Maria’s brand new beaujolais

January 6, 2006 at 11:45 am | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Over at Alembic, Maria has distilled her first podcast, Whinery. It’s a must-listen (so go, listen): truly a full-bodied vintage, full of surprises, depth, and layered flavours.

That “vision” thing

January 5, 2006 at 5:41 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

Driving on an errand this morning, I managed to catch a few minutes of the CBC‘s The Current (with Anna Maria Tremonti). Her guests for today’s show were Adam Daifallah, “a former member of the National Post’s editorial board” and “the co-author of ‘Rescuing Canada’s Right'”; also, Judy Rebick of, who “holds the Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University”; and Akaash Maharaj, “former National Policy Chairman for the Liberal Party of Canada.” See this page for more details. The topic was “Why don’t we have vision?” and the conversation intrigued me. The panelists brought up so many aspects that parallel, as far as I could tell in my 10 minutes of listening, what’s happening with the transmogrification of power structures in the networked world — it was fascinating:

Above the western entrance to the Peace Tower on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, this proverb is inscribed: “Where there is no vision, the people shall perish.” And over the next hour on The Current we put that maxim to the test.

Anyway, I haven’t had time to listen to the show yet, but — aha! — The Current’s “current” shows are uploaded as ram files, and for my and other readers’ listening pleasure, I’m posting them here. There are three two sections in all:

Section One

Section Two

This is for anyone interested in politics, or in Canada, or in Canadian politics. And who knows, I might find time to listen to it myself! At least I hope so…!

Return of the “origin of the world”?

January 3, 2006 at 11:45 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Return of the “origin of the world”?

I heard about this:

Posters designed by a group of artists are causing quite a stir in Vienna. The image of three people having sex while wearing nothing but masks of Bush, Chirac and Queen Elizabeth is proving particularly controversial. Politicians are outraged and artists have offered to withdraw the two most shocking posters.

Just as Austria takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union, a dispute about good taste is raging in the country’s capital. The art campaign “euroPART” has landed the group, named “25 peaces” and led by former Austrian Broadcasting Corporation culture boss Wolfgang Lorenz and federal theater boss Georg Springer, in hot water.

A topless woman sprawls on a bed with her legs spread wearing blue panties decorated with the EU’s symbol, a circle of yellow stars. A few streets away three individuals are hard at it: their unambiguous, naked poses show them indulging in a menage à trois. The participants wear masks of France’s President Chirac, the British Queen and United States President George W. Bush. The images have caused an uproar among the Viennese since they were put up on Dec. 27. [More…]

What I didn’t know, not having seen the photos of the billboards till now, is that the image of the woman with the “Euro-panties” is a straight rip off Gustave Courbet’s “Origin of the World,” a little painting that caused much brouhaha in its (19th c.) time, too. In that painting, there was just lots of pubic hair, no panties. The pose and body-type were identical, though. I believe there was talk then about how there was “nothing” there, where the woman’s sex is; I wonder whether the present image (with “euro-panties”) is supposed to conjure up the idea that “there is nothing there”? See here for a bigger image of the billboard. If that’s the idea, it’s pretty weak.

Notes from home

January 2, 2006 at 10:36 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

Updated, Jan.3/06 (see coda, below)

Dave Pollard‘s recent (Jan.1/06) list of links for the week included this nugget by Paul Graham, Good and Bad Procrastination. At first I enjoyed reading it (it’s well-written and often funny), but in the end it really ticked me off.

Graham talks about “running errands” as an avoidance tactic for getting great things done (he calls Great Things “big stuff”). Well, part of my daily agenda includes running errands because they’re inherent in my job in raising my kids. In fact, I’ve been known to procrastinate long enough on the “errands” to the point where something starts to fall apart around the house (or do I mean hearth?) — so don’t tell me that “errands” are an excuse for avoiding the important things. Errands, in some poor (female) sods’ lives, are the warp and woof of what they do to keep the so-called other big stuff alive.

But then, I’m just a mom, and god knows that raising kids sure isn’t considered an important big-stuff thing. If it were, there’d be less talk about how it’s ok to let the small things slide so that the Big Things can get done. (Kids are after all just Little Things.) Less talk about how important it is to get The Big Ideas Realised. And. All. That. Graham writes that good procrastinators put off the right kinds of small stuff errands so they can get the big stuff done:

…they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.

What’s “small stuff?” Roughly, work that has zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary.

Oh, I see! That’s why no obituary ever mentions “was a great parent,” and it explains why great parenting has devolved to the hokey schmaltz world of soap opera and corporate-generated cliché: that’s all “small stuff” and the “big stuff” matters so much more. And I guess that explains why kids today are often so fucked over by their parents.

I have been accused — no, that’s too harsh a word: it has been suggested to me, by someone who is male and who does not have young/ young-ish offspring still at home, that writing this blog is evidence of procrastination, that I am wasting my time and that all I need to do is buckle down to get some “real work” done. I always resented that suggestion, and now I know why. This blog is evidence of the fact that I am buckling down to keep my brain alive, it is evidence of all the learning that I’m still doing, and it feeds into the energies I have to continue priming the pump of learning that goes on in my “work” as a parent, too. Without it, I might as well go shopping instead. (As it is, I’ve discovered that I haven’t a clue anymore how to shop. Before I had kids and when I still worked “in my brain” all the time, shopping was a mindless diversion I got quite good at, even if I didn’t buy. But now, I am alas quite hopeless.)

But I may as well hang it up now. It’s all small stuff, proof positive of my inability to get any big stuff done. I should go shopping instead, or to a bar, or something.

Increasingly it’s a depressing exercise (swimming against this inexorable tide of what counts as “great”) and if you’re a woman, and particularly if you’re a mother who is raising kids, it seems there is nothing you can do right. All of it is just useless “small stuff,” none of it is “big stuff,” and I am sick to death of it all. Everywhere I look, I see men collectively dominating online intellectual / technological / political / design / elearning discourse. I see lots of men who are tiny insignificant schmucks like I am, but they still stand out more than the invisible women: they are part of the gender club. The women either aren’t there, or else it’s “understood” that they’re not dealing with things at the same level of Big Stuff importance as the men. I see this in every single sphere. When we start to complain (like I’m doing now), we sound like whining harpies. When we don’t complain and just do our work, it’s somehow not “big” enough. Even a discipline like art history (not present all that very much online, but very present offline), which is dominated to the teeth by female graduate students and female graduates (but, “naturally,” male professors, especially of the tenured variety), has only a tiny percentage of women who manage to develop “big stuff” presence. It is a relief to come across someone like Ana Finel Honigman or Ellen Harvey (see my I want to be a bad camera entry), and it makes so much sense for these two to be talking to each other and sharing their conversation with the reader — especially since they’re not necessarily pushing ostensibly “big stuff” in your face but instead are engaged in an intellectual questioning. Most of the time, however, the women (even in art history, for cryin’ out loud) can’t get a word in edge-wise.

Yeah, yeah, I know this isn’t what Paul Graham had in mind. But you know, Mr. G., fact is, when you write, you write from a gendered position. And when you write publicly, you’re going to have gendered readers. I’m not saying anyone should “tailor” their ideas accordingly — not at all — but I am saying that it’s important to keep this in mind. Unless, of course, you’ve ascended to such an empyreum of Big Stuff heights, that it doesn’t matter anymore. When that happens, stop and talk to a “little stuff” kid for a while.

Update/ coda: part of my personal skipping of “small stuff,” and it’s now coming back to bite me in the ass, is cutting back drastically on reading the blogs of my virtual friends (which begs the whole question of how good a virtual friend I am). Hence I’m late in reading about Elaine‘s escalating plight in caring for her aged mother. If you don’t have kids and think, meh, this stuff about mothering doesn’t apply to me, think again, because chances are you have parents who are getting older (unless you’re one of the lucky ones hatched ex nihilo, i.e., an immortal, a god). You could end up mothering them (and it won’t be in your obituary, so it’s definitely “small stuff”: isn’t that a comfort?). For a glimpse of what that could be like, be sure to read Elaine’s entries here and here and here. The story isn’t over, either. Hang in there, Elaine.

A long rambling excursion to start the new year

January 1, 2006 at 9:53 pm | In yulelogStories | 8 Comments

Maria tagged me for a “four things” meme, but I just can’t bring myself to follow up on it. I did start — yesterday — but then had to blow the computer up because something got hung. I was downloading a whole bunch of Stephen Downes‘s audiocasts to my desktop (they’re MP3s), so that I could then drag & drop them into iTunes (yes, there’s a feed, but I was doing it this way). Something went funky while I was downloading them, and suddenly I couldn’t even open a terminal window: total colour wheel freeze. Had to unplug the iBook and take out the battery, and there went my unsaved scribble about the four movies I like, the four jobs I’ve had, the four things….

I’m no good at these games anyway. The notion of picking out four movies or four CDs as “favourites” seems absurd: tomorrow or 4 minutes from now, I might think of something I like better. Twenty years ago I didn’t like comedies as much as I do now, but that’s because I had a lot more navel-gazing leisure time for contemplating life-the-universe-and-everything type issues. That question (the four movies you could watch over and over again) did, however, take me back to Hanna Schygulla, and today I downloaded an MP3 interview with reading of Schygulla from Die Zeit. Tomorrow I’ll listen to it when I take my dog for a walk.

Yes, for my birthday I got an iPod mini (that’s last year’s version). I have become a pod-person, and I’m not at all sure I can live comfortably with this. Having missed out on the whole Walkman thing, I never did the mobile listening moves. Yesterday was my first experience of walking down the street while earbuds provided not an extension but an intension of my sensory self: dodging traffic, trying to pay attention to ambulance sirens, and watching in fascination as nearly half a dozen London Drugs employees raced on foot after a thief escaping on bicycle (he got away), trying to ensure that my dog’s 8-metre retractable lead wasn’t making anyone trip on the sidewalk, etc. All the while I listened to Stephen Downes’s nearly year old 2005 Northern Voice presentation, Community Blogging, which I found totally compelling (it’s a rant against The Long Tail (i.e., power laws), against tagging, against all this old hierarchical stuff that’s mutton dressed up for lamb by new technology). But it was like work, and not at all like a walk along the city streets. That silly sheep was suddenly neither fish nor fowl.

Incidentally, the earbuds are terribly painful in my shell-like ears and they don’t match my earrings at all. As a fashion statement, it’s like wearing stiletto heels (uncomfortable) with a knitted toque: doesn’t match.

One of Downes’s main objectives (I think) is breaking down hierarchies. I’ve listened to some of his other talks on e-learning, which are inspirational as well as infuriating. As a parent, as a former professor, as someone who struggled with the breakdown of the canon in art history, I sympathise with his agenda, but I also worry about how a body of knowledge still gets transmitted without being discombobulated to the point where it no longer is a body that I or some other expert in some other niche would recognise (the signature Downes question, oft-repeated in his talks is “Paris”: he asks the people in the room to think of Paris, and determines that no one has the same idea about it. It could be “Paris the capital of France,” it could be “Paris Hilton,” it could be “plaster of paris.” In every case, “Paris” is something that is constructed through connectivism (see here, too), and I’m totally in sympathy with that p.o.v. What do I do, however, if I want to construct for learners (plural) a body that is recognised as “Paris the capital of France,” a body I happen already to have an image of? This brings learning-and-education much more firmly into the realm of design, specifically product design. I’m thinking here in particular of Del Coates’s chapter, “Form and Information,” in his book Watches Tell More Than Time; also of course Donald Norman’s Things That Make Us Smart.). These questions cut across the disciplines, whether his (e-learning) or mine (formerly art history: how do you teach art history? as a linear history? thematically? what happens when you present cave paintings next to modernist abstraction? or Chinese ink paintings next to Dutch 17c landscapes? do you get a bunch of people making connections that are just stupid, because they’re missing all sorts of information from inbetween the two points in time and place from which each form derived? what is time? why should one teach something within the context of a narrative? who gets to speak/ create that narrative? isn’t that a political question? what does it mean to claim that the narrative has any kind of formal significance? does it at all, or is this too just a construct that upholds hierarchies that anyone in their right mind wants to call into question? Design and really good e-learning/ distributed education brings with it a focus on the individual (the individual learner), but we’re also still in world where teachers are asked to instruct entire groups (hence my emphasis, above, on learners, plural). Until we really can make the individual learner the focus, we’re stuck with most of these old industrial factory school problems. Big problems.

And so on. The title of this post wasn’t a joke: it really is a long rambling excursion. Did I mention my earrings yet?

And that’s at the metacognitive level. What about the (seemingly?) simpler level of, say, teaching cellular biology or organic chemistry, which after all is less a matter of interpretation (as art history is) and more a matter of understanding basic scientific concepts which aren’t “themes” or tropes? A theory about abstract painting is a theory about abstract painting, but an allele is an allele. DNA is DNA. A chemical equation has to balance, period. How do you break down the hierarchy of learning there? How is it really possible to get away from the “I-Teacher have some knowledge which I will transfer to You-Learner”? Where is it possible to draw the line and say, “well, the student/ learner who studies high school biology is mature enough to make certain decisions about her learning [the famous: “take learning into one’s own hands, be an active learner”], but the student at the [fill in the blank: elementary, junior/middle school level, whatever] isn’t, and he must be led, like a horse, to water. We’ll figure out how to make him drink later.” Naturally, leading that student to “water” is plain silly, which helps account for the fact that teachers and their ministries (or departments in the US) are struggling mightily with nonsense like “no child left behind,” and various buzzword-type variations on “measuring” progress.

Think “outcomes,” for example: outcomes-based assessment is one of the latest hot topics in education. But Downes has a hilarious analogy how this, too, can just end up as mutton dressed for lamb. Say you decide to assess getting rid of all highway rules and regulations, based on outcomes. No more speed limits, no rules about which side of the road to drive on, nor what is allowed on highways, nothing. We’ll assess whether the new plan is working based on “outcomes.” Of course the outcomes come after the new situation has been experienced for some time — multiple road fatalities, lots of minor accidents, that sort of thing — which in turn will necessitate increased bureaucracy and policing to manage. You, the user-of-the-highway (or learner in the school) won’t benefit from this outcomes-based assessment because (a) it’ll be too late (you’ll already have been killed on the road, or missed learning a subject in school), and (b) you’ll have more “authority” to deal with than ever before (insurance companies figuring out how to deduct points from your “good driving” premium; education ministries figuring out how to punish schools and learners for not learning).

Anyway, this particular talk of Downes’s is especially interesting for those of us who blog because it’s all about blogging and “community,” and how and why the long tail is just another hierarchy, and why tagging doesn’t work as a true “folksonomy.” I’m not clued-in enough to understand all of Downes’s points, nor can I assess what he says about semantics, metadata, and other arcana (sometimes he seems wildly optimistic, other times less so), but, yikes, it sounded like there were some really upset people asking questions (shouting, actually) at the end. Fascinating.

n.b.: edited today (Jan.2/06) to add links for “The Long Tail” and added link to “power laws” — see comments) (Also, the Hanna Schygulla audio is of someone reading from her book, not an interview. The excerpt is fascinating: death is the leitmotiv, and there’s lots about dreams/ dreaming, and how an actor liberates herself from the “marionette-like existence” of acting through recording dreams, and about ageing. Quite good.)

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