Monthly Archives: July 2011

My Robot Friend

One of the things I found most difficult about being a teacher candidate was moving all the time.

Every three to five weeks over the course of teacher’s college, I was picking up and moving either from my crappy apartment in Kingston to my folks’ place in Ottawa or back to the aforementioned crappy apartment. It was nice to be back at home; I hadn’t lived with my parents in years, and I had hardly been home at all in the previous fourteen months due to a punishing work schedule and some post-breakup hermitage. But stepping back into my parents’ house was like going back in time and meeting myself at sixteen. More than that, my room, having been a guest room for years, had been entirely sanitized except for those touches of my sixteen-year-old-self.

And those touches screamed at me from all over my room.

It only got worse.

So I didn’t do a lot of work there. I couldn’t. My room in Kingston was too hot, and had chipped paint and crappy student furniture, but at least it was up to date. It reflected me, as I was at present, and I was comfortable there. The room didn’t remind me that I, at 16, like so many other 16-year-olds, was kind of super lame.

What I did was bail from my room and set up a pseudo-office in the basement. And the basement was, while a little more neutral, a little bit lonely, especially while marking and lesson-planning late at night.

Okay, it was really, really lonely.

So there, in my little pool of light in the cavernous expanse of the basement, I worked. I mapped out my lessons on my whiteboard. I was disproportionately excited about that whiteboard, too. I felt really legitimate, planning real lessons for real students on it. I even had different markers to colour-code it, and magnets to put up references and scratch notes, and little magnetized hook-shaped clip things to hold the markers right there on the board. I was on the cutting edge of whiteboard tech, and therefore, of lesson-planning itself.

After hours working on the whiteboard, complete with magnets and clips and notes and colour-coded markers, I refined and codified my plans on my computer. That was a harder process.

And, in response to the drudgery of working on the computer, I procrastinated to try and stave off loneliness-induced psychosis.

But finally tossing magnets at the lamp, as skill-testing and productive as it was, got a little old. Also, I only had the two of the conveniently flying-saucer shaped magnets. And I was, once again, feeling kind of lonely.

But then I looked back at the lamp, the entertainment value of which I thought I had thoroughly exhausted, and something occurred to me.

And so was born a little bit of friendliness in an otherwise cool and unfamiliar world. I had managed to bring a little bit of myself into a place I felt alienated from. I had My Robot Friend.

He still hangs out on my desk, keeping me company while I work, reminding me that even when things feel dark and alien and all I want to do is give up, I can still find a little bit of joy and whimsy and creativity to hold on to.

Advertisements

Hashtag Fail

I’ve been living a bit recently in the #cdnpoli tag on Twitter. It’s a great source of breaking news, and it’s invariably going to have several sides of any given salient item represented. At any point, CBC, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, etc. are being cited, quoted, shared, and retweeted. If I’m not listening to CBC, then I see it on Twitter and then can use that as a launching-off point to research topics further.

But every rose has its thorn, and every measured political discourse has its nuts. Partisan politics has migrated, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s hunkered down in the True North. And so have some really, real bad argumentative habits that I really do not enjoy. So here you are, folks: a little bit of a crash course in how not to look like a fool in #cdnpoli, and really, how not to get on my bad side on Twitter. Because, so help me God, I will feud with you so hard your head will spin if you do these things.

Trevor’s Foolproof Guide To Making #CdnPoli a Better Place To Tweet

1. Don’t be a Dick

Wil Wheaton

Similarly, don't be a troll. Wil is not amused by either.

Wil Wheaton has this as a bit of a mantra, and I think that the Geek Prince Ascendent should be heeded on this one. It’s easy to be an asshole to people you don’t know on the Internet, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. Especially when you’re arguing politics, this is unhelpful. And if you’re being a dick, you’re associating your dickishness with your party–and that’s toxic. If you’re a blue dick, you’re making Harper look bad, and need to take your junk out of the freezer. If you’re a red dick, you’re making the Rae Liberals look even worse than they already look. And stop sunbathing nude. And if you’re an orange dick, then lay off the spray tan and stop giving the Tories fodder to call out your party as hysterical. So, as your friend Wil declares: don’t be a dick.

2. You’re Not God

Kratos

I image-searched "God" and got mostly Kratos. Sigh, but also: awesome.

You may feel like a Greek demigod with carved abs and pecs and a proficiency for decapitating your Twitter foes, but you’re not. You’re just someone with an Internet connection. And since you’re not a god of war, or God, or any other copyright-infringing variation on the theme, you’re not omnipotent. You can be wrong.

Fundamentally, this is one of the problems with social media, and the Internet in general. Yahtzee Croshaw said in an awesome Zero Punctuation episode that “the Internet is almost diametrically opposed to any notion of quality control.” And this is largely true. It’s a place where we can all have our say and how dare anyone tell us we can’t. Here’s the thing, though. Just because you say it and you’re allowed to say it does not mean that it’s right and does not mean that you’re immune to criticism. And you can be proven wrong.

You can make your #cdnpoli Twitterings better by starting with a valid argument — i.e. a supporting premises and a conclusion. An example of this would be an argument I was just having with an impassioned bloke regarding the Harper government’s treatment of women’s issues. He gave a valid argument (while also breaking rule number 1 and making His Geeky Majesty Wil Wheaton cry):

Premise: People vote in their best interests.

Premise: Women voted for Stephen Harper and his policies.

Conclusion: Therefore, Stephen Harper and his policies are in the best interest of women.

Well done, sir! That is a valid argument. Your premises support your conclusion very nicely. But there’s another way to evaluate an argument: soundness. An argument is sound if the premises are correct. And to prove that your premises are correct, sometimes you need to provide evidence. For example, this argument is proven false at almost every level.

Premise: People vote in their best interests.

Proof: None. If they think it’s in their best interests, they’ll vote that way. But please see Ontario under the Rae NDP or the Harris Tories. The voters thought they were getting what was in their best interests and instead got screwed for a decade. Precedent suggests that this premise is unsound and therefore the conclusion is compromised from the outset.

Premise: Women voted for Stephen Harper and his policies.

Proof: Can’t find anything to prove or disprove this. I know women who voted Tory. So at face value this premise seems okay, but its soundness could be called into question if I were able to find any demographic info about who voted for which party by sex/gender.

Conclusion: Therefore, Stephen Harper and his policies are in the best interest of women.

Proof: You can directly challenge this conclusion — already invalid by the disproval of the first premise — with information like this.

So, again — just because you say something doesn’t mean you’re right. You can argue about objective truth and subjectivity and belief until you’re blue (or red or orange or green) in the face. But if you are proven wrong, be gracious about it. And if someone’s taking the time to engage in debate with you and provide evidence and information, be courteous enough to read it. We’re all civilized monkeys here, so let’s act like it. And be open to the idea that you are not always right. Often, we find growth in our mistakes, so let’s all be willing to make them.

Civilized Monkey is sad he was wrong but has learned something in the process.

Civilized Monkey is sad he was wrong but has learned something in the process.

3. Harper is Not Hitler

Chaplin - The Great Dictator

Even Chaplin thinks saying Harper = Hitler is stupid.

Seriously, DO NOT SAY THIS. He may have some dictatorial tendencies. He may be consolidating power under the PMO, and blah blah blah. He is also a free market capitalist, a neoliberal, and has absolutely no aspirations to genocide or world domination.

Harper is a dick to the media and to voters. He’s a dick to his opponents. He’s a dick to social media and to digital natives. He may have a detestable record on women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, etc. But he doesn’t want anyone dead.

Similarly, he is not like Pol Pot, Stalin, Robert Mugabe, or any other genocidal maniac. He is just a dick. 

Politics in Canada are at a turning point, in my opinion. We’ve adopted a bit of an American political culture up in the frozen North here. Attack ads, funding discrepancies, and hyperpartisanship have all slowly crept into the normal political discourse. We have the opportunity again to make things about issues. And if you say things like “Remember, Hitler and Caesar were democratically elected too,” then you’re not doing anyone any favours. You make your party’s constituency look poorly informed, you make the left look hysterical, and you’re drawing a false comparison.

This isn’t to say “be complacent while he further consolidates power under the PMO, shuts out his ministers, handpicks Senators to push bills through, and etc.” This is to say don’t be a fearmongering extremist. Because for democracy–real democracy, not revolution–to work, we have to be able to publicly discuss issues and policy on points and proofs, not on feelings and fears.

Also I will Twitterly junkpunch you if you do this. So don’t.

4. Be Specific About Your Support

Star Wars - Star Trek

This is the only thing people are more moronically and all-consumingly competitive about.

I’m a Liberal. The most accurate description would probably be “blue Liberal.” Socially progressive, but heavily concerned with economic sustainability, responsible spending, and avoiding government bloat. That doesn’t mean that I get to say that the Liberals have never done anything wrong or that I’ll defend everything they do. Adscam sucked. McGuinty caving on the sex-ed bill sucked. Every party has skeletons in their closet. “Yeah, but [your party] did [this unrelated thing years ago]!” is not a valid response to criticism. Responding to criticisms of cost-overruns in the F-35 project by trotting out Adscam is idiotic and childish. Responding to criticism of Rae’s Ontario by saying how much Harris sucked is idiotic and childish. Past mistakes, whatever they are, do not justify present poor behaviour.

Blind partisanship isn’t a good thing. A political party is just a group of people, and they change, evolve. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Be an informed political commentator and base your arguments on current issues, developments, media coverage, and policy.

5. Don’t Confuse Rhetoric With The Truth

chronotrigger

This image will make sense in a minute.

During a podcast recently, Kevin was telling me about Chrono Trigger on the Wii Virtual Console. He told me about how a time traveler gathered a coterie of misfit companions and rocked through various time periods, fantastical worlds, and settings.

“So it’s like Doctor Who,” I said, thinking I’d drawn a legitimate comparison.

“I guess you could say that,” he said. “It doesn’t make it true, but you could say that.”

I pouted, but this is a good point to learn. Just because you say something doesn’t make it true. And just because you spin something doesn’t mean that it’s a legitimate argument. I could say any of the following:

“The NDP will drive this country’s economy into the ground!”

“The Greens are totally useless!”

“The Liberals are dead!”

“The CPC is an autocratic regime!”

But none of that is helpful. None of that accurately addresses the issues at play. It’s all rhetoric. More useful, more accurate, if perhaps less interesting:

“The NDP had no firm, substantiable economic plan in their platform.”

“The Green party’s single seat makes their ability to influence parliamentary process nonexistent.”

“The Liberals have rested on their laurels and ran a totally confused campaign and have fettered away much of their base.”

“The consolidation of power under the PMO and the continued abuses of the democratic process are fundamentally undemocratic and contemptuous of parliamentary process.”

Focus on the facts of your argument and leave your feelings out of it. Politics are too heavily based in touchy-feely crap anyways. Have your beliefs and feelings, but base your arguments on provable truths rather than hostility and rhetoric. Do your research and you might learn more in the process.

6. Smell Your Own Bullshit

bull

Yup. Smells like mine. Sorry.

If you’re doing any of the above, be open to being called on it. Smell your own brand, as it were. Recognize when others are committing these crimes against reasonable discourse and recognize it in yourself, too. And if you’re called on your bullshit, be gracious about it. And if someone else’s bullshit is starting to stink, call them on it, but don’t be a dick while you do it, or you’re not helping matters.

Ultimately we all need to be a little more meta-aware when we’re arguing politics. The Internet is the greatest tool ever devised for political discourse. Not only do we get to chat and argue and discuss and share in real-time (or game it out like play-by-mail chess if we so desire), but we have almost instant access to media to support our claims, refute those of others, or be proven wrong ourselves so that we can get a better understanding of the political system. We can all be more aware of when we’re engaging in hyperpartisan rhetoric (so we STOP, because it’s damaging). We can all be a little more balanced.

Conclusion

Now, I say all that, and I have to be aware that I too am partisan. Even this post makes it more obvious than I wanted that I’m vehemently anti-Harper. But I am capable of arguing that point relatively dispassionately. Of late, #CdnPoli has been a little heated. There’s been plenty of sharing and chatting and discussion but there’s been some almost Bill O’Reilly-esque attack strategies being employed. We can make it better, and I encourage anyone who has more ideas about how to do that to share them here. And if you dig my six simple rules,  share ’em with your tweeps.

And if you disagree with me or my politics: bring it on. We’ll rumble. But I promise not to be a dick about it.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals.

-Trevor