Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — May 2007

Divisadero reviews

Lots of Divisadero reviews in the media over the past few days, as the book is released today in the US. I’ve still not had a chance to start the book yet, so I’m ignoring these reviews. I’m posting links to them here though in case anyone else is interested… 🙂

Speaking of Canadian literature, nice to hear a review of Karen Connolly’s The Lizard Cage on NPR the other day. It’s getting some good buzz south of the border these days.

May 29, 2007   No Comments

Leonard Cohen in words and pictures

Thie weekend’s Globe and Mail has a great feature on Leonard Cohen, which is accompanied online by a great multimedia portrait of Cohen and his artwork. (interesting to see him working on a black MacBook, too!)

May 27, 2007   No Comments

Poutine makes the NY Times

From the NY Times of May 23:

DURING the 2000 presidential campaign, the candidate from Texas fielded a question from Canada: “Prime Minister Jean Poutine said you look like the man who should lead the free world into the 21st century. What do you think about that?”

When George W. Bush pledged to “work closely together” with Mr. Poutine, Montrealers fell off their chairs laughing. It wasn’t so much that the Canadian leader was, in fact, Jean Chrétien, but that the “reporter” — Rick Mercer, a television comedian — had invoked the city’s emblematic, problematic, comedic junk food dish: poutine.

The article details how a handful of New York restaurants have started serving poutine. It ends by mentioning how poutine placed in the top ten of CBC’s Greatest Canadian Inventions show last year. (Follow that link to see the top 50)

Whether Montreal’s embarrassing but adored junk food does take root in New York, it may never attain the status it achieved earlier this year when the CBC revealed the results of a viewer poll on the greatest Canadian inventions of all time. Granted, poutine came in only at No. 10. But it beat, among other things, the electron microscope, the BlackBerry, the paint roller and the caulking gun, lacrosse, plexiglass, radio voice transmission and basketball.

(Found via the always worthwhile Montreal City Weblog)

May 25, 2007   1 Comment

Teachers who blog, or is it bloggers who teach?

Earlier this month, I led a workshop at the wonderful Teachers Who Write (PDF) conference in Montpelier. Sponsored annually by the Vermont Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, The National Writing Project in Vermont, and the Vermont Department of Education, the conference brought hundreds of teachers together to attend workshops and network. It was a fabulous event and I hope to go back next year as an attendee.

I’d hoped to get this post online in time for my presentation at the conference as a sort of virtual handout, but grading and other end of semester chaos got in the way. Finally, though, here are links to some of the things I told the two groups of interesting teachers who came to hear what I had to say about blogging and podcasting.

I frequently give a short presentation at the UVM Center for Teaching and Learning‘s “Blogging Your Course” workshop at UVM and this 2005 post summarizes what I usually talk to them about.

As I’ve said on this blog before, starting to read blogs and creating your own personal/professional blog, to me, will have a far greater impact on one’s daily academic life than creating course blogs. Blogs are a great teaching tool and these days I can’t really envision myself teaching without a blog for each class, but if I had to choose one or the other I’d probably ditch my course blogs and keep my own one running.

One of the things I always tell faculty from UVM, and I repeated this at the Montpelier workshop, is that it’s not at colleges and universities where we’re seeing the most cutting edge uses of blogging in the classroom. It’s actually in the k-12 classroom, and sometimes right in those earliest grades. I had a great chance last year to help lead the month-long summer writing workshop put on by the National Writing Project in Vermont and, after spending all of July working alongside teachers from across the state, I found myself more enthused about teaching than I’ve been before (and I have always loved that part of my job).

As part of that summer 2006 workshop, I gave a presentation called “The text in the machine: Writing, publishing, and the blogosphere” in which I talked about blogging and talked about some of the best practices I’ve seen in the k-12 context. My virtual handout for that presentation can be found here, and it encompasses a lot of what I had to say a couple of weeks ago in Montpelier. For this latest presentation, I also found a number of new examples of some great blogging work going on in the K-12 context and you’ll find those links below.

What follows are some of the links I showed everyone in my latest workshop.

Creating a blog

Externally hosted services:


Typepad ($)



Server-based solutions:



Key Resources for educators

weblogg-ed, the blog of Will Richardson.

WIll Richardson’s book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms is an invaluable resource

EduBlog Insights (lots of great info and links to class blogs)

Best practices

Blogical Minds (5th grade)

Excellence and Imagination (grades 7/8)

Joseph H. Kerr School, Snow Lake, Manitoba

AP Calculus

Darren Kuropatwa

Room 9 Nelson Central’s Blog (Ages 6-7, Nelson, NZ)

Podcasting Tools

Audacity (a free sound editing tool for all platforms)

garageband (Apple’s amazing audio software has some great features specifically designed for recording podcasts)

iPods with microphones attached or any other mp3 players with recording capabilities

A few more links worth checking out:

Blogging 101–Web logs go to school | CNET

David Warlick’s thoughts on School 2.0

Stay on top of your field with feeds

Weblogg-ed: It’s the empowerment, stupid

May 23, 2007   27 Comments

Here are just a few of the reasons I’m rooting for the Senators this year

From a good article today on the highs and many lows of Ottawa’s years in the NHL.

Here are a few lowlights, on and off ice over the years, to jog a memory or two:

– At the 1992 NHL expansion draft, Senators general manager Mel Bridgman selects three ineligible players in a row, prompting eye-rolling from other teams’ representatives, and Mel’s famous line: “Ottawa apologizes.”

– An Ottawa Sun circulation employee, a former Ottawa 67’s player named Larry Skinner, who played a few dozen NHL games in the 1970s, attends the Senators’ first training camp to do a first-person diary. Skinner leads the camp in scoring.

– The Senators lose 41 consecutive road games in 1992-’93. When they beat the New York Islanders on the Island (April 10, 1993), for their first road win, players react as though they have won the Stanley Cup. Was that a highlight or lowlight? Former goaltender turned TSN analyst Glenn Healy, the goaltender of record for the Islanders that night, is still trying to live it down.

– The Senators have bus issues in Boston. They end up on a city subway. A local spots a couple of well-dressed young men with sports bags slung over their shoulder and asks where they’re from.


“Ottawa!” the Bostonian replies. “Great city. Lousy hockey team.”

“This is the hockey team,” he is told.

“A hockey team riding dah subway? No wondah you guys stink!”

– Sports Illustrated declares the Senators the worst team in sports history.

These cracked me up. Seriously, though, it would be great to see these guys pull it off. Go Sens!

May 22, 2007   No Comments


Speaking of the healthcare system in the US, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Michael Moore‘s new film, Sicko, which I think has the potential to have the greatest impact of all his films so far. It’s just premiered at Cannes after an earlier private screening in New York for many of the people whose stories he presents in the film. The response so far has been excellent and the articles on the film are just starting to come out. I really liked Andrew O’Hehir’s piece on the film from Salon over the weekend, for instance:

Still, there is no mistaking the passion and political intelligence at work in “Sicko.” It’s both a more finely calibrated film and one with more far-reaching consequences than any he’s made before. Moore is trying to rouse Americans to action on an issue most of us agree about, at least superficially. You may know people who will still defend the Iraq war (although they’re less and less eager to talk about it). But who do you know who will defend the current method of health-care delivery, administered by insurance companies whose central task is to minimize cost and maximize shareholder return? Americans of many different political stripes would probably share Moore’s conclusions at the press conference: “It’s wrong and it’s immoral. We have to take the profit motive out of health care. It’s as simple as that.”

[. . .] When Moore interviews Tony Benn, a leading figure on the British left, his larger concerns come into focus. Benn argues that for-profit healthcare and the other instruments of the corporate state, like student loans and bottomless credit-card debt, perform a crucial function for that state. They undermine democracy by creating a docile and hardworking population that is addicted to constant debt and an essentially unsustainable lifestyle, that literally cannot afford to quit jobs or take time off, that is more interested in maintaining high incomes than in social or political change. Moore seizes on this insight and makes it a kind of central theme; both in the film and aloud, at the press conference, he wondered whether some essential and unrecognized change has occurred in the American character.

“I hope this film engenders discussion, not just about healthcare, but about why we are the way we are these days,” Moore told us. “Where is our soul? Why would we allow 50 million Americans, 9 million of them children, not to have health insurance? Maybe my role as a filmmaker is to go down a road we might be afraid to go down, because it might lead to a dark place.”

Rose Ann Demoro’s column on Sicko from the Huffington Post is also worth a read:

“Sicko” is not just an indictment of an indefensible healthcare industry in the U.S. It’s a rejoinder for those who think we can fix the soulless monster by tinkering with an unconscionable system that puts us further in thrall to those who created the crisis.

Following the screening, Moore put it as simply as possible: the private insurance companies “have to go.”

Unlike too many of our friends in the progressive community, Moore did not go for the easy way out.

There are no calls here for forcing individuals to buy unaffordable, junk insurance. Or handing over ever more tax dollars to those who profit by denying care, and whose biggest accomplishment, says Moore, “is buying our U.S. Congress” to protect their wealth and stranglehold over our health.

To me, it sounds like this is exactly the debate that really needs to happen here instead of looking for ways to provide insurance to the 50 million (50 million!) people who have no insurance at all. Getting rid of the insurance companies altogether for most health needs seems to be the only real — though it’s also the most radical — solution.

As some Canadian reporters pointed out in the press conference at Cannes, the picture Moore paints of Canada in this film, as he did in Bowling for Columbine, doesn’t fully reflect the reality of the challenges faced by the Canadian system.

As in Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore uses Canada as an example of a more humane social system. When a Canadian reporter suggested the portrait of the Canadian medical system was unduly rosy, and wait times for care were long, Moore asked the reporter if he’d trade in his health card to join the American system.

“No,” said the reporter promptly, earning a laugh from the audience.

“Right,” Moore said. “When I look at Canada, the only long line I look at is that you get to live three years longer than we do. … Why does a baby born into Toronto have a better chance of living to his first birthday than a baby in Detroit?

“I would hope you’re a country that’s not offended by a compliment.”

Not at all, Michael. Not at all. Before any Canadians start to gloat, though, it’s important to remind ourselves that these relatively good life expectancies do not apply to Canada’s indigenous peoples, who typically die at a much younger age than the non-native population. We have a long way to go before everyone in Canada gets equal benefits from our medical system. Hopefully, one of the results from the increased dialogue about these various healthcare systems will be more action in Canada to improve accessibility to medical care. We can always do better. And we should be doing a better job than we are in Canada.

May 19, 2007   1 Comment

One of the infrequent signs that I’m succeeding as a parent

Overhearing my five and seven year old this morning in the car debating over whether their favorite band is The Tragically Hip or Arcade Fire.

May 19, 2007   No Comments

A Canadian Icon Turns Its Glaze Southward

As many of you may know, I have a particular penchant for Tim Hortons. There’s not a trip to Montreal these days that doesn’t involve a stop at the Tims in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu for an extra large black coffee and a blueberry fritter or chocolate-dip donut.

I’ve always said that if I ever won the lottery down here, I’d open a Tim Hortons here in Vermont. Despite Vermonters disdain for chains (Montpelier is the only state capital without a McDonalds, and South Burlington’s staple Al’s French Frys probably outsells the McDonalds next door by a ratio of five to one ) I think there are enough Canadians to keep a Tims in business here. I even have a great spot picked out for it here….

Thanks to the Wall Street Journal, Tim Hortons is back in the news here in the US. The WSJ published an article on the growing presence of Tims south of the border, a phenomenon about which I was interviewed last fall for a story on There’s a glaring error in the WSJ story that any Canadian will be quick to catch. The first person to point out this error in the blog comments will win a free coffee from me the next time I see you….

In its home country of Canada, Tim Hortons claims a whopping 76% of the coffee-and-baked-goods market. Named for its late founder, who was an all-star defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, the chain is so ingrained in Canada’s culture that the term “double double” — shorthand for a Hortons coffee with two creams and two sugars — has its own entry in the Canadian Oxford dictionary.

But industry analysts say that, in about seven years, Hortons will have built as many stores as Canada can support. So, barely a year after the chain was spun off by Wendy’s International Inc., Hortons is ratcheting up its U.S. expansion. Currently, most of its 340 U.S. stores are in strongholds near the U.S.-Canada border in Michigan, Ohio and upstate New York. But by the end of 2008, Hortons wants to have 500 U.S. stores — and perhaps more, depending on if the company can make inroads in New England.

Source: A Canadian Icon Turns Its Glaze Southward –

Thanks to Don Tinney for spotting this article for me.

May 17, 2007   3 Comments

Americans get least bang for buck on health care

One of the questions I get asked all the time here in the US is about the differences in the healthcare systems between Canada and the US. One of the misperceptions I hear all the time is that, although healthcare costs a fortune here, the quality of care is superior. People in the USA regularly hear about waiting lists in Canada for various procedures, to which I usually counter that one of the reasons the wait times for certain things might be shorter here is that only a minority of the actual population can afford to get those tests done. It’s easier to get access to a doctor if many of your fellow citizens can never afford to see one.

The following story, which it’s important to point out shows that Canada still has a long way to go, is worth reading in full.

WASHINGTON — Americans get the poorest health care and yet pay the most compared to five other rich countries, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Germany, Britain, Australia and Canada all provide better care for less money, the Commonwealth Fund report found.

“The U.S. health care system ranks last compared with five other nations on measures of quality, access, efficiency, equity, and outcomes,” the non-profit group which studies health care issues said in a statement.

Canada rates second worst out of the five overall. Germany scored highest, followed by Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Source: Americans get least bang for buck on health care: report:

I should also point out that my family has had fantastic care here in the US. I should also point out that my employer pays well over ten times more than what my employer paid back in Canada for healthcare premiums.

May 16, 2007   1 Comment

Great site on common errors in English

Oooh… just discovered this great site which can be a huge help when grading and writing papers.

May 10, 2007   No Comments