Wednesday, January 29, 2003


The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has put together a 72 page briefing book on Iraq, containing several shorter pieces on specific issues pertaining to the situation. David Krieger, Richard Falk and Phyllis Bennis feature prominently in the compilation. If you are interested in taking a look, the PDF file can be found at:
(Forwarded from Mark Sandilands, local NDP candidate)

Weblogs and Class Discussion

So, I screwed up in class Monday. I told students I would be looking for more original commentary in their weblogs, and less recap of class discussion. It seemed a reasonable thing to say at the time, since quite a few students were merely summarizing class discussion and sticking an "agree" or "disagree" label at the end of each summary. Kind of boring to read and too focused on the class -- the idea was that these would be public documents that might attract a larger audience then just me (the marker) or at least spark interchange between students, but that wasn't really happening. Many of the blogs would not make sense to anyone not already privy to class discussion. So what I should have said was something about being free to talk about stuff outside of class content if they wanted to. But they way I said it nearly killed the class.

Luckily a couple of students tipped me to what I had REALLY said. "If you are looking for original insight in our blogs," they told me, "We'll reserve our best ideas for when we go to write, and not make those points in class discussion." Well, duh! I would too, if that's were the marks are. Consequently, I very nearly killed class discussion in my discussion course! Ouch!How dumb was that!

I will try to backpeddle in class today, and hope it works and that I don't just make things worse. But I've got to try or the rest of this semester could be a disaster!
Well, I found myself distracted from work yesterday by following a thread on Iraq on one of the writer lists I belong to. Reading the highly articulate arguments of these keen observers of life, politics and the world was fascinating, if often quite depressing given current trends. At first I felt a bit guilty for not spending more time on work, since as usual I am behind, but then decided that staying up on what is happening in the world, and more importantly thinking seriously about its implications, is probably a useful way to spend my day. In the long run, whether or not I deliver a paper at a particular conference this summer is important only to myself and perhaps the 30 or so potential audience members, whereas the world is headed in a dangerous direction that may mean the death of hundreds of thousands, and the collapse of democratic ideals.... Perhaps the world would be less likely to fall into troubled times if more of us were paying attention, and were less caught up in the day to day trivia of our own personal careers and lives.

I am reminded of a story of the Hollywood writer who attended a meeting of producers during the Berlin crisis and was shocked that no one there was paying the least attention to the news. The world appeared on the brink of war, probably nuclear war, between the US and Russia and all these producers could think about was whether some frivolous movie was on schedule or not. After listening to the discussion for an hour he couldn't stand it any more, and stood up and said "What's the matter with you people?! Don't you know what's happening in the world?! Have none of you been following the news from Berlin?!" To which the head of the studio turned white, and said, "My God, you're right! Why didn't I see this before? Felix is filming in Berlin!This Berlin thing could put him WEEKS behind schedule!"

The following has been circulating for weeks on the internet, and I do not know the author, but for those who haven't seen it before, I offer the following:

it gets a little tired after the first few verses, but what the hey....

(to the tune of "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands"...)

If you cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq.
If the markets are a drama, bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are frisky,
Pakistan is looking shifty,
North Korea is too risky,
Bomb Iraq.

If we have no allies with us, bomb Iraq.
If we think someone has dissed us, bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections,
Let's look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions,
Bomb Iraq.

It's "pre-emptive non-aggression", bomb Iraq.
Let's prevent this mass destruction, bomb Iraq.
They've got weapons we can't see,
And that's good enough for me
'Cos it's all the proof I need
Bomb Iraq.

If you never were elected, bomb Iraq.
If your mood is quite dejected, bomb Iraq.
If you think Saddam's gone mad,
With the weapons that he had,
(And he tried to kill your dad),
Bomb Iraq.

If your corporate fraud is growin', bomb Iraq.
If your ties to it are showin', bomb Iraq.
If your politics are sleazy,
And hiding that ain't easy,
And your manhood's getting queasy,
Bomb Iraq.

Fall in line and follow orders, bomb Iraq.
For our might knows not our borders, bomb Iraq.
Disagree? We'll call it treason,
Let's make war not love this season,
Even if we have no reason,
Bomb Iraq.

Okay, not exactly profound analysis, but I find it interesting that at least a portion of the American public is not taken in by the media and is prepared to be quite critical of its own foreign policy. Though I am often surprised that anyone could find Bush arguments credible. I find the repeated attempts to link Saddam to Al Quadia absolutely astounding. That's like accusing the Black Panthers of having links to the KKK. Saddam has to be almost as high on their hit list as America itself. Saddam spent years suppressing his own sunni minority, murdering fundamentalists, and waged a ten year war against Iran's fundamentalist government. He is a technocrat and represents everything Bin Laden is opposed to. Saddam is a nasty piece of work, but invading Iraq on the pretext that it is part of the fight against terrorism is just plain ludicrous. Looks pretty much like another incubator story to me -- the only way to motivate American voters into intervening in the internal affairs of a nation halfway around the world that most Americans would have trouble finding on a map is to tell them that it had something to do with 9/11. Because otherwise, why would anyone care?

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Alternate news sources

Okay, since class discussion last week concerned mainstream media and the manufacture of consensus, here are a couple of counter examples.

This first link is to an anti-Bush photo essay depicting his family's link to Nazi Germany and drawing parallels between Bush and Hitler that won't be covered on evening TV news. Is it real or propaganda?

And here are a list of some alternate news sources:

Mother Jones:
World Press Review:
Eric Alterman's blog:
Michael Moore's site, but he doesn't update as often

Monday, January 27, 2003

Montessori Success

I'm finding it hard to make time to keep my blog uptodate. I guess I have to be less ambitious about writing complete essays or providing profound insights and just be prepared to ramble from time to time. But I want to keep my blog up as I do not want to ask my students to do something I am not doing myself.

With my daughter in Montessori preschool, I have come to a deeper appreciation of Montessori as an approach to schooling. Our teacher preparation program really ought to feature more courses on such alternatives. I am always impressed by the school whenever drop off my daughter or pick her up at the end of the day, but the greatest impact is when I recognize how much my daughter is learning there. It is not even that at four and three-quarters (saying the 3/4 is important to my daughter) years old, my daughter and most of her school friends are already reading simple books. It is the unexpected comment that really drives the point home. For example, in the car yesterday my daughter points to a triangle and says, "I forget, which one is that again." And her mom says, "Tigana, you know your shapes."
Tigana replies, "Yes, but I just can't remember what its called."
So her mom says, "That's a triangle."
In response to which Tigana rolls her eyes heavenward and says, "Well, of course its a TRIANGLE! I MEANT, is it an equaliateral or an isosceles triangle? I can't remember which is which"
To which I can only reply, "How old are you again?"
It's not how much the school is teaching these kids, because I have seen other parents push this kind of academics with their children to the detriment of the child, but that the Montessori children seem to pick this stuff up without any sense of having worked at it. That they want to learn, are eager to learn, and just absorb this stuff by ossmosis. It's pretty impressive.

On another occassion I took Tigana to the movies and found a bunch of her classmates holding down a row in the middle of the theater, so we joined them. The supervising parent in this case was at the far end of the row, so one of Tigana's school friends, who by definition could not be older than 6, turns to me and asks politely "What was your name again."
"I'm Tigana's dad!"
"Oh, yes. Well, my name is ____ and beside me is ____ and next to her is _____, and the adult at the end is Mrs. ______. And we're so glad you and Tigana could join us." Okay, not earth shaking conversation exactly, but the poise and social grace this six year old was demonstrating blew me away. I know many adults who would not have handled the introductions as well. The self-confidence and consideration of others these kids show often provides solid evidence that Piaget had no clue what he was talking about. And when I contrast any of these students with others of the same age we encounter at, say, Tons of Fun, the difference is remarkable. I often embarrasses myself with parents by guessing the age of their children a year or two younger than they are because their kids are not remotely close to functioning at the level of Tigana and her Montessori classmates. Of course I am highly biased as a Montessori father, but even so....

So if the system works that well, we ought to be introducing some of Montessori's basic concepts to our own student teachers. Never mind that there is a significant and growing market for Montessori trained teachers, all elementary teachers could benefit from Montessori training. Setting up a suitable course is yet another item for my To Do list, I guess.

Friday, January 17, 2003

It took a little debugging to get backBlog to work for me (the apostrophy in the title was the problem I think) but it seems to be working now. I will email the class with directions. Alternatively, they may just want to use email as that would be the simplest for them to implement.

I am encouraged by this initial success to try other ways to modify my blog layout. But of course, this should be secondary to content.

One of the interesting things about Blogger and it's ilk is that they often list "the last ten updated logs" which represents a pretty random selection. I like looking at some of the titles that come up. My favorite so far was "An Alien Ate My Wallet" which sounds like something I might indeed want to read if I get a moment. Since starting this assignment, I have glanced around at some of my colleagues blogs and the blogs to whom their blogs referred me, and there are an awful lot of very interesting blogs out there. Any number of cartoonists, writers, scholars, etc. whose work I tend to follow have personal blogs up and running. The question is, do I want to know what these people are thinking and doing when 'off duty'? Some of these I have glanced at have been fascinating, foreshadowing no doubt the master works to come from these authors and scholars; watching these great works evolve in front of our eyes, perhaps even contributing to that process should we make a comment or two could be wonderful -- if one could find the time to read them all. I suspect some of us will get so caught up reading the blogs, we'll no longer have time to read the actual books, etc. I am also aware that many of my favorite authors, Philip K. Dick to take one example, led lives that might, how may I put it without being sued? -- may not entirely live up to the audiences' expectations. I remember one Canadian Dick scholar talking about his disillusionment when he finally met Dick in person and discovered him to be --well, kind of an ass. How often do we get to meet our idols and risk such disillusionment? But the personal blogs of our heroes puts as all at risk for this sort of thing!

Which in turn raises the issue, I suppose, of how students may react reading the blogs of their professors. Will it, as I once hoped for personal web pages, increase classroom rapport? Or potentially backfire terribly?

I have been investigating ways to add commenting function for free to blogger (since I do not want students to have to pay for a class assignment) but most of those recommended by colleagues are "temporarily closed" to new signups or so bogged down with too many subscribers per server that they are unworkable. But here's one that seems to work okay:
Feedback by blogBack

Wednesday, January 15, 2003


Okay, having assigned a course-related blog as one possible assignment
option in Education 3603, The Social Context of Schooling (Faculty of
Education, University of Lethbridge), I thought it would probably be a
good idea if I started one myself. I'm using Blogger as that seemed the
simplest and therefore most popular option for my students, but I may
switch to one of the other, more sophisticated packages once the course
is over, should I decide to keep doing this.

For those reading this who are not in Ed 3603, background information on
the course can be found at

Background information on me, Dr. Robert Runte, can be found at

I became interested in trying out a weblog as a course assignment after
talking with academic librarian (University of Alberta) Randy Reichardt,
and reading his blog at
Before that, however, I have long been interested in monitoring developments in
cyberculture (I have taught a graduate course on a sociological analysis
of cyberculture: and in
analyzing why people write (see my article from Broken Pencil Magazine
on the motivation for writing at
Web logs obviously combine both interests, as I am interested in why people would
be motivated to maintain an on-line dirary. It was only through
conversations with Randy Reichardt that I realized that many others were
already using blogs to network with others in their fields of interest,
that blogs are fast becoming a key ingredient in the creation of online
communities. The potential to create an online community of learners in
association with a particular course became obvious to me, and I allowed
students to volunteer to take their course discussions on-line. I
choose to do this in Ed 3603 because the Social Context of learning
course is a discussion course and because several of my colleagues are
already using paper and pencil journal assignments in their sections, so
it seemed the obvious candidate.

So, first, to any of my students reading this, a suggestion: why not
write your entry in Word (or other word processing program) first, and
then cut and paste into your blog? That way, one (a) has a permanent
record of their assignment safely on disk in case something goes wrong
with their blog and (b) has a chance to spell check before uploading the
entry, and (c) can get a clearer picture of how many pages/words one is
contributing. Just a thought.

Having, said all that by way of necessary introduction, allow me to
throw out some bits I have found interesting this week:

As a analyst of popular culture, I have been following developments with
Lord of the Rings, and I found the discussion of a "synthespians"--
computer-generated actors -- in Ed Willett's weekly science column of more than passing

"The film's massive Battle of Helm's Deep, featuring
tens of thousands of combatants, is fought almost entirely by
synthespians. The synthespians ...completely computer-created, the
amazing output of a new computer program called Massive developed specifically for The Lord of the Rings movies."

"Massive's synthespians aren't simply particles; they're intelligent
"agents." Each agent has specific body and behavioral attributes:
i.e., short, fat, and aggressive, or tall, skinny, and cowardly. Each
has a host--up to 350--of short potential actions; i.e., raise sword,
swing sword, step forward, step back. Each agent's actions are governed
by its individual "brain," a web of behavioral logic nodes that tells it
how to perceive, interpret and respond to what's happening, all governed
by "fuzzy logic" rather than simple "yes-no" decision making, which
allows for a much more varied range of actions.

"This means that although the outcome of a filmed battle can be
pre-determined, the specific actions of the agents that make up the
battling armies are unpredictable. This can lead to effects that
surprise even the creators: in an early test, most of the agents in two
computerized armies fought each other ferociously--but in the
background, several members of each army could be seen running away,
their "brains" having decided that was the logical thing to do!"

Okay, that's food for thought!

And on an unrelated note, my favorite one-liner found in an email this
week was by a lawyer and SF writer (I will leave him unnamed to protect
myself from lawsuits) who mentioned in passing: "It's not like the old
days where, because I never drank, I was always the designated driver
when we were stealing cars." I always find it interesting how a single
sentence can tell a story, tell more about a person's background then
some entire biographies, and reveal a great deal about popular culture
-- I love the juxtaposition of responsible drinking and car theft.

Oh, incidentally, in case anyone was wondering, the title of my Blog is
the title of a print-based publication I used to do, some articles from
which are reprinted at