This is a difficult post to write, because I’m concerned that I’ll be accused of sexism. Specifically, of criticizing Hillary Clinton for being a Bitch; when a man could get away with the same behaviour, and even be admired for it.

So maybe I’m sexist. But I found the video of the Democratic debate in South Carolina very uncomfortable to watch.

I can deal with political conflict. What bothered me most was THE LOOK. The time notations come from the Youtube video, posted below.
14 second mark:
14 sec
22 second mark:
22 sec
41 second mark:
41 sec
49 second mark:
49 sec
57 second mark:
49 sec
This blogger describes Hillary’s style as “shrill”. I used the word “bitch”. Those particular pejoratives are reserved for women, so it seems sexist to use them.

But I’m not anti-women. There’s a real contrast between these two candidates, and it has nothing to do with the fact that one is male and the other female.

It isn’t like Barack Obama is equally aggressive and negative. Obama’s great gift is his ability to cast a positive vision of the future. His style is all about bipartisan consensus. It’s about bringing Democrats, independents, and even Republicans together around common objectives. Blacks and whites, too.

Whereas Hillary Clinton represents a continuation of the kind of politics the USA has seen for sixteen years now. Brass knuckle, divide-and-conquer, partisan campaigning. Do whatever you have to do in order to win.

The USA has been fed a steady diet of this for the eight-year Clinton presidency, and then the eight-year Bush presidency. Nasty, nasty! Aren’t Americans ready to turn the page on that?

Not Clinton. Hillary doesn’t just play the role because she has to:  she relishes it. Just before the six-minute mark of the video, Hillary says “We’re just getting warmed up,” with much laughter and self-satisfied smiling. She was genuinely enjoying the bloodletting.

That’s what struck me as I watched the first few minutes of this video. And frankly, it makes me sick that she has better-than-even odds of winning the nomination. Obama is right:  there are important issues confronting us, and Americans need to come together to face down the challenges.

University made easy. And cheap.

When I was a high school student, Father Guido Sarducci used to appear occasionally on Saturday Night Live. Here’s his “five-minute university” sketch.

I’ve posted my all-time favourite Father Guido Sarducci sketch at Emerging From Babel.

Commemorating a bygone era

John Londei, Shutting Up Shop

From today’s

In 1972, photographer John Londei started taking pictures of small independent shops the length and breadth of Britain. Often family-run businesses, well-established in their local communities, Londei strove to capture the timeworn presence of these already anachronistic businesses:  the butchers and bakers, button makers, cobblers, fishmongers and chemists of our high streets.

Over a fifteen-year period, he photographed 60 shops. In 2004, when he retraced his steps and revisited the shops he’d photographed, he found that only seven of the 60 were still in business.

If you happen to be in London, Londei’s photographs will be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery through May 4, 2008. And, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, Londei has just published a book of these photos, Shutting Up Shop.

You can see a series of photographs on Londei’s Web site. Here’s one of my particular favourites:

Dog's Beauty Saloon

Note the name of the establishment:  Kim’s Dogs Beauty Saloon. Presumably your dog could stop by for a quick trim and a shot of whiskey.

Some of the shops had fallen into disrepair:  e.g., the fishmongers. Others stocked a product that no longer serves a purpose:  e.g., England’s last cork shop, and maybe the Magic shop.

As for the Harris Tweed shop, located in the Outer Hebrides:  it might as well be located on the far side of the moon, because you have to wonder where their custom came from.

Others possess a charm that will surely be missed:  the basket weaver, the tea merchant, and Sheila’s Milliner (i.e., hat shop).

We won’t see their likes again. And isn’t the world a poorer place for their passing?

Obama, the Democrats, and the psychology of decision making

Andrew Sullivan posted an email from me yesterday. (Without attribution, which is how Sullivan always publishes correspondence from his readers.)

The email brings two things together:  the Democratic primary process and the psychology of decision making. I’ll explain here what I didn’t explain there.

The Clinton candidacy
Hillary Clinton represents all that is familiar to Democrats. Not just name recognition and nostalgia (“Weren’t the 90s great, when Clinton was President?”), but also her brass-knuckle, partisan approach to politics.

If you have to make race an issue to beat your opponent, then do it. If you have to misrepresent your opponent’s record on a key issue, then do it.

That’s politics:  as in baseball, nice guys finish last; no one remembers who came in second (hence the win-at-all-costs mentality). “Politics ain’t [a game of] beanbag.”

That may be an ugly approach to getting elected, but it’s also a familiar one. That’s how the Republicans play the game. A lot of Democrats think that, to win, they must play the game the way Karl Rove did.

The Obama candidacy
Barack Obama represents authentic change. A black candidate? A consensus-builder who is appealing to blacks and whites, Independents and even many Republicans? Is it possible to win at the game of politics with a candidate like that?

That’s where the psychology of decision making becomes a factor. On the face of it, to nominate Obama looks risky:  which leads to the “high diving board” analogy in my email to Andrew Sullivan.

Surely saner heads will prevail when the Democrats think things through!


Names worth mentioning

The story surfacing about a tragic accident in New Brunswick rings a little too close to fiction to be entirely comfortable:

Killed shortly after midnight were students Javier Acevedo, Cody Branch, Nathan Cleland, Justin Cormier and Daniel Haines, all of them 17. Also dead on impact were Nickolas Quinn, who turned 16 the day of the crash, and Nick Kelly, 15.

Also killed was Beth Lord, an elementary school music teacher and the wife of coach Wayne Lord, who was driving. Mr. Lord was shaken up but released from hospital yesterday.

The three other passengers, including the coach’s daughter, were also injured.

Police said the team’s 15-seat passenger van veered across Highway 8 and was struck by a transport truck that tore the van apart – just five minutes away from arriving in this city of about 12,700, and two kilometres past the “Welcome to Bathurst” sign on a straight stretch of road.

Officials said it was too early to look at whether the crash could have been prevented. Provincial guidelines say a school bus should be used for trips of this distance.

A high school basketball team, wiped from the face of the earth in what likely spanned no more than a few minutes. Having recently seen We are Marshall, this tale struck me as straight out of the movies. It’s not — and neither was the movie, admittedly based on a true story — but it still feel surreal, as it does for the members of the school:

Emotions are still raw here and few of those grieving at the school wanted to discuss their feelings. Those who did, both students and adults, tended to express an air of unreality.

“I don’t think it’s going to settle in until the wake, or perhaps the funeral,” said Neil Carrington, the rugby coach for Mr. Haines who, along with the other boys, played several sports.

The odd part about the human psyche is that the larger the tragedy, the longer it takes for reality to set in. Part of it is a lack of real, tangible closure, I’m sure. In an accident of this caliber, surely most if not all of the bodies would have been too badly beaten to have open coffins. But though it’s partly an issue of closure, it’s also simply human to suffer this disbelief. Somewhere in there, we weren’t programmed to accept massive accidents to move on with life.

But it’s real, whether we were made to deal with it or not. And, unlike the mass murders which beg for media attention, this story is one that flies regardless of the town’s intent. It seems crude that the town of Bathurst won’t be given the opportunity to wallow in misery. They deserve that chance. But the media’s all over the story. That’s its job.

Still, what can you do? They deserve solitude, but they also deserve support. It’s not much. Almost nothing at all, in fact. But the most we can do is pray for the people involved, and mention their names. Give them the chance to find support in every community, if only because we all fear, in a small facet of our consciousness, that the same would happen to us.

The "Case" (For Free Education)

It’s not often that I read “junk” e-mail. When I get a message, if it’s not from a sender I recognize, I am very cautious about opening it. This precaution I redouble when I am dealing with any sent to the e-mail for the Trent Christian Fellowship — and address I manage as a part of my role as the group’s communication coordinator.

So, the fact that I’m doing a post about one such e-mail is droll, to say the least. Still, when the e-mail is longer than any I’ve ever received from a fellow member, it’s worth a few brownie points — just so long as it has no attachments!

Of course, the subject had plenty to do with it as well. A well-used subject box can change a great deal. When I look through my spam box (which captures most unwanted e-mail), I’m always graced by such titles as “imp0ve the s1ze of your masculini1y”. Why on earth anyone would actually open something labeled as such, I don’t know, but apparently they are convinced someone will — and trigger the oh-so-subtle attachment they have included, designated by a mere paperclip symbol that stands out on the page.

So when you see “The case for free education”, you start to muse, particularly since it didn’t make it as far as your junk box. It doesn’t look school-ordained, and neither does it seem to be from one of the TCF members. Still, no attachment and a good subject means I may as well flip it open anyhow to check it out. Sometimes these things actually are important.

And by the end of it, I had read what must have been close to 2000 words!

And it brought up some interesting points. Points which are not entirely valid, by me, but points nonetheless — and from a different perspective, to boot!

I won’t post the entire article here, but if you wish to go over it, I’ve uploaded a Word document you can check out here. For the sake of the post, I will pull out some quotes and give some context.

Firstly, the author doesn’t simply push for free education because it will benefit students (and herself, as is often the case). She begins by making clear that she is a teacher, and admits her slight bias — while also shooting down the possibility that she herself is a student! Then she sets in on the real argument, stating that the government has good goals in aiming to increase productivity and employment, but needs to shoot from a different perspective.

The first thing she takes down is the idea that funding childcare is a good way to boost the economy:

The goal of high tax income for government is also not really being met because even though a lot of adults are now earning full time, it is costing a lot to get them there.

When governments fund daycare at $32 a day while the parent pays only $7 as in Quebec, every child in daycare is costing the state a massive amount of money.  Daycare lobby groups are making the case that we need full-time daycare spots paid for for every single child in the country, and this would cost an amount they are reluctant to admit. But for 2 million children at $10,000 a space per year, the bill is $20 billion, per year.  An unthinkable amount just to ensure that women can earn.  What is more ironic is that the state by such a policy is actually right now funding the daycare of a family of two or three children at $30,000 a  year so that the mother can earn maybe $17,000 a year. The state is losing money on such arrangements.

And as the population ages, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg because eldercare is going to be very very costly. Taking care of your aging parent used to be private, personal and a household cost. Pressuring all adults out of the home to earn takes away the caregiver and the elderly will have to be put into state-funded care. Just imagine the bill and it is  a bill for government – because government wants women to work outside the home not to be home providing this care.

A solid blow, by me. Because many working mothers end up at a service-sector position, it really doesn’t matter how much more able they are to work, they are losing money on the deal. If you could get mothers into $100 000 jobs, that may be different, but statistically working mothers have it the hardest for wage-earning — probably partly because of university education limitations!

Her proposed solution? Funding towards child-rearing:

Yes I am talking about huge, massive investments in unheard of proportions. I am talking about a universal baby bonus of $2,000 and a universal children’s care allowance of $4,000 per child per year till age 18.  The cost is phenomenal, yes, but then let’s look at that. It is not any MORE than the daycare bill would have been. In fact per year it is less than the daycare will would have been for any given preschooler.

She follows this up with the points that this would also yield more children to stave our dwindling population, as well as far less child poverty, which tends to cause great harm to the economy.

Then she gets the the part that presumably is supposed to be relevant to me, as a student:

And here is the second suggestion- fund education massively. All public school education and the first post-secondary degree or certificate should be free.  Yes free. France has had such a system for some time and it is for sure very costly to government. Initially

Her case? That it would guarantee a well-paid population, it would help keep the population motivated and innovative rather than stagnating in jobs they didn’t want in the first place, and it would allow them to contribute to the economy immediately instead of fighting to get out of debt. These smile-inducing factors would combine with the first request in order to create happy people raising happy kids, perpetuating the situation for following generations!

My response? Ideally, it would work, and flawlessly. However, in reality she has a couple gaping holes in her logic.

The first is that everything the government does is to increase productivity. Though it is true that that is part of their motivation, movements like the push towards childcare have as much to do with women wanting to compete in the job-force as any real benefits. The government likely sees it as a lost-leader — something to put to rest the feminists that claim the opportunity isn’t equal, in order that people in “real” jobs can stop paying heed to the claims. And that way they seem to be supporting women’s rights; If the market forces women to work in low-salary jobs, hey, that’s the problem of the market, not the government, right?

Also, she points out that the cost for the child benefits would be cheaper than pre-school childcare… but that’s only per year. The cost of funding such a benefit until the children are adults would be phenomenal. Perhaps positive and well worth the cost in the end… but still a lot more than funding daycare for 4 years.

As for the free education, her biggest miss is in the assumption that a university education guarantees a high-paying job. The market doesn’t work that way — as can be seen today. We don’t need to look any further than our own neighbourhood McDonald’s to see that degrees don’t guarantee anything.

This is a common misapprehension on the part of students. The truth is, increasing qualifications doesn’t increase the number of jobs. Now that 70% of people go on to get a bachelor’s, it is being said that you need a master’s or doctorate to have a real edge. The result isn’t more high-paying jobs, it’s more people who never use their qualifications. And why not? When you have to pick someone to do a given job and you have 10 different people with degrees to choose from, clearly you’re not just going to open up a new spot for the 9 who fail the interview!

So, instead of funding free post-secondary education, the government needs to be focusing on discouraging people from getting university degrees — and subsequently helping them attain something like a college diploma in a field that is lacking workers! That way students won’t go into debt needlessly, since they will actually use their qualifications! Also, tuition will drop in price, so there’s no need to worry that everyone will simultaneously stop aspiring for a university education. After all, part of the reason the schools can charge so much is that they have students begging to get in. Less demand means lower prices to entice those who are considering it to come!

So, IMO, there cannot be a case for free education — or at least, not if you consider “education” to be synonymous with “university”, which most people (including the author) clearly do!

And thus ends a whopper post, generated entirely from a junk e-mail!

Darwin Award candidate

Maybe this guy had kids. If not, someone is bound to nominate him for a Darwin Award.1

But I’ll let the sheriff explain ….

1To be eligible for a Darwin Award, you must bring about your own death through an act of exceptional stupidity; and you must do so before having a child — thus improving the human gene pool by removing your genes from it.

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