Monthly Archives: October 2006

Teaching Reforms and Humour

A funny spoof (in French) on education reforms in Quebec since 1960.
L’enseignement à travers les époques – 🙂 & < – by adamsofineti

The “current” buzzphrase in Quebec is «approche par compétences», which could roughly be described as a “performance-oriented approach to learning” or, somewhat more generally, “objective-oriented learning.” The main conceptual tools used in this approach come from socio-constructivism, at least officially.

It’s never a good strategy to make fun of colleagues but I can help but be amazed by how a conference presentation on «approche par compétences» manages to not say anything substantial on the subject. Here’s an iTunes link to that presentation. I’m sure professor Marie-Françoise Legendre is a very thoughtful scholar and that this MP3 version of her talk doesn’t do justice to her presentation, but there’s something about some of these approaches which just, honestly, makes me laugh.

Funnily enough, my father was trained by Jean Piaget who is sometimes associated with constructivist approaches to learning. (In fact, my relativistic/holistic approach to life and anthropology probably relates very directly to some indirect influences from Piaget.) And my favourite Course Management System, Moodle, mentions (social) constructivism and constructionism in its philosophy statement. Many of the pedagogical principles labeled by those buzzphrases are widely accepted and I do personally tend to accept them. At the same time, some pedagogical practises allegedly based on these principles seems almost absurd to me and several colleagues.

An interesting situation, if not a rare one.


Refworks and RefGrab-It

The more I learn about RefWorks and their recent developments, the more impressed I get at how clueful those people are. Latest feature,  RefGrab-It, a browser bookmarklet to directly import references from pages that include Digital Objects Identifiers (DOIs), relevant RSS feeds, or ISBNs. Now that some journal publishers (such as Blackwell/Synergy) are enhancing their online offerings with features such as reference lists and alerts for article citations (“alert me when this article is cited”), things can become fun in academic publishing.


Good Customer Service: Netflix

Sure, no company’s customer service is ever perfect but I like what Netflix has done.

As I’m back in Montreal and Netflix (unfortunately) doesn’t ship to Canada, I put my Netflix account on hold. It used to be that you could do just that from your account page but, these days, you need to send a message to customer service. Which I did and they suspended my account right away. I sent back the last DVD I had received from them and had put myself a note for when the hold would be lifted.

Because the PDA on which I had noted this date died on me, I didn’t notice that the date for my account reactivation had come by and, this morning, I received messages from Netflix telling me that my account was active again, that I was charged the regular fees, and that a movie would soon be sent to my address in Massachusetts. Oops! I should have changed my reactivation date! My mistake! Too late! Let’s hope I can push it back and not receive a DVD at an address where I’m not…

So I sent a message back to customer service. Not only did they reply quite fast and put a new hold on my account but they actually credited my credit card account for the fees that they had automatically taken from it. Sure, it makes a lot of sense to do just that. But many companies would only reimburse you if you complained, threatened to sue, and made a big fuss about it. So, it’s surprisingly nice to not have to go into a fit for a small thing like this.

Again, really, it’s not much. But it proves that Netflix got it: you don’t get good business if you constantly try to nickel and dime your customers.

So, thank you, Netflix!


Ne brisez pas la chaîne!

Ah! Ça fait du bien de rire un coup!

À la fin d’un message contenant une de ces blagues typiques sur les hommes et les femmes:

Envoyez simplement ce message a au moins 5 millions de personnes de votre entourage… Cette chaîne a été commencée en 1625 avant ma belle-soeur par un moine moldave passionne d’informatique à la paroisse de St-Poal-de-Martres au Portugal dans le but de sauver Thérèse, une petite fille gravement malade. Aujourd’hui cette petite fille a 378 ans et elle est atteinte d’un cancer des testicules et d’une fièvre affreuse de la glande thyroïde contractée lors d’un viol par un cerf en période de brame en foret de Rambouillet a proximité d’une marre souillée par des déchets radioactifs malencontreusement tombes d’un avion furtif… De plus, lors d’un safari en Afrique du Sud, avec Nouvelles Frontières, elle s’est fait bouffer un genou et  une oreille par un panda importé d’Himalaya en visitant le zoo de Johannesburg.

Alors, s’il vous plait, pour elle, ne brisez pas cette chaîne!
Vous êtes son seul espoir de guérison et en plus, cela vous portera chance.Comme par exemple a ce jeune Irlandais qui, en 1912, fit suivre ce message par SMS. Dans la semaine, il se vit offrir une place pour une croisière inaugurale sur un superbe transatlantique britannique le "P’tit Annick". Lors de ce voyage il découvrit les frissons de l’amour et les bienfaits de la natation.

Ne gardez surtout pas ce message dans votre ordinateur plus de 16 minutes sans quoi la malédiction s’acharnera sur vous jusqu’au retour des bernaches a cou roux. (et non a Kourou).il y a un peu plus de 2000 ans, un homme reçut ce message sur son ordinateur portable.Comme sa batterie était vide et qu’il ne pouvait pas la recharger vu qu’il n’y avait pas encore d’électricité a cette époque, il fut crucifie avec des clous rouilles et comme si cela ne suffisait pas, on lui mit sur la tête une couronne de piquants qui font mal. Ça fait tout de même réfléchir, alors n’hésitez plus !

Renvoyez ce message à tous vos amis. Cela leur portera chance, a vie. Chaque fois qu’ils iront aux toilettes, il y aura encore du papier. Chaque fois qu’ils achèteront des saucisses à la volaille,ils bénéficieront de 20 centimes d’euros de réduction immédiate à la caisse. Chaque fois qu’ils mangeront des moules, il n’y aura pas de petits crabes dedans (sauf pour ceux qui aiment bien). Chaque fois qu’il y aura Céline Dion à la radio, le téléphone sonnera.Enfin, ils seront désormais exempts de répondre à tous les messages chaînes qui nous foutent les boules! Si vous le faites, en plus,! vous recevrez prochainement un bon de réduction de 25 % valable dans tout le catalogue des 3 Cuisses (sauf pages 323 à 332) et moi, je recevrai un bon de parrainage.

Ce message a déjà fait 759 874 236 587 686 fois le tour du monde.

Pour Thérèse, pour vous, pour moi, pour tous vos amis, ne brisez pas cette chaîne.

Merci


Advice to New Mac OS X User

My reply to Martine Pagé’s post about her transition to Mac OS X.

Funnily enough, I moved in the other direction (I needed a dirt-cheap computer), back in late December. Still miss my 2001 iBook (500MHz, 384MB RAM) and Mac OS X.

One thing I noticed (and was mentioned by others, elsewhere) is that Flock is much less of a resource hog on Mac OS X than on XP. No idea why. Though I never had issues with Firefox on OSX, I had switched to Flock and this made my transition to XP less fun. Safari can be a great tool, especially if you use one of OSX’s best-kept secrets: Services.

Ah, Services! The best tools for compulsive writers. You know, those menu items like "Summarize," available in pretty much all Cocoa apps and several Carbon apps. They also include support for the system-wide multi-lingual spellchecker (a fantastic tool for us, bilingual writers). Be sure to check out some of these, especially WordService. And once you start using Nisus Thesaurus, you’ll wonder how you did without it.

Perhaps the main trick with the Mac, mentioned in several comments here, is to only use the mouse when you really have to. Especially if you use the Mac to write, at any length. Use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible. Luckily, they’re very consistent across the system so you’ll be used to them in no time. When you’re writing, shortcuts are much more efficient than any kind of mouse movement. And you can usually apply shortcuts to any menu item. Menus are there to find out about features or to reach some of the lesser used features of an app.

Writing, on the Mac, is really pleasurable with the right tools. My favourite writing tools overall are outliners. Yes, there are outliners on any platform. But Mac OS X users arguably have a much better selection than anybody else. (What is widely recognized as the best outliner on Windows has been discontinued a number of years ago and doesn’t support any XML format.) If you’re interested in outlining, be sure to check ATPO. If you’re not yet into outlining, you might want to give OmniOutliner a try (IIRC, it comes preinstalled on new Macs as a trial version).

Another thing you might want to do is check out the wealth of FLOSS (Free/Libre Open-Source Software) on Mac OS X. Not only are most Linux projects also available on OSX but there are very high-quality projects made especially for Mac OS X. These tend to be über-productivity apps (i.e., efficient software for actual work) like the TeXShop TeX editor and the BibDesk bibliography manager. Or academic apps like TAMS Analyzer. But there are more "mainstream" apps like the Camino browser (mentioned here) and the TextWrangler text editor. To be honest, I almost never bought software for Mac OS X because so much of what I needed was already available for free.

Mac OS X is also a very cool geek platform. While the Mac OS turned us long-time users away from CLIs, Mac OS X integrates GUI and CLI elements extremely well. More often than not, I had a Terminal window open to do quick manipulations on files and processes. As any Unix geek knows, the shell is often the best place to accomplish real work.

I guess I’m writing this more out of nostalgia for my days working on Macs than to give you specific advice. There’s clearly a lot to say about Mac OS X.

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Advice to New Mac OS X User

My reply to Martine Pagé’s post about her transition to Mac OS X.

Funnily enough, I moved in the other direction (I needed a dirt-cheap computer), back in late December. Still miss my 2001 iBook (500MHz, 384MB RAM) and Mac OS X.

One thing I noticed (and was mentioned by others, elsewhere) is that Flock is much less of a resource hog on Mac OS X than on XP. No idea why. Though I never had issues with Firefox on OSX, I had switched to Flock and this made my transition to XP less fun. Safari can be a great tool, especially if you use one of OSX’s best-kept secrets: Services.

Ah, Services! The best tools for compulsive writers. You know, those menu items like "Summarize," available in pretty much all Cocoa apps and several Carbon apps. They also include support for the system-wide multi-lingual spellchecker (a fantastic tool for us, bilingual writers). Be sure to check out some of these, especially WordService. And once you start using Nisus Thesaurus, you’ll wonder how you did without it.

Perhaps the main trick with the Mac, mentioned in several comments here, is to only use the mouse when you really have to. Especially if you use the Mac to write, at any length. Use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible. Luckily, they’re very consistent across the system so you’ll be used to them in no time. When you’re writing, shortcuts are much more efficient than any kind of mouse movement. And you can usually apply shortcuts to any menu item. Menus are there to find out about features or to reach some of the lesser used features of an app.

Writing, on the Mac, is really pleasurable with the right tools. My favourite writing tools overall are outliners. Yes, there are outliners on any platform. But Mac OS X users arguably have a much better selection than anybody else. (What is widely recognized as the best outliner on Windows has been discontinued a number of years ago and doesn’t support any XML format.) If you’re interested in outlining, be sure to check ATPO. If you’re not yet into outlining, you might want to give OmniOutliner a try (IIRC, it comes preinstalled on new Macs as a trial version).

Another thing you might want to do is check out the wealth of FLOSS (Free/Libre Open-Source Software) on Mac OS X. Not only are most Linux projects also available on OSX but there are very high-quality projects made especially for Mac OS X. These tend to be über-productivity apps (i.e., efficient software for actual work) like the TeXShop TeX editor and the BibDesk bibliography manager. Or academic apps like TAMS Analyzer. But there are more "mainstream" apps like the Camino browser (mentioned here) and the TextWrangler text editor. To be honest, I almost never bought software for Mac OS X because so much of what I needed was already available for free.

Mac OS X is also a very cool geek platform. While the Mac OS turned us long-time users away from CLIs, Mac OS X integrates GUI and CLI elements extremely well. More often than not, I had a Terminal window open to do quick manipulations on files and processes. As any Unix geek knows, the shell is often the best place to accomplish real work.

I guess I’m writing this more out of nostalgia for my days working on Macs than to give you specific advice. There’s clearly a lot to say about Mac OS X.

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Windows Live Writer Test

As WLW seems to be the first standalone blog editor to support Blogger Beta, a short test is in order.

Although, I do prefer Qumana and ecto, at least for the interface.

One thing that we really need is a blog tool that has access to our browser histories. That way, we could quickly insert links directly from the editor.

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Rule Concordia, Concordia Rule the Waves

[Drafted this on October 19, 2006. My resolution is to procrastinate less… 😉 ]

Despite the title, this is not about "ruling" anything. And it’s not about Britain. But it is about Concordia. In part.

Been spending some time at Concordia University recently. As it’s the next place where I’ll be teaching, I tend to think of it as "my university."

I feel as if my enthusiasm for this university will not waver for a while. It really is a pretty interesting place for the type of work I enjoy doing. Not the only place where I can be happy, possibly not even the best place. But I like Concordia and I’m not afraid to say it.

I’ve been thinking about what I like about Concordia. A fairly good example is that today (October 19, 2006), I spent an hour and twenty minutes talking about pedagogical issues with Olivia Rovinescu, director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning Services. Sure, almost any university or college has equivalent services. Some of these centres are actually very useful. But this isn’t about comparison. It’s about satisfaction. I’m getting exactly the type of help I want. As it’s usually easier to complain about what we don’t get than to rejoice at what we do get, I think it’s very important to say such things when we do get good service.

My status at Concordia is quite precarious, at this point. To be very precise, I’m a PTF, part-time faculty. We do have a strong association, which means that we do get better conditions than many part-time lecturers at other institutions, but our status still isn’t anything like full-time, tenure-track professors. Which has a lot of advantages, actually. For instance, we don’t need to do any committee work, we can easily teach at different institutions, we don’t depend on the PTR committee, our research is free of some of the administrative burdens of constant evaluation, we need not know the intricacies of advising bureaucracy, students and administrators see us primarily as instructors/teachers, we can teach before having finished a Ph.D. (or, in some cases, even before the end of the master’s degree), we’re free to refuse teaching contracts without any penalty, and we get a fairly simple point system for professional advancement. On the other hand, we get fewer of the amenities afforded tenured professors and we may not have our contracts renewed year after year (even though some lecturers have become "fixtures" in their departments and can assume that they will regularly get work every semester, if they want it).

[I guess I stopped writing because I didn’t want to go too deeply on the moaning mode. Since then, I’ve thought about different issues and I now see my passion for teaching in a new light. I’ll surely post about that as well as about pedagogical philosophies, Frank McCourt, Radio Open Source on technology in education, my father’s experience as a teacher and educational psychologist, etc.]


Yoro Sidibe, «griot» des chasseurs du Mali

Voici une copie, sous format PDF indexé (environ 4MO) d’un court article sur Yoro Sidibe et les bardes de chasseurs au Mali. Le terme «griot» est utilisé tout au long de ce numéro d’Africultures pour désigner l’ensemble des bardes traditionnels d’Afrique de l’Ouest. Yoro Sidibe et plusieurs autres soraw, un des noms donnés aux bardes oeuvrant auprès des chasseurs, dans le Sud-Ouest du Mali, ne sont pas jeliw, nom donné aux «griots» dans cette même région.

Merci de me faire part de vos commentaires au sujet de ce texte.

Yoro Sidibé, «griot» des chasseurs du Mali

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Higher Education in a New Era

Thanks to a comment by Jay, a series of edifying articles in Washington Monthly about the current state of U.S. higher education, appearing in the September 2006 issue of that magazine.

I do tend to disagree with several dimensions of the approach taken by Washington Monthly, including the apparent enthusiasm for the “client-based approach to higher education” favoured by several institutions and bemoaned by its main actors. But I do appreciate the fact that such a conversation finally takes place. The blog post which prompted Jay’s comment was about Canadian universities but “don’t get me started” about the state of higher education in the United States.

According to its mission statement, Washington Monthly seeks to provide insight on politics and government in (the United States of) America. As such, it focuses on the potential ramifications of higher education for governmental (mostly U.S. federal) politics. Doing so, it seems to obey at least some of the Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions, especially with regards to section A on Purposes and Goals of Rankings. (PDF version of principles.)

One thing that these articles avoids is blaming students for most of the problems. In my experience, today’s higher education students usually display impressive potential but are often inadequately prepared for college and university life. The fault might be put on “The System,” the parents, the diverse schools, or the governments. It’s quite unlikely that today’s students are inherently flawed as compared to previous generations and I’m frequently impressed by students of any age, social background, or local origin.

An article from the January/February 2002 issue of Washington Monthly also provides some insight in the financial dimension of higher education in the United States. The situation might have changed in the last four years, though it sounds somewhat unlikely that it may have greatly improved.

This coverage might be too journalistic and U.S.-specific but these are, IMHO, important pieces of the full puzzle of higher education in an interconnected world. These articles should contribute to a larger conversation on education. That conversation may also involve issues discussed in Daniel Golden’s Price of Admission book (as explained on the Colbert Report). Radio Open Source has also been broadcasting (and podcasting) shows on university leadership, academia, and education requirements, among several relevant topics.

It would be important to connect these issues with the broader scene of higher education around the world. Even in the cosmopolitan world of academia, not enough people get the benefit of experiencing more than a single educational system and a very small proportion of people gets to experience more than two. It is common for anthropologists to talk about “taking a step back” and “looking at the forest for the trees.” Higher education is no place for mental near-sightedness.

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French «Intellectuels» (draft)

[Old draft of a post that I never finished writing… Started it in late February.]

Been thinking about intellectuals, especially French ones. It might have been a long-standing issue for me. To this French-speaking North American academic, the theme is obvious.

More specifically, though.

Was listening to a podcast with French journalist Daniel Schneidermann who, among other things, is a blogger. During the podcast, Schneidermann made a simple yet interesting comment about validation by readers. As a journalist, he has an obligationto adopt strict standards, verify sources, etc. As a blogger, he knows that if something that he says is inaccurate, blog readers will quickly point out the mistake. Again, dead simple. One of the basic things people have understood about online communication since at least 1994. But some journalists have typically been slow to understand the implications, perhaps because it causes a sea change in their practise. So Scheidermann’s comment was relatively “refreshing” in such a context.

Wanted to blog on that issue. Went to Scheidermann’s blog and read a few things. Noticed one about a Wikipedia entry on Schneidermann. While the blogger understands the value of reader validation, he seems to be uneasy with the fact that his Wikipedia entry was, when he first read it, disproportionally devoted to some specific issues in his life. Which leads me to the intellectuel thing.

A little over ten years ago, Pierre Bourdieu was on Schneidermann’s television set for a show about television. Bourdieu had been thinking and writing about television’s social impact. The context in which Schneidermann invited Bourdieu was a series of political and social events centering on an important strike with which Bourdieu had been associated. By participating in the show, Bourdieu had the (secret) intention of demonstrating television’s incapacity at taking distance from itself. Bourdieu had participated in another television show a few years prior and apparently saw his presence on a television set as an occasion to experiment with some important issues having to do with the media’s channeling of dialogue. Didn’t see the show but had heard about the events that followed without following it. A brief summary, from very limited evidence.After appearing on the show, Bourdieu published a short piece in Le Monde diplomatique (Schneidermann was a journalist at Le Monde). That piece was strongly-worded but can be seen as a fairly typical media analysis by a social scientist or other scholar. Not Bourdieu’s most memorable work, maybe, but clear and simple, if a bit watered down at times. In fact, the analysis looked more Barthes-type semiotics than Bourdieu’s more, erm, “socially confrontational” work.

Schneidermann’s response to Bourdieu’s analysis looks more like a knee-jerk reaction to what was perceived as personal attacks. Kind of sad, really. In fact, the introduction to that response points out the relevance of Bourdieu’s interrogations.

At any rate, one aspect of Schneidermann’s response which is pretty telling in context is the repeated use of the term intellectuel at key points in that text. It’s not so much about the term itself, although it does easily become a loaded term. An intellectual could simply be…

[Google: define intellectual…]:

a person who uses his or her intellect to study, reflect, or speculate on a variety of different ideas

[ Thank you, Wikipedia! 😉 ]

But, in context, repeated use of the term, along with repeated mentions of Collège de France (a prestigious yet unusual academic institution) may give the impression that Schneidermann was reacting less to Bourdieu as former guest than to the actions of an intellectuel. Obligatory Prévert citation:

Il ne faut pas laisser les intellectuels jouer avec les allumettes.

(Intellectuals shouldn’t be allowed to play with matches.)

Now, second stream of thought on intellectuels. Was teaching an ethnomusicology course at an anthropology department. A frequent reaction by students was that we were intellectualizing music too much. Understandable reaction. Music isn’t just an intellectual object. But, after all, isn’t the role of academia to understand life intellectually?

Those comments tended to come in reaction to some of the more difficult readings. To be fair, other reactions included students who point out that an author’s analysis isn’t going beyond some of the more obvious statements and yet others are cherishing the intellectual dimensions of our perspective on music. Altogether the class went extremely well, but the intellectual character of some of the content was clearly surprising to some.

The third strand or stream of thought on intellectuels came on February 27 in a television show with Jacques Attali. His was a typical attitude of confidence in being a “jack of all trades” who didn’t hesitate to take part in politics, public service, and commercial initiatives. I personally have been influenced by some of Jacques Attali’s work and, though I may disagree with several of his ideas, I have nothing but respect for his carreer. His is a refreshingly unapologetic form of intellectualism. Not exclusion of non-intellectuals. Just an attempt at living peacefully with everyone while thinking about as many issues as possible. He isn’t my hero but he deserves my respect, along with people like Yoro Sidibe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis Armstrong, Boris Vian, Jan Garbarek, Georges Brassens, Steven Feld, Roland Barthes, James Brown, and Serge Gainsbourg.

A fourth thread came in a departmental conference at Université de Montréal’s Department of Anthropology. Much discussion of the involvement of anthropologists in social life. And the visit of two public intellectuals who happen to be anthropological provocateurs, here in Quebec: Serge Bouchard and Bernard Arcand.. . .

Never finished this draft.

Should really follow on these threads. They have been haunting me for almost a year. And connect with multiple issues that I tend to think about.

My attitude now is that through blogs, mailing-lists, online forums, classes, lectures, conferences, informal and formal discussions, I’m able to help people think about a large set of different issues, whether or not they agree with me on any single point. Not because I’m somehow better than others: I’m clearly not. Not because my ideas are better than those cherished by others: they clearly aren’t. Possibly because I’m extremely talkative. And enthusiastic about talking to just about anyone. There’s even a slight chance that I may have understood something important about my “role in life,” my “calling.” If so, great. If not, I’m having fun anyway and I don’t mind being (called) an intellectual. 😉


Islam and “Western Imagination”

[Update: I forgot to thank Djemaa Maazouzi for sending that link to a seminar mailing-list… So, thank you Djemaa! Sorry for the delay…]

Thinking about Lila Abu-Lughod‘s powerful Eurozine “Lettre” The Muslim Woman. The Power of Images and the Danger of Pity.

In the common Western imagination, the image of the veiled Muslim woman stands for oppression in the Muslim world. This makes it hard to think about the Muslim world without thinking about women, sets up an “us” and “them” relationship with Muslim women, and ignores the variety of ways of life practiced by women in different parts of the Muslim world. Anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod emphasizes that veiling should not be confused with a lack of agency or even traditionalism. Western feminists who take it upon themselves to speak on behalf of oppressed Muslim women assume that individual desire and social convention are inherently at odds: something not borne out by the experience of Islamic society.

Though it uses veiling as a starting point, Abu-Lughod’s insightful piece reaches to several important issues of religious tolerance, global policy, cultural awareness, secularism, liberalism, and thoughtful respect and consideration for human beings. This piece is in fact so powerful and thoughtful that it seems irrelevant to add much to its content.

Let us wish that more people will grow their understanding of both Islam and “The West” through a careful reflection on those issues.

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Academic Presentations

Via David Delgado Shorter, a guide to academic presentations prepared by Mary Hunt of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

Be Brief, Be Witty, Be Seated[Updated link, Sunday, March 16, 2008 10:07:17 PM]

Delivering a paper is learned behavior. It is like preaching a sermon, teaching a class or giving a lecture anywhere else. You can get it right with practice. Bad things can happen-the microphone can go dead, your PowerPoint® presentation can freeze, you might even have an attack of nerves that will cause you enormous stress. But for the most part it will be a good, even an enjoyable experience.

One thing to note is that even experienced speakers make mistakes and that the stakes aren’t as high as others may lead you to believe. A given academic presentation is just that. It won’t destroy your carreer and it might possibly launch it. So, IMHO, these guidelines are simply useful things to think about and should not be considered a dogma to strictly follow.

In fact, these same guidelines might not work in all academic contexts. For instance, in France and some other parts of Europe, it has been typical to give academic presentations using broad notes instead of complete texts. That method has the advantage that it is much easier to adapt your presentation as you give it. In some specific contexts, wit may be considered inappropriate if overused. Also, making straightforward, simple points might fail to provide certain types of scholars with the dense, layered thinking that they expect from fellow academics. But, on the whole, Hunt’s advice sounds perfectly reasonable for presentations at large academic meetings in the United States and Canada.
On brievity, my experience tells me that eight pages might be in fact be the perfect length for me, in such a context. It’s a challenge to condense ideas in such a short form without getting too “dense.” but such short presentations enable me to adopt a relaxed attitude and leisurely speech rate. Also, if you end up finishing a few minutes early, you might use that time for discussion.

This isn’t meant to say that I’m a very good presenter. But I do tend to enjoy presenting, in many contexts.


Secularism and Ethics

A shameless self-plug of a comment I made on another blog:

the eBay atheist » Blog Archive » Video: Sam Harris Interview

In my mind, the same way that a religious background isn’t the necessary cause of morality, a specific belief system (religious or non-religious) is not a direct cause of immorality. Dogmatism exists with almost any belief system. It’s more obvious if that system is more exotic. Yet the belief system under much of Anglo-Saxon Protestant (Weberian work ethic) culture cuts so deeply into mainstream U.S. society (including many secular dimensions) that many people fail to see its impact and dogmatism.


(Catholic) Sensual Ethic

Just listened to this podcast episode about a sensual approach to life and a philanthropic approach to food and elders.
Food Philosophy: Food Philosophy #24: Sensuality, Gael Greene and Citymeals-on-Wheels

Maybe it comes from having been brought up in an open-minded French-Canadian Catholic environment (heavily-secularized, passionate post-Jesuits with strong mother figures) but I can really relate to a food philosophy that is both sensual and ethical. Max Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic notwithstanding, there’s something deep about connecting to life as both a pleasurable experience and a matter of helping each other out. Islam is actually very similar in this sense. And maybe the religious dimension of culture is just too much on my mind, these days, but this felt really good.

It actually made me feel exactly the opposite feeling as the feelings I felt after listening to a somewhat disappointing recent podcast episode of Radio Open Source on food and the free will.

It also connects with my growing academic interests in food and culture (especially on beer and coffee). In fact, it makes me think about ethical issues in (food and music) consumption as well as about alternative views of Globalisation.

Thought for food!


Gee-ky!

From my friend David Levy’s signature:

Blessed are the geeks, for they shall internet the earth.


Free Content on iTunes and Elsewhere

The iTunes Store always has some free tracks and TV shows. Fairly recently (maybe I didn’t notice it before) they added a page where users can see all the free content. That’s convenient.

Direct Link (U.S. store).

Actually, with two free tracks a week on the U.S. store and one free track a week on the Canada store, I’ve been able to find a few interesting songs.

Of course, those tracks and TV shows are still protected with the FairPlay DRM, which has negative consequences. But it’s still cool to have a few things to play with.

Other sites, including CalabashMusic, also have free music, usually without any DRM copy-protection. The advantages of iTunes have mostly to do with the integration between the store, the software, and iPods, but these other stores are well worth checking out.


Stable Bilingualism and Multilingualism in Canada

This is a slightly edited version of one of my posts on the LingAnth mailing-list. Susan Ervin-Tripp had posted a message about endangered languages. I mused about possibilities for bilingualism or multilingualism to be stable. Claire Bowern described such patterns. As a follow-up, Peter Patrick mentioned the Canadian situation. As a Québécois, I felt compelled to post something about what I perceive Canadian bilingualism and multilingualism to be like. This is not meant as an expert opinion on the situation.

Without further ado…

Glad to see such an interesting discussion about language diversity. My two (Canadian) cents, to keep the ball rolling. (I’m sending those comments as a French-speaking linguistic anthropologist from Montreal who is not a specialist of Canada.)
Bilingualism in Canada is quite specific. Unless otherwise specified, the term “bilingual” refers to individuals who are fluent in both French and English. There is a perceived imbalance in the degree of “bilingualism” among French- and English-speakers. Bilingualism in other languages tends to be treated separately. Fluency is evaluated using many criteria, including “accent” and even eloquence.
English and French are the (only) two official languages in Canada. Official status for both languages has important consequences in federal politics and administration. Given the official status of both languages, bilingualism often implies advantages in professional placement. New Brunswick is the only province to be officially bilingual (it has the largest French-speaking population outside of Quebec); Quebec is officially French-speaking (with important political consequences); other provinces are officially English-speaking; territories follow federal regulations, though Inuktitut/Inuinnaqtun has official status in Nunavut (not sure on the details).
Functional bilingualism can be said to be fairly stable in some specific regions. However, the situation in most French-speaking communities outside of Quebec is usually perceived as a potential switch from French to English: children of “inter-marriages” are likely to only speak English. This switch is perceived, in French-speaking communities, as tantamount to language loss. Language insecurity is at rather high levels in many French-speaking communities outside of Quebec.
In Quebec, the perceived likelihood that French would disappear has decreased dramatically over the past several years. In such a situation, bilingualism is infrequently perceived as a threat. French-speaking Quebeckers appear quite secure in their (our) language use and they (we) will often use English in multi-lingual situations, without any fear of language, status, or identity loss. Perhaps because of French language ideology, English-speakers fluent in French tend not to speak French with native speakers of the language (outside of formal contexts in which bilingualism might be expected).In short, the general model is one of monolingual communities (either French- or English-speaking) with bilingual individuals.Multilingualism is often seen as a completely separate issue. Apart from the status of the French language here, multilingualism in Canada seems fairly comparable to multilingualism in the U.S., despite significant differences in policies and in perceptions. A simplistic explanation of differences: for a relatively long time, Canadian policies have tended to emphasize the right for immigrant groups to “maintain their cultural identities,” including their native languages (the “mosaic” model instead of the “melting pot”); several languages besides English and Spanish are involved in social and political issues; multilingualism is probably more of an urban phenomenon throughout Canada (most of the Canadian population is concentrated in a relatively small number of cities); languages of First Nations/Aboriginal/Native/Autochtonous groups are the object of some concern but relatively little attention is paid to those issues by the general population.
Regardless of these issues, the three-generation pattern [monolingual to bilingual to monolingual] is perceived as the dominant one throughout Canada, with relatively few exceptions. Stable bilingualism in, say, Punjabi and English or Italian and French is usually limited to specific neighborhoods in one of Canada’s largest cities.
To briefly go back to the original article which sparked this discussion, language diversity in Canada is probably increasing but the notion that this diversity might threaten English is rather uncommon. One of the reasons might be that functional bilingualism is perceived favourably by many people.

I’m posting it here because I’d be delighted to get feedback on it. More specifically, I’d like to be proven wrong on some of those issues. The best way to overcome one’s own biases is to publicly discuss them and it’s quite possible that my perspective or that my observations are flawed.

In fact, I noticed after posting that message that the Northwest Territories (NT) follow their own language policies, giving official status to several Aboriginal languages. From a page on language rights:

The Official Languages Act recognizes the following Official Languages: Chipewyan, Cree, Dogrib, English, French, Gwich’in, Inuktitut, (including Inuvialuktun and Inuinnaqtun) and Slavey (including North and South Slavey). They are given equal status according to the individual provisions of the Act.

I originally thought that Nunavut (NU) was the only Canadian Territory with its own language policies (different from federal policies). My impression is now that the status of Inuktitut/Inuinnaqtun in NU is “more official” than the status of Aboriginal languages in NT, but that might have to do with the fact that NU’s governmental website seems to be fully available in Inuktitut/Inuinnaqtun and the NT one is only available in English. If I’m not mistaken, Yukon (YK) directly follows language policies from the federal government. Of the three territories, NU has the highest proportion of native speakers of neither English nor French (71.4% in 2001). NT has a much lower proportion of native speakers of neither English nor French (19.4% in 2001). YK only had 9.9% of native speakers of neither English nor French in 2001.

(Interesting statistics on languages in Canada’s provinces and territories.)One thing I’m really not sure about is how different Canada is from the United States in terms of languages of “First Nations/Aboriginal/Native/Autochtonous groups.” From colleagues who work with such groups, I get the impression that some groups are “better off” on one side of the U.S./Canada border than some other groups but that, maybe, the situation is fairly equivalent on either side. I would assume that such a pattern would apply to language policies but I don’t know much about any of this. My general impression is that Inuktitut, Ojibwa, and Cree languages are rather well-protected in Canada and that Navajo and Ojibwa are well-protected in the United States. This impression might have more to do with my rudimentary knowledge about the number of speakers of those languages in the United States and Canada than with actual language policies.Another thing that would merit discussion is the proportion of active bilinguals among French- and English-speaking communities. The overwhelming impression among French-speakers (at least in Quebec and New Brunswick) is that they (we) are the ones who “accommodate” English-speakers by speaking English even in situations in which French-speakers greatly outnumber English-speakers. However, it seems to be a contentious subject as English-speakers are said to feel that they are the ones accommodating French-speakers. Some English-speaking friends alluded to this, but language use is a bit too touchy a subject for conversation among “bilingual” friends. There’s a lot of research on those issues, some of which I have read, but I’m still not clear on what is really going there. So I was walking on egg shells when I wrote my message, trying not to make any specific claim about accommodation. As a French-speaker who has lived in both Quebec and New Brunswick, my strong impression is that we, in fact, do accommodate much more frequently than English-speakers would in most informal situations. I really would like to be proven wrong, as I can’t wrap my head around the discrepancy. I guess that this is the point at which I’m too much of a French-speaker.

Another reason for me to post that message here is that, apparently, a colleague would like to use my message (as is) in class. Not that I expect others to use it but in such a situation, it seems even more important for me to ensure that my message isn’t too inaccurate.

So, again, I’d be really happy if some people could post comments here telling me inaccuracies in my short explanation on language diversity in Canada.


Beer Terminology and Media Coverage

Thomas comments on coverage of the Yakima hop fire.

Bear Droppings :: Crying Over Spilled Beer

Beer and ale, funny I always thought ale was a kind of beer, just goes to show you what happens with you send a unknowledgable reporter to write a story.

Distinguishing “beer” from “ale” is not the most accurate measure of cluelessness in terms of beer. Some terminologies (say, in legal documents) have very specific definitions for those terms, distinguishing them from one another (say, alcohol percentage). Inaccurate for brewers but accurate for many newspaper readers.

Actually, most of the articles on the Yakima hop fire were relatively appropriate in terms of beer knowledge. Not “worthy of beergeek praise” appropriate, but “better than your average wine journalist” appropriate. Be thankful that those articles actually mentions hops as contributing bitterness, flavour, and aroma to beer. Some people seem to think that hops are the main ingredient in beer fermentation.

What I still don’t understand is why some people maintain that the warehouse belonged to Hop Union while most people seem to say it was one of S. S. Steiner Inc.’s warehouse (and those people are quoting a Hop Union warehouse manager who might know whether or not his hops burnt). Of course, it’s still possible that it was in fact a Hop Union warehouse but, if so, it’s rather strange that the Hop Union corporate website makes no mention of this, even to reassure clients.

There definitely should be better media coverage for beer in general. It could potentially help people understand what beer really is. Thankfully, some people, like Joseph Hallinan of the Wall Street Journal and Jennifer Iannolo of Food Philosophy are doing their homeworks and are getting people to learn more about beer.


Individualism, Freedom, and Food

A surprisingly superficial podcast episode on what could have been a very deep subject.

Open Source » Blog Archive » The End of Free Will?

start a conversation about manipulation, persuasion and freedom from choice

To summarize the main issue of that episode: is marketing and "upselling" by restaurant chains undermining the individual freedom to choose quality food? Apparently simple a question, but billed as much more than that.

Maybe they refrained from delving deeper into any of those issues because philosophical discussions, perhaps aesthetic ones especially, are off limits in "polite company" in U.S. media. Too bad.

Actually, I’m genuinely disappointed. Not necessarily because restaurant chains are very important an issue for me (in Montreal, they don’t seem to have the exact same type of impact and I love to cook). But because the show’s participants all came very close to saying very important things about individualism, food, and freedom. The first two are too rarely discussed, IMHO, and the third could have been the "hook" to discuss the other two.

Ah, well…

If you want to know more about my thoughts on this podcast episode, check out some of the tags below.