to be deliberately anonymous, so if she's reading and didn't intend to be anonymous, she should let me know who she is.)


Saturday, June 18, 2005

Are you looking for a post that doesn't involve my quiz series? Well, you've come to the wrong place!

1. Mark Wilson has been disqualified from the series for cheating. Shame!

2. I am rather surprised and alarmed at the number of people who read my blog.

3. I am tabulating results (of course), so if any of the following people wish to identify themselves to me, they can still get themselves included in the rankings:
D. Wayne Love
Tucker Carlson
Dick Cheney

4. At present, Mike Garlough is leading with twelve correct answers. Catrin Berghoff, Chris Henderson, Cameron Lewis, and Joel Nielsen are tied for second with ten correct answers each. In sole possession of last place is Kyle Kawanami, with zero correct answers.


Friday, June 17, 2005

Quiz #2

The Ties that Bind (and Gag)

And no providing spoilers in the comments section this time.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

You want self-indulgent? I'll fucking show you self-indulgent.

So there are a lot of people in my blogging circle making use of Quiz Your Friends of late, which is pretty self-indulgent. While I have no objections to my friends being self-indulgent, the possibility that some of them might be more self-indulgent than I am really bothers me.

As such, I hereby present the Steve Smith Quiz Series, which will consist, eventually, of ten quizzes. The first one - The Early Years (no relation to Zita's quiz of the same name) - is now available.

Also, I'm fully aware that these things are easy to cheat on. My sentiments on that possibility is, basically, that if you're willing to exert the effort necessary to do so, and if giving the appearance knowing more irrelevant facts about me than other people is really going to do something for your self-esteem - well, then I'm happy to help.

And now, a public service announcement: if anybody is interested, or if anybody knows anybody who is interested, in taking up residence, beginning in July, of a fantastic two bedroom ground level condominium right on Whyte Avenue for $900/month ($800/month until September) (including water and heating), contact Catrin or Mike. They need to find somebody urgently, and it is a lovely condo.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

In another classic, Kool and the Gang implore us to "get down on it". Dear, dear - what is "it", and what are we supposed to do once we get down?

Was it just a dream, or did CBC radio actually air The Masterpieces of Disco Music, as Presented by Lister Sinclair this morning?

In Defense of Dumbed Down Curricula

It should probably go without saying that I have a lot of policy disagreements with William McBeath. He's a (very) partisan Conservative and (incongruously, given his professed love of small government) an admirer of President Bush. As such, in an effort not to turn my blog into Steve against the Right-Wing (which would be really boring, to say nothing of troublesome to me on account of my being outnumbered), I don't generally respond to what he has to say.

Recently, however, Mr. McBeath has made a post that allows me to disagree with him on a basis that cannot be easily categorized as right-wing vs. left-wing. Moreover, if provides me with the opportunity to fulfill an earlier pledge to rebut Mr. Tam's comment in response to this post and to reference yet another of my Gazette columns of yore.

At issue is the question of how much math should be taught in Alberta's schools. Mr. McBeath believes (and is supported in this belief by Mssrs. Hirji and Tam) that, if anything, the math curriculum should be made *more* rigourous. I happen to disagree.

Mr. McBeath suggests that since many countries have math curricula more difficult than Alberta's, doors are somehow being left closed to Albertans who wish to compete in a global environment. First, I see no reason to believe that the ability to compete generally is closely tied to one's ability to rotate rhomboids in n dimensions, or to integrate conic sections, or whatever else it is that Mr. McBeath feels should be covered in high school math. However, I readily concede that there are fields in which competition is closely tied to these, and I will give him the benefit of assuming that his remarks were intended to be confined to this field.

If this is the case, however, I'm afraid that Mr. McBeath is sadly mistaken in his view of the purpose of high school. The purpose of high school is not to prepare students to compete in a given field - that's why we have post-secondary education. Rather, the point of high school is twofold: to prepare students to function as adults in society by providing them with the knowledge base deemed necessary of every responsible citizen, and to allow those students interested and able to pursue the post-secondary objectives of their choosing. For the latter objective, it would be nice to increase the *range* of math available to high school students, but absent the funding required to do so, requiring greater mathematical proficiency from *every* high school student would be silly.

Mr. Tam takes this silliness one step further by suggesting that "he solution is to teach at a faster pace, raise requirements and expectations, and establish a willingness to flunk students who don't meet the standards." To him, I ask what we hope to accomplish by flunking the students who don't meet our newly-increased standards? Absent elaboration on his part, it appears to me that he is seeking to apply the philosophy of post-secondary education - that it exists only to serve qualified students - to secondary education, which ought to exist to serve all Albertans.

Returning to Mr. McBeath's international dick-measuring contest, he also neglects to consider the consequences of the education systems imposed by other countries, notably Japan (where the teen suicide rate is extremely high, a fact that is attributable partly to the country's unduly rigourous school curriculum). I am reminded of the astonishment of a Japanese woman visiting my mother's grade one classroom as she noted how often students smiled here.

Mr. Hirji, at least, offers some substantive and defensible arguments, in asserting that math is useful in teaching logical thinking. With this I can agree. I do not agree, however, that it is the *only* means of teaching logical thinking nor, for most students, among the more useful means. Increasingly, educators are learning to harness different forms of intelligence - to suggest, as Mr. Hirji appears to be, that all students should be required to take basic calculus that they might acquire logical thinking is both intelligence type-centric and likely to be extremely ineffective for many students.

I tutor a lot of students in math. A lot of them do just fine with my help, but some of them don't - not because I'm a bad tutor (I'm fucking awesome), not because the kid's lazy (okay, sometimes it's because the kid's lazy), but because the kid simply does not have the kind of intelligence required to succeed at math. And next time a kid who wants to be a grade one teacher is asking me why, exactly, he's learning basic logarithmic functions, I shall be sure to refer him to these three gentlemen.

In other news, a lot of these are hilarious. Some of them are pretty bad too, though, especially on the first page, so keep reading for a while before giving up on them.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

Translator! Somebody fetch us a translator!

Since Webboard's still down, you'll have to come here for all of your circular debate needs (names have been changed to initials, in order to technically protect the identities of the combatants while still making it abundantly clear who we - er, "they" - are):

R: Read your blog. You're misguided on all points.

S: That's a succinct summary. Will you be posting it in the comments section?

R: Eventually. For now I just insulted you.

S: Well, that's the next best thing.

R: It's still a step up from my typical Council argumentation.

S: The mutterings from beneath your desk, where you're nearly passed out?

R: Those would be the ones. I prefer the term "representation".

S: "Thank you Mr. Speaker. While I would not pretend to disagree with the *sentiments* behind Councillor Smith's BLEEEEEAAAARGH."

*Thunderous applause*

You're a modern-day Winston Churchill.

R: I appreciate the "thunderous applause".

S: Well, I'd applaud that.

R: Now, generally speaking, the independents are more powerful now because they are un-whipped swing voters. Look at Cadman. Or look at Kilgour getting Darfur promises.

S: Okay, but what would have happened if O'Brien had stayed in his caucus and *behaved* as a swing voter?

R: That would be your view of how the HOC should work.

S: Yes. My point is just that you don't gain any power by leaving a caucus.

R: Effectively, you do.

S: You gain power by refusing to allow your vote to be whipped.

R: But they are whipped. Realize it.

S: They are whipped, but only because they consent to being whipped.

R: Independents have more personal freedom than cabinet ministers, whether you like to admit it or not. In the state of today's government, that gives them a lot of leverage. And it's easy to say, "they don't need to be whipped", etc etc. But we have party solidarity in our system, and that's just the way it is.

S: MPs have the freedom to vote as they choose, if they're willing to risk being kicked out of their caucuses.

R: But they typically aren't. I know you don't like the party system, but that's irrelevant.

S: As such, they voluntarily relinquish a degree of freedom.

R: Yes, they do. And, when they become independent, they regain it.

S: But they didn't need to relinquish it in the first place.

R: That would undermine the entire party system.

S: All the better. Let's deal with this from the perspective of an individual MP. Why should he/she relinquish her/his freedoms to prevent the entire party system from being undermined?

R: Doesn't matter. Until the party system goes away, that's the framework within which we look at things. And, the fact that he left instead of being a rebel backbencher, demonstrates that he respects that system. As for Belinda, she's whipped. He's not. Thus, he has more leverage.

S: I don't understand how you can possibly say that my question "doesn't matter". It seems to be the foundation of our argument.

R: The way you're approaching things is like, if I were to get a raise and said that I'm better off, and you said "you're not better off because you should have been paid that much in the first place".

S: Let me adjust that analogy a little: you voluntarily relinquish a portion of your salary, because "that's the way things are". Then you take a new job that pays the same, but stop relinquishing a portion of your salary and you are, for some reason, happy about your "good fortune". *Then* I tell you that it doesn't matter, because you were being paid that much in the first place. Then you quiver on the ground in the face of my dominant logic.

R: S, if we assume party solidarity to take place, does this dude have more voting flexibility than he did before?

S: Yes. But I reject that assumption.

R: How? Party solidarity exists.

S: And again we return to the point that it only exists because the whipped allow themselves to *be* whipped.

R: Yes. Because that's the nature of the system.

S: Do you see any problem at all with people agreeing to forfeit their freedoms, not for any higher purpose, but because "that's the nature of the system"?

R: They aren't "forfeiting their freedoms". They agree to function in a party system.

S: Which, I think we've agreed, entails a forfeiture of freedoms.

R: Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are positives to a party system. I'm saying that, given how our system works, he is in a different position. You're questioning the system. I prefer to look at reality.

S: I view "the system" as being the set of rules within which MPs must operate, not the ones in which they *choose* to operate.

R: Then you're on crack. With that, I'm off to bed.

Are we even speaking the same language, here?


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Simplicity, Thy Name is Roman's View of the World

Roman once again demonstrates his staggering lack of regard for nuance by comparing Pat O'Brien's defection to Belinda Stronach's. In so doing, he ignores a multitude of distinctions between the two:

1. Stronach left her party to take a cabinet seat, thereby acquiring more salary, prestige, perqs, and electibility than she had before. O'Brien left his caucus to become an independent, thereby giving up perqs, giving up the possibility of future increased salary and prestige, and, at best, retaining his old electability.

2. Stronach performed a huge about-face in going, over the space of a week, from saying that the Liberal government did not deserve the confidence of the Commons to actually joining that government. O'Brien has never wavered in his opposition to gay marriage, and has left the Liberal caucus with his principles - warped though they are - intact.

3. Roman also suggests that O'Brien is "now in a position of greater power than he was previously". I admit, I'm confused. He still has control over precisely one vote in the House, just as he did before. As an independent, however, it is generally accepted that his capacity to influence other votes has actually been *diminished* from what it was back when he was in a caucus (my own view, of course, is that this is generally bunk, but since Roman himself has defended this perspective before it need not be up for debate in this post).

4. Roman postulates that an independent's "vote matters more than a cabinet minister's these days". I am very curious as to when the House of Commons instituted this new system of weighted votes.

5. Finally, Roman trots out that tired old line about how the voters in O'Brien's constituency "wanted a Liberal". Given that his riding has been won by Conservatives more than once when O'Brien wasn't running, and given that O'Brien has periodically been vocal in his opposition to government policy, doesn't it make sense to believe that in the last few elections his huge margins of victory have been attributable more to his personal popularity than to his partisan affiliation? Of course, we don't know for sure, which is exactly my point. All we do know is that the voters of the riding in question elected Pat O'Brien, not the Liberal Party of Canada.

I don't like Pat O'Brien, but to equate his defection with Belinda Stronach's makes sense only if you, like Roman, insist on adhering to a generality akin to "partisan defections good" or "partisan defections bad".

Shades of gray, Bogg.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

The disillusionment of Deep Throat

Yes, I'm blogging about Deep Throat. Feel free to change the channel (Paul Wells appears to be insulting his former boss, if you're interested).

I don't know about the rest of you, but I was a little disappointed by the revelation that Deep Throat is former G-Man Mark Felt. How disappointed was I? Let me count the ways:

I'd Never Heard of the Guy - Realistically, that was to be expected. I mean, of all the people who knew what was going on, only a small fraction were familiar names, and most of those who were familiar were familiar only because they wound being implicated by the information Deep Throat provided, and you'd have to imagine that people who stood to do jail time for Watergate were statistically less likely to provide the media with information about Watergate.

Still, though, idle speculation for those of us who weren't intimately acquainted with Washington in the early seventies was kind of fun. One acquaintance of mine - Deep Jones, we'll call him - confided to me that he'd always sort of hoped that the informant would turn out to be Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was Assistance Attorney General at the time of the break-ins. Me, I once dreamt (yes, I've had dreams about this - see why I'm disappointed?) that it was Spiro Agnew. Even at the time I realized that *that* was unlikely, but wouldn't it have been cool?

Everybody who Mattered Already Knew - Christ, Nixon knew, because Bob Haldeman told him. Or consider this quote by Bernstein's ex-wife:

For many years, I have lived with the secret of Deep Throat's identity. It has been hell and I have dealt with the situation by telling pretty much anyone who asked me, including total strangers, who Deep Throat was.

Great quote, don't get me wrong. But there goes the image of Woodward and Bernstein keeping the conspirators in the dark to the very end. I mean, if Felt's identity was already known to pretty well everybody who mattered, just what was Woodward trying to accomplish by protecting his anonymity? I guess maybe Felt didn't want to be harassed by the media, but, as consequences for whistle-blowing go, that one's pretty tame. I'd have preferred to think that his life was in danger, myself.

He's not Much of a Hero - Deep Throat should have been some innocent young guy who came to Washington an idealist, only to become jaded upon viewing the activities of his superiors until his conscience would no longer allow him to keep quiet. Instead, we got a guy who was bitter about being passed over for promotion, and who wanted to help the FBI in its turf war with the Department of Justice. He did the right thing for all of the wrong reasons, and if you doubt that let's try this hypothetical question: if Felt had been made J. Edgar Hoover's successor, do you think he'd have met Woodward in that parking garage? I suspect not. More likely, he'd have overstepped the powers granted to law enforcement agents in order to keep the media in the dark. You know, like he did before Watergate, when he broke into the offices of Vietnam protesters without a warrant (he was pardoned for this by Ronald Reagan).

I mean, I guess on some level the guy could still be considered a hero - he risked his career to bring down the corrupt, and that's pretty noble regardless of motivation. But Deep Throat had already been idealized, and it's a little disappointing to see just how far short of the ideal the man behind the cigarette fell.

So yeah, that's why I'm disappointed. Why couldn't it have been Pat Nixon? Or Checkers?


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