Friday, January 18, 2013

Music T Friday: Civic Duty

Public Enemy is probably the only hip hop group I would ever be interested to see in concert. (I've seen a couple other groups out of circumstance rather than choice and as novel an experience as it was, I just don't think I "get" them) Back in 2010, I was lucky enough to win tickets to P.E. at the Commodore Ballroom just a week after my birthday.  It was a phenomenal show with an electric energy in the crowd. They performed for over two hours and Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and Keith Shocklee (performing in place of DJ Lord) schooled Vancouver old-school and in-style in politics, culture and societal injustices in an incredibly entertaining set of music. Afterwards, they were wonderful about coming out a connecting with their fans. Even the really really drunk Asian guys who got all gangsta-babbly fan-boy when given the chance to shake Chuck D's hand. :) I hung out and got pictures when the opportunity arose. I bought a t-shirt. It was a good night.

Today marks my (roundabout) 75th blog post (the numbers are a little funny because I still have two posts from before Xmas break that I have yet to publish. I continue to enjoy the exercise of writing almost daily but Life likes to throw curve-balls.

As of yesterday, I am a serving jury member in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. I received my summons back in December. Apparently, about 3000 summons were sent out for jury selection for this particular trial. Of those 3000 summons, I estimate about 300 showed up on the day of jury selection, Wednesday last week. Of the 300 who showed up, only about 100 were called up by random number selection before 14 jury members and 2 alternates were sworn in. This is going to be a long trial and if Counsel's estimate is accurate, court will sit for the rest of the school year, Monday - Thursday. This means that my job has been posted for a long-term substitute. Which means that my blog mandate to write every day that I teach will be cut by more than 80% for the rest of the year.

As a unionized public school teacher, the collective agreement covers my jury duty and I do not suffer any financial repercussions for serving. I am physically able, geographically local to, and intellectually interested in the workings of our legal system. As a teacher who believes that educating our students in good citizenship is of utmost importance, I would feel like a total hypocrite if I had asked to be excused just because I didn't want to leave my students mid-year. It honestly never occurred to me to ask to be excused from serving so it was a disappointing and startling realization that I appear to be in the minority. Nearly every person I told about the jury summons offered me a "way out", an excuse to not serve, or asked how I was going to get out of it. I finally took to asking them point-blank,"WHY would I try to be excused?" No one really gives me an answer after that.

Yes, it's a damned inconvenience. And I don't like leaving my students or my classroom mid-year, especially with so many of them facing provincial exams for the first time this year. Furthermore, I've had a good rapport with the parents this year so disappearing mid-year is extremely awkward. That being said, I live in a country that doesn't require military service of me, that allows me about as much freedom as anywhere in the world, that doesn't even tax me all that much when compared to most European countries. All my country asks of me is to be an educated voter and to serve jury duty. So I bridle at the suggestion that I would shirk that call.
As our system exists right now, no teacher is irreplaceable. It is highly conceited, narrow-minded, and unrealistic to think otherwise.  Yes, we are individual and we all bring unique qualities to the job but a functioning education system is meant to be resilient. That means students, co-workers, administration and substitutes adjust to keep the system running. As a profession, teaching requires us to trust in our colleagues and to recognize that there are many effective ways to teach, not just how we do it.

I don't like to think of myself as a righteous individual. There's a lot of baggage and self-importance that goes with that moniker. But I feel indignant and morally (civic-ly?) outraged at the expectation that everyone should TRY to get out of serving jury duty. I understand that there are perfectly legitimate reasons for asking to be excused from jury duty. There's a huge financial hardship if your job does not pay you while you serve. It can be physically painful for you to sit still day after day. You may be the sole caregiver for a young child, elderly individual or dependent family member. There are a myriad of other, completely valid reasons for being excused. BUT I do not feel that being a teacher is one of them. In fact, I believe that being a teacher means that you are even more obligated to serve. How can you teach your students the importance of community, citizenship and the legal system if you seek to escape your own responsibility as a member of society? As much as teaching is my vocation, I will never state that I am a teacher first and a citizen second. Doing that, in my mind, would make me less of a teacher.

Ultimately, like so many things, it comes down to personal choice and personal beliefs. A colleague who seeks to be excused on the basis that their students and colleagues would suffer for their absence has a much higher estimation of their importance than do I. A colleague who seeks excusing because they simply do not want to serve has a different understanding of citizenship and education than do I. What they choose for themselves is not what I choose for myself but I do resent the suggestion that I care any less for my students or am any less professional because I choose to serve my civic duty.

For those of you who read regularly, I hope to be able to post something at least weekly. And I'll get those December ones up too. Interestingly enough, I took a quick count at New Years and figured that I would've had almost exactly enough t-shirts to finish out the year. Maybe I'll have to continue through the summer now. :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No. Seriously.

Can't believe I haven't done this shirt already... I guess it's a Big Bang Week here at the Blog.
Thank you, ThinkGeek
I mentioned "Bazinga" WAY back in October as a part of the discussion on creating vocabulary.  It's a fairly recent lexicon development - although Big Bang Theory is in its sixth season now! - and it is one that is so often used incorrectly that I believe I've developed a twitch when people (even close friends of loved ones) treat it as a general exclamation point.

I won't rant about this because it makes me sounds crazy (and my mom did NOT have me tested). I will simply state it... thoroughly:

"Bazinga" does NOT equal "Boo-Ya!" or "Eureka!" or "Awesome!". 

"Bazinga" DOES denote a practical joke that has been successfully played. 

"Bazinga" is the invention of writer Stephen Engel who used it as his personal word for disclosing a prank before Dr. Sheldon Cooper was ever a uvularly-atypical, train-loving, ballroom-dancing, Fiddler on the Roof-regaling genius, atomic apple in the collective consciousness eye of CBS. I heard this origin explanation first during the TBBT panel at Comic-Con 2010 but Bill Prady has confirmed this on Twitter since then.

"Bazinga" means "Gotcha!" or "You've been fooled!".

Ignorance is no longer an excuse, if it ever was. Seriously. Use "Bazinga" as you will but know that you had better have punk'd someone but good beforehand in order to deserve that utterance. Misused terminology is no laughing matter - (see Monday's post).


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Improving Upon the Original

So before it was made famous by the TV show, The Big Bang Theory, Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock was a thing.

In case readers don't feel like clicking through to the Wiki:
  • Scissors cuts paper
  • Paper covers rock
  • Rock crushes lizard
  • Lizard poisons Spock
  • Spock smashes (or melts) scissors
  • Scissors decapitates lizard
  • Lizard eats paper
  • Paper disproves Spock
  • Spock vaporizes rock
  • Rock crushes scissors
This improves upon the original by reducing the chances of ties which, with the only the original three options, is statistically (and anecdotally) highly likely.

That being said, "improvements" are tricky things. New Coke is the usual example of innovation gone wrong. Sometimes, however, an established product really requires a total rethinking in order to meet modern needs.

My favourite example of this is the spinning wheel. Given this prompt, most people would think of this:

But, in fact, the spinning wheel has been redesigned and modern day ones look more like these:

The new generation is portable (many fold down and fit in carry bags), space-efficient, and easier to maintenance and repair (or so I've been told by friends who spin). In the words of my friend, Sally, who first brought these to my attention,"It's like someone sat back and asked,'What is a spinning wheel SUPPOSED to do?' and then designed something that did that without weighing a ton and taking up the entire living room."

Often when I consider transportation, I wonder if that's what needs to happen. I remember seeing an interview at one point where someone pointed out that if we were to invent cars today, the proposal would be ludicrous: "Let's invest in vehicles that run on fossil fuels, pollute the environment, require billions of dollars in infrastructure to create and maintain pathways on which to drive, and need replacing or major repairs every five to ten years." 

So where are our successes? What do we lose with change? Can we learn from mistakes?

My current round of edumication is thematically hung up on paradigm shifts in schools. Getting away from curriculum-driven, factory-based classrooms but also needing more documentable achievement and skills outcome targets than traditional child-centred teaching provides. It requires a lot of rethinking as well as a total change in administrative/political focus. It's a daunting windmill to tilt at, especially when we're up to our eyeballs in the trenches. Still, if I didn't think it would get better eventually, I probably wouldn't get out of bed in the morning.

Anyone else out there feeling a sense of revolution in the air? Anyone getting a sense that the more we change, the more we stay the same? It's been a while since I called on my readership for a discourse. Any insights on this, spinning wheels, or variations of Roshambo (that don't require getting kicked in the nuts... or do. Whatevs ;)?

Monday, January 14, 2013


Being precise is a gift as well as a skill that takes practice. Mark Twain is quoted on the topic, discussing lightning and lightning bugs. Dr. Beverly Hofstadter on The Big Bang Theory requires it constantly. It echoes the power of naming a thing from folklore and mythology.

The Sarge, in Season 1 of Red Vs Blue, has difficulty pronouncing "Chupacabra" in his eagerness to make fun of Grif and resorts, as many of us would do, to approximating the word. Thus, the "chupathingy" is born. 

To be fair, approximations are a valid use of language. We all have those 'tip-of-the-tongue" moments where we can't recall the exact term we need. The brain files things away in its own special way sometimes. So we have place-markers like "thingamagig" and "whathisface" and "whozit" to fill in until we figure it out. Or we use similar, sometimes related terms/names to approximate what we need. For example, a man I used to know could never remember George Stroumboulopoulos' surname so would refer to him as "Snuffleupagus" instead because he had a better grasp of Muppet characters than pretty much anything else in his life. And I guess the CBC connection made it relevant.

However, the point of approximations is to direct the brain to the precise term you are looking for NOT to take the place of said term. If vocabulary becomes too vague or inaccurate, you end up with the Bushisms that #43 will always be remembered for and all the questionable intelligence that entails. Or you discover that when you REALLY need a precise term that you once knew, you've genuinely lost it. Studies show that early onset senility is as much a case of lack of use as a genetic predisposition. 

Where this shows up on the other end of the timeline is profound - language acquisition in babies. Nouns are the easiest things for children to learn as they are usually visual, tactile and novel. Pointing to something and saying a word is easily interpreted as naming that thing. Acquaintances I met last fall were describing their daughter's pre-talking activity of pointing and grunting at various things she desired. Mum would randomly pick things up and ask Baby,"Is it this? Is this what you want?" until assent was given. When Baby started verbally asking for things, everything was "this" rather than any specific name for an item. It apparently took weeks to de-program that little trick. 

When I was visiting friends in the UK who had a precocious and eager to learn toddler, we had a sudden power outage and dinner had to be served by candlelight. Their toddler immediately reached for the flame of the nearest candle and, reactively, I grabbed his hand and said clearly,"No. HOT!" indicating the flame. He looked at me very seriously and pointed to the flame and repeated "HOT!" and I reinforced the learning by agreeing "HOT!" He did not try to touch another candle that night. Lesson learned. The next night, power had been restored and we were in the living room when he looked up, saw the light fixture in the ceiling and pointed. "HOT!" In fact, anything bright was now "HOT!" Oops. Well, generally, in the world of incandescent bulbs, that's sort of accurate. Net learning for the grown-ups: adjectives are trickier.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Music T Fridays: Home For a Rest

The first week back was an exhausting week for reasons that I can't actually write about here. (So much so that it's actually Monday now. Apologies.)


I believe I bought today's t-shirt at the Commodore Ballroom's Saint Patrick's Day show in 2012 which I attended with Vancouver musician, Stars & Ivy. For most of my BC life since university, "Home For a Rest" has been the close out anthem of any club or pub or dance I attended and I naturally assumed that every West Coaster within a decade of my age should know the band and its music. When my husband-to-be (who was born and raised out here) claimed to have no idea who Spirit of the West was, I had to assume that he was seriously b-s-ing me for some reason. In 2011, I dragged him to the Vogue for a show and he finally admitted he recognized the songs but maintains that, until that night, he had no idea who the band was.


John Mann, co-founder and front man for SotW, is even dearer to my heart for his turn as The Narrator in the Arts Club production of Blood Brothers back in 2011. I refer to Blood Brothers as my "sentimental favourite" musical since the general "favourite" musical often shifts over time. The Arts Club production was probably my tenth time seeing the show performed and the choices they made for a more intimate show were effective and creative. Mann, as The Narrator - a character device who carries much of the momentum of the show - was powerful in his delivery and did the necessary lurking with grace and presence. Willy Russell created in Blood Brothers a show wherein the plot, in a manner of speaking, is a character in itself, with its own motivation and vocation separate from the choices of the characters. Whether it is driven by superstition, pre-destination, or class, is a question left to the audience to decide.

I also remember that at my very first SotW concert, Mann was the one who threatened to leave the stage if the audience didn't stop trying to mosh and injure the folks at the front of the stage. I thought that was the most refreshingly responsible thing I'd ever heard a musician say. I was probably nineteen at the time but understood that there are a select number of bands out there, of which SotW is one, that recognize their fans as more than just ego-boosters and cash-cows. The loyalty of SotW's fanbase spawns from the band's respect for others as well as their consistent focus on the music and the well-being of the members. I think they perform because they love it and if they ever stopped loving it, they'd stop to figure out why.  We could all do well to take that step back once in a while and re-assess whether we love what we do still. Usually, it's a positive reinforcement for the challenges we set for ourselves. Sometimes, it's a necessary evil.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

With the Band

So, for fun, today is a music tee from a fictional band.

"Sex Bob-Omb" is the band Scott Pilgrim belongs to in the self-titled series and brought to life in the 2010 film adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, starring good Canadian boy, Michael Cera, as the title everyman-hero.

This is one of my swag trophies from Comic-Con 2010. Since the movie release was in August, the Scott Pilgrim vs The World street team was everywhere all the time in San Diego that July. I was even able to score both this babydoll fit and a red unisex for Jeff. Of course when we went to see the movie, wearing our shirts, there was something awkward about being the Asian girl in a Sex Bob-Omb shirt...

Bands and movies/television go together well in many circumstances and I find it interesting when a fictional world can spawn a real-life band. The Harry Potter franchise even spawned an entire genre of music called "Wrock" (or "Wizard Rock"). Real life bands that visit fictional settings - Barenaked Ladies on 90210 came to mind first for some reason - are also neat instances of this special kind of crossover. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Search Me, Browse Me

... but don't mess with my access.

The Internet is such an integral part of our lives in the First World it seems (the UN has even declared Internet freedom to be a basic human right) that, like modern food supply, we rarely think too hard about where we get it from or how it gets funded. So when my Google homepage started asked for money in exchange for a t-shirt, I have to admit I was intrigued. 

Mozilla has a mission statement. Heck, it has a MISSION. That, in and of itself makes it degrees of magnitude cooler than Internet Explorer could ever hope to be. 

I also happen to think its icon is really cute.

But getting back to the Mozilla Mission, it states that the World Wide Web should remain in the hands of the people. What said people do with that is up to us, I guess. I live a fairly open online life ... within limits. I try to keep my photos representative and my posting interesting. Eight of the ten results Google returns on my name are me but since Google filters geographically (as well in as other ways), that might be because I'm searching from my stomping grounds. One thing I did not know would pop up in my search was my postal code. My current postal code. And another thing I did not know until last Friday is that all one needs to access a person's cellular phone account is a name, the cell phone number, the birthday, and postal code of said person. Ask me how I learned. :(

I don't think Internet freedom is a bad idea. I think the Internet has reshaped the world in amazing ways since it became a truly accessible thing. But I do think people need to be aware that their information is out there and its value is limitless in the wrong person's hands. I also think people should realize that even a mall kiosk has security cameras ALL OVER THE PLACE.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Back to School

... but not the Rodney Dangerfield one! (Don't have a t-shirt to commemorate that one yet)

Happy New Year!

ThinkGeek purchase (Xmas gift to myself)

The first tee of 2013 is inspired by the 1986 Matthew Broderick film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, possibly one of the most iconic of 80s high school movies for quotability and pop references. "Movies based in high schools" is a great cross-genre genre. Like the adolescent years, these movies encompass comedy, tragedy, surrealism, mystery, and fantasy. Often all in one afternoon. They can be uplifting, sobering, confusing, disturbing, and ridiculous. Again, sometimes simultaneously. And if anyone were to contend that these movies are hyperbolic in addressing the chaos and roller-coaster nature of these hallowed halls, please come and visit my classroom for one day.

I'll throw the first gauntlet down and state that The Breakfast Club is the best of the lot. I could probably entertain contenders in the forms of To Sir With Love (theme song alone puts it in the top 10), Stand and Deliver (with the astounding performance of Edward James "So Say We All!" Olmos) or Pretty in Pink (despite the unfortunate script change, it's still the best of the female-centred Hughes movies). Any other challengers out there?