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I woke up this morning and discovered that it’s the 50s again!

I woke up this morning and discovered that it’s the 50s again!

A UCLA faculty member recieves a big (4.07 million) award in response to her sexual harrassment suit against her former department, and the appeal request was rejected. Open and shut; the case was heard, and clearly there was ample evidence and the harrassment was agregious enough to support such a big award. The suit itself is pretty much what you’d expect; they didn’t give her opportunities that were granted to men of her rank, they were disparaging, they made suggestive comments, etc. But the killer is this:

In addition to the original complains Conney had against the school, it was discovered during court proceedings that her UCLA department had a secret reserve of money that they used to supplement the salaries of male faculty members only.

“You start to realize that these obstacles loom very large for women – there is a glass ceiling,” Conney said. “Women still bump into a lot of resistance when we try to truly become equal at higher levels.”

A secret reserve of money? Where does that come from? How does that work into their departmental budget line? That’s truly appalling. No wonder they have such a tetchy department, they have a passive-aggressive budget. Sheesh. I feel a little ill about this story. They kept a reserve of funds around to secretly reward the people they really liked, thereby creating a little secret cohort (an old boys club even minus the old boys!). This department deserves the public shaming its about to get.

For the first time, I’m feeling a little warmth for FIPPA. There’s something to be said for fiduciary transparency. [Via feminist, via Bitch PhD.]

Libraries/Homeless Shelters

Libraries/Homeless Shelters

From America Gone Wrong: A Slashed Safety Net Turns Libraries into Homeless Shelters:

In a democratic culture, even disturbing information is useful feedback. When the mentally ill whom we have thrown onto the streets haunt our public places, their presence tells us something important about the state of our union, our national character, our priorities, and our capacity to care for one another. That information is no less important than the information we provide through databases and books. The presence of the impoverished mentally ill among us is not an eloquent expression of civil discourse, like a lecture in the library’s auditorium, but it speaks volumes nonetheless.

This is exactly the kind of thing I needed to read in this moment when I’m seriously considering how best to understand the term “Information Professional”. [via Jeremy]

Political Junkie

Political Junkie

I’m spending the day watching the CBC live coverage of the Liberal leadership convention. What a nail-biter!

I am not and never have been a Liberal. I’ve never voted Liberal. I’ve always voted NDP. But as the country’s natural ruling party, I feel a particular stake in the Liberal game. I’ve never actively disliked the Liberals, at least, not often. I don’t find them morally objectionable. They’re just not left-leaning enough for my taste, so I side with the NDP.

But still. I want the Liberals to choose a leader I like, because that person will be our next Prime Minister, I’m fairly sure, and I’d prefer to like that person rather than feel a little sick at the sight of him (because it will definitely be a him at this point, thanks for trying, Martha Hall Findlay). I want to feel some affection for the Liberal leader, even though I’m unlikely to vote for his party.

Unless they pick Bob Rae. I will vote Liberal for the first time in my life if they pick him. Hell, I’ll become a card carrying member.

But that’s not looking all that likely at the moment. The second ballot gave us three final candidates (Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae, and Stephane Dion). At the moment I’m assuming it’s going to go to Stephane Dion, which I can absolutely live with. I would sleep well with Stephane Dion as Prime Minister.

I will not sleep well with Michael Ignatieff as leader, but at least I know I won’t break my NDP voting track record if they choose him. If consistency is a blessing. Michael Ignatieff scares me. And not because he’s smart. He’s no smarter than the rest of them. Bob Rae is a Rhodes Scholar, Stephane Dion has a PhD in Sociology. As a Harvard graduate, I’m not uniquely impressed that Michael Ignatieff is a Harvard professor. What I see is a guy who’s been living outside the country for most of his adult life, and deigns to drop back in and try to run the place. He’s never done anything like this before. He has and will continue to make public mistakes that will cost us (Quebecois as a nation, anyone?). I’m just not delighted about that prospect. Yes he’s smart, I’m sure he’s a great guy, but I don’t want him running my country. I’m hoping that, after the third ballot, if Bob comes in third, he throws his lot in with Stephane.

But boy is it exciting to watch! Lots of cheering, backroom meetings happening on the convention floor, people dropping out of the race and picking sides, dramatically walking across the floor to the new camp, greeted ceremoniously, all that. Very exciting. And we have Peter and Rex doing the commentary! (Rex Murphy: also a Rhodes scholar.) I couldn’t ask for better!

Once again, I’m just saying: if Bob wins, I buy a Liberal party membership. If not, it’s back to the NDP I go.

The $100 Laptop, revisited

The $100 Laptop, revisited

Today my friend Jason linked to an MSN article about the $100 laptop initiative: The $100 Laptop: What Went Wrong. Now, I have my issues with the project, which I’ve detailed here before, but the MSN article, it seems to me, missed most of the actual problems with the project and went straight for the non-issues, the solved issues, instead.

Some excerpts:

Then along comes the latest scheme to actually provide a unique hand-cranked laptop utilizing a small generator to power the thing.

First, I will try to swallow my pet peeve about the word utilize. (Why use the word ‘utilize’ when what you mean is ‘use’? What does the ‘-ize’ do for you? Make you sound smarter? More professional? I don’t get it.)

It’s not a crank, it’s a string that you pull, first off. Second, what do we mean by “a small generator”? A battery? A battery that gets charged by muscles rather than by plugging it in? I feel that the author used the term “a small generator” to make it sound more unweildy, and to me that’s intellectually dishonest. It’s just a battery. Just like the one in your own laptop. But different.

Besides incredible difficulties with the distribution networks in Africa, Zachary wonders who will maintain these machines. Generally speaking, a societal infrastructure with a lot of computers needs a lot of support mechanisms.

“And in today’s world the real value of a computer is it being networked,” says Zachary. “Finding a network in the poor areas is either impossible or very expensive.”

All of these criticisms are rather hallow, since they are addressed by the project. On the first poirnt, I don’t know much about distribution, but I know the project talks about that with the government in question before the deal is inked. As for support: I think it would be nice to provide support to teachers in particular, and I would like to see librarians get involved in that. (Librarians Without Borders, I’m looking at you.) But the people involved in the project are not support folks, it’s not their territory; they need the rest of us to rally around them on that point. Seeing something missing in the project should encourage people with those skills to step up; shouting from the peanut gallery isn’t terribly helpful.

But that’s not the support the author meant; he meant technical support, hardware support. The laptops ship with spare parts; part of the purpose of this project is help nurture a local industry around these computers, to create experts on the hardware in the countries themselves. I agree that there will be a need for these things, but rather than provide it from across the ocean, it would be best to have that expertise grow in the country itself. Again, I think this is something another profession should step in to assist with. What a fantastic project, don’t you think? Go help people in Cambodia or Namibia to become experts at hardware/software support and let them create their own industry. It’s a nice idea, where the computer becomes merely a product in a chain, something that could help improve an economy. I know this is what they’re thinking, and I think they have a point; but a little support to get it started wouldn’t hurt. But the criticism in the MSN article is crude and blunt, not as precise as an article about the project should be.

And as for networking; why, this author clearly doesn’t know a damn thing about the project at all. Doesn’t it sound as if he’s imagining the children of South Africa being handed macbooks, as if the leaders of the project failed to consider that an internet connection would be hard to come by? Reality: a) part of the negotiations include the requirement of the government to set up access points, and particular kinds. After that, the laptops themselves are the network. They use each other to share the signal. The laptop closest to you is your nearest access point. That’s why there’s no off button on the laptops; they’re meant to be running all the time, if only as a piece of the network. The moment I saw that link in the article I wrote it off; if you can say that, you don’t know the first thing about how those laptops were designed. How can you call something folly when you clearly don’t understand it?

But Zachary has a more profound point: “The fact that these people need electricity more than they need a laptop is only part of the problem,” he says. “The real problem is lost mind share. The people are harmed because these sorts of schemes are sopping up mind-share time of the people who might be doing something actually useful.”

I think this is actually a ridiculous point. This idea is based on the premise that there are only a certain number of people in the world who would do charitable work, and that adding a technology project just drags people away. This is simply not true. I think what the laptop project is doing is creating a piece that those people who don’t know how to help can contribute to in their own way. I don’t see this project stopping Heifer International or even World Vision. People like Sarah McLachlan are still going to donate their video budgets to charity projects in developing nations. I think it’s rather insulting to the very smart folks at MIT to suggest that they haven’t considered the implications of providing these laptops to children in developing nations. And who are we to tell the Cambodians what’s “useful” to them? MIT isn’t foisting these laptops on children; the governments, the education departments and all their advisers, are the ones to make the decision and foot the bill. If it’s not what they want, it’s not what they’re going to get.

Perhaps the organization should be thinking of the hand-cranked generator as serving that purpose alone [lighting the family hut] and not computing. Lights, along with cellular phones and radios, seem more important than laptops.

But…what if the laptop can provide light, VoIP, and streaming radio (which it can)? Do want to focus on one, or provide a cheap (free) solution for all three? This seems like a terribly unimaginative line of criticism.

In fact, this is a massive exercise in futility. And it’s a shame.

It’s awfully satisfying to knock down straw men, isn’t?

Affirmative Action for Underperforming White Men

Affirmative Action for Underperforming White Men

From Inside Higher Ed this morning: US College rejigs admissions to get more white men accepted. That might not have been their explicit goal, but it’s clearly their implicit goal; they’re accepting applicants who did badly at school but did better than average on the SAT. That sounds fairly reasonable, almost as generous as my undergraduate institution, which purposely let its admissions minimum trail that of other institutions (yay Carleton!) because, hey, high school represents a particular form of learning, and not one all of us excel under (yours truly very much included). But that’s not quite what’s going on at Towson University. By opting to privilege the SAT, they are knowingly privileging a test that has a well-known gender bias.

This is a classic case of test score misuse,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “Towson University is relying on the well-known gender bias of the SAT, which underpredicts college performance for females and overpredicts for males, to recruit young men who have failed to compile strong high school records. Towson’s message to teenagers is wrong-headed: It’s OK to slack off in the classroom, so long as you do well on a four-hour test.”

And not only that:

from the Fair Test Fact sheet:

African American, Latino, new Asian immigrant and many other minority test-takers score significantly lower than white students. Rigid use of SATs for admissions will produce freshman classes with very few minorities and with no appreciable gain in academic quality. The SAT is very effective at eliminating academically promising minority (and low-income) students who apply with strong academic records but relatively low SAT scores. Colleges that have made the SAT I optional report that their applicant pools are more diverse and that there has been no drop off in academic quality.

So why are they doing this? Why are they purposely skewing admissions to get more underperforming white men?

Brian Stelter, a senior who is editor in chief of The Towerlight, the student newspaper, said that he earned a 3.4 GPA in high school and so wouldn’t have needed the new program, but he also said he wasn’t bothered by it. He said that the gender gap is a big issue for students on the campus, so he’s in favor of efforts to do something about it. “If you ask girls on this campus what they think, their top question is: Where are the men?” he said.

So that the girls will have a marriage pool of underperforming white men. Good to know that universities have their priorities straight (no pun intended, ahem).

Welcome home, Jim Loney

Welcome home, Jim Loney

Today, two Canadians held hostage in Iraq came home. James Loney was kidnapped in November along with three others from a Christian humanitarian organization, in Iraq as peace activists. I remember when they were first abducted, because there was a long piece on the radio about James Loney. An ardant and activist Christian, he objected to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The hostages were meant to be killed on numerous occaisions if the Americans wouldn’t release Iraqi prisoners; time and time again they were not killed. Family and friends of James Loney expressed their certainty that he would convince his captors that he was on their side. If anyone could do it, they said, James could. They talked about what he was like, what pushed him to put his life on the line and travel to Iraq. They spoke about him as a friend, as a sibling. How kind he was, how gentle and intelligent and thoughtful. He appeared to be the personification of goodness. And here he was, off in Iraq, a critic of the American invasion and a defender of Iraqis, all because of his faith.

I was struck at the time at this show of Christian morality; it’s not one that we see very often in the news these days. It wasn’t about Christians turning up their noses at gays or demanding that schools teach intelligent design or abstinence. It was about peace. About, presumably, defending the defenseless. About laying down arms. About avoiding war at all costs. On Thursday, the member of provincial parliament for his riding said:

James Loney and others put their values of peace and goodwill ahead of their personal safety, and we commend them for their perseverance under such extreme circumstances. We thank those in foreign affairs who worked so hard for their release [via]

It was a military intervention that brought him home today; James Loney was quoted months earlier saying that if he were abducted in Iraq, he would not want the military involved. That was how deeply he objected to the military presence there.

While lately I’ve been left with a bad taste in my mouth because of the antics of some other self-described Christians, I found myself gaining more and more respect for this James Loney fellow. He had a sincere belief in what Jesus meant to tell his followers; he listened to the pledge of the peace-loving (blessed are the peacemakers, after all), and took it to a dangerous and impressive extreme. He risked his life to follow his beliefs. What also struck me at the time was that he’s Canadian. We don’t hear very much about activist Christians in Canada, barring the few who protested the government’s recent decision to legalize gay marriage. I couldn’t quite hear about James Loney without hearing those other Christian voices echoed around his. I felt a kind of dissonance. I went to Divinty school, I know lots of Christians that I respect beyond all things, but I’m not used to hearing about Christians doing such good things on the radio these days. I’ve grown so cynical.

“For 118 days, I disappeared into a black hole and somehow by God’s grace, I was spit out again,” Loney told reporters shortly after his arrival on Sunday afternoon. [via]

Today he came home, after months with his own death hanging over his head. It’s a miracle that he’s here. The American in his group didn’t make it.

I listened to the coverage more carefully because I remember how I felt hearing about his abduction. Today, they spoke about the joy of the members of his church felt that he was coming home. A church in his hometown held a mass of thanksgiving, even before he had flown back into the province. [via]. He has become a sort of idealized Christian figure, the sort of Christian others should emulate and praise.

The part of the story that’s new to me about James Loney is that he’s gay.

“It’s great to be alive!” Loney said.

Flanked by his teary brothers, partner, and sister-in-law, a thin-looking Loney said he was still having difficulty believing he was free after almost four months as a hostage, and just three days after his rescue.

“During my captivity, I sometimes entertained myself by imagining this day,” Loney told a crush of reporters and photographers at Pearson International Airport. “Sometimes, I despaired of ever seeing it; always I ached for it.”

One of the things he most wanted to do was “wash a sinkful of dirty dishes.”

While he said he wanted to tell the story of his captivity and rescue, he first wants to slip into “an abyss of love” and get reacquainted with his partner, Dan Hunt, his family and community. [via]

What does it say about the Canadian Christian community that their latest hero, the man so good his practically shined over the radio, is a gay man? Not a gay man struggling to be straight, either; an open, out gay man in a long-term relationship? What does it say about the Canadian press that this fact has passed by virtually unmentioned? I discovered it by noticing that the radio report talked about the other hostages returning to their wives, and Loney returning to his “partner”. Later in the report they mentioned his “partner, Dan”. So they didn’t ignore it, unlike the web version of the story, which simply says that he was met at the airport by “family and friends”. Had he been straight, they would have noted a wife or a girlfriend, surely. But even so, other reports do mention it, and don’t remark on it beyond that. I haven’t heard a thing from the Christian community about this, though perhaps it’s not in the best of taste to decry the gall of a homosexual to run around the world representing their values when he is being held hostage and threatened with death. But even so; the churches are celebrating his return like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

It’s certainly interesting to watch, even though I can’t draw any conclusions about it. At this point all I can say is: welcome home, Jim.

An Open Letter to the Conservative Party of Canada

An Open Letter to the Conservative Party of Canada

Dear Stephen Harper and Co.,

It’s great to see you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the Canadian political and social landscape. I know you like to think of yourselves as vastly different from your Liberal and New Democratic colleagues, and the gay marriage debate is one way to underscore that. Look at that wide world of voters out there who don’t like the gays! Surely they will vote for you instead of those gay-friendly other parties!

I had the pleasure of hearing more about your party’s policies on the gay marriage issue this morning on the radio, and listening to the details gave me a great idea. Following your line of thought, I’ve come up with an idea: how about we legally change the name of your party, the “Conservative Party of Canada”, to the “Homophobic Party of Canada”.

Let’s look at the issues: historically, the term “conversative” has meant something different in the Canadian political landscape. There was a Conservative Party that merged with theProgressive Party back in the day, but for a long time a “Conservative” candidate meant a PC party member. You cannibalized that party, it’s true, but it was Brian Mulroney who killed it, and it’s disingenuous to take the name of another party in the hopes that people will see you as the same thing. For decades it belonged only to one group of Canadians. You can’t just take the name and expect to be legitimate. I’ve even heard people refering to your party members as “Tories”. That’s completely out of line; you’re not Tories at all. If we rolled the clock back 50 years no one would call you “Tories”. History is important!

Yours can still be a political party, don’t worry. I’m not even asking you to change any of your policies. I mean, you’ll still be an equal party among the other parties. We’ll make sure you have all the same legal rights as everyone else. You just can’t call yourself “Conservative”. It’s not really that much of a hardship, if you think about it. What’s in a name? And think of all the people who will feel better knowing that the term as they used to know it (see Joe Clark) will be legally preserved. We need time to adjust to these radical changes you’re proposing for us. Give us that time by not appropriating a name that you haven’t historically been given.

“Homophobic Party of Canada” is definitely descriptive. What, you don’t like the sound of it? Well, I don’t like the sound of “civil union”, but they tell me it’s legally equal to “marriage”, so I don’t see why you should complain. It’s still got the “Party of Canada” part to it, and you’ll still be allowed to campaign, collect funds, run candidates, and even be elected! Just like all the other parties! What more can you ask for, really. It’s all about preserving our historical definitions, after all. Right?



Dopey Grin

Dopey Grin

Dear God. Someone clearly told Stephen Harper to put on a dopey grin at the end of every complete sentence. “You’re too scary-looking, Stephen. Smile more. Yeah, that’s it.”

It’s frightening me more, quite frankly.

If I could vote for Gilles Duceppe, I would. Is that wrong?