Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

1/27/2006

Business sense

File under: XX Marks the Spot, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:20 pm.
  1. At the local Sears, women’s jeans, unlike men’s, are indexed not by pairs of numbers that denote waist size and inseam, but by single numbers that denote nothing. Yeah, I know, I’ve been over this before, but that’s what you get when you keep reading the same blog for over a year. Anyway: a few weeks ago I subjected a (middle-aged, male) coworker of mine, nevermind why, to a passionate tirade about how I will not even try on jeans whose manufacturers can’t even be bothered to provide a two-parameter description of them. Why waste my time? Except that some of the Sears jeans are labelled with waist size and inseams: one pair, filed under the marker “8″, sported a tag that read “30/32″. Seems the dolt in charge of the women’s jeans section decided that that information should be hidden from immediate view. (Aside: you know those women in fiction who describe themselves as “I’m a size n”? Does anyone actually do that? Because if I were to give the single-number pants size, I’d need to provide a margin of error as well.)

    Credit where it’s due, however: I did manage to pick up some great pyjama bottoms at Sears. They came from the men’s section - and were labelled with waist and inseam. Which is kind of weird, but goddamn, do those pyjamas ever fit.

  2. My employer sprung a new business trip on me after I’d already booked tickets for another one. I called the airline to cancel my original flight, had some conversation involving the words “non-refundable” and “thirty dollars”, and I agreed to a bunch of stuff, and then, a few weeks later, saw my credit card bill, and -

    “Excuse me, but did you people charge me thirty dollars to change a flight from return trip to Edmonton to return trip to nowhere?”

    “Yes, we did.”

    “That doesn’t make any sense.”

    “It’s our policy. We explained it over the phone to you.”

    And, in all fairness, they did: they said that my tickets were nonrefundable, and that I could cancel the flight “for thirty dollars”, which I (understandably) parsed as “…but we’ll refund you $30.” You know how I always complain about students not reading the damned question, and instead just doing whatever they want with the numbers in their word problems? Feel free to point me to this post next time that happens.

    Nevertheless, “But if I just didn’t show up to the airport, it wouldn’t cost me anything to fly to nowhere. I thought that the airline would prefer to know that I wouldn’t be flying so that they could sell my seats to someone else.”

    “Yes, we do appreciate it, thank you for notifying us.”

    “But you just showed your appreciation by charging me thirty dollars.”

    To be fair, they were charging my employer thirty dollars, and perhaps I should have shown my appreciation for my employer by not spending more than thirty dollars’ worth of my time debating this issue with the airline. However, it wasn’t about the money; it was the principle of the thing.

    “That’s our policy.”

    “May I speak to your supervisor?”

    Yes, I may! And let me skip the ensuing thirty-minute conversation and go directly to the coda, which is this: supervisor agreed that why yes, now that I mentioned it, this was ridiculous from the perspectives of both company and customer, and we’ll credit your account thirty dollars, have a nice day.

  3. The hotel where I last stayed on business had a pizza place on the first floor. “Available in the restaurant on the first floor, and in room service!” boasted the menu on the desk. Also: “15% gratuity extra for room service.” Why not? I’m sure that lots of folks who pay their own money to stay in places like this also pay their own money to avoid walking to the lobby.

    “I’d like to order a pizza,” I said.

    “Room number?”

    “Oh, I’ll pick it up myself.”

    “Okay, but we still need your room number so that we can call you when it’s ready.”

    Fair enough.

    Twenty minutes later, a knock on my door, along with man holding a pizza.

    “Oh,” I said, “I told them I’d pick it up in the lobby.”

    The fellow nodded, and walked over to the end of the hall. I followed him into the elevator and into the restaurant. “That’ll be twelve dollars,” he said, reading from the receipt he’d carried up to my room and back down again. “Price of the pizza plus tax.”

12/17/2005

But will they be the sensitive motherly types, or the nagging shrews?

File under: Character Writ Large, Righteous Indignation, XX Marks the Spot, Home And Native Land. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 6:30 pm.

Last night, the three Men Who Would Be Prime Minister (and the One Who Would Abolish The Position Entirely) were asked during the first English debate: what to do about all the heckling in Parliament? How to restore civility to the House of Commons?

To which Jack Layton, feminist, replied:

Well I’ve told my caucus that we won’t shout out and disrupt Parliament. And I think there’s one other thing we should do and that’s have a lot more women in Parliament. I’m very happy that our party has the highest percentage of women candidates ever that any political party has ever presented in an election, 37%. And mark my words - the tone of that house would change if we had a lot more women there, and voting NDP will help make that happen.

Women, see, are more polite than men. Really! Says so right there on TV! And politeness is good, and we want the House of Commons to be more polite, but we can’t very well expect the menfolk to behave by themselves, so let’s bring in more women to set the tone of Parliament. It’s a great deal: Layton gets to send the wimminfolk to do the dirty work, while collecting affirmative action points, all at no cost to himself!

Where have I seen this before? That’s right, grad school. I am leery of most manifestations of affirmative action to begin with, but at least I find a good many of them to be undertaken in good faith; this particular strain, however, is just odious.

Carolyn Ryan, one of four CBC journalists who live-blogged the debate, speaks for me:

Did Layton really just say his party would increase civility in the House of Commons by electing more women? That’s placing a big burden on the gender that produced Sheila Copps, Hedy Fry, and Deborah Grey. Are the female MPs supposed to shush their male counterparts when they get raucous? Should they hold tea parties in the foyer? Will they bring in a “bad-word jar,” with MPs having to pay a twonie every time they heckle? Puh-lease. Why not just promise to elect more polite people as MPs, or discipline the ones you’ve got now?

Why not? I know why not: because Layton knows better than to make promises he can’t keep. Better to set standards that his green women MPs won’t be able to live up to, and let them take the fall when they inevitably fail.

9/29/2005

Stop reading the title of this post!

File under: Sound And Fury, XX Marks the Spot. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 3:51 pm.

Lord knows you won’t find a less charitable critic of the “your shoes say so very much about you” school of thought than yours truly, but I find myself unable to reject, wholesale, its central tenet, which is this: what you wear can send a message to the people you interact with. For example, if you wear a t-shirt that says “touch my boobies“, you are sending the message that you would like someone to touch your boobies. Yes, you are. Oh, I know that you meant it ironically. And do you know what the horny eighteen-year-old who asked you out after he saw you in that shirt has a really good appreciation of, because he’s been paying extremely close attention in the remedial English class he couldn’t place out of? That’s right, irony.

More generally: if you don’t periodically find yourself thinking, “You know, the problem with the world today is that people read too damned much, perhaps it’s time to discourage folks from reading the stuff they see around them”, then maybe you ought to think long and hard before “[using] your body as a billboard“. Even - no, especially - if you’re only doing that for the purpose of (ironically!) “[showing] corporate America that you’re not one”, and by the way, if anyone who passed Doublethink 101 would care explain that one to me in the comments, why, I’d be much obliged.

Because here’s the thing: I am, for the most part, wholly uninterested in boobies. When I talk to women, I make eye contact with them the entire time, unless they’re gesturing with their hands, in which case I’ll look at their hands as well. I will not look downward. Again: I am wholly uninterested in boobies.

However, if my interlocutor has text printed across her tits, then yes, my gaze will move southward, and linger for as long as it takes for me to finish reading. DESPITE MY LACK OF SEXUAL INTEREST IN BREASTS. English text implicitly invites readers (see also, “society, literacy-based”) even when it explicitly reads “stay away”. You have to first read it in order to get the “stay away” message.

“The show is upstairs”? Fine. I’d never have even ventured onto the second floor in the first place if you hadn’t invited me there. And now? I’m pretty sure I’m not even interested in the show anymore.

(Although, it looks like there’s something going on on the first floor, if you catch my drift. Me, when I want someone to not look at my crotch, I wear something on top of my underpants. Even though that’s not politically progressive! Whatever.)

[Update: This is worse. If you ever see anyone wearing that first shirt, play dumb and ask him to check out that nasty-smelling vaginal discharge you just noticed. Hey, he offered!]

9/15/2005

Let’s reject Sharia, but treat women like second-class citizens anyway

I know I have a lot of non-Canadian readers whose exposure to Ontario news is limited to what they read on this blog, so after last week, many of them might have been left with the impression that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty isn’t an absolute tool. And even though TD&M isn’t a political blog, I really can’t allow that assumption to stand. Because, see, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is an absolute tool, despite some lapses of character a few weeks ago.

The background is this: in 1991, Ontario started allowing various flavours of faith-based arbitration - a system of religiously-based civil courts, superceded by Ontario civil law, which members of various religions could voluntarily enter to settle disputes. Since then Ontario has had a number of such courts, including the Jewish Bet Dins, and a Catholic system that had the power the annul marriages. And this system was so successfully integrated into the civil justice system that hardly anyone in Ontario even knew it existed, let alone complained about it.

Fast forward a decade and change, when the Canadian Islamic Congress started floating the possibility of introducing Sharia courts as a means of settling disputes among Muslims who wanted their own faith-based system. Suddenly, faith-based courts were in the news - and many of the most vocal, most articulate opponents of the proposed Ontario sharia courts were Muslim women themselves, many of whom were refugees who had escaped from Sharia-style “justice” overseas.

At the centre of this debate was Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who had the power to accept or reject the Sharia courts.

I watched with detached interest to see how this would be resolved. In Canada, multiculturalism is valued to the point that no elected official, even one as duplicitous as McGuinty, would publicly make a statement that could be construed as valuing one religion over another.

And, sure enough, this played out in a quintessentially Canadian way, with a heaping serving of self-righteousness and sexism on the side.

Earlier this week, after weathering dozens of protests across Canada and public statements against sharia, McGuinty scrapped the proposed courts - along with the other religious courts that had existed for a decade and a half without problems.

McGuinty insisted Sunday his government wasn’t taking away rights from Christian and Jewish groups because it was afraid to give similar rights to Muslims after claims that Shariah law was, at its heart, unfair to women.

In other words, even though he’s following the advice of the anti-Sharia protesters by scrapping the plans for those courts, it’s not like he’s, God forbid, listening to them. Despite the fact that, well, every single one of the Sharia protests was led and supported by people who were concerned that Sharia was, at its heart, unfair to women - don’t worry, that’s not why McGuinty is rejecting the idea! He’s not concerned with that girly stuff! It’s not like he’s a feminist or anything!

Why is he rejecting the Sharia courts?

“The debate over Shariah law has caused us to ask a pretty fundamental question: Can religious arbitration be part of a cohesive multicultural society? It’s become apparent to me that it cannot,” he told The Canadian Press.”

Except that, well, that was never the question. At least not until McGuinty asked and answered it all in one fell swoop, causing defenders of the already-existing faith-based courts to wake up, rub their eyes, and wonder if they slept in an extra few days because when they went to sleep, no one was even talking about their courts.

But worry not! McGuinty does take women’s concerns into consideration when making decisions:

The premier said his wife, Terri, had not raised the sharia law issue with him during the lengthy debate, but noted the 17 women in his Liberal caucus urged him to reject the idea.

His wife. For weeks he completely ignored the concerns of seventeen elected members of his caucus, but if only his wife, an elementary school teacher, had broached the subject with him, maybe he’d have changed his mind. And those seventeen caucus members weren’t wondering whether religious abitration could be part of a cohesive multicultural society - they were objecting to the sharia courts on the grounds that they were discriminatory. Which is just a side issue to that “pretty fundamental question”. If that. (Thanks to wolfangel for highlighting that gem.)

I’ve got plenty of other thoughts on this issue - in short, I think that this “all or nothing” approach to religious arbitration is a cop-out, and doesn’t recognize the fact that many aspects of religion, can, and should, be evaluated on their own merits, and the divide between Religious Practices and A Secular Society is an artificial one, and anyone who disagrees with me can put their money where their mouth is by dipping into their own holiday time to take Christmas off, and don’t even try to tell me that Christmas is a secular holiday - but really, I think this is quite enough for now.

In the meantime, we can all commend Dalton McGuinty for his devotion to equality, and to one law for all. Previously, many Canadians were concerned that Muslim women would not be respected as equals in the Sharia courts, and that their concerns would be dismissed. McGuinty, however, has assured us by his actions that the concerns of all women, including those in his own caucus, would be dismissed equally.

9/9/2005

All right, ‘fess up.

File under: XX Marks the Spot, Meta-Meta, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:09 pm.

Inspired most recently by Vito Prosciutto’s latest post, I want to know: who, at some point, thought I was male? Who thought I was male right up until they read the previous sentence? Who, at this point, still thinks I am male? Come on, give it to me - I can take it.

The irony, as I told Vito, is that when I selected the handle “Moebius Stripper” lo these many years ago, it was specifically to avoid having folks assume I was a guy, which they did without exception when I used my previous (gender-neutral, I thought) alias. However, as most of the other female BBS users my GOD I am dating myself had handles such as “Unicorn” and “Rainbow”, that didn’t even work out as well as I’d expected. Some time ago, Declan told me that it was the “curmudgeon” descriptor (which I far prefer to “bitch”) that fooled him. Not many curmudgeons among the double X’s, to be sure, but I don’t know whether I should find it encouraging that the stripper => woman stereotype is apparently less firmly established in the public consciousness than the cranky math teacher => male one. But seriously! I’m contributing diversity to the set of curmudgeons, most of whom are old white men! Those employers who pride themselves on holding progressive, equal-opportunity ideals should be falling over themselves to offer me a job!

8/7/2005

Different learning styles versus different content

File under: Those Who Can't, XX Marks the Spot, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 3:32 pm.

A cognitive scientist is asked whether visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners need to be taught according to their individual learning styles, and he responds with an unqualified no:

What cognitive science has taught us is that children do differ in their abilities with different modalities, but teaching the child in his best modality doesn’t affect his educational achievement. What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content’s best modality. All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality.

Link from Kimberly Swygert, who comments:

if a school believes in teaching students mathematics through songs and artwork, it would be nice if they backed this up with research indicating whether these are effective methods of conveying mathematical knowledge.

This is the real issue, I think. The issue isn’t that teaching a subject, say, kinesthetically doesn’t help a kinesthetic learner understand the material better; the issue is that teaching material kinesthetically may compromise the content. If you’re teaching students how to add fractions, for instance, then whichever way you do it, the student should know how to add fractions by the time you’re through. I don’t know of any tested methods of doing that through songs and artwork (though I like to present mathematics geometrically whenever suitable). The inability to convey certain content is why the songs and artwork method will probably fail. The notion that the “learning styles” philosophy is bunk, isn’t.

I’ve seen learning styles and content confounded regularly in my work. I routinely have students tell me that they’re having difficulty with the way I’m teaching, what with their learning styles not meshing with the way I conduct my course. Never has a student gone on to tell me that they process information in a more kinesthetic way than my teaching permits, or that they find my wordy notes confusing. Sometimes, “I have a different learning style” is just code for “I don’t want to do my homework“. Other times, it means “I don’t understand the material at all”, as when a unique-learning-styled individual tells me that they’d have no difficulty with the word problems I assigned, if only I provided the formulas with the text. (Hypothesis, based on personal experience: on balance, psychology majors who don’t get what you’re teaching are more likely than average to merely have different learning styles that you’re failing to recognize.)

I read of a particularly disturbing example of this confusion between differing learning styles and differing content around two years ago, in an article about a Vancouver Island junior high school. The school had recently decided to experiment with sex-segregated English and math classes. From what I gathered from the article, there were two reasons for this. The first was that boys and girls learned when they weren’t distracted by members of the opposite sex. The second was the “learning styles” argument, which submitted that girls’ brains were made of sugar and spice and everything nice, whereas boys’ were composed of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, and so, it made sense to teach in accordance to those needs.

I’d read an article in Scientific American not long before, and it described at length and in details the difference between male and female brains. I found one observation very interesting: men and women of equal mathematical ability used different parts of their brains in solving mathematical questions.

This research played no role, however, in designing the Vancouver Island school’s sex-segregated math classes. The principal explained that boys were more adventurous, and so, the boys’ math class would be very “hands-on”: the teacher would present a new topic in limited detail, show and example or two, and then send the boys on their way to experiment with a variety of different homework problems that used the new concept in different ways. The girls, explained the principal, weren’t much for trying new things on their own, so they’d get to read about the new topic first, read dozens and examples, and then work on some homework problems that looked just like the dozens of examples they’d seen. This would build confidence, asserted the principal.

I wrote a letter to the editor, explaining math is hands-on, and that from the perspective of someone who’d taught math at the university level, the boys’ math class sounded like math, whereas the girls’ class sounded like math-lite. Reading examples before working on identical questions with the numbers changed is not “teaching to a different learning style”; it is teaching different material. In particular, this is not math; it is the mindless application of algorithms, designed to prop up mathphobic girls rather than educate them. The lucky boys, meanwhile, actually have an opportunity to apply the concepts they’ve learned and not just parrot back formulas - something that would prepare them for more difficult mathematics. If you’re using a different metric to measure whether a student has learned a subject, you’re probably not merely using a different teaching style to convey it. More likely, you’re teaching different material altogether.

More at BrightMystery, where a commenter remarks:

Perhaps it’s more important for a student to know their learning style than for a teacher to teach to it. Then the student can make whatever adjustments are needed in their classroom and study habits (as well as out of classroom time with the instructor).

Absolutely. I know that I, for instance, am a highly visual and verbal thinker. I learned how to read at the same time as I learned how to speak. From my earliest memory, during conversations, I would visualize what people were saying to me, typed out on a screen in my head. To this day, I do this whenever I need to make sense of difficult material that I encounter in spoken form: I freeze the material in my head, so that I can go back and mentally read it. It helps me, then, to take copious notes in the classroom, but I don’t expect every single teacher of mine to accommodate this preference of mine by writing everything down on the blackboard. Instead, I make sure that the notes I take in class are a proper superset of what’s on the blackboard. If anything, this is more helpful than having a teacher who writes down absolutely everything, because this way I have to be completely engaged while I’m in the classroom. Overcatering to differing learning styles, I’d wager, results in passive learning.

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