Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Yesterday, my mom, my younger child and I dropped off several boxes of food and supplies at the Airdrie Food Bank. It is important to our family to discuss and be aware of wants and needs, and to act on our responsibility as neighbors and citizens to help those in need. At the same time, dropping off food raises a few mixed feelings; while I feel good believing that our small contribution helps a few people in need, it also troubles me that so many people are hungry in our rich nation, in our rich province, in our rich city. When I start to think about the needs world wide, the problem of balancing the wants of the rich with the needs of the poor seem overwhelming, especially when I know that enough food is produced to feed everybody on this planet. So, as we get our children ready for Santa's visit, I am pondering what more our family can do to balance the scales locally, nationally and perhaps even internationally.

My child asks me, "mom, are we rich?". Compared to the majority of people on this planet, I answer "YES". For Christmas Eve, the four of us enjoyed a great family day at home today. After a hearty breakfast, we played with toys, baked some banana bread, mixed and baked a sweet potato casserole for tomorrow, and broke apart the gingerbread house for dessert. We put a few extra presents under the tree that people dropped off. I sewed a few holes in hockey socks while the two kids sewed some designs on some fabric scraps. We wandered over to the store to pick up a few last minute items for tomorrow. We played Yahtzee and video games. My sister dropped over for a visit. The kids and I visited my dad and wished him a Merry Christmas -- we will visit him again before lunch tomorrow. Overall, a great Christmas Eve -- we do not worry about our next meal, heating our home, keeping our bodies and minds healthy, clothing our bodies, educating our minds, staying safe -- we are so very blessed, safe and secure compared to so many in our community, our province, our country, our world who struggle and suffer.

As I reflect on the many blessings that we enjoy as a family, I sent our a wish to everyone for a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

One of the ways that I like to celebrate the birth of Christ is to listen to my favorite Christmas Carol - What Child Is This? There are many different versions - I love it when my husband plays Greensleeves on his guitar.

What child is this who laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding
Good Christian fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh
Come peasant king to own Him
The King of kings, salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone Him

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary

Friday, December 18, 2009

Skepticism lies at the heart of real science

Where is the SCIENCE in today's economic-religious-political battle over climate change?

A lead story at CBC: "Climate Summit Hangs in the Balance" - Political leaders will try to break the log-jam at climate talks today. Money, not science, is the biggest variable: "it appears the rift between rich and poor nations appears to be as wide as ever".

Another Lead Story, "Authoritarian Propaganda", James Taranto, Wall Street Journal
"... what is clearest from the University of East Anglia emails is that climate science has become more political than scientific. Researchers have been abusing the scientific process in order to produce support for an ideologically predetermined outcome. And global warmism has strong religious overtones too, as evidenced by this headline in London's left-wing Guardian: "This Is Bigger Than Climate Change. It Is a Battle to Redefine Humanity."

An earlier article by Taranto, "Gore Brushes Aside Evidence of Scientific Misconduct"

From George Monbiot's, "anti-US", Guardian article, "A new movement, most visible in North America and Australia, but now apparent everywhere, demands to trample on the lives of others as if this were a human right. It will not be constrained by taxes, gun laws, regulations, health and safety, especially by environmental restraints. It knows that fossil fuels have granted the universal ape amplification beyond its Palaeolithic dreams... Economic growth is the magic formula which allows our conflicts to remain unresolved." The Nature article that Georgie cites uses data from 1900 - 1920 in its predictive computer model... (BTW, "self-styled climate change expert" George Monbiot has authored an anti-capitalist book, as well as investigative travel books).

IF any kind of deal emerges today it will be a miracle -- IF a deal emerges, it should be a flexible draft that is subject to critical analysis and sharp skepticism by citizens in every country.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Professors Keep Secrets and So Should Our MPs

Just a brief post today, because I am still doing my marking (and enjoying every minute, let me assure you). ;-)

As one might imagine, professors keep many, many secrets. An important part of teaching is designing great tasks and then assessing the quality of student work. My assessment is a professional judgment based on defensible criteria drawn from established criteria and external standards. While I provide a summative assessment of performance over a semester to a student and to the Faculty of Education, I do not, can not, and must not broadcast my professional assessment of an individual student's performance to anyone else - it is not my secret to tell, and it would be an unforgivable breach of privacy.

So, professors keep secrets. In order to carry out my teaching, research and service work on various committees, I interact with student teachers, graduate students, academic colleagues, school teachers, school principals, school boards, fellow researchers, university administrators, and individuals from across organizational and industrial contexts; I serve on examination committees for masters and doctoral students; I observe students and teachers carrying out the educational work of learning and teaching in classrooms; I serve as an external examiner for tenure and promotion decisions; I blind peer review articles for journals; I peer review research proposals for provincial and national funding agencies; I serve as an expert advisor on various faculty and university committees; I bear witness to excellent teaching in classrooms in schools and on campus, and I also bear witness to many things that can be improved. Therefore, in my role as professor, there are many things that I SEE and DO, but do not TELL, TALK or TWITTER about. Professors keep a lot of secrets, and so they should.

Therefore, I was interested in this newspaper article and the question:
Should elected Members of Parliament have the right to know every secret in Canada?

This question arises in the context of the uproar over how Afghan terrorists were handled by the Canadian Military in 2006. However, the request by one political party for completely unfettered access to any type of information at anytime should worry all Canadian citizens no matter what political stripe they wear.

According to a Liberal back bencher, cited in this CBC story, "the government is obliged to supply to the committee whatever information it requests in the performance of its mandate from the House". Defence Minister Peter MacKay has said the material [about Afghan detainees] needs to be checked by the Justice Department to ensure nothing is disclosed that could pose national security risks. Levant writes that Canada’s laws about state secrets are clear: the Security of Information Act (the successor law to the Official Secrets Act) makes it illegal for a Canadian diplomat, soldier or spy to tell a state secret, even to a curious MP. TWOOPS: the same liberal backbencher calling for open season on state secrets broke the law and was caught TWEETING about confidential house meeting information. So, some MPs could learn a thing or two about keeping secrets.

"Whatever information" a tweeting MP requests, eh? Do I want MPs to have unfettered access to my professional and personal secrets? Do I trust politically charged and rabid back benchers with provincial and federal secrets that may pose a security risk and put Canadian citizens in danger? I have to say, I agree with Levant on this one: "That's nuts". Giving Curious MPs access to state secrets can turn them into "omnipotent snoops, destroying privacy in every field from military affairs to international trade to criminal convictions". That is just too Curious George Orwell for me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Has the Climate Debate become a Climate Monologue?

Thanks to my friend John for these links:

Mike Flynn, "UN Security Stops Journalist’s Questions About ClimateGate" I have to wonder, why has UN security been sent in to stop a journalist from questioning a Stanford professor about ClimateGate?

In this video, PJTV Bruce Bawer reports on Copenhagen's climate nonsense, and the "climate political correctness". This isn't Copenhagen its Hopenhagen, more about politics than science.

The number of polar bears has increased.
"Cut the mic!" in, Al Gore and the Death of Journalism, first Gore's inexpert stickhandling about "errors" in the movie that will be shown in schools, the attempt to deflect a debate about polar bears whose numbers are increasing, and then cutting off the journalist's questions entirely. Is this what Al Gore meant when he said "The Debate is Over"? Here is another perspective on the same question and stickhandling about polar bears - "Daring to question Gore".

Friday, December 11, 2009

ClimateGate: Two Canadians Stickhandle Corrupt UK Scientists

The optics on "ClimateGate" are very, very bad for climate scientists, and for science: One bad apple rots the entire barrel. However, on the up side, the increased scrutiny and fact checking may restore high standards of blind, peer review and bring new integrity to the scientific method and publishing process: Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

From the 13th issue of the 15th Volume of the Weekly Standard, "Scientists Behaving Badly: A corrupt cabal of global warming alarmists are exposed by a massive document leak", by Steven Hayward: "What they reveal is something problematic for the scientific community as a whole, namely, the tendency of scientists to cross the line from being disinterested investigators after the truth to advocates for a preconceived conclusion about the issues at hand." Hayward is clear in that the CRU documents / emails do not in and of themselves reveal that catastrophic climate change scenarios are a hoax or without any foundation. However, the text of over 1000 documents and emails "expose scandalously unprofessional behavior" by trusted paleoclimatology scientists who built their careers on the notion of human caused global warming.

The entire article is worth a read. My favorite part is about "'two mild-mannered Canadians, retired engineer Stephen McIntyre and University of Guelph economist Ross McKitrick, [who, in 2003,] began making noises about serious problems with the by-then iconic hockey stick graph". As a result of McIntyre and McKitrick's persistent questions about the "hockey stick graph depicting rising temperatures", an investigation was conducted by NAS, and part of their conclusion was about sharing data: "Our view is that all research benefits from full and open access to published datasets and that a clear explanation of analytical methods is mandatory. Peers should have access to the information needed to reproduce published results, so that increased confidence in the outcome of the study can be generated inside and outside the scientific community."

More damning than the letters is the shoddy state of the data set that is about to be shared. "the climate policy process contemplates trillions of dollars in costs to economies around the world based partially on this incompetent work".

So, in Hayward's words, there are a "lot of unbiased scientists trying to do important and valuable work" who will be overshadowed and damned along with the rotten apples, the "utterly politicized scientists such as Jones, Mann, and NASA's James Hansen".

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Top Drawer, Remarkable Canadians" advise Minister on Climate - Where are the scientists?

17 prominent Canadians to advise Environment Minister during Copenhagen Junket - and not a climate scientist among them. And all on the TAXPAYER's dime. Typical. Sorry, I just have to say, what the f**k does the owner of Superstore, Gaylen Weston, know about the SCIENCE of climate change? Here are the rest of the 'consultants':

- Gary Doer, Canada's 23rd ambassador to the United States
- Mike Holmes, Host and creator of the popular television show Holmes on Homes
- Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations
- Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national Inuit organization
- David Emerson, former federal liberal cabinet minister, business man, politician
- Nancy Southern, president and CEO of utility giant Atco Ltd., Spruce Meadows
- Galen Weston, the executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd (incl. Superstore)
- Jacques Lamarre, former SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., executive, engineering and construction
- William Lahey, Director of the Dalhousie Health Law Institute (lawyer)
- Elyse Allen, President and CEO of GE Canada
- Charlie Fischer, Former president and CEO of Nexen Inc.
- Daniel Gagnier, Chairman of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, former chair of Alcan, and Chief of Staff to Quebec Premier Jean Charest in 2007
- Linda Hasenfratz (Newton), CEO of Linamar Corp
- Robert Prichard, President and CEO of Metrolinx

At least there are a few researchers & post-secondary leaders on the junket as well:
- Dr. Steve MacLean, President of the Canadian Space Agency, and laser physicist
- Dr. Heather Munroe-Blum, President, vice-chancellor and senior officer of McGill University (professor in Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health)
- Dr. Indira Samarasekera, President of the University of Alberta (metallurgical engineering)

The Honorable Jim Prentice, environment minister, is missing direct input from Canadian CLIMATE SCIENTISTS. At least in the US, they pretend to consult the scientists, says Barbara Oakley, in "Take this paradigm and shove it". There is a saying about patronage politics in Alberta: "Hogs at the trough" (look in comments).

In spite of the few researchers invited along, the optics on this 17 person, tax dollar funded junket of "top drawer" Canadians to Denmark stink. While I enjoy watching Mike on "Holmes on Homes", and the horse jumping at Marg Southern's Spruce Meadows (Nancy's mom), many of these highly paid, CEO consultants should just back away from the climategate buffet.

Let the scientists, the kind Rex Murphy talks about in ClimateGate, who are the "humble servants of the facts of the case", inform the climate science debate.

Take the Macleans.ca "Is Canada Shirking is Responsibilities" poll - You will be surprised by the result. It is likely the only input that TAXPAYERS will have, other than footing the bill for patronage junkets like this one, on issues of climate change.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rex Murphy on Climategate - Corruption is No Joke At All

As a researcher, I was interested in this "take" on the role of science in society: "humble servants of the facts of the case". In this overview of "Climategate", Canada's Rex Murphy reminds us that the science on climate change is anything but "settled". A few quotes:
  • Climate science and global warming advocacy have become so entwined, so meshed into a mutant creature, that separating alarmism from investigation, ideology from science, agenda from empirical study, is well nigh impossible.
  • Climategate is evidence that the science has gone to bed with advocacy and both have had a very good time.
  • That the neutrality, openness and absolute disinterest that is the hallmark of all honest scientific endeavour has been abandoned to an atmosphere and dynamic not superior to the partisan caterwauls of a sub-average question period.
  • The stink of intellectual corruption is overpowering.
According to Murphy, climate science = climate politics, at least in part. Read the emails, Rex challenges the viewer, and you will never look at climate science the same way again.

UPDATE: There is a great article by Mark Steyn in the Dakota Beacon, entitled "Climate science and the peer-review consensus forgery"

A few favorite quotes:
- if you take away one single thing from the leaked documents, it's that the global warm-mongers have wholly corrupted the "peer-review" process.

- Pressuring publishers, firing editors, blacklisting scientists: That's "peer review", climate-style.

- Andrew Revkin... served Mann's words up to impressionable readers of The New York Times and opportunist politicians around the world champing at the bit to inaugurate a vast global regulatory body to confiscate trillions of dollars of your hard-earned wealth in the cause of "saving the planet" from an imaginary crisis concocted by a few dozen thuggish ideologues.

UPDATE: Mark Steyn has written another good essay on climategate in Macleans, entitled "The Science of Global Warming: These leaked documents reveal the greatest scientific scandal of our times—and a tragedy"

Key Points:
1. The Settled Scientists have wholly corrupted the process of “peer review.”
2. The Settled Scientists have refused to comply with Freedom of Information requests by (illegally) deleting relevant documents.
3. The Settled Scientists have attempted to (in the words of one email) “hide the decline”—that’s to say, obscure the awkward fact that “global warming” stopped over a decade ago.
4. The Settled Scientists have tortured the data into compliance with political requirements.

"Science is never “settled,” and certainly not on the basis of predictive models. And any scientist who says it is is no longer a scientist. And the dismissal of “skeptics” throughout the Jones/Mann correspondence is most revealing: a real scientist is always a skeptic."

UPDATE: Editorial in Nature, "Climatologists Under Pressure", aside from the name calling, "denialists", which is unworthy of a scientific publication, one quote stuck out in particular: "global warming is real... human activities are almost certainly the cause". Almost certainly? Is that like "almost pregnant?" For shame. The editor focuses on slandering critics rather than bringing the science to the forefront. For shame in a peer-reviewed publication that toots its horn as the "world's most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal". "Nature" has betrayed its nature.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Free Speech Justice in Alberta

I have written about the politically correct chill on expressing one's religious beliefs and "certain" political perspectives in the Alberta press here, and here. The following offers a brief update on the outcome of Boission's appeal against the ruling by the Alberta Human Rights Commission:

From Colby Cash: The Boissoin case: Freedom gains a moral victory, Macleans.ca . Specifically, Judge Wilson tossed out the Boissoin human-rights panel ruling. The Judge notes that the Alberta HRC had NO statutory warrant for ANY of the punishments it levied against Boissoin - which included public shaming by apologizing for his views, a cash fine to be given to his accusers, and a restraint on future speech.

From MBrandon8026, Freedom Through Truth site, ...Stephen Boissoin Wins In General: Not a Total Victory But a Reasonable One. Specifically, the application of the provisions by the Panel was not within the acceptable limits of the legislation itself". IOW, the panel went beyond their legal mandate in drafting a punitive set of judgments against Boissoin. MBrandon8026 writes further about the Stephen's LETTER, based on his original post back in September, the LETTER.

Will we see the story "break" in the mainstream media? Will other writers build on the story published by Cash in Macleans.ca? Hmmmm. Let's wait and see.

The bottom line for me is the free speech victory for Boissoin, which is really a free speech victory for all Albertans -- citizens can voice their religious opinions, and even write letters to the papers, citizens can voice dissenting opinions and views, without fear of being shamed, fined and muzzled.

Clearly, it took a team of Real lawyers and Real judges, like those in Court of Queen's Bench, to come to a reasonable and logical interpretation of the legal rights of an Alberta citizen to write a letter to the editor about his views. If we leave important decisions like "who has the right to say what when" to government 'human rights = activist' bureaucrats, such as the former divorce attorney who tendered the decision in the Boissoin case, we are all in deep, deep trouble.

UPDATE: By Mark Steyn, Canadian Lifetime Speech Ban Lifted; Mark quotes from the Judge's ruling: "The direction to cease and desist the publishing of "disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals' is beyond the power of the Panel. "Disparaging remarks"were not defined by the Panel. But clearly, "disparaging remarks" are remarks much less serious than hateful and contemptuous remarks and are quite lawful to make. They are beyond the power of the Act to regulate and the power of the Province to restrain. (emphasis mine)"

UPDATE: by Ezra Levant, Rev. Stephen Boissoin's conviction overturned; Having fought his own battle against the Alberta 'human rights' commission, Levant knows that the process is the punishment, 'more than seven years later, and Rev. Boissoin has finally been acquitted. Rev. Boissoin had seven years of his life wasted -- seven years in which he bore the stigma of being called, by the state, an illegal "hater". And Rev. Boissoin had to bear the enormous legal costs -- first, of his kangaroo court trial, then of his appeal -- on his own'.

UPDATE: by Deborah Tetley, Calgary Herald, "Judge overturns hate ruling in Red Deer Case: Allows anti-gay remarks", Judge "Wilson ruled Andreachuk made many errors in her ruling and that her order for Boissoin to pay Lund $5,000 and to refrain from making "disparaging remarks" about gays was illegal and unenforceable."

UPDATE: Winnipeg Press, breaking news, "Alberta Judge rules anti-gay letter not hate speech, overturns ruling".

UPDATE: Canadian Constitution Foundation, "Partial victory for free speech in Boissoin court judgment". From a real lawyer, “I am pleased that the Human Rights Panel Order against Reverend Boissoin has been overturned,” stated John Carpay, lawyer and Executive Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation". And then, chilling: "“In spite of today’s court ruling, Albertans need to continue to exercise extreme caution when speaking about public policy issues, lest they offend someone who then files a human rights complaint. No citizen is safe from being subjected to a taxpayer-funded prosecution for having spoken or written something that a fellow citizen finds offensive,” continued Carpay. (emphasis mine)"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sitting Ducks and Guardian Angels

Maybe we were crazy to attempt a trip into the city in blizzard conditions. However, Mom and I do love Stuart Mclean; the last time we attended the Christmas concert was 2007. Ever since my husband gave me tickets in September, Mom and I have been raring to go to the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert. Today, Southern Alberta was hit with the second big blizzard in a week. Last Friday, instead of driving 40 minutes North to take our son to a hockey game, we snuggled in at home with a movie. We soon learned that the highway was closed. The next morning, we saw cars in the ditch; there had been several accidents, and one man died.

With prairie determination, Mom and I set off to the city. It took us about an hour to get to the auditorium. We took the secondary highways and experienced a few white-outs and close calls on our way in. Arriving more than an hour early, we rejoiced at the great parking spot near the front doors. Shoulders hunched against the icy wind, we hustled into the Jubilee. We unfolded in the warmth of the lobby, took off our coats and made our way to the bar. As we enjoyed a drink and thawed our feet, an appealing looking man approached us and reached out to shake our hands.

"Thank you for coming to the show", Stuart Mclean said in his trademark, gentle voice, "Especially on an evening like this one." Yes, he has warm hands.

Starstruck, I could barely mumble, "We are really looking forward to your show. Thank you!"

Mom and I grinned and marveled as Stuart Mclean greeted all of the people who were in the lobby an hour or so before his show. What a genuinely classy gesture of goodwill and gratitude from a busy man.

Before the show we had time to spare so we wandered around enjoying an uninterrupted conversation. About ten minutes before show time, we settled into our seats. Five minutes later, Stuart ambled on to the stage, and greeted the audience. He thanked us for braving the trip to see the show, and offered to answer a few questions. A young boy asked Stuart who inspired him to write; another asked him which of his characters he most resembled. W.O. Mitchell and E. B. White and Sam were Stuart's answers, given as part of a delightful introduction and back story. Stuart told us how the show would start and that we were welcome to break into enthusiastic cheering and clapping whenever something moved us.

From beginning to end, Mom and I enjoyed our Stuart Mclean's Christmas Concert excursion. The musicians and singers were great. Jill Barber has a voice and style from the 1940s and 1950s and her singing sent a thrill through the crowd. A young man from New Brunswick, Matt Andersen, is clearly an upcoming Star - his soulful voice is a thing of rare beauty. Of course, Stuart's stories made us laugh out loud and his warm nature and enthusiastic appreciation of the musical artists won us over again. Stuart Mclean's Christmas Concert is a superb way to spark the spirit of the giving season.

The drive home through a prairie blizzard was perilous. It shook us to our boots. Mom and I snaked through the city and made our way to the major highway north. The roads in town were okay and there were fewer than usual cars on the road. As we left the city, the traffic thinned; the road consisted of two narrow sets of double ruts in caked snow. I was able to manage speeds of 50 - 60 km until we hit the construction zone where a major interchange is being built.

After the overpass, it became a whiter, eerier and lonelier trek north. There were only a handful of vehicles and most of these had their hazards on. A few pickups flew past, and the two of us clucked about driving without a brain. We inched north single file; cars traveled at speeds of 30 - 40 Km. Mom and I kept chatting about the road conditions, where the other cars were and the power of the wind as it howled and whipped snow across the highway -- anything to keep our growing unease at bay. "Just keep moving forward," I chanted under my breath.

Just past the mall, we experienced the first of several whiteouts. Thick gobs of snow pelted the van; we could not see far in front or behind. It was hard to tell if we were in the right or the left lane. I hoped we were in the center lane. We slowed right down and tried to follow the tail lights of the vehicle ahead of us. Soon, this vehicle was able to pull away and we were left alone. I slowed right down to 10 Km and then stopped. We were all alone in a howling, whirlwind of snow.

It is terrifying to sit like an exposed duck out on a prairie highway surrounded by a swirling blizzard. All you can hear is the howling power of the icy wind as it rocks your vehicle and seeps in through cracks. So many things can go terribly wrong when you stop on the highway in a blizzard, from running out of gas and having to walk in the wind & snow, to getting hit by another vehicle whose driver is blinded by the snow but kept on moving, or getting out of your car to help someone else and getting hit yourself.

After a few minutes, the windshield was covered in wet, chunky slush balls that the wipers could no longer move. I had to get out of the van to crack the slush chunks off of the windshield wiper blades. As I stepped out of the car, I sank into snow covered grass.

"Okay, we are on the 'left' side of the highway", I thought, oddly relieved to have this little piece of knowledge.

I was only able to dislodge the slushy ice from the left wiper as icy wind whipped through my hair and down my back. It was too cold to be in the bone chilling wind, so I skipped the right. I dove back into the van and tried somewhat successfully to clear the windshield. Luckily, we could see a few headlights from on-coming traffic, and a quick look behind revealed a car approaching us. We waited until the car passed us, and then slid in behind to follow this car like it was a mother duck. Soon, another car was following us, and eventually we made our way slowly into our city like several sopping wet and frozen ducklings.

With city lights and a few cars around, it was much easier to navigate. We wheeled through town, and I dropped Mom off at her house where she had to stork step through 2 foot high drifts up to her front door. I promised to call when I got home, as is our custom.

The 5 minute trip from Mom's to my neighborhood was relatively uneventful, as were the final few blocks towards home. In my eagerness to get to my family, I turned the final corner, looked for my house, and ploughed the van right into a 2 foot snowdrift. I tried forward, reverse, forward, reverse. No go - the tires were covered. I tried to dig the front tires out, but there wasn't much I could do with a windshield scraper. Just as I was ready to leave my hazards on, turn the van off and head home on foot, three fellows showed up with two shovels and big hearts. These men had just dug another car out of a snowdrift.

It took about ten minutes for the four of us to get the van out of the snow drift. One fellow drove my van, and the other two dug out the front tires. A few pushes from the diggers and me, and the fellow drove my van a dozen yards down the street into another small drift. He back up, we caught up to push, and then he drove forward. After a few such forays, the man was able to get the van out of the drifts. He pulled ahead and waited so I could jump in. Then, he drove me home.

I would never have gotten out of the snow drift tonight without the help of these good neighbors. I feel bone deep gratitude for these good samaratins who helped me get the final 200 yards home. Thank you to the three guardian angels who pushed and drove my van out of a snow drift tonight. I appreciate your kind and generous hearts.

Thank you to the other drivers on Deerfoot for using your hazard lights and driving slowly and carefully. Thank you, God, for Stuart Mclean and for seeing my mom and I safely home.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Academically Rigorous Digital Work by the Net-Generation

A colleague of mine, Mark Bullen, has created a "Net Gen Skeptic" blog that I follow -- his aim is to debunk the myth, largely created by "hire a keynote" speakers like Don Tapscott, that this generation is born "digitally native" and can magically do anything with technology from the time they emerge from the womb. More specifically, Mark and his research team aim "to provide a balanced exploration of research and commentary on generational differences, particularly the net generation discourse and impacts on learning, teaching and the use of technology. Mark's goal is to expose the hype and promote an informed discussion of evidence-based strategies that postsecondary institutions can use to harness the power of Web 2.0 and other learning technologies". Bullen's blog makes a lot of sense by taking a research perspective, an evidence-based view, on the 'net-gen' concept.

While I do believe, based on 16 years of teaching and research in educational technology and a vast research literature that supports this view, that children of all ages CAN and often DO accomplish amazing things with technology, I have also learned that amazing digital work by children usually emerges in response to a rich invitation into meaningful and engaging inquiry - a big question, an enduring idea, an wicked problem to solve. When children do amazing work using digital forms, it usually involves reliable and robust hard/software and networks, and occurs in a strong culture of inquiry, expectation, pressure and support, and is guided by knowledgeable teachers and parents.

In the many classrooms that I visit, teach and conduct research in, kindergarten to university students complete high quality projects, create rich and diverse online portfolios, collaborate and create knowledge online, and stun me with creative and beautiful performances using technology -- I have seen these achievements occur Most Often When (MOW):
  1. Students are asked to do work that is authentic, meaningful and interesting, and gives students an opportunity to express their unique character and diverse strengths;
  2. Students are asked to do work that is academically rigorous, work that is deeply connected to a discipline, or to several disciplines, that represents work that historians, mathematicians, artists, authors, scientists, DO;
  3. Students are connected to experts and rich sources both within and beyond the school, both in person and online;
  4. Students have a role in designing assessments of high quality work and students receive regular feedback on their work, formative assessment is focused on continual improvement, and reviews of their work come from several sources (i.e., teacher, peers, parents, experts in community);
  5. Students use technology appropriately, which means building knowledge more effectively, efficiently or differently with technology, and even better, that the technology enables teachers and learners to do something new, something they cannot do without the technology.
High quality academic work, whether it results in digital or physical artifacts, emerges and evolves within a culture and context of inquiry (i.e., disciplined research and ongoing questions about what is worth knowing), expectation and pressure (i.e., a belief in every child's ability to meet high standards and expectations for the quality and nature of discipline-rich work), and, importantly, support (i.e., from leaders, parents, teachers, peers). So, like other kinds of deep learning, acts of creativity and bursts of imagination, I believe there is a great deal more "in play" than a savvy generation of kids in the same room with a bunch of computers.

For authentic images of the learning and creation that children are capable of when they learn with technology, I encourage you to take a trip through some academically rigorous, inquiry-focused, technology-enhanced projects completed by students and teachers at the Galileo Network's Inquiry Exhibits site: classroom exemplars.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering Nichola and All of Our Canadian Soldiers

Today we will take our children to the Remembrance Day ceremony in our community. We have taken our children to Remembrance Day ceremonies, or have watched them on television, each year since they were babies. My husband and I believe it is important, it is our duty and our right as Canadians, to remember and honor the many Canadian soldiers and civilians who have given their lives to defend our freedoms and the freedom of people far away.

When I was younger, Remembrance Day brought to mind my grandfather, PJ, who served in France during the Second World War. I also heard stories of a great uncle, a pilot who died serving his country in WW2. As new university student, I used to have lunch with my grandfather every week. From time to time, the door bell would ring, and my grandfather would have a visitor, a wizened old soldier friend who would drop by just to talk. My grandfather was very discrete about what happened overseas during the war -- I wish he had told me more. I suspect there was a great deal that my grandfather did not want to talk about.


As we do each year, today we will tell our children the story of Nichola Goddard, a young Captain and soldier who served her country well in the Afghanistan War. Captain Nichola Goddard of the 1st Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery was the first Canadian woman to die in the Afghanistan War; she was killed in a grenade attack in the Panjwaii district, west of Kandahar city, on May 17, 2006. My husband and I will share our memories of Nichola's joie de vivre and courageous leadership, of her family, of her wedding to Jason that we attended when I was pregnant with our first son, and the return of her body to Canada.

In Tim Goddard's words, Nichola died too young, but she died doing something she believed was important, something she was good at, something she loved doing, and surrounded by people she enjoyed and respected. Nichola talked about helping the children of Afghanistan, and through her parent's tireless support, a legacy has been started: Light Up Papua New Guinea. Nicola's father Tim has served this country well by reminding the Prime Minister, and those in the military who make such decisions, that Canadian citizens have the right to openly and publicly welcome our dead soldiers home [here][here].

On my way to work yesterday, I was listening to Stuart Maclean's Remembrance Day Concert on my iPod with tears pouring down my face. It wasn't exactly just sadness I was feeling, although I was sad; rather, I was overwhelmed by gratitude, love, compassion, empathy, sympathy for the soldiers and their families -- these emotions literally welled up and overflowed as the bagpipes started playing. I found myself chanting a prayer over and over:

Thank you God for the men and women who fought to protect our freedoms.
Please God, protect those brave and courageous soldiers who still fight for the freedom of those who are oppressed.


We will pause and stand in silence before, during and after the 11th minute, of the 11th hour, of the 11th day, and remember.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pink Technology is a Dumb Idea

For my 65th blog post, I choose to reflect upon my mixed relationship with the color pink.

Pink Ribbons
I like pink ribbons. Not to wear, per se, although these are fine for baby people or animals. My affinity for pink ribbons comes from the connection with breast cancer and research. My mom, an aunt, a good friend, a doctoral student -- fortunately, I know women who have had this dreaded cancer who have survived. Still, my aunt died of breast cancer at the age of 42. To me, a pink ribbon symbolizes a woman's triumph over breast cancer, or her death from it -- pink ribbons bring to mind both hope and remembrance. At the same time, I am troubled by the feeling that I am a pawn in a much larger, more crass marketing pitch when I buy my pink daytimer and pens, and see rows of pink ribbon candies, &candles, &t-shirts, &slippers, &pyjamas, &coffee mugs, &bbq lighters, &kleenex, &key chains, &gardening tools at the store. So, while I am touched by the symbolism of pink ribbons, I can also appreciate Samantha King's important critique of 'pink ribbon politics' in her book, "Pink Ribbons, Inc".

On wearing pink
For most of my adult life, I cheerfully avoided pink - perhaps this is an unexamined, and deeply buried throwback to my mother's despair over the many, many holes in my white leotards as a girl. Eventually, she stopped putting me in dresses. In the past 7 years, though, I have gradually added more pink items to my wardrobe. Rather than expressing a particular affinity for the color itself, I believe I have gravitated towards pink because of the increased number of boys in my family. Allow me to explain...

I am a tomboy. Lucky for me, I had a father who nurtured my interests and believed girls could and should do anything. I learned to ice skate before I started school, and received a leather ball glove for my 7th birthday. While I was growing up, my father taught me how to use the tools in his well stocked, carpenter's garage. Since before kindergarten, I have sawed wood, hammered nails, turned screws and glued bits of wood together for fun. I took automotives in high school, and for a time I believed I would become a mechanic. Dad gave me a Craftsman Toolchest when I got accepted into the auto mechanics program at the local technology institute. It was a significant milestone to be trusted to back the crew cab into the garage - I still love backing up using my side mirrors, though now I drive a mini-van. Even though my path did not end up in mechanics, I still have that rolling, red toolchest in my garage, and it is full of tools. I still feel a familiar and certain satisfaction when working with tools and materials, building things, fixing things, hanging up Christmas lights, painting fences, and so on. Dad praised me plucking feathers from the ducks he shot; I enjoyed helping him eat the ducks while my sister and mom cringed. I had an N-scale train, and set up a tiny track inside of the H-scale train that my dad built. While I had long, blond ponytails and attended brownies and girl guides with dozens of female friends, I also loved playing soccer and kick-the-can with the boys at recess and after school. Snapshots from my tomboy childhood are in black and grey, but definitely not pink. Baseball uniforms, snow pants and sturdy clothes suitable for crawling around in the garage and the garden are on the darker end of the spectrum. My mother dressed me in colors that were easy to clean.

Long after working in hospitality, going to university, becoming a teacher, completing graduate school in educational technology, and several years after becoming a professor, the tomboy became a mother to two boys. While I was pregnant, I wore my first pink since babyhood - it was a maternity blouse I inherited from my sister. Once my first son was born, I gradually started to react to the higher levels of testosterone in my home. After my second son was born, I was clearly outnumbered. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the testosterone, I like to joke that I started to wear pink as a defense mechanism! As the boys grow and do more boy-like things, and become more shaped by the gender discourse on the playground, I feel the need to remind all three of my boys that girls can do anything, and they can sometimes do it better. And, I am not joking. Both of my children play stick sports on ice, and both are on mixed teams, and have a mixed set of coaches - still, it is an uphill battle to counter-act the stereotypes that exist on the bench and in the change room.

Pink Technology is Dumb
As part of my exploration of pink, the tomboy in me takes issue with the "pink technology" marketing ploys targeted at women (and children, come on... what is with a Barbie computer??). Pink DS, Pink CD players, Pink iPhones are just plain dumb and devoid of any reference to relevant research, a sampling of which can be found here (1998) and here (2009). Read this neat "anti-pink-tech" post by Belinda Palmer: Technology: Is it different for girls? My favorite quote, "Technology brands must put an end to these clumsy marketing strategies and put money and time behind understanding how real women in the real world engage with technology. Women are no longer the second sex. We are the more profitable sex."

I rely on technology as part of my professional and academic life: a cell phone, an iPod, a laptop for travel, a work desktop and a home desktop and wireless network. At home, four people share three computers, six gaming systems, multiple sound systems and DVD players, and three televisions. Although I have ovaries, and have recently enjoyed wearing more pink, I would NEVER buy or carry around a pink computer. The companies that Belinda Palmer refers to will never get a dollar from me. I suspect that many professional women, who have money to spend on technology, have earned their salaries by competing with men; a good number of these accomplished women are not going to be wooed by pink when they buy their tools of the trade - they will look for function over form.

I am a female academic working on a campus with a 65 to 35 male to female ratio in the professoriate. While I have chosen a pink theme for my blog, and enjoy throwing on a pink scarf from time to time, I would never open a pink laptop in a meeting with my education, engineering or medicine colleagues. It would simply feel ODD. Part of me would wonder whether the male professors perceived the "pink computer" as a sign of female superficiality, or weakness (hapless female who needs protection); Worse, pink might convey a lack of academic and research rigor, a lack of seriousness or commitment, a frivolousness not welcome in the hallowed halls of academia. Nope, the tomboy in me thinks tools -- function over form -- and I believe it is much better to stick with straight-forward stainless steel, macbook white, dell-black. My one concession to form is the green case on my mac laptop (meant to convey my higher consciousness about the state of our ecosystem... Not! It is just my favorite color).

Pink History / Herstory
I am not a gender scholar, feminine theorist or history researcher. However, as a final inquiry into pink, I hunted around a bit and found this interesting little tidbit in google answers: it appears that the feminine association with pink, that has been a heretofore unacknowledged and deeply buried theme in this tomboy's life, is in fact a multi-layered and has an interesting history, part of which is that pink used to be for boys and blue for girls. So, even with pink, there are many shades of grey.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Doing our part to train the next generation of consumers

As I was slapping together three "teddy bear" peanut butter and "squeeze jam" "smart bread" sandwiches this morning, I reflected on how the media has influenced our children's diet. It used to be that in response to the KFC commercial where the mom heroically brings a bucket of dinner home, I would chirp sarcastically to my husband, "Yeah, right -- there is a 'good' mom". Back when we had one baby drinking breast milk, I swore my kids would not grow up on KD and hot dogs; we planned to feed our children a healthy and wholesome diet. Now my kids know "Taco Tuesday" and "Toonie Tuesdays" might mean greasy take-out before hockey practice. Yum! My kids love pizza, mac and cheese, and hot dogs. Thankfully, my children will also eat cooked and raw veggies, massive loads of fruit, whole wheat everything, and a range of meats and proteins. They also ask for sugar coated, marshmallow infused breakfast cereal that a manic leprechaun sells on TV, along with other amazing items.

"Mom, buy that kind of shampoo, it will make your hair thick and shiny" said my 4.5 year old as we cruised the aisle.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Mooooom, its on TV" he sighed, as if I was the most clueless parent on the planet.

In the next aisle, my oldest son gets excited and points to a certain box of cereal with a tiger on it, "Mom, get that one... it tastes GRrrrrrreat!!".

While sitting with my children watching some television, I listen as my son mimics the announcer who is demonstrating a food chopper: "Time for a handheld breakfast, just start with your boiled egg, one chop, and then add a pickle and ham. ... You are going to like my nuts...".

Both of my children sing along with several commercials for junk food and know the jingles for a range of items we would never consider buying. Should I be worried when they chant the themes for cartoons on Treehouse and RetroTunes? When they list the toys they can get with a happy meal at McDs or Burger Thing? I do worry that our children's TV exposure to market savvy media, along with the "what have you got?" school competition at recess and lunch, and our own desire to make them happy, have slowly affected some of our healthy household buying habits at the grocery store.

As I pop the PBJ into the SpongeBob and Lightening McQueen tupperware containers, I take a big bite of my own sandwich and wash it down with my double milk Tim Horton's coffee, and wonder whether this is an issue to spend much more time worrying about.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On being a Canadian and a Hockey Mom

I wonder, as I drink my first coffee of November before 6 am, how many of my colleagues in the professoriate are also awake and getting ready for a 6:45 hockey game? Maybe a handful. I also wonder how many got to go trick or treating with a super hero, a rock star and a hippie last night? Perhaps a very lucky few.

Truly, I find myself humming the "I am Canadian" song and thinking of a Tim Horton's commercial (the one with the dad and his dad sharing a coffee at hockey) as I get the two of us ready to drive to the arena:

I know this place is where I am,
No other place is better then.
No matter where I go I am,
Proud to be Canadian!

Envy me all you like - I totally get it.
Pity me and you just don't get it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A few thoughts about the ethical, economic and political crisis on campus

It is great to be remembered as someone who looks on the bright side of things. My teacher's heart sings when I learn that I have had some positive impact, however small, on a past student, especially one I remember fondly. I try to live by the principle that we need not borrow worry from tomorrow because we have enough to deal with today. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" Matthew 6:34. I resist the hoarding and protectionism and hallway politics that seems to afflict some of my colleagues because I am a living example of there being "more that enough work to go around".

These days, I do find it harder to keep worry at bay. We said goodbye to another dozen support staff last week -- it was an incredible blow to the Faculty of Education, to people who have contributed to the life and soul of this faculty, and these departures have left a gaping pit of sadness and no end of stunned questions in the hallways. It is hard to swallow this loss, and see a bright side to things, when veteran staff are being escorted off of a campus still reeling from a 4.5 million dollar handshake for the CEO.

However, while it feels like the self-imposed, rose-colored glasses have been ripped from my eyes, I do still believe the problems which plague this campus are complex and multifaceted, go beyond any one individual, and that much of the needed information or rationale (if one exists) for such decisions is hidden from line faculty and support staff. I do believe that campus will continue to founder until greater transparency is achieved and faculty are re-engaged in a democratic, collegial and trustworthy governance structure. I believe that I work with some of the brightest minds in higher education and that we can find a way to steer this faculty and this campus in the right direction.

It would be great to have a crystal ball, but unfortunately we do not; there are those in power who are committed to staying in power, and the Academy is not immune to careerists and power players who seriously muck things up. Therefore, I do not swallow Becker's claim that "there would have been a real chance to prevent this perversion of the Academy and change things 6 or 7 years ago when it became clear to some of us what the Pres. had planned". I sincerely doubt this sweeping claim is true. Who is "some of us" and how & what did they know? Who knew what, when, and who did they tell? Where is the proof? The "UofC = bad" and the "MRU = good" claim rings a little false to me.

A sprawling campus of 16 faculties and thousands of faculty and support staff and ~30,000 students is an extremely complex organization that is subject to many social, political, economic and academic influences from both without and within. I cannot help but think that known and unknown events and factors in the last 6 - 7 years have contributed to the current crisis and lack of meaningful engagement of faculty in campus governance; it can hardly be summed up in the nefarious works and plans of one man. We may have a new president in January; at the very least, the present prez will be gone. Who knows what the future holds for the Academy; I am fairly confident that whoever takes on the presidency will have a hell of a difficult job to do.

I keep hoping that the devastating changes across campus and within my own faculty will provide the opportunity for positive improvements, for needed changes, and for re-engagement in faculty and campus governance. I know that I am re-engaged and aim to serve my faculty well as major decisions get made about our future.

This one is for Becker: "When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us." - Alexander Graham Bell. I continue to be proud of your achievements at your new campus and hope for your continued success.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Finding the appropriate blend of online and oncampus

I am at the "The Future of Online and Blended Learning: Strategy, Policy, and Practice Conference" in Vancouver, BC. Today, I will present my ideas about the design of the UCalgary Online Doctorate in Educational Technology, as part of an expert panel that includes Arshad Ahmed from ConcordiaU, Jim Greer from USask, and Karen Swan from UIllinois.

A talk that stood out for me yesterday was presented by my friend, Mark Brown, from Massey University in New Zealand. The title of Mark's talk, Finding Your Own Blend: An Online Scenario for Conversations about Learning Design, gives you an idea of what he talked about. Mark talked about the need to invest in new hi-tech forms of professional learning that challenge traditional ways of teaching to support teachers who are making the transition from stand and deliver to interactive forms of online learning. Mark demonstrated a web-delivered problem-based scenario that was designed for use in either a stand-alone online module or face-to-face professional development workshop on how to design a blended course for distance delivery. He described the early design and development of SBL along with the iterative process of authoring the scenario in the e-tool SBL Interactive.

Key ideas I jotted down from Mark's talk include: 1) we need to add value for learners for any adoption of any educational technology; 2) two key principles to consider in learning design - understand student's needs, and define what you want students to learn; 3) the right blend of online and oncampus is still a vexing question, 90/10 might be right, and also 10/90 - context vital to correct blend.

More on PFLi and the eCDF at http://pbl.massey.ac.nz

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Safe Air Travel With A Fracture

I have to fly from one end of Canada to another next week (i.e., from Vancouver to Halifax). I have a broken wrist. Should I be worried? Normally, I would think nothing of flying with a broken wing. However, in 2008, I lost a dear colleague who flew back to Canada from New Zealand after breaking his leg. His death was completely unexpected. I believe the cause of death was attributed to Deep Venous Thrombosis (a Blood Clot) in the leg; clots in the legs are not serious in themselves, unless they break off and travel to the lungs (called pulmonary embolism) causing chest pain and shortness of breath, and can be life threatening.

So, I tracked down a bit of information on the Aerospace Medical Association's website.
From their extensive document called, "MEDICAL GUIDELINES FOR AIRLINE PASSENGERS" published in 2002:

Fractures: Most passengers with treated fractures can travel safely by air. The only potential problem is swelling of the tissues under the cast that can occur due to a decrease in barometric pressure at altitude. This could interfere with healing and cause pain. In general, the risk of swelling is greatest the first 72 hours after the cast is set. It is, therefore, advisable to wait 3 days before traveling. However, if this is not possible, your physician can fix the cast in such a way that it can be loosened (by splitting it along the sides and wrapping with an elastic bandage—called bivalving), if necessary. A bivalved cast will probably have to be replaced at the destination.

Okay, then -- given that my cast will have been on for 5 days, I should be A-OK. I hope.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Girlprof hits the ice

Quite literally, I hit the ice hard yesterday while skating with my family. It is a normal Canadian family activity - ice skating together, at the rink or on the pond behind our house. Both of my children are in stick sports, hockey and ringette, and get a few hours of ice time each week. Recently, I somehow ended up assistant coach for my youngest child's team when I mentioned in passing that I was willing to help out on the ice. So, our family has decided to slip another hour or two of skating in each weekend so that mom and dad can get back in fit skating form.

After helping the two kids get their skates and helmets on, I tied on my hockey skates. I really enjoy skating around with my husband and two children; even though my oldest laps me and wins when we race around the perimeter. Not for long!! I chuckle inwardly as the kid wins again... Just you wait, I will catch up!! Then, while executing an elegant stop maneuver while skating backwards (i.e., try to imagine a giraffe on ice skates), my center of gravity shifts and I try to use my picks to stop - Oh No! Too late, I remember I am wearing hockey skates - unlike figure skates, these have no picks on the front of the blade. Down, down, down I go. I reflexively put out my right hand to break my fall. I think I may have broken my wrist. My right wrist. I am right handed. Last night I found that advil & tylenol do little to stop the ache of a damaged wrist.

This morning I showered with a bag over my hand. Right handers: have you ever tried to wash your hair or brush your teeth with your left hand? It never occurred to me how much I relied upon my right hand to do things until I had to wrap it in a tensor bandage and cradle it carefully to prevent jolts of blinding pain. Eating cereal, trying to drink coffee while driving, answering my cell phone -- all new adventures in managing to get through the day! Off to the doctor after a few meetings on campus. I will let you know if I get a spanky new cast.

UPDATE: After a few hours of waiting, I got to see a doctor and have an x-ray. The verdict? Broken scaphoid. Who knew there were eight little bones in the wrist and it was the most complex joint in the body (an ellipsoidal joint that allows all type of movement except pivotal)? I now sport a stylish new cast in my favorite color on my right ellipsoidal joint. I need to wear the cast for a few weeks. Both kids and hubby signed it with love. No more skating for girlprof for a while.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Nothing should be beyond speaking about

Mark Steyn describes how the liberal leader has been curiously silent on the issue of free speech, and has apparently given up his principles while in power. Iggy: "the right to freedom of speech is the precondition for having any other rights at all". In the title of this post, I am quoting Mark Steyn, who is quoting Michael Ignatieff in his latest Maclean's column: "Thinking about the old Ignatieff Speaking of free speech, Steyn speculates about what the Liberal leader can’t say now".

CBC Online: "Writers call for probe into human rights commission"
- a story about the Oct 6th Justice Committee Hearing on Section 13 and the views expressed by Levant and Steyn. More here, in Steyn's Poor Jenny blog post. Earlier this year, in a Maclean's Editorial, "Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society,” Stephen Harper said in a 1999 interview with Terry O’Neill of BC Report newsmagazine.“ It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff.” He went on to complain about the “bastardization” of the entire concept of rights in modern society.

Left and right views on the issue of Free Speech and how politicians appear to voluntarily give up this right - perhaps this explains both the Left and Right's non-action on the corrupt Human Rights Commission.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Eastern Bums and Creeps Raise Crime Rates: Klein Was Right

I have been at the University of Calgary for over 20 years. As provincial funding shrinks, and as central admin "redirects" funding to choice programs on campus, I have watched the gap between spending and income in my own Faculty yawn wider each year. I have written about the budget woes in my own Faculty, and the need for positive changes in Faculty coffers. Lest you think the spending problem is in our faculty -- let me correct your view: our current shortfalls are brought about by the budget two-step across campus. Even though there have been signs of administrative corruption, evidence of a recent crime committed at the University of Calgary by our own president leaves me stunned. While I am being expected to buy my own paper and toner, take on more teaching and graduate students, to seek out new research funding, I learn that our CEO rigged a multi-million dollar golden handshake to line his personal coffers. I am dismayed, outraged and disgusted by the current revelation that our outgoing CEO, formerly of McMaster University in Ontario, who is quitting early, is taking a cool 4.5 million in pension when he abandons this sinking ship. Yep, I am calling him a rat.

I have lived in Alberta my entire life; I am aware of some of the stereotypes associated with my dear province (i.e., rednecks). It is true that our former Premier, Ralph Klein, was known for his colorful language. In fact, many in the East liked to hold their noses and poke fun at our colorful Premier. However, in the case of this Easterner, I am inclined to believe Klein was right when, as mayor in 1982, he told the bums and creeps to stay home. Klein, or someone like him, should have told the imported Robber from McMaster to stay home. Instead, in the last 8 years, the University of Calgary, and the province of Alberta, has been HAD by this creep and bum from the east -- and we do not like it.

In an internal document this week, TUCFA's President weighs in by calling for an immediate forensic audit of the finances of the University of Calgary. One juicy quote: "the widespread belief is that there are all sorts of undisclosed expenditures hidden within the budget – slush funds to support the pet projects of the powerful few within the University administration – while the core programs are left to wither through continuous erosion of funding". In my faculty alone, we have lost over 10 professors and instructors, and several support staff -- and we have been told there will be NO HIRING for the next five years. Thanks, Rat - you have done a great deal to cement the view that many in the East regard Alberta as a ripe plum to be plucked.

More on Eastern Harvey's 4.5 million heist here: Cooper, Pension plan all the buzz on campus . I agree, Barry - the optics stink.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Swinefeld and Thorny Medical Ethics Issues In H1N1 Pandemic

Every year I get a flu shot. As a professor, I work in a very public and populated organization - on campus, I come in contact with colleagues, staff and students. In my work in schools, I come in contact with hundreds of teachers and thousands of children of all ages. My husband and I are parents to two school age children who also play organized sports. So, my family is in regular contact with a great many people, from whom we could get a bug and to whom we could spread a bug. Each year, my whole family has gotten flu shots. This year, however, the decision to vaccinate, or not to vaccinate against seasonal flu is complicated by the onset of swineflu / H1N1 and the fear of a pandemic.

I have been doing a bit of reading and research about the current flu vaccination programs and policies. In Canada, while the seasonal flu vaccine will be administered to seniors and to people in long-term care facilities, most people are being advised to wait for the H1N1 flu vaccine, rather than getting two flu shots. The World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of the Canadian Government, our Alberta Government, even my own campus has an emergency plan for Swine Flu. Government and Public institutions are warning their constituents about the swineflu / H1N1 season and how to try to protect themselves. So, why hesitate? As a good mother, as a responsible public professional, why would I even think about skipping the H1N1 flu shot?

What complicates my decision about automatically getting the swine flu vaccine for me and my family is what I have learned from one Canadian doctor, who suggests that the current panic about a swineflu pandemic is much ado about nothing and more about profits for pharmaceuticals and researchers, from another team of Canadian ethicists who ponder whether the government should mandate vaccinations, and a news source that identifies potential safety risks with the H1N1 flu vaccine - see the CTV News FAQ site on Swine Flu.

On Sept 19th "Swinefeld" episode of White Coat, Black Art on CBC, Dr. Brian Goldman talked about the thorny economic and ethical issues to do with the global pandemic of swine flu (also known as H1N1). Here is part of the tagline: "We've heard a LOT about the global pandemic of swine flu in recent months. Experts are predicting a deadly second wave of the illness this fall. Accordingly, Canadian health officials are scrambling to put plans in place to handle the expected health crisis. It's costing us millions and millions of dollars. But not everyone believes it's necessary. This week, we ask the question: could this be a pandemic about nothing?". Goldman suggests that there are a host of ethical and moral issues to do with pharmaceutical companies (who stand to benefit from widespread vaccination policies) pushing the pandemic panic button, and government (who has to be seen to be doing something) investment of millions of public dollars into a possible swineflu pandemic. Subsequently, on the WCBA blog: handwashing hogwash (Goldman suggested that getting people to cough into their sleeve to stop H1N1 transmission was a bit like asking school kids to "duck and cover" to save themselves from a nuclear blast).

After listening to Goldman's "Swinefeld" episode, and reviewing the CTV News site, I wondered if getting the H1N1 vaccine for my family was (1) worth the effort, or even (2) safe. Like any concerned parent, I want to do what is best for my children; as a professor, I have been vaccinated for seasonal flu each year. However, as an educated consumer, I wonder if I am being sucked into the fear flu factor by savvy pharmaceutical companies at the risk of safety - Canada / GlaxoSmithKline is using an adjuvant as part of its H1N1 vaccine regimen; adjuvants are chemical additives used in some vaccines to ramp up the response the immune system generates to a vaccine (GSK, Canada's pandemic vaccine manufacturer, has said its vaccine will contain its own proprietary adjuvant system, called AS03). So, serious questions arise about the "rush to approve" and the safety of the adjuvant-H1N1 vaccine for mid-November release.

A brand new Science Daily report, published Oct 4th, entitled "Medical Ethics Experts Identify, Address Key Issues In H1N1 Pandemic", summarizes key issues from nine papers published by the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. Topics include duty of health care workers to work during a serious flu pandemic; government restrictions on individual freedoms and privacy and their responsibilities administering vaccination programs; how to allocate limited medical resources; and the obligation of rich countries to share such resources with those less fortunate. The report cites findings from the UofT Joint Centre for Bioethics telephone survey of the views of 500 Canadians and nearly 100 more via a series of town hall meetings, using seven topic headings: Duty to care, Priority setting, H1N1 vaccinations, Restrictive measures, Global issues, Risk communication and Vulnerability. One comment in particular caught my eye, "Coercion in vaccination policy could range from aggressive marketing campaigns, to introducing policies that exclude unvaccinated individuals, to introducing mandatory vaccination". Just wondering, would the aggressive marketing campaign to vaccinate be paid for by the pharmaceuticals (who stand to benefit financially) or government? Interesting "quick fact" from the GlaxoSmithKline website on fluvirals: "GlaxoSmithKline is the leading Canadian influenza vaccine manufacturer and will supply the majority of the Canadian government’s seasonal influenza vaccine purchases from 2005-2011."

Finally, there is ample descriptive media on what to do about Swine Flu / H1N1 (CTV for parents), and who should vaccinate: PBS here, CTV here and here, and CTV MedNews (for more, do a google search on swine flu latest news), and also a whole host of other media here, (GSK) here and here.

I will need to make an H1N1 vaccination decision for me and with my family in the next month - some estimates suggest the vaccine will become widely available in mid-November. From the CTV site: "There are still questions about whether everyone will want to be vaccinated. Keep in mind that H1N1 causes only mild flu in most people; in fact, some Canadians may have already been immunized through natural exposure to H1N1 during the spring's "first wave". Determining who has been exposed already is a scientific challenge at this time. Others might choose to wait until vaccine manufacturers gather more safety and effectiveness data".

Is the H1N1 flu vaccine safe? Is it even necessary? I am reading all that I can to make this important decision for me and with my family.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Free Speech Curtailed for the Sake of a Pluralistic Society

When I opened up the latest SAFS newsletter, I ran across a reprint of Jonathan Turley's column in the Washington Post, April 12, 2009: "The Free World Bars Free Speech". Aside from learning about Dutch, Italian, British and Indian cases of repressing speech, a most chilling quote hit close to home: "History has shown that once governments begin to police speech, they find ever more of it to combat. Countries such as Canada, England and France have prosecuted speakers and journalists for criticizing homosexuals and other groups. It's the ultimate irony: free speech curtailed for the sake of a pluralistic society". It is well worth reading Turley's entire column. Turley is a law professor at George Washington University. More about SAFS involvement in current Academic Freedom issues / cases in Canada here - the ongoing discourse is archived online.

Canadian Human Rights Commission Appeals Recent Ruling

Debate over the role of Canadian Human Rights commissions continues to heat up. I have written about the tensions between online free speechers, citizen bloggers and journalists, and advocates of the human rights industry, and try to follow the debate over the impact of the Canadian Human Rights Commission on freedom of speech and expression. Turns out, The Canadian "Human Rights" Commission has decided to appeal the Warman versus Lemire decision of Sept 2.

A few other developments:

1. Mark Steyn is going to Ottawa: The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will be considering Section 13 on Monday afternoon, October 5th.

2. Macleans column by Mark Steyn, "The case for the seeing-eye horse" in which he writes, "tyranny is always whimsical" in further study of the complaints reviewed by Human Rights commissions.

3. UofC's Barry Cooper has recently published a report on "Canada’s “Schauprozess”—Show Trials" in the Frontier Center Policy Series [Nice review of report here by Kathy S]

4. Brian Lilley on why "Harper Won't Touch the human rights commissions" and why we should actively question each MPs and Party leader's stance on the CHRCs.

It will be interesting to follow this appeal, the standing committee's deliberations on Mon, Oct 5th and the vigorous debate in the blogosphere.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Words Worth Repeating and Remembering

I love Alberta. Here, I am surrounded by a diverse and rich ecosystem: the Rocky Mountains and snow, the prairies, hills and valleys and crops, the deserts and dinosaurs, the northern forests and lakes, flora and fauna painted overhead by the aurora borealis.

While I love traveling across Canada and around the world, I can honestly say, much to the chagrin of my wonderful Maritime-born husband, that I never want to live anywhere else. I was born approximately two hours southeast of Calgary; I have lived in Alberta my whole life. Generations of my family have worked the land, built and taught in the schools and worked on the oil rigs. One grandmother started a kindergarten in her basement when the town needed one; another grandmother taught elementary school all week and played golf in the scrub on weekends. My great-uncle raised sheep in the southern desert, and another uncle raised cattle and grew grain in the center. Cousins have worked the rigs, uncles have built hundreds of homes and office buildings, and aunts have nursed the sick in Alberta hospitals.

I guess you could say I am "dug in" because my roots are in Alberta. I have lived in or close to Calgary almost as long as the University of Calgary has been a University. I was schooled in Alberta, I went to University in Alberta, I work in Alberta, and I am bringing up my children in Alberta. I will probably die here (my sisters and I have talked about having our ashes spread at the foot of the Three Sisters Mountains near Canmore).

Why the focus on Alberta? Or me, for that matter? Well, it IS my blog... Really, though. I am currently reading Catherine Ford's book, "Against the Grain: An Irreverent View of Alberta". I picked this book up after attending Ford's talk at a conference in Banff. "Against the Grain" captures the spirit and complexities of the hard working settlers who carved homes and livelihoods out of the prairie, the ranchers whose cattle and lifestyle both complemented and competed with the land, and the oil and gas and coal barons who mined the riches beneath the land. On her tour through several cities and towns, Ford explores the complex tensions that characterize Alberta's social, political, economic and cultural heritage and present day life and landscape in the province.

Ford's book about Alberta is a "personal story, filled with the love and hope and anger of any intimate relationship" (p. 11). She describes Alberta as "a complex province, still young and growing, still not sure what it wants to be when it grows up" (p. 11). I love Albertans - while visiting with Eastern relatives or in-laws, it becomes clear that the entrepreneurial, hard-working and optimistic attitude that I associate with my people, which deserves respect, is often met with disdain and a lack of understanding - to some, we Albertans are "uncultured rednecks".

Rather than accepting "redneck" as a pejorative, my definition of a redneck is "a hard working, trustworthy urban or rural person who values freedom of expression and of religion, pays their taxes and distrusts the elites". Rednecks built this country, laid track for the railroad, settled the west, drilled for oil, fished the rivers, lakes and seas, rode the ranches and harvested the grain, and constructed the universities and businesses that are reflected in culturally, politically and socially diverse skylines across this Country. Last time I checked, the freedoms and values lived by Alberta "rednecks" like me are enshrined in the Canadian Charter, but we "péquenot" do not forget that rights are only rights for as long as we are willing to fight for them.

To be sure, there are problems, challenges and inequities in Alberta - these can be found in each province in our great dominion. However, I share Ford's view: "all things being equal, it is easier to work to reform the things about a rich province that are bad, than it is to find enough money to reform a poor province" (p. 10). And, we rednecks like to remind the East, Alberta is RICH.

Ford quotes from people she has encountered along the way, people whose words are worth repeating and remembering. As I add to this review, I will share some of these Ford gems with you. In the meantime, I encourage you to reach inside the "redneck" stereotype to learn more about Alberta here, here, here, here and here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Academic Freedom, For the Common Good

In the recent issue of the CAUT Bulletin, 56(7), there is a book review by Donald Savage (p. A7-8) of "For the Common Good: Principles of American Academic Freedom". In Savage's words, Finkin & Post's book is a "lucid and concise account of the evolution of the idea and practice of academic freedom in the United States over the last century".

Another review of this book, by Chibli Mallet, entitled "How Did Academic Freedom Make U.S. Universities the Best in the World?", was published in Campus Watch.

I plan to buy the book, $21.78 for Finkin & Post at Chapters.ca, and may even add my two cents on its contents.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Big Babies

And now for something completely different... The following story captured my attention: Record-holding 19.2-pound baby boy draws crowds to Indonesian hospital". Perhaps it is because both of my babies weighed over 11 pounds and were 24 inches in length (no, I did not have gestational diabetes, uh, thank you for asking... ). My husband and I are both Tall. Both of us have Tall parents and Tall grandparents. Do the Gregor Mendel. I can imagine this Indonesian couple will be answering a lot of "well meaning, well intentioned, just curious" questions about how this precious miracle could have happened. I just hope that he is healthy, he gets enough to eat and his parents can pick him up to hug him regularly. Ta.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Academic Freedom on Campus by a Cranky Professor, or Two

On the occasion of my 50th blog post, I decided to write about Academic Freedom and Tenure. People often misunderstand tenure to mean a "job for life" on campus; however, tenure is better understood in the context of academic freedom. This article caught my eye: The Nature and Value of Academic Freedom by Mark Mercer, The Saint Mary's Journal, 75(3), September 21st, 2009. Among other freedoms that come with tenure, professors are free to speak publicly about their own teaching and research, to make known their views on politics and society, and "some" tenured faculty members are free to criticize their universities (for now).

Freedom of inquiry and critique is defined on the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ (CAUT) website: “Academic freedom is the life blood of the modern university. It is the right to teach, learn, study and publish free of orthodoxy or threat of reprisal and discrimination. It includes the right to criticize the university and the right to participate in its governance. Tenure provides a foundation for academic freedom by ensuring that academic staff cannot be dismissed without just cause and rigorous due process”.

Most academics take seriously their freedom to inquire and to publish research on topics of their own choosing – academic tenure is a measure used by faculty associations and universities to ensure that faculty members can pursue research and publish their findings without restraint. Ideally, a university faculty member’s academic freedom is protected through a collective agreement that is enforced by member’s faculty association. However, academic freedom cannot be taken for granted or considered a “done deal” – in Canada and abroad, there are constant challenges to the concept and reality of academic freedom. For example, in Canada, several academics have had to defend their academic freedom in recent years. The following faculty members’ cases are listed on the CAUT website: Nancy Olivieri, David Healy, Gabrielle Horne, David Noble, Mary Bryson, Stéphane McLachlan and Ian Mauro, Denis Rancourt, Larry Reynolds, Anne Duffy, Paul Grof and Martin Alda, and many others.


A Canadian organization formed in 1992, The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) is primarily concerned with institutions of higher learning in Canada, though they have members across Canada and in other countries. The two main goals of SAFS are to (1) Maintain freedom in teaching, research, and scholarship; and (2) to Maintain standards of excellence in academic decisions about students and faculty. A list of articles written by SAFS members indicates that the fight to protect Academic Freedom is alive and well, and still very much needed, in Canada.

A campaign for free inquiry and free expression in the United Kingdom, Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF), defines academic freedom using two main principles: (1) That academics, both inside and outside the classroom, have unrestricted liberty to question and test received wisdom and to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive, and, (2) That academic institutions have no right to curb the exercise of this freedom by members of their staff, or to use it as grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal. Founded by Dennis Hayes, a visiting professor in the Westminster Institute of Education at Oxford Brookes University, Academics For Academic Freedom counts thousands of international scholars among its supporters. Dennis Hayes, who is a recent article argued that “Academics have a responsibility to challenge conventional wisdom without any buts”, has been invited to be the Guest Editor of a special edition of the British Journal of Educational Studies on Academic Freedom.

Like Freedom of Speech in Canada, Freedom of Speech and Religion in Alberta, and Freedom of the Press in Alberta, Academic Freedom is not a "done deal" when a faculty member has tenure - whether or not academic faculty members actually have Academic Freedom requires constant vigilance and awareness to uphold and defend these rights.