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Showing posts from March, 2016

The Art of Complaining

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“Complain, complain, that’s all you do Ever since we lost! If it’s not the crucifixion It’s the Holocaust.” L. Cohen
In my brief (five years) and tiny tenure as an administrator responsible for an array of university programs, one of my duties was to receive student complaints.  Students usually had real or at least honestly perceived grounds for complaint.  The typical complaint was about the quality of instruction or the instructor of a particular course.  Frequently, the student would announce a shift of discourse with the phrase “It’s not the reason I’m here, but . . . .”
The irony of the situation was that if a student wanted to complain about a grade or even the evaluation of a particular assignment, that was a situation I could easily deal with--and that was the point students would take twenty minutes to get to.  The university had rules and procedures in place for reassessing a mark.  As I discovered the hard way, the university provided no legal means for dealing with a lacklust…

“Let’s End the Myth that PhDs Are Only Suited for the Ivory Tower.” Really! Why?

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Let’s End the Myth that PhDs Are Only Suited for the Ivory Tower.”  This was the headline for an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail written by Queen’s University’s Dean of Graduate Studies.  The article reminded me of meetings our tiny caucus of English teachers used to  have once or twice a year with our faculty’s Dean.  Invariably, at some point in the meeting, the Dean would turn to my colleague who was responsible for our section’s graduate programs and ask:  “How many new admissions do you have for next semester?”


Everyone in the room knew, with the possible exception of the Dean (and I suspect he may have known as well) that, at this point, we had two or maybe three new admissions.   Invariably my colleague would look surprised and begin to shuffle papers.  Having briefly occupied his position before he did, I had a rough idea of the bafflegab he was preparing to deliver, but I was never as good or practised at it as he was.
“Well,” he would begin, “in order to give the most …

If You’re One of “the Good Guys,” Do You Still Have to Worry about the FBI Accessing Your iPhone? With Addendum.

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In some ways, we have not completely escapedthe prejudices of our oral ancestors.  There is always a lingering suspicion that someone demanding privacy must have something to hide.
Last week the Director of the FBI was on television arguing for the agency’s right to unlock the particular iPhone used by the ISIS-inspired San Bernardino terrorist—and by extension all iPhones.  His justification is that we are “the good guys” and we’re trying to catch “the bad guys.”  It’s hard to imagine a weaker a priori argument for the simple reason that in the history of governments, tyrannies, military juntas, secret police forces, and dictatorships there has never been one that announced to the world “we are not the good guys!”.
Nonetheless, personally, I have nothing to hide, and I'm a Canadian with a very non-ISIS sounding name and a regular readership of less than a dozen people for this blog.  (I am proud to have a select and discriminating readership.)  The ultimate defense against being…

Privacy Versus Security: Debating a False Dichotomy

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Is privacy necessary? Is privacy really an innate human desire?  Is it normal to want to be alone?  While it seems intuitive and logical to assume that our culture and technology have evolved in response to a basic human desire for privacy, anthropologists as well as communication and cultural theorists have argued that the cause and effect are the other way around.   Our habits, customs, created environments and mindsets are not a response to a primordial human need.  Technological culture created the idea of and need/desire for privacy.







Oral culture In oral societies (that is, societies which depended on direct person-to-person oral communication), the desire to be alone was immediately identified as a symptom of illness.  In a world dominated by orality, today’s millennial otaku introvert generation would have fared as either deities or as mad demons.  They might have become the oracles living in caves at Delphi or the first monks dedicating their lives to transcribing ancient script…