Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — November 2006

Talking to Americans

Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans special was on CBC again last night. That show just doesn’t get old. I do, with some reservations, show it to my students from time to time, but only after exposing them to a great deal of Canadian satire. It’s hard to explain our relation to political satire, really. Showing them, though, that our political satire, unlike say the Daily Show, are shown in primetime on the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster helps a bit. We also spend a lot of time looking at how eager Canada’s politicians are to play along, which I think also helps them to situate Mercer’s special.

Canadians even more willing to laugh at/with themselves as they are to poke fun at anyone else. I don’t read Talking to Americans as being cruel or making too much fun of Americans. Canadians really like Americans and, although Mercer’s special makes us laugh at just how ignorant many Americans are of even the most basic facts about Canada, I find that when watching this special we’re laughing with the Americans rather than at them. That’s somewhat hard to fathom, I realize, but it’s true. Some in the US might view Mercer’s special as anti-American, but I think what Canadians find most amusing, and even endearing, is how willingly and generously they go out of their way to answer Mercer’s questions.

If we take it personally that Americans know little about their neighbours to the north, we only need to listen to this clip (which incidentally I first heard broadcast on CBC Radio the day following the midterm elections) to see that it had nothing to do with us. Thanks to Michael Bérubé for digging this up again. Of course, it’s one thing for people on the street not to know the name of Barack Obama, it’s another thing for potential leaders not to know the name of the leader of its nation’s most important trading partner and its sole neighbour to the north.

Like the end of the audio clip, many of the people Mercer talks to in his special are attending or are even, um, professors at some of the USA’s top universities. This clip from Talking to Americans, though, does give me some faith in the American education system after all….

For more of Rick Mercer, take some time to go through the archives of previous shows on The Mercer Report website, or check out Rick’s great blog.

November 30, 2006   1 Comment

Blogging in the English department

Blogging continues to flourish at UVM, as Meg Thomas discovers in a nice article in today’s issue of UVM’s The View. This blog gets some good exposure there, but I’m lucky to be in a department that is pretty blog savvy. Last night Philip Baruth (the mastermind behind Vermont Daily Briefing), Huck Gutman, and I attended a great talk on “Why Read Blogs” by our colleague Richard Parent, whose blog Digital Digressions also deserves a spot on everyone’s blogroll. Our colleagues Lisa Schnell and Andrew Barnaby have also been using blogs for some of their courses. Thanks in great part to the fine work of UVM’s Center for Teaching and Learning, this is a pretty exciting place to be these days.

November 29, 2006   No Comments

Hockey season just wouldn’t be the same without this….

I’ve had my students in English 005 listen to a recording of Roch Carrier reading his story, The Hockey Sweater. The goal of this assignment is partly to read a Canadian classic that tells us something essential about Canadian and especially Québécois culture. The other aim, though, is to give them, I hope, some sense of the importance of hockey to Canadian identity and the place of Montréal Canadiens and Maurice Richard in the history, culture, and identity of Québec. Although I have the sense that many Vermonters might think of the Boston Bruins as being “their” team, there are many I’ve met (including many former Quebeckers) who will forever be life-long fans of the Habs. Despite my continued obsession with the Oilers, I too am feeling a greater connection to the Canadiens just by being so close to Montreal. They’re now my second favourite team and I’m dying to get up to Montreal to experience a game there for the first time.

The story, the children’s book, the audio book, and the National Film Board film short are all touchstone’s in many Canadians’ memories of childhood. A true classic which, thanks to Google Video, I can post for you here. It’s well worth tracking down the original on DVD though. Just don’t forget to read the story as well.

November 29, 2006   No Comments

Podcasting at Canadian universities

CBC News takes a look at podcasting at Canadian universities

In the coming days, I’ll have an announcement about a new podcasting initiative at UVM….

Update: More on what Queen’s is up to here and here.

November 27, 2006   No Comments

Thanksgiving in the US wouldn’t be the same without this….

How great that you can watch this online….

When I was a kid back in Canada, we only experienced American Thanksgiving through watching all the Thanksgiving episodes of our favourite shows. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to celebrating Thanksgiving in late November (the family and I solved this dilemma by celebrating BOTH Thanksgivings, a solution Homer Simpson would no doubt be proud of) but it’s hard not to like seeing reruns of shows like this one at the same time as Thanksgiving is in the air. We actually do see wild turkeys from time to time in the neighbourhood here and, to my amazement, they do in fact fly. Not terribly well, I should point out, but they do get mildly airborne.

November 27, 2006   No Comments

Caffeine fix

The queue at Cappuccino U seems to be getting a bit longer each day…. Great to see that happening.

Update on 11/28: The lineup continues to grow. Soon it will be out the door…

November 27, 2006   Comments Off on Caffeine fix

GG Awards Winners

From the latest NWP newsletter, hot off the press:

Just a few minutes ago the Canada Council announced the winners of this year’s Governor General’s Awards in simultaneous press conferences in Toronto and Montreal. This marks the peak of awards season in Canada and the beginning of another round of great publicity showcasing the winners.

Just two weeks ago, we learned that first-time author Vincent Lam had won the Giller Prize for his wonderful short story collection Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. Lam’s book was part of a very rich shortlist that also included works by Rawi Hage, Pascale Quiviger, Gaétan Soucy, and Carol Windley.

The great thing about the Governor General’s Awards, that to my mind makes it the most important award in the country, is that it recognizes most genres of writing and looks at both literature written in French and English. For those of us in English Canada, it’s a great chance to get a glimpse of what’s happening in Québec and in francophone communities outside of Québec. That only works, though, if the media reports equally on the winners from both languages.

I’ve used this space in the past to vent my frustration at English language media outlets trumpetting the winners of the Governor General’s Award while failing to even mention the winners for the French language categories. If anything, we should be going out of our way to learn about those winners, who quickly disappear off the map in English Canada once the awards hoopla has died down.

So, definitely take a few minutes to peruse the list of this years’ winners. More importantly, take some time this fall to read some of these books to get a sense of how truly rich are the literatures of this country.

And remember, books make the best holiday gifts!

Complete list of winners of the Governor General’s Award

Northwest Passages congratulates all of the winners and nominees.

ENGLISH FICTION: Peter Behrens for The Law of Dreams

FRENCH FICTION: Andrée Laberge for La rivière du loup

ENGLISH POETRY: John Pass for Stumbling in the Bloom

FRENCH POETRY: Hélène Dorion for Ravir: les lieux

ENGLISH DRAMA: Daniel MacIvor for I Still Love You

FRENCH DRAMA: Évelyne de la Chenelière for Désordre public

ENGLISH NONFICTION: Ross King for The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism

FRENCH NONFICTION: Pierre Ouellet for À force de voir : histoire de regards

TRANSLATION – FRENCH TO ENGLISH: Hugh Hazelton for Vetiver (Joël Des Rosiers’ Vétiver )

TRANSLATION – ENGLISH TO FRENCH: Sophie Voillot for Un jardin de papier (Thomas Wharton’s Salamander )

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE (ENGLISH) – TEXT: William Gilkerson, for Pirate’s Passage

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE (ENGLISH) – ILLUSTRATION: Leo Yerxa, for Ancient Thunder, text by Leo Yerxa.

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE (FRENCH) – TEXT: Dany Laferrière, for Je suis fou de Vava, illustrations by Frédéric Normandin

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE (FRENCH) – ILLUSTRATION: Rogé (Roger Girard), for Le gros monstre qui aimait trop lire, text by Lili Chartrand

November 21, 2006   No Comments

George Monbiot, Global Warming, and Canada’s obligation to the world…

“You (Canadians) think of yourselves as a liberal and enlightened people, and my experience seems to confirm that. But you could scarcely do more to destroy the biosphere if you tried.” – George Monbiot

I caught the As it Happens interview with George Monbiot the other day via the CBC‘s excellent Words at Large podcast. Listening to it on the bus, the predictions of what could be just around the corner due to global warming gave me, um, chills. (You can download the Monbiot interview here. You can also hear him interviewed on Alberta’s Wild Rose Country here.)

It’s clearly time for major action from all of us. I’m looking forward, sort of, to reading Monbiot’s book, Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning.

Here’s what Monbiot had to say about the “Clean Air Act” my students and I heard so much about a few weeks ago on the floor of the House of Commons during Question Period:

“Oh!” he says, his disgust clear in that single syllable. “It seems, to a complete outsider, to be a misreading of the national mood. That bill was treating people like idiots, both lumping together local pollution with carbon dioxide pollution, and talking about the intensity of carbon emissions. It’s almost like putting up a sign saying ‘I think the people of this nation are suckers.”‘

The Harper government, he says, is becoming an international embarrassment because of its environmental policies.

“That Canadians are living in a fool’s paradise, that they picture themselves as being environmentalist but their carbon emissions show they are as damaging to the planet as the U.S. and Australia,” he said.

They have to act quickly or “have on their conscience a major contribution to what could turn out to be deaths of hundreds of millions of people.”

Just to play devil’s advocate, perhaps Monbiot’s book would have an even greater reach, and far less of an environmental impact, if he’d released it solely in e-book form. Regardless, after hearing the interview I think I’m going to stick to taking the bus or the bike to work.

Top 10 Things You Can Do For The Environment

from George Monbiot, author of Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning

1. Cut your flights. Nothing else you do causes so much climate change in so short a time.

2. Think hard before you pick up your car keys. On average, 40% of the journeys made by car could be made by other means – on foot, by bicycle or on public transport.

3. Organise a “walking bus” to take the children to school.

4. Ask your boss to devise a “workplace travel plan” which rewards people for leaving their cars at home.

5. Switch over to a supplier of renewable electricity. You don’t have to erect your own wind turbine, but you can buy your power from someone who has.

6. Ask a builder to give you an estimate for bringing your home up to R2000 standards.

7. Ditch your air conditioner.

8. Turn down your thermostat: 18 degrees is as warm as your house ever needs to be. You just have to get used to it.

9. Make sure every bulb in your house is a compact fluorescent or LED.

10. Do NOT buy a plasma TV: they use 5 times as much energy as other models.

November 20, 2006   5 Comments

A good piece of advice, if you ask me…

Will Richardson’s weblogg-ed is one of the best around, especially if you’re interested in the role of blogs in education.

Overlooking for the moment that I’m currently an assistant professor at a great school, I can’t say that I disagree with Will’s advice to his children. Maybe my kids will go to Cappucino U. Maybe we’ll go together!

More blogging to follow in the coming days during the WEEK-LONG American Thanksgiving Break here at UVM. After a super-long week of grading and teaching, I can only say “God Bless America, eh?”

November 17, 2006   No Comments

These are a few of my favourite blogs…

Too busy grading to blog much this week, but thought I’d put this up to keep the blogmonster fed….

Got a follow-up question today from someone who interviewed me a couple of weeks back for a piece she is doing on blogging at UVM.

She had asked me about which blogs I read, so I thought I’d share here a list of some of my favourite regular reads:

Here are a few of my faves:

November 13, 2006   1 Comment