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Monday, December 31, 2007

The 2007 Review

H/T: -R-

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before? I finally got my employer's HR department to give me the back pay they've owed me since February 2006. (I thought this would never happen.)

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I don't usually make New Year's resolutions. I am good at sticking with things once I make up my mind, but I don't do it on a set day each year.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? No.

4. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007? The ability to control my foot-stomping rages.

5. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? Hmmm. I can't think of a single date from the last year that was particularly meaningful for me. I remember plenty of events, but they weren't tied to individual days:

  • The day I took my son across the street and introduced him to Daniel: "Is there a little boy in this house who would like to play with Michael?"
  • The day Michael lost his first tooth.
  • The day he learned to ride a bike.
  • Constable Chris Worden's funeral. I was invited to the RCMP detachment to watch it on the live feed with the officers. Many of them had been friends with Chris. I'm still wearing the blue and black ribbon they handed out that day.
  • Finding out that I do not have cancer.
  • The day I renamed my blog and discovered the Fleetwood Mac fetishists.
  • Watching the Newfoundland election results with Steve.

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Heck, I just lost 50 pounds. That's a pretty big deal for me.

7. What was your biggest failure? Continuing to be controlled by my emotions. I don't think this one is ever going away.

8. What was the best thing you bought? My iPod and music collection keep me very happy. (Tusk is playing right now.)

9. Whose behavior merited celebration? Michael has amazed me this winter. He is a true athlete. Not only is he a fabulous skier, but he taught himself to skate in about an hour and a half. A credit to his uncles on both sides of the family tree.

10. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? I have an answer in mind, but I probably shouldn't post it on the Internet.

11. Where did most of your money go? My house. Seriously, I have to worry about anyone who spends most of his money on anything BUT housing.

12. What did you get really, really, really excited about? I won two tickets to Edmonton at my office party a few weeks ago, and I completely freaked out. Steve says I was like a contestant on The Price Is Right. I almost smooched a co-worker.

13. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer? a) About the same, I guess. b) Thinner. Woot! c) Richer, I guess, because we have more equity in our house

Holidailies readers: I've enjoyed your visits, and I hope you like my site enough to come back in the new year. My RSS feed is here.

Happy New Year, all!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Damn your love. Damn your lies.

Reader-submitted complaint: There's too much dry humour on this site. I'm concerned that some people won't get the joke. I mean, I'm smart enough to get it, but what about all those people who aren't as literary as I am?

Interesting point. What about those people? What miserable existences they must lead!

Never fear: I have dealt with this issue before. I do have a dry sense of humour, I guess, but as my brothers do, too, I don't think there's much hope of changing this.

I don't think of myself as subtle, but at times I've confused people with "compliments" like "Thanks for your valuable contribution to this discussion. I'm sure that the unique way you use punctuation is some sort of political statement. And you truly deserve kudos for developing a new meaning for the word 'erstwhile'. We all appreciate it." (I thought this was mean, but apparently it wasn't direct enough.)

But wait: Not everything on this site is a joke. Some of it is deadly serious. In fact, MOST of it is serious. Are you sure that you've been able to separate the wheat from the chaff? Maybe you're not as literary as you think you are.

"I've re-discovered Name of Town Withheld!"

Name of Town Withheld is back in the national news.

There are only two possible reasons for this, and our Newspaper Of Record does not disappoint:

  • Something horrible has happened here.
  • A reporter has "discovered" something fascinating about Name of Town Withheld.
It's not often that something horrible happens here, and much more common that a reporter will assume he or she is the first to notice something that's blatantly obvious to everyone else. There are three choices:
  • People scavenge at the dump.
  • People use drugs.
  • People live in Old Town.
This time, Old Town is taking the national stage. This is a section of town on the water, sometimes literally: several people live in houseboats. Others have gorgeous homes. Others live in shacks, and they are getting national exposure for it. The article is here; the accompanying photo essay is here.

Yes, some people live in shacks. No, their homes are in no danger of being torn down willy-nilly. One abandoned "party shack" is being torn down. STOP THE PRESSES! How dare the city pull down an abandoned building that is a danger to public safety? This is national news!

Somehow I doubt that this is "Canada's quirkiest neighbourhood". In Dexter, just across the lake from the house where I grew up, a group of people lived in buses. (This was 20 years ago, but they might still be there.) That was a lot quirkier than this group of shacks.

Never mind! A national reporter's in Name of Town Withheld, and there are only three story choices! Carry on!

This group of shacks is apparently Canada's quirkiest neighbourhood. You can tell it's serious, because the editor of Name of Paper Withheld used to live there. (Actually, several of the paper's employees have lived there.)

I ought to explain a few things, though:
  • No sewer or water? Not quite so unusual. The entire area, including the million-dollar homes, has no sewer or water. The city delivers water and picks up honey bags.

  • The guy with the furniture from the dump? Not quite so unusual. Lots of people do this. This will probably be the reporter's next story, but people leave almost-new stuff at the dump for others to pick up and reuse.

  • The "debate surrounding the shacks"? Nonexistent. Seriously, nobody cares that people want to live in shacks. If these guys were being forced to live in shacks because they couldn't afford regular housing, there would probably be an uproar, but they WANT to live there. It's none of my business. The city's tearing the abandoned party shack down because, well, it's an abandoned party shack.
If you know where to look, this is all in the story, but it's framed in a way that makes it look like this is all much more exciting than it actually is.

Thanks, Newspaper of Record. I know where to find you to thank you personally: on the street you're going to call "the Gaza Strip", talking to the crack addicts outside Name of Paper Withheld's office. Remarkably, you'll then stumble across the paper's editor, who can provide the perfect snappy quote about drug addiction. I wonder why this is so easy to predict.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Welcome, Phil

I am adding another link to the blogroll, and it's to yet another person I've never met. However, I feel like I know him, and I know you'll love his blog, so I'm adding him. Welcome, Phil.

Phil has a fabulous photo blog showing the entire region Up There. He just took over my old job at CBC North, but he used to work for Name of Paper Withheld. Never fear: he has not attracted Little Miss Know-it-All's wrath.

I'd been reading his blog for months when he called me at work to line up an interview with one of our staff. (We have a rule that all media requests go through me. This is a bit weird when a reporter has to call Name of Town Withheld to arrange to speak with a person he sees in the northern store every day, but it's still the rule.) I think I scared him a bit, because I really felt like I knew him, but he had no idea who I was. I've TOTALLY been there: wandering through Northern with a sick feeling in your stomach because the prices are ridiculous, having your boots freeze to the ground during a live hit, feeling completely like a fish out of water while you try desperately to find someone who will talk on the record.

I had purposely avoided leaving comments on his blog, because after the hatchet job Name of Paper Withheld did on another blogger here in town, I was not anxious to invite similar scrutiny of my blog. That day, though, I came home and left him a comment that linked back here. I've really enjoyed reading his posts, and I know you will, too.

Friday, December 28, 2007

It's all about the Capitalist.

First-ever reader-submitted compliment: Your brother is HOT. I had no idea he was so toned and sexy. He seems so mature online; who would have thought he was young and handsome?

Uh huh. And also:

Reader-submitted complaint: Your brother is fat. I used to be fat, too, but he really needs to work on his flabby gut.

I see.

Really, what else can I say?

Chuck Norris approved this message

My brother Ben has been discussing Mike Huckabee's tax-reform plan over on his blog.

I happen to like Mike Huckabee, although he's got absolutely no chance of winning the election. I liked him even before I saw his latest campaign ad:



My readers will probably appreciate this link, too. I cannot explain why Comedy Central is doing the best political coverage on television.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The expression every gift giver is hoping for


We love you, Capitalist.

w00t?

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: I DID IT FIRST! YES, I DID! EVERYONE LOOK AT ME! I THOUGHT OF IT FIRST!

I am not sure if I should take any comfort from the fact that Russell Smith is aware that he makes me sick. His latest column begins with the words "It is unseemly for a reporter to gloat about a scoop, I know, but". Ugh. But nothing, Russell. Shut up.

Of course, he never does. Russell, you see, is ahead of the curve on all things related to journalism. In this case, he's years ahead. He pinpointed a trend in 2004! And the Associated Press is only seeing it NOW! What a bunch of duffers! They probably don't even wear pocket squares.

I am not a huge fan of "trendwatching" articles, but there is something about Russell's style that puts a crick in my neck. People are using l33tspeak now, and it's a huge relief to Russell. What if people hadn't picked up this trendy way of writing on teh internets? How embarrassing would THAT be? Fortunately, HE SAID IT FIRST!!! In 2004! Get that, everyone? Russell is SUPER COOL.

For once, I agree with Russell. This is truly an unseemly display.

Russell, apparently, has heard "clever boys in bars" saying "LOL". (Russell is in his forties, but still spends lots of time paying rapt attention to boys in bars.) First, what kind of moron says that? And who thinks that's clever? And how pathetic would a columnist have to be to think it was worthy of inclusion in the newspaper? Hold on -- I think we have our answer.

But wait! Russell's not through with his discussion of language!

Apparently, the word "nuanced" has a new meaning. It means, oddly enough, that something has a new meaning. Fear not: Russell stampedes to the rescue yet again. What would we do without him?

"Nuanced", dear friends, does not suggest that a word has a new meaning. It refers to a subtle distinction. I can understand why Russell would not be able to comprehend this, as he likes to metaphorically whack people over the head with his own smugness.

I, on the other hand, prefer to use sarcasm, irony and cultural references to insult people who never get the joke. Russell probably thinks I'm a huge fan.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Wait, are you talking about ME?"

Reader-submitted question: Can we assume that when you post a really nasty reader-submitted complaint, it is your sarcastic way of responding to the last person who posted a comment?

What?

Uh, no. These things are real, although I usually edit them a bit. For example, a person might send me a ton of MSN messages arguing that I am an idiot. If I respond on the blog, I will summarize his or her main points rather than subjecting you to the whole thing. I also sometimes post things as reader-submitted complaints or questions if I want to respond to someone at length, even if he or she wasn't a jerk. Other times, a question or complaint will be the starting point for a post about something else. Most of them don't come in through the comments, and I usually sit on them for a while before I respond.

I have been keeping these anonymous, mostly because I sometimes combine similar questions/complaints. I also don't want to splash anyone's name around the Internet as a complainer, especially when I've only posted his message because he had something interesting to say. I don't post them to embarrass anyone; I post them because you guys are much more interesting than I am. This blog is better because you're here.

The Fuckwad Post was not my sarcastic way of responding to people who leave comments that slightly challenge my opinions. It was my slightly confused way of responding to someone who let loose on me with a string of fuckwad complaints over an extended period of time.

I actually like comments that disagree with me. The whole point of writing on the Internet is to exchange ideas. I might as well be writing in the newspaper if you're not going to write back. And when I post something as a complaint, it doesn't necessarily mean that I was personally offended by what you said. It usually means that you have challenged something about the blog, but didn't ask a question. It also means that I want to respond at length and that I thought all of my readers (all 4.39 million of them) would be interested in seeing what you wrote. It's a compliment, really, unless you're a fuckwad.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Santa has been to our house

Michael was afraid he might not come. I probably contributed to this by saying things like If you get a present, you can open it on Christmas morning. (HA HA! Wasn't that a HILARIOUS joke?)

Presents have been arriving at the house for the last couple of weeks, but we decided to keep them hidden so there could be a "big reveal" on Christmas morning. We thought they might drive him crazy with excitement if they were all under the tree. This contributed to his concern: there were presents under Daniel's tree and under Maggie's tree, but not under ours.

By yesterday, he was very worried that he had somehow ended up on the naughty list. He thought for a while and told me that he was pretty sure he was the nicest kid in his class, or at least one of the nice ones. Also, Santa had come every other year. I told him that he was a very, very good boy and that Santa would definitely be coming.

We spent most of last night with friends and got home around ten. Michael was very excited, but determined not to do anything that might make Santa skip our house. He reviewed the rules:

  1. Santa comes to good boys' houses.
  2. Santa comes at midnight.
  3. Santa only comes if everyone is asleep.
  4. It helps if you leave some milk and cookies.
He dutifully arranged cookies on a plate next to his letter to Santa: "Dear Santa, Mary Christmas. Love Michael." (No requests for presents.) Milk was poured and pajamas were put on, and then we went to bed.

But wait! Other people in the house were still awake! He was NOT going to let the rest of us blow this for him. We solemnly promised that we would be asleep long before the designated hour, so he rolled over and fell asleep.

In the morning...

Merry Christmas, everyone!



Monday, December 24, 2007

High fashion


Let's all be nice to each other, shall we?

The author of the Big Bald Blog is holding a contest in a shameless attempt to increase his Technorati authority.

This is not exactly how Web 2.0 is supposed to work, but heck, he's giving away an iPod and thongs, so I'll throw some link love his way. Besides, he really does have a good blog.

Big Bald Blog covers marketing trends. I particularly liked his post about business cards, and not just because it included this image:

Only about five of my readers will know the fellow who ordered these cards, but I have to say, this is one of the most creative business cards I've ever seen. Hilarious.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Well, la-dee-da

Reader-submitted complaint: I don't agree with very much on your blog. I think that's because I think about things more than you do. My opinions are rational and reasonable, while yours are knee-jerk and fall apart under the piercing light of my scrutiny. Even your jokes aren't funny. I guess they appeal to SOME people, but not to me. Also, I don't like your taste in music. My taste is much better. I would start my own blog to compete with yours, but I don't have the energy.

Uh huh.

Seriously, why even bother? And why have I spent the last year and a half diligently tending to this blog, putting myself out there day after day? If you don't like the blog, please don't come here.

Christmas decorations

Steve and Michael pulled out the boxes of Christmas decorations the other day. (I, as usual, am a grinch.) Among the decorations was Michael's crèche, which I think was a gift from Aunt Angela a few years ago.

Michael set it up rather proudly. But something was missing. Daddy Joseph? Check. Mommy Mary? Check. Animals? Check. Shepherds? Check.

Baby Jesus wasn't there.

Don't worry. Michael has solved the problem.

That's his toy cat sleeping angelically, being worshiped by cherubim and seraphim.

But wait! There's more!

We have another crèche. Although I think we bought it Up There, it's a pretty traditional one, with no Inuvialuit or Gwich'in characters. No northerners at all, in fact.

Well, that was the case until this year. If you look closely, you may notice that Michael has made a few additions.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Take no prisoners, only kill

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Don't hand weapons to your critics.

A school board in southern Ontario has pulled The Golden Compass and the rest of the series out of its libraries after ten years of destroying faith, claiming that the books promote anti-Catholic values. (I imagine that their next step will be to ban Protestant churches.)

My other alter ego (actually, she's an "altar ego") wrote about this yesterday, but this is the sort of thing that Little Miss Know-it-All would normally write about, and I would not want to disappoint anyone. To anticipate a few readers' reactions: No, you do not have to apologise for the idiots on the Halton school board.

I have not read these books, but I certainly will now that I know they are so subversive that they could shake the faith of people who are otherwise secure in their belief in transubstantiation. All of my information about the series comes from the media.

I hear that the books include an evil organization called the Magisterium that controls the planet. Some Christians are furious. How dare anyone suggest that their religion tries to suppress speech it doesn't like? Ban that book immediately! Who cares about freedom of speech? Real freedom is freedom to censor!

I wish I was joking.

I'm going to hand out some free communications advice to anyone who is thinking about doing something similar:

  • First, please don't do it at all. It's just asking for trouble. You will be laughed at, and even people who share your religion will be embarrassed.

  • If you decide that you really have to clamp down on dissent, it's better if you're not doing it in the name of an organization that's already known for similar activities. For example, if you're a member of a religion that, say, used to burn people at the stake for having different ideas, don't say that your actions are being done in the name of the same religion.

  • If you can't stop yourself, do it quietly, for goodness sake. (And for God's sake.) Don't put out a press release that proudly announces that you are pulling books out of the library because they accuse your religion of trying to silence its critics.
The best reaction, of course, would be one or more of the following:
  • Laugh. These are NOVELS. It's great that kids are reading instead of playing video games. And you're secure enough in your beliefs that a novel's not going to change anything, right?

  • Teach kids to think critically. That way, they'll understand why your religion is right, right?

  • Just shut up. Why give extra exposure to books that you don't want kids to read?
I think what bugs me most about this is that these books were apparently fine until the last few months. Who cares that the author's an agnostic? Is the school board going to pull every agnostic author's books out of the libraries? Where does THAT stop?

I don't mind having specialised libraries with a focus on a particular topic. For example, my alma mater's library has a special focus on classics, theology and journalism, reflecting the classes that are taught at the school. But I don't recall any announcements from the board of governors that Galileo's writings were being banned because his understanding of motion challenged the Aristotelian Cosmos. (Perhaps this is because my school is not Catholic.) (HAHAHAHAHA. Just kidding.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

I'm calling my lawyer

Reader-submitted complaint: Steve's hairstyle is not gay. I've seen lots of straight people with hair like that. You are contributing to stereotypes and I don't like it. Gay men are too hip to have hair like that, for starters.

Oh, dear. Is it just me, or are there a lot of complaints these days?

I have annoyed my gay readers. I personally am not the sort to advertise this sort of thing (in the newspaper, for example), so please allow me to clarify that anyone who is brave enough to do so has my respect. Further, I would not want to offend anyone. That would be un-Canadian of me, and it is my duty to rectify the situation. Here goes:

  • Hair is not gay, people are. It was wrong for me to suggest that anyone with hair like Steve's must be gay. It was also wrong for Steve to suggest this.
  • The main advantage of being gay is not the ability to French-kiss naked strangers during parades. I am reliably informed that the main advantage of being gay is the ability to have sex with other men.
  • Gilmore Girls is probably a really good show.
  • I'm totally serious about liking Annie Lennox.
I think that covers it.

I am apparently incapable of being good friends with straight men. I don't understand this at all, but I've had to accept that it's true. Over the past fifteen years, most of my really good male friends have been gay.

ARE gay. Man, I'm definitely getting another complaint, aren't I? I can't do anything right.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Reader-Submitted Rubrics

Michael's letter to Santa

Dr Santa

Mary Christmas.

Love Michael and Megan and Steve and Nan and Pop

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I figured it would come to this



In solidarity with Steve, I am wearing my wife-beater shirt.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

For your viewing pleasure



P.S. No, this version is not in my MP3 player.

The sea that divides us is a temporary one

Reader-submitted complaint: Steve, you have issues, dude. First, you sound like a YK1 "yes man". Can anyone say "band wagon"!!! Second, you are boring me to tears! Third, I want to hear more from Megan. She is realistic and fun!!! Finally, is that a wife beater you are wearing?

Well, now THIS is a refreshing perspective on authentic rubrics. Where have you been, dear reader? You sound like you're a person I'd like to hang out with. Do you like Irish Cream truffles? I'm not above bribing people with chocolate. I also make biscotti, if that helps.

I should mention that someone calling him/herself "edufairy" contacted me with this message: "Well, Meg, I appreciate your frustration...but I totally get Steve! This is ST..R...O...N...G.. stuff. So, on an authentic assessment rubric, I give Steve a "Wow"."

I was not aware that Steve had officially started to call himself "edufairy", but I suppose it was going to happen eventually.

Yes, dear reader, you are correct. I am realistic and fun, and Steve is on a bandwagon. Specifically, he is on the bus. He's moving forward, and there are panic buttons going off everywhere. He spends his days strategizing about authenticity. Some people talk the talk, but Steve is walking the walk. You probably had no idea how important he is.

And yes, that is a wife-beater shirt. Steve has them in a variety of colours:





There's nothing I can do about this, but maybe you can change his mind. I think he is trying to increase our YouTube channel's street cred.

Monday, December 17, 2007

And we don't mean the cube

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Is it over now? Do you know how to pick up the pieces and go home?

Reader-submitted question: How is a newspaper supposed to know what's in the public interest?

Good question. This is part of having an unregulated industry like a free press.

This question came up in the context of publishing racist letters to the editor. I could argue this one either way, to be honest. Canada's increasingly multicultural, but since 2000 I've been living in a region where I'm a "minority". That sounds a bit weird, and I'm not a minority in Name of Town Withheld itself, but I am in the territory and I was when I lived Up There. In fact, it was a bit of a shock to move here and NOT be a minority everywhere I went.

Publishing those letters could normalize racism, and we don't need any more of that in our society. In fact, when reporting on racism, most newspapers won't publish the details, they'll simply report that someone used racist slurs. (Remember how "nappy-headed hos" turned into "racist and sexist language".)

On the other hand, publishing the letters reveals the racism that some people feel. It encourages people to speak up and denounce the behaviour. People like me, Way Way Up, Kara and probably lots of others.

In general, I believe in encouraging more speech instead of suppressing speech I don't like, on the theory that the good drives out the bad. Naturally, there are some problems with this theory, namely that people can become irrational and whip up a whole lot of bad before anything good can even get started. And of course, they never think they're "bad". They usually see themselves as crusaders, fighting The Man. (I, of course, am usually The Man.)

Newspapers are under no obligation to provide space to these guys. Universities aren't required to allow them to be guest speakers, either, which is why you'll usually hear an outcry when one of them is invited to speak. (I am not linking to any of their material. You know the type of people I'm talking about.) Whenever this happens, the same arguments will be dredged up: It legitimizes hatred! It's important to hear them and dispute them!

I don't know what's right in this case, and it's not my place to decide what should be in Nunatsiaq News. However, I'm certain that once this sort of thing has been published, everyday folks need to respond to it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Hey, WE didn't say it!"

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: What do you think?

There's no real consensus on media accountability when reporting racist or hateful speech, even within the profession. I mention this because one of the northern bloggers I read, Way Way Up, has lost his patience with Nunatsiaq News.

Nunatsiaq News is the local paper in Nunavut. I have a hard time saying that there could be a "local paper" in any area the size of Nunavut, but they've done a reasonable job at creating a weekly paper with a local feel.

Southerners: This is Nunavut:
Way Way Up blogs from the northern part of Baffin Island, which is the long island in the eastern part of the territory. He lives north of the town I used to live in.

Anyway, Nunatsiaq News printed a letter from a charming fellow who accused white people of being Nazis who want all Inuit to fight each other. I always like it when people pull out the Nazi label right at the beginning.

Way Way Up is upset about this, and I can completely understand why. He wants to know why the paper would publish the letter. At this point, unlike Name of Paper Withheld, Nunatsiaq News has not reacted by blaming the writer.

Newspapers are responsible for the things they publish, but a good paper will publish a range of opinions on topics of public interest. That said, there's no obligation for any newspaper to publish any individual letter. In fact, I'd argue that they shouldn't publish every letter they get, only those that are in the public interest.

There's a difference between censorship and editing. However, a letter like this one is in the gray area. It's clearly inflammatory. It's clearly racist. The question becomes whether it benefits the public more to have this letter in the paper than to withhold it.

What do you think?

UPDATED: Matt & Kara in Kugluktuk's take.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Steve's 'do

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Baby, it's cold outside

Stop the presses!

Today’s episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Duuuuhhhhh.

It is GREAT to have Mass Media around. Today’s top Canadian health story is from Victoria. Go ahead and read it. I’ll still be here.

Everyone back? Good.

Who woulda thunk that people who smoke crack are putting themselves at risk of contracting hepatitis C? I mean, when it comes to health activities, smoking crack is second only to jogging. This is big news. BIG news. Put it on the front page: everyone needs to know about this alarming threat to public health. Otherwise, nobody will know about this problem.

WHY didn't anyone see this before? It is really great that we have Mass Media to tell us about these things.

A few health tips from tomorrow’s paper:

1. When you shoot yourself in the head, move slowly and put the gun to your temple. You could strain your arm if you move too quickly or try to shoot yourself in the back of your head.

2. When you jump ice clumpers, always wear a scarf. Otherwise, your neck could get cold.

3. If you wrestle polar bears, be sure to brush your teeth first. Gingivitis affects two out of three adults.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An emergency message from Princess Janet

Mommy, I miss you very much. Before you go to bed, please can I watch a movie with you? I'll ask Daniel, and if he says no, I'll just watch a movie of my own.

Uncle Mel, why do you call me your princess? And why do you call Daniel Superman? It's so weird and so funny that I want you to come tomorrow or today.

I want you to buy me an iPod and a telephone and five or seven or eight or nine and I promise I'll take care of it and I'll never be that little mask but I want Santa to come right now and I hope the elves have real magic powers and that's it.

Why does Michael keep the stuff in his room? Maybe because he wants to keep it there and maybe sometimes it spills. And some people wear the same shirt and some people don't do what they're asked to do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

We went to a party

Monday, December 10, 2007

Michael is grounded tonight

Actually, he is grounded tonight and tomorrow. This is the very first time he's ever been grounded, and we weren't sure how to approach it. There has been no punishment in our house for quite a long time, to be honest, but it couldn't last forever.

Michael is generally a very good kid, but he has been pushing the boundaries lately. He is in trouble for not eating his dinner last night. That sounds very innocent and normal, but perhaps you had to be there. We were in a standoff for about two hours before he argued that he was not hungry, but he was tired. We agreed to let him go to bed, and when I picked up his dinner bowl to scrape it off, he grabbed a bagel. Half of it was in his stomach before I wrestled it out of his hand and sent him to bed. That's where I found him munching on some of his Halloween candy, and that's how he got grounded.

I yelled. A lot. I searched my mind for the right words to use, and what tumbled out was "YOU'RE GROUNDED FOR TWO DAYS!!!"

Being a parent is emotionally wracking. That tiny person comes into the world with a unique ability to drive you insane. In fact, one of my memories from Michael's first month of life is of holding him, sobbing, and fighting the urge to throw him out the window.

In prenatal class, the nurse spent quite some time talking about why we should never, ever, shake the baby. We nodded solemnly, thinking that only a sicko would shake a baby. That lasted until about three weeks after the birth, when I was seized with the desperate urge to shake and shake and shake.

Of course, I didn't do this. (I can see you grasping around for the number to Child Protective Services.) I did shake myself quite a bit, though. I would put him down, close the door and scream. Oh, and cry. I cried out of frustration and anger a lot that first year.

I say all of this knowing that we have been very lucky with Michael. He is generally a very well-behaved kid. If he wasn't, I don't think I could handle it. I am not one of the supermoms I see at the ski club; I am a Failed Mommy. (Okay, so the details are slightly different, but I clearly don't measure up.)

Tonight has been very nice, so much so that I am not sure we are grounding him correctly. It does not feel like a punishment. I think we may be punishing Daniel more than Michael by depriving him of his usual after-school playmate.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I will fight for a way to make up for the mess that I've been leaving

Reader-submitted question: When reporters run for office, do you think they do a disservice to the individuals who have trusted their reporting in the past?

Interesting question. You've hit on something that is a rather sensitive debate in journalism circles. It comes down to this: If a reporter wants to change jobs, does it affect his or her credibility?

Some people would say it does. It's very common for a beat reporter to decide that he or she wants to work in one of the industries he or she has been covering. For example, a courts-n-cops reporter might want to become a lawyer. Although this is horrifying for the person's editor, it isn't quite as much of a betrayal as the ultimate slap in the face: the reporter who goes into PR. Don't feel sorry for me: I'm past it by now. Mourn for my readers who are considering this career change.

You see, reporters are part of the counterculture. They stick it to The Man. They are the true subversives. Any other job is beneath them. A true reporter would NEVER become a nurse or a lawyer or a teacher or, God forbid, a flack. Those jobs are all for people who've been co-opted by the conformists. Anyone who even expresses the slightest bit of interest in this type of work immediately loses all of his credibility. He's no longer pure, man! He's a sell-out!

I am joking, but only a little, and only by adding exclamation points. This is actually what some journalists think. If a colleague announces that he is leaving the news business to work for, say, the local school, all of his stories about education will be scrutinized for possible bias. Anyone who's trying to get a new job would avoid criticising a potential employer, right? What stories have gone unreported while salary negotiations were going on? Put someone on that right away!

Other journalists believe it's OK to change jobs. I feel this way, but as I'm no longer a reporter, my opinion doesn't mean much to the true subversives. I think that most of the people in this group have seen others make the switch without compromising their integrity. In my personal experience, they tend to be easier to work with because they come to the job with less anger.

Running for office is much less common, but follows a similar pattern. While reporters are supposed to keep personal opinions out of their work, the political world is all about personal opinions. It's hard to switch that off, and close to impossible for readers or viewers to accept a former politician as a journalist. However, I don't think it does a disservice to the readers when a reporter runs for office. If he is successful, good for him. He probably won't be able to go back to his old job, so he'd better be good at the new one.

Thanks for your question.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"I get it!"

Reader-submitted question: What do you think about when individuals previously in the media suddenly run for a political election? Do you think that the coverage of these people can ever be truly unbiased when it is their former colleagues reporting on them?

This just happened in our last territorial election a few months ago, so I have a case study. CBC Television granted a leave of absence to the woman who hosted the local newscast. She then ran a campaign as well as she could. I'm trying to be kind. I pulled the title of this post from her lawn signs.

I thought CBC did a good job of staying unbiased in their coverage of her campaign. She was definitely a political newcomer with very little to offer, and they didn't pretend otherwise. Now, they didn't diss her, but they didn't give her any extra coverage than they would have given anyone else who didn't have support or, um, ideas. (She ended up with less than 3% of the vote.)

Name of Paper Withheld gave her some ink, but it was hardly flattering. I couldn't figure out if they were purposely being mean as a way of tearing down their rivals, or if she really deserved their scorn. Maybe it was a bit of both.

CBC's official blog for employees provided the kindest coverage, but that's probably appropriate considering it's the 2007 version of an employee newsletter.

It's hard to be truly unbiased when you know the candidate personally, but a good news organization will make a real effort to avoid accusations of bias during a campaign.

However, I think it's pretty clear that a journalist who is respected by his peers will get an easier ride once he gets into public office or a role on "the other side". Tony Snow is probably the best example of this. He likes them, they like him. Even when he had to be a bit of a jerk, he still came off well. He could give a decent sound bite and have fun with the questioners. Because he's a former journalist, he's comfortable with them. He can anticipate their questions and give them more or less what they need.

The Canadian example, of course, would be Michael Ignatieff, the deputy leader of the Liberal party. He was best known as a historian before he ran in the last federal election, but it's hard to become a famous historian without doing a lot of newspaper and TV work. Like the CBC host here, he was a political newcomer, but unlike the CBC host, he was famous for his work. I don't think he would have the support he does if the media hadn't been fawning all over him. He likes them and they like him. It's mutually beneficial: they get stories to please their editors, and he gets more press clippings.

Thanks for your question.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I have a problem

A big problem.

You see, the only store in town that sold Burt's Bees products has disappeared. I don't know if it went out of business or moved to another location, but MAN OH MAN I am out of green ointment and I have no idea how to treat the red patches that have appeared on my hands. I think it is frostbite, because the patches are on the parts of my hands that face into the wind as I walk to work. I don't know what to do. Help! What happened to the store?

I didn't realise it until I started going on and on about his products, but my dad knows, or knew, Burt. Click here for a description of the company's history. I grew up in Dexter (third paragraph) and I've spent time in Fayscott's parking lot. My dad worked at the town office one summer, where Burt was apparently a bit of a rabble-rouser.

Girls can play mandolin, too

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I pull this out every year.

Every one in my family likes Christmas a lot
But you know, I'm a grinch, and I surely do NOT
It's true! I hate Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
And go ahead - ask why! 'Cause I'll tell you the reason.

It's not about the snow and its blankets of white
It's not even that all the songs are so trite
So I'll tell you the truth, and don't be too appalled
I just hate the pressures I get in the mall.

You see, whatever your budget, I'll give you some news
It won't be enough to buy what my friends choose
And it's not just my friends! It's my family, this year!
And next week is Christmas! It's practically here!

I grab the Sears catalog, start nervously thumbing -
I MUST find a way to stop Christmas from coming!
But I've got an idea - an awful idea!
And I've got a wonderful, awful idea!

I'll call all the family, put it down to a vote
Let's buy our OWN presents, even Nan, the old goat!
I like this idea, now I'm one smart chick
I could do it online with just one mouse click.

I just need to convince them - no matter the frown
Don't buy gifts for me, go the other way round!
Does that interest the family? NO! They've simply said
"If you can't find a gift, give us money instead!"

Shall I name some of the gifts I've received since I wed?
The giant knick-knack, for one, that'll make you stop dead!
If my son gets more presents, or even more slacks
Something else has to go - there's no room on the racks!

I can't buy more gifts for uncles and aunts
Like books they don't read, or yet some more plants
It's time to stop draining our bank accounts down
To zero, just 'cause there are Santas around!

I'd like to see Christmas as old-fashioned cheer
Instead of a gift-buying frenzy this year
I don't need more stockings, or hairpins, or pets
I just want to have Christmas without any debts.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

How To Write Good

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Plain language.

The title of this post is just a little joke for all of the people who are already angry at the thought of reading an entire post about plain language.

Most people will at least grudgingly admit that plain language is fine for all that OTHER stuff they don't have time to read. However, there is a real backlash these days.

Plain language is not the magic bullet some people thought it would be. In many cases, it's not the right way to explain an issue. People feel pressured into writing documents in plain language when they feel they really need to use technical words.

The focus on plain language has clouded the real issue, which is really about writing appropriately for an audience.

Most people who write documents write them for their peers or people in the same industry. For example, let's imagine that you're a teacher. It's entirely appropriate for you to talk and write to other educators about learning strategies and child-centred interaction models. Most of the time, this is how you'll write. But occasionally, you'll need to write to someone else, and when you do that, you will probably have to change the words you use.

Every industry has its own jargon, a separate language that allows people to speak to each other very precisely. A double-ender is different than a live-to-tape, although a double-ender could also be live-to-tape. You have no idea what I just said, but that's OK. You don't need to know, and it was rude for me to use those words without explaining what they meant. Please forgive me.

You're not going to forgive me, are you? C'mon, I'm sorry! I won't do it again! I swear on a stack of Brave New Worlds!

HAHAHAHA. That was just a little joke. What, now YOU'RE mad at me too??

I spend a lot of time trying to convince people to use plain language in documents for the public or for another audience without a lot of specialised knowledge. This is an ongoing struggle, because the conversation usually happens with people who have a TON of specialised knowledge and can explain very competently why certain words are important to them. They're doctors or lawyers or journalists or counselors or (the saints preserve us) professional bureaucrats. Their jargon is important. They know that using one word instead of another will change the meaning of a sentence, and they're hesitant to use a general word when they could use one that would express exactly what they mean to the people who use the same jargon.

I completely get this. It would be great if everyone understood the jargon, but the fact is that most people don't. They won't understand what a haematoma or ecchymosis is, but you can use the word "bruise". I know, this is not ideal and you'd prefer to be more specific, but if you're using jargon with someone who doesn't understand it, you're not being specific at all. If the person doesn't understand the words you're using, you need to use different words.

Plain language has been (wrongly) marketed as the way to write to the public or to people with low literacy levels. While it's true that you should almost always write to these groups of people in plain language, it doesn't stop there. People have told me that if their audience is educated, there is no need to write clearly. I actually shook my fists when someone told me that because a document was intended for people with graduate degrees, it could be really complicated.

When you write clearly, you show respect for your readers. People don't have a lot of time to spend with your message, so it's in your interest to make it as easy to understand as possible. Most people won't spend lots of time trying to figure out what you're saying: if they don't understand it the first time they read it, they will stop reading. This has nothing to do with how smart they are, and everything to do with how much effort you've put into helping them to understand what you're trying to say.

I can already hear your objections. You need to communicate something really complicated and your audience needs to understand all of the details. It has to be in Latin! (As I write this, it sounds ridiculous. I must have missed part of your argument because you used really big words.) There is indeed a place for specific language when you're trying to get a message to someone who doesn't understand your jargon, but you have to be very careful about how you're using it. You have to be very clear about what your words mean and why you need to use those specific words. Remember, people who don't understand what you're saying will either stop reading or make up their own meaning. Both of these things are bad when your message is really important.

I cannot stop myself



It's a sickness.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A true Christmas miracle

You will NOT believe it.

Alex has been to our house, and he brought his little brother. Yes, the same Alex who moved to BC last spring.

I was skeptical, too, until Michael showed me the proof. You see, Michael's room is a disaster area. There is no way one boy could have messed it up all by himself, especially a boy who is as sick as Michael is today. Hear that coughing? That's forensic proof.

Alex has been here with Isaac, who is a baby, not a big boy like Michael. In contrast to Michael , who always (always!) puts things away, Isaac has been known to leave books on the floor. Since there are now books on the floor, the evidence is all pointing in one direction.

In the alternative, if I decide that Alex and Isaac have not been here, the real fault should lie with Santa, not with Michael. The toys would not even be there if Santa hadn't brought them. Michael doesn't buy toys! The person who put the toys in Michael's room should bear some responsibility for the mess.

I don't know how you stay-at-home parents do it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

There goes the pickled herring salesman!

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Hyphenated compound modifiers.

I am asked about hyphenated compound modifiers at least once a month. Of course, the people who ask these questions usually don't know what they're asking. They usually say something like "I've been a lawyer for 35 years and I have never ever EVER seen the phrase 'criminal justice' with a hyphen! Harrumph, harrumph!"

I usually smile sweetly and make a joke about how leaving out the hyphen in "criminal-justice system" would be playing right into our critics' hands. Then I grumpily remove the hyphen rather than argue for the next half hour. I do this only because I know that there are only a few people who would argue that the justice system is itself criminal, and they are not good enough at grammar to notice the error.

We are all a long way from total agreement on hyphenated compound modifiers, even among people who are generally very good at grammar. This is because sometimes you should use a hyphen, sometimes you shouldn't, and sometimes it doesn't really matter. It confuses people, and in their confusion they decide that hyphens make the sentence look cluttered.

A good rule of thumb is that even though you sometimes don't really need a hyphen, you won't go wrong by using one if it's truly optional. This will reduce the uncertainty your readers will have when you use phrases that really don't need hyphens. For example, one day you'll want to say something like "We have two hundred odd employees" when you have a total of 500 employees but only 300 of them are normal.

Hyphens join words together to modify other words, and they really do change the meaning of a sentence. They turn two or more words into a single expression. For example:

  • A criminal-justice system is a system of criminal justice. However, a criminal justice system is a justice system that is criminal. It's probably not a good idea to write this phrase into an ad unless you're an activist.
  • English-language learners are people who are learning the English language. English language learners are English people who are learning any language.
  • On-site visits are visits to the site of an activity. On site visits are -- well, nothing really, just words that have been slapped together but make no sense.
I can already hear your cries of protest. You say that hyphens aren't needed, because only an idiot would be unable to figure out what a writer meant by "on site visit". I suppose you are also a fan of typos, because even idiots understand what the writer meant to say.

Punctuation is important, and hyphens are important. Sorry, wanna-be writers.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Oh, my."

Reader-submitted question: AUGH! Why would anyone sew vaginas shut?

I really wish I knew. Well, I know why they say they do it, but I have a hard time wrapping my mind around such a vile thing. Don't e-mail me to say that little boys get circumcised. I'm not in favour of that, either, but it is NOT the same thing.

I'm not sure that I consider myself a feminist, but I do read some blogs written by feminists, and there has been quite a bit of chatter about this ad series. I thought it was really good for the reasons my readers mentioned, but many women apparently do not for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Vaginas are not flowers. Using roses to represent vulvas just reinforces disgusting stereotypes. Also, vaginas ARE NOT VULVAS. How dumb are people if they don't even know the right names for their genitals? Clearly, men are responsible. (Okay, so I'm taking a bit of license here, but this isn't far off.)
  • It looks like a chastity ad. (This confuses me. I've seen some pretty inappropriate chastity ads, but I've never seen one that made me think of genital mutilation.)
  • The ad is not violent enough: the stitches should be dripping blood and maybe some pus. The rose looks too pretty. You could just snip those stitches and the petals would spring back into place.
  • To be accurate, the top half of the rose should have been torn off. (I admit that I thought this myself, but decided that that was too nitpicky.)
  • There should be NO images in ads about genital mutilation. The words "genital mutilation" are shocking enough.
With all due respect to the women who made these arguments with such passion, I disagree. These ads were not intended to make feminists happy. When designing an ad campaign, you have to decide if you are trying to reach a "general audience" or a "targeted audience".

"General audience" is a fancy way of saying "everyone". You design these ads using the assumption that the people who see the ad won't have any background information (or very little) and aren't prepared to spend much time with your message. You are usually trying to catch their attention for a moment and get them to learn more by reading a handout or going to a website.

"Targeted audience" is a fancy way of saying "group of people with something in common". It could be children between the ages of 7 and 10, gymnastics coaches, vegetarians, or feminists. Depending on what you're trying to achieve, targeted audiences usually already have a certain amount of knowledge about the issue you're doing the ad campaign about. They are often willing to spend more time with your materials and to do more in response to the information you've provided.

If Amnesty was trying to get feminists to learn more about female genital mutilation, this would definitely be the wrong image. They already know about it and want to stop it: what they really need is some practical information about what to do.

This ad was never intended for feminists, but it is a great example of an ad that's directed at a general audience. The image draws you in, and you wonder why the flower has stitches. You read the text and can go to a website if you want more information. Overall, it's very well done. It's too bad that some women think they have to be so upset about it.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A question for you


I won't make this a reader poll, because I know only six of you will respond, but on a professional level I am interested in your response to this new ad campaign from Amnesty. Do you think this is an effective way to get the message out? Are you personally offended by it?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Reader-submitted entry


(Click the image if you can't read it at this size.)

Man, I love you guys. You're sending me cartoons now! Thanks, Anonymous Jail Boss.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Relax. You don't have to read to be well read"

Today’s episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Bragging about your own lack of literary knowledge.

No, this is not about Ickler. This is about Russell Smith. The man is driving me nuts.

The Globe apparently has no standards for its Style section these days. This is today’s column, and the title of this post is the headline. My comments are in bold text.


I am so thrilled to have discovered Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read: It gives an argument to support what one has intuitively felt all one's life and, more importantly, it gives one an excuse to judge, and judge quite harshly, all those ecstatically lauded, good-for-you Canadian books - on the Giller Prize short list, for instance - that you can't bear to even begin.

Note that even though Russell is trying to establish his Everyman credentials – literature is so tiring! – old habits die hard and he cannot resist the use of the word “one” as a pronoun. Naturally, this is not because he is a stodgy old Brit with a pipe and a wig; it is because he is a hip young fellow from Toronto. When you're as hip as Russell, it's OK to have entire paragraphs with only one sentence. Compound-complex sentences are hot.

This has been a real problem for me. I mean, I would love to come out and say, oh, come on, are all these sad historical novels really the best this country can offer? But I can't, because I haven't read them, so I technically cannot judge them. I feel like saying, "Well surely my complete absence of desire to read our most highly rewarded books must count as a mark against them." But that bespeaks arrogance and I would be criticized for that, so I don't.

Obviously, Russell follows his own rules about direct quotes. I mean, who needs quotation marks? Not Russell! This could have been saved with the use of italics, but what a tiring waste of energy that would be! A real problem, to be sure.

I’m very proud of Russell’s restraint here. I think I’ll try it out: I’d like to say that my boss is a swinger and so am I. But that would get me fired, so I won’t say that. Boy, this is fun!


So along comes the brilliant Bayard, professor of literature at the Sorbonne, with an armoury full of sleek and shining arguments for not reading and nevertheless forming coherent opinions on books. I know it sounds like a joke, but it's quite a serious book, with all kinds of geeky French-style new ideas such as the inner book, the screen book, the virtual library and so on. It's way more fun (I'm guessing) than another reflection on family, memory and loss in the light of the Holocaust. (I don't know, of course, because I don't read books like that, but now I can say that we are all talking about virtual books anyway and that my unread virtual book is just as valid as your read one.)

I TOTALLY GET IT. Russell is a man of the people! Stuff from France is geeky! He’s not one of those fashion snobs: he doesn’t take his cues from other countries’ trends. I feel like wrapping myself in a Canadian flag.

This brings up some of the responses I have had to my recent rantings about the value of fiction. I received several letters from readers who said, What are you talking about? I try to read fiction (say my angry readers) and I find it too dull. It's always crushingly depressing and slow and it's about women in the past. It feels relentlessly good for me, as if I should feel ennobled by feeling sorry for people to whom bad things have happened. Well, this is simply the sad result of the propaganda created by our media. If you read the bestseller lists and listen to the CBC, then you form a completely distorted view of what fiction is.

Again, Russell’s at his hottest when he can’t figure out how to use quotation marks. Who finds fiction dull? His readers or Russell himself? Who can tell? That’s true sexiness for you. I could just rip that ascot off him.

You think it's these morality tales of good victims. You aren't told that there are fun stories out there, many of which actually take place in the present and many of which contain amusing and politically incorrect characters. You will never hear either about all the fun genre books with huge followings, about all the science fiction and crime novels and thrillers that could teach many of our most revered writers a thing or two about pacing and intrigue. Those books are not rewarded in this country; they are not included in "Heather's Picks" and they never show up on major prize short lists.

Right. Nobody ever mentioned that there are OTHER books out there! This is called “breaking news”. Russell has discovered something that was previously unknown: Some books have huge followings even though Russell has never heard of them.

But they are out there. In fact, if you hang around a group of Canadian fiction writers, you will hear them excitedly discussing all kinds of exciting books - all the Lorrie Moores and Michael Chabons of the United States, all the Gautam Malkanis and Irvine Welshes of Britain ... all the books that don't make it to your mom's book club, the books you can be forgiven for not knowing about if you're a devotee of Canada Reads. (It will also give you the impression that these Canadian fiction writers don't have a whole lot of time for the work of their Canadian peers, and that impression may well be correct.)

Got that? When you hang around Canadian fiction writers, they’ll talk about books. What’s that? You don’t know any Canadian fiction writers? Clearly, you’re in the wrong social circle. You probably don't even live in Toronto!

But back to Bayard and non-reading. One of his most charming arguments is that to be really well informed one cannot attempt to read all the books. Because of the volume of books, the task is simply impossible. One is a much better educated person if one takes the attitude of a librarian - if one knows enough about each book to know where it fits, how it is to be categorized - that is, not just what it is about and to what genre it belongs but what opinions are generally held about it. Knowing a great deal about books in general, and having skimmed a writer's work before, could enable one, for example, to guess pretty accurately about what reading the new Giller-quality work would be like. It might therefore also permit one to say to oneself, "I do not enjoy that book," without having to go through the soul-improving exercise of actually reading it. I am all in favour of this.

What a fabulous suggestion! It’s not important to read a book as long as you know what OTHER people have said about the book. This is good news for reviewers. It’s also good news for pretentious people who use “one” as a pronoun.

There is a danger here, even from Bayard's point of view, and that is that the book I would be talking about would be simply the "screen book," a false idea of a book based on what I have heard from others. Although one's "inner book," the book that one has made for oneself by interpreting one's own life in light of the actual one, is probably the most lasting and important one for all of us. That's the one I trust, and I have strong inner books created from skimming the most popular Canadian authors.

Yes, I suppose that if you don’t read a book, there would be a danger that you wouldn’t know what it’s actually about. Who said there is no point in stating the obvious?

At any rate, Bayard has made life much easier for Canadians. He has given us the tools for a rebellion.

A rebellion, yes, but not the type Russell has in mind.

My dad called it years ago:



Mandolins are hot.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A visit from the Enges

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Hey, are you Megan from CBC?"

I am pretty sure I did a double-take the other day when someone asked me this. It has been three years since anyone recognised my voice, and it stopped happening regularly about five years ago. I almost said "no" to the guy.

Radio reporters usually don't get "recognised" in the same way TV reporters do. After graduation, about ten of us got summer jobs with CBC Radio, and I remember that one of my more obnoxious classmates bragged about being recognised all the time in PEI. I still think that if this was true (and I doubt it), he must have been wearing CBC T-shirts all the time and repeating his name constantly, hoping to catch the ear of innocent bystanders. He's now a producer for a national show, and he does a weekly feature that airs on the local station. Even if I'm exhausted, I always get out of bed right away when I hear his voice: I can't stand his smarmy accent.

There are people who need to know who reporters are to do their jobs -- I'm one of them. However, normal people in most parts of Canada do not recognise radio reporters. Most people wouldn't know Shelagh Rogers if she walked in the door. (Full disclosure: I turned into a screaming fangirl when she came to town. I almost cried. She was travelling with Jonathan Torrens, and I was one of the few people who wanted to meet her instead of him. Yes, I am a loser.)

Hmmm. Do you Americans know who Jonathan Torrens is? Do you get Trailer Park Boys in the States?

I will admit, though, that things are a bit different in the north. It's a small place with no media competition, and radio's a personal medium. People do start to feel like they know you. I worked for the station Up There for two years, and people called me "CBC". Yes, this is weird.

Get out of my way. I'm a celebrity now. You're blocking my access to my adoring fans.

Monday, November 26, 2007

How can I ever change things that I feel?

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Media bias.

I joined an Internet discussion with other members of my family the other day. The original topic was American politics, but (of course) it quickly morphed into a discussion of media bias.

There are days when I'm really glad that I live in Canada. We have our own political weirdos, of course, but we do not have nearly as many angry pundits or attacks on the media. I follow American media trends, and it seems that there's no way to win: every reporter who doesn't loudly proclaim a right-wing bias is continually accused of having a bias. They can't ALL be biased, and I don't see how they can be biased to the right AND to the left.

I first need to get one thing out of the way: I am about to discuss the non-editorial section of the newspaper. People who write editorials and columns are paid to have opinions. In fact, they're often hired because of their bias. A good newspaper will publish a range of opinions on the left and the right. The reader is expected to know this, but obviously this isn't as clear as it probably should be. In large papers like The Washington Post, there is a literal wall between the editorial and news sections of the paper. In other papers like Name Of Paper Withheld, reporters write editorials. (You tell me if this sounds like a good idea.) The goal is to keep bias out of the news: a noble goal, to be sure.

Nobody ever pretends that reporters don't have opinions. In fact, they ought to have opinions. Ideally, a beat reporter will know everything there is to know about a topic. He or she has met with experts and discussed every possible angle of the issue. He or she should know that whatever the problem is, it has nuances and cannot be summed up in a slogan or in a "The Issue: / We Say:" heap of garbage on the editorial page.

Hmmm. Perhaps MY biases are showing.

The point is that a reporter can't be expected to have no opinions. Much has been made of the fact that as a group, reporters' voting trends skew to the left. (Don't e-mail me to tell me about the conservative reporters you know. I am talking about trends here.) Conservatives scream that this is what happens when communists take control of the media. Liberals scream that this is what happens when people educate themselves about the issues.

I don't worry much about voting trends. Many reporters refuse to vote on principle, believing that they give up this right when they become journalists: it would require them to think about which candidate they want to win, and that could bias their coverage.

Believe it or not, media bias means much more to the media itself than to the average Joe on the street. An accusation of political bias that turned out to have merit would have significant consequences for the reporter and probably for the entire news organization. Reporters cannot afford to open themselves to accusations of political bias, especially if they work for a decent publisher or producer. They would never work again. (Ever hear of Mary Mapes?) If anything, they are expected to bend over backwards to keep political bias out of their coverage.

So I get annoyed when people toss around the word "bias" when they really mean that they didn't like a particular story. You cannot assume bias from a single story or interview. You need a pattern of bias in context before you can even start to suggest that a reporter is biased.

However, I do see a different type of bias that is having a negative effect on news coverage: the laziness bias.

I can already hear some of you scoffing. "YES! They're lazy, so they call their friends at the Obama campaign!" This isn't what I mean at all. I'm talking about all stories that aren't about politics, the sort of story where you aren't looking for bias.

Reporters are taught to write what they know. In general, this is a good idea. However, it means you will only see a small sliver of real life on the news. For example, they might need an expert to talk about women's issues. There are any number of people they could call, but they'll go for the tried-and-true interviewee every time. This person will say exactly the same thing she said the last time she was interviewed.

This is GREAT for the reporter, but does not offer any real benefit to the public. I already know what the tried-and-true expert is going to say, no matter what the issue is. It would be really nice to hear from someone else for a change.

This is where reporters are most biased: when they're rushed for time and need a quote from someone right away. They always know how the tried-and-true expert will fit into the story. They always know that she'll talk, no matter what the issue is. Who has the energy to look for someone new to interview when there's someone just BEGGING to talk about the same old thing over and over?

Now, this is not what most people mean when they say the media is biased. They usually mean that the reporter intends to show one side in a good light and the other side in a bad light.

As always, there are some subtleties here that make it hard for me to say that this isn't true. This is indeed sometimes the goal. For example, perhaps the reporter has dug up some documents that show that one political party has bilked the government out of millions of dollars, paid off political allies and tried to silence the opposition. It would be pretty hard to tell this story without making someone look bad. And no decent editor would allow such a story to see print without at least contacting both sides for comment. As I've tried to explain above, true political bias in the news is rare, at least partly because it would be so obvious that the editor would catch it.

I'm going to give you a handy guide to detecting bias in the media.

  • First, throw out your ideas about bias in favour of a political party.
  • Then pay more attention to the person who is actually quoted in the story. Is it the same person you've heard from over and over? If so, is the person saying anything new, or is it the same old thing?
  • Does the person work for an organization that consistently presents an argument on the left or right of an issue? If so, is he or she presented as the "expert" or as one side of a complicated story?
  • Are there statistics in the story? If so, where do they come from, and how did the statistician compile the numbers?
  • Who is the "expert"? Is he or she legitimately respected as an expert by his or her peers?
  • Who is the victim (also known as the angel)? Does he or she really look like a victim? Is his story realistic? When you think about what he's saying, does it sound plausible, given everything else you know?
  • What are the real motives? Are people speaking in sound bites ("NO BLOOD FOR OIL!") or are they trying to tell the reporter that the issue is complicated ("This isn't about gay marriage. Gay marriage has become the flashpoint, but from our perspective, the true issue is the inerrancy of Scripture. Let me explain what that means.")?
Hmmm. You're right: this is too much work. It would be easier to just continue to say that the media are biased. Carry on.

A few moments in the life of Steve and Megan

Sunday, November 25, 2007

We need to talk.

Reader-submitted complaint: No, seriously. This David Hasselhoff thing needs to be addressed. It seems like you LUV him.

Okay, guys. You are making me very sad.

I'm going to try to explain this again, but bear in mind that humour impairment afflicts many people. There's no shame in admitting that you have it.

I really do love David Hasselhoff.

I can see that you're already looking for the "Post A Comment" button, but please wait a moment. It is possible to love something for its tackiness without thinking that it is true art. I would have thought that anyone who watches Eurovision would understand this, but apparently not. It's OK. We can still be friends.

Please watch this Hasselhoff-free video:



You LOVE this, don't you? Admit it! YOU DO! Everything about it is PERFECT, from the costuming to the choreography to the special effects to the bouncy, happy way the guy sings lyrics like "As the filth from Rome who rape our country and who terrorized our people for so long". You're already thinking about posting it on your own blog.

Now, I am pretty sure that you do not love this clip because you think it is a cinematic masterpiece. You love it because it's so all-around campy that you can't feel otherwise.

Now, I want you to watch this Hasselhoff-free video:



Someone in my family actually bought this CD about ten years ago, and it also featured a track by Leonard Nimoy. I don't recall what he was singing, but I remember that we laughed until our sides hurt.

Bill Shatner's a lot like David Hasselhoff in that he's a colossal joke. Both of them are now in on the joke, but there was a time when they weren't, and videos from that time are just plain hilarious. Shatner now stars in a TV show: his entire role is to make fun of his public persona.

The point that I'm trying to make is that you can like something for being really awful. And so I leave you with this:

This one time...



Reader-submitted complaint: Hey! What's wrong with band camp?!


Nothing. Is someone overly sensitive today?

I've never been to band camp. It would wreck my ironic hipster image.

HAHAHAHAHA.

The truth is that I am far geekier than anyone who went to band camp. I have been to Bible camp more times than I can count for many different kinds of workshops, camps and conferences.

I went to Bible camp for about eight years. It's how I met a lot of the people I was friends with throughout my teen years. I even ended up going to university with one of them -- he is now a clergyman in a town near Bay Roberts.


Other than my parents, I think my overseas readers will be the only ones who will know who this is. Jonathan partnered up with my best friend for some time after Bible camp in 1994 (I can't bring myself to use the word "dated"), but that eventually didn't work out. In any case, the three of us went to Halifax to go to school together, and my friend discovered that yet ANOTHER boy from Bible camp was more to her liking.

If I'm giving the impression that Bible camp was all about hooking up, it sort of was. Parents: do not let your kids go to Bible camp. Nothing good can come of it.

My dad was almost always at Bible camp when I was there. I am what extremely annoying church people call a "PK", which is short for "preacher's kid". If you already knew what a PK is, please don't say so. It will completely destroy my mental image of my readers as ironic hipsters. I would really rather not know that you have covered your guitar case with Jesus Was Way Cool stickers, and I'm better off without knowing that you have a Real Men Love Jesus tattoo. Way to tacky up your own religion, guys.

If there were band camps when I was in high school, I wasn't aware of them. Perhaps a reader can enlighten the rest of us. Is it like Bible camp? Do you know it's geeky and yet wear it as a badge of honour?

For Mom

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Comment feed

I added a comment feed over on the right. What do you think?

Some people like to see all of the recent comments in one place, but others think it clutters the sidebar. It does indeed make it a bit harder to access the blogroll, which gets a lot of use.

Good? Bad? Meh?

grrrr...I mean, uh, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sorry, did I say I was cool?

Reader-submitted complaint: Kenny Loggins? Seriously? I may have to come up with a better term than "tragic".

Well, yeah.

Did I mislead you into thinking that I'm cool? I also own a Donnie Osmond CD.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Steve, Megan, and one cup



There is a horrible, horrible video out there called "2 Girls, 1 Cup". Reaction videos are all over YouTube. This is ours.

Everything old is new again

Somehow, I have been tagged yet again for the "seven weird things" meme. I am not sure that this is fair. Aren't I weird enough in daily life? My blog's weird, isn't it? Show me another blog that's like this one. Do it right now, while I'm drumming my fingernails impatiently to demonstrate how valuable my time is. I'm very busy and important, you know.

Isn't there some sort of rule that the tagger is supposed to do the meme too? And who are you, Dr. Bad Ass? I suspect a scheme to boost your Google search ranking by getting me to link to your blog. I demand a cut of the profits!

Hmmm. Seven more weird things about myself. Hmmm.

1. I am picky about coffee cups. They need to be the right size: I would rather fill a small cup several times than drink lukewarm coffee from a cup that's too big. They also need to have a lip: otherwise, small drips of coffee trickle onto the table. It's just gross.

2. This morning, I almost called CBC to complain about their music selection. Every so often, they will do stories about vehicles. This is fine, but what's not fine is that they always, without fail, play this song after the interviews:

Now, I'm not saying this is a bad song. I actually like it. However, it is not as if this is the only song about cars that has ever been recorded. Heck, there's a BAND called The Cars, and they have a song called Drive! There are a LOT of choices here, CBC. Pick one.

3. Speaking of driving, I avoid driving if I can possibly help it. I walk everywhere I can. When I do have to take the car, I use as little gas as possible. This means no idling to warm up the car. In fact, I sometimes drive with the window down so the inside of the car will be -20 just like the outside. This keeps frost from forming on the inside of the windows, which would require me to turn the heater on yet again. It's a vicious cycle and I'm keeping myself out of it.

4. I love, love, love iTunes. If not for my iPod, I would probably be on some sort of probation at work for hurting someone. Steve got me a set of speakers for Christmas, but he says I can have them for work now, and I am really excited about it. My playlist makes me happy.

5. Speaking of the playlist, this is the latest addition:

The most-played item is Randy Travis's Forever and Ever, Amen. I am not a country fan in the way Steve's dad is, but I've liked Randy Travis since I was eight.

6. I have the speakers and the iPod because using my work computer to play CDs causes strife. Seriously. I tried to explain this to someone today and failed, so clearly I don't understand it all that well myself. As best I can determine, some people feel that people who have speakers on their computers are somehow special. (I need speakers to do some parts of my job.) Using the speakers to play music, therefore, is rubbing this special status in everyone else's face. This is entirely separate from any noise issues, which I would completely understand. It is also unrelated to streaming Internet radio, which can create a tremendous drain on the company's network.

7. The other night, I Facebook-poked a boy I knew from Bible camp, and I immediately thought better of it. Well, he's not just a Bible-camp boy, but I only looked him up because a few Bible-camp boys had looked ME up and friended me. And I say "boys", but they're all in their thirties now. (This is a very odd little world that could only exist on the Internet.) I went to a lot of Bible camps and conferences when I was a teenager, so this was probably inevitable. Now I'm thinking that I really should keep my pokes to myself.

That's seven things. Does anyone want to be tagged?

To anticipate your question: No, I have never been to band camp.